I'm glad I'm not the only one to think this internal memo is insane. Luckily, FastCompany already wrote their thoughts on Jason Goldberg's internal memo to employees trying to rally the troops. I wasn't originally even going to comment but after some thought, I wanted to add my comments.
First, some background on my thoughts. I, for one, am not known as indirect nor one to hold back. I've had my share of loud-mouth comments as a manager and I've always been one to lead the charge when necessary. Nevertheless, I believe most people would concur that I surely have my enemies and a bunch of people probably think I'm a dick.
At the same time, I'm the first to take responsibility for mistakes and will always step in front of any bullet aimed at my team. Even if I had nothing to do with the problem or fuckup, I'm taking the hit. That's what you do when people trust you to be their "boss". (Side note....I hate the concept of "leader". Employees shouldn't follow "leaders" like sheep. If they are allowed to think for themselves, they have a boss because they understand that companies demand that someone makes the decisions.)
But now, back to the point. These memos where a CEO who thinks himself a "leader" gets on his sandbox and spews his "rallying cry" are poor judgement. FastCompany already said it...they don't motivate...they actually piss people off, making them feel like idiots and brew resent. Why don't founders/CEO's/Leaders ever put themselves in the shoes of their employees when writing this crap? It's similar to the memos from Oli Samwer which slipped out where he was declaring himself "the most aggressive guy on the Internet". I know he's intense but let people make this distinction of you themselves. Don't tell nor god-forbid threaten them with it.
Now don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong about being intense, passionate and a go-getter as the boss. I aspire to do the same and it simply tends to be my style. My thought process is "why bother doing otherwise?" But there is a very fine line which is easily crossed and you seem psycho. Again, employees are not idiots. Inspire and motivate them and they will go for the long haul with you. Yet as soon as you disillusion them and become bat-shit crazy at the helm, your company is going nowhere as they've long shut down on you.
We live in a "getting shit done" day and age. I won't go so far as to say it's all a scam but after years of experience, I have to say I found out the hard way how important patience is. It's usually just better to wait instead of forcing things. So often in life, things tend to work themselves out and we can't always better the outcome by trying to influence it.
Now don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being focused and taking care of business. That is not what I am gettting at and you almost all know that you usually have to work on things to make stuff happen. Unfortunately, in the business world we don't have all the necessary experiences and skillsets at the start that we need. One of the things that I figured out is that patience is an art. You can learn it but you usually aren't born with it and it takes time. The younger you are, the more impulsive you tend to be. You don't have a "feel" for it and when to put it to use and when not to.
This isn't generally a bad thing. So many young entrepreneurs get ahead because they couldn't be bothered to sit and wait. Rightfully so! At the same time, so many, including myself rushed headlong into a situation basically winging it and hoping for the best instead of letting things take their course. I learned to understand patience by watching experienced people do their thing. After almost twenty years, I have to say those that were patient and never impulsive achieved the most. In my youth I was frustrated by their inactivity but in hindsight I saw how often it was a skill employed to better their outcome.
I could go on and on about this but I guess I can best illustrate my point with a couple of simple examples from my experiences:
1. Negotiation: my best outcomes when negotiating were achieved when I simply waited as long as possible. I waited to name my terms. I waited to name my price. I waited to respond to an aggravating email or to posturing. I waited for other options to appear. There was always a deadline of some sort. I had to get a deal closed, a customer signed, a partner on board and so forth. Yet, the majority of benefits (or mistakes) always came in the last moments. Wait for them! Be patient! Be diligent!
2. Employment: my worst jobs were the ones I jumped for, worrying that nothing better would come along. My best jobs actually appeared while waiting for another job to "get going" or a deal to be put on the table. They usually were unplanned positions, with an alternate company.
3. Fundraising: yes, you always "need" the money. It's usually better to have the funding on your account. But I've written often that it's not about the money. Further, desperation and fundraising do not go hand-in-hand. Not playing all your cards up front or showing need for the money always led to a better deal for me.
4. Fights: I don't mean bar brawls. There were always some kind of fights that turned up when doing business. The best response? No response. 9 out of 10 times, waiting to let things cool off resolved the problem. Emotion and anger never lead to positive outcomes (unless it's a bar brawl!) Wait for calmer times and then move forward.
5. Blogging/Tweeting/FB: I have erased many blog posts or updates simply because I waited a bit to think about whether I wanted to post something. Either I had made it too personal and someone would be harmed or it was out-of-line and didn't belong in a blog post or elsewhere online. This has definitely saved me a ton of aggravation. Patience was essential to see that something was off. There is never a need to be fast when on social networks or your blog (except if you're a journalist but that's another story!)
