I was reflecting on the fit between people and startups while listening to a recent episode of In Beta, where the hosts discussed whether anyone should become an early employee of a new venture. They sounded a lot of cautionary notes: employees don’t have founder’s equity or benefit programs, they suffer low pay, long hours, limited social networks, and get no respect from ego-driven CEOs.
Their conclusion was '”Either start your own company, or work for a big one that has its shit together. Anything else - there's lots to lose, little to gain.”
I’ve thought about this a lot since hearing it, focused on two main questions.
1) Are my companies good ones to work for?
There’s no question that I’m guilty of several of the sins.
The Board hasn’t let me distribute equity to employees and contractors (the goal was to give 15% in warrants; only a fraction of that has been approved).
Everyone has had to do a little of everything every day: it’s not unusual for any of us to be arranging shipping and driving samples.
There’s always performance stress to finish tasks, correctly, within our resource and time limits.
Worst, there’s always a lurking feeling that it could all be over next month.
But I think we do a lot of things right too.
I hire good people and listen to what they say.
We know what we are in business to do and why.
I stay optimistic and confident (mostly), communicate constantly, smile lots. We keep things in perspective.
We generally push key decisions to people best able to make them.
Clare and I spend 80% of our funds on operations, not management salaries or perks.
I insist on an honest and open work environment, that we debate from experience and data. I want to hear the truth.
I remember to say thank you when people do good things.
And, as Lucy Kellaway wrote in the FT over the weekend, a little ‘unconfidence’ works wonders: …they are driven on by anxiety. They also listen to criticism and try to adjust accordingly. And they are far less likely to become arrogant, hubristic monsters.
I follow Bob Sutton’s “No Asshole” rules for things good bosses believe. And I check that the people working with me feel we’ve got this environment, more often than not.
It’s too hard work and too uncertain a future to simply do it to satisfy narcissic yearnings for ego inflation. A recent article in Medium suggested some good and bad reasons to start a new business, and they are generally valid. But I (of course) have my own list:
- I want creative and business control of my ideas.
- I want to work alongside talented people who I like.
- I want to work on meaningful projects and products.
- I want to keep what I win.
- I want experience: to make a difference, to build a network.
- I want money (or travel, flexible work hours, an office with a view, or other perks).
- I want to impress my (partner, parents, ex-bosses, colleagues, media, or other favorite audience).
- I want power over my life (I want to be my own boss).
- I want the kick (the rush, the adrenaline, the win).
- I want the Peaceful Life (or Glasser’s Quality World).
On balance, on both questions, I think we do okay.