It's probably an overshare, but this is one of the first things I've published since returning from maternity leave. I was feeling more vulnerable than usual, and the support from the community means a lot to me personally. Thanks again.
I've just posted a longer reply to one of the other comments on here, and so to keep this one brief, hats off to you for writing this and posting it, it's so important (and hard) to get these types of internal comms right. Our angel investors were great for helping remind us of the benefits of being more open internally.
Good luck for 2016!
Also, thank you for the post - it's high time we remembered an Enterprise used to be a single goal, a time limited quest that brought people together and then disbanded them.
We should out live our organisations - and they should serve us. Not the other way round.
You are awesome!
We had our 3rd 4 months ago, dealing with this right after being back. Kudos to you. Seriously.
In this day and age that everything is so disconnected and artificial, it's just a delight to read something like that.
Instead, let’s give ourselves permission to fail.
And you know what? It’s okay if we’re not. If Keen busts, we’ll all find new grand adventures.
In last week’s outage, we had our first major data loss in over 12 months.
The issue to me is public declarations vs private thoughts.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with waking up covered in flop sweat, wondering if you're destroyed your business and the job situations of people you genuinely like and appreciate.
However, I've found that a good part of leadership is, in fact, shutting the hell up when "routine" bad things are happening because too much openness can stress out employees. By "routine" I mean pretty much anything other than the certain death of the company, at which time they deserve reasonably early notice).
Let me clarify one thing (and perhaps I should do this in the blog post as well?). Our team cares incredibly deeply about our commitments to our customers and their data. I 100% agree with you that we can _and should_ double-down and work through the weekend when that's what it takes to maintain that commitment.
The thing is, we already do that, and our team was already doing it at the time I wrote this message. People at Keen take their responsibilities to our customers and to each other very seriously. That's why we haven't had another loss since then, now almost 12 months later. When I wrote this message, the problem wasn't that people weren't working hard enough. It was that we were stressed out and burnout was becoming a risk. In this situation, reminding people to take a deep breath and get some perspective seemed to be really helpful.
There definitely is a time and a place to rally and to push through, and we have plenty of experience with that too :)
The old-school Taylorist-style management theory that you're probably thinking of has been thoroughly debunked now. It doesn't lead to good outcomes.
Leadership theory is much more nuanced now, there's a recognition that the best leadership style to use in any given situation is very much based on context and team membership.
Management need to deal with the situation as it is, because that builds trust that management are actually dealing with the situation.
As to expecting companies to keep private thoughts to themselves, and maintaining a different public front - are you really better off paying money to a company where the staff could riot and quit at the wrong time, as opposed to one where they ask you to manage expectations more realistically?
But this does inform why leadership and PR so rarely attempt to reach out to the public with honesty and frankness. Without critical reading, a lot of people simply "take it the wrong way", and the wrong kind of misapprehension can do significant damage to their public image.
If you can't afford to lose it, make backups. If you are going to throw chairs if you lose it, get therapy. If you demand five nines and a hand-holding number you can call over Christmas, pay for it, and don't be surprised when five nines isn't some magic security blanket.
In short, you get as much "Rally" as you pay for, and if you think you can buy someone else's emotions you're going to be taken for a lot of rides by a lot of people who are better stage performers than developers.
This is almost certainly what happened in the Volkswagen scandal, for example. Someone (probably a large group of someones) fucked up and shipped a car that didn't pass emissions tests, so they covered up their mistake rather than admit it.
In your example, what could happen is that they have an outage and your data is lost anyway, but they just don't even tell you--maybe you find out after complaining, or from the media.
Posts like this make companies about the people, as it should. Open atmosphere outside the company leads to open atmosphere inside the company and the other way around.
If you talk about the failures inside the company it makes people connect, it makes them understand what you are about, maybe this random engineer or QA guy/gal will have the idea to push you through?
Companies love to share big number, new clients, no one ever shares challenges and bad things happening. In this VC run world you are running scared that it will say something about you.
Great post. Kudos to the Keen team.
One thing that really, really helped us was our angel investors asking for a monthly update. They were very hands off, but just wanted to be kept in the loop about what was going on.
