Co-CEO’s: The Bubonic Plague of the Board Room

..or Why I Believe co-CEO’s Are A Bad Idea.

Not so long ago I was invited to take a CEO position at an 18 month old start-up. There was a small team of seven, only three full time. The business guy in the team was one of the part timers and had also invested some money, but chosen to retain his existing position at a large corporate with a full time job and salary.

The two initial meetings, with one of the Founders who was the real day to day engine behind the business, went well. She was eager to bring in a CEO, part time or full time, to help put in a solid strategy – including raising money – and to hire new team members and ensure milestones were being hit, financials kept up to date, people managed etc; all the usual jobs of any CEO.

But when it came to negotiating terms the other part-time co-Founder I mentioned sprung on me a two character prefix to my title which meant I walked away from the deal. He wanted to add “co” to my CEO title. I was pretty surprised as he’d said previously he was happy bringing in an external person to be CEO and run the business.

There are a raft of reasons why I believe having co-CEO’s in your start-up is a thoroughly dreadful idea. Even if you’re both co-Founders of the business.  Reason number one is because it doesn’t work.

At least with a pantomime horse the front is in charge (unless the back disagrees of course). Enough said.

At least with a pantomime horse the front is in charge (unless the back disagrees of course). Enough said.

Quite simply co-CEO arrangements in my experience don’t work, or don’t work as well a different structure. This conclusion is both from being in situations myself where CEO responsibilities were split between two people (even if the actual official title wasn’t) and also from seeing some others trying to run their company’s this way. Having Co-CEO’s creates its own set of problems, outside of the challenges inherent in being a CEO.

Here are some of the problems (and please feel free to add your own in the comments!):

  • Someone has to have the final decision, because people do not always agree.
  • Legally, someone must be responsible to report to the board of directors
  • Someone must “own” the over-arching business strategy and the milestones on it.
  • Logistically, if you have co-CEOs, in reality for both people to be equally well informed they must both attend every meeting which might impact any significant business decision a CEO might make OR one co-CEO must relay and discuss all this with the other co-CEO, to convince them it’s a good idea and bring them up to speed
  • If you have co-CEOs the team do not know who their boss really is
  • If you have co-CEOs there is always the risk of the team or the board or investors playing the CEO’s off against each other
  • If you can’t sort out with your team and co-founder who is going to be CEO and what that means, how on earth are you going to sort out other problems
  • If one personal isn’t responsible, it’s not really fair to measure them entirely for not performing the role
  • There’s a danger you can both re-enforce your own errors of judgement, making those miscalculations or oversights further entrenched
  • Measuring performance becomes harder. If CEO responsibilities are split, or the CEO isn’t driving forward the things they should be, someone needs to call it out. Another co-founder, a Board Director, shareholder, the team. That’s harder with co-CEO’s and there is one less person who could be devil’s advocate.
  • If makes it harder for both people to perform well. If two people are sharing the co-CEO spot (even as a shadow CEO rather than named title) then it’s all too easy for things to end up dropped on the floor, between the two people – who most like are both very well meaning souls who want success for the company as much as anyone.
  • And my personal favourite, if you have co-CEOs it simply looks stupid. Investors and the outside world will probably think “why not just get one competent person to be CEO, rather than two who individually are not?”

Indecision, confusion, mixed messages and an increase in communication workload are the last things you want in a start-up or any business, and I feel co-CEOship encourages just that.

In summary, avoid being a co-CEO or working in a start-up which has them. And don’t take my word for it just look how well it worked for Blackberry.

What Is Most Important To A VC When Investing?

What weight to different factors have in a Venture Capitalists decision to invest in your start-up company?

New research suggests the following:

30.4% – Potential Return

27% – Founders’ Experience

26.4% – Market Readiness

6.6% – Regulatory Exposure

6.4% – Social Connection with Founders

3.2% – Lead investor

…best get networking perhaps; but the potential return is still the most important, so practice your sales skills at the same time.

Above all? Make sure you’re going for a big market and have your numbers in a row to prove the zillions you’re going to make out of it.

Ironically, other data demonstrates pretty clearly that VC’s should not invest in Founders who have had a successful exit before. In fact statistically, they are less likely to provide the investor a return, than someone who has not had a big exit before.

