Category Archives: Humor

Posted On November 21st, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

3 everyday lies you will hear at startups

Celebrated Venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz has called several familiar management mantras “just stupid.” So we thought we would share three comments we hear at startups that are just false – or hopelessly naïve–and then our take on how to interpret them.

  1. We have no politics. This timeless adage is complete fiction. Like every family, every startup has its characters, power structures and power plays. The key to success in any organization – large or small – is to balance the effort you spend on your ideas, deliverables and internal advocacy with the time it takes to make sure your ideas and deliverables are completely aligned with the goals of the company. Our advice: In other words, we’ve seen plenty of good ideas die because they weren’t sold and supported by the right folks in the organization. Do your homework on how the organization makes decisions to be sure you’re cultivating support among the key influencers.
  2. We have a very flat organization. This one makes absolutely no sense. Every startup starts out flat, if only because it’s tough to have a hierarchical org chart when you only have six employees. But very quickly you’ll have a hierarchy of: founders; C-level (C_O); V-level (VP of__) and Directors—if not in title than in practice. The founders are the passionate, single-minded believers that raised the money and quit their day jobs to build a new company around a new idea: they get more than one vote. Every startup has people in the organization who, despite the title on their business card, get to weigh in on decisions and influence the outcome. If you’ve joined a startup and you haven’t figured out how to tap into the founders’ brain trust in order to sell your ideas…well just make sure you keep your resume updated on LinkedIn. Our advice: after you figure out the “what” of your job, don’t get seduced into thinking that you can “just make it happen” by lunging ahead to implement your ideas. Take the time to figure out “how” you’re going to sell your idea and advocate with the key decision makers and influencers on the startup team (the ones with the most votes).
  3. There are no stupid questions. Actually, there are. Or, put another way, “There are stupid people answering questions.” How many meetings have you been in where a new-hire asks a question that’s just off-the-wall. And, yes, when you’ve just joined an organization, you can slow progress (as well as make a lousy first impression) by jumping in too early. Our advice: if you’re new on the team, get the lay of the land first. Learn the product. Listen a lot. And pay attention to the team that’s customer facing. Then after you’ve gotten integrated into the team, dive in with your questions. That way, you’ll be more credible and you’ll have real context for your questions and observations.

 

 

Posted On November 1st, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

The path to diversity at a startup requires 3 phases

Congratulations to the rocket ship startup Slack for joining giants like Salesforce, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon in taking a public stance on diversity hiring practices. Like the giants, unicorn Slack has published the breakdown of their “diversity numbers” to illustrate their goal and progress towards building inclusion and diversity in their company.

Survey data show better decisions come from well-informed, diverse teams. Diverse teams make better decisions because different backgrounds and ways of thinking lead to better outcomes. And, bringing people together who have different ways of thinking and problem-solving skills can foster an environment where new ideas can prevail.

Building diversity at technology companies in Silicon Valley is a hot topic. But in our world of early-stage startups, we think a broader definition of diversity and a different approach (and some cold pragmatism) is needed to get there.

If your startup is funded at the seed-round or Series A stage (or even bootstrapped like an early Atlassian), we believe the goal of building a diverse team is really a shiny object on the horizon–like profitability–that founders need to see as a longer-term goal. And, startup founders should adopt a multi-phase plan to get there.

Phase one: seek out misfits and oddballs in the early days. It’s a given that your startup will struggle in the talent wars against companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook that can offer richer compensation packages. So in the beginning, early-stage startups should think about seeking out candidates who “think outside the box” (and are risk takers on compensation) to bring a diversity of thinking to the team, regardless of their gender or ethnicity.

One of the nouveau practices among corporate HR policies today is the idea of blind hiring. The effort to diminish the influence of a job applicant’s resume and to focus instead on their talents is in vogue to try to rule out bias and to foster more diversity in hiring. We would go a step further and recommend that startups seek out candidates with non-traditional career tracks who attended non-elite schools as well as job applicants with quirky personalities. To advance your disruptive solutions, a few disruptive-thinking employees (especially in the beginning stages) might just help you retain the new and creative thinking you need to achieve your goals. The ethnicity and gender of those misfits is a completely secondary consideration in the early days of every startup (where the mortality rate of startups is about 75 percent.)

Phase two: institute “the Rooney Rule” after the second year of life. Once you have (1) hired your founding team; (2) put your product in the hands of early customers, and (3) focused your team on customer development, re-think who you want at a manager level in your company. Now is the time to focus on building gender and ethnic diversity, not before. We recommend mandating that every short list of candidates for a position that manages a team include female candidates and candidates of color, aka The Rooney Rule. Be like Slack and make it an HR policy.

  • Part of phase two includes seeking out an equal blend of experienced employees and newbies. The only way to ensure you have a team that knows how to build and manage an operation at scale is to hire employees that can bring first-hand experience of best practices and processes at a large company. In our view, this is an aspect of diversity. In other words, startup experience is great, but if that’s the only experience a candidate brings, pass.

 

  • Stick to the no-assholes rule. You can call them jerks or idiots, but the label “asshole” seems to need no interpretation among a team of startup founders who are striving to build a company. We proclaim “no assholes” as a universal guideline for all emerging companies to follow. We would go so far as to state it as HR policy, right along side the Rooney Rule (see #3 above.) Especially in the early days, there can be no assholes on your team. Because assholes will often hire their own kind and your team just can’t afford that.

 

  • Decide up front who gets to be work remotely and who must be on site. To state the obvious, making your “virtual” policy explicitly in the beginning will help your team vet the right people for the right roles (which is part of building a successful and diverse team.)

Phase three: celebrate diverse cultures to make “going global” an early reality. Startups like Snowflake Computing (Sutter Hill, Redpoint) and Sumo Logic (Greylock, Sutter Hill) were founded by immigrants who, from day one, embraced their own ethnicities and cultures. The founders and their early hires reinforced diversity by sharing their own cultures and histories at internal company celebrations, office décor and even in company blogs.

 

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

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jimhyman/

Chief Algorithms Officer

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ecolson/

Chief Innovation Officer

https://www.linkedin.com/in/mdkail/

Chief Data Scientist

https://www.linkedin.com/in/linderek/

Chief People Officer

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sulovegren/

Chief Network Architect

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeff-behl-a981471/

Chief Product Officer

ht/tps://www.linkedin.com/in/sunilpotti

Chief Evangelist

https://www.linkedin.com/in/guykawasaki/

Chief Culture and Talent Officer

https://www.linkedin.com/in/apricejr1/

Chief Customer Officer

https://www.linkedin.com/in/coachlillie/

Chief Wonk

https://www.linkedin.com/in/lance-topping-1973b6/

And they’re hiring:

Chief Merchandising Officer

https://www.linkedin.com/jobs/view/281696313/

Chief Impact Officer

https://www.linkedin.com/jobs/view/268895902/

 

 

 

 

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.