Aside from it taking a while to get out of the habit of 'putting off sending the email until the next big piece of company news was out' (which is never a good idea), it was amazing to see the different reactions to sending them a very personal, informal email with updates not only about the company but about the team as well, rather than just a fact / numbers based 'company update'.
I'm sure this is obvious to anyone on the outside, but it's so easy to miss the internal stuff when you're growing (both traction and team). I highly recommend that anyone starting a business finds someone they trust (investor or not) with whom they can send such a monthly update. Not only will it help put things in perspective, it's good practice for when it's necessary to write ones to the team like this one from Keen.
If I was looking for a new job, I would apply to Keen right now, saying "Hey, I think I can help here...". As an employee inside the company I would be extra creative and incentivized to make sure everything I do has an impact.
I think we forget that failure is the default state. Which redefines success to be making any attempt at all. Like Edison said: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
"Puff [Daddy] told me, the key to this joint, the key to staying on top of things, is treat everything like it's your first project, nomsayin'.
Like it's your first day back when you was an intern.
That's how you try to treat things, just stay hungry."
I wish more companies took to making their blogs more open to content such as this.
Are there other good examples of companies that take on this ethos?
Are there particular activities or strategies that make this kind of open writing more comfortable amongst a company?
This is perfectly exemplified by the "if Keen busts...we'll move on" wording that is pervasive in this. Nevermind the amounts of time, effort and (other people's) money that went into building something, and the jobs and families that count on a paycheck. The whole "we'll just pat ourselves on the back and move on" way of doing business forgets that there are victims and potentially long-reaching impacts for every failure. It can't be that simple and easy to walk away, it really shouldn't be.
People fail, startups fail, etc. all the time. But it's starting to sound like a competition to see who failed the best the more of these I read. It just seems like attention-seeking behavior sometimes, or maybe just slick marketing perhaps to try and boost that falling revenue. Who knows. I mean, it made it to the top of HN, right? Probably got a few thousand eyeballs out of that at the very least for free.
On the other hand, posting about failure and turmoil for a going business concern can't be good for customer retention. If I were a competitor, I'd jump all over this opportunity to lure some of those lucrative clients away by leveraging the fear of investing their time, money and effort into a potentially problem-riddled organization that by-and-large accepts, even embraces, a high rate of failure. Large enterprises don't like hearing about these types of problems with their vendors as they are inherently quite risk averse. Ultimately, I fear that this company, and others that have done the same, will soon realize this but it'll too late to save themselves from a flight of customers. Hey, who knows, prove me wrong.
Anyway, just my opinion. I'm not trying to be negative, but just relaying a different perspective from someone who's been around the industry for some time.
That said, it's crazy that they posted it for their customers to read. Hearing that my vendor has a "can fail" attitude isn't reassuring. I'd rather hear that my vendor is comprised of low-maintenance caffeine fueled super robots that keep their commitments with the stubbornness of a thousand donkeys. (I know they're probably not, but when choosing vendors, I'm usually working with limited info.)
So...cool memo, weird post, nice thoughts.
Next time you try to make a sale, express how reluctant you and your coworkers are to recommend the product to their friends.
I've actually heard rumors of companies purposefully fucking up little things with new customers in order to take the opportunity to demonstrate how good their customer service is when they fix the mistake. Because vendors are pretty equivalent when things go right, but they differentiate themselves by how they handle it when things go wrong, and that earns loyalty.
This can't be a winning move long-term when companies do this and embrace such wide-scale failure so effortlessly without any consideration for the repercussions of their actions.
First, they might be deterred by the issues I mentioned in the post. None of the challenges I mentioned in the piece were special. We lost a customer. We had an outage (a year ago). We were stressed. Every API company and competitor, not to mention our customers, have had a similar story. Of course we made it through those challenges, or we wouldn't be telling this story. They made us stronger. Plus, we love it when prospects ask about uptime because it's something we take seriously and where we have a great track record :)
Second, they might be deterred at the idea of failure being ok. Perhaps the message in the piece is too subtle. It's not supposed to be that it's ok to be lazy and fail at stuff. It's about getting perspective and not letting your anxiety cripple you. I hoped what would come through in this piece is that we care very deeply about our work, so much so that sometimes we needed to be reminded that it's not life or death.