 

A New Type of Tech Blog

The infamous wordsmith Milo Yiannopoulous has invited me to contribute a column to his new digital publication The Kernel.

Aside from it sporting an excellent name @Nero is intending his new venture to raise the game in Europe amongst the blogs and online publications covering the digital entrepreneurship sector.

My first column is a self flagellation on being too-early-to-market. Titled “Timing Is Everything” it is a brief cronical of two fairly visionary ideas, ultimately neither of which I executed on successfully.

The responsibility of course remains entirely mine for these failures. While mitigating circumstances certainly apply (for example, building forward thinking free-to-use direct-to-consumer services in Europe is almost impossible) the one who steers the ship is still responsible for it sinking in a storm.

You can read more here or if you’ve had enough of me already I highly recommend the other contributors, all of whom have made excellent launch contributions.

Every Customer Complaint Has A Silver Lining

Sometimes mistakes can have unexpected benefits.

My first internet company turned out to be a web development company (although it was never intended that way initially, we pivoted from being a localised business portal after I failed miserably to sell enough advertising for the site).

It was comparatively early days on the web, in 1998.

A few years later after selling the business, I looked back at our client roster and realised that the top 5 most loyal clients who had been with us longest, had all experienced a major problem during the first project we executed; but because we handled the problem well they had become more loyal than clients who had never had a problem.

Good service is so hard to come by these days, that when people receive truly good, honest service, it stands out disproportionately.

There's no escape from it.

Sebastian Coe in his book The Winning Mind notes that “Human error tends to be the norm”. It seems inevitably then that you or your team will make errors and most likely on a regular basis.

View these as an opportunity. Fixing a problem well for a customer will always result in more loyalty than they originally had.

Of course not all errors can be spun easily to a positive. With a slip-up which loses a position of strength in business negotiations, or with a pilot making an error causing a fatal aeroplane crash, it would be difficult to see any sort of lining – let alone a silver one.

Thankfully in the world of day to day customer care, most errors are not life threatening. They are usually more irritating and time consuming for your customer, than anything else.

Big companies almost always deliver such appalling service that responding promptly to a problem and then over delivering with a fix (preferably including a gesture of compensation or good will) is a huge pulsing exception in the darkness of unanswered complaints, blame and denial of culpability which brands and big business routinely dish out to us, their customers.

Don’t let your company fall to this fate.

Fixing a customer problem should be approached as an attempt to garner irrational brand loyalty. In other words, use it as a step toward becoming a lovemark in the eyes of your customer.

Johan Nordstrum. Customer service visionary.

You don’t even have to believe me. Read Delivering Happiness by Tony Heish, a book of his approach to customer service at Zappos, or read my article about Johan Nordstorm – who’s chain of stores in the US proved exceptional customer service and profitability are not mutually exclusive; or my older blog post on a similar topic – why do corporates make simple mistakes?

 

Unreal: 50% Of Start-ups I Researched Didn’t Have A Proper Contact Us Page

Based on 40 applications to the start-up competition I recently ran at the MLOVE confestival, 20 didn’t have a clear contact us page with email, 6 had no contact information at all and 4 had no web presence or even holding page.

I was astonished.

Admittedly, it is a small sample size and focused on very early-stage start-ups; but it I still find the fact baffling.

When you’re running a start-up, there is lot’s to do – I know I’ve done a few – but one key ingredient is to make yourself accessible:

  • to investors (who you may need later even if not today)
  • to future team members (who you want to begin enticing from day one)
  • to press
  • to potential partners
  • and to customers or users!

Having no website at all looks even worse (and yes even if you are in “stealth mode”). Have a holding page simply giving a project name and team; or be sensible and use something like LaunchRock or a simple google form to start collecting emails of your future users.

If you don’t want anyone to know you’re doing a new start-up, then perhaps don’t enter a competition!

Not like this

Stealth mode for a start-up is all very well, but don't be entirely aloof from contact, nor ignore business basics such as being easily contactable. By the way, I didn't make this poster, otherwise it would say "you're".

All these factors such as ease of contacting them, the website, the apps, contributed to our choice of the five finalists (and would no doubt contribute to the choice of a journalist to write about you or an investor to take an interest or reach out).

It simply doesn’t bode well for your attention to detail, your ability to design good product or your understanding of user psychology.

