Be Nice Or Leave

We have a sign like this in our beach house. We got it in New Orleans many years ago.

be nice or leave

I thought of that sign when I was on the phone yesterday. I was talking to a person involved in a deal I’m working on right now. He said “you guys are being awfully nice here.”

For much of the rest of the day, I was thinking “are we being too nice?”

I don’t want to talk about this specific deal. Too much information. But I do want to talk about being nice in business. The conventional wisdom is nice and business don’t go hand in hand.

We learned from The Godfather that “it’s not personal, it’s business.” We know that some of the most successful entrepreneurs in tech have been difficult individuals who did what they had to do to get ahead.

We know that a lot of investors, VCs included, will do what is required to make a buck.

So its conventional wisdom that being nice is a bad idea in business.

I have found otherwise. I have found that reputation is the magnet that brings opportunities to you time and time again. I have found that being nice builds your reputation. I have found that leaving money on the table, and being generous, pays dividends.

I am not saying you should be overly generous or nice to a fault. There’s a limit to everything. But I do think that thinking about others, and trying to make things right for everyone (which is impossible and will drive you crazy) is an approach that pays off in business.

It’s not the fastest way to make a buck. It takes time. But it is way more sustainable than screwing people over.

#life lessons

Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    It’s harder to be nice, when the easier thing is to not be nice.When the deal is done, and the papers are signed, the main thing an entrepreneur remembers is the experience they have gone through with the VC(s).You are adopting a sound customer relationship management strategy to a service business, and that pays back many times over. The relationship is the most important thing that gets other things done.I’m surprised how many other VCs can get away by not being nice. In the few deals I’m cooking-up, I’m astonished to see what I’m seeing while reviewing terms preceding mine.

    1. fredwilson

      the requirement to be nice gets ratcheted up as the investment progresses. it is fairly easy to be nice when making the investment. it gets harder after that. and sometimes very hard when exiting in a deal where the pie is not big enough for everyone to eat.

      1. Alex Murphy

        Or when the pie isn’t there ….

        1. pointsnfigures

          On an exit, it’s important to remember game theory. It may be a continuous game. If there is a chance you will be in bed together again, it’s advantageous to play nice on the hope they will play nice next time remembering the way you played last time. If they don’t, then treat them like “grinfuckers”.

        2. Dan T

          very surprising how people will behave when the pie is not what was originally hoped. . . . even people you thought you knew best.

  2. Farhan Lalji

    I’ve always found that it’s never a one off game. People move around end up in different situations and the power shifts, if you’re not nice in the first instance, who’s to say how they’ll be when you need them to be nice. Or, to put it bluntly, karma’s a bitch.

  3. LIAD

    1/we shouldn’t be nice because it pays dividends. we shouldn’t be nice for potential future rewards. we should be nice because that’s the right way to the end of the day, the money, the deal, the success, the power, the kudos doesn’t mean jack at the best of times, but means absolutely nothing if to achieve it we act like shits.2/was talking to a banker at a social event a few weeks ago. the euphemisms and analogies he used were quite sickening. without realising, he highlighted to me time and again how lucky I was not to have chosen that path.he talked in terms of:eat what you kill.scorched earthseek and destroywe should thank our lucky stars the tech industry, at least at the startup/small company side of the spectrum has a very different value set. open-source/sharing expertise/ creating more than you capture.i think we are drawn into work and industries which share our values. I don’t think it’s an accident lots of us here are into entrepreneurship and tech rather than hedge funds.

    1. fredwilson

      wow. words matter.

      1. leigh

        It’s funny i wrote something about that bc i was getting really sick of all the war metaphors from Sr. Exec. usually (sorry) male clients. Beliefs not battles matter, and drive business. “Nice”, well, that’s just good long-term investment strategic thinking 🙂

    2. pointsnfigures

      It is different, but not that different. You see true colors when they lose money and have no way to get it back other than using poor ethics.

      1. LE

        Otoh as Trump has said when you are down you find out who your real friends really are.

    3. aweissman

      also for some reason I don’t see you at an event with a banker Liad 😉

    4. Twain Twain

      There are as many flawed and great people in both banking and technology sectors is my experience having worked in both.Our values & integrity are also from our families and school.Those, rather than the sector we work in, often help us to navigate between what’s ethical and what isn’t.

    5. Salt Shaker

      “A fish rots (or doesn’t rot) from the head.”It’s easy to see the kind of biz environment Fred and his colleagues have created at USV based on the words, character and beliefs exhibited on his daily blog. Leadership, whether driven by founders and/or sr. management, sets the tone for what is acceptable and unacceptable biz behavior.The desired image of a company in many respects should mold or define the biz character of its employees. Individual performance is key, but a company’s work ethos should always be stated and part of the equation, too.Outliers often are ostracized or fired (although perhaps not often enough).

    6. JLM

      .Well played.JLM.

    7. kidmercury

      the tech industry is not that different. they took goldman’s bailout money in the wake of 2008, blew bubbles and consolidated the industry, and then when income inequality and social discontent erupted in their backyard, they were surprised.perhaps the biggest difference is that the banking industry is more likely to accept their true nature rather throw stones at others from their own glass house.

      1. Jean Brittingham

        Thank you for sharing this. I completely agree with @fredwilson:disqus ‘s piece and I believe it is not only better for the soul, but also better for progress and success. That said, no industry or group in the developed world, especially the US, is immune to bad behavior. It’s a personal choice–whether to make the word a better or worse place. I just chose to hang with those who make the positive choice.

    8. LE

      eat what you kill.scorched earthseek and destroyHe was just possibly talking smack.This is really similar to the bravado that Ali showed when going after Joe Frasier.Anyway simply hearing sound bites like that would be meaningless.If you want to get an idea of whether he really is what he claims he is (or more importantly what you think he is) next time ask him to tell you some stories and/or give you some examples. Asking for war stories is a good way to get a fix on someone and the way they think.

    9. Cynthia Schames

      Great comment. Wow.

    10. muratcannoyan

      “i think we are drawn into work and industries which share our values. I don’t think it’s an accident lots of us here are into entrepreneurship and tech rather than hedge funds.” man I wan this to be true! I should add though that some of the highest integrity people I know are bankers.

    11. cgboyle

      an interesting thing about the banker ethos, from my perspective as a banker formerly at bulge bracket places and now at a boutique founded by a few of us, is that there is this push to get the deal, get the fee, at any cost that does drive behavior for many. (note that i am using the term banker as m&a advisory, traditional ib, and not trader, sales, derivatives, etc) and for those of us who consider ourselves both ethical and kind, there are moments when you do have to make a conscious decision to not use a piece of information, to not step on to the slippery slope, because it is all too easy to do so. what makes this hard, or even an issue at all, is that some bankers really do seem to believe that the end (winning / wealth) does justify the means. and because of this culture, the broader business community views bankers as pariahs, parasites, etc. and this, in turn, actually makes it difficult for the ethical and kind banker to meet people and have them believe that he/she is a business person who happens to work in banking and that they may have valuable insight and may be trustworthy. and, therefore, it can be difficult for this kind banker to “win”. and when you have a family to support and professional aspirations, you do want to, you have to take the long view, build relationships based on mutual trust and respect over time, in order to combat this, in order to be the person you want to be and still earn a living. and sure it would be great to get the benefit of the doubt. and for a long time, i actually did not realize just how jaded the view of bankers is, but i see this more now that i am at a small firm that does not have a brand. because now, it is more important to separate myself from that other banker and to be trusted, because the advice that i can give in collaboration with a team and trusting relationship that i can build is all that i have.

    12. bfeld

      Great example. I hear cliched phrases like these and immediately have a negative bias toward the person saying them. As @fredwilson:disqus says, “words matter.” I’d add, “a lot.”

      1. John

        @bfeld:disqus you and @fredwilson:disqus have such insightful commentary, it makes many entrepreneurs persevere. Adding in the “be kind” aspect truly helps. We’ve been kind to clients/customers that we needed to let go, and we’ve been kind when we have been screwed over. One of the best fictional scenes that comes to mind with how things are handled differently is from Mad Men where Don has to kill the Mohawk Airlines account. We’ve all been in a similar “its just business” situation, but I feel that things are truly changing. And the new crop of men and women in the workforce; they expect no less. It is very refreshing. I’m only 31, but it brings me joy to see optimism and kindness more and more from the 21-23 crop, because not too long ago I wanted to view the world with their eyes. Kindness in business was not present at that point, but flash forward ten years and there is a noticeable difference. Tech is making that difference everywhere, truly. Keep on leading fellers!

    13. Roy Azoulay

      Good point, but I suspect thanking our lucky starts has little to do it. IMHO ‘Be Nice or Leave’ can only work in industries that create value, and I suspect that what drew many of us to tech in the first place.

    14. PeterMcPumpkinPhD (Yale)

      That is just way too sugarcoated bro. You gotta be real and play to win. Just don’t be a d-bag and you should be ok.

  4. SD

    You are so right. I’ve been been “difficult” before, especially when I was younger. Being a jerk attracts the wrong kind of partners: people who have to work with you rather than people who want to work with you.

  5. Alex Murphy

    Two keys to success: Insight & Empathy. Its easier to be nice when you really feel the other person’s perspective.

