Category Archives: Humor

Posted On September 5th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

How many assholes does it take to tank a startup?

Below is a past blog post that triggered many favorable comments from readers. So, we’re bringing it back for our fans…

Despite the celebrated “no assholes” rule that many founders claim defines the culture of their startup or is a guiding rule for interviews/hiring, our experience is a lot of assholes slip through the net.

Here are some of the types that we’ve encountered:

Dick, the brilliant coder: This is a stereotype, to be sure, but where do you think stereotypes come from? These are the socially- and hygienically-challenged guys who live in their own bunker and aren’t allowed to interface with customers. The largest % of assholes is among the technical group, many of whom lack both the social skills and the self-awareness to even know they have a problem. And they get to skate because of a simple fact: no product, no company. Unfortunately, they will hire in their own image and then you’ve got an engineering team of assholes.

Dick, the sales chief: Just as CEOs will defend obnoxious behavior by citing Steve Jobs, VPs of Sales will defend their boorish behavior by saying the pressure they’re under to drive revenue (often when the product is late or still being created) entitles them to be an asshole. Maybe it’s in the DNA, but, unlike the technical founders, these guys (and they’re almost always guys) can control themselves. They just choose not to..

Dick, the board member who is a self-appointed expert in marketing: This guy surfaces when launch plans, timelines and fundamental positioning and messaging are being finalized. Because he is a board member, he can claim the freedom to exit the boardroom and wander the halls, opining about everything from product nomenclature to website structure. Under the guise of ‘just trying to help’ he (and they’re almost always guys) can either hijack or move the launch off its track. Trust us, we’ve seen it. If the CEO lets this go on, it can be incredibly destructive to the team.

Board members can bring pivotal insights and advice at critical points in the lifespan of a startup. But they never seem to offer advice as “a” point of view. It’s always “the” point of view (or an opinion that the offer as ‘fact’) that can sway the startup team in a way that shuts down conversation or consideration.

If you don’t believe us when we say assholes in Silicon Valley are a problem, read the book from 2007 by Dr. Robert Sutton. Or, better yet, take the self-assessment by none other than Guy Kawasaki.


Posted On April 4th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

April brings new 4 new-ish terms to Silicon Valley

Eco-anxiety: if you’re nervous about climate change, Trump’s “clean coal” delusion, etc., then you’ve got eco-anxiety.

SCIF: Thanks, House Intelligence Committee, for introducing this new word into the mainstream. That’s a sensitive compartmented information facility for reviewing secure and/or illegally obtained documents.

Prenounce: Our president likes to take credit for things that happened before he took office. And now we have a word for that.

Bro culture: If your startup has a diversity problem, then it may be related to its “bro culture” which favors young men, often those who sound solid but who are often inexperienced, cocky and hard to work with.

Posted On March 28th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

More chiefs than you can shake a stick at

Your startup must have a few chiefs already: chief executive officer, chief technology officer, chief marketing officer…and maybe now you’re considering hiring a Chief of Staff which is a role that’s becoming popular in larger startups. (See our recent blog on this trend.)

But it turns out there is a veritable explosion of chiefs out there: everything from Chief Customer Officer to Chief Wonk to Chief Algorithms Officer. After a quick tour through LinkedIn, we found a bunch of noteworthy titles listed below. Title inflation? Hard to say. But as a watcher of trends, both good and bad, we caution all startup teams to go easy on handing out the title “chief” (primarily because higher equity expectations come with that title).

Taking a bit of editorial license here: remember that too many chiefs in the kitchen spoil the MVP…

Chief Revenue Officer

Chief Algorithms Officer

Chief Innovation Officer

Chief Data Scientist

Chief People Officer

Chief Network Architect

Chief Product Officer


Chief Evangelist

Chief Culture and Talent Officer

Chief Customer Officer

Chief Wonk

And they’re hiring:

Chief Merchandising Officer

Chief Impact Officer





Posted On September 13th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

The Meh list for Startups

This is our list of some of the attributes of startups that are “in” and others that are just, well, “meh”….screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-2-10-23-pm

* for more on the bold claim, see our earlier blog post

Posted On September 21st, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

Startup marketing – this is bullshit bingo, Q32015

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 3.47.08 PM

Posted On March 2nd, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

The Shit Startup CEOs Say – part #66

We’re now working with our 33rd, 34th and 35th startup clients. And, before forming Crowded Ocean seven years ago, we worked as initial VPs of Marketing for a number of early-stage companies. In working with that many founders and CEOs we’ve encountered everything from dead-on brilliance to things that make you wince.

