Charting a path out of the hole you’ve dug

Leadership Moment: Rebuilding Burnt Bridges

Carta, a stock/cap table management platform for startups, got itself into a bit of hot water recently. As a business that interacted with secondary customers (in this case, employees of the startups), it started engaging in a secondary market (selling shares of the startup to third parties), leveraging knowledge of its primary market (the share price at each funding round). First leadership moment: think very carefully if your business has an opportunity to do this. While you can build a synergistic relationship between your products, navigating your duties to each customer set can be challenging, and you will likely always be drawn to improperly leverage proprietary knowledge from one customer base to gain market advantage with another.

Karri Saarinen, CEO of Linear, publicly called Carta out for this practice. A few days later, Carta officially exits that market. But in the meantime, Henry Ward, Carta’s CEO, has this public exchange with Karri, after a phone call between the two:

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Karri, you are free to share our conversation. What I remember is that you appreciated we made a mistake that affected you and two other companies. Thank you for understanding. 🙏 We fucked up and I’m sorry we fucked up. I hope you will forgive us.

You also acknowledged that calling for the “fall of Carta” when you’ve been a customer for 10 years over an email mistake might have been a slight over reaction.  Thank you for recognizing that as well. 🙏

You also acknowledged that if the roles we reversed and I had a bad experience with Linear and publicly broadcasted that you had been nefariously lying to all your customers and illegally violated their data before calling you first. founder-to-founder, and ask what happened, you would find that really unfair.  You didn’t think it would be appropriate if I did that to you. 

But despite feeling so upset about our mistaken email that you are calling for the end of Carta, and eliminate 2,000 jobs and strand 40,000 customers, you didn’t ask to cancel your contract with Carta. It seems you are still planning to stay with us despite all of the public bashing? 

I don’t understand? Was this just to firebomb us for your personal twitter and LinkedIn exposure?

The first paragraph is fine, from an incident response perspective. It could have been strengthened by including the commitment to not engage in this practice (which won’t be posted on Medium for another two days).  The rest of the tweet? Should have just been deleted entirely. As a leader, you need to separate your ego from your brand. When your customer is angry at you, of course they’re going to say things that are over the top, employing what might be rhetorical hyperbole (or might be righteous anger), and they’re going to say things that cut you to the bone.

You don’t get to respond. You don’t get to one-up them. Because your conversation isn’t just with them. It’s with everyone who is watching.

One Minute Pro Tip: People Need Guidance, Just Like ChatGPT

If you’ve used an LLM like ChatGPT, pretty early on you learn that when you’re asking it to write something, you need to give it a role to play. Consider how adding “Using the tone of voice of a comedian who specializes in dad joke” to the beginning of “craft an apology email for a data breach” will affect the output (badly). When you are crafting communication, either as an individual who represents a company or on behalf of the company, first, write down a few rules. I recommend variants of these:

Company does not react to tone.

Company does not blame others.

Company does not justify its action, or provide ancillary arguments.

Company can take a joke at its expense.


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Chapter Cameo: Failure is an opportunity to provide good customer service

Your organization will screw up, at some point, and make your customer upset. The key, as I point out in the penultimate chapter of 1% Leadership, is recognizing that you now have the rare opportunity to provide excellent and noticed customer service. Good customer service on a normal day is unremarkable. But that little extra step when your customer is irate? It’s memorable and goes a long way.

Duha One: Leadership in minutes is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.