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ArticleWhy culture is just as important for tech startups as tech

Why culture is just as important for tech startups as tech

When a well-known brand like IBM or Nike is recruiting new people, they don’t only have the advantage of the brand but also of high salaries and good perks. An employee signing up at Microsoft essentially gets paid while learning and building up a good CV. And if she would want to leave later, she is well-positioned.

As a startup, you have to compete with this, with no initial brand, no impressive salaries, and no perks. Therefore, you need to deliver something else. What you can deliver is a superior culture.

Culture is one aspect where it should be easy for startups to compete with big corporations. Because startups are small and young, they can be innovative, flexible, fast-moving, and fun. They can be more grounded in their values and b...



ArticleHey Investors — Here's how to say "No" to us

Hey Investors — Here's how to say "No" to us

Investors — As Founders we love you, need you and appreciate you. But the relationship feels very one-sided when we're pitching for capital. As Founders, we just need a better way to communicate not only the evil word "NO", but the equally evil word "Maybe." "Yes!" we seem to have figured out.

All we're asking for here is to be treated with respect and dignity. We don't need to be coddled, we just need a clear "No" when the time is right and ideally some basic kindness along the way. It doesn't take much, but we could really use some shifts in how we communicate these days.

Don't be a Dick

I've met with and pitched hundreds of investors. If there's one thing that I could never figure out, it's why so many act like raging dicks. Not all of t...



ArticleHow to build culture

How to build culture

I sent the following letter to our entire team at Airbnb.

Hey team,

Our next team meeting is dedicated to Core Values, which are essential to building our culture. It occurred to me that before this meeting, I should write you a short letter on why culture is so important to Joe, Nate, and me.

After we closed our Series C with Peter Thiel in 2012, we invited him to our office. This was late last year, and we were in the Berlin room showing him various metrics. Midway through the conversation, I asked him what was the single most important piece of advice he had for us.

He replied, “Don’t fuck up the culture.”

This wasn’t what we were expecting from someone who just gave us $150 million. I asked him to elaborate on this. He said one of the r...



ArticleHow to Create Career Paths at a Small Startup

How to Create Career Paths at a Small Startup

The old days of having to grow our staff by promoting them into a management pyramid are (thankfully) wasting away. Startups can do way more with fewer people, which means fewer management layers and more a more empowered staff.

Yet, we're still stuck in the old thinking of "I can only progress if people are reporting to me." It's a dying notion, yet one we struggle with as startup Founders to replace. But we have to figure out how to recast the career paths of our teams if we're going to learn to work in a new world of smaller teams doing 10x more than they used to.

Growth Needs to be Unpacked

When our staff talks about growth, they are really talking about three things — money, recognition, and empowerment. Money is easy — we can always p...



ArticleEntrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint

Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint

When entrepreneurs are successful, we are enormously interested in what made them become entrepreneurs. It’s as if their main achievement is the decision to say goodbye to the secure and safe life — the sure job, the safe pay, and the good CV. While the choice of taking the plunge is definitely a precondition for success, it is quite far from being the primary achievement. The difficult part is not becoming an entrepreneur but remaining one when things look hopeless and everyone around you has lost faith. We love stories about how two 15-year-old kids in a basement have a good idea, get a breakthrough on the first day, and become a global success a year later. In reality, however, building a business and generating real value takes time. It...



ArticleRetiring Early is a Broken Concept

Retiring Early is a Broken Concept

"I want to put $50 million in the bank by the time I'm so I can retire early and never have to work again!"

Ah, the common refrain and justification of every startup dreamer, from the Founder across to the earliest employee. If only we could put that magic pot of gold into our coffers, then we could do what we really want to do.

Except it begs the questions:

  1. How much of what we really want to do can we already be doing?
  2. Do we really not want to work or do we really just want to feel safe?
  3. What the eff are we going to do at (whatever age) with nothing to do all day?

Time and time again when I query Founders, beyond the surface level stuff, about how hard they have thought through this lifetime goal that they are sacrificing everything for...



ArticleHow We Built an 8-Figure Business by Saying “No”

How We Built an 8-Figure Business by Saying “No”

At Startups.com, we built an 8-figure business by saying "no" — a lot.

We knew going in that if we’re going to have 100% control of our destiny now and in the future, that would only work if we could constantly say "no" in a disciplined manner.

But you know what? Saying "no" sucks. Just like saying "no" to delicious glazed donuts sucks. We know that we want them, but we also know the cost of saying "yes"! Now I'm hungry for a glazed donut. See what I mean? We knew that controlling our destiny would mean an insane amount of discipline, across the entire organization. In order to prepare ourselves for this discipline, like any good regimen, there were a few things that we'd have to stay incredibly focused on.

We had to be OK with things takin...



ArticleLeadership From The Trenches

Leadership From The Trenches

Ben Horowitz recently published his book The Hard Things about Hard Things. It’s no exaggeration to say I love it. As a third-time founder having experienced many of the challenges firsthand, I wish that book had been written 15 years ago, when I was trying to build my first company (although I’m not sure I would have read it back then; learning seems to be easier in hindsight). One of the great things about Ben’s book is that it focuses on sharing the hard lessons when it’s not all smooth sailing.

Inspired by this, I thought I would add some of the lessons from Tradeshift. Just like Opsware, Tradeshift is a company in wartime, as are most B2B companies try- ing to break into highly entrenched software markets controlled by incumbents with ...



ArticleWe Want to be Safe, Not Just “Rich”

We Want to be Safe, Not Just “Rich”

How much money do we need to be rich?

It's an important question as Founders because our financial goals and appetite for risk are inextricably tied to the decisions we make in building our startups.

The problem with determining what "rich" is to us is that there's rarely a hard limit on how big that number can be. In some cases, we may even feel ashamed to state it out loud, for fear that we're either too high ("you jerk!") or too low ("slacker!").

The thing is — it doesn't matter. In most cases, we're really not talking about "being rich" as a goal, what we're really talking about is being "safe". We want to know that our bills will get paid, our loved ones will get taken care of, and if shit hits the fan (because eventually, it always do...



ArticleMusic for Everyone

Music for Everyone

In 2008, the world got a new music streaming service named Spotify. It was developed in Stockholm, Sweden, and provided digital rights management-protected content from record labels and media companies. It may have started out as a local thing, but the freemium service quickly expanded. Today, Spotify has more than 140 million monthly active users and over 50 million paying subscribers.

I had the pleasure of meeting up with Andreas Ehn, who was Spotify’s first employee and CTO. Andreas was responsible for the product and platform architecture as well as hiring a world-class engineering team, of which many have gone on to become successful entrepreneurs on their own.

After Spotify, Andreas founded Wrapp — a mobile online-to-offline customer...



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