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ArticleWhat Founders Learn From Growing up Broke

What Founders Learn From Growing up Broke

Growing up broke was one of the most valuable assets to shape me as a startup Founder. At the time it didn't feel too valuable (it sucked) but I'd come to learn later that it burned specific traits into my behavior that served me insanely well in building startups from scratch.

Many of us have had the same challenges, coming from disadvantaged upbringings that felt like a setback at the time but also became crucibles of learning and adaptation that actually made us far more capable when our skills were put to the test later on.

We're Forced to Become Experts

When we're broke, we can't afford to pay anyone to do anything. Plumbing breaks? We become a plumber. Car won't start? We become a mechanic. We just don't have a choice, so it forces us...



ArticleA Growth Marketing Stack for Startups

A Growth Marketing Stack for Startups

Startups.com marketing technology stack

What is a Martech Stack?

First up, what even is Martech? This is an abbreviation of “marketing technology.” It’s the tools and software you use in your day-to-day sales and marketing.

The reference to the “stack” has been used by developers for years, in reference to the technology and codebases they use within the products they build. Martech Stack references the marketing technologies and tools you use within your marketing infrastructure set-up.

By stacking these tools together and integrating them you create a consistent, automated flow of data between your tools.

The benefits of setting up a Martech Stack

The likelihood is that you already have some form of Martech Stack in place, even without...



ArticleWhat do We "Owe" Our Employees?

What do We "Owe" Our Employees?

There's a more implicit social contract at a startup, which says that if our teams are going to kill themselves and take on risk to build something amazing with us, they rightfully expect some rewards for that risk. Let's take money off the table — because anyone can pay money and we all understand that.

What payback do our employees want that wasn't in their offer letter?

We Owe Them Our Attention

Nothing sucks worse than not being heard. We can almost map every major problem back to someone genuinely feeling like what they have to say just never really had an ear. The biggest casualty to startup growth is internal communication, but we're not really just talking about meetings and Slack messages. We're talking about folks no longer having...



ArticleUsing a "Safe Space" to Develop Diversity

Using a "Safe Space" to Develop Diversity

One of the challenges we've been tackling internally at Startups.com, and I'd imagine lots of other startups, is breaking down how we communicate in a diverse workforce. We feel that diversity shouldn't just be about hiring, it should be about understanding.

In fact, it stands to reason that the more diverse our workforce becomes, the less implicit understanding we will have amongst ourselves. Our backgrounds will become so different that what we say and how we respond will have less and less common ground.

I wanted to share one step we're taking to address this challenge in hopes that others will share their experiences too (by the way, the "reply" button on these goes directly to me, the Founder). One of our focus areas has been creating ...



ArticleWhy culture is just as important for tech startups as tech

Why culture is just as important for tech startups as tech

When a well-known brand like IBM or Nike is recruiting new people, they don’t only have the advantage of the brand but also of high salaries and good perks. An employee signing up at Microsoft essentially gets paid while learning and building up a good CV. And if she would want to leave later, she is well-positioned.

As a startup, you have to compete with this, with no initial brand, no impressive salaries, and no perks. Therefore, you need to deliver something else. What you can deliver is a superior culture.

Culture is one aspect where it should be easy for startups to compete with big corporations. Because startups are small and young, they can be innovative, flexible, fast-moving, and fun. They can be more grounded in their values and b...



ArticleHow to build culture

How to build culture

I sent the following letter to our entire team at Airbnb.

Hey team,

Our next team meeting is dedicated to Core Values, which are essential to building our culture. It occurred to me that before this meeting, I should write you a short letter on why culture is so important to Joe, Nate, and me.

After we closed our Series C with Peter Thiel in 2012, we invited him to our office. This was late last year, and we were in the Berlin room showing him various metrics. Midway through the conversation, I asked him what was the single most important piece of advice he had for us.

He replied, “Don’t fuck up the culture.”

This wasn’t what we were expecting from someone who just gave us $150 million. I asked him to elaborate on this. He said one of the r...



ArticleHow to Create Career Paths at a Small Startup

How to Create Career Paths at a Small Startup

The old days of having to grow our staff by promoting them into a management pyramid are (thankfully) wasting away. Startups can do way more with fewer people, which means fewer management layers and more a more empowered staff.

Yet, we're still stuck in the old thinking of "I can only progress if people are reporting to me." It's a dying notion, yet one we struggle with as startup Founders to replace. But we have to figure out how to recast the career paths of our teams if we're going to learn to work in a new world of smaller teams doing 10x more than they used to.

Growth Needs to be Unpacked

When our staff talks about growth, they are really talking about three things — money, recognition, and empowerment. Money is easy — we can always p...



ArticleEntrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint

Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint

When entrepreneurs are successful, we are enormously interested in what made them become entrepreneurs. It’s as if their main achievement is the decision to say goodbye to the secure and safe life — the sure job, the safe pay, and the good CV. While the choice of taking the plunge is definitely a precondition for success, it is quite far from being the primary achievement. The difficult part is not becoming an entrepreneur but remaining one when things look hopeless and everyone around you has lost faith. We love stories about how two 15-year-old kids in a basement have a good idea, get a breakthrough on the first day, and become a global success a year later. In reality, however, building a business and generating real value takes time. It...



ArticleHow We Built an 8-Figure Business by Saying “No”

How We Built an 8-Figure Business by Saying “No”

At Startups.com, we built an 8-figure business by saying "no" — a lot.

We knew going in that if we’re going to have 100% control of our destiny now and in the future, that would only work if we could constantly say "no" in a disciplined manner.

But you know what? Saying "no" sucks. Just like saying "no" to delicious glazed donuts sucks. We know that we want them, but we also know the cost of saying "yes"! Now I'm hungry for a glazed donut. See what I mean? We knew that controlling our destiny would mean an insane amount of discipline, across the entire organization. In order to prepare ourselves for this discipline, like any good regimen, there were a few things that we'd have to stay incredibly focused on.

We had to be OK with things takin...



ArticleLeadership From The Trenches

Leadership From The Trenches

Ben Horowitz recently published his book The Hard Things about Hard Things. It’s no exaggeration to say I love it. As a third-time founder having experienced many of the challenges firsthand, I wish that book had been written 15 years ago, when I was trying to build my first company (although I’m not sure I would have read it back then; learning seems to be easier in hindsight). One of the great things about Ben’s book is that it focuses on sharing the hard lessons when it’s not all smooth sailing.

Inspired by this, I thought I would add some of the lessons from Tradeshift. Just like Opsware, Tradeshift is a company in wartime, as are most B2B companies try- ing to break into highly entrenched software markets controlled by incumbents with ...



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