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If The Shoe Fits: The Stupidity Of Always On

Friday, June 30th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mBack in the distant 1980s, when startups were valued for what they did, as opposed to the cash they raised, a founder made a casual comment that has stuck with me all these years.

He said, “There will be times when my team has to pull all-nighters, but if it happens often it is a failure of management to correctly schedule the work and set viable deadlines, as opposed to an unexpected emergency.”

Boy, has that changed. These days founders brag about their 80-120-always-on-hour-weeks and expect their team to do the same.

And they do.

It’s the new techie status symbol.

And not just in tech land.

The gig economy not only brags about it, they base their recruiting on it.

 “You eat a coffee for lunch,” the [Fiverr] ad proclaims. “You follow through on your follow through. Sleep deprivation is your drug of choice. You might be a doer.”

Doer? Or exploitee?

Or, more accurately, stupid, with a capital S.

“A culture of overwork is damaging because it turns brief binges of hard work into a long-term strategy, and, worse still, an expectation. When managers start measuring the worth of their employees according to how quickly they return emails at 3 a.m., that particular work culture is broken,” Adam Alter, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, told Business Insider in an email. (He wrote a book about how technology keeps us “always on.”)

Stupid because 80-100+ hour weeks lowers creativity and productivity, while increasing coding and other errors. Not to mention lost sales and misunderstandings.

Founders take note. Not of me, but of the research, crunch the numbers, and analyze the data.

Then think twice, send your team home and go yourself and get some sleep.

Even Uber is planning on that.

“Uber is a data-driven company, and the data shows unequivocally that when you work longer, you are not working smarter,” Uber board member Arianna Huffington told the company’s employees during an all-hands meeting last week, according to leaked audio obtained by Yahoo.
Huffington also added that employees won’t have to be “always on” and responsive to whatever is going on at the office, no matter where they are. Because “when you’re always on you’re depleted, you are distracted,” and “not as creative” as you are when you’re well-rested, Huffington also said, channeling the thesis of her new pro-sleep startup Thrive.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Your Survival vs. Their Hyperbole

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThe words and images people share through social media have enormous spin.

This is especially true in the startup world where image is everything and perception is key to the next round of funding or investment.

The purpose is to tell the world how world-changing the tech, amazing the team, great the opportunity and how perfectly they are executing.

In other words, they are ‘crushing their goals’, ‘wowing the world’ and ‘killing it’.

Not only that, they are doing it with nary a bump or pothole along the way.

(If you believe that I have a great deal on a lovely orange bridge that would look great in your backyard after you IPO.)

Lee Hower, Co-founder & Partner of NextView Ventures and former entrepreneur at LinkedIn and PayPal, wrote a very needed commentary regarding the hyperbole that irrigates the startup ecosystem.

As he says, “not everybody is killing it and certainly not all the time.”

If anything, the constant social media barrage claiming to be ‘killing it’ is increasing denial, making it harder to admit the challenges, let alone actual problems, and further limiting entrepreneurs ability to talk about it.

Two years ago I wrote about the high incidence of depression and suicide among entrepreneurs and it hasn’t improved.

Entrepreneurs who go public do so after the fact offering useful insights on how they overcame. While this is valuable, it can make it even more difficult for those in the throes, with no one to talk to.

Entrepreneurship is a double-edged sword; while it can be enormously rewarding, it can also destroy and even kill you — or all of the above.

There are two important take-aways in all this.

  1. Don’t believe everything you see/hear about how others are doing.
  2. Never forget that your pursuits won’t thrive unless you survive.

Ttake care of yourself.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Founders/Programmers vs. Users

Friday, April 7th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

It is said that one picture is worth a thousand words.

This image provides a simple, easy-to-understand explanation of why apps often fail.

http://www.par2.com/ComputerFunnies/computer_funnies.htm

Note to founder/programmers, etc.

Contrary to what you may have heard (or experienced on the receiving end), users are not a necessary evil.

They pay your salary, as well as other incidentals, such as rent, electricity, pizza and beer.

Cherish them.

