I’ve been thinking recently about what I did right during my time at Scripted as a co-founder, COO, head of sales, and finally CEO. A few surprising things came to mind. Here they are.
I had “grandma shirts” made for the entire team at our last retreat
Let me take a step back and explain this bit of Scripted lore.
My grandma makes wonderful short sleeve button-down shirts for the men in my family. The catch: the fabric cannot be boring. She won’t bother making a shirt with the kind of pattern you can find at Nordstroms. The fabrics are loud, vibrant, and very… unique.
So when people at Scripted started to have two-year anniversaries I asked, What’s the most special gift I can offer? My answer was the gift of grandma.
Josh likes to ride and work on bikes, so he got a black shirt with neon bicycles. Eric loves to surf and got a shirt full of fish. Murad is an engineer and a very talented artist. One of my favorite of his sketches is a Scripted-branded robot and I found some fabric with robots on it. His shirt was my favorite.
That’s me on the right, by the way, wearing a quilt-themed shirt for no particular reason at all.
There were six people in the first two-year anniversary group, four men and two women. In retrospect I could have given the women shirts too, but instead I asked my grandpa (who also sews) to make them a couple of shoulder bags also with very customized fabric.
When the next group had two-year anniversaries I couldn’t ask my grandma to make all of those shirts. We instead started to give gift cards and donations to causes on anniversaries. I wasn’t happy about that change but I didn’t spend a lot of time fretting about it.
The next batch of shirts weren’t distributed until the night of the last Scripted retreat before we were acquired. I decided to give a shirt to everyone there.
There were 16 of us and I spent the month prior accumulating a few yards of very custom fabric for each employee and finding a tailor on Craigslist to make the shirts.
It all came together at the last minute. I’d been texting the tailor, who lives in San Jose, for updates every few days. She didn’t make the final stitch until about 6pm the night of our retreat. I hailed a Lyft at her house, she threw the bag of shirts in, and a couple of hours later the car pulled up to the restaurant where we were just finishing our team dinner.
It was a special moment. Everyone was shocked and the shirt fabrics, if I might say so, were on point.
- A shirt with a bunch of cute bugs for the leader of our engineering team.
- A crossword puzzle shirt for the engineer who was a crossword solving savant.
- A fabric featuring dress shoes for the digital marketer with impeccable taste in footwear.
- A shirt featuring cameras and rolls of film for the content marketer whose favorite pastime is photography.
- And it goes on…
A truly thoughtful gift is a powerful statement for both the giver and the receiver. I’m terrible with birthdays and don’t do a good job with gifts generally, but when I do give, I try really hard to make it thoughtful. I did it right this time.
I gave some good speeches in difficult moments
This is not easy to do, so I prepared, sometimes for weeks in advance. One speech in particular comes to mind.
It was mid-July 2016 when we announced that our CEO was leaving. We hired him the previous August after a long recruiting process that left us all drained and weary. So we were pumped when he joined. Finally we could get back to work!
After eleven months, though, his cross-country commute, originally supposed to last for only a few months, was looking to be permanent. He wasn’t going to move his family from Maine to San Francisco after all. We were also facing some difficult business decisions, a burn that was too high, and a board that was not going to continue funding the business as it stood.
We had already done one big round of layoffs in February 2016, so when we gathered that morning in July with solemn faces to tell everyone that our CEO was leaving and I was taking on the role, we were nervous. I knew I needed to speak to the elephant in the room and find a way to motivate the team through it.
I practiced by recording voice memos on my iPhone. I wrote drafts down and shared it with a few employees who needed to know the news in advance. I rehearsed the whole thing again, trying to listen for unwanted vocal inflections and crutches.
Finally, I was comfortable with it and the speech just rolled off my tongue. It felt as natural as it could be to give a difficult speech at a tense moment directly in front of a group of people who relied on me and who I cared a lot about.
I still remember it. The speech went like this:
- Well, we’ve been here before, and we hustled our way through it. We’re going to do that again.
- Last time we had a meeting like this, we announced layoffs; this time we’re not doing that
- Last time we had a meeting like this, it was about changing the revenue model; this time we’re not doing that
- This is a big event, but it doesn’t have any of those negative implications
- The only negative we’re going to talk about today is that we now have 3 months to figure this out. Not that we have 3 months of cash left — we have a lot more than that — but we need to show that we can dramatically grow revenues in the next 90 days
- After 3 months, if we change the trajectory of user acquisition meaningfully, Scripted will be a huge, successful business. If we don’t we’ll have to start looking for a buyer. I think we can do better than that.
