Kin Lane

It Is Just Business

I am always fascinated by the unspoken code of business, and specifically the business of technology. Where you are allowed to praise, worship, and idolize the entrepreneur, but you aren’t allowed to be critical. The system does’t allow it. You aren’t allowed to talk about what happens behind the scenes. Where you don’t talk about what it truly takes to get ahead in this game. Nobody wants to hear it. It won’t get page views (unless it is totally scandalous). Many of us veterans or recovering entrepreneurs still keep quiet about our old war wounds, what it took to win, or burying our losses. For some reason we don’t shame and point fingers at those who’ve wronged us. Even I, in this piece, am obfuscating the details, generalizing the actions, and protecting those who have screwed me over. Why? Why do I still do this? It is fascinating.

The story goes, when you are successful in business, you’ve done so because you are smart, have a good product, and worked hard. All things I have done. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done well. I make good money, and have have made significant chunks of change in the past, but riches and stability have eluded me. Why? I’ve followed the narrative. Played the game. Worked my ass off. Why haven’t I accumulated wealth? There are a few good reasons why:

  • Not Obsessed With Money - I like having money. I like having savings in the bank. I like being able to make investments. I hate living paycheck to paycheck. I hate being broke., in debt, and beholden to “the man”. I’m good at making money. Demanding that I get compensated at a fair (more than) rate. I suck at collecting it, chasing down people who owe me. I even straight up forget to invoice sometimes for money that is owed me. I just don’t spend a lot of time thinking about money until I do not have it.
  • Screwing People Over - I despise having to screw people over to get ahead. EVERY single startup I’ve been an investor in I was forced to make a decision to screw someone over, which my response is always hell no, resulting in things falling apart, me being written out, or just walking away. These decisions have been presented to me in EVERY startup experience I’ve been in, which is well over 15. Demonstrating to me that this is by design, not by accident. I’m not talking about making “difficult decisions”. I’m talking about people who straight up declare it is time to write that person out of the picture, it is us or them, there is only enough for two of us, and other unethical behavior that creeps in after things begin making a significant amount of money.
  • Driving Me - I work hard. I have a.borderline unhealthy work ethic. I can crank work out. I am good at driving myself, and most of the folks who are in business with me know it. However, when things get tight, the end of runaways are reached, and the pressure is building, I do not respond well when people start driving me. Pushing me like I’m some ignorant schlep who can’t drive themselves. This is a common trait of business folks I’ve worked with who read in some book that they need to push people. I’m no fucking slouch. I don’t need to be driven and pushed. Just because the heat is on you, and you don’t do much of the work, it doesn’t mean I need ridden harder. We wouldn’t be doing this startup together if I didn’t get it, and there is rarely reciprocity between partners in a business when this tone takes a hold.
  • Carrying The Load - The number of times I’ve had to pay down 10, 20, or 30+ on my credit card because some “partner” in a business was like, you should go there, you should fly to that city, and expand our presence in this way. In these moments I am fully expected to put it on my credit card, rack up debt, cover my own interest, roaming cell phone fees, and other administrative charges. I’m expected to carry the load. Leaving me believing that this is business 101 when it comes to operating a startup—make sure you offload as much as you can on the backs of your workers, and the partners who are suckers enough to fall for it.
  • Not Taking Care Of Me - Then, the biggest sin I come across while playing this game, is folks reach a point where they stop taking care of me. People always love me in the beginning. There is always a honeymoon period. However once things get tight, they reach the end of the runway, and the pressure is on, they insist on not taking are of me. Oh, I forgot about that invoice! Sorry. ;-( Oh, things have been so busy I just haven’t had time for cutting checks. Oh, the checks in the mail. I”ll look into what happened, and why that payment took 90 days to reach you. I’ve heard all the excuses why someone doesn’t give a shit about me once I’ve delivered the work, or have become less valuable to reaching the desired target.

I get it. It is just business. I’ve been told this over and over. Over 30 years doing this hustle, I’ve learned that “it is just business” means it is your fault for being such a stupid fucker and falling for this every time. Ok. Fair enough. What I find fascinating is, why do we allow ourselves to keep falling for it. Never discussing the damage being done. When I’m a complete dick to a new startup founder, why am I the asshole? However in three years, once they’ve found success, fucked over early co-founders, stopped reliably sending me checks for my work because they have enough momentum, we won’t call them out for it. We’ll all line up and clap, calling that success. What is wrong with us?

Oh yeah, I know, not all startups are like this. Yes. Not all white people are racists. Yes. Not all men are sexists. I’ve heard it over and over. Yet we still defend the machine. We still remain silent about this. We still let it go on in endless unspoken ways. It is fascinating. It is this weird capitalist conditioning that pushes us to march, march, march, in lockstep, while a few are allowed to move at their own pace, while the rest of us do the work. I’m working to unwind my complicity in all of this. I’m not stepping away from the game or the hustle, but I’ll be more of an annoying fuck when it comes to calling all of this out. I won’t stop taking calls with new fresh bright eyed startups. I also won’t be a complete fucking asshole to them, but you can be damn sure, they are going to get a dose of reality from me. Regarding the markets, their entrepreneurial condition, and how it is just business is really about screwing people over along the way—that is how you get ahead. I’ll make sure they know our relationship is just business from day one.