    1. fredwilson

      yes. empathy is the key

      1. CorkageVIP

        Fred,The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.

      2. David Semeria

        But I remember you saying on the blog several years ago that you frequently get low scores for empathy in psychology tests…..

        1. JLM

          .Our boy Fred learned and evolved as we all do every day.JLM.

        2. Matt A. Myers

          He’s been doing yoga. That’ll help.

      3. FlavioGomes

        Empathy is my greatest strength and weakness

        1. LE

          Because empathy can prevent you from making the right business decision.Say you have an employee that is suffering through some personal problem and not performing. And things are getting held up as a result. Empathy wise you don’t want to get rid of them. But business wise you have to.

  6. RichardF

    Karma – what comes around goes around. Big believer in it.

  7. BulldogSpirit

    I do wonder whether this notion of the technology industry being any “nicer” than any other industry is overdone. Saw an interview the other day with Travis Kalanick. He’s not nice, and wouldn’t pretend to be so. It was kind of refreshing in a way. Was Jobs nice? Or is Bezos nice? There are a lot of amazing people, don’t get me wrong, but the exceptionalism of the tech sector is overstated. Lots of aggressive, greedy narcissists too, who just happen to wear jeans and sneakers instaed of suits….

    1. fredwilson

      that’s exactly what i was talking aboutthose guys are not nicenot at all

      1. William Mougayar

        They are shrewd and machiavellic. Nothing wrong with that.In taking market share, you take no prisoners. That’s different than the VC-entrepreneur relationship that you are talking about.As an investor, I want my entrepreneurs to be ruthless with their market approaches.

        1. awaldstein

          Really;)There has never been a market that didn’t shift. There has infrequently been a competitor that you didn’t have to work with.Ruthless and take no enemies only works when you own the channels. No one does any longer.Being ruthless and take no enemies is the antithesis of creating good will. And without that my friend, you have nada.

          1. edweng

            I would argue that Bezos has done quite well for himself (though he does own many of the channels). Those that don’t ally with him are often crushed (see his string of emails with Jobs regarding pricing of ebooks).Amazon very rarely works with its competitors and when it does, the competition often can’t turn the opportunity down because Amazon is considered the best in the business.

          2. awaldstein

            Agree–Amazon is a de factor monopoly in some of his channels.For me its a non starter for startups to build models and act how they will act if they ruled the world. A poise like this from day 1 is just a poor road to success.

          3. JLM

            .Please call me when Bezos actually turns a profit w Amazon.Lemonade stand proprietors in dresses everywhere can teach him a thing or two.JLM.

          4. kidmercury

            amazon already is profitable. if you add capital expenditures less normalized depreciation back to their free cash flow, their profits are actually growing.

          5. JLM

            .GAAP baby GAAP.Good to see you around. Hope you are well.I am confident they will be profitapble one day.JLM.

          6. Donna Brewington White

            “There has infrequently been a competitor that you didn’t have to work with.”When I re-launched my search practice in 2009 there was another recruiter who dominates my market and caused me coin the phrase — “If you can’t join them beat them.”Funny, we now share a client — long story — and I recently referred a candidate over to this other recruiter for one of his searches with “our” client.That same recruiter just referred a new client to me today.Shoot, now I have to stop using that phrase.

        2. JLM

          .Silly rabbit, you don’t want them to be “ruthless”, you want them to be competent. Coldly, unrepentedly competent.The problem with the Obama admin? They are incompetent. Raw, sheer incompetence. Could not organize a circle jerk because they couldn’t get everyone in a circle. And, apparently, can’t be trusted with hard drives and servers.Road to Hell paved…..etcJLM.

          1. William Mougayar

            Ruthlessly competent. Uncompromising on goals and vision. Yes.

          2. Emily Merkle


      2. LE

        I have to honestly say that I really don’t care what goes on behind the scenes at the company that gives me a product that I like and that performs well.I can’t worry about those things.Same with sports teams, right? You want to hear that your team has won you don’t want to hear excuses or that they lent their practice gear to some charity and that is why they lost, right?You don’t want to hear that the hotshot player that missed the shot missed it because he was up late the night before or missed practice because he was taking his aunt to her cancer treatment, right? You just want the team to win.

      3. PhilipSugar

        The key is can you be nice after you have made it. If you are some schmoe on the street actually nobody cares whether you are nice or not.Once you’ve made it then the question is can you still be nice, and that is much harder because people will tolerate your bullshit.

  8. aminTorres

    I am always a nice person because hard work aside, I owe 100% of everything I’ve ever accomplished thanks to people’s kindness. To people who were willing to look when others turned away.I have found that there is a level of effort in being nice/kind that people are more than often not willing to do. So is not that they dont want to be nice, it is that they are not willing to make the effort.When I do a favor to someone or when I offer to help someone I make it a point to help them on things no-one will help them with, with things no-one is normally willing to do for someone else and specially when there is nothing that will benefit me from helping that person other than the satisfaction of helping them.Kindness is powerful.

    1. RichardF

      great line

    2. Donna Brewington White

      I should have scrolled down. I wrote those same words and then changed it to “kindness combined with substance is powerful.” But you have it right. Kindness in itself is a powerful agent.

  9. Dan T

    life is definitely too short to work with assholes or idiots. I work hard to make sure I don’t employ or do business with either.sounds simple, but the higher up the food chain you go – the more likely YOU might be viewed as being mean or stupid because of the choices you make and the actions you take. I have fired a lot of people, delivered a lot of bad news and backed out of what I thought were bad deals. I never considered by myself mean or stupid, but I don’t expect everyone will ever agree with that.but I keep on trying to be fair, honest and smart – knowing those people whose relationships I value the most will appreciate who I am based on what I do.

    1. PeterBell

      Yeah – huge difference between being nice and being liked. I consider myself to be nice. I *know* I’ve had to make plenty of decisions such as firings where I probably wasn’t liked. That’s just part of the deal – you just need to reflect and have a strong internal compass and ideally some good mentors who have been there before as in tougher times, it’s not always obvious what the “nice” or “right” thing is to do.

  10. Jorge M. Torres

    There is research out there that refutes the whole ‘nice guys finish last” axiom. The research is documented in Give and Take, where Wharton prof Adam Grant shows how people who care about the needs of others as much as they care about their own needs achieve career success over sustained periods of time. It’s a great read, and very apropos to today’s blog, the very first profile is that of August Capital VC, David Hornick. Highly recommend.

    1. fredwilson

      David is awesome

    2. Rohan

      I liked the book too. 🙂

      1. JimHirshfield


        1. Rohan

          And hows the Jim-ster doing

          1. JimHirshfield

            Great. Thanks. So nice of you to ask. 😉

          2. vinniv

            Jim why you no come into our offices and say hi?!

          3. JimHirshfield

            Waiting for an invitation.

          4. Rohan

            Haha. So nice of you say hi! :))

    3. muratcannoyan

      The research is important and should not be all that surprising. Nice comment.



    5. JM

      Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook from @garyvee seems to make alot of sense and along similar lines.

      1. Jorge M. Torres

        Yes, indeed. Need to read that book. Great comment.

  11. pointsnfigures

    True colors of people are revealed when the chips are down. Many a time when I was trading I saw guys who normally would be “gentleman” reveal their true character when they were losing money. In the VC business, I have seen some really atrocious ethics.The only thing you can do is warn people, and try to steer business away from the bad guys.

    1. FlavioGomes

      I’ve said it before…lots of folks mistake asshole for being decisive.

    2. LE

      I saw guys who normally would be “gentleman” reveal their true character when they were losing money.Another way of putting this is that people are nice because they can afford to be nice. (For sure some people aren’t nice that can afford to be nice obviously.)People can afford to be nice for all sorts of reasons. Some have to do with what they already have and some have to do with what they want out of life (and where they get good feelings from) and some have to do with outside influences and pressure (like the wife, kids, college, etc.) [1]So you can’t really define people as on two ends of a pole without looking at circumstances which change.If you watch people over time you will see behavior that can change simply because people’s life circumstances change.[1] Things that I did in my 20’s I would never do now. One reason is I don’t have to do those things. The other reason is I’m older and a different person.

      1. pointsnfigures

        Na, in trading the dicks always seemed to show their true colors eventually. Same in VC I am finding. Has nothing to do with circumstance. I saw a guy that was going broke take an out trade when it was going to cost him even more-because it was the right thing to do. Saw others squeal like pigs.

  12. Barry Nolan

    At the end of the day, as with most truths, it’s simple. Business, relationships, and life are all about people and their interactions. In the long-term, the truth always outs. Identikits fade. You are, who you are. Not what you say you are, but in what you do, and in what others say of you.Give a little; grow some. Give a lot – not purely in the monetary, but more so in your thoughts, time and consideration – grow infinite. In this, you find happiness. As mentioned two days ago ‘reputation is everything’.

  13. JimHirshfield

    “Be good or be gone”Said every pub in the world.

  14. mattb2518

    Being nice and being a pushover are two entirely different things.

    1. fredwilson


    2. Donna Brewington White

      My mother has a saying:”Don’t take my kindness for weakness.”My mother is a badass.

    3. bfeld

      Are you saying nice people aren’t pushovers? bwahahahahahahaha (one of your favorite nice people.)

