20 February 2014

How To Be Human, Part III

Note that this is a slight tangent in my series on teaching new entrepreneurs how to behave like decent humans. 

Everyone loves a winner, right?

Well... not so much. Everyone loves a good winner, yes. But trust me - there are more ways to lose by winning than you can imagine. And one of the easiest ways as an entrepreneur to turn your win into a loss is by fucking over the people who helped you win.

Sharing your successes with the people who helped you succeed is just basic human decency. But it's also a good practice. I'll explain through a little story telling...

About 15 years ago or so I helped out a few entrepreneurs in a very small manner. I was writing content for developers on Netscape's website, and I wrote about a very cool Web Application Server product. When ATG eventually went public, Joe Chung and Jeet Singh did something very cool. They threw a few friends and family shares my way to thank me.

Because it's The Right Thing.

It's the right thing to do as a decent and ethical human - but also because it's the right thing to do in business. This is a small industry, you never know when you might need someone in the future, and it's always good to earn some favors due. In fact, since then I've done all I can to help and support their future businesses - because they are the kind of decent people (as demonstrated here) that I want to see succeed.

I feel like every entrepreneur knew this 15 or 20 years ago.

Now contrast that with a more recent story.

An entrepreneur I know sold his start-up. A few of their employees were not desired by the acquiring company, so they were terminated at the deal. Many of these employee also hadn't been at the company for a year and thus hadn't vested any shares.

The entrepreneur cut loose these employees, who had helped the business grow to the point where it was desirable enough to be bought, without any sort of pay out.

So the entrepreneur just had a big win - which was not fairly shared.

Now... was this something the company had the right to do? Well... I'm not a lawyer but I'm confident in saying of course they had the right. But just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

So now this entrepreneur has some potentially pissed off former employees who feel screwed over. And it's a fucking small industry. And people talk.

This is wrong.
And it is stupid and short-sighted.

I was involved in the acquisition of an agency years ago. As with many agencies, the only shareholders were the owners of the business. But when the deal closed, they made sure that every single employee got paid something. Now... in some cases the payouts were not big or anything, but that's not the point. They shared the win.

I bet if you talk to any of those employees they're loyal to those owners to this day.
I bet if you talk about the agency in the market - you hear nothing but good to this day.
And I bet if you talk to those owners - they haven't regretted sharing that win for one fucking second.

Because being a decent person is more important than being a successful entrepreneur.

07 February 2014

How to be a Human, Part II

In my ongoing attempts to teach the modern startup entrepreneur how to be more human (or at least better at faking that they're not an alien from planet douchehat), here is part two in the new series.

I know that from your perspective it's hard to tell the difference between "confident creative out of the box thinker who rejects the status quo" and "arrogant fucking asshole who thinks that they've got nothing to learn from anyone" but for normal humans the difference is fundamental and profound.

In addition, while the former is actually the kind of person who is valuable to the long-term success of a start-up, the latter is (in general) largely fatal to such companies. Sure... there are asshole arrogant halfwits who have had startup success - but to be clear... that's luck. So unless you're the kind of person who truly believes that this week you're going to win the lottery... you should not count on luck for your success.

Without further ado... here is how to be the right kind of human in this case. It's quite simple and it consists of some simple self-questioning.

  1. When someone disagrees with you, is your first reaction to want to know why they disagree (or is it to immediately write them off as morons)?
  2. How many times a week do you realize you were wrong about something? Once a day or more (or never or at most one time a week)?
  3. Do you believe that doing something new/ different / innovative is a good means to the desired end (or the end in and of itself)?
  4. Do you try as much as possible to hire people smarter and more experienced than you (or is there no-one out there who is better than you)?
  5. Do you respond to people who provide constructive criticism by bringing them tighter into your circle (or by rejecting them from it)?

In each of the cases above - the first option means you're probably at least able to fake being human whereas the second answer means you might be from Planet Smarmysociopathassface.

So... if you failed the above, it's time to change. Because let me tell you... even the VCs are starting to get sick of dealing with people like you.