(Incidentally, the reason I needed to contact them all was I myself had made an error and neglected to add an email field to the application form…but at least this was a temporary competition!)

Even Some Launched Start-ups Don’t Have One

There was even a service (I’ll leave unnamed) I tried this week which was live and trying to garner users but which had no team page, no contact us page and not even a terms and conditions of use. This is just sloppy, lazy or naive. I’m not sure which of those is worse.

In summary then…

If you have a start-up and have no holding page or contact us form or page with email address that I can find in under 8 seconds or preferably faster, then ADD ONE RIGHT NOW TODAY!

This is certainly one of those blog posts I never, ever expected to be writing.

Incidentally, the winners of the MLOVE11 Start-up competition were Booklet Mobile; congratulations!

More Reading:

The Myth Of Silicon Valley

Recently the on-going discussion of London versus the Valley has got a higher profile again thanks to articles like this and the fact European VC’s still seem unable to evolve let alone revolve: Even Fred Destin say’s European VC’s need revolution not evolution. Here here to that.

While the average London start-up’s dilemna* is should I go to Silicon Valley or stay in Silicon Roundabout? (which I touched upon last week) and takes the mind share of the European tech-elite, I don’t think the Americans give two hoots. Why would they? Silicon Valley is where it’s at, right?

What did catch their attention was Hermione Way’s post The Problem With Silicon Valley Is Itself on The Next Web, which prompted a response from Robert Scoble on Google+, both worth reading by the way.

Has Silicon Valley Lost It’s Way?

Loosely, Hermione complains that The Valley no longer truly innovates and it is full of fluff. Robert says it is still the only place really changing the world and no-one else does in the same way or to the same extent.

Naturally as I’m writing a retort, I must have a different view: I think they’re both wrong; but there is an element of truth in both claims.

With a long history of game changing technologies and innovation, has Silicon Valley had it's day?

With Silicon Valley, it’s the iceberg problem. You only see the tip of what’s going on underneath. Even I have grown tired at times of the sometime obsessions (and many say poor journalism) of platforms like Techcrunch; but you have to be realistic about what they represent. They are not trying to be the BBC or a broadsheet. They are for mass market consumption by the geeks, the early adopters, the DiggNation kids and Appleheads. At this they excel.

As a tabloid Techcrunch will write what sells impressions – they are not representative of the depth of Silicon Valley.

The problem is surely that inevitably, like the general news on TV and in most tabloids, it skews to easily consumed, often banal, content. The lowest common denominator.

The masses are selfish; they don’t care about new window material technology for the Empire State Building, they care about Big Mac $1 Burgers, Foursquare checkins, saving 50% via Groupon on their next t-bone steak. They care about themselves (see: FacebookGoogle+Flickr ..they are all about your ego, about your life).

This is why Techcrunch.com doesn’t shout about the other low level technologies (or indeed publish much about things outside of the USA) and instead you get 3 posts a week for 9 months straight about a company like Foursquare. Well, good for Foursquare. Gaming location, the system and MG all in one go!

Of course, I’m simplifying the argument, but one has to, to make a salient point.

These publishers publish that stuff because people consume it. They don’t care about a new silicon chip design, even if it does save lives or save money. It’s too abstract for most people. 

The Myth Of Silicon Valley

So let’s look back for a moment. Why is Silicon Valley (and it’s venture capital ecosystem) Silicon Valley?  Actually, it has a far longer history of entrepreneurship than most other centres of technology.

Silicon Valley started growing toward it’s present day nearly 100 years ago. During the war, the government funded innovation for large military and cold-war driven contracts with radio related technology, radar and later, other electronic warfare.

This graph is NOT true. Silicon Valley grew gradually since the war, it's taken decades. Click for more information and Steve Blanks excellent -and accurate- history.

Frederick Terman from Stanford played a pivotal role in the 40’s and 50’s pushing students out of education encouraging them (instead of doing PhD’s or masters) to start-up innovative technology firms to serve the country and defend against the Nazis and then the perceived Communist threat.

The 60’s brought transistors, the 70’s microchips, then Microsoft, Apple and the other leviathons we all know today. At the end of the 70’s deregulation in the investment markets enabled Venture Capital to begin in earnest.