      1. mattb2518

        Correlation does not = causation.

        1. bfeld

          Truth that.

        2. Emily Merkle

          a man after my own heart.

  15. Tom Labus

    it’s best to find what suits your personality and go with it. If there is too much of a divide between you and working you it’s not going to work. Plus it’s easier.

  16. JimHirshfield

    At the end of the day, it’s all about relationships. No relationships = no friends, no love, no deals, no business, no happiness.Nice begets relationships. Relationships beget success.

    1. CalebSimpson

      I totally agree. I know a little something about just about every vendor we work with. It’s NEVER, just business. If it were that stale the world would be a pretty dismal place 🙂

      1. soporific

        You might want to get out a bit more, The world is pretty dismal outside your little bubble.

        1. thatbram

          So says “soporific”…

      2. LE

        I know a little something about just about every vendor we work with.When I sold my first business I remember very distinctly that salesman who had previously been nice and sucked up to me literally walked past my office (I was consulting for 3 months as part of the deal) because I didn’t matter anymore to them.Vendors, or salesman, in general, like you when you give them what they want. When you do you are “a nice guy”. When you don’t “you are difficult and tough to deal with”.Some stock guy offered us private box seats next week at a Phillies game because he is helping our mother and all the sudden he’s our best friend and wants to build the relationship figuring it will help lock her in and he will keep her business. I’ve never met him but I’m pretty sure that if I spent some time with him he’d be really nice and likeable.

    2. Richard

      Fred, I think (hope) you mean “Kind” (vs Nice).

      1. Donna Brewington White

        When I first read this post early morning, I had a similar thought. Nice can be fake and superficial.I’d rather do business with an unpleasant person telling me the truth than a pleasant person lying to my face. Or work with a not-so-nice person who gets stuff done than a pleasant person who is also benign.What slays me (in a good way) is true kindness. When you find kindness in business — or anywhere else for that matter — it is gratifying. But in business it is particularly inspiring.When I came to AVC, I detected an underlying kindness. Fred sets that tone.Kindness combined with substance is powerful. That is what I aim for.

        1. Richard

          You nailed it. Brad Feld coined a phrase for this “grin f–king”, I call it the “the f–king nod”, followed by “mmm that’s nice”.

          1. bfeld

            Yeah – grinfucking is grotesque. It’s really helpful in some ways, since you immediately know not to trust the person doing it to you.

      2. sigmaalgebra

        Ah, what an AVC group hug love fest! I wish the girls in my high school had understood so much about being kind!Yes, when I first mentioned on AVC that my wife had died, I was drenched in kindness. Amazing.But does this AVC being kind have anything to do with the famous”You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.”? :-)!Naw, not with people like Donna, Twain, Cynthia, Leigh, etc. around! Points and Figures? The guy’s got two daughters, and no doubt they keep him well ‘softened up’! For Fred? As usual I have to suspect that the real credit goes to GG with some credit for his daughters!Can’t have daughters or a good wife and be nasty all the time — else the girls/women might not smile as much, and the poor guy would have to try to live on actual food and water instead of just the smiles!

        1. Donna Brewington White

          You are my favorite sexist. ;)I didn’t know about your wife. Oh, so very sorry.

        2. bfeld

          Sending you good karma – I hadn’t caught that your wife had passed.

          1. sigmaalgebra

            Thanks.The idea that we are standing on solid ground with good seeing of what is ahead can be an error. Instead, life can be more like a drive along some narrow mountain rode with a lot of twists and turns, fog, and big chuckholes we didn’t even guess could have been there.One English lit prof explained the theme of “The Great Natural Order”. As a math/physics student, I expected that careful analysis would be enough and objected at his embrace of irrationality. Sadly, in part he was correct: Life’s often too complicated for solid analysis from ‘first principles’ — we’re often missing both the ‘principles’ and the data we need. Or, if we try to do something different, we can conclude that the Indiana Jones movie character Marcus Brody’s “You are meddling with forces you cannot possibly comprehend.” at times could be correct. That is, the great natural order was working for reasons we did not see, and our effort at something different and even better encountered those unseen forces.When we see a granite statue in a park, we don’t expect that suddenly, quickly, it will start to crack, crumble, fall, turn to dust, and blow away for no apparent reason — with humans, such things can happen. Granite is “rock solid” — humans aren’t.She was a sweet, old-fashioned girl from a family out of a Norman Rockwell painting, with a mother who concentrated on church, cooking, children, and sewing; and my wife was Valedictorian, PBK, ‘Summa Cum Laude’, and Ph.D., but that’s still not granite.One reason I can like images and art such as in ‘Coppélia’ as at…is that that ballet and the ‘images of life’ it shows are old and beautiful and only exaggerations of some things that long actually did work, for whatever reasons from the great natural order. At least the stuff worked.Still, a lot of change is possible: Take one generation as 20 years, and go back 10 generations, that is, 200 years to 1814. Take all the changes since then, a lot of changes, and put them in just 10 buckets, one for each generation. Then at least one of the buckets must contain at least 10% of the changes, and that’s still a lot of change for just one generation. So, a lot of change is possible. Still some efforts at change will be unexpected, incongruous, expensive failures.

          2. bfeld

            Wow. Well said. Hugs.

          3. Donna Brewington White

            Group hug for @sigmaalgebra:disqusYou loved well, Siggie, and that says a lot about you. And sounds like you won the heart of a gem of a woman. That says a lot about you too. You’ve shared openly that there were challenges — but a lot of good, right?

          4. Donna Brewington White

            Not sure this message got to you @sigmaalgebra:disqus — trying again.

