Sunday, April 26, 2020

The dark side of shiny happy startup culture

Startups often present themselves as 'fun' places to work - ping pong tables, flexible working, relaxed dress culture. But in my fifteen years of experience working at some of the most successful startups in the world, I've experienced this world sometimes more like the TV drama 'Game of Thrones' than the comedy 'Silicon Valley'.

Inevitably investors are breathing down the CEO's neck trying to get everything cheaper and faster - growth at all costs, and employees are expendable. It's a tough environment and you have to be super resilient to deal with it.

Startups typically work on the US 'maximize shareholder value' business model, not the German 'responsibility to multiple stakeholders' model. 

Several times I've worked at startups where the team that sweated blood building the company was dismissed unceremoniously when the company went 'corporate' - via IPO or buyout and Senior management suddenly wanted a different type of talent. 

Unfortunately, some startup founders have not developed the wisdom yet to recognize or deal effectively with ethical questions. Running a business requires talent and hard work but also compassion for your employees and understanding of what is fair and right.

Perhaps that's why the average age of a successful start-up founder is not mid-twenties, as is often portrayed in the media, but actually 45 years old. I presume that this is because, at that age, a company founder has built up more life experience and wisdom.

Still, most of the companies I see doing this will fail eventually as I have seen other startups fail in the past for the same reason. If you are lying, treating people disrespectfully or trying to make quick gains whilst compromising your integrity, it will come back to bite you. Click this link for more examples of Why Smart Executives Fail.