An Open Letter From Fab’s CEO: Advice From a Year of Hard Knocks

Jason Goldberg, Founder & Chief Executive Officer at Fab, has learned a lot in 2013. A series of very public layoffs and upheaval is not generally followed by such candor, but that’s what Goldberg laid out in his blog, the Betashop Quarterly. In it, he pens an open letter about 2013′s fumblings and the hard lessons he learned, summing things up for us in 16 lessons that go far beyond the workspace to become great advice for any industry, entrepreneur, or worker.

Here’s a few of our favorites:

2. Control Your Own Destiny — Cash Is King. . . Never ever let yourself get into a position where you are desperate for cash. When I made the difficult decision to cut expenses at Fab in mid-2013 I had essentially two options in front of me: keep growing at the pace we were growing and hope I could raise even more money down the road, or scale back and control our own destiny. I chose the latter. Yes, it is my fault for getting us in such a position in the first place, but the go forward decision was rather simple. I didn’t want to ever get in a position where we were desperate for cash. . .

4. As the CEO, it’s all your fault because you set the tone for the entire business. . . If you ever, ever find yourself in the position where you are pointing at one of your executives and managers and saying to yourself, “If only they made better decisions we wouldn’t be in this situation,” STOP. Point that finger right back at yourself. . . The reason it’s all your fault is because you set the tone for the business. At Fab in 2012 and into the first half of 2013, for instance, the tone I set was to grow grow grow and create a billion dollar company. All decisions flowed from that. So when I looked back in the second half of 2013 and asked why did we do x, y, z, the easy thing to do would be to blame managers for making poor decisions. But that would be wrong. The absolute truth is that the CEO — me — set the tone and all decisions flowed from that. This is a tough lesson for any leader to internalize, but it’s so important. It’s also easy to fall into the trap of believing that things would have been better if you had just insisted on it being done your way vs. listening to someone else. I can think of countless times over the past couple of years when I knew the right answer but allowed the team to pursue a different direction. . . By championing growth on the one hand while questioning efficiency on the other, all I was doing was confusing the team, not leading them. And, everyone — including myself — was too busy focusing on growth to even take the proper time to figure out the tough problems in front of us. Leadership is all about setting the right tone.

Read the rest here.

Relevant: Jason Goldberg: You Can’t Iterate Yourself To A Business Model

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Gamify Your Inspiration


Ji Lee, currently working in creative strategy at Facebook, stays inspired by enhancing his observational skills by turning the world around him into a game. During the question/answer period for a New York Creative Mornings, he explains one of his many games:

So, for instance, right after 9/11 I realized there was lots of logos with the cityscape that contained the twin towers and it was very mixed feelings that I had because I was sad, but at the same time happy to see this typical cityscape logo with the twin towers. So I started to collect these logos and photography them and it became a game. Wherever I went on the street, I would look for something like this.

By going out into your everyday surroundings with a specific agenda in mind, your eyes are open to things you may not have noticed before. Constantly being aware and being present in the moment allows your mind to process previously missed information. Information that may help in sparking your next brilliant idea. So follow Lee’s lead and “make something into a game.”

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New Idea? Ask Yourself If the “Juice Is worth the Squeeze.”

By Pierre Bourjo

By Pierre Bourjo

Ideas are the currency of creatives. Shift in your seat and you’ll come up with another handful of cool ideas for a new venture, iteration on a project, or way to improve something you’re currently working on. But how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? It can be challenging to gauge which of your genius brainstorms to act on and which to toss.

Designer Caroline Kelso has great advice for how to vet which of your ideas are worth pursuing, and which you should file under “G” (for garbage). Every time she gets excited about pursuing a new project, she asks herself, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”

In business – and in life – we have a finite number of hours in the day and a limit to the attention that we can give any number of things at one time.

Not every great idea is going to be worth your time and attention. It’s as simple as that… [W]hen I find myself knee-deep in a new idea, I ALWAYS ask myself: Is the juice worth the squeeze?

