Startup Lesson 10 (and my 100th post!): Tell the truth

Riddle me this Batman: as an entrepreneur, toiling to get your tech startup off the ground to stardom, which would you prefer:

  1. Constant cheer-leading, encouragement, praise, etc. for whatever you’re doing
  2. The cold hard truth, good or bad, about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it

To wit, I give you this clip from Seinfeld, in which Kramer tells the truth.

While painful to watch, this one’s even worse!

Are you Elaine, Jerry, Kramer, or George?!?

In the end, we see that Kramer’s lack of a tact filter is the most effective approach in the long term, as the pretty girl, Audrey, dumps George and takes up with Kramer, the only one who would tell her the truth about her nose and her botched nose job, which she got fixed.

So apply this to your startup, and then answer the previous question: which would you prefer?  I previously posted about how a weekend at Camp Highland with my son opened up a new insight into working relationships, and I believe this is part and parcel to that approach: having very frank conversations about the good and the bad in your startup – or any business – is essential to long term success.   Here are 3 everyday examples of when telling the truth will hurt far more than a botched nose job in the short term, but be infinitely more helpful in the long term.

  1. An individual’s job performance – I was speaking with someone last night about her husband’s employer. She said “they are having a really hard time hiring people who actually work!”  Isn’t it funny how when someone is rewarded – or just not punished – for not doing their job, they keep on not doing their job?
  2. The company’s financial stability – In a small startup team, this topic must be wide open from the start.  All the founders and early employees should say out loud “most startups fail“, and understand that every startup is a risk…a really fun, educational, exciting, up-and-down risk.
  3. Reaching company goals – It’s really easy to cheer-lead yourselves into thinking you’re doing well when things seem to be going well; however, as I said in my last post, if you shoot at nothing, you’ll hit it every time. If you’re measuring the important things, when you hit your goals, celebrate. When you miss your goals, don’t gloss over it by continuing to celebrate the ones you hit.  If you miss a goal, figure out why and what you have to do to hit it today, tomorrow, next quarter.

Now, please don’t hear me wrong. Kramer has no filter. What’s on his brain comes out his mouth. The same has been said of FlashPoint’s Merrick Furst, but Kramer was right, and Merrick Furst usually is, too.  For some post-Flashpoint thoughts, Mike Marian of also tells it like it is. You don’t have to be rude. The truth may hurt to hear, and you can say it nicely, but you still have to say it.

How far would you get in your startup if nobody ever told you what you were doing wrong?  This is what boards and mentors are for. If nobody on your board or mentor group every tells you you’re wrong, then you have yes-men, and you need someone who will challenge you and tell you that you need a nose job.

What do you think about that?

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