[Dave Heal's] Observations & Reports

Startup Templates: Diversity Initiative Announcement

This is the third in a series of Startup Templates designed to make it easier for you to publish some of the most commonly written pieces of startup copy. You can find the first entry, the Acquisition Blog Post, here, and the second, the Job Description, here.

[Company] Announces Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion

To learn more about [Company’s] long-standing commitment to diversity, please see our [press release from 2008] and our [blog post from 2010].

Diversity is a real hot issue in our industry! Which is why here at [Company], we are so excited to be launching our Diversity Commitment initiative today, a six-part roadmap we will use to foster diversity and inclusion amongst our human resources.

We want the makeup of our company to reflect the vast range of people who use our [app for upper middle-class Peter Pans who never learned how to fold their own clothes]. And while we’ve been working towards these goals for a while now — as you can tell by last year’s refresh of [the stock photography on] our website— we wanted to make our goals public today.

As part of our renewed commitment, we’ve appointed an EVP of Diversity and Inclusion, Timmy Winthrop, who has worked with our executive team to conduct a thorough evaluation of where we are today and where we can go moving forward.

“Timmy comes to us after 3 months as a business development manager here at [Company]. After he quickly realized that ‘business development manager’ was a deliberately confusing name for an entry-level sales person, we had to find something else for Timmy to do,” said CEO Chad Dalrymple.

“We’re really excited about Timmy and believe strongly that what he lacks in brownness he makes up for in gayness,” Chad said.

Timmy has agreed that even though he doesn’t represent a group that Silicon Valley traditionally thinks of as an underrepresented minority, he’s more than capable of leading a rising tide of diversity initiatives that will lift all boats. “I have a job opening on my team for a black community strategist to go deep on the blacks, and we will probably follow suit with the ones from West Side Story,” Timmy announced at our All Hands Off-Site earlier this week.

As part of our Commitment, we are pledging to:

1. Include LAY’S® TAPATIO® Limón–Flavored Potato Chips in our industry-leading snack bar

2. Invest in internal and external tools to encourage our employees to interact with diverse people. For example, last week at our First Annual Bl’hackathon, the winning project was a tool that recommends one new black person to follow on Twitter every day

3. Conduct yearly bias mitigation Lunch and Learns

4. Sponsor a Diversity Breakout Session at TechCrunch Disrupt [led by 5 suuuper woke cis-gendered white guys]

5. Copy and paste this blog post into next year’s blog post and include some new charts and [humblebrag mea culpas re: lack of progress]

In addition to revisiting our success towards these goals next year on our Diversity Blog — which you can always find by navigating to our Writings page and then clicking on Blog and then Extras and then More and then Diversity Blog — we will ensure we remain accountable to you by also addressing our progress in the release notes for our iPhone app’s highly anticipated 2017 Dantooine Release.

We are keenly aware that [pablum about how tech is not a friendly place for minorities and how we know our company is no exception]. And not only do we think that a more diverse [Company] is better for our users, but it’s better for our business! [Citation to that one McKinsey report everybody cites].

If you want to join us and make an impact at [Company], you can write to Timmy at diversitydude@[company].com. Nobody else here thinks about these issues now that Timmy’s on the case.

Startup Templates: Acquisition Announcement Blog Post

…with Handy Founder-to-Employee Translation

This is the first in a series of Startup Templates designed to make it easier for you to publish some of the most commonly written pieces of startup copy. Why reinvent the wheel, I say!

[Ed: Cross-posted to Medium.]

This Is Just The Beginning

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” — Steve Jobs

To our friends and customers:

Today I am pleased to announce that we are joining forces with [Acquiring Company] and have entered into a definitive agreement to be acquired. The last [# of years since founding] years have been an incredible journey for[Acquired Company], full of ups and downs. But none of this would be possible without our amazing team and our [users/customers]. We couldn’t have done it without you.

We started [x] years ago with the idea that by combining [currently in vogue area of focus] and [extant but no longer sexy area of focus], we could change how you think about [mundane daily task].