- I wouldn’t be standing here, asking you to give me and Jake the next 90 days of your very best work, if I didn’t think we could get through it. We had a call with the board yesterday, and we could have given up then. They probably would have accepted that. But we’re not going to stop. We told them that we’re going to fight on, and they agreed!
- I want you to view this for what it really is: an opportunity to do something unique and amazing together.
- We’ve solved harder problems already. Tons of companies have found a growth channel. No one else has figured out how to build a writer marketplace. Let’s see it all the way through.
- This will require every one of us to work harder and smarter. I want to look back on today three months from now and feel awesome about everything we did.
- Jake and I need you to be all-in.
- Let’s have fun doing it!
A few people told me afterward that I did a really good job. Usually I don’t get reaction like that from my impromptu pep talks. I learned that if I prepare to speak then I can do it very well.
I got us to do toasts at our special team events
My favorite tradition at Scripted, and the one I’ll miss the most, is the impromptu toasts. At retreats, at team dinners, and any other party where the ambience was right, an anticipation for this would soon swell.
First you might overhear a question like, “Hey are you going to toast?” Or, “Who should go first?” Then heads would turn around and the room would simultaneously quiet and grow more intense as suddenly everyone was starting to think about what they might say.
Then the ice would break, someone would stand up, and the evening’s toasts would begin. Some would be funny, some would be serious, but all would be heartfelt and authentic. It was the perfect accompaniment to good food, drinks, and friends. It also helped us get to know each other better.
I don’t know for sure when or actually even if I created this tradition. I do know that it’s something I always wanted to do. It’s my favorite part of weddings and it’s a skill I personally want to hone. I always thought that if I ran a company I would build toasting into its culture.
Somehow or another, it happened and it became a staple at our events. New employees told me it was one of the hallmarks of Scripted’s culture and clearly showed that this company was special.
I was always privately proud of this.
I supported our weekly happy hour tradition at Ted’s Sports Bar and Grill
Here’s a case where I did nothing and nothing was the right thing to do.
It began as the sales team’s weekly happy hour at a spot chosen by our VP of Sales for its ambience and proximity. Ted’s Sports Bar and Grill is a dive bar across from the courthouse at 6th and Bryant, just a block from our office at the time, and it is a very special place. Ted himself makes it so.
Not only is he kind, difficult to understand, and hilarious, but his chicken wings are incredible.
So we decided to open it up to the whole company and I suggested Scripted pay for everyone’s first drink. For many years the weekly tradition continued and I was happy that people honored the system. Our tabs were never outrageous but I think Ted didn’t add up every drink, so we gave him big tips to make up for it.
Even when we needed to cut back on office snacks or do layoffs, we never touched the Ted’s expense. I wouldn’t have allowed it, but it was never seriously considered.
Ted’s became a sanctuary of sorts, a place where everything at Scripted was just fine. The problems didn’t matter here. At the end of the day we were just people who enjoyed spending time together and Ted’s helped remind us of that.
At the back of the bar there are a bunch of dollar bills stapled to the wall. We finally got ours up there just a few weeks before the final layoff when we moved out of the office and the weekly happy hours ended.
I still go see Ted when I’m in the area, though. He’s not your typical San Francisco entrepreneur, but he built a great company.
I chose a great commercial real estate broker
It’s a small thing but it makes a big difference.
I met Griggs Ziesing when he was going door-to-door on Bryant Street. We happened to be in the market for a new office, touring with a couple of other brokers, and started working with him because I admired his hustle.
He was working at the time for another client who had open office space and was literally knocking on doors to promote the listing. If he hustled like that for them, I figured, he’d work just as hard for us. So we signed with him and he worked hard for us too.
He helped us find and close a great SOMA office lease, and when we needed to move out before the end of our lease, he helped us navigate a difficult situation into a great outcome.
A broker who is smart, responsive, connected, and knows the game well is critical in the treacherous San Francisco commercial real estate market. Before signing with Griggs, I did our own office leases and found them on Craigslist. That doesn’t scale well and is very risky when the dollars get big.
I think I was cheap when it was right to be cheap and I adapted when it didn’t make sense for me to comb through Craigslist ads anymore.
It seems like a small thing but a bad commercial real estate broker can wreak havoc down the road. I got this one right too.