6. Firing/hiring: there are a ton of quotes out there "about never firing too early" and so forth. To some extent true but I feel that being patient and thinking about things and really understanding the situation have led to the best hires (and fires). Impulsive reactions when it comes to people and their jobs are just not smart moves.
7. Personal investments: I've made my best investments privately when I took the time to understand a company or stock. Sure, you may have left money on the table but you knew why you made the investment if you waited. Oftentimes, I skipped investments too because I simply waitied a while and saw that the reason I initially wanted to invest was misinformed. Saved a ton of money this way.
8. Mail: seriously, the old kind! You can't imagine how many times I put things in an envelope and let them sit to ultimately tear them open and replace something, add something or throw something out. I have a rule of never sending anything important out immediately, unless it's absolutely essential. (Sidenote: screwed this up last week and the wife's pissed....an envelope that should of sat a day longer!)
9. Phone calls: I don't answer them most of the time. If it's important someone will send an email/iMessage/SMS/FB Mail/SkypeMessage/TwitterDM and you save the time on the phone. See how many options there are for patient communication where you have time to think about your response? Skip the phone calls and don't jump at every ring of the device. Now there is always a time and place for phone calls and if I see who it is that is calling me, I will usually answer the phone. But I learned over the years that nothing is so urgent that it has to be done in real-time.
10. Purchases: most things can wait to be bought and you already know this. How often I waited to buy something and then simply skipped it because it wasn't necessary or I found a cheaper alternative. The urge to be "first" when buying something or having to have the newest thing never really helped much in life. Just wait it out and see whether you want tomorrow what you could have today.
11. Payments: you should never pay early. Yes, get your bills paid on time and so forth but why would you ever pay early? I was notorios for wanting to get things done and this included paying bills. Ridiculous....let the money sit on your account instead of theirs.
Most of this is common sense but I wish someone had sat me down in my teens or early twenties and explained to me a bunch of things where I should always employ patience. It seems so easy to see but I didn't when I was younger and it took me a long time to internalize the need for patience. I'm still not the best at it and I know a couple of zen masters of patience who I strive to emulate. At the same time, I've made it a point to think about this when decision-making and it helps to be reminded.
So it's been a couple hours now that the news is out: Facebook purchased WhatsApp for €16B (plus €3B on top for employee retention). There's plenty of press out there about this so have fun sifting. Nevertheless, it seems like there are two things missing from the analysis of this purchase.
1. Facebook just made every damn other messaging app that much more expensive. They have WhatsApp now. Good luck if you are a FB competitor and are considering buying one of WhatsApp's competitors. You just found out you have to pony up a shitload more to purchase them. If you're Google or Apple, that's no big deal. Everyone else though does kind of hurt if they have to spend 3 or 5 or 7 BILLION more, don't you think?
2. At the same time, every messaging app right now thinks it's worth twice as much as it did last night. Facebook took one of the leaders off the market and made the rest of the market a nightmare for a while! Super smart! See how they did it with Instagram. Thereafter, you just basically stopped hearing about photo apps. The market was DONE! Financing dried up for the segment and only the big boys remained. Same goes now for the messaging market.
Well played Mark. Well played!
P.S. There's a third point about this that is blatantly clear but bears repeating. Once again, Silicon Valley proves that if you want the real money, you have to have cross-pollination at board level and amongst your VC's to really drive up valuation. Does the 16B make sense? Hell no! Does it make sense amongst the network of players "in the game" out West! You bet!
I've done my share of reference calls in my career and to be honest, the majority were basically crap. This isn't to say that I am the best individual when it comes to making reference calls but in hindsight I always wondered whether I benefited at all. Further, I always ended up questioning more why the person whom I spoke to was actually given as a reference. My personal opinion as to whom you want to call when referencing me is people who probably hate my guts. Even better, call those who think I'm a complete idiot. They'll probably go on for hours giving you wonderful information as opposed to someone who is just cheerleading for me.
Therefore, this post is not about what to ask when doing a reference call. It's about what to say when you are the person being asked to give a reference. Seriously, on a reference call, you want the person whom you call to do all the talking. If you have to ask too many questions, you already know they suck. Honestly, most people aren't often called and asked to give a reference. I've on the other hand probably done 100 reference calls at this point in my career for either individuals seeking a job, VC's raising funds, entrepreneurs raising capital, candidates applying for grants, students applying to schools and the cops have called me a couple times too (but we'll keep those details to ourselves!)
