In case you missed it, Canada elected a new government a few weeks ago. We Canucks thought it was a long, drawn-out affair with lots of mudslinging and dirty tricks. But let’s be honest: A 78 day campaign where the most offensive behaviour was making fun of the new kid’s hair and looks is not exactly tabloid material in most of the world.
New Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sporting his Movember look in 2011
And while there may be as many lessons to be drawn from Justin Trudeau’s victory (the power of data) as Stephen Harper’s demise (likeability is still a powerful brand trait), we think the more relevant political showdown for start-ups is happening south of the border.
God knows, it’s a lot more entertaining.
So, what are we learning? Here are three (thoroughly irreverent, but possibly useful) things I’ve noticed as a political junkie and start-up CEO:
Know Yourself. Know Your Audience
Say what you want about Ben Carson and The Donald. Those guys sure know how to focus on their base. Divisive? Yup. Dismissive of a good percentage of voters? You bet. Succeeding? Well, so far, Carson and Trump each have a double digit lead over the more established candidates.
Their often caustic approach to attracting support (by repelling at the same time) reminded me of something. A few years ago, video game company Kixeye posted a recruiting video. It offended a lot of people by taking direct aim at competitors with sophomoric humour and nasty innuendo.
But guess what? It wasn’t meant for anyone but developers who would be attracted to their kind of culture (one obviously defined by CEO Will Harbin). Like the so-called “fringe” candidate, companies at the edge are ignored at our own peril.
On the other side of the ticket, Democrat Bernie Sanders is an example of this. Many thought his brand of socialism would die a sudden death in the America. But like some populist version of the crowdfunded Pebble Watch, Sanders came out of nowhere and demanded attention.
While I’m not condoning platforms or positions, I do believe that we can learn something from any start-up – or candidate – who so acutely defines who they are with a specific audience in mind. And sticks with it.
The Best Time to Raise Money is When You Don’t Need It
If Donald Trump was a start-up, he’d be Slack.
No offense, Slack (or our local-boy-made-good, Stewart Butterfield). Here’s what I mean.
Donald Trump doesn’t need to raise money. In fact, he hasn’t even asked for it. But people still donated almost $4M in Q3. That’s a problem a lot of the other candidates would like to have. Many – including Wall Street darling Chris Christie – raised far less than they needed and will now have a much tougher time proving their investment value to donors.
And Slack? All they did was raise $280M in 7 months. Money they didn’t need. Money that, as founder Stewart Butterfield, said is, “maybe 60 years runway at our current burn.” Money that was given to them by smart people who knew Slack didn’t need the money. At least not then.
Which is exactly the point.
Data Doesn’t Lie… But It Does. And So Do People.
We have a poster at Pretio with our three Company Core Values, one of which is:
In most tech start-ups, there’s an inherent tension between what we hear from customers and what we glean from data. So we always want to have balance. Why?
Because they both lie. And often start-ups don’t have enough product history to know which one to believe first. So we play them off against each other until the “truth” (such as it is) bubbles to the top.
The same thing happens in politics. Take, for example, the latest numbersin the Republican race. In the last three Internet polls Trump leads Carson by more than 10 percentage points. But in live-caller polls, Carson leads Trump by 2.
In an election, there comes a point when both the data and the prognosticators become irrelevant: The vote. But there’s never really an end to the start-up grind. As Slack’s Butterfield recently said, “I think I wake up every day and look in the mirror and say, ‘We’ve almost certainly fucked this up completely.’”
I can’t imagine Trump or Clinton ever admitting that – to themselves or anyone else – during a campaign. But it’s healthy to do that every once in a while in a start-up. It keeps us honest.
Which is perhaps where the similarities with politics ends.