Don’t be so hasty

Applying grace in a world of numbers and profits

Not all layoffs are due to overstaffing or shrinking markets. Some truly occur for underperformance, and sometimes, grace should be employed.

In my mid 20’s, we were pitching our tech co for sale, and I had to make a trip to Japan. Timing was bad: my marriage wasn’t working but we’d agreed to resolve it upon my return. However, when I opened the door, the house was empty, everything gone, including my son. As the law did its job, I went to work every day, doing my best w/the product teams, agencies & contractors to keep it together. Shame and heartbreak kept my mouth closed to everyone.  18 mo. later, the business sold, personal issues were resolved & I felt like I’d joined the ranks of “weathering the storm,” emerging with the scars of a damaged, but sea-worthy vessel.

Shortly thereafter, the co-founder revealed my head had been on the chopping during this x as the company sought to trim resources to get a higher value. One of my peers, & a person I considered my best friend, had suggested I be let go. His reasoning was that I wasn’t performing to standard. My direct boss had agreed w/my performance but not on firing me. He was convinced something was going on in my life. One day, he’d taken me aside, asked me if all was OK & I shared. He was shocked & sympathetic. He’d been through a divorce & knew full-well the brutal, but temporary challenges associated w/a life crisis. Looking back, it would have devastated me financially, emotionally and mentally; the only thing viable was my job. It kept me sane and busy during this brutal time.

I began using the word “grace” in business & it wasn’t long before I had the opp to apply the word. A client was $40K in arrears. My attorneys wanted to sue, but I was prompted to send a handwritten a note to the CEO, essentially communicating this was unlike him, and I hoped he was ok. I got a call w/in days: his daughter had committed suicide. His wife was suicidal & in bed, work had taken a back seat w/customers & creditors alike. He was also pained that not one client, partner or person in his world had reached out to understand what had caused his own ‘storm.’ Assumptions were made, actions taken and not an ounce of grace given. He said I was the only person to reach out & offered a fraction of the amt owed, which I accepted. Today, he’s bounced back with far greater success. 

Side note: wondering abt my friend, and if I held his suggestion against him? An unequivocal NO. He’d never married nor experienced major life challenges. He was antiseptically looking at the balance sheet, my performance & drew a logical conclusion while others took the long view. The word grace wasn’t a part of his vocabulary.

Hard employee decisions are a part of business. It’s my sincere hope that for those incredible, valuable performers who are experiencing a (temporary) life crisis, that reason will prevail, and grace be shown.

Media Tips for Startups

The perfect “equation” for pitching Media, Analysts, Family Offices and private capital

About two decades ago, I was employee #6 at a startup handling marketing, which included all external communications. When our first product was in development, it was my task to get us in front to the analysts and press. The top of the heap at that time was the venerable Walt Mossberg from the Wall Street Journal. Call one didn’t go off so well. He hung up on me 3 seconds in. The next pass, about 6 months later, it was about 8 seconds, then click. Line dead. Another 4-5 months after that, guess what? He stayed on the line, listened, and said something to the effect of: “You finally made it. Congratulations.” After an in-person meeting with myself and our CEO, he spoke with the analysts and customers I provided and wrote an amazing piece. The results were better than we’d hoped, both with customers and partners.

For myself, the lesson learned was foundational: the ‘thirty-second pitch’ which gets thrown around isn’t true. I think it’s less than five. If your hook, voice or approach doesn’t resonate, it’s over before it starts. From Walt, I gained the basic knowledge of pitching for an audience, which was later affirmed through formal media training.

For myself, the thirty-second pitch isn’t true. It’s less than five. If your hook, voice or approach doesn’t resonate, it’s over before it starts.

Pitching Formula by Audience

As I learned Day 1 of 5 during media specialist training (thankfully this was paid for by my second start-up to the tune of $10K, thank you very much,) it is a simple equation:

Analysts are: A+B= C. They want to know the why’s & how’s behind the idea or service, and then the results (acceptance/adoption etc.)

Media are: C= A + B. News/results first. If, and only if, they are interested, will they ask about the how’s and why’s. Don’t bother them up front-they don’t have the airtime or column space for the back story. Your understanding of this respects their vocation and needs.

If you can inject this into your DNA, your value proposition will have a much higher likelihood of being given airtime.

Why is this?

Analysts get paid to think, assess and understand the customer needs, market requirements, competitive offerings and unique differentiation. They want to be walked through the Why’s and How’s first, the What (which is your offering) then the When, which coincides with Results. These five items, in this specific order, delivers a complete story which then can be retold to the two primary audiences of the analyst firm; 1) their own paying customers (think Gartner Group, Forrester or IDC and their respective customers) 2) the media, who rely upon the ‘experts’ to validate what is being pitched to them.

To a communications professional, this is called the Pyramid of Influence or the Communications Pyramid. At the top, you have the analysts who are the thought leaders, just below this is the “early adopters” of the new product or service. Those entities who have taken the risk on your product/service, had a good experience and are now going to talk (up) to the analysts and (down) the media on your behalf.

Don’t mistake the phrasing. This is a “top-down” approach which refers to the number of individuals who will be influenced. The analysts reach a much smaller audience than the media, who reach thousands-millions.


Typically, one holds an analyst tour with the top 3-5 individuals in an industry well in advance of speaking to the media. This allows the analyst to spend the necessary time speaking with early adopters, strategic partners and conducting their own research in order to write a report on either you, the industry, trends or all of the above. Beyond becoming a fan of your just-promoted business/service, the ultimate outcome is a formal report which then gets issued to their own (paying) customers (thus creating awareness and demand).

Two to three months later, when the formal press tour is held, the reporters are given the top analyst firms (with contact details) who can verify all that you’ve told them is correct. The media tour is a different topic entirely, but one has quarterly, monthly, weekly, dailies and then radio (top of hour). That’s a different topic and worthy of its own piece.

Family Offices and VC Capital Sources

Family offices are more like analysts, and other capital sources are like the media; one is relationship and contextual, wanting to understand the how’s, why’s etc. while the other transactional, focusing on the outcomes first, and if they so desire to learn more.

To a degree, this explains why certain personalities are better suited (and more successful) for one type or the other. A business development person who builds relationships will generally resonate with culture and fit for the family offices whereas a P & E professional jibes with the venture capital group. Getting to no fast, in-and-out is the latter group, while the former, (relationship building) takes months or years. You have to take the long view when building a relationship, because it just might take a minute for the payoff. Yet those are the foundational pillars upon which many a mighty foundation is formed and mansion built.

Take away

  • Tailor the pitch, verbal and then in email, by the audience

Use the “Mossberg Bar” as your litmus. Pretend you’re pitching someone that tough. If you have a good enough pitch for him, you can probably get anyone to listen.

  • Determine what you’re good at, or what you need to do in order to be great.

My world has been one of parallels, wherein I worked with venture capitals at the same time I was working with strategic partners, media and analysts. I learned how to bounce back and forth, tailor and change very early in my career. If you are going to be well-rounded, or singularly focus your efforts, then do so with uncompromising zeal and passion.

  • Practice over and over. Then practice some more. Do it on the phone (don’t make the call!) in front of the mirror, with your friend to role play. Get it tight.

I would then get my list of expected questions, the messaging hierarchy and go through it all again.

  • Expect some bumps. It takes more than weeks or a few months.

It can take years to really become expert, but that’s no different than shooting 3,000 hours’ worth of free-throws to make it to the NBA. And when you miss a shot here or there, and blow the game, don’t give up. Your time will come, you’ll hit the shot, no net.