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 10.16.49 AMWe started writing down some of these gems because they crystallize so perfectly that what a CEO says can quickly become a guiding force in a startup’s culture and brand. (So, beware…)

Here are some of our favorites:

We don’t invest in market research because it just tells us something we already know. 

We do have some competitors. There’s one in Boston that’s the brightest of the retards.

 We need to be careful with our next hire because our team is already far too asp-y.*           

(asp-y = Asperger’s)

Our decisions come later than most startups because we’re more sausage-y.

 Our VC Board member is worth listening to. But he’s at least 85% as smart as he thinks he is.

Posted On January 19th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

New entrants in startup marketing “Bullshit Bingo”

We love to track how the jargon factory that is Silicon Valley churns out new terms and catch-phrases that are quickly adopted (and satirized) by industry watchers and pundits (Colbert, we will miss you.)

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 9.33.38 AMAnd since it’s that time of year when everyone likes to make predictions, we thought we’d take a shot at identifying terms that in 2015 may be headed to the trash heap of overused terms (think: “compelling”).

Disrupt – When a startup claims to be “disrupting” the mayonnaise market with a new plant-based product, we know that we’ve got a term that’s a new entrant in the land of bullshit bingo. Congrats to startup team Hampton Creek on their funding, growth and vision. But, really, let’s not call your vegan mayonnaise disruptive.

Industry-leading – Do we need to explain why this is on the list? What’s surprising is that it will not die.

Mission-critical – We’ve declared this one as officially dead long ago, but it’s a zombie term that keeps coming back. It’s a trusty phrase for bullshit bingo play.

Agile – Despite the fact that agile software development is a legitimate business practice, the term “agile” has become hackneyed. Proof is that it’s got it’s own bullshit bingo play here.

Let the best bullshitter win. Play on.

Posted On January 6th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

Refrigerators and startups

Everyone knows about the stocked refrigerators and bring-in lunches that are the hallmark of the startup world. And the same ‘everyone’ knows that it’s not generosity but productivity that is the driving force behind these stocked items.Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 9.29.58 AM

Recently we’re seeing an alarming trend in these refrigerators: healthy items. Red Bulls and diet Cokes are having to share space with flavored waters and vegetable juices. Caffeine and MSG are no longer the mother’s milk of the startup world.

It took us a while to figure it out, but now we—and the VCs we counsel—look at the refrigerators as we’re evaluating a company and its prospects. Our take: the ones with the healthy foods are in it for the long haul—the IPO. The Red Bulls are looking to be acquired.

Posted On March 3rd, 2014 by Crowded Ocean

Shit CEOs Say: If you know your market, you don’t need research

Most of our postings for ‘Shit CEOs Say” come from startups, who are creating a company for the first time and can be, in part at least, forgiven for their naivete.This week’s startup marketing gem comes from someone who should have known better: a long-time CEO for a billion-dollar software company.

Years ago, when I was running Corporate Marketing at this juggernaut, we were in the process of changing our advertising agencies. The incoming agency, at that time regarded as the best advertising agency by a long shot, wanted to do some pre/post testing to see how our company was regarded in the market—and what we could do to leverage the strengths and obviate the weaknesses. But the CEO vetoed the project, saying:  “Research only tells you what you already know.”

Years later, we finally did the market research. And the company fared extremely poorly in market perception. I’ll always wonder if we could have changed that had we gone ahead with the research and acted on what we found.

Posted On December 16th, 2013 by Crowded Ocean

Shit startup CEOs say

When we dive in at the beginning of a marketing engagement with a new startup team, there are always challenges. Sometimes those challenges come straight from the mouths of our clients, which make them the most challenging of all.

shit startup ceos sayWe’ve collected a few of our favorites here to share. Enjoy.

1. We have no competition.

We don’t hear this one very often, but when we do, it gives us great pause. Either the CEO thinks their product is so cool that it’s in a class by itself or they’re deluding themselves. It’s usually the latter.

2. We’re in a category of our own making:  the product is that good.

This one is a genuine concern. As we tell our clients:  we don’t have enough time, and you don’t have enough money, to invent a new category.

3. I don’t need to position the product. I just need to position my company.

Wrong. In most cases for our startups, the product is the company—or close to it. You’re too young to have an established culture that you want to profile. The product—or it’s underlying technology—is the story nine times out of ten.