Freakouts Should Not Go Viral

A while back a portfolio company of ours was working on a critical deal. The deal team was the chairman and the CEO of our portfolio company and me. It was one of those deals that had quite a few twists and turns. It almost fell apart several times.

A few days before the deal was to close, I got a short voice mail from the CEO of the company we were doing the deal with. It simply said "call me." I picked up that voice mail around 10pm and I thought it was too late to call. So I tossed and turned all night thinking the deal was dead.

At 8am the next morning, I called the CEO. Turns out he wanted to talk about something completely different. And at the end of the call, he said "how's our deal going?" I told him "just fine."

Then I picked up the phone and called the Chairman and CEO of our portfolio company. I told them the story, how I had freaked out when I got the voice mail, how I had tossed and turned all night, and how it turned out to be nothing. They laughed and thanked me for not sharing the voice mail with them the night before. I acknowledged the wisdom of that decision and added that "freakouts should not go viral".

UPDATE: Our very own Andy Swan has posted his version of the freakout that ends a bit differently than my story.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    It’s amazing what clarity of mind can do.The trick is to freak out inside, but not show it.

    1. awaldstein

      True…but not easy.After a long while we learn not to count on the big deal that will guarantee success, to win the war not the battle, and that sharing freak outs is always a bad choice.Still…it’s painful even though we more often choose the right action as we gain composure.

      1. fredwilson

        This was a make or break deal. There was no plan b

        1. awaldstein

          Wow…that puts some context into the story. Long night for certain then.

    2. Nick Grossman

      I often end up pondering the 4th-highest priority of the day as I’m going to sleep. This is the one I didn’t really think about all day, as I was busy focusing on 1, 2 and 3. Voicemail or not, this occasionally results in a minor freakout of some sort, and I’m always torn between trying to deal with it right then (resulting in a leap out of bed down to the laptop) or trying to relax and sleep it off.I usually end up getting up and dealing with it then, but the trick is to avoid actually sending emails during those moments (and instead write notes, draft an email or a blog post, etc). Sometimes sending the email is fine, but it can often result in the freakout going viral unnecessarily. Especially when things look different in the morning, as they often do.Anyway, all that is to say: I like “the trick is to freak out inside, but not show it”

  2. Dan Lewis

    Almost as a rule, I never check voicemail before bed. Voicemail is an odd form of communication. It’s an asynchronous message which is a bi-product of an intended real-time message, and it seeks a real-time message in response. It throws off everything.Two big problems as a result?1) Short messages, e.g. “call me back,” could mean “this is too important to leave in this medium” or it could mean “Just wanted to let you know I called, but this is generally trivial.” The listener has no idea; the only way you’d know is by being in the caller’s mind, which you obviously aren’t.2) Long messages detailing the reason for the call are almost always redundant. The listener has to call the caller back, and the original caller is just going to repeat the message in conversation. Total waste of time.Voicemail really should be programatic. All I need to know is who is calling, when and at what number I can reach them, and how time sensitive it is that I call them back (which in and of itself is difficult; your problem is most likely more urgent to you than it is to me). It’d be even better if this information were delivered *without* the voice of the caller attached, as to not introduce typically erroneous “clues” as to urgency or mindset of the caller.In other words, you’re almost always better off leaving a text message than you are a voicemail.

  3. NS47

    Courage in this case, was not the absence of fear but the masking of it.On the hindsight, a little over-reaction is always good. Should have made the deal so much sweeter.

  4. J.R. Sedivy

    This is an important lesson that I learned through time and experience. Early as an entrepreneur I would worry over possible outcomes or messages such as what you described. I found over time that I was almost always anticipating the worse case scenario, so over time learned not to decide for the other person and wait to hear the real message.The other important note – When building a business there will always be problems, the focus should not be on the problem, but on the solution. Even the most difficult problems or scenarios have a solution.