London, Berlin, Amsterdam nor Tel Aviv has had any of this history. A few cycles of Silicon Valley computer and internet boom later and there are:

  • 100’s and 100’s of VC’s thus a huge pot of money
  • A tech ecosystem which is bigger than anywhere
  • There is a bubble cycle of hype driving investment and belief in the next big thing
  • and a lack of understanding of the outside world (actually sometimes useful when building a company which every normal person says nobody will ever use: see Twitter).

Add to this a huge early adopter crowd which can test-bake the next crazy Twitteresque idea to see if it’s real – all 2 years in advance of the rest of the western world being ready to use it – and you have a compelling place to create some seriously game changing products and services.

These advantages are why we in Europe are behind with consumer internet, why we don’t have a Google, a Cisco and now with mobile phone software it is the valley where innovation is getting funded in way which will give the start-ups longevity to get their new services right. It’s why Facebook and Google grew in the Valley.

I feel innovation in Silicon Valley – both whether hardcore tech or social media – is alive and well. Hermione should have cause to be worried about her native land though, for the same reasons she moved to Silicon Valley rather than continue in Silicon Roundabout or move to Silicon Alle or Silicon Valley! (do keep up 😉

European Unadventure Capital

The history and experience in the Valley, also contribute to why European Venture Capital is behind and why our ecosystem is behind. We simply don’t have it.

Had visionaries in Cambridge (and government people in charge of technical innovation) pushed harder during the first dot com boom to make Silicon Fen more than a running joke, then Cambridge England might have had a 10 years start on Silicon Roundabout.

Cambridge was and is about the right size to become a town all about tech. It remains an important centre for science and biotech, but it is no centre for internet start-ups and with the growth of Old Sreet never will be.

The rooftops of Cambridge, including Kings College Chapel. More Fen than Silicon.

I started a localized web portal in Cambridge (wanting to scale to 140 towns and cities) in 1998, but couldn’t get funding. Arguably a lack of vision from investors -rightly or wrongly- prevented access to capital. I pivoted to B2B and a web development company which I later exited.

It’s a hugely wasted opportunity; possibly contributed to by the all suffocating Cambridge University which essentially controls the city and most certainly because of a lack of available investment capital for start-ups.

There’s something going on though, as New York is hardly a small city yet seems to be catching up with it’s Boston neighbour, touting Silicon Alley.

Cities like London and New York are almost too diverse, with lots of other history and other industries, meaning “Tech” will never be elevated to the focus which San Francisco and Silicon Valley enjoys. 

Small means focused.

Where else would you be able to start Square and have tech-savvy iPad owning shop keepers and cafe owners clammer for the service with open arms? Once it’s proven, bug fixed and entrenched in Palo Alto and San Francisco, where everyone carries an iPhone, they’ll raise another 1/2 billions dollars and take over the world.

Old Street is more than a "hotspot", it's burgeoning; but without follow on finance and better skills in the VC community, start-ups are being left as start-ups.

So Silicon Valley Is The Centre Of World Innovation?

In essence I agree with Robert Scoble that the depth of innovation is SV is astounding; however he is wrong to say world changing technologies don’t come from elsewhere.

That ARM processor in nearly every mobile phone you’ve touched in the last 2 years? That’s from Cambridge, England (my home town in fact).

The computer? invented in England.

The jet engine? England (and if our government had funded it to the extent the US government funded innovation in Silicon Valley, WW2 would have been a lot shorter!) 

OK so you see where this is going… 

For me problem with the UK and Europe compared to America and Silicon Valley, is we’re not good at scaling.

Sure, the financial industry seems to do it just fine – raping and pilleging it’s way literally to the top of the global finance worldbut taking good technologies and funding them, patiently nurturing them, growing them, having faith in them and their young founders, to become truly global players seems to be something in the UK and Europe we’re not very good at.

THAT is the big question.

The question is not why can’t we innovate, for we don’t lack of innovation. The question is why are we unable to scale our innovations rapidly to become the global market leader?

Back in Europe, where the history comes from… 

One problem  in London and Europe for technology innovation to scale (aside from these), is certainly finance.

This is grossly ironic, given London’s pre-eminence London is the world’s global financial capital, with New York in second place and Hong Kong in third.

The discussion of the problems with European VC’s, the lack of Googlesque companies and whether a start-up should start, or move, to The Valley, is a persistent topic in the London tech scene. The UK versus US funding debate is always threatening to popup on tech conference panels; to some extent for good reason but it also becomes boring and negative, though I entirely understand why the conversation needs to be had.