So what is it that you should talk about when called and asked to be a reference for someone? First and foremost, talk about who they are. Do you really want to try and paint a pretty picture of someone, leading them to land in a shit job that doesn't fit their personality or career path? I don't!
Further, discuss what they are really good at. No one really should be trying to focus on their weaknesses. Most people are being chosen for their strengths. Focus on this when talking about them. Impress me and tell me everything you think they are really good at. Trust me, people want to hear the good stuff. If someone is an excellent cook but is trying to raise a fund....who cares, go ahead and talk about it. It shows they have a life outside of the office. It also shows that you know this person.
Don't shy away from things that aren't necessarily considered positive. If I think someone has hated being a sales guy because he secretly wants to be a developer, I say so...even if they are applying for a sales job. You never actually know what was discussed between the other two parties. You also never know what the interviewer is really trying to get at. Don't try to figure it out. Go in depth about what you know. If you don't know, please say so and don't try to figure out an answer. It often ends up painting a false picture and you are doing everyone a disservice.
Feel free to focus on personal stuff. I've told interviewers that someone is a great person but she is going through a divorce now and may be distracted. Really, why not give this information? In this case, I know that the candidate was relieved to be able to vent about her personal stress and the employer ended up accommodating her. Her boss had also gone through a divorce. She is still in that job and loves it. I've also discussed someone who was an alcoholic and went to rehab. I was fascinated by their development and how well they overcame a really shitty part of their lives. I would of hired this individual in a snap. The interviewer did and this candidate is a huge benefit to that organization.
Don't obviously when being interviewed bitch about someone and say things you wouldn't tell them directly. If you were mistakenly given as a reference and have an axe to grind, don't be a wimp and do so directly with someone. I make a point of calling back everyone I give a reference for and discussing exactly what I said about them. I want them to know what details were given and make sure they don't walk into a situation they aren't prepared for. Not one call has ever led me to regret being candid and/or having gone in depth into this person's traits. Folks were often surprised at how detailed or open I was with my feedback but I always explained my motives and I don't feel that I've ever led anyone to be in a worse off situation after someone interviewed me.
Finally, if you can't be a reference for someone, say so. I've been called a couple times and couldn't even remember who the person was. I was completely up front with this information. I always made a point of saying how well I know someone and how much interaction I had with them. It's not a vanity thing to be interviewed and if you don't have anything interesting to say about someone, skip being a reference for them. You're otherwise just wasting your time and other people's time.
Mark's post on what you should look for when picking a VC saw a lot of play the past couple of days. As usual, Mark writes extensively about what he feels he would do when deciding which investor to work with. As usual, his posts give great and thorough advice. Unfortuntely, in this case, I think he's taking the wrong approach to the problem. Further, I agree that I, along with a ton of other VC bloggers, often make this mistake.
Telling someone how to pick their VC is basically like telling a fat kid* how to pick his girlfriend. He should "find the girl that likes him for who he is!" "Pick her because she's interesting and not pretty!" "Make sure she is kind to animals!" Blah, blah, blah! I don't have to give you the list of things that "fat kid" hears. Unfortunately, fat kid doesn't have the problem of knowing how to "pick". Honestly, he's probably read everything there is to read about how to "pick" and "what to look for". The problem really is that fat kid probably doesn't have the balls to talk to girls. He is probably shy and doesn't have the circle of friends containing all those "pretty, interesting, fun girls!" He would rather die than blindly walk up to a girl and ask her out. Further, if he's actually had the courage to do so, he's been turned down and is ashamed.
The same goes for most start-ups. Telling them how to pick their VC is great but they are probably better served understanding how to get to the point of picking VC's. Again, Mark has posted about this in the past and he is one of the VC bloggers that goes deep in terms of giving advice. I am not crapping on his blog post and he's surely far smarter than I am. Unfortunately, as a young start-up, reading all these posts on "picking" is probably frustrating as hell so let me see if I can't help a bit on the "approach" verses the "decision".