          5. sigmaalgebra

            I took very seriously “for richer or poorer, for better or worse, in sickness or health, ’till death do we part”. No way did I want to have either the lost opportunity or guilt from either causing the problems or giving up. She had so much going for her I always knew that with a little tweak we could have had a fantastic life instead of a disaster.E.g., her Ph.D. was in, say, mathematical sociology from, right, in part Rossi and Coleman (Brown v. Board), both presidents of the American Sociology Association.So, e.g., she was a good candidate to be the best theoretician of ‘the social graph’ in ‘social media’. Indeed, early in her graduate studies they did have her touch on classic graph theory (nodes joined by arcs) in applied math. A/B comparisons? That’s baby talk for experimental design, and she was terrific at that. ‘Machine learning’? That borrows heavily from classic multi-variate statistics, and she was terrific at that. Yes, there’s a bunch of matrix theory there, but I gave her a few short lectures on matrix theory, and she did fine.She was a sweet, old-fashioned girl who won prizes in cooking, sewing, raising livestock, at least. In K-12 she played piano for school operettas for six years. She was an excellent hostess, and she knew much more about me than I did.Once she wanted to learn some artificial intelligence (AI), so I gave her a 1 hour lecture from how to turn on the PC, log into VM/CMS, use the editor XEDIT, write software in the language Rexx, and how our AI language worked. Two weeks later she had a nice AI program running. For about 15 minutes I gave her a more advanced lecture specifically on AI, and in a few days she had the best early AI program our AI group ever saw, much better than the very bright student programmer, computer hot-shots we had working for us, and computing was not her field at all.She was really something, but for apparently no good reason there were, by analogy, cracks that grew to parts breaking, falling, crumbling to dust, and blowing away. But, she was a human, not a granite statue.I decided to marry her based on her being a really nice girl, at times really cute, with good understanding of me, with good values, in love with me, and ‘smart’ enough to be a good partner for life. I didn’t have much idea she was genuinely brilliant.She didn’t have to be brilliant for me to love her; I loved her just as I was supposed to. E.g., one day I was in the second floor center hall and screamed out in agony at what had happened to us, and the sound left the house, hit some hills far away, bounced back, and I heard the echo. Loud scream. Over and over I tried to find out what was wrong and how we could get a good life with what we still did have to build on and was sure we could be successful. But there were strong forces that eventually I saw but at the crucial time was very slow to see. Yup, that’s why I read E. Fromm I’ve mentioned many times here on AVC.A good life, lots of love and happiness, were all right in front of us, ours seemingly if we just didn’t drop it, and we could have had a fantastic life, e.g., with her giving away, say, $50 million from the FedEx stock I almost got. Miserable defeat inexorably pulled from the voracious jaws of magnificent victory. It can happen.Parts of what I learned, toughest lesson of my life, made pure math look like baby talk, should go into ‘Girls 101 for Dummies — Boys’ which I wish I’d read when I was, say, 14 although 24 would have been nearly as good, too.What happened? An ‘explanation’ maybe with a ‘theory’ that maybe has no ‘predictive’ value: Her maternal grandmother was dedicated to solving any social problems she could find in her community, lower class where there was no shortage of social problems. My wife’s mother felt that she should have done the same, was ashamed that she was only a ‘housewife’ instead, but pushed her daughters, including my wife, into ‘saving the world’ but with a naive and just impossible, totally infeasible, combination of high objectives and meager means (e.g., just naive views of essentially everything outside of a farm house kitchen). And there was a lot of apparently genetic ‘anxiety’ disease.So, my wife, while brilliant, was driven, without qualification, reflection, or flexibility, with the meager means she had, to just nearly impossible goals. In addition she was just terrified, as her mother was, of any negative ‘image’ or ‘gossip’ such as is common in a small community. With her astounding abilities, fast metabolism, and ability to go without sleep, she could walk on water in warm weather with special ease and grace as long as only loving, supportive friends and family were in the audience but in front of a powerful, influential, potentially critical audience, from which she was determined with every cell in her body to get praise and approval, walking at all could be difficult. So, some of the broad symptoms were, say, OCD and ‘social phobia’, but those did not explain or prescribe much. Of course, one result was stress, then depression, then clinical depression, ….The end. She was staying with her mother and had driven to town to get dinner at McDonald’s. She parked by a lake, with her purse carefully tucked under the front seat. She was missing, and three days later her body was found floating in the lake. It looked like she had just thrown herself in.Why? The last straw: Her mother was “losing patience with” her. Her counselors had created some ‘psychological dependency’ and then said that they would cut off treatment unless she entered their hospital full time, and neither alternative was acceptable to her. I’d told her, from 900 miles away on the phone, that her counselors had not been very good for her or nice to her and that we could get her new counselors easily, but she didn’t want to try that. She said, “I feel like all my life I’ve been pulling some terrible load, and now I just can’t pull it anymore.”.Alternative? With me, not trying to save the world, that is, with the pressure off, she looked fine, quickly, easily. Over and over, I offered to compensate, compromise, accommodate, etc. so that she would never have to face anything difficult for her and assured her that, still, she could have a really good life. Yes, we would have had to have discussed, but she was not willing to do so. Why? She often said, “I want my own life.”. I could get the impression that from her mother she had gotten a fixed attitude that a man was just someone to be fooled, manipulated, exploited, and otherwise hated; the idea of a genuine, loving ‘life partnership’ was an anathema.So, slow down, back down, relax. Look at reality a little. Be a little less naive. Realize that there had been a lot of ‘lessons’ from pre-school, grade school, and middle school that were very poorly conceived, and take a refresher course and understand (‘cognition’) a little better. Compare with what know about others of interest and learn some balance from them. Realize that no one really has an obligation to give their entire life, and more, to saving the world. Build on a lot that had worked well. Just by being willing to, get means and ends overlapping instead of a light year apart. Understand that if things do go well, e.g., work ‘smart’ and not just ‘hard’, then actually there is a chance of holding most of the high values and achieving some of the high goals injected by her mother — e.g., we came close to having a nice chunk of FedEx stock, half of which she could have sold; then she could have given away the money. Enjoy what was readily available and good, of which there was a lot. I explained this 1+ hundred times, but it never stuck. That was just a set of little lessons that someone in her situation, no matter how brilliant, just can’t understand well enough to accept. Such are some of the limits to rationality.Once she said, “Don’t you think I’d give just anything to work like you do?”. No: I’d long since concluded that no way would she even consider working like I did even when I explained how many times. E.g., she struggled terribly writing her Ph.D. dissertation, just terrified of each word, and was, as I later learned, in a clinical depression the day she got her Ph.D., but I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation, deliberately, quickly and easily, with a soft mechanical pencil, a big eraser, and a stack of copier paper, sitting beside her on our bed while she watched TV. She saw exactly how I wrote my dissertation.Actually, she could easily work like I did. Secret: She saw herself working for me so that any possible criticism would fall on me instead of her; that’s all it took. She saw that path, too, but was not willing to take it. Why? I’ll never know. Maybe one reason: Her “I’m not very good at playing second fiddle.”. No, she was terrific at playing second fiddle but was determined not to. But, I believed that with some practice as second fiddle she could easily move up to soloist. It didn’t happen.Actually, between college and graduate school, she had a job that paid well and was quite easy for her (writing abstracts of medical research articles), and we were saving money rapidly, getting lots of samples of high end grape juice from between Macon and Dijon and every semi-soft cheese we could find, going to concerts and plays, doing well on dieting, having great times on Thanksgiving and Christmas, building up our collection of home furnishings, going on nice vacations, etc. So, I suggested returning to something like that, and her only reaction was that that time had been “boring”. Okay, but it wasn’t deadly, had a lot of good, and might have led to more. Actually history shows that if we had just kept at that, I would have gotten the FedEx stock and she could have pursued her goal of ‘saving the world’ as a philanthropist.Actually, for a few years we did well with her playing second fiddle, but then I changed jobs. Then she said that she had liked those years, and I offered to do something similar again, but she did not take the offer.Why? It may be that her mother, who hated me because I was trying to guide her daughter away from what the mother wanted, was constantly pushing my wife away from me and everything I could try. So, we’re talking some severe mother in law problems, a naive, determined, really nasty (although a great actress so that it took some time to see how nasty she was — e.g., went the last 20 years of her marriage refusing to communicate with her husband, a great guy, about anything more important than the weather report) woman actually pushing her daughter over the edge.Actually, one of the main attitudes of the mother was that a woman should dedicate herself to the care of others in the community, and then the grateful community would give the woman praise, approval, and financial security. A related attitude was that both men and the capitalist economy were evil and to be manipulated, exploited, scorned, or avoided.My wife and I had a lot of nice opportunities, really good for us, really easy for her, that somehow she was determined to reject in favor of slaving away in hell.Once my wife said, “I know you: You will keep thinking about it until you finally get it.”. Well, I hoped I’d ‘gotten it’, but apparently I didn’t. Neither did anyone else. We’re talking one heck of a hidden chuckhole in the road of life.One expert told me, “She’s a very mixed up person.”.Main lesson: Such things can happen.As an employer, when see such symptoms seriously hurting the work, don’t believe that the job is the cause or at fault and feel guilty, don’t suspect that such problems can’t happen, don’t try to ‘solve’ the problem, and, instead, just give them a severance check, a great reference, good luck in a more suitable line of work, and a good bye.More generally, let Darwin handle it. Yes, he’s a busy guy, but he’ll get around to such problems eventually.Thanks for your concern.

          6. Donna Brewington White

            Very moved and humbled by what you’ve shared. Thank you. Peace to you, Siggie. And another hug. <3

          7. sigmaalgebra

            Ah, save the hugs for The Swedish Bikini Team or the ballerinas in ‘Coppélia’ — a LOT of really pretty girls!BTW, the performance of ‘Coppélia’ by The Australian Ballet is now off YouTube, but the YouTube ‘free sample’, ‘freemium’?, got me to get the DVD, and the picture quality is much better. The girls are gorgeous. Great artistry, beauty, fun, and athleticism. But with that performance, the third act is a bit different, basically tacked on at one time by the New York City Ballet.The lead ballerina, Lisa Pavane, is an unbelievable artist and athlete and by far the best dancer in the performance. But the prettiest girl is Lisa Bolte as the character Prayer in the third act. The music is famous and really easy to like, but this is the first time I paid any attention to an actual ballet — as a lot of people have known well for 100+ years, ‘Coppélia’ is a LOT of fun, with in the Australian performance some drop dead gorgeous girls doing some amazing art and athleticism.The performance is now old, and now Pavane is back in Australiia this year as head of the school for that ballet company. There’s a recent video of her talking about the school, and clearly she’s a total sweetheart. She started dancing when she was 3! Apparently she married the male lead in her performance of ‘Coppélia’, and they have at least one child. Good for them.Australia did well.

    3. Tom

      Back in my banking days a client CEO asked us to waive a $2M transaction fee (after we had done a ton of work to get the trade done, and they had already negotiated the fee letter for weeks) in “the interest of our long term relationship.”Our group head, to his credit, didn’t miss a beat in replying “that’s not the kind of relationship I’m looking for.”

    4. Andrew Cunningham

      This is spot on. Relationships are the only thing that matter. Why? Because when your startup fails, or you turn a wrong corner… you are your own brand again. And if you ever want to work ‘in this town’ you had better be a charming fella or it ain’t gonna happen.

      1. Emily Merkle


      2. JimHirshfield


    5. Frank Traylor

      Even if you leave the words: deals, business, success out of your statement. It’s as valid, or more so. Good to be able to not only sleep with yourself but go to sleep happy because of the path you’ve chosen. Especially gratifying is having someone express gratitude for selfless assistance that brought them further in their pursuits.

      1. JimHirshfield


  17. Paul Sanwald

    I am curious if anyone has any recommendations for books on negotiation?I read “getting to yes” a few years back and it really helped me learn to negotiate in a principled, non-combative way (“nice”, even). I was happy to see Brad Feld also recommend this book.any other great reads in this area?

    1. David Clarke

      Robert Axelrod’s ‘The Evolution of co-operation’ (… is a classic. And, appropriately to today’s theme, it is fundamentally about how being ‘Nice’ is the first property of a sustainable (and winning) strategy in a competitive ecosystem– the others are being provocable, forgiving, and transparent. Turns out that, surprisingly, ‘tit for tat’ is the best approach– he developed the thesis 30 years ago via some very prescient experiments where he pitted software implementations of different negotiating strategies against each other in a form of iterated prisoner’s dilemma.

      1. Paul Sanwald

        thanks for the recommendation, David! I’ve added this to my queue.

