VC Cliché of the Week

Yesterday I threw out "It’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission".

I first heard that line from Tom Evslin who used it to describe the way he got things done when he was AT&T rolling out their first ISP service. I am certain that asking for permission is not the way to get things done at a big company like AT&T.

In a small company, I think asking for permission works a bit better. The maverick will always be valuable at times, but they break a lot of glass and may not be effective over a long period of time. In a small company, I would advise that you try to work as a team and get alignment early on all projects and initiatives. The lack of bureaucracy in most small companies means you don’t need to work outside the management system in order to be effective.

But small companies may need to act like mavericks when it comes to the market they are operating in. I discussed how YouTube and others have taken that approach to the online video market yesterday. But it happens in many markets all the time. The upstart can get away with breaking the rules because they are too small and they get ignored. That allows them to get things done that would not be possible under the traditional ways of operating. Then as they get bigger, they can change their stripes and behave more like the other market participants and "beg for forgiveness" in the process.

A good example of this is Google. They crawled publisher’s pages without their permission. Had they asked for it, many big publishers would have said "we don’t want you doing that". But they did it, built a great service for consumers and drove tons of new traffic to the very publishers who probably wouldn’t have wanted to had their pages crawled in the first place. Now, the same publishers employ search engine optmization strategies and even buy keywords to get more traffic out of Google.

So while I don’t recommend hiring mavericks inside startups, I do recommend that startups act like mavericks in the market. It’s frankly the only way to get somewhere fast, which should be the objective of every startup.