In startups, you have no time to waste. Every day counts. The opportunity cost of lost time is huge. Startup life can be short and fragile. So, one way to get things donequickly is to communicate in an effective manner. I was thinking about this today while I was at The Wharton School serving as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence and talking about a lot of lessons learned at Bazaarvoice and Coremetrics. As I wrote about in this Lucky7 post, Bazaarvoice was one of the most capital efficient companies leading up to the IPO as compared to many companies that reach this milestone. Certainly one of the reasons this was the case is we wasted less time than most companies in how we chose to communicate with each other in order to get things done quickly.
Here is an email I sent to our team at Bazaarvoice when the company was only six-months old. Looking back at this email with today's communication modes, I would need to consider the use of Salesforce.com Chatter in addition to this list below. I would probably rank it right before or after email because it is more passive than the first three modes. It would depend on the type of message. And IM has now been replaced with texting as well as software like Microsoft Lync, which are more secure and have built-in video conference features now that virtually all laptops and tablets have cameras built in. That makes IM even better than before and in some situations may make it better than phone (assuming you are using the video conference features, which is closer to face-to-face but still harder to read overall expressions and body language than the real deal). As far as texting, I would rank it right in line with IM but it is nice to not be tethered to a desktop or laptop of old to use it! IM - in the form of texting - is ubiquitous and portable with mobile phones. And you can use mobile apps like Tango now for both free texting and videoconference now, as long as you have a wifi connection.
From: Brett Hurt
Sent: Thursday, November 10, 2005 10:52 AM
To: All Bazaarvoice - Internal
Subject: Instant messenger and preferred modes of communication
Please make sure to be on IM any time you are working. IM is a better method of communicating than email, especially for short directional messages when there could be a lot of back-and-forth traffic flow.
My preferred mode of communication for important 1:1 messages is, in this order:
It took me awhile to learn this, especially since I grew up as a BBS nerd. But, trust me, this is how you maintain a very efficient communication flow. As I am out of the office and in a hotel room with limited mobile phone availability, I want to use IM but some of you aren’t on IM and it is frustrating.
Email is superior for messages that need to be distributed to many people at the same time (like this one) and are better left archived (such as an important piece of industry news or research). This email is an example of a good message for me to reinforce at our All-Hands meeting on Tuesday when we are all together face-to-face.
Brett A. Hurt
Founder and CEO
"Connecting your community of customers"
I was texting with the CEO of a company I recently backed last night. He used to work for us at Bazaarvoice, and knows how important real-time communication is. He says at his company they are using Google Chat as well as their own IRC channel for additional flexibility, when needed. But, most importantly, he said they love the accelerated face-to-face conversations in their new office space. And that is the big point here. Instead of waste time passively going back and forth on email to try to get important things done quickly, don't use it unless you yourself expect slow results. Especially don't use it if you know it is important but you are choosing to "hide" behind the email due to your own insecurity or lack of hustle. I've seen way too many tasks drag out for days or weeks via email, when they could have been solved with a simple 10-minute, face-to-face conversation. It is way too easy for anyone to fall into this groove - and even email back and forth when they sit 50 feet away from each other! That is exactly how I was feeling when I wrote the email above so early in Bazaarvoice's history. I saw some slowness creeping in because of the inevitable dependency on email, and I never wanted us to lose the hustle.
Shortly after sending this email, I introduced Bazaarvoice to a life-changing book,Fierce Conversations. The statement this book made was profound. It taught even the most communication challenged how important it was to have face-to-face conversations - and how to have them - because "life changes one fierce conversation at a time" (think about how true this is - whether it was your conversation to decide to get married, have children, start a company, etc.). This is the book I wished I had read when I was a younger programmer and more communication challenged myself. Life is too short not to be fierce. New Yorkers get this - they live in an environment of constant hustle and it breeds fierce conversations. Don't get me wrong - fierce does not mean rude. It means direct, honest, and action-oriented. It is actually more compassionate in that we do not want to waste each other's time and we want to win faster. Shortly after, Fierce Conversations became a mandatory part of ramping for new team members at Bazaarvoice. And then the People Operations team found a better book, Crucial Conversations, which had a training program built into it that we began to use. Same point - but with a better wrapper.
The bottom line: don't waste time - nothing beats face-to-face or a communication mode where you can read each other's tone to be more clear and action-oriented. If you can't read each other's tone, then go for a mode that is real-time, whether that is something like Microsoft Lync, texting, ghat, IRC, or whatever. And make sure everyone uses it. You'll win more, and you'll all have more fun too.