  18. pauljanisch

    There is a story that someone commented that 5000 people attended Louis B Mayer’s funeral to make sure he was dead. Great post Fred, I reblogged this here

  19. 3agonists

    Being nice in business would create a virtuous circle. Also, it would teach our children they can be both nice to others and successful. With more examples of high-quality human beings who are highly successful and nice to others, the perception that you should be an a-hxxx in order to be highly successful can be corrected. A number of people, who are poor souls in my opinion, tend to treat others badly when they can do because they experienced some successful people (also poor souls) in tech, finance and industrial treated them in that way earlier in their lives: we need to end the vicious circle and begin the virtuous one. Glad to read this here. This can be one step forward.

  20. Matt Kopecki

    The one thing I’ve learned that’s even more important than being nice is above all else be honest. Once you spoil your own integrity with dishonesty, all is lost.But really, how often will these two be at direct odds with each other? Do both.

    1. 3agonists

      Well, being nice doesn’t mean dishonesty. That’s just an excuse in my opinion. People can be honest and nice to others at the same time. Believe that next-generation would be much better. That’s how this world has been evolving any way. Something impossible yesterday is reality today.

  21. Jon Michael Miles

    While business is certainly not a Waldorf school environment, I strongly agree with approaches that have embedded in them the fundamental understanding that we are together in this pale blue dot experience and each of us, when in our right mind can expand thoughts, markets and opportunities far beyond what we initially dreamed. And that kind of thinking takes fostering and your contribution to that ecosystem is fundamentally why many of us choose to be a part of this community Fred.

  22. Anne Libby

    Yes. The person you are at work is the person you are.

    1. JLM

      .Nobody who cheated at golf ever made a good business partner.JLM.

      1. Anne Libby


      2. Anne Libby

        Hair pullers need not apply, either.

  23. virjog

    I think being nice and compassionate is the next trend in business. We’re already seeing it in the customer support department and the success that companies like Amazon, American Express, and Disney have achieved.There’s no reason not to be nice when it comes to business. It’s best practice for all parties involved. Sure, sometimes you can be too nice and people end up using you, but as you said, “there’s a limit to everything.”Great post and loved hearing you speak at Startup School yesterday!

    1. Dave Pinsen

      Kind of an interesting contrast, then, between Amazon’s approach to customer service (and that of its subsidiary Zappos) and its approach to competitors (e.g., –… ). Which raises another, related question about the tech industry: how much of its disruption is due to innovation and how much is simply due to using deep pockets to operate at a loss while grabbing market share?

      1. LE

        how much is simply due to using deep pocketsAgree.Did you ever try to get anything from a business that doesn’t have deep pockets? Ever try to get an airline (perpetual thin margin money losers it seems) from doing anything without giving up a newborn baby? I tried to cancel an extra night at a hotel and got all sorts kickback until they finally agreed and said they would only charge me $50 late checkout fee. If they were super profitable (or didn’t care about the bottom line) I’m sure I would have had a much easier time in fact I know I would have.Deep pockets allow you to do all sorts of things that you can’t do when you have little or no pockets.You can go into a chain store and make a return but try going into a small retailer and returning something that you don’t like. (I’m remembering the days prior to big box stores where there were almost no do overs).

  24. awaldstein

    If no one owns the channel, if choice is the status quo and inclusiveness not exclusiveness is the state of the market, being a shit is a dead end.I’ll take good will over an extra .%5 of a deal any time. Cause over time that is the winning strategy.

  25. Brandon G. Donnelly

    I think about the same thing when it comes to managing people. Often people default to managing with fear. But over the longer term, I’m not sure this is the ideal approach.

  26. Aaron Klein

    Think about it this way: when you deliver less value than you extract, when you’re a jerk about the terms, when you act like a diva…you send a massive signal to the other party that you are only focused on the short term.

    1. PhilipSugar

      I had a meeting with the CEO of a very large grocery store outside of the U.S.This quote struck me. Margin is what our customers allow us to keep in exchange for our great service. We have to earn that every day.

      1. Aaron Klein

        Love that!

  27. jason wright


    1. Ro Gupta

      Yup. We have this sign up at Disqus HQ.

    2. JasonBoisture

      And other related “momisms”… This one, inspired by one of my wife’s frequently expressed statements, hangs in our dining room. We have toddlers..

  28. Siepert

    A question I have after reading both main text and comments: Do you believe niceness stems predominantly from nature or nurture? I see very few people who switch their approach during their career, so would lean towards the former, but I’m genuinely interested in examples of people who have undergone that change, and how they experienced it.

  29. jason wright

    and what to do when the other person is not being nice to moi?point it out?get equally not nice?move on?

    1. leapy

      Duck and move on. Avoid for the future.

    2. PeterBell

      I assume the best in people, have my downsides covered, and seldom give people a second chance to take advantage. Turns out that trusting – across a decent sized population – is generally cheaper and more effective (in my experience) than verifying. As the stakes get higher, you want to document the deal, but I’ll often help out startups in a modest way and let them decide how/whether to compensate me for the help.I also have a rule that I won’t do paid work that I wouldn’t do for free if I had unlimited funds, so at least I enjoy everything I do.

  30. @DisruptiveDave

    This fits into my “take every meeting I can” mantra (at least while I am logistically able to). You never know what serendipity has in store for you and “being nice” is a pathway for amazing, unexpected things to happen to you.

  31. kirklove

    I’d add genuine to that mix. Genuine niceness. Fake “niceness” is the worst.

  32. Ben

    Fred, for heavens sake please come to Omaha next year. It’s like you are channeling Buffett here this morning….-Ben

  33. Robert Heiblim

    Thank you Fred, I quite agree. Although you passed when I pitched you long ago, you were both nice and helpful. It has also been my experience. Nice does not have to affect your decisions and actions except to enhance how others feel about you. In our complex world about all we can really control is our attitude and this does indeed make us stand out.

  34. Brandon Burns

    You also have to know what nice looks like.Many people confuse intentions and delivery. Being nice is all about having good intentions, even when the delivery is direct and no bullshit. Conversely, there are people who’ve learned the art of the sugar-coated delivery that covers up their asshole nature — and some of them have legions of fans, none the wiser.Sadly, too many people can’t tell the nice guy from the asshole.

    1. LE

      Yeah but sugar coating counts for something. It means they care enough to at least sugar coat something.Would also like to point out that sometimes you have to be “that crazy driver that the other person looks out for”.Not all people respond to someone being reasonable and they will actually take advantage of you for this. So this idea that you can always be a nice guy and win doesn’t really hold water if you’ve been around for a long time.I’ve gone into situations where I’ve been a nice guy but given the composition of the other people involved that doesn’t seem to work. So I shift to being the crazy driver and then I end up getting what I want. All depends on the situation.I had a case at a condo board meeting where someone was being nasty and not wanting to hear my point or thought it didn’t matter. So I proceeded to completely flatten them much to the amazement of the others in attendance (which was totally out of character for me). The person not only shut up but next thing they resigned the board. As the Canadians say “turn about is fair play, eh?”

    2. bfeld

      Beware of the sugar-coated grinfuckers.

      1. Brandon Burns

        I love that term. I gotta use it more often. For now, I have my new sign. 🙂

        1. bfeld

          Printing it out now to go on my wall.

  35. Mark DiSalvo

    “Work hard, have fun. Be kind.” When my junior in high school daughter leaves the house every morning, throughout her past 11 school years, these six words are the last Celia hears from me. All are important but the true governor to success is kindness. Yes, be knowledgeable, committed, prepared, labor long – but treating yourself and others with kindness creates sustained opportunity for long-term reward. Better still that your selfless help achieving success for others will inevitably result in their wish to contribute to yours.Simply, being nice rules.

  36. Rick Patterson

    While Nice will often feel the sting of “no good deed goes unpunished”, Nice is also the beneficiary of “what goes around, comes around.”

  37. Brad Harrison

    I agree that being nice and trying to accommodate everyone’s best interest is always the right way to go. When I trained at the Special Forces Warfare School they taught patience, understanding and a general policy of kindness and mutual respect as a way to forge strong relationships, align interests and avoid conflict.The real challenge is how to proceed when you need to shift from being nice to dealing with a situation and/or person that becomes not nice. Often these situations involve breaches of trust and integrity. Then you must always stand up and fight for what you know to be true and right.

  38. jonathanjaeger

    In terms of “success”, it’s not possible for us to know whether some businesspeople would have been MORE successful had they been nicer to people. Maybe they are successful despite being mean. Or perhaps they are so charismatic or inspiring to people, that even with their narcissism they can be wildly successful. I think you’ll win some and you’ll lose some with whatever personality type you take on, so why not just be nice if that’s what makes you happy?

    1. LE

      Maybe they are successful despite being meanThe effect here is compression. You are hearing a lifetime of events described in a sound bite style as if the person is like that each and every minute of the day. Obviously they aren’t. It just sounds like that because people cherry pick a few cases where people act a certain way.Also I don’t believe necessarily that people who are “dicks” are as much doing things that are worse than others would do.What they are able to do is merely package what they are doing differently so it doesn’t piss people off as much. Same way when you can’t go to a party you don’t say “why would I want to come to your party on a nice weekend you aren’t that important to me!!!!” you say “oh wow sorry I really want to come but we had pre-existing plans maybe next time hey let’s get together how are your kids doing…”Back when I had to fire people I would always give them what I called “something they could tell their wife”. In other words something positive so when they said “I lost my job” they could also say “he said I was the best box cutter they ever had!!! but…”.So the packaging and framing was better.Now let’s say I fired the person and told them “you suck, you are shit, you did a lousy job fuck you”. In the end they are still out of the job but their feelings aren’t “hurted”.Bottom line: Package it with sugar and whatever you do goes down better!