I want to assure you that [main product that our customers love and cannot do their jobs without and/or have not been convinced to pay for] will remain [available and/or free] and that we are not going anywhere. Both [Acquired Company] and [Acquiring Company] share a vision to change the world by allowing you to [buzzword your buzzword’s buzzwords]. We have long admired [Acquiring Company]’s [flowery adjective indicating uniqueness] desire to craft value-add, customer-focused solutions while also building a great team and culture.

Going forward, I want to assure you that [Acquired Company] will still be the same old [Acquired Company] that you have grown to love. Our mission remains unchanged. We will simply have more resources to continue building products that delight our customers.

We are excited to share more about what we’ll be working on together in the coming months. The possibilities are [word suggesting implausible infinitude] and we are only just getting started…:)

Stay tuned!

In the meantime, please join us and the [Acquiring Company] Family for a webinar on [date].

Onwards and upwards,

[White Guy Name] & [White Guy Name], Founders

Note that the transaction remains subject to satisfying customary closing conditions


This Is The Beginning of The End But Some of Us Are Rich Now and Don’t Care.

“The [key emoji] is to enjoy life, because they don’t want you to enjoy life.” — DJ Khaled

To the families and friends of our employees, PR professionals, and the 42 people who still read TechCrunch:

Today I am pleased to announce that we are getting drunk before breakfast at a party we are throwing so our employees will think this acquisition is an unqualified good when it is likely so only for a small percentage of us.

The years since our founding have been full of stress-induced anal fissures and no small number of near-divorces and we have decided we need to chill the fuck out and get the VCs off our backs.

None of this would be possible without our amazing team. No, seriously, we *literally* couldn’t have done it without them. It’s really hard to build a venture-scale business as two dudes in a dorm room and if we had not been incredibly good salespeople with a plausibly good idea we never would have convinced this many talented, hard-working people to work here in exchange for free beer and soft t-shirts. We will be forever grateful and richer than you.

We started [x] years ago with one idea and then that kind of sucked and we were about to run out of money one night and spent 50 of our last dollars on mushrooms and drove [White Guy Name]’s leased Tesla into the desert and looked at the stars until we came up with another idea that we could repurpose our technology for and seemed different and maybe better but we couldn’t tell. Then we got TechCrunch to do a big write-up about how disruptive it was to a stodgy old industry that people secretly hated and we were off to the races!

That product became our bread and butter. And we are going to keep it available until such time as the press has mostly forgotten about us and it starts to get buggy and frustrating for our users, and then we’re going to write another blog post in this space announcing that it’s going to disappear and be folded into some boring, underfunded initiative with a crappy corporate name and a trademark.

We have no idea what a “solution” is, but we are going to grit our teeth through our vesting period while having a lot of 10am coffees with venture capitalists and talking incessantly but privately about our Next Thing.

[Acquiring Company]’s culture sucks real bad, and they acquired us in part to try and change that, but in actuality we are likely to be subsumed by the Borg. It’s really hard to change a large company’s culture. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. We saw this coming during the negotiations and also because we’re not stupid, but [Acquiring Company] assured us things would change and really there is very little we can do.

Going forward, you’ll get to use our product until our corporate overlords decide that it no longer makes sense to offer it and we get asked to work on other stuff. Our mission will change whenever they say so because them’s the breaks! We have been promised more resources and the ability to remain autonomous, but keeping both those promises would obviate the need to do this deal at all and would mean that [Acquiring Company] is full of morons. So that’s probably not going to happen.

This deal is going to take a while to close and we’re not allowed to say anything even remotely interesting to you until that point. But we promise you a banal, substance-free update at least once before then. It seems highly unlikely that this acquisition will actually result in anything good for our existing customers or employees, but we do retain a shred of hope that we can prevent [Acquiring Company] from totally destroying what we’ve worked so hard to build.

Stay tuned!

If you sign up for our joint webinar, you should just go ahead and delete your account.