The ecosystem in London is less developed and the VC’s (with a few exceptions) are guilty of much of what Nic Halstead (and many more behind closed doors) will tell you: tech venture capital in London is run by financiers. This, is a problem; may be our biggest problem in Europe.

It perhaps underlies other knock-on effects, which is a lack of understanding of early stage capital requirements, what it really takes, to run and scale an internet business and being risk averse.

Read it and weep. I don't agree with the crazy $1 billion invested in the likes of Groupon, but you can't make butter with a toothpick. My own last start-up was expected to compete with our US counterparts of one fifth of the funding. The numbers seem pretty clear.

With little hands on experience, many European VC’s treat a start-up like an investment on the stock-market. Short termist, they undervalue Founders, don’t understand -or invest in- bold long term visions and they often under-capitalise (largely for all the reasons I’ve just listed). Facts seem to back this up (see graph above).

It is also claimed that European venture capitalists more commonly have a background in finance, while US venture capitalists tend to be scientists and ex-entrepreneurs. The implication is that the lack of scientific expertise among European VCs means they are less able to identify investments with high potential, than their counterparts in the US.

Bottazzi, Da Rin and Hellman (2004) undertook a survey of European VC and noted:

‘What may come as a surprise is that less than a third (of VC partners) actually has a science or engineering education.’

Half of all partners in their survey have some professional experience in the financial sector with ~40% having corporate sector experience. The recent European Investment Fund report by Roger Kelly, says that:

“Hege, Palomino and Schweinbacher (2009) observe that US VCs are often more specialized, and note that there is evidence that US venture capitalists are more sophisticated than their European counterparts, which contributes to the explanation for the difference in performance”

So Everything Is European VC’s Fault? Obviously not. I just personally feel it is the biggest single issue.

Entrepreneurs also have to up their game; pitches from many European founders are frankly terrible. Poorly delivered, unfocused product and ill-thought out business case. Both entrepreneur’s and employees need a more “can-do” attitude, to network better and think bigger.  I’m not saying it’s easy, it’s not. I’ve been there many times and made many mistakes myself.

Some people say local culture doesn’t always help, that it’s not fashionable in many countries to be an entrepreneur or want to make millions. I’m not so sure this is an issue – doens’t seem to phase the stockbrokers.

The size issue probably doesn’t help; tax systems, incentives and finance rules are not consistent for VC across Europe – but then again the Finance industry has managed certainly in London (to disastrous results in 2008!) so why not tech VC?

European early stage VC is laughably low compared to the US, in European VC's efforts to invest in later stage supposedly "safer" companies. All capital, little venture.

What to be done?

As an ecosystem, as a government and as a Venture Capital community, we should then now focus more on how to scale our businesses and fund the existing innovation from the many good entrepreneurs, encouraging a drive for global domination and find a way to teach European venture capitalists how to be more entrepreneurial and visionary, rather than only get more people to start a tech-business, without the proper mid and late stage finance, skills and infrastructure in place.

* Seems to be a world or argument raging about dilemna or dilemma. OED says Dilemma, but then why does the Times write dilemna? I’m sure I was taught dilemna, but the odds seem to be on the side of dilemma.

More reading on European VC’s:

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

So if European Venture Capital is a bit f***ed in Europe, because:

  • there is too little choice/competition
  • many can’t raise a further fund
  • most don’t have hands on experience of product, the industry or running a team let alone their own start-up; most have a finance background
  • U.S. VC’s understand start-ups, product and vision in a way U.K./European VC’s do not
  • Performance of the European tech VC sector has been abominable

…should you even bother?

Should you not up sticks to the yellow brick road of The Valley and San Francisco, or stay in Europe with the losers? Some people who’ve already left for the west coast would say follow up-sticks and follow them there.

London or San Francisco: Something I’m Asked Every Week

The conundrum of supporting your home ecosystem or heading for the promised land, is also evident from the start-ups I advise. On nearly every occasion, during the first or second mentoring meeting the question arises:

 “Do you think we should go to the U.S?”.

For many consumer orientated start-ups the answer is: “Yes, go”.

However it depends on the start-up and be under no illusion: The Valley is no answer for a crappy product, poor team or flawed vision.