So, how do you get to VC's? Well, it contains two major overlying themes and a bunch of hard work. Those two themes are (1.) your product and (2.) you as well as your team. Let's get product and team quickly out of the way. They better rock. There's a ton of posts out there on this. Go read them. Now, back to the main problem: YOU (or you and your cofounders!) Getting to VC's is all about YOU! Let's get back to "fat kid" for a second. How do I get fat kid a date? Well, I would first focus on fat kid himself. Don't be "fat" is my first word of advice. (All you politically correct, it's not about appearances folks can leave now. Reality is that you make a first impression on appearances.) Go to the gym. Start running. Join a team sport. Whatever....become active. Yes, it will make you "look" better but probably more likely it will put you in touch with other people. You will not only get more fit but you will build your circle of friends and they KNOW girls. Gyms contain girls. Football has cheerleaders and so forth.
Same is the case for the start-up. You are probably "fat" as a founder. No one knows who you are or cares about you. Get out. Go do things. Be at the events where VC's and entrereneurs hang out. Go to Barcamps and StartUp Weekends. Go to hackathons. Meet-ups! Whatever. Just get out there. Sitting at your computer in your office won't work. You can watch what others do and learn. If nothing else, mimic those who are successful. If you copy them long enough, you will develop your own style and feel comfortable with it.
Back to fat kid. I'd tell him that when he is around girls, he should talk to each and every one of them. Start with the mediocre ones! They don't get as much attention as the pretty girls (and are usually cooler anyway!) (Again, politically correct folks....move on!) This gets you the necessary practice and makes you comfortable. You need to know what to say and it has to come naturally or you otherwise look like an idiot.
Likewise for start-ups. You have to be able to talk to investors. In order to have your choice of VC's, you need to actually have a choice. If you haven't talked to at least ten of them, you won't even have two to pick from. There's a ton of competition out there and VC's are getting pitched non-stop. Pick some mediocre ones and go practice your story. You really have to shine nowadays to even get a first meeting. That second meeting is so unlikely that you better optimize best you can to get it. Practice, practice, practice.
Third thing I would tell fat kid is that life is pretty simple but not easy. You can meet the model of your dreams but after you start dating her, she turns out to be a complete bore.** It really isn't about the looks, yet we all know that. We unfortunately always get thrown for a loop by the looks. If you were the fat kid, you want your "share of the pie" too. This makes us nervous and in hindsight, we always ask ourselves why we were so nervous or concerned about things that couldn't matter less.
Same is the case with VC's. You know you shouldn't pick for brand or hype. Nevertheless, admit it....you find Kleiner or Sequoia far sexier than "So & So Regional Fund". Further, you're going to be crapping yourself pitching them far more than you would that regional fund. It's all irrelevant. In hindsight you will find out whether your VC really is a good partner or not by working together with them. No matter HOW MUCH diligence you do, something about your VC will surprise you after the fact. They too are human. For all I know, they may be Mark Suster (best VC evah!!!) :-) yet a month after they invest are getting divorced and couldn't care less about you. That's just the way it goes. Don't sweat it.
I could go on and on. Remember that it's not really about picking the right VC. You can never be 100% correct. It's far more about growing your business and serving your customers. Picking a VC is a part of a process which contains so many steps that years down the road, you'll laugh at how nervous you were preparing for a pitch.
*I was a fat kid so I speak from experience!
** I 've dated models and they are boring!
This is just a theory but I would ponder that the likelihood of a VC's* success is directly related to whether they need to earn their salary or not. If a VC came into the game without needing a job, their decisions are more likely, in my opinion, to lead to homeruns than otherwise.
In my eyes, it's pretty simple. If fear of financial failure doesn't factor into your decisions, you will most likely make better ones, all other factors remaining equal. I am of course presuming that the VC is skilled in another way, which is the reason they were asked to be a partner at a firm. This means that they were either already an entrepreneur or something else along those lines beforehand. Very few partners worked their way up from entry-level position through to successful and financially secure partner (I only know of Fred Wilson). Further, and I doubt there is accessible data on this, I would bet that the VC's who came into their role with "fuck-you" money already in their account have generated higher returns on average than those with less personal wealth.
Fear is a horrible factor to throw into the equation when working as a VC. It forces you to do stupid things, like take too much equity away from founders up front or negotiate ridiculous terms into your contract. It also leads to mediocre outcomes as you are not investing in the edge cases that generate the real returns. You probably also end up selling too early and locking in returns instead of going for broke. Finally, you are impatient and not willing to let things happen. Go too many paychecks without returns and your partners get antsy.
What's the takeaway for someone working with VC's? Find those that have experience, play fair and are generally seen as good guys, have a track-record of success AND additionally a boat load of money socked away somewhere.
*By "VC" I mean someone at partner level at a venture fund.