Up and to the right,

[White Guy Name] & [White Guy Name], TEDx Speakers and Burners Without Borders Executive Committee Members

Note that the transaction remains subject to satisfying customary closing conditions

“Nobody Else Can Make This Shit”: Alex Blumberg & StartUp Podcast Ep. 1

Episode #1 – How Not to Pitch a Billionaire

“So here’s the thing: nobody else can make this shit.”

That’s venture capitalist—”VC,” for those of you in the biz—Chris Sacca, adorable verbal tics and all, assuming the role of Alex Blumberg, aspiring podcast network mogul and venture capital supplicant.

“Our plan is to spend down our meager savings, go into debt and hope it works out. I have a lot of anxiety. Nazanin has a lot of anxiety.”

That’s Alex Blumberg, the ageless voice you remember from Planet Money and This American Life, as he heads down the familiar founder’s road of quitting his job in order to build his own company.

You’re literally hearing all of this because not only is he building a startup podcasting company, but he’s also making a podcast called “StartUp” about building a startup podcast company. Startup.

So here’s the thing: This podcast is one of the best things going if you’re interested in VC-funded startups. Unlike a lot of other post-hoc startup founding advice peddled around the web, Alex is recording this podcast as it happens. Sure, it’s still a professionally edited, mediated work. But his raw material hasn’t attenuated and been filtered through years of additional experiences and agendas. He doesn’t seem to be doing the standard faux-confessional Industry Man thing of trying to appear transparent while carefully tailoring his image to preserve the idea that he is ultimately a competent, fundable entrepreneur. He’s also showing his work, in the form of audio recorded as he goes about the business of building a company for the first time. Actually, this is Blumberg’s first full-time job.

We hear him in a pitch meeting with Chris Sacca. In his apartment with his wife, where he’s laughed at for suggesting a company name that comes from the Esperanto for “ear.” He comes across like the biggest naif ever to ask an investor for money. He overenunciates the words “pitch deck” and “angel investor” like he’s reading aloud from a foreign language text. He gives one of the worst elevator pitches you’ve ever heard. At one point Sacca interrupts him, takes a few notes, and then spits back an unpolished but much much better version of the pitch Blumberg could be giving.

If you’ve been around this world at all, you know that Blumberg is actually no worse than most entrepreneurs out there when they’re getting started. You just never *really* get to experience them at their worst. You only get to read about it 5 years after they’ve sold their company or failed and moved on to another experience and sat down to cobble together dubious memories of how everything really played out. If you like podcasts or entrepreneurship or have a fetish for reedy-voiced guys named Blumberg, do yourself a favor and starting listening.

In the first episode, we learn a few lessons:

1. Do your homework on potential investors. A Little Light Googling goes a long way.

2. How easy it is to lose yourself by trying to impersonate the person you think you should be. Alex is clearly passionate about his business but thinks his investors want to hear him recite a bunch of MBA buzzwords instead of speaking from the heart about what he believes the big business opportunity is and why he’s the one to do it.

3. Investors don’t give a shit that you have the right answers to most of their questions. But they want you to have *an* answer.

4. Everybody you meet during your current job is somebody you might want to call at your next job. Alex met Chris while reporting for Planet Money and got this coveted opportunity at least in part b/c he didn’t screw that up. So don’t get drunk at the conference and fall asleep under your booth.


Don Dodge interviews Jennifer Reuting of DocRun

I hadn’t heard of Jennifer, but this interview impressed me. She’s really sharp and has already had success building a number of businesses in an unsexy industry. She talks about how she got into the SMB doc/incorp business as a young girl with MyLLC, challenges as a solo founder, and how her current company is different from LegalZoom.

If reading is more your thing, she also did an interview with Andrew Warner from Mixergy.com, which you can listen to or read the transcript from here.

Micah Baldwin wants you to break the bullshit curse

Forgive me if this post is a bit pedantic, but it’s not clear to me that Micah has identified precisely where the aforementioned bullshit is housed or how much of it there is. Of course, his general advice against bullshitting yourself and others is sound. But that in itself is not terribly instructive. And some of the situations that presumably gave rise to Micah’s post aren’t actually the kind of thing I’m guessing he would identify as bullshit upon further reflection.

