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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...



Article The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Failing in a Good Way

The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Failing in a Good Way

I never expected to be an entrepreneur. My first business, the mobile user interface (UI) company The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), was set up by six friends who wanted to work with something we loved and learn from our own mistakes rather than from others’. I am not even sure that it actually felt like a startup. TAT became a completely unexpected giant success both personally and financially (the business was bought by Blackberry for $150 million).

When I started my second business, I wanted more than financial success; it had to mean something to me. I believe that an entrepreneur’s true purpose is to try, learn, and experiment rather than follow more conventional ways of achieving success. Therefore, there is more room for failure, which is ...



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 ...



ArticleHey Founders — Here's how to take a Hint from Investors

Hey Founders — Here's how to take a Hint from Investors

Most of us Founders have never raised capital, so when we dig in for the first time, we're mostly guessing at how the game is played. And friends — it is indeed a game. The problem with this game is that as Founders, the odds are stacked way against us.

We actually make matters worse when we don't understand the rules, and instead revert back to our base instincts, which range from carpet bombing the investor with follow-ups to trying to translate "I think it's interesting" into 50 potential meanings, like a 16-year-old after their first date.

What we need is to be able to read the signals for what they are, and when we do, take our foot off the pedal if the signal says "stop" and jam the pedal when the signal is "yes."

Anything that's not ...



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...



ArticleHey Investors — Here's how to say "No" to us

Hey Investors — Here's how to say "No" to us

Investors — As Founders we love you, need you and appreciate you. But the relationship feels very one-sided when we're pitching for capital. As Founders, we just need a better way to communicate not only the evil word "NO", but the equally evil word "Maybe." "Yes!" we seem to have figured out.

All we're asking for here is to be treated with respect and dignity. We don't need to be coddled, we just need a clear "No" when the time is right and ideally some basic kindness along the way. It doesn't take much, but we could really use some shifts in how we communicate these days.

Don't be a Dick

I've met with and pitched hundreds of investors. If there's one thing that I could never figure out, it's why so many act like raging dicks. Not all of t...



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...



ArticleRetiring Early is a Broken Concept

Retiring Early is a Broken Concept

"I want to put $50 million in the bank by the time I'm so I can retire early and never have to work again!"

Ah, the common refrain and justification of every startup dreamer, from the Founder across to the earliest employee. If only we could put that magic pot of gold into our coffers, then we could do what we really want to do.

Except it begs the questions:

  1. How much of what we really want to do can we already be doing?
  2. Do we really not want to work or do we really just want to feel safe?
  3. What the eff are we going to do at (whatever age) with nothing to do all day?

Time and time again when I query Founders, beyond the surface level stuff, about how hard they have thought through this lifetime goal that they are sacrificing everything for...



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