  39. Salt Shaker

    It’s one thing to post a sign “Be Nice or Leave” outside the door to your beach house, quite a diff story to do the same at the office.I think biz can be quite ruthless, and the worst shape a company is in financially the less healthy an environment it is to work in. Tough times tend to bring out the worst in people. Successful companies that are riding the wave breed a congenial, positive and healthy atmosphere. Unsuccessful or struggling companies don’t. I’ve experienced both.I strive to be nice to people in both my personal and professional life, but I admittedly am no always as successful as I’d like to be. These days I grapple w/ how I can be a better person and what my contributions can be on this earth sig more than how I can be successful. Yes, I welcome and strive for success in biz, but I don’t want to be defined or consumed by it, or believe the end always justifies the means. Success is only a part of the legacy I desire.

  40. falicon

    Agree – this has long been my life philosophy as well. I care as much, if not even a little bit more, about how I play the game as I do where I finish.

  41. braydonjm

    Thanks for supporting the notion that nice contributes to good business. A few years ago I pitched to a VC – afterward the friend who brought me in told me the deciding partner didn’t want to invest because I was “too nice.”We’ll do $4M in revenue this year and 70% growth over last year by being too nice – and developing thick relationships through being nice. No we’re not a $500M company – but we’re on plan.As as entrepreneur (and entrepreneurship as a proxy for life) in a relative position of power, I just always try to imagine what if the roles were suddenly reversed? What if I was the one being sold to, or being fired, or negotiating a partnership.How, in this very moment, do I want to think about this person across the table? “Eat or be eaten” or “Do unto others”? I will always default to the latter.It seems to be working.

  42. Marvin Danig

    A really good example of “being nice and successful” is the case of Tata Enterprise from India [1]. The Tatas inspire me for entrepreneurship and they have been following this path for a 100 years![1] http://rotaryclubofbombay.o

  43. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    For some reason this triggered a weird thought process – please bear with me.If you are a penguin huddling from the cold, or a wildebeest trying to stay in the middle of the herd, there are threats or predators who tend to pick off the guys on the outside.If I am in a huddle, I want the people around me to keep their elbows, be pleasant and maybe share some warmth. I guess I am not alone.To reverse that, the outsider, the lone wolf, the unsociable, the guy who can’t keep his hands to himself are all going to be pushed to the outside.I am not always in a huddle, sometimes I need to stand out, sometimes you have to break eggs to make omelettes.@fakegrimlock might have saidAre you trying to maintain the status quo, or “punch the world in the face”Objectives define us as much as courtesy,

    1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

      Self reply – Of course you can punch the *world* in the face and still be a nice guy if the *world* is not sentient. So maybe the martyr for a good cause is in this sense punching above his or her weight.

  44. kenberger

    there was a topic on the tech blogs yesterday about pmarca’s tweetstorm around “be disruptive, but don’t be a dick about it”.I found that to be powerful. There is a glamorization around disruption that seems to promote an evil joy to killing businesses. This alternative decorum guidance is interesting, especially coming from a guy who is definitely not known to be nice.

    1. JLM

      .This coincides with my 96 year old Father’s theory that dispute resolution should be boxing. Of course, I boxed in college.He says a beating is a great way to resolve disputes and to avoid legal expenses. As he says: “Weeds out the dickheads.”He and I are both partial to dueling.JLM.

      1. kenberger

        “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

      2. LE

        You’re kidding, right? I have always subscribed to the theory that people who try to use brawn to solve a problem aren’t able to use words to get what they want and that is why they have to resort to anger, fear and intimidation.An example might be the angry big guy who tries to bully the hotel desk clerk into giving him what he wants.If I ever got angry as a kid my dad walked away and said to me “I’ll be glad to discuss it when you present your thoughts like a lawyer – forget the anger”.

        1. JLM

          .OK, yes, you figured it out, I am in fact kidding.Well, except for the dueling part. On that I am perfectly serious. Right?JLM.

  45. Twain Twain

    If you’re nice, you get trampled over by people — that’s been my experience and it took years for me to take the knives and stilettos out of my back.Nowadays, I behave with reciprocity.Recently a media person tried to screw me over. I went NUCLEAR and that stopped them from thinking they could screw me over.In fact, they had to schedule time to call me from Europe to apologize to me.

    1. LE

      Media is a dog eat dog world. You can only be as honest as your competition.People in certain businesses tend to have to operate, whether they like it or not, as the consensus in that profession operates.Gentile doctors do things differently than the local used car dealer might or the local franchise car dealer might. Or someone doing home improvements.

  46. LGBlueSky

    This is my favorite AVC post to date. Perhaps I am simple, but this is a life lesson that should be consistent in everything you do, personally and professionally. I often wonder “if the good guy ever finishes first” and in Fred’s case, this is 100% the case.

  47. Legardo

    Yes I find being nice works very well – especially with large corps exploiting people and planet. After being nice I always feel good about myself too despite supporting the damage done.

  48. morgantd

    This is one of those things that can quickly ruin a previously solid reputation.

  49. Pete Griffiths

    The pre-greedy Goldman Sachs used to look for people who were ‘SWANs’S martW ork hardA mbtiousN ice

  50. Joe Wallin

    I couldn’t agree more. You can negotiate a great deal and make friends all around the table. They are not inconsistent with each other at all.

    1. William Mougayar

      yep. win/win is under-rated.

  51. Joe Marchese

    “If you arekind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway. Ifyou are successful, you will win false friends and some true enemies; succeedanyway. If you are honest and frank,people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone coulddestroy overnight; build anyway.” –Mother Teresa

  52. Dave

    I’ve focused on being professional, straight forward and transparent about my intentions and my motives as I’ve gotten older. It turns out I’m nicer and I don’t seek a fight like I used to. But is the transparency that has built my professional reputation, even when things go badly.

  53. Nick Devane

    The value of being nice and working hard cannot be understated. I was pumped to see @jasonpwright:disqus post Anthony Burrill’s piece. Its awesome that an old lady told him that in a grocery check-out line.Its maybe as simple as taking pride in your work and your conduct with others. I think self-respect creates happiness. It produces attractive confidence that draws others closer and helps maintain real friendships.We also learned from the Godfather.”Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than the government. It is almost the equal of family”

  54. Jared Krouss

    I agree for the most part, though I think authenticity is the biggest thing. If you’re nice, you should be nice. If being a jerk is who you are, that’s fine as well. Just don’t pretend to be the other.

  55. SpringboardEnt

    Fred: Springboard anoints you as one of our honorary Dolphins. (anti-shark)

  56. jkegelberg

    The last sentence puts it right. It is not about being NICE in business, but to be FAIR. I believe every party in a deal has the right, or even the obligation, to push for their interests, but NOT to screw someone over.

  57. karchitecture

    Awesome post Fred. Reminds me of my favorite scene in Roadhouse where Patrick Swayze tells the bouncers that his number one rule is “Be nice.” He’ll tell them when it is time to not be nice.

  58. ErikSchwartz

    My wife taught me this lesson. It is sometimes a struggle against my native sarcastic tendencies, I fight on.To quote Jules…”But I saw some shit this mornin’ made me think twice. Now I’m thinkin’, it could mean you’re the evil man. And I’m the righteous man. And Mr. .45 here, he’s the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or is could by you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. I’d like that. But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is you’re the weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’. I’m tryin’ real hard to be a shepherd.”

  59. Not Fred

    It is not nice guys who finish last. It is those who are easily taken advantage of.

  60. Mario Cantin

    That’s how I personally run my business — and I got scolded many times by my associates for being “too nice”; but it sure makes it easier to look in the mirror in the morning when I shave.

  61. Mark Gannon

    From the movie Cinderella Man:Jimmy Johnston:Right here. Editorial says this fight is good as murder, and everybody associated with it should be hauled into court and prosecuted afterwords. They say the paper’s gettin’ all sorts of letters from people saying you’re their inspiration – like you saved their lives or somethin’. If you ask me, it’s a lotta crap… but if I’m gonna promote this fight, I’m not gettin’ hung out to dry if somethin’ happens to you. Joe Gould:[sarcastically]Ah, you’re all heart. Jimmy Johnston:My heart’s for my family, Joe, my brains and my balls are for business and this is business. You got me? Joe Gould:Gotcha.

  62. JLM

    .Nice? NOIt is empathy, thoughtfulness, kindness, gratitude, authenticity, genuiness.It is breeding, character, class.Friction reveals the character beneath.It is karma. It spawns luck, lagniappe.It is the recognition we are all very small in the Great Scheme.Nice? NO — much, much more than that indeed.And, Freddie, my friend — you’ve got that mojo, the juju that makes the dice want to please you. And the dice are not usually nice.JLM.

  63. FlavioGomes

    If being fair is the new nice…then things are seriously f’d up.