The post starts out:

How are you?

In your head, how did you respond? Did you automatically blurt out “fine”?

My freshman English teacher, Mrs. Carter, once told me that answering the question “How are you?” with anything other than “I’m fine” was a waste of breath.

People don’t really care how you are.

It’s the same with honesty. People don’t want honesty.

Not to get all liberal arts here, but humans are complicated. One of the things that separates us from the blue-green algae, other than the extreme delight we take in captioned pictures of misbehaving cats, is our complex language. And Micah’s lead-in here is an example of one of those manifestations of linguistic nuance that cranky people adduce as evidence of rudeness or selfishness but which are actually just people being people. We make some noises with our mouths and they may sound like other noises, but there are all sorts of other cues we use to figure out whether someone is asking how we are or whether they are essentially saying “Hello.”

The latter use is what is known as “phatic.” Wikipedia, as always, has the authoritative example:

Similarly, the question “how are you?” is usually an automatic component of a social encounter. Although there are times when “how are you?” is asked in a sincere, concerned manner and does in fact anticipate a detailed response regarding the respondent’s present state, this needs to be pragmatically inferred from context and intonation.

So, no, the fact that you say how are you and someone says they’re fine is not sufficient evidence of a bullshit artist at work. Likewise if you ask somebody about their startup and they say “we’re killing it.” Now, that is a dumb thing to say because it has become a meaningless cliche in the startup world. You should probably maim that person. But if you are an investor in or advisor to that startup and that is the beginning and end of their response to your inquiry about how they’re doing, then that startup’s problem is not bullshit but simple interpersonal communication. And that might cause you to second-guess your investment in those people.

I guess if you’re a real hardliner about maximizing every breath you take on this planet, then you may have issues with the entire enterprise of phatic communication. But that strikes me as a different point altogether and also a battle not worth fighting. Don’t be that person who spends their life trying to convince people that we should say we drive on a driveway and park on a parkway.

The post continues:

“How’s it going with your company?”

“We’re killing it.”

Shut up.

I’ve taken to answering that question with “It’s interesting.”

Blank stares and fear that I am eliciting a response flow over faces.

“It’s interesting” is a more honest answer, I guess. But if that person’s intention was not to get into a long conversation—or any conversation—about the health of your company, then that may come across as needlessly aggressive or weird, especially if there’s no elaboration. This kind of communication may look like a question, but it is often our way of marking the beginning of an interaction by eliciting a short and mostly meaningless response. A way of establishing that the other person is listening to you and not still trying to commit to memory the lyrics of Big Rock Candy Mountain.

The more important point is that the people asking this question are not necessarily being insincere. Their blank stares are likely not because they don’t care about you or your company. People who want to have an actual, in-depth conversation will usually, if they’re at all proficient in the interpersonal arts, communicate as much to you.

Micah goes on to suggest that these kinds of answers (“We’re killing it!”) reflect self-deception, and that this contagion of bullshit goes on to infect a person’s relationships. Relationships with friends, family, investors and others who deserve more than a phatic “How are you?”

He ends the post with a call to action:

I challenge you to take a day and care. I dare you to listen actively and when you ask someone “How are you,” that you demand a deeply truthful answer.

When your employees, investors and friends ask about your business that you tell them truthfully whats going well, and areas you need help. It’s amazing. People, especially friends, by default, want to be helpful. It’s a gift to provide them the ability to participate in your happiness.

I think Micah’s right that people often preach but actually abhor honesty. Most people are afraid of being exposed as a fraud. That their companies are houses of cards, that they are less smart or fearless or whatever than they’d like other people to believe. And many of us will engage in pathological amounts of self-deception in order to avoid confronting even the notion that we might be less than we portray ourselves to be.

All of this is a problem in the startup world as well. Because it’s inhabited by humans. And Micah’s right to call attention to the need for honesty and sincerity and a willingness to listen to one’s friends and peers. But if his diagnosis of the problem is correct, and I suspect it is, the symptoms are not to be located in these routine moments of small talk but in the unwillingness to follow that up, at some point, with real substance.