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.

22 January 2014

How to be a Human, Part I

I can't believe I'm having to write this. I mean, shouldn't people learn this stuff as kids? It's like today's entrepreneurs are raised in Skinner boxes before being set loose like rabid bats once they hit puberty.

OK... here is the deal. I'm going to give y'all some basic lessons on how to get along with other people in society. This if often called "socialization" (and relates to the idea of a "Social Contract"). Feel free to read about those on wikipedia if you want.


Cool. So here is lesson one. It's short, sweet and simple.

IF something will make your life easier / better
AND it will make others' lives easier / better
THEN you should absolutely do it
OR it at least has absolutely no negative impact on others' lives
THEN you should probably do it
IF it will have any negative impact on others' lives
THEN you should not do it, ever

How fucking hard is that to understand and follow?

17 January 2014


2014 - Party Like It's 1999

2015 - Punk As Fuck

01 November 2013

The Best Example of "Online Journalism" To Date?

To say that I've been frustrated by the way media companies, publishers and the journalism world treats the web would be a huge understatement.

Those who know me know that I've been VERY vocal about the pathetic efforts to date. I've seen almost 20 years of brain-dead stupid attempts. Most of these attempts, frankly, looked to be more like media companies trying to force the web to be like the word they were used to than any attempt to actually use the power of the medium in an effective and appropriate way.

The few examples of people thinking about the opportunities and strengths of the medium (like the NYTimes Snowfall piece) have largely been isolated portfolio pieces (and have been few and far between).

As someone who originally worked in media (and in publishing in fact) and moved from there into the web in the early 90s, it's been incredibly painful to watch the industry repeatedly shoot itself in the head. Over and over again. In the same exact way.

So suffice it to say that I was overjoyed (quite literally in fact) when I saw this incredible Guardian NSA piece.

If you work in publishing - in news - in media... examine this. Carefully. Learn from it. Emulate it. This is what you should be doing!

As a judge for the Webbys I have to say I assume this will be nominated and I assume it will win. But that's simply not enough. I want to see this nominated for some publishing and journalism awards. It's time.

13 September 2013

Proving Something New

After AppFog was acquired by CenturyLink I needed to take some time off. In part this was due to the rather relentless pace that we maintained at AppFog but there were also some major life events (like moving out of The Mission) to be dealt with.

But inevitably time passed and I started trying to figure out what was next for me.

As with all my job decisions, I again sought out the counsel of a number of valued advisors. We talked about potentially becoming a full time advisor for start-ups. We talked about staying in the start-up world as an operator. There was discussion about going back into agencies - and about joining a more traditional enterprise technology company. 

Based on these discussions I decided that I needed a new job that offered me:
  1. a steady stream of meaty problems to solve,
  2. an employer that wanted me to solve these problems,
  3. co-workers who would inspire, push and teach me,
  4. a working environment that was fun, supportive, challenging and engaging,
  5. a chance to create material success.
Based upon these criteria I thought, "well I guess I'm staying in the start-up world!" 
And that felt fine to me.

But as I talked to entrepreneur after entrepreneur and investor after investor I came to a realization that has changed my plans and directly resulted in my job decision.

I've already proven I can help create successful start-ups. I've done four and seen four wins. I've proven myself.

And as a result, it's time for me to prove something new.
It's time to prove something more.

And now two brief divergences that will make sense later....

1 - I often describe my upbringing as being "raised on a New England communist kibbutz." While it was (of course) more complicated, this is good shorthand for the cause/values/ideals orientation of the way I grew up. I was raised to believe that greed was not good and that a well-lived life was less about all the good stuff you bought and more about all the good things you did for others. 

2 - I beta tested the Netscape browser starting with V0.5; I interviewed with Netscape for full time jobs twice (the first time being told by my employer - a partner with and investor in Netscape - that I couldn't take the job; the second time declining the opportunity); I wrote the Developer newsletter 'Off the 'Net' for Netscape's site for years (and my girlfriend wrote 'What's New' and 'What's Cool' for the site as well).

And in the midst of talking to entrepreneurs and interviewing with agencies and attempting to communicate with confused recruiters - an opportunity appeared that changed everything for me. This opportunity would give me the chance to do something that was more than just making money for investors - it would be a return to the 90s dreams of changing the world. This opportunity would give me a chance to prove I could use my powers for good. 

The opportunity ticked all the boxes.

And as a result, today I am incredibly excited to be joining Mozilla as a Principal in the Strategy team.

Mozilla is one of the most important organizations in Technology today. This was true 12 months ago - and now with the release of Firefox OS and with the revelations about (the lack of) security and privacy on the Internet it's even more true.

I'm joining an incredible team made up of people who are going to push me and teach me - who are going to excite me and delight me. 

I can't wait to see what the future brings!

Oh... and if y'all have ideas about what we should be doing at Mozilla you know who to ring!

11 August 2013

The Wheel Turns

Note: I originally posted this on Quora in response to the question "what was Silicon Valley like after the dot-com bubble burst?" Given that things have started to look more than a bit "frothy" around here - and given that leaving this on Quora means no-one will see it (even as compared to this blog with its 16 readers) - I figured I'd repost my answer here.

It depended on who you were and where you were.

Let me explain... at that time (IMHO) there were two types of people working in Bay Area dot-coms.

The first group were what I'll call the Originals. These were the people who started doing web stuff in 92/93. They were largely true believers - and extreme form of idealistic early adopter. As one of these people, I can say that we honestly believed that we were changing the world. We were democratizing content, changing business models, disrupting entire industries. We were revolutionaries who were going to shake the status quo until all the dinosaur businesses came tumbling down.

The second group were what I'll call the Carpetbaggers. These were the people who (in 97/98/99) noticed the boom and instead of taking jobs at Morgan Stanley or Enron or Bain or Oracle moved to the Bay Area and joined dot-coms. Their dream was less revolutionary and more mercenary. They saw a huge new industry being created and realized that could accelerate their earnings and their career by jumping in.

When the shit hit the fan I think that most of the Carpetbaggers kind of saw it coming. Sure, you had the folks who'd bought $1M houses on no-money-down mortgages based on unrealized returns... but they were somewhat uncommon. For most of these folks the crash kind of turned into a big "eviction" party of sorts. People ran around trying to grab the aeron chairs and computers and such from their offices as they were closed. People went to rooftop cocktail parties to celebrate layoffs and went to raves to say goodbye to friends moving back to New York or LA. There was a "last round" kind of feeling that was half sad and half "what a ride."

For the Originals, however, it was the end of a dream. The revolution had failed, the dreams didn't come true. The vision had been slowly co-opted and then undercut and then imploded. For these folks, the period after the crash was hugely depressing. For some, it was a call to change their lives. People moved to the desert, changed careers to "something more meaningful" or simply went wandering for a bit. These people had parties as well - but they felt more like wakes. A lot of these folks had advanced in their careers (due to the headstart they had) to the point where the actual crash itself was deeply painful. I know that I had to personally lay off a ton of people (shutting down entire offices). For zealots and idealists - this was a tough tough time.

After everything shook out, the Bay Area effectively returned to life as you would have recognized it circa 1990 or so. Tech retreated to the enterprise. Jobs required effort, ability and connections to land. Compensation became standard again. Rents dropped some - but the big deal was that you could actually FIND a place to live again. Restaurants in SOMA closed.

There was a sort of collective hangover at that point. Everyone was a little listless. A little irritable. A little grey and used feeling.

And then the wheel turned again. And there were new true believers (a new generation of Originals). And the Carpetbaggers started showing up again.

Here we are now.