Animal House

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My two cents for all of you young companies and startups out there; respect the age gap between you, your customers, and your partners.

Here’s the deal. You’re gonna go to a market and engage with customers and partners who don’t necessarily share your views on a youthful, progressive work environment, and who potentially left that cavalier attitude behind them years or even decades ago. There’s a massive generational gap occurring from a business professionalism, and one you need to be aware of. Specifically, when dealing with your B2B players, your 40 to 50-year-olds, more times than not, end up being the key decision makers, your VP’s and C-Levels.

Hollywood and the startup industry rags capitalize on the young startup success stories (the >1% unicorns), embellishing and romanticizing them into oblivion. 

Shows like Silicon Valley do a great job of making a startup culture look hilariously funny, blatantly irreverent, and completely unapologetic. But what they don’t show is the real life net effect this type of Animal House culture has when it’s public facing and becomes intrinsically linked a company’s brand. Not everyone you do business with (customers and partners) will share your views on office culture.

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I always like including real life examples whenever possible, and this one is perfect. I had a conversation with a woman, over 50, who sits as a VP of Communications for a large organization in the healthcare space. She was telling me about her recent experience with a young, successful company (~$130M in rev) and how her interaction with their Director of Partnerships was “juvenile.” This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this kind of feedback about this company and it’s employees. This VP also said, if the decision were hers, she would have killed the partnership immediately.

Respect the age gap. Moreover, know your partners as well as you know your customers.

Respect that age gap. Moreover, know your partners as well as you know your customers. Be fun, be cool, be casual, setup kegs in the kitchen; just don't make that part of your forward-facing brand.

Listen, I'm all for being "true to who you are" as a company, but if you're alienating your customers and partners as a result, be careful you don't wind up being true to yourself into insolvency.