Ben Huh Discusses Laying Off 1/3 of His Team

An interesting article ran in Inc Magazine this week about Ben Huh and the layoffs at Cheezburger a while back, “How I Live With Myself After Firing a Third of My Employees.”

At first it looks like it’s been written by Huh. But I read it and it sounded nothing like how the charismatic CEO speaks. Then I noticed that it was “written by Liz Welch, as told to her by Ben Huh.”

This fact made have contributed to the piece sounding self-serving to some. In fact, there was a mini-debate in a Private Facebook group I belong to about this very subject. Some people found the article in very poor taste, suggesting Ben’s attitude seemed to be, “Well too bad for everyone I fired, I don’t feel bad at all.” Having met Ben several times in the Seattle start-up scene, it struck me that this didn’t seem like it would be Ben’s general attitude at all. Even the people who were neutral on Ben’s comments seemed to think the piece came across staged, edited or worse.

I want to give Ben the benefit of the doubt here, since he didn’t write the piece. So we don’t know what was lost in translation or incorrectly quoted by Welch. But I took away a few points:

  1. “We were profitable until we took VC investment” = Don’t just spend money because you have money in the bank. You still have to make smart decisions.
  2. “The Board did not ask for this, it was my decision” = As CEO, you have to think about the 42 people you are keeping just as much as the 24 you let go. I made the mistake of growing too fast, I’ll take the blame.
  3. “To mitigate the risk of a leak, I called John Cook” = The info will get out anyway, so unless you want one of the folks who got laid off to pen an anonymous op-ed piece for Geekwire, call Geekwire first and give John the straight scoop.

What do you think about this article? Any comments? Was Ben wrong, or did the magazine just butcher the story?

Jack Dorsey on User Narratives

It seems like such common sense when Dorsey says it, but too often, we start building products from the wrong perspective.  Dorsey reminds us that the product needs to be built based on a story of how each customer will use it.  Think about the products you regularly use, or places you regularly go, and see if there’s a simple story behind each one.


Recapping Grow Conference 2012 (#GrowConf)

I love Vancouver. I think if you took the best things about Chicago and mixed them in with the best things from Seattle, then added in a touch of London for fun, you would end up with Vancouver. So, this report from Grow Conference 2012 is going to be tainted. It’s a great show, and if you read this blog, you are probably in the target market. So, I’ll try to limit it to the top 5 or 6 things I picked up there:

– Oh Canada! The country has a program where if you invest in a Canadian based startup, you can receive up to 50% of that investment back in tax credits.
– Oh Canada, part deux. There are a wealth of developers up here. Studies have found the AVERAGE Vancouver developer is stronger than the AVERAGE Silicon Valley dev. Now, they freely admit the TOP developers are in the Bay, but if you need competence, you can find it. Supply outweighs demand, so a decent dev comes in at $60-80k.
– The Canadian Angel scene is funny, because there’s a lot of money, but most of it was NOT made in tech. Tons of money in Calgary made by people in the oil and gas industry. Tons of money in Vancouver from the real estate industry. So lots of money sitting on the sidelines, bu the holders of that money don’t necessarily know how to invest in tech.
– I can’t explain exactly what made the Grow Conference more friendly than just about any other conference I’ve attended. There was pretty much no one that I talked to that I didn’t want to talk to. People were outgoing, lively and fun. It was probably the nicest – and maybe the smartest – mix of people I’ve attended a conference with.
– BTW, the train from Seattle to Vancouver is great. It’s about an hour longer than it should be, but a pretty easy way to make the trip and still be productive. Amazing views.
– From this point forward, I have a giant section of notes that I am keeping more private. Let your imagination wander. Email me if you want details.

Now if you want a play by play of all the speakers on Thursday, I suggest you head over the TechVibes Live Blog. It is a much better recap than what I could pull together for you.

If you get a chance, here are some companies I hope you will check out. I knew these guys before, but talking with their exec teams at lengths made me like them even more.
Liquid Planner
Freak’N Genius

Thanks to the folks at Geekwire for convincing me to go. Time well spent.

Pics to come.

The Magic of Saying Nothing

Sometimes, you generate interest by simply not saying anything.  All it takes is one person to be excited about the unknown, and that excitement can spread.

I don’t know anything about Wendr.  In fact, here’s everything I know:

That’s my old friend from New Orleans, Marc Calamia, seeming to be excited about Wendr.  I clicked through and landed here:


They’ve told me nothing.  No reason for me to join.  But also, no reason for me not to.  So naturally, I signed up.

Sometimes we just want there to be more cool things, and we’re willing to give up an email address to hear about them.  Moral: Don’t underestimate the fact that people want to like things.


Mark Cuban’s 12 Secrets for Startups

Mark Cuban is one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, starting Audionet at the beginning of the streaming media generation, turning it into and then flipping it to Yahoo for a fortune. In this article,  he shares his 12 secrets for startup success.

I think Mark’s most debatable comment is a combination of his first 2 points:

  1. Don’t start a company unless it’s an obsession and something you love.
  2. If you have an exit strategy, it’s not an obsession.

Mark’s basically implying that if you go into a business idea with an exit in mind, you won’t have the passion to see the company through to that exit.

Whether you agree with Mark or not, it is important to understand what people like him believe are the keys to building a successful startup. In most cases, entrepreneurs will be approaching people like Mark for venture capital. Understanding what they are looking for saves everyone a lot of time and improves the probability of raising those funds.

If I had the chance, I’d ask Mark when he thinks it’s necessary to think about the exit. After all, at some point the team had to consider how to turn their nice little business into the $6B exit it became. Who made the company make that pivot, and when did it happen?

I’d suggest anyone considering a startup should read all of Mark’s 12 points. It’s a great summary on entrepreneurial Do’s and Dont’s.