the fun factor and honesty

Images-2I read Nick Bilton's article every Monday in the NYTimes business section.  This Monday it was titled "The Fun Factor is Slipping Away".  I had the same conversation with someone this past weekend.  I met a young woman who was helping a start-up business on the side.  I asked her main gig was and she said she worked at a digital agency.  She didn't look thrilled about it.  I commented how the agency was probably a bit corporate and structured than a start-up.  She said she realized after working with a start-up that was so much more fun and where her real passion was.  I said to her that in the mid-90's that digital agencies were start-ups and they were fantastic places to work.  Alot has happened since the mid-90's especially when technology companies lose their innovation and excitement and become what they never wanted to be…corporate environments.   She was honest with herself about what she needed to do next. 

So that brings me to the start-up world.  I sat down with someone who is an angel investor recently and we spoke about what we are seeing, etc.  We talked about how it is so hard to find the time to meet with people that are just looking for some advice particularly people who are just starting out in their careers that we would love to help.  He said it is hard to say no and be honest about why. 

In the early years of my career I was always seeing new companies that wanted me to buy from them.  What I learned is when I said that I liked what they were doing but the truth was I had no intention of buying their product they would continue to call me constantly.  It was painful for both sides.  Then I went to the side where I was doing the pitch and people would say yes but the truth is they were saying no and then I'd spend weeks trying to get them back on the phone.  Again, painful for me but probably painful for them too.

So when people pitch to me or even show me their decks and concepts, I do try to be as honest as possible.  Maybe it is just my nature.  If it isn't for me or I don't get it or like it…I say so.  Doesn't mean that I could be totally wrong and have no idea what I am talking about and I just passed on the best thing since sliced bread but at least I have an opinion and don't waste anyone's time or my time. 

I have had a lot of emails back saying thank you so much for your candor.  I always say, keep me posted and I mean it.  I want to hear how they are doing even if it wasn't for me because I want to understand what I missed or what it was that intrigued other people.  Regardless, there is nothing worse than pretending you love something and wasting someone elses time with the hope that there is businesss to be done there.  Honesty is always the best policy. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. unha engels

    great post. our angel has been also brutally honest even when things were rough. tough to hear then, but appreciated then and now immensely. authenticity is the best gift for givers and receivers! 

    1. Gotham Gal

      you got a good angel!

  2. Lisa Mogull

    honesty is a good thing.   I’m grateful for the the people who turned us down and told us why — gave us a chance to fix things and now we aren’t being turned down anymore. have you ever seen the Bessemer anti-portfolio ? 

  3. PMarchetti

    My partner and I have had a lot of conversations around these lines.  He was an early Yahoo! employee and when the company grew so large that it became corporate it wasn’t fun for him anymore and he left.  We both enjoy start-up life and don’t see ourselves back in corporate America again.   And honesty in pitches (be in funding, selling, etc) is best for all.   Sometimes it’s painful, but feedback can lead you to needed insights.

  4. Lauren

    i like your honesty… it is real and people know it the minute they meet u

    1. Gotham Gal

      Aw thanks so much

  5. Mgav

    Terrific approach that can be applied to virtually any situation.

    1. Gotham Gal

      absolutely any situation.

  6. Emily Merkle

    GG – you are so spot-on here. I have had experiences similar to yours along the way – selling into agencies, and then sitting on the other side of the desk as it were and buying. It teaches you to cut the crap – like you do. It is truly respectful for all parties involved. Time is money. I have ended job interviews 5 minutes in and fired paying clients – one came back 4 times across 2 of my ventures! But they were wasting my time and theirs by deviating from the basic tenets we agreed to work together under. Honesty wins each and every time. And there is none of the icky fog of playing the games. 

  7. Ella Dyer

    Dear Joanne,As always, your blog is most helpful and on target. Thank you for being candid as most folks are not but, we’ve come to learn over the years, you’re not most folks. We in the start up community appreciate you, the example you set for all of us and for being open to progress reports, which I plan to share soon.  Best,Ella DyerChief Enthusiasm OfficerAbundant Closet, LLC

  8. Angela

    I grew up in a staunch republican family in DuPage County (only consistently republican-voting county in metro Chicago.)  I voted for Obama though because I got so sick of the bs.  I often wrote to my congressmen concerning mostly conservative issues and repeatedly heard a lot of “I’m your man.” and “We’re on top of it!”   But Obama’s camp would respond something like, “We’re not voting for that and here’s why.”  Usually it had to do with the bill not having any chance of passing and being a complete waste of their time and resources.  I really appreciated the honesty.  In this day of yes-people and so much bs, it’s so refreshing.

    1. Gotham Gal

      interesting that the obama campaign did that. that is fantastic.yes people do nothing but say yes.

  9. laurie kalmanson

    no is better than maybe

  10. Susan Rubinsky

    Sometimes if you don’t understand the product/service it’s because it’s not being clearly articulated by the start-up and sometimes (even worse for the start-up) it’s because the start-up hasn’t clearly articulated what the heck it is they are making and who might want to buy it…I am absolutely 100% on board with the honesty.Also, it’s important for people within start-ups to be brutally honest with each other. I once decided to tell truth to power at a start-up I was in. I created a report analyzing why the marketing dictate and constraints set down by the board (typical case of a bad board — this board kept screwing up the product plan by changing it just as it was taking off… funny, AVC has been writing about boards lately) would not work and recommended several alternate solutions. I was terminated nicely (through a layoff but I knew they were sick of me being truthful about the problems) and the company folded about a year later. A few weeks later one of the VP’s called me and asked me lunch because he wanted to have a conversation. At lunch, he confessed that he had been highly impressed with my analysis of the situation and thought I was right but said he would have never disagreed with the board because he needed their blessing as he searched for a new position.This whole situation was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my career. I often joke that anyone who worked for a failed start-up deserves an honorary MBA.

    1. Gotham Gal

      totally an honorary mba moment. nice!