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Mark Cuban Gets It: Fine Tuning the Startup Culture

Posted by Bob Warfield on March 10, 2008

Lots to like in Mark Cuban’s response to the whole startup rules meme I recently wrote about.

A few quick ones:

– Sales Cures All. Know how your company will make money and how you will actually make sales.

Amen.  One of my mentors was recently at a startup that was hand wringing about whether to get going selling or to keep giving away product and fine tuning.  He basically said that in order that they could still look themselves in the face in the mirror each morning they were going to sell $1M of product that year.

–  Know your core competencies and focus on being great at them. Pay up for people in your core competencies. Get the best. Outside the core competencies, hire people that fit your culture but are cheap.

Yep, it isn’t about saving money and working people to death.  It’s about spending capital wisely, and spending it where it matters.

–  An expresso machine ? Are you kidding me ? Shoot yourself before you spend money on an expresso machine. Coffee is for closers. Sodas are free. Lunch is a chance to get out of the office and talk. There are 24 hours in a day, and if people like their jobs, they will find ways to use as much of it as possible to do their jobs.

Amen again. This is a point I made too.  In fact, I love being in a downtown environment where it is easy to take a walk and get a fresh perspective.  When I worked in downtown San Jose, I used to take most of my one on one meetings walking to or from Starbucks or Petes.  It seemed to help people relax, let their hair down, and share what was on their minds more effectively.  It also pumped up the energy levels to have a quick change of scenery.

– No offices. Open offices keeps everyone in tune with what is going on and keeps the energy up. If an employee is about privacy, show them how to use the lock on the john. There is nothing private in a start up. This is also a good way to keep from hiring execs who can not operate successfully in a startup. My biggest fear was always hiring someone who wanted to build an empire. If the person demands to fly first class or to bring over their secretary, run away. If an exec wont go on salescalls, run away. They are empire builders and will pollute your company.

Once more I agree.  Communication is the biggest thing for startups.  Got to communicate to get everyone rowing in the same direction.

I had an interesting open office situation one time.  The boss wanted the execs seated together instead of with the teams.  Sounds like it would be bad for communication and just a convenience for him, no?  That was my first take.  I was wrong.  Good managers have to communicate with their teams, they’ll get it done.  They won’t necessarily communicate that well with peers, however.  In this case, it was a good thing.  It brought all the functions closer together.  Interesting dynamic.

–  Make the job fun for employees. Keep a pulse on the stress levels and accomplishments of your people and reward them. My first company, MicroSolutions, when we had a record sales month, or someone did something special, I would walk around handing out 100 dollar bills to salespeople. At Broadcast.com and MicroSolutions, we had a company shot. Kamikaze. We would take people to a bar every now and then and buy one or 10 for everyone. At MicroSolutions, more often than not we had vendors cover the tab. Vendors always love a good party :0

One more vote that too much workaholism can be a bad thing.  Treat people like part of the team, not as employees.  Some companies go way overboard about who is a founder or not.  To the point it is exclusionary.  There is value in celebrating founders, but I want to celebrate founders who are not managers.  I like the idea of letting everyone one have “Founding Team Member” on their business card if they were around at all before the first revenue comes in.  That whole period is a founding period, not just the guys that came before the VC’s.

In terms of events, be creative.  We had a fun event that was our “Engineering Oscars”.  We created some interesting categories, 8 or 10 I think, got a keg, had people walk down the runway, and gave each winner a new iPod.  Try to do something fun at least every 6 months.  And always celebrate success:  closing a round of funding, blowing out you numbers, shipping a new release, it all needs to be recognized.  Plenty of time to agonize on the next challenge!

One Response to “Mark Cuban Gets It: Fine Tuning the Startup Culture”

  1. I would add to his “no exit strategy” rule. Even if you have one, don’t ever talk about it. At my last gig the founders were always talking about ‘the valuation’ and the effect the decision at hand might have on it. Screw that! No one else in the room cared about the valuation, because none of us had enough of the pie for it to matter!

    I would also add another rule — maybe a strange one, but it is firmly in my mind — no religion in the office. At one start-up I was at, the whole exec team but me went to the same church, and they were always talking about how ‘leadership was service’, and ‘do unto others’. These might be nice ways to live, but I totally resented the intrusion into our business life. “Do no evil” comes too close to this for me — do they assume that people in business intend to do evil things??

    Yet another one – don’t make your spouse an exec. Even if they are the most qualified, the fact that you are a couple will bring in a ton of new factors that mostly will be bad. I have worked for three different husband/wife managements and only one was done right. A big problem is that the couple goes home and continues the discussion, making decisions that the rest of the execs don’t get to share in, so you leave a meeting one afternoon and the next day the matter is settled and you didn’t get to participate. Even worse, of course, is when the couple breaks up — the startup can rarely survive…

    Thanks!

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