To all, I say that in Europe:

  • valuations will be lower
  • exit opportunities possibly fewer
  • then there is size of home market of the U.S., it’s vast (Europe is fragmented)
  • in Europe there is a lack of concentration of early adopters and “ambassadors” for your crazy new consumer service, compared to the west coast
  • American users in general are more ready to try new things & promote new services than European users
  • lack of product expertise with European/UK staff
  • potentially a lack of entrepreneurial spirit amongst start-up employees
  • lower appreciation / valuing of the share options you dish out
  • a social (and industry) stigma against failure
  • all the VC problems discussed above (for many consumer facing start-ups, without a revenue stream today, VC funding is highly unlikely indeed in Europe)
  • you’ll likely be under-capitalised and be expected to do more, with less (not always a bad thing, but not a good way to compete with US competitors)
  • at best the under-current of strategy and discussion (and at worse the entire focus) of your investors will always be on revenue before user numbers and product

There are up sides though working in Europe though:

  • cheaper engineering labour in Europe (even in London; would you believe it, it’s true!)
  • being closer to customers if you’re B2B
  • you can be a be a bigger fish in a smaller pond
  • potentially you can also start here in stealth mode being “under the radar” to get going if you have an original idea
  • target markets Silicon Valley does not (e.g. Yelp took YEARS to move outside of the US, losing out to Qype and others)
  • being OUTSIDE the bubble can sometimes help – the valley can be a distraction with it’s geekfest parties and all-consuming check-in-latest-buzz-word shenanigans
  • arguably easier (and cheaper) to set up a UK Ltd Company and do the paperwork for your first year’s trading than in the USA with a Delaware corporation
  • generous government grants – most pretty easy to get and many match like for like funding on angel rounds
  • a focus on revenue (yes, this can be a good thing too)

In addition, there is a growing list of incubators and start-up programs in the UK and Europe. Seedcamp remains prevelent and there are new VC’s like Hoxton Ventures and angels such as Stefan Glaenzer who promise pubicly to operate more intelligently, in a more informed, fairer manner which supports the entrepreneur and their vision.

The next 12 months will certainly be interesting – and despite the frustrations I’m optimistic about the future for Silicon Roundabout in London.

The real challenge for Europe is improving the support VC’s give start-ups and the way they approach deals. The second is getting rid of the social stigma of failure or conversely, wanting to earn zillions of pounds or euros!

In short, we (Europe and the UK) need to learn to scale start-ups.

That all said, having spent nudging 30% of my time there the last 3 years, when I do another start-up, it will probably be from the Valley.

Don’t feel bad though, most of America’s TV is our fault. At least we’re good at exporting something.

*** STOP PRESS ***

A VC recently posted on the ICE List suggesting that the lack of revolutionary investment in high-risk ideas has been the pressure from LP’s on VC’s to be conservative.

This pressure -she argues- has in the past caused a lack of risk taking on visionary projects. i.e. those longs shots ahead of the curve (Twitters, Facebooks).  I’m not sure if there is a real case for that as a reason.

These types of projects, as an entrepreneur repeatedly too early to market and who has failed to get VC’s to even understand where the market is headed, is a topic close to my heart.

Perhaps of course for those ventures it was my sales pitch, but -naturally- I would argue many VCs simply don’t understand enough about the market they invest in to understand a 5 or 10 year horizon, nor will put their proverbial balls on the line to risk investing in such a roll of the dice.

I would suggest these grand consumer projects (and certainly those which offer up no revenue until great mass is achieved) have never been embraced -let alone liked- by European VC’s. I see no past evidence of the inverse being true and I also can’t see how that is ever going to change.
I’ve become sadly resolved that we’d be better to work on improving the way EU VC invests in those sectors which already attract funding today; i.e. SaaS, enterprise, B2B and maybe consumer which has an immediate biz model & revenue stream (although these are still usually under-capitalised compared to US counterparts with whom they compete).
There is plenty of work to do around valuations, terms, knowledge and conduct; while being realistic about the appetite to build a next gen Twitter. I simply don’t think any EU VCs are hungry to do that.
I think that we (Europe) can give up on having the next Facebook, or more exactly, the thing which looks nothing like Facebook because it’s some AR LBS NFC MOSOSO which changes again the way the masses communicate, share, live work or play
…but I’d love someone to prove me wrong.