    1. fredwilson

      Great advice

  5. David Navarrete

    Although turned into a popular song, Mary’s advice always rings true for me:”The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.”–Mary Schmich

  6. Josh

    “Anxiety is nothing but repeatedly re-experiencing failure in advance. What a waste.” – Seth Godin

    1. fredwilson

      That is so true and I plead guilty as charged

      1. Matt A. Myers

        You should just unroll a yoga mat, focus yourself on breathing (to pull away from focusing on what’s grabbed your attention), and give your mind back the ability to see the other possibilities or options you have even if it’s just to know you have no control over it – c’est la vie! And you did the best you possibly could do at the time. πŸ™‚

        1. andyswan

          Or just have a pappy on the rocks and recount previous moments of win.

        2. fredwilson

          did that yesterday morning. such a source of relief

      2. ShanaC

        me too.

    2. Matt A. Myers

      It makes you think through things more, potentially plan better – although at a certain point things are out of your control, and then c’est la vie. πŸ™‚

      1. dissertations

        true words. that is exactly waht i wanted to say but you did it better than i ever could! thanks!

  7. andyswan

    LOL I can’t help but think of this from Larry David….so classic:…*good negotiating tip in this post….how simple it can be to cause freak-out in the other side

    1. fredwilson

      When negotiating with fred, just leave a ‘call me’ VM at 10pm. πŸ˜‰

    2. Dave W Baldwin

      Women are sly.

      1. ShanaC

        Yes, yes we are

        1. Dave W Baldwin

          It is like the usual “Call Me” is from the side that wants to put the caller in a guessing mode and at disadvantage.Otherwise, the female is able to get the room painted πŸ˜‰

    3. Emmanuel Bellity

      :)) classic indeed !

    4. johnmccarthy

      hadn’t seen that before. Thanks for the morning laugh. Need to work on keeping my office laughter slightly more professional

    5. sigmaalgebra

      Yes, but considering Al Guru!

  8. johnmccarthy

    Also a good reminder that the “call me” message should also be accompanied by “Nothing urgent” or some context. I’ve been guilty of this one.

  9. Dave W Baldwin

    Nothing from the AI side could have helped in this scenario. Of course, hindsight being 20/20, you should have called him back at 2am.

  10. Wells Baum

    Wow you are such a closer!

  11. Carl Rahn Griffith

    Trouble is, whether one consciously subscribes to it or not, I suspect the ‘Only The Paranoid Survive’ mentality has permeated our culture, especially in business, whether we like it or not…

    1. andyswan

      I would argue that it’s not cultural as much as it is biological….and quite reasonable lol

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        Lol – fight or flight…I will defer to my wife, who teaches ethology πŸ˜‰

  12. Jan Schultink

    Voice mail is so 1990s :-)Time to switch it off and move on to better alternatives

  13. JLM

    In all things, big and small, never, ever, ever take counsel of your fears.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      Right. But you need to learn how to do that first.Just like telling people to be compassionate. People can’t do it very well or know if they’re doing the best possible if no one’s helped them with it. πŸ™‚

    2. Carl Rahn Griffith

      As ever, time to turn to Desiderata…Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

      1. Mark Essel

        Carl have you posted that here before? Either way it’s never enough. Thank you.

  14. Greg Leman

    I had a similar situation early on in my career. Our largest customer had left a short voicemail asking for a meeting early the next morning with no warning. I was really freaking out when one of my employees, a retired US Army Ranger, asked me β€œAre they going to be shooting at us? Then go home and get a good night’s sleep, because nothing really bad can happen.” Turned out they wanted to place another order and were concerned as to whether we could deliver right away. I’ve got a pretty cool head now, but whenever I start to play out the worst cases I still ask myself if getting shot at is a possibility. Or maybe they just want to give us more money.

  15. Tom Labus

    The hardest thing to maintain in any business environment is the adherence to common sense. God knows I’ve messed up on this issue many times and the right path (the simplest) didn’t become clear until later.I wish I knew why this happens.

  16. Keenan

    As someone who lives and dies by his emotions, I hate those calls and the feelings that come with them.I would have been like you Fred. Tossing and turning all night long, with my wife constantly telling me to relax, there is nothing you can do.Emotion is one of my strengths, but also one of my weaknesses. It’s a love/hate kinda thing.

