Survival Kit

I’ve been meaning to give a little link love to this post by Glenn Kelman, the CEO of Redfin, an online real estate broker for over a week. Mr. Kelman offers great advice to entrepreneurs and other senior executives on how to deal with the current economic downturn.

This is a must read for senior management in any organization. I’ve highlighted a few of my favorite parts here and linked out to the rest of the article which was featured on TechCrunch on November 30th.

Startups can be the most conservative organizations in the world. We spend so much energy nurturing our delicate egos against naysayers and self-doubt that we can hardly admit mistakes….We set off with the same directions: tackle a big problem, listen to customers, work hard, pinch pennies, hire slow, fire fast. Still good advice. But I think we’ll have different advice for one another once we’ve come through this downturn, about how we had to change to survive. 

The time we have left to succeed or fail is really just the measure of how long it took to adapt to our downturn. If I had been more experienced, we’d have adapted faster. Here’s the survival guide I’d give my former self, the one just starting to face the storm:

Compete With Your Successor

I often think about what my replacement will do after I’m fired. She won’t have emotional commitments to decisions that I already regret. She’ll look at everything as an outsider—as a customer—refusing to tolerate problems that have lasted so long I’ve forgotten they’re there, re-considering initiatives we already passed over for want of imagination or energy. And she’ll have nine or even twelve months of leeway to build the business, so she can think long-term. Worst of all, she’ll get credit for turning Redfin into a successful, thriving business. I think, “I hate her! I hate her!” And then I try to be her.

Create Simplicity

When Obama first heard the proposed slogan “yes we can,” his reaction was: “too simple.” But a leader’s job is to create simplicity. Over the past year, our real-estate executives slogged through ambiguous data on conversion rates, close rates, tour fulfillment. Decisive meetings felt like a math test where we ran out of time. Yet it never occurred to me to stop, step back and be precise and insistent about what we needed to know to make a decision. When something is hard to explain, you don’t understand it and you make mistakes. It’s a cliché to “keep it simple, stupid,” but the real challenge is to make it simple, mastering complexity instead of ignoring it. Entrepreneurs instinctively want to speed things up. What’s really hard is knowing when you have to slow them down.

Be a Roman

What disgusted the ancient Romans about barbarians was their lack of discipline. Oxford Professor Peter Heather writes, “As far as a Roman was concerned, you could easily tell a barbarian by how he reacted to fortune. Give him one little stroke of luck, and he would think he had conquered the world. But, equally, the slightest setback would find him in deepest despair…” This is why, 2,000 miles from home, several hundred Romans could slaughter several thousand barbarians.

Startups are founded by barbarians. But to survive the ups and downs, you have to make yourself into a Roman. The most talented entrepreneur I know nearly self-destructs on the 18-month birthday of each of his ventures. By that point a startup isn’t brand-new anymore, and it isn’t Google either. The closer you get to becoming a real company, the less glamorous reality seems: you’re grimy from clawing for money and breathing hard now from exertion, which would be fine if you could convince yourself you’re not the only one struggling. Everyone struggles. Keep fighting.

Read the entire post here.

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