  64. Emily Merkle

    One can never be too nice. It is difficult to separate your niceness in personal dealings from your business dealings. But it is sustainable, and it is the right path.

    1. JLM

      .Would that we all were trying to disprove that assertion.JLM.

  65. Alex Wolf

    KARMA is agnostic.Yet GOOD KARMA increases good luck, good will, good memories, and stronger connections. Mindful empathy + raw efficiency/talent >> go further, longer.It’s like NYC radio station WBLS – Wider, Bigger, Longer, Stronger.

  66. Wesley Verhoeve

    Yes yes yes, one of my biggest personal beliefs that I always defend against those who feel otherwise. It fits well with my “there are no shortcuts” belief.

  67. LE

    I have found that leaving money on the table, and being generous, pays dividends.I call that an “LE ad” (where LE is my name). Like the time I bought the realtor who sold me a property a gift and he said “shouldn’t I be buying you a gift?”.I had a case the other week where I had to buy some domains that had been presented to me 8 or 9 months ago. I could have easily at that point went directly to the seller (after all all the info is public, right) but went back to the broker that presented the deal to me originally in a sales newsletter. (So it wasn’t directed at me specifically but at many people).I did this for a few reasons:1) The dollar amount wasn’t that great that I had to cut him out of his fee.2) It was an “LE ad”. I figured that by paying him a fee he would remember me and that would pay off in the future. Only downside is the fee.3) I had asked him several questions and he had contacted the seller on my behalf. So he had done some work and I don’t like people to do work and not get paid for their effort.4) I figured I could use him to drill down the price further and remain behind the scenes. (That definitely worked).In the end the price got so low that the broker said “he will sell it to you for x but then I won’t make my commission but that’s ok no problem”. (So he was trying to do the same thing in reverse). To which I said “I will pay your fee separately no big deal” even though I had already given the bottom line and said I wouldn’t pay anymore.Once again I have to stress that the money wasn’t a big deal here so I could be a “schvitzer”.I have another case now where someone is working (w/o contract) to rent a property and I’ve told them that if I am able to find someone on my own I will still “take care of them” (note that doesn’t mean full commission either it just means “you are not wasting your time”).

  68. JasonBoisture

    We have a phrase, similar to your sign, for our 2 and 3-year-old girls: “Fun or room.” Basically, we’re giving them the choice to be fun with us or be “unfun” in their bedroom. If done with love, it gives them an imprint that can carry them through life, friendships, first jobs, business and their own future families. And that imprint says two things: 1) it’s OK for us (Mom and Dad) to establish some basic requirements for face-to-face relationship — ie., we don’t have to endure your fit or engage in your argument if we don’t want to — and 2) being respectful, kind and “fun to be with” is the basic requirement we have chosen and offer to you as a great choice for the future relationships in your life.

  69. Drew Meyers

    In biz dev, I always tend to go for the win-win…rather than the old school model of “negotiate tooth and nail for every inch”. I’ve negotiated against those who operate with the goal of winning every last deal term, but it’s certainly not fun & even if I came to an agreement with them, wasn’t likely to provide them much help going forward.I am more interested in building strong partnerships than having a bunch of “deals” despised by one side. From my experience, you get way more out of a partnerships (and friendships) if both sides are happy. If one side is not happy, then there is pretty much zero chance of helping the other side and growing the partnership.

  70. riemannzeta

    “It’s not the fastest way to make a buck. It takes time. But it is way more sustainable than screwing people over.”This last part is key. And it reminds me of the Disraeli compromise, which I read about in Poor Charlie [Munger]’s Almanack. Don’t take revenge when somebody does something nasty to you. Instead right their name down on a list and put it in a drawer. Every once in a while, review the list, and cross their names off as you see them come to suffer for their misdeeds, as they inevitably will despite your lack of action.Nothing good comes fast — a truth of surprising generality.

  71. dark12222000

    Be a nice and decent human being, because the other people you deal with are also human beings. (You should also be nice to animals too, but, for different reasons).

  72. Steven J. Aaron

    It has more to do with the time-scale you’re planning for. If you’re looking for “the big score” or worried about making your quarterly numbers, then you will do whatever it takes to hit that singular goal. But if you are taking the long-term view, relationships matter, strategy matters, understanding what your partners (vendors and customers) need matters.

  73. Scott Barnett

    I don’t view this so much as being nice, I view it as framing “win-win” relationships. I bet there are a ton of people that don’t think you’re nice Fred no matter how nice you truly may be (for example, many of the startups you’ve turned down).What you’re talking about specifically is the negotiation between two willing sides. And you can try to “win” that negotiation, try not to “lose”, or find the middle ground where everybody feels they got what they needed. And that’s what I think you are describing.

  74. laurie kalmanson

    this is awesome

  75. LE

    He said “you guys are being awfully nice here.”I’m wondering if after he said that if you asked him why. Usually a statement like that would be followed up with an explanation and an alternative or reason.

  76. trbgllc

    Spot On Fred! With respect, RWR

  77. Richard Gray

    This AVC post is just terribly important. Way more than valuations, trends etc. One day soon we’ll understand the mechanics of being nice (when we get a better handle on more than 3 dimensions). Until then its experiential and therefore an uphill struggle!

  78. Peter

    Nice for no clear reason, as it seems in the example above, makes me feel uncomfortable and is actually a negative for me.I like predictable, transparent and having integrity better. I find those characteristics are more reliable and solid through ups and downs.

    1. Emily Merkle

      Niceness is predictable, transparent, and is a reflection of integrity – a better indicator of such than any other.

      1. Peter

        “you guys are being awfully nice here.”I read that as, I do not fully understand why you are being so nice/generous here. I.e. unpredictable.

        1. Emily Merkle

          Why question? Why doubt?

  79. Cynthia Schames

    This is not meant to kiss ass at all: I routinely tell people that you’re simply Good People. That’s a quality that is in shockingly short supply in the world today, and therefore also in the tech industry. Possibly even more so in the VC world (though I have to say I’ve been really impressed by the majority of investors I’m meeting out here in SV through 500 Startups).What honestly amazes me is that given your immense success as an investor, why the hell do more investors NOT realize that being a decent, good person and eschewing rampant greed is just plain good business (in addition to being good karma)?I mean, even if someone is a crappy person underneath it all, you’d think at least a few of them would catch on after seeing you outpace your peers time and time again. “Hey, maybe there is something to this whole “be a good person” thing? Maybe I should try it?”.

  80. Will Bonde

    Unfortunately, I’ve met a lot of people who think being direct requires being not nice. “I do not think that’s a viable idea” becomes “That’s f-ing stupid.” We’re adults, we should be able to handle those who are not nice, but I’ve realized that for me that being nice when being blunt is just as effective, and does not have an effect on relationships. On the other hand, not treating others nicely is effective as well, but can damage relationships. It’s never taken me any extra effort to be nice *and* honest, and I find most people respect that, so I’ve stuck with that. Each to their own, but my firm belief is people should give being nice a shot.

  81. Emily Merkle

    I just think, as a basic life philosophy, it is best to be nice. To model niceness in all you do, not just so you can rest easy at night, but so you can rub that niceness off on others, model it, so they can see and have some confidence in the fact that there *is* benefit in being nice, and that one *can* “get ahead” while being a decent human being.

  82. Shaunak Roy

    Great piece, one of the best! Being nice could also mean valuing ideas over one’s ego. Just because you can, don’t mean you should. Small sacrifices create space for emergent phenomenon which *keeps things interesting*

  83. Bernadette

    I came across a picture my grandmother had cross-stitched for me when I was around 8 that reads “Its nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” I’ve wondered if that, and a throw-away comment from a former baseball player I worked with (“Doing what I can to help the team”) haven’t been subliminally playing with me over the years.

  84. Gyi Tsakalakis

    I want you to be nice until it’s time to not be nice. – Dalton

  85. Greening

    Good karma. Every one we meet, everyone on earth is looking for happiness. Help them find theirs, and you will find yours.

  86. John Revay

    Reminds me of the Dale Carnegie book “How To Win Friends and Influence People”I think if you were in sales back in the day – it was required reading. I have it on CD/ipod and occasional listen to it about every other year.

  87. Ken Greenwood

    This is great! And remember one of the best ways to be “nice” is to keep in mind that it is not so much WHAT you say, but HOW you say it. Cheers!

  88. cc

    Good points, but smells like a new incarnation or mutation of the “humble brag” and its derivatives, perhaps combined with talking one’s book.

  89. Khuram Malik

    My problem is getting the balance right. What’s a good litmus test for knowing you’re being too nice?

  90. Guest

    Talking about nice is like talking about good. When some people start talking about nice, experience tells me “nice try”.

  91. salgarss

    Definitely agree! I’ve definitely found that in my own career.On average though, I’ve found that that kind of thinking – more long term, less worried about zero-sum game – is more scarce amongst those whom we see as successful in business. Its also much more calculated.Most people have a default level of “nice” – on average those who have it set at a lower level seem to be more driven to win/succeed over others and so often tend to do well. Some of them mature to understand the value of treating people better as they succeed – most often after their past behavior has hurt them, but it tends to be too late or too hard by then.On the other side, those who are too “nice”, need to learn to mix in enough of an edge to grow their own value, and then they can appreciate the additional dividends that being nice gets them.

