As I begin writing this, I can see the BUT coming over the horizon of the next couple of paragraphs. So, I am providing you one upfront, and am asking you to hold it until it time. Yes, I am asking you to hold my BUT until we can put it to good use.
Since the summer (which feels like years ago), I have been watching and interacting with many of the TechStars teams. With some there was a discussion around investment or business development, and with others there was just the occasional ask for advice. And, truthfully, in some cases, I imagine the advice was more me giving it, than me being asked for it.
In meeting most of the teams, one thing really stood out: Age. Boy, were they all young. Most had not run or built another company; and most had taken large swallows of Web 2.0 Kool-aid. A few blew me away with their maturity, and others disappointed me with their immaturity. I was surprised when some got funded; and understood when some didnt.
Over the past couple of months, some have launched, some have folded (or are on life-support), and some are still working on launching. Still, overall I was impressed with the first crew of TechStars. Of course there were the common youth mistakes and some silly decision making happing, and I certainly did my fair share of being snarky and ribbing folks.
(ok, now its time to stop holding my BUT, and start using it.)
BUT, December 18th rolled around and I got an email from Matt Galligan of SocialThing, that I took offense to.
It was apparent that the giddiness of being a founder, getting a bit of press, going to a few events, getting funded, had gone to Matt’s head, growing it past standard hat size (I about pissed myself, when I overheard him say “To be a CEO, you have to be cocky.”)
So, in jest, I built IsSocialThingLive (which is just a framed version of IsTwitterDown) as a gentle (well, as gentle as I can be) nudge for Matt and his team to JUST LAUNCH. IMs, Direct Tweets and other forms of communication began to flow, and each time a launch date was set; it wasnt achieved. So, again, as a gentle push, I built SocialNOThing (this time not entirely on my own, I did get some egging on by a good friend of both mine and the ST kids). It is a feed of the three founders Twitter streams (“as a unique inside look into the building of a startup”), and the joke is that 99% of the tweets were not about building a startup. They included ski trips, trips to CES, silly tweets about overhearing others, etc.
None of this was done with malice. None of it was done anonymously. I publicly blasted Matt and Brian around the continued inability to launch, while privately offering all the support I could.
Finally, it seems my message of setting reasonable expectations has begun to sink in. Matt wrote a post on the SocialThing blog about how his email was a mistake.
Its a great first step.
Matt still doesnt 100% “get it.” He compares the hype around SocialThing to the iPhone, Rock Band and Ron Paul, missing the point that the “hype” surrounding SocialThing IS PRIMARILY SELF CREATED. Matt admits, rightly so, that he drank his own Kool-aid:
You can always under-promise and over-deliver, but it?s harder when a service gets hyped.
(By the way, Matt, the first part is always true, the second part is never true).
He continues his explanation of his apology, again rightly so, by indicating that the wording of the email he sent was wrong:
But then the backlash came and it was all about the wording of that email. We could have essentially said ?we?re still here, still working on it, and we?re going to get it to you as soon as possible, but we want it to be the best it can be, so it takes time? and things would have gone much smoother for us. But we didn?t do that, we sent an email that sounded so much more immediate. And there was our flaw. (emphasis mine) Admitting when you?re wrong is tough to do, especially when the bounce back comes from people you respect. So we have to learn from that.
The problem with the wording wasnt the implication of immediacy, it was the arrogance it displayed to potential users (here it is in complete form:
Private Beta Launch Details!
It’s been a long time coming, but starting this week you’re going to get a sneak peak into what we’ve been working on for over a year now!
The launch of our beta program has started and we’ll be letting in everyone on our mailing list soon (if you haven’t already been let in). You might not get in immediately, but you’ll certainly get in before the rest of the public! You should feel pretty special... (bold mine, red text theirs)
Your next email should be your invite, but in the meantime, you might want to visit our Blog or follow us on Twitter.
Are you excited? We sure are! It’s time to finally get your digital life in order with socialthing!
So, Matt, (I thought at the time) I should feel special because you are asking me to try your product? And, because I wasnt already in; I might be invited? Really?
Back to Matt’s apology:
So here is where we admit our error. We have been working very hard and want to get this in the hands of everyone in the world, but it?s just not quite there yet. I can look over the shoulders of the socialthing! developers and see it working, but letting people in is a different story. We?re wanting to do so, and I can?t wait to see peoples? reactions, but we screwed up. That hype email we sent a few weeks ago really should have been sent today and not December 18th.
So, while Matt may not 100% understand what his mistake was, he does at least understand that a mistake was made. For that, I say I am impressed.
He is beginning to learn to there are responsibilities to running a company that doesnt include the fluffy things, like attending events. Being a C-E-Oh! (Please rethink that business card, my friend) is more about persuading people to believe in him and his product. That being a leader means you need to have followers, and followers only follow people that they can trust. That true founders never put themselves above their companies or the people that work at their companies. That being CEO is more than just getting work done.
And I am so hopeful that the expectation Matt has set both with his blog post and this tweet come to pass (you have 7 hours, tick tock!). I am hopeful that this experience will extend his TechStars experience and over time, Matt will grow in the leader he wants to be.
When that happens, I will be as supportive and complementary as I have been snarky, and be the first to remove the but from my description of Matt’s leadership ability and work as the SocialThing Founder and C-E-Oh!.