Calacanis Lit a Fire, Here are My Thoughts

(This entry has been appended, see the last sentence for an update)

So Jason Calacanis lit a fire last week with a blog post about things to do and things not to do in a startup company. I was introduced to Jason a few months ago at a conference in LA by a mutual friend. We chatted for quite a bit while he waited for a ride to a Lakers game. We joked around, talked business and just gabbed. Seemed like a nice enough guy, and at the same time he struck me as a no-nonse kind of dude. Jason is extremely bright, and certainly successful and his reputation definitely precedes him. His blog post created quite a stir in the blogosphere. Many critics have piled on him. TechCrunch piled on starting with Duncan Riley to Michael Arrington. Don Dodge jumped in, and the latest to catch my attention was Mark Cuban.

About two weeks ago, after subscribing to Jason’s blog for a long time, I unsubscribed. The reason? He never seemed to have anything important to say – just the same ol’ promotional crap about his business Mahalo. Now granted, I think Mahalo is cool, but I don’t read Jason’s blog to read about Mahalo. I read it to learn his insights as an entrepreneur, and an entrepreneur I respect. But I’ve grown tired of his endless Mahalo postings. As one of my Facebook friends I’m also tired of his endless links to Mahalo. It totally clogs up my Facebook news feed! But this recent post, that I’m referencing here in this entry, is a damn good one and is reason for me to subscribe to his blog again.

Anyway, to the point… out of all the responses in the blogosphere to Jason’s entry, some of Mark Cuban’s responses are the ones that really stuck a chord with me. (interesting side note: Cuban is a Mahalo investor). In Mark’s response the ones that caught my attention were:

3. Hire people who you think will love working there.

That’s the first thing I look for – a gut, passion, a heart. All our job postings state exactly that! If I don’t see those qualities in the first 30 seconds of an interview, the interview is already over and I just go through the motions. My colleagues can attest to that. Anyone I’ve hired in CitySquares is there because they passed these tests. I grill them and if they can look me in the eyes and not bullshit me and show me some guts, they’ve passed my first test.

6. An expresso machine ? Are you kidding me ? Shoot yourself before you spend money on an expresso machine. Coffee is for closers. Sodas are free. Lunch is a chance to get out of the office and talk. There are 24 hours in a day, and if people like their jobs, they will find ways to use as much of it as possible to do their jobs.

I love Mark’s response here! Firstly, we have a coffee machine in the office. A Keurig brewing machine – ya know – the kind that take those little cups? The reasons are simple – the closest coffee shop is not terribly convenient. That’s time my sales staff is not on the phones. And, having one of these babies in the office always stocked up is a great way to just keep everyone caffeinated and thinking. I’m a big fan of caffeine. Heck, if I could I’d chew coca leaves all day! Caffeine keeps me thinking and often gets me thinking in very creative ways. I think my sales team find it just as useful as I do. Espresso machine? Eh – that’s a little, well, a little too snooty for me. As for lunches – I agree. Get the hell outta the office for a little bit. Breath some fresh air instead of your coworkers breath. Get out, clear your head, get some perspective, then come back refreshed and ready for the rest of the day. And my staff do work at all hours, mostly. I’ve had numerous exchanges with coworkers this weekend, including board members.

10. NEVER EVER EVER buy swag. A sure sign of failure for a startup is when someone sends me logo polo shirts. If your people are at shows and in public, its ok to buy for your own folks, but if you really think someone is going to wear your polo you sent them in public, you are mistaken and have no idea how to spend your money

Yep, love it. The only time we’ve bought any shirts, jackets, or hats is for events, trade shows, and marketing activities. That’s it. I totally agree with Mark. No one, including my board members to my own wife, are not going to where our corporate threads. Please – spend that money on a coffee machine or coca leaves!

12. Make the job fun for employees. Keep a pulse on the stress levels and accomplishments of your people and reward them. My first company, MicroSolutions, when we had a record sales month, or someone did something special, I would walk around handing out 100 dollar bills to salespeople. At and MicroSolutions, we had a company shot. Kamikaze. We would take people to a bar every now and then and buy one or 10 for everyone. At MicroSolutions, more often than not we had vendors cover the tab. Vendors always love a good party :0

As I think many of my previous posts would demonstrate, we make all sorts of efforts here to keep morale high and people giving a shit. This is more than a job, it has to be. Some of things we do to keep people happy here happen by accident, some are quite intentional. From happy hours on Thursdays, to a Kudos contest, to American Idol pools, company lunches, and just general Shenanigans and Tom Foolery, we have a lot of fun. But make no mistake, we kick each others asses and hold ourselves and each other accountable.

Long story short, I think that Jason is a proven entrepreneur with loads of experience. I do, however, think that what works for one startup won’t necessary work in another. I can think of other startup companies I’ve worked for, including my own, that have had totally different requirements for morale, for efficiency tools, and for productivity. What works for me may not work for Jason. What works for Jason may not work for Mark. And so on.

Ultimately, that’s what this blog is really about – my perspectives as an entrepreneur. I try to keep the self-promotion out of it. I try not to be obnoxious (which I can easily be) and keep marketing and PR efforts out of this blog. That’s what a future planned CitySquares blog will be – promotional and PR stuff.

So if I can be just one more person to jump onto the Calacanis pig pile, my only piece of criticism would be to make the Blog about Jason Calacanis, about his experiences with and in entrepreneurship, not about Mahalo and Mahalo and Mahalo. I am now resubscribed to his blog – at least until I get bored again.

Jason posted a new blog entry in which he states he’s going to change his tune. I think that’s brave and wise of him. He’s such a respected guy and people really admire him (myself included). It’s refreshing to see this sort of honesty and guts. See his blog entry here.