    1. fredwilson

      me too keenan

  17. LIAD

    Had the 8am call been about the deal – the night of stress the voice mail caused you would probably have made you a little more malleable if their CEO wanted to ‘adjust’ the terms or play a little hard ball. – Forcing someone (even unintentionally) to fester on what they have to loose – surely creates added impetus for them not to allow it to happen.I’m certain these kind of psychological hacks feature strongly in some peoples negotiating arsenals.

    1. fredwilson

      Not mine. I don’t like to play games. I want to create functionalpartnerships. Imagine if you dated like some people negotiate

      1. RichardF

        hmm…I’m not so sure, some girls are attracted to bad guys

    2. Matt A. Myers

      This sort of boils down to how good of a character judge you are, how well you can sense things, and how much you care about the people you’re involved with; If you just care about numbers and base your decisions on that, then I’m guessing your thinking is the people are disposable…. I’d personally not want to be in a relationship with someone like that.In the end though it’s all a game – but I know I only like to play with people who are in it for the fun parts of it, who are honest, caring, and doing it in good faith – who actually understand what that means.

  18. Chris Phenner

    If you leave someone a voicemail that simply says ‘call me,’ that is so lame. You’re IN the person’s voicemail box — at least leave something of value. I can’t stand when those who reach out then put all the work on the recipient to either make sense of the communication or put the next step work on the recipient — they were the one who reached out!It’s like ending an email with ‘thoughts?’ or saying ‘let me know what works…’ without suggesting specific times for a next step — it’s like a brush off and I think it’s lazy.

  19. Ed Cooke

    Ha. So easy to overestimate the negative consequences of almost any under-specified message. Even the fact or not of there being a message can easily be over-interpreted. Your story reminds me of the psychological roller-coaster especially teenagers go through after sending a text message and not getting a reply.Something along the lines of:Text sent. Feeling good. Can’t wait for reply.No reply. That’s strange. Jamie always reply quickly.Still no reply. Maybe I’ve upset Jamie. Maybe my message was too abrupt.Check sent message, oh god, it was too abrupt. Send new message? No, that would be too needy.Still no reply, maybe he hates me. Surely he hates me.Still no reply, on reflection, perhaps I’m inherently worthless.Reply received. Panic over! Self-esteem restored to default.One of the many curiosities of a world of instant messaging!

    1. Trav Lynk

      Well put Ed. This is an issue for more than just teenagers…There needs to be something to slow this roller-coaster down. Maybe Kik can help?

  20. markjosephson

    The other lesson here is about not letting it go viral. There was nothing constructive you could have shared with your deal team until you had more info. Few things worse than making more people freak out when there is absolutely nothing constructive that can be done.I definitely learned that as CEO. We are so trained to react quickly when emails come in that COULD be huge and it is so easy to forward. Much harder to put the blackberry down and wait it out. But like your freak out, sometimes waiting is the hardest part.Glad the deal worked out well.

    1. fredwilson

      right, that’s the main point of the post

  21. Matt A. Myers

    TIP: It’s okay to let a freak-out to go to someone — but make sure that person’s neutral, and has no vested interest in the results. Usually something as hearing a simple alternative is all you need, even something like maybe that they’re nervous too, so they wanted to checkup with you to make sure the deal’s still fine. πŸ˜‰

  22. Ed Freyfogle

    The job of the manager/leader: share certainty, not uncertainty

    1. fredwilson

      i like that!

  23. aweissman

    For some reason Fred, I think this is my favorite thing you have ever written

    1. howardlindzon

      dude…..CALL ME:)

    2. fredwilson

      you gotta live it to love it andy

  24. kidmercury

    as a full blown kook i tend to disagree with this post. i’m of the belief that freaking out over 9/11, the dollar, the ET coverup, etc are all worthwhile things to freak out about, and that htey should go viral. i also think it is appropriate to freak out about them, and in fact NOT freaking out about them seems weird and dysfunctional to me. sometimes it’s okay to freak out about important things. it shows your a person who has priorities and empathy.+1 for appropriate freaking out gone viral

    1. fredwilson

      it makes sense that you’d disagree kid

  25. paramendra

    Hilarious. This reminds me of a blog post by Chris Dixon where he talks about how he gets rejected several times every single day, routinely. πŸ™‚

  26. Brad Winney

    The truth is, we’ve all been there at one time or another. I like the fact that you shared it with your ‘team’. As a portfolio CEO, I would have appreciated seeing your human side and shared sense of urgency.

