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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Molly Crabapple: Make a Career That Fits You

crabapple black

In a time when old institutions are restructuring or collapsing, artist and writer Molly Crabapple urges individuals not to change who they are to be “professionally viable.” There is no longer a system you can enter and be set until retirement. Instead, she suggests creating a career unique to you.

…focus in on your weirdness, your passions, and your f***ed-up damage, and be yourself as truly as you can. Express that with as much craft, discipline, and rigor as you can; work as hard as you can to build a career out of that, and then you’ll create a career that you love and that’s true to yourself, as opposed to doing what you think other people want and burning yourself out when you’re older.

Don’t change who you are to fit the work out there — find that work that fits you.

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Public Speaking 101: Focus on Your Topic & the Words Will Come

Icon by Martin Smith from The Noun Project

Icon by Martin Smith from The Noun Project

A study from last year confirmed that many people find public speaking to be more anxiety-inducing than death.  As such, when practicing for client pitches, boardrooms and the stage, we often nervously prioritize style over substance by focusing on how to say things (your tone, pace, gestures, etc.) rather than what to say.

John Coleman suggests that we reverse our approach by focusing on what to say, not how to say it:

Focus on memorizing key stories and statistics, rather than practicing our delivery. If you spend your time on how to say something perfectly, you’ll stumble through those phrasings, and you’ll forget all the details that can make them come alive. Or worse, you’ll slavishly read from a PowerPoint or document rather than hitting the high points fluidly with your audience. If you know your topic, the words will come.

Trust your knowledge of the subject matter. Pick your key points and let the words find themselves.

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What Do You Measure Your Productivity By?

Measure designed by Ryan Beck from the Noun Project

Measure designed by Ryan Beck from the Noun Project

If you want to get more done in your day, venture capitalist Sam Altman says it’s all about figuring out your main priorities. After all, what you measure by is what you execute on:

Value gets captured by execution. . . I used to make a list of everything I got done at the end of the day. It was remarkable how I could feel like I had a really busy day and realize that night I got nothing done. . .

You build what you measure—if you measure your productivity by the number of meetings you have in a day, you will have a lot of meetings.  If you measure yourself by revenue growth or number of investments closed or something like that, you will probably have fewer meetings.

If you believe that going to space is the most important project for humanity, then work on it.  If you can’t figure out how to raise hundreds of millions of dollars, go work for SpaceX (joining a great company is a much better plan than starting a mediocre one).  If enterprise software is what you really love, then work on that.

And if, at the end of the day, you find that your list isn’t as long or doesn’t contain what you thought it would, Altman reminds us that it’s easy to change course tomorrow: all you have to do is re-direct your aim.

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How Do Well-Meaning People End up Making Poor Decisions?

Confusion designed by Kelcey Benne from the Noun Project

Confusion designed by Kelcey Benne from the Noun Project

Over at Harvard Business Review, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman delve into a study they conducted with over 50,000 leaders to determine what guides some of us to making poor decisions. Their research concludes with nine key habits to avoid:

1. Laziness. This showed up as a failure to check facts, to take the initiative, to confirm assumptions, or to gather additional input. Basically, such people were perceived to be sloppy in their work and unwilling to put themselves out. They relied on past experience and expected results simply to be an extrapolation of the past.

2. Not anticipating unexpected events. It is discouraging to consistently consider the possibility of negative events in our lives, and so most people assume the worst will not happen. Unfortunately, bad things happen fairly often. People die, get divorced, and have accidents. Markets crash, house prices go down, and friends are unreliable.

3. Indecisiveness. At the other end of the scale, when faced with a complex decision that will be based on constantly changing data, it’s easy to continue to study the data, ask for one more report, or perform yet one more analysis before a decision gets made. When the reports and the analysis take much longer than expected, poor decision makers delay, and the opportunity is missed.

Zenger and Folkman go on to describe the other six, less powerful, habits that lead us to making poor choices. Do yourself a favor and read the full list of habits over on HBR, then take some time to see which of them you might need to overcome.

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The Science Behind Being Cool

 

Cool Designed by SuperAtic LABS for the Noun Project

Cool Designed by SuperAtic LABS for the Noun Project

Being cool means straying from the norm, but recent studies have shown that if you stray too far, your brand or design may be strongly disliked. Unconventionality alone is not enough (for example, Segways are far from conventional, but not necessarily cool). Marketing scholar Caleb Warren explains that cool designs need to challenge norms, but not be too extreme.  

Being cool requires a very delicate balance of doing something that shows that you go your own way and do your own thing, but you do it in a way that is socially desirable or at least acceptable.

The problem with being cool is that soon others will begin to imitate you. Slowly this will shift what was once cool to conventional, and you’re back at being uncool. As Warren says, “if you’re really doing something right, the chances are the coolness isn’t going to last because you’re going to shift what is the norm.” Our advice? Forget the fleetingness of cool and focus on creating things you enjoy, no matter where they fall on the spectrum.

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What’s Better Than Coffee Or Naps? Coffee Naps.

Coffee by Maximilian Becker from The Noun Project

Coffee by Maximilian Becker from The Noun Project

Scientists agree: when it comes to maximizing alertness, coffee naps (drinking a cup of coffee and then taking a quick nap) are better than coffee or naps alone.

Joseph Stromberg shares how to use this method:

Taking a coffee nap is pretty straightforward. First, drink coffee…You need to drink it quickly, to give yourself a decently long window of time to sleep as it’s going through your gastrointestinal tract and entering your bloodstream. Right after you’re finished, immediately try to go to sleep. Finally, make sure to wake up within 20 minutes, so you don’t enter the deeper stages of sleep, and you’re awake when the caffeine is just starting to hit your brain.

From our own past experience and the throat-burns to prove it, this might be best done with cold brew or iced coffee.

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