When You Start, Define How You Will Behave

When you are starting a new company, there are a lot of things you are asked to announce at the start. What are you going to do? Why are you doing it? What makes you so special? Why is your social coupon FPS better than LivingDiscountKillzone? Exactly when do you reach the magical $12B valuation?

By all means, answer these questions. Each is important to some constituency, be it the employees you will try to attract, the investors who are clamoring to get in, the customers you hope to target, etc. The great thing about the modern world of “lean startups” and “the pivot” is that you are expected to throw each of these answers away after three months. After all, the purpose of a startup is to discover a sustainable business model. Your first guess is going to be wrong.

I’d suggest that, in addition to these ephemeral things, you also consider strongly announcing to the world how you are going to behave while you build this thing. This, however, is not ephemeral. It isn’t something you should pivot away from. It can’t be subject to A/B testing, and it can never be diluted through Series DD financing. It is the absolute statement of what you should expect of yourself, in normal times and in the face of crisis.

I recently had to craft a document for a new venture, and it includes the following paragraph:

I expect that we’ll create a company dedicated to the idea that you can be a capitalist, and still be a decent person at the same time. That we will treat employees, customers, investors and vendors with fairness, honor and dignity. We will empathize before we criticize, but criticize when it is important to do so. We’ll endeavor to understand our company’s externalities, minimizing the negative ones, accentuating the positive ones. We will, in all ways, act as if people actually matter.

Whenever the organization faces a tough decision, whenever it operates under stress, whenever it asks itself “what do I do now?”, it will have this statement as a guide. I guarantee that such a statement will eliminate a world of possibilities from the choice it has to make, and will draw a big Skitch-style red arrow at the right choice. You can pivot away from what you do, but you can’t pivot away from who you are.