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The “No Assholes” Rule

July 6, 2011

Crowded Ocean was at a recent Incubator/Accelerator Summit sponsored by Orrick. The room was packed with entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs looking for advice and resources from the panel on the stage. (One interesting side note: when asked their primary needs in starting up their enterprise, the room was fairly evenly split between funding, services and space.)

Near the end of the Summit the question was asked; what are the characteristics you most look for in a founder?  Surprisingly, the answer across the board had nothing to do with vision or management.  The number one requirement was that the founder couldn’t be an asshole.

“I know everyone thinks they need to be cocksure, like the next Steve Jobs,” one of the experts said.  “But the critical element, in dealing with us, is that they have to be receptive to criticism.  And when it comes to growing a company, they need to know how to attract and manage people.  Assholes won’t take criticism and are lousy with people.  They’re a bad investment.”

At Crowded Ocean, we have a different version of the “No Assholes” rule.  When we first meet with a prospective client, we explain to them the two components of a great client…

The first is the old saw: “Know (and admit) what you don’t know.”  Our clients, for the most part, are technologists.  We don’t know as much about their technology as they do—we readily admit that.  A good client will make the same admission about marketing.  A bad one (read: “asshole”) will employ the little they’ve learned (or overheard) about marketing to show off for their staff and question everything we recommend.  It makes for a long engagement.

The second rule is simple: “Recognize and reward our vendors for the work they do.”  In the course of our standard six-month engagement with a client we generally bring in 6-10 vendors (PR, web design, SEO, writers, etc.)  If we get a client that bullies the vendors, delays payment, or rewrites the rules of engagement mid-contract, we exit the account as soon as possible.  First off, if we’re going to be working with these vendors on other accounts for years to come, it’s the right thing to do.  Second off, if that’s how our clients treat our vendors, it’s only a matter of time before they treat us the same way.

So, like the Orrick panelists, we also screen for assholes during the courting period.  Usually, though, the tendencies only come out under stress and once they start working with vendors, whom assholes regard as ‘underlings’.  But once those tendencies manifest themselves, run for the exits.  Because once an asshole, always an asshole

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 19, 2011 4:02 pm

    Truer words were never spoken…or written for that matter. Thanks for telling it like it is.

  2. Roger Sterling permalink
    July 19, 2011 4:17 pm

    “Once and asshole, always an asshole”. If there is one timeless truth in the Valley, it is this!

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