Everyone seems so surprised that Nest sold to Google. Specifically, most are surprised by the $3.2B price tag. I am not. It's a smart move for Google and a wonderful step for Nest . Seriously, does anyone think the $3.2b is going to put any dent in Google's account?
Having recently purchased my house, I'd love to install Nest here in Europe. Not possible yet but as soon as it is, I will. Further, the idea behind Nest.....to completely wire the house and get everything connected is very much in line with what I want to do in my house. I want to be able to control everything via an app from wherever I am.....be it my alarm, my blinds, my heating and air conditioning, etc.....and I want the hardware to look good. Unfortunately, this evolution is going far too slow for me. I feel like we are now waiting for so many things to happen....announced but not yet ready. Another device I'd love to have but not yet available....the Canary. This too is a great idea, adds real value to me and just looks good. But not quite there yet.
Hopefully, with Google getting into the game, things will speed up. It's a bit scary to think that eventually Google may know about everything going on in my home but at the same time, I too want to know this!
Seriously, speak up if you are trying to sell a product or yourself. Have an opinion and share it and if necessary, defend it. It may be a European thing but very few young people I run across lately are truly memorable or bold. There is the odd exception here and there and usually, at the far end of the spectrum. With this, I mean new candidates for positions or folks pitching their ideas or interns and students whose paths I cross. Unfortunately, almost all the rest are meek and meager in their attempts.
One thing I learned along the way was that people forget you fast. If there isn't something about you that they can remember, they won't.
If nothing else, have an opinion.
It's better to be considered an asshole or arrogant than to be completely forgotten or ignored. This is truly American advice and trust me, I am not preaching that everyone become annoying. I am simply presuming that you or your product are wonderful. On top of that though you have to truly "work it" to get ahead. There is nothing wrong with selling yourself and those who get it will understand. Just don't take a "no" and let that be. Consider it a "maybe".....a non-response is more of a "no" so take it from there. And for crying out loud, don't be 150% to get the job or sale and then flame out horribly thereafter.
It's an art and not a science to know when to push and when to give up.
No one is an expert at it but you learn eventually just how hard and where to push. It becomes easier to know when to stop but without trying, you won't ever find out. Trust me, if you push too far when it comes to applying for a job or when trying to land a customer, the world won't end. There is no secret society on the back-channel who will discuss you or your attempts at closing a deal. You won't burn your bridges unless you clearly are trying to cause harm. As long as you are pushy and eager to achieve your goals, you're good to go.
Now, there is the flip side to being too pushy. As already mentioned, it has to all be in an attempt to achieve the goal...landing the job or getting the sale. If you start becoming a nuisance because you are wasting someone's time or are a distraction from greater priorities, then you are too far. You haven't done your homework. Also by clearly "cheating" to get your goals, you are breaking "the rules". You can be creative and "push" on the rules of engagement but breaking them is bad form. That's the fine line between art and science. Be bold, be opinionated and get what you want. Otherwise, don't bother.
When it comes to payment, I have to admit that I am the first person to want to rid myself of cash first and foremost, followed by credit cards. Give me an app that I open and pay with at the click of a button and I'm golden. Now, I bet a bunch of you could point me to ten different solutions that already allow me to do this today. I can probably also name ten off the top of my head. Unfortunately, that's the problem.
Even though we could technically leave cash and credit cards behind at this point with the available technology out there, we won't. I also don't believe that we will rid ourselves of these payment methods anytime soon. The world out there is too fractured in terms of transactions and systems in place to make a sweeping change short-term. Now don't get me wrong! I am convinced we will eventually only pay digitally and new forms of currency will emerge. Yet, the time to get there is more like ten years in my opinion.
The first thing that has to happen for digital payment to really take hold is that at least one or two standards need to be in place. I have to be able to pay with that app when getting gas, buying groceries, online, offline and so forth. I don't care to have five different apps for five different use cases. Further, this standard has to be accepted everywhere and not just here and there, forcing me to still carry cash and credit cards. Finally, I believe we will first see cash go (if) and a couple years later, credit cards. It won't happen at once and it's one of those changes which evolve as Bill Gates said:
We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction.
Hence I believe now is the time to be disrupting things in payments and FinTech in general but it will take time before we can say the world has been turned on its head when it comes to cash and credit cards. Those changes kicked off with PayPal back in the early naughts are just bearing fruit now and you probably won't be universally paying with your phone everywhere you go until 2020 or so. Just for the record, I hope I am totally wrong and it all comes sooner.