Image credit: Computer Funnies

If the Shoe Fits: Cards Against Humanity’s Great Super Bowl Ad

Friday, February 10th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

If you don’t live in the Midwest you probably missed one of the best, not to mention apropos, super Bowl ads shown.

The ad was from Cards Against Humanity and they listed the reasons it failed on their blog.

  • We wasted time with establishment thinking.
  • Overconfidence in the model.
  • Bad luck.
  • Failure to trust our customers.
  • We were asking the wrong questions.
  • Our ad failed to connect with young people.
  • We were too early.
  • We didn’t add music.
  • We didn’t add music.

How many times have you heard founders say similar things?

Yup, it reads like a generic laundry list of the reasons “why startups fail.”

And they end the post with a fervent Valley paean to failure.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAt Cards Against Humanity, we believe that you can only become a master by trying and failing. In this way, failure is life’s greatest teacher; failure is actually success. At Cards Against Humanity, we fail all the time. We are veterans of failure. And constant failure, plus unlimited capital, is what led us to greatness.

Now you know why this post is called “if the shoe fits”…

Image credit: HikingArtist    
Video credit: Business Insider

If The Shoe Fits: Hypocrisy And Greed In Startup Land

Friday, January 27th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mTuesday I cited a post by Scott Belsky on Medium talking about how employees are often conned (my word) by founders, especially unicorns, when it comes to the wealth that is supposed to flow from their ISO.

As pithy as the post was, some of the comments were even pithier. I especially like this one from  colorfulfool (21st comment)

If profitability were proportional to hypocrisy, there would be no failed startups in the Valley.

Not just true, but succinctly and elegantly stated.

Founders love to talk about the importance of transparency, trust and authenticity.

However, their stock plans and pitfalls thereof exhibit such a high degree of opaqueness and caveat emptor that they kick a hole the size of Texas in the fabric of the founders’ authenticity.

Another prevalent piece of hypocrisy is “change the world.”

Do you really believe that another dating app or being able to evaluate a new restaurant or a better way to buy your groceries will change the world?

While they may impact one’s personal world, they certainly don’t have the impact of something like Mine Kafon.

What is proportional to the Valley’s hypocrisy is its sheer greed.

Actually, when I stop to think about it, the greed probably exceeds even the hypocrisy.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Founder Riddles

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

How are founders like pandas?

panda

Where can you go that is crazy different and extreme?

swingOK. Break’s over.

Now click for some of the best leadership advice available that will help you move closer to that swing.

Image credit: YesEmails.com

If the Shoe Fits: Rollercoasters and Responsibility

Friday, September 9th, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

Last week KG shared a quote from Marc Andreessen.

“First and foremost, a start-up puts you on an emotional rollercoaster unlike anything you have ever experienced. You flip rapidly from day-to-day – one where you are euphorically convinced you are going to own the world, to a day in which doom seems only weeks away and you feel completely ruined, and back again. 

Over and over and over. 

And I’m talking about what happens to stable entrepreneurs. There is so much uncertainty and so much risk around practically everything you are doing. The level of stress that you’re under generally will magnify things to incredible highs and unbelievable lows at whiplash speed and huge magnitude. 

Sound like fun?”

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIt’s likely Marc wrote this with founders in mind, but it applies to all employees, as well as those whose lives are connected in whatever way — spouses, kids, relatives, friends, etc.

Actually, it is worse for them, because they rarely have a full picture of what’s going on.

Sometimes that’s good; workers need to concentrate on their work.

But they also need to know when difficulties arise; they need to know if their job may be going south.

They need honesty and transparency from the person they’ve chosen to follow and whose vision they are working to make real.

It’s part of the social contract Matt wrote about a few years ago.

It’s Zach Ware’s focus about what to do when a startup needs to close.

It’s what the founders of Shift and WrkRiot chose not to do — to the total detriment of the people who trusted them.

It’s my recommendation regarding bad news.

It’s on you because it’s your rollercoaster, your responsibility to do the safety checks and your job to notify people before it jumps the track.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If the Shoe Fits: the Wrongest Way to Close a Company

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn June we learned the right way to close a company and last month we got a lesson in the wrong way to do it.

Right, wrong; what’s left?

(Allegedly) crooked.

