When “everything is awesome at the company right now” – it really isn’t

When I hear one of our CEOs say “everything is awesome at our company right now; the entire team is in a great mood” – my first thought is “uh-ho”.

Because at great companies things are happening so fast, things are being questioned all the time, things are so at / over capacity – things can’t possibly all be awesome. There is friction, there are disagreements. Great companies live at the edge and it sure as hell does not feel “awesome” – even as an outsider it can be painful to witness.

So when I hear everything is awesome, I know it isn’t.

  • http://babblingvc.typepad.com/ Paul Jozefak

    I hate to say it but most founders telling you “everything is awesome” and really believing it are usually the wantrepreneurs which have become so prevalent of late. They sincerely believe everything is great because they’ve created a “lifestyle” at their start-up which perfectly conforms with their expectations of being a founder. Unfortunately, those of us who’ve done it know that if everything is “comfortable” and “awesome”, something’s going wrong or you’re probably not trying hard enough. Great, succinct post Ciaran!

    • http://www.berlinvc.com Ciarán O’Leary

      Yes we are lucky to not have that happen a lot; but when it does the alarm bells go off. Also folks who are trying really hard but are just in denial; that can happen to – and we can help there. I know it’s obvious but best folks are always brutally honest. I think as costs to build a startup go down you’ll have more folks try that may not be suited character-wise; but being selfish hear I’d rather have more people get to the starting line than not.

      • http://babblingvc.typepad.com/ Paul Jozefak

        I expect nothing but your “selfish” ways Ciaran! 😉

      • http://azeemazhar.com/ azeemazhar

        interesting observations. Costs go down, participation goes up. Not entirely clear that it results in better outcomes for you as a downstream investor. One thing I’ve seen as a multiple founder and investor as costs (and perceived risk) has trended down is the large number of excellent early hires who are now founders. This denudes great founding teams of the talent depth they need to really capture a market.

        Since you can now survive 12-18 months on GBP100k, if you are frugal. That is a long time for someone who isn’t ‘suited-characterwise’ but has the dynamics to be a great early employee to be out of the market for.

        In other words, 1,000 flowers blooming may produce fewer wonderful hardy plants than having 1,00 flowers blooming each of which has just a bit more of the sunlight and fertilizer…

        • http://www.berlinvc.com Ciarán O’Leary

          fair points. in general i am trying to be kind of non-elitist about who should have a shot at entrepreneurship. i am sure some of them would be better off as early employees indeed. witness the show, write your own next time.

          • http://azeemazhar.com/ azeemazhar

            Completely agree with that last line. Sometimes you learn calculus by learning algebra first. I’m thrilled by the vibrancy of the new European startup scene but I also fear for the struggles of the companies scaling from 10 to 100 (and let alone 100 to 1000) as they try to find the right talent.

            Accelerators have a really important role to play here, in that sense. Because they do give you role models to closely follow. And it is role models, rather than training wheels because the entrepreneur still does it themselves. But I’d also like to encourage a culture which helps us developer the 10 to 100 team member as well.

          • http://www.berlinvc.com Ciarán O’Leary

            Yes but personally I am not sure most accelerators have a lot of experience in seeing companies go from 10 to 100 (Seedcamp the exception in Europe). I think that’s where some good early hires and the right angels / early investors can help more. And of course the ultimate goal: people leaving companies when they get to 200+ to start their own gig.

  • NiMA

    We have never had more than a half day of “everything is awwwsome”! every good news is followed by… “oh now s#it’s gettin’ real, we gotta deliver!” And of course being a #HARDware #robotics #B2B startup in Berlin (yes we are not in SV, Munich or Boston) means no challenge is easy and every move matters.
    -n

    • http://www.berlinvc.com Ciarán O’Leary

      That is true. When yo have bigger plans good news on intermediary steps wears off quickly.

  • Peter Malaczynski

    Like most communications this question is dependent on context. The question may not be understood as requiring a day to day operations or a competitive advantage analysis answer otherwise every marriage would be considered to be untrustworthy and on the brink of divorce. The confusion is a contrast between details and big picture stuff. If you want a sense how the team handles pressure or want to know the current challenges to see if you can help the team perhaps the question should be rephrased by being more specific… perhaps something like… “What problems are you guys currently dealing with and how are you guys addressing it? What do you fear and what is your achilies heel? Do you guys lack any skill sets currently? How do you guys deal with a difference of opinion internally?” In my opinion VC’s sometimes need better listening skills by following up a general “everything is fine” answer with a better question making it clear we are asking for operational details else they will miss great opportunities by writing off founders on the letter by failing to clarify the meaning and context of their answers.

    • http://www.berlinvc.com Ciarán O’Leary

      Those are great points. VCs need to create a “no fear” culture and be pro-active in identifying topics to address etc.