Next time you find yourself contemplating a brilliant idea, take a mental step back and ask yourself whether the outcome is worth the effort. For example, are the dozens of hours you’ll need to invest in something worth whatever the payoff is? Will the idea strain any of your professional relationships if you have to ask for a hefty favor? Sometimes the outcome of a great idea is financial, which is easy to measure. Sometimes it’s less tangible: joy, relationship-building, experience, or credibility.

Think of it this way: just like your clients do, always think about optimizing your personal Return on Investment. If everything checks out, you’ll be free to pursue your bright idea bolstered by the confidence that it’s worth your blood, sweat, and tears.

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Makers vs. Talkers & Why Now Is a Great Time for Creatives to Lead

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Image via Iamsteveo.wordpress.com

Research has shown that creatives aren’t often given the opportunity to lead because there’s an unconscious bias against them. People associate creativity with nonconformity and unconventionality. And when they think about an effective leader, they think about someone who brings order. Obviously if you believe that a leader’s role is to bring order, you wouldn’t want a creative to lead. (Of course, this has nothing to do with whether creatives actually can lead, it’s just a bias many of us have.)

What’s interesting is that these qualities which have typically biased folks against creatives as leaders — that they’re unconventional, unorthodox, and full of un-tested new ideas about the way things should be done — are actually turning into assets when we look at today’s work and business landscape and how it’s evolving. 

I recently spoke with design guru John Maeda about why makers make great leaders for our new 99U book Make Your Mark:

The transition from maker to leader is a big challenge for many creative people. What do you think that’s about?

When you make things with your hands, you force something into being. You sand it, you cut it, you fold it . . . You do everything to build it from end to end. Whereas leading requires a lot of talking, a lot of communicating—not using your hands. And when you’re a creative who makes things, you immediately build a distinction between the talkers and the makers. And makers tend to look down on talkers. And leaders are talkers. You don’t trust them, but now you’re one of them. [laughs] At first you think you can’t make anything with your hands anymore. But you can. You make relationships. One at a time. With the same painstaking attention to craft that you knew as a maker.

Do you think that part of the struggle is that when you become a leader you become more removed from direct ownership of the product?

I don’t think that it’s just ownership. It’s about integrity, and how you’re framing what those different roles mean. If I’m a maker, and you’re not a maker, I’m better than you because I have integrity, and you don’t. You’re just talking. So it’s about a necessary reframing of your “maker” role. You no longer get your hands dirty or clothes messed up as a badge of belonging. As a leader, you are alone—and accountable for the needs of the whole. The whole is the product. And you’re making it. You own it. And you succeed and fail by it.

Does this relentless focus on integrity have an upside when it comes to leading a business?

I think the pursuit of integrity is a good thing, because it isn’t about profit—it’s only about quality. Companies need a very clear sort of compass to succeed, and when profit is the motivation, it isn’t enough. Creatives are driven by passion, by integrity, and by quality. So they know how to focus on product, and how it feels. And that’s a very important strength. Especially right now. It used to be that you would buy a product just because it had good technology. You didn’t care about the design. But that’s not the case anymore.

It seems like, in theory, the ideal leader would be a maker, a manager, and a leader. Do you think that those things all coexist in one person with any kind of frequency?

I don’t know about frequency, but I know about growth and how people evolve. Given the current environment, I think that people are being forced to change. A few decades ago, when things were more stable, we could all just sort of stay in our little roles. But now the pace of change is so rapid, and things are confusing. So we have to just try stuff. And fail. And recover, and try again. If there’s one skill that a leader needs, it’s the attitude espoused by the late, great Nelson Mandela, “Do not judge me by my successes; judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Creatives know that attitude so well—and manage ambiguity better than anyone else. And combined with the ability to execute, to really get things done, they’re in a great position to lead.


