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Make sure the truth travels fast

Like a car wreck, I have trouble looking away from the marketing campaign gone awry in Boston yesterday.  Kudos to Turner for accepting responsibility and offering to make a payment to Boston to cover the real costs of this mess.  Scorn for the marketing firm, Interference, if they did indeed tell the two guys who put up the signs to keep quiet while the situation unfolded in Boston.  That may be the real criminal offense in this complicated story.

As both a VC and an entrepreneur, I've beein involved in quite a few 'crisis' situations.  These aren't crises when people's lives were potentially in danger, but perhaps where a company's or product's reputation was in danger.  To a start-up, this kind of damage can be fatal.  I think of start-ups as fragile flowers.  Too many mishaps or mis-steps can crush them.

One thing I have learned over the years is to get the truth out fast.  There is an old saying that "Good news travels fast, but bad news travels faster."  That's definitely true, which is why you have to get the truth out fast.  This requires fast action and decisiveness by executives.  It also requires the courage of your convictions.  If you are honest, it's easy to be courageous.

The truth is very powerful.  If Interference had called the Boston Police at 1:30 PM yesterday rather than emailing their helpers in Boston telling them to keep quiet, many hours of fear and disruption would have been avoided.  They may have been scolded for causing the situation, but that was going to happen anyway.  Getting the truth out fast would have also won them praise for doing everything they could to stop the situation from escalting.  These days, the truth comes out eventually, and usually fairly quickly.  So, to be proactive, you have to push out the truth even faster.

On one corporate Board that I participated in, we had a discussion about how to handle a tricky but minor situation.  What should we document in the Board minutes?  This wasn't even a matter that had significant ramificatioins, but we wanted to have a nice, clean paper trail for the future.  One of the Board members declared that he only wanted to document what actually happened.  We had acted in good faith, and if it was a bit messy, so be it.  He also pointed out that it's a lot easier to remember the truth and we'd all have a very consistent version of that, versus something that was not quite true.  As this was a very minor matter, we of course documented exactly the messy path that got the company to their situation.  It wasn't pristine, but it was done in good faith.  And, we all didn't have to take notes on what we agreed to.  It was the truth.

I also find that giving entrepreneurs your true reading of their company and your interest in it is very much appreciated.  People prefer a fast No rather than a long string of Maybes followed by an assumed No. 

Be direct, honest, and get the truth out fast.  It's liberating.


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