Clean up your shit

I’ve just start­ed read­ing „The Hard Thing About Hard Things“, a book about per­son­al expe­ri­ences build­ing star­tups by Ben Horowitz, well-known to entre­pre­neurs and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists as a part­ner of Marc Andressen at a16z. It’s the best business-related book I’ve read for a long time.
Although on a dif­fer­ent level, I have expe­ri­enced pret­ty much the same as Ben has: the ups and — even more often and more dis­tinct — the downs of run­ning star­tups. Ben has co-founded Loud­cloud, sold its hard­ware unit to EDS, went on with the soft­ware unit named Opsware and sold that to HP a few years later. What sound as a suc­cess story — which it def­i­nite­ly is, look­ing at the final sale — is more a roller-coaster thing gar­nished with near bank­rupt­cies, mas­sive lay­offs, and more. Most of the time, Ben and his col­leagues must have felt rot­ten — even the day before the IPO is described as one of the dark­est days (because of the cir­cum­stances of the finan­cial cri­sis, a very bad val­u­a­tion, etc.).
I don’t know Ben per­son­al­ly, but what I know of him is that he comes across as youngish, pos­i­tive and active guy — always smil­ing and offer­ing advice to fel­low entre­pre­neurs. And this is the most com­pelling aspect of his book: he has seen it all (besides going bank­rupt) and he takes it easy. Appar­ent­ly he always accept­ed sit­u­a­tions and cir­cum­stances as they were, and then tried to give his per­son­al best to sur­vive even the dark­est busi­ness moments.
Being an entre­pre­neur, at some time there will be this sit­u­a­tion you always want­ed to pre­vent. Either you miss rev­enues sig­nif­i­cant­ly and won’t get your next round of financ­ing closed, or your prod­uct relaunch leads into dis­as­ter: most of your exist­ing cus­tomers react furi­ous­ly, delete your app and cry foul on social media chan­nels. Being the guy in charge, you are the one to go through that fire, first. Ben offers good advice here:

„If you’re going to eat shit, don’t nib­ble.“

Means: if you have to expe­ri­ence a very bad sit­u­a­tion, don’t try to pre­vent the small­er, addi­tion­al neg­a­tive out­comes, but tack­le them all — direct­ly. If the sit­u­a­tion is bad, very bad — you don’t have to act as if some of its aspects were still ok, but take full respon­si­bil­i­ty, act trans­par­ent­ly, and show the world that you fucked it up. And then, start chang­ing the situation.Regard it as some­thing that can help you to start afresh. Shit is shit but it can be put away. Just look at the mod­ern dog owner, hap­pi­ly tidy­ing up his pet’s excre­ments, get­ting applause from bystanders for being social­ly respon­si­ble.
A few years ago, being the CEO of YiGG, a news aggre­ga­tion site, I over­saw a relaunch that was ulti­mate­ly impor­tant, should become the company’s basis for sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er rev­enues and should be the nar­ra­tive basis for our future exit story.
It flopped.
After weeks full of hard work, we launched at 3am, when every­body besides us was asleep. I went to bed and advis­es my wit not to wake me before 10am. She woke me up at 8 — our Direc­tor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions was on the line: „Michael, it’s ter­ri­ble — they hate the new design.“ I want­ed to time-travel, but unfor­tu­nate­ly I had to go back to work and eat shit.
My key take­away form being an entre­pre­neur is that there is noth­ing (business-related) that might kill you. If you are an entre­pre­neur by heart, you will have the per­se­ver­ance to use obsta­cles against them­selves. And — trust me — there’s noth­ing bet­ter than hav­ing suc­cess­ful­ly cleaned up your own shit. So — go and read Ben’s book, and then act accord­ing­ly.

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