  27. CG

    Such a great post (and sentiment). I Facebooked it because everyone does this. And the follow-up quote by Seth Godin is BRILLIANT. I don’t think it’s technology that’s at fault – no, technology is just the delivery mechanism. Its our own brains – which are often predisposed to listen to the “fear and doubt” emotion over practical reason. As one of my mentors once advised, “try to put a little space between the synapses” – in other words, PAUSE before reacting.

  28. howardlindzon

    it has worked out well for , charlie sheen and twitter of late…yes?

    1. Dan Lewis

      Eight weeks? What’d you do?

      1. andyswan

        in law school? nothing. literally.At my apartment I started DaytradeTeam…..first biz. Worked out.

        1. Mark Essel


    2. LIAD

      your freakout is so full of win.

      1. andyswan

        It is important to win, even while losing.

        1. Mark Essel

          Reminds me of my masochist education theory. Whatever doesn’t kill you can pad your wallet or your wisdom, but seldom both.

  29. GlennKelman

    To my mind, there’s a different lesson here: don’t leave cryptic voice-mail messages at delicate junctures. Voice-mails, like emails, need a subject line…

  30. obscurelyfamous

    Today I learned that even Fred Wilson freaks out sometimes.

    1. fredwilson

      way more than you think Daniel

  31. Morgan Warstler

    More good short rules like this please.

  32. sigmaalgebra

    For a situation like that with so little solid information, there is a relevant old quote: “Things are rarely as bad as you fear.”

  33. ryanborn

    well if you did want to share the voicemail, there’s a startup for that too!

  34. Fernando Gutierrez

    In this case it was great you didn’t share the panic. But had it been something about the deal maybe a quick call to the rest of the deal team before calling back to evil voicemailer could have given you weapons for that conversation. Maybe in the early morning?

  35. Dave W Baldwin

    Off subject. Came across a link posted on Twitter by Ali Sohani, a very brilliant fellow in South Asia. It is well written expressing some simple truths regarding the Mid East. This one is for you JLM ;D

    1. fredwilson

      for some reason this didn’t get posted until now

      1. Dave W Baldwin

        No prob. I think we both were looking at the long run opportunity regarding the MidEast. The younger folks there do want the opportunity to achieve more.We can give them and us the bigger opportunity, doing so without waiting for governmental gameship.

  36. ShanaC

    I still think one of the better solutions is to devote only specific times to handle these matters and not allow others to intrude on not that time

  37. Laura Yecies

    A message like that deserves a call back even if late.

  38. Kai H. Cai

    somehow this quote pops into my mind after i read this blog — “remember that 90% of what you worry about never happens.” ^^

  39. Alan

    Only two people have mentioned the CEO should have left a more detailed message. A few more words would have saved Fred a lot of anguish. “If they won’t say more, you must ignore.”

  40. Duncan Greatwood

    Fred – it’s usually the CEO protecting investors from stress, not vice-versa. You owed us one, at least…Sometimes folk need protecting from random upswings in confidence, too, like:

  41. Brad

    My favorite quote is, “He who foresees calamities suffers them twice over.”

  42. Dustin Henderson

    This happend to me… co-founder sent me a competitor doing what we do (or so I thought), but they were doing it for free. I did not sleep all night. Finally, I got up and opened up the laptop. I started writing a document that described why we are different and why my company has a right to exist in the world. The whole process was very therapeutic and that document still drives our business today. But, most importantly – I could sleep!So the rule at GoodClic is – Don’t send stuff that will freak people out after a point in time where it is impractical for them to do something about it. And, I promised to check my VM email before I sign off at 6PM. After that time everything becomes a Draft email for sending in the AM.

  43. Dan Lewis

    Not that I know of.

  44. Matt A. Myers

    Hehe Charlie..