How crooked?

Penny Kim is a marketing professional who relocated from Dallas in July to work for WrkRiot (formerly known as 1for.one and apparently also known as JobSonic) for $135,000 a year plus equity and a $10,000 signing bonus for relocation expenses,

It ended with her dismissal in August after she filed a complaint with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement over failure to properly pay her

If you wonder whether she’s just another disgruntled employee, she’s not.

Not when the CEO gives everyone faked documentation of wage payment.

“Thursday, August 4th was D-Day … That afternoon in the office, Michael emailed each employee a personalized PDF receipt of a Wells Fargo wire transfer with the message: ‘Here is the receipt. It has been calculated for the taxes on your semi-monthly salary and signing bonus. The money is arriving either today or tomorrow. I am sorry about the delay.'”

But the receipts were fake.

Al Brown, former CTO and one of the founders, confirmed much of her account, even the most outrageous accusation: The CEO she dubbed “Michael,” whose LinkedIn profile identifies him as Isaac Choi, gave employees fake receipts for money wire transfers to convince them the company had paid their back wages when in fact it hadn’t.

Not even a good fake, since the photoshopped receipts said 2014.

Even after that two employees lent the company an additional $65K.

All told, Choi burned through $695,000 (his own initial $400,000, Brown’s $230,000 and the borrowed $65,000) in less than a year.

A comment on Hacker News should serve as a bona fide caveat emptor for everyone in the global startup world, not just in Silicon Valley.

“Welcome to the club. It’s pretty much a rite of passage here to spend some time with a psychopath VC, a completely self absorbed CTO with a rich investor dad that fuels his fantasies, or an idiotic CEO with an ego problem, and to pay the price for it (just time if you’re lucky, time+money if you’re not).”

This isn’t a warning not to join, just a note to do so with your eyes open.

There’s a reason it’s called “due diligence” and it’s as much for employees as it is for founders and investors.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: What’s in a Name?

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

Over the years, founders have asked my for my opinion and ideas on naming their company and/or product.

They ask, but they rarely listen.

Especially if they already have an idea — which they are usually in love with.

They aren’t looking for ideas, let alone an opinion that differs from what  they already think.

They are looking for agreement and validation.

Of course, I’m not an expert and don’t present myself as such.

That said, common sense and past flubs say that product names need to be relevant — to the product, the market and especially to the target country/language/culture.

Additionally, they need to be easy to remember and spell — particularly “created” words.

Lean methodology recommends MVPs for market validation and the same should apply to naming.

Proof of the importance of listening to market input is demonstrated by CB Insights’ CEO/Co-Founder Anand Sanwal, who recently told the story not only of how the company got its name, but also its logo.

When we started the company, we called ourselves ChubbyBrain.  We were always focused on private company data but we were trying to be hip and startup’y (or that is what we’d like to believe)

Anand says their wake-up call came from a potential client.

We love the product and the data and what you guys are doing.  But we can’t buy a product called ChubbyBrain.

Wow. Talk about wake-up call; more like revelry played five inches from your ear.

You can see how the logo changed, too, from this

chubbybrain-logo-worst-logo-ever

To its current incarnation.

Amazing what you happens when you listen to the people who will actually pay you.

Image credit: CB Insights

If the Shoe Fits: Prequel to How to Delegate

Friday, August 12th, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI constantly field question from founders about delegating, which actually means ‘how do I let go’?

But before tackling that question, there is a more fundamental question that you need to think through first.

There is no right answer to the question, because the answer rests on a psychological difference between entrepreneurs that has nothing to do with investment, revenue or even number of employees.

  • It’s the ability to trust others and not believing that you know best.
  • It’s the difference between making yourself central to every action and decision within the company or taking time to hire well, delegate and then get out of the way, so people can do their jobs.
  • It’s the difference between being self-employed — even if you have 80 employees and $50 M revenue — and creating a self-sustaining entity that will keep going without you.
  • Simply put, it’s the difference between holding on and letting go.

The way you choose is by being ruthlessly honest with yourself about how best you function; not how other people think you should function.

And if you don’t like your choice then change it by changing your MAP.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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