Finally, I'll share some of my thoughts on why it might be beneficial to share.
First, like I mentioned in the post, being a part of the tech community and contributing to it, sharing some of the lessons you've learned, is very rewarding. I've found that when you give, not only does it feel good, but the community gives back, often later on and in surprising ways you didn't expect. You reach like-minded customers, partners, candidates, investors, all kinds of things.
Second, as a data company, trust is incredibly important to our brand. Some might disagree, but I think sharing the more human sides of the company helps to expand that trust. This is how we have always operated the company, and I think it is a large part of why we not only have a lot of customers (and growing), but many fans. We like knowing our customers and we like them to know us too.
I understand why you may think it is a good idea. Heck, even I considered it before. But it's not. What is the net benefit to your employees worrying about their next paycheck or your customers worrying about their data when you post something like this? Not much, if any. But it sure got you a whole lot of personal advertising for free.
It seems like a huge leap to go from having one slow month of growth to "problem-riddled" organization that "embraces a high rate of failure". That's not something I took away from the blog post.
Also, I've used Keen before. Their product and engineering is really great, and I've never had issues with the API itself, the dashboard widgets, reliability, quality, etc.
I understand YOU may not have a problem taking a risk that the owner may just decide to "give themselves permission" to walk away at any time as if it were nothing, but do you work for a large enterprise looking to dedicate lots of money and effort into a platform like this? If I were, I'd definitely be heading to their competitors right now after reading something like this. If I were a competitor, I'd be marketing to this and headhunting their best talent using this to demonstrate how easily it could all fold up on them at any time.
There are many others, especially current customers and even employees, that would almost certainly interpret this company's blog post as very disconcerting at the very least. Mostly because of the ease with which the owner seems to be able to just give up, walk away and accept complete failure along with rationalizing their selling of a self-admitted "unstable" product and justifying the "major" loss of customer data by saying they "give themselves permission" for these things to happen, apparently quite regularly.
Using their own words, not mine, it seems to fit that "problem riddled" description quite well.
probably the best thing from a CEO i have ever read. That said, the bar's not terribly high--depending on the CEO, or their mood, or the circumstances, "all hands memos" are nearly always (in my experience) tirelessly optimistic propaganda with no regard for the data, or just the opposite, i.e., "sure we're doing great, but we'd be doing twice as good if you lazy bastards would stop screwing off!" This CEO actually had the courage to send to everyone, a snapshot of their thoughts at that moment. I doubt they teach this in MBA school.
I think this piece would not have attracted the negativity it has here if it were entitled something a bit different, and I think, truer to the intent: Permission to be Human.
Edited to add:
I do very much appreciate that you wrote this and made it public. I think there's an empathy in your voice that's sorely lacking in the industry.
No she really isn't.
> She is unilaterally demanding the right to betray that trust in order to have both the benefits of success, and also the easy lifestyle of someone who is just a worker bee.
This is baseless. She is giving herself permission to not be wracked with guilt, beat herself up about it endlessly, and put herself through self-imposed torture if she fails. It makes sense not to snowball over and compound your failures by piling on. Nobody is advocating screwing customers over by default.
> This idea that everyone deserves an easy lifestyle, regardless of their position, is one that needs to die.
Kind of extreme?
> Marissa Mayer and her ultra short maternity leaves gets it. This lady does not.
The idea of screwing customers "by default" is exactly what she advocates doing. By default services will break and she is giving herself permission to leave them broken.
The point is she doesn't want to be driven by fear. Fear is a powerful motivator but not necessarily a constructive one. Some people may find they lack drive without the fear of failure, but to me it seems the OP feels it more of a drag. Without the burden of fear she may feel more clarity and actually make better decisions, e.g. decisions that carry more personal risk but are better for the company/customers.
Saying something about "permission to fail" and then recovering & excelling < claiming repeatedly you're committed and putting in 100 hours a week that don't solve the problem effectively?