This post is excerpted from 99U’s new book, Make Your Mark: The Creative’s Guide to Building a Business with Impact, which features insights from 21 visionary founders, designers, and entrepreneurs. Learn more.

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Beware of Perception Gaps

By Marco Leo

By Marco Leo

Small misunderstandings can sometimes morph into larger misconceptions, which can then snowball into full-blow falsehoods that ultimately erode trust, credibility and transparency. A small perception gap can significantly impact performance down the road. The disconnect between what you want to say and what is actually said is what Anne Loehr, author of A Manager’s Guide to Coaching: Simple and Effective Ways to Get the Best from Your Employees, calls as the “Perception Gap.”

She suggests that we structure clarity into our process in order to avoid it:
  1. At the beginning of a call or meeting, state: “My intention for this meeting/call is X.” That way, the team or team member can frame the meeting content within the stated intentions.
  2. At the end of the meeting or call, ask for feedback by saying “My intention for this meeting/call was X. How did I do?” This reiterates your intention to the team, and creates a welcoming environment for clarifying questions.
  3. Listen carefully to the reply to see if there is a Perception Gap.

Be aware of how you are communicating, and with whom. Get to know your teammates’ communication styles and aim to communicate in a manner that they are more likely to receive accurately and positively. Remember that simple conversations can have a negative impact on not just performance, but on relationships as well. 

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Want Busy People to Respond to Your Email? Keep It Short & Urgent

By Antonio Rodrigues Jr

By Antonio Rodrigues Jr

Have you ever emailed someone who is extremely busy, only to hear back several days (or weeks) later? Or perhaps you didn’t hear back at all? Busy people are difficult to reach via email, because you’re asking them to part with their most valuable resource of all: time.

In a guest post for OkDork, business coach John Corcoran shared how he got the attention of App Sumo founder Noah Kagan via email. The trick to capturing the attention of the busy executive was a sense of urgency:

I said the interview would take only 5-7 minutes of his time. If you’re asking for something, you want to make the commitment so small and the benefit so great, they can’t possibly pass it up. I think Noah probably realized it was likely the interview would run longer than 5-7 minutes, but it’s good to demonstrate your willingness to keep the time demand commitment short out of respect for your recipient’s time. And in fact, when I did interview Noah, I offered multiple times to cut off the interview but he allowed it to go longer.

In a study commissioned by author Dan Pink for his book, To Sell Is Human, workers reported that as part of their job, they spent 40 percent of their time trying to convince someone to part with resources of some kind (what Pink calls “non-sales selling”). And much of that is accomplished using email. 

Corcoran says that when you’re writing an email, you want to make the commitment so small and the benefit so great that the recipient finds the offer hard to refuse. So instead of asking for half an hour of someone’s time, ask for a handful minutes. Instead of writing, “I’d love to grab coffee,” say “I could pop by your office for a couple of minutes.”

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Relevant: How To Ask People for Things Via Email: An 8-Step Program

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Can’t Fall Asleep? Do a Nighttime Audit

By Dadu Shin

By Dadu Shin

Almost half the people you’ll run into today are suffering from some level of sleep deprivation. This is largely because we don’t know when (or how) to call it a night. Tethered to our devices, work more often than not spills into the precious time that we need to decompress and prepare for a good night’s sleep.

Ron Friedman, author of The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, suggests that we conduct a “nighttime audit” to better understand where we’re going wrong:
Do a nighttime audit of how you spend your time after work. For one or two evenings, don’t try to change anything—simply log everything that happens from the moment you arrive home until you go to bed. What you may discover is that instead of eliminating activities that you enjoy and are keeping you up late (say, watching television between 10:30 and 11:00), you can start doing them earlier by cutting back on something unproductive that’s eating up your time earlier on (like mindlessly scanning Facebook between 8:30 and 9:00).
It’s not a matter of giving things up, so much as simply rescheduling them. Avoid burnout by understanding how to set yourself up for the expert-recommended minimum 30 minutes that you need to wind down before attempting to sleep.

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