  92. Jon Knight

    bravo. nice doesn’t mean pushover. nice is just *right* regardless of whether you’re talking business or not.

  93. Jamie Lin

    My take is being nice to people is more than just thoughtfulness and manner, it’s thinking for his/her longterm good. Because that requires understanding his/her personality, value, goals, context, etc. really well and takes time and effort, we can’t truly be nice to too many people. So for the others that we won’t be able to understand and truly help, we have to actively choose to keep a distance. So “Be Nice Or Leave” is really a great way to sum it up.

  94. Jen Bekman

    Such a mensch. Wish there were more like you, Fred.

  95. Sean Saulsbury

    I much prefer to deal with others on the terms Fred is talking about here than super aggressive negotiators. In my book, being nice means being *just* — offering terms that are fair and profitable for ALL parties. Business is and should be, after all, win/win.Of course, there often is disagreement about what is fair, and that’s where negotiation comes in. But I am very turned off by people who don’t consider my perspective or what *I* think is valuable in their negotiations with me.

  96. Manuel Molina

    conventional wisdom–> successful makes you happy, happy makes you generous.entrepreneurship & tech–> generous makes you happy, happy makes you successful.

  97. bfeld

    Way down in this thread somewhere is a debate about whether nice is overrated. There are examples of super successful entrepreneurs who are “not nice.” You can be nice and be successful. You can be “not nice” (or an asshole, or an evil bastard, or a machiavellian, self-centered sociopath) and be successful. You can be nice and fail. You can be “not nice” and fail.You get to chose HOW you want to be.

    1. Guest

      Brad, we all do choose but how does this all get talked about properly without judgment? Nice is like good – it’s a word often used with judgment while it seems to be no one’s steady state. If I am being nice it’s apparently good – but am I being nice if I am telling others how to be nice or whether they are nice or not?Nice is a way of life but it’s apparently different strokes for different folks. For some nice is more natural while others work hard at it. Amongst those being nice we have learned that some motivations for being nice are nice and some not so nice. Is nice most true when the chips are down or up? I guess it depends on the person.Then there are those who do not do nice because they are not nice, and others who do not do nice in business because they believe constant nice in business creates an image and sets an expectation that is not reliable (perhaps holding themselves to what they believe is the ultimate or thankless nice).Within the people who do nice or are nice it is then a matter of how people define it. People do nice differently therefore I must define what nice means from me and from others, while remembering that others might not be defining it the same way.How often have I been nice while others would not agree? And how many times have I thought I was nice when I in fact I knew then or later I was not? And how many times was I not nice but took credit for being nice? Is nice in life the same as nice in business?And maybe most importantly – am I willing to be nice and truly expect nothing in return? This would seem like the truest form of nice, if I am understanding nice properly.

  98. jresnicow

    Not sure if anyone has chimed in here on the art itself, so here goes. The artist is Dr. Bob. He’s a free spirit, with an instantly recognizable style, and a really good attitude about everything (as you can see in his work). His work can be seen in amazing NOLA food establishments like Elizabeth’s (Duck Waffles!) and Dat Dog (Turducken dogs!).A good friend just gifted me the same picture while in NOLA for Jazz Fest this year. It’s going up by my front door because this is how I like to operate in life and in business. Nice is always the best policy, as life is a repeated game. 🙂

  99. Denim Smith

    I live and I will die by the mantra that I only have one silver bullet to spend in my life to wrong any right I may do…. and I’m not prepared to spend it, ever. Once it’s gone it’s gone. our reputations cannot be crafted, it is formed by our actions but held by others. Trust, honesty & building character will always bring you success in its most truest form.

  100. Andrew Cunningham

    There’s a difference between being nice and being weak. Fred is not weak. Being nice though is a way of life and should be considered that at every point. Success is about decisions and how you conduct yourself, not about being a hard-nose arsehole.

  101. george

    It’s a teachable point of view…it depends on how you define success and value.

    1. Emily Merkle

      Success is mutual. Value is individually-defined, but it’s okay if sought values are not equivalent, so much as they are aligned.

  102. sachmo

    I couldn’t agree more with this post. I recently got sort of screwed at a startup where I was the first employee. Myself and the 2nd employee left. We were basically the only 2 guys that really understood the hardware. Although the CEO doesn’t realize it, he’s really actually screwed himself long term – both on this particular product and in the community down here in general.

  103. Steven Hess

    I love the principle of being nice. It can be viewed as an investment in your future, buying an annuity into the possibilities that future relationships might bring. Your reaction to “The Nice Principle” clearly indicates whether you hold 60’s management thinker Douglas McGregor’s Theory X (huge over simplification – people come to work because they have to) or Theory Y (people come to work because they want to) close to heart. And as Clayton Christensen asks ultimately how will you measure your life?

  104. Mick Stevens

    Ummm, been thinking about this. Whilst I obviously agree it’s nice to be nice, professionally speaking I prefer competence to niceness (although both is even better!). I meet a lot of people that are nice, smiley etc but when push comes to shove the majority turn out to be completely useless, by which I mean: don’t do what they say they’re going to do, don’t deliver etc. In the event that people fail to perform professionally I absolutely reserve the right to be un-nice to them, if you don’t challenge poor performance/bad practice nothing will ever change. Continuous improvement etc.I haven’t read all the comments here so if I’m repeating a point of view already expressed elsewhere (and doubtless responded to) then please accept my apologies (and be nice to me, natch!).

  105. John

    This is such a refreshing read. And @liad:disqus I hear you about the banking rhetoric. Same with the legal field. Tech is our collective future, and it’s great to have this kind of perspective underlying the whole thing. Total rising tide situation.

  106. HumanoidMe

    This is a human trait I will mimic



  108. Glen Hellman

    Nice is nice… fair is better. If given the choice, I’d take fair over nice any day.

    1. Emily Merkle

      Nice is fair.

  109. Christian Braun

    I just moved my business from England to Boulder, Colorado versus NYC or another place in the US partly because it was such a welcoming place. I have worked on the East Coast, in London, Moscow, Munich, Warsaw and other places and felt never that welcome by the business community. People here often said “give before you take” and it seems genuinely the prevailing feeling. And true to prediction I have started doing the same. So nice might cost slightly in the short-term but wins long-term (and feels so much better!).

  110. paramendra

    I am planning to go to Montauk for the first time this summer. To see what the fuss is all about. I expect to see lots of water, lots of sand, with lots of people thrown in. 😉 But World Cup takes priority. (I have known all my life what the fuss is about with the World Cup!) So it will have to be in July. 🙂

  111. Rob M

    Our company now has 2 million customers, but way back when we were scraping for seed money, an investor had an opportunity to be nice. Instead he spent the meeting looking at his Blackberry. Like every other entrepreneur, we were turned down by lots of investors in those early days, but he’s the only one I hold a grudge against.I will never forget his name, and he will have to jump extra high in order for me to do business with him in the future. If he had been nice, I’d be calling *him* the next time I’m involved with a big opportunity. All else being equal, he will literally be the last person I do business with if I have the choice. Because he chose not to be nice. Simple as that.

  112. Emily Merkle


  113. Roger Wu

    Hi Fred, my first comment here. I can’t agree with you more. I wrote a post about how I thought humility was the most important trait to an entrepreneur (well luck was, but that’s something you can’t control unfortunately), and that being nice to everyone (because that could be you) no matter who they are and treating them like human beings makes people want to go to bat for you. In case you’re interested:

    1. fredwilson

      thanks for leaving a comment. i hope you’ll do that again.

  114. Peter Kadas, MD.

    So true, especially nowadays. The World is getting smaller and smaller, life is getting longer and longer. Don’t screw people, they’ll come towards over and over…

  115. Matt Zagaja

    In politics I’ve had to meet and work with plenty of mean people. I have seen plenty of good people driven out of the field because of it. Ironically the nicest people end up being the ones having to work with the mean/difficult ones because they’re the only ones that can do it.

  116. JB

    Just strive for win-win situations.

  117. Hammer for Hire.

    Its not about being nice.Its about being a ProfessionalProfessionals listen the the client & give them the best Bang for their buck.However some clients just look for the Bang and have a bad memoryto who gave them the Service.These Clients and are nobody’s long term Clients, They come and go like the wind.Not too worry there are lots of People in the world.Just become for what you know and do it to the best of your ability.One more thing to become the best and stay the best you must always be honingyour skills because the world is full of new and better ways to get things done.So you have to always bring your A game by training and learning new skills.

  118. David Noël

    Love love love this post. Thank you for sharing.

  119. Iwein Fuld

    You can harsh, and still not screw people over. I’m assuming you know this, but it could get some emphasis in contrast to your closing sentence. Nice is not the only way to be respectable.

  120. Jim McCool

    “Never confuse kindness and weakness,” for it is the person with leverage that often simulates weakness to test whether an adversary is strong or a potential business partner’s character contains trustworthiness. Furthermore, consider kindness in business as a form of customer service… if the “customer” is not having a good time here, there are plenty of other shops they will go to and write off this the one at which they didn’t have a good time.Lastly, business is an extension of life. Do you cease being a decent human being between the hours of 9 am and 6 pm? I should hope not.

  121. Ro Gupta