It started with two people in a garage. The quintessential beginning we hear about many startups. And for good reason — you do not start out with 100 people. Companies begin with a founder or two. Some never leave the garage. The ones that grow solve a real problem and learn how to do it at scale. They do not learn how to scale and then figure out a problem to solve.
There is a new animal in Silicon Valley. And it is nothing like the unicorns you have read about in the past. This new beast is not quite as flashy. It moves a little slower than its spiral-horned counterpart — the one who galloped to ridiculous valuations at breakneck speed. And you probably will not see this new creature in the news. Why?
“We no longer want to work with you.” I once had to say this to a well-known multinational technology company. Our team at Aha! had met with them eight times and they were still asking for an additional (free!) six-month product evaluation. The value exchange simply was not there. So, it was time to kindly say goodbye.
“Dear Future Me, I hope I work at Aha! And live at the beach. Love, Carson” An Aha! teammate recently shared this note with the company. It was from his 7-year-old son’s school journal. And I was blown away. Aha! is the type of company our kids aspire to work for? Mouth-wide-open speechless.
Have you seen the news? Some companies are calling their remote employees back to the office — a forced, cross-country trek to permanently “co-locate” at HQ. Reading the headlines, you may wonder if companies have fallen out of love with remote work.
I bet at some point, you have done it — you hid from a salesperson. You did not want to be rude, but you also did not want to be bothered with the hard sell. The goal was to get done and be gone before they could harass you. This happened to me recently when I was test-driving a new car.
My career will be defined by the prevalence of the internet. Yours likely will be too. And we are still experiencing an incredible acceleration of the use of technology. But one thing remains the same — we are human. We still crave personal connection, even when so many of our interactions are now made possible by technology.
Have you seen the real “real” news? A few well-known companies are behaving badly. They made some money in the short term and felt like long-term winners. People were celebrating their success loudly. And the companies themselves were banging their collective chest with pride — look at us. Yet when their lack of integrity and questionable tactics were revealed, all that hype was replaced by scorn. Sound familiar?
“Can we grab coffee on Tuesday or Thursday next week?” This is the sign-off on so many email pitches from associates at venture capital firms who are sourcing deals. Deals — yep, companies with real products and growing customer bases who are going places.
It was the best of companies, it was the worst of companies. One built something that the people loved. It poured energy into delighting customers. Eventually, it was rewarded with a great fortune. The second company disregarded people. This company was mischievous and greedy. While it succeeded in the short-term, customers and employees eventually revolted. The company lost trust, along with its great fortune.
Pushy sales people. Marketing claims that hover somewhere between an overreach and an outright lie. You know the kind of company I am talking about. Sadly, there are too many organizations that encourage employees to do or say anything to grow, grow, grow sales. I am sure you can imagine the closed-door conversations: “Who cares? Sam, just get the money!”
A friend just recently helped raise money for a fin-tech startup. Exciting times with lots of numbers to watch. Especially when it relates to having money in the bank to push that end-of-business death cliff out another 18 months. But all he could talk about was that it was an “up round.” (Barely, but still up.) I reminded him that for private companies there is one number that people obsess over, often causing more harm than good — valuation.
“Think like grandpa?” That may sound like backward advice. Times have changed. What could our grandparents possibly have to say about running a business today? Well, I think they have plenty to say.