The worst kind of person to meet at a party or networking event is the person who obviously drank his own Kool-Aid. It’s the guy who really doesn’t see a problem with launching a social mobile app that looks and feels exactly like Foursquare—no way, man. This is gonna be big, because social and mobile are, like, the hottest things right now.
It’s a natural progression for some entrepreneurs. You’re naturally passionate about your product, you want your business to succeed, and you know that if you constantly second guess yourself, you’re not going to get anywhere…so, yeah…it’s easy to turn into a shit.
1) Disrupt respectfully.
“We all talk about disruption here in Silicon Valley, but there’s a respectful way to do it,” said Simon. “The people who are the incumbents that you’re trying to disrupt—they’re smart people, that’s why they’re the incumbents. We think we do it better, but that’s not to take away from anything that they’ve accomplished. And you never know when you’re going to end up working with one of them. They’ve done a lot and there’s no reason to vilify those folks. I’ve seen that a lot from entrepreneurs and that’s a bad strategy.”
2) Don’t take yourself too seriously.
“If you show your employees that you’re fallible, your employees are going to feel more free to share feedback about the company and what they think,” said Simon, showing a picture of he and his co-founder posing in an elevator a la Gangnam Style. “If you believe your own bullshit, you’re going to convey an attitude of ‘I can do no wrong’ and no one’s going to talk to you.”
In that vein: 3) Listen to everyone.
“Be open to ideas from anywhere. Amazon Prime was an idea that came from a developer. It didn’t come from some kind of strategic source or anything. In the early stages of your company, you aren’t getting a whole lot of phone calls, you’re not busy with emails, so you have time to just sit and think about how to innovate. But later you find yourself in a situation where you’re getting traction and you’re too busy to sit and think, and the only way you can hear about those things is by listening to your employees, listening to your investors, listening to your customers, and really acting on those ideas.”
And of course, respect your employees. Hence lesson number 4) Be firm but fair.
“We talk a lot about Netflix’s HR model where you fire fast and it’s a hard curve and you build morale for the people that are left. And that’s true, but we’ve found—and even Netflix probably doesn’t adhere that strictly to this model—you want to be fair. You want to give people notice. You want to clear out dead weight and get rid of people who aren’t working, but you also want to build morale and avoid a culture of fear. We’ve had periods where we’ve had a culture of fear at HotelTonight, and in the last couple of years we’ve changed that around. We reward people who do well and get rid of people who don’t, but it’s much more fair and it’s a much better system.”