Every once in a while people fail.
Now, these personal falls can be hurtful in the privacy of their rooms but managing a company that is facing a downtime involves a lot more than self-healing.
It will require a lot more explaining to coworkers, to customers who trusted you with their money, to future customers… or even to yourself in a toilet mirror shaking your head and thinking what exactly went wrong?
Now, as business history recalls, damage control in some of these situations has been admirably good and has evolved into even more significant relations between companies and its workers and customers.
There’s no one universal cure for all the downtimes in the company that might come your way but being open about failures and mistakes seems to always do magic with customers.
Just a couple of weeks ago GitLab experienced a serious incident with one of their databases.
They’ve lost almost 6 hours of database data – issues, merge requests, users, comments, snippets, etc.
Losing this production data for a giant like GitLab was absolutely unacceptable.
And they were aware of it.
They’ve come clean to the public sharing everything from their Postmortem Doc and steps on resolving everything to putting their engineers on live stream while they were fixing the issue.
As long as living your engineers is a pretty brave step in being transparent, people showed their support all over social media.
#hugops became viral on Twitter and people were watching all the recovery of the 6-hour-data loss.
Transparency as a misconception
There are a couple of misconceptions about being transparent in your business.
More often than not, companies have seen transparency as the way to own up to some mistake or right the wrongs that have been done.
This approach, however, has proved to be shortsighted and a bad practice overall.
Being open and objective exclusively when facing downtimes will in rare occasions be enough to build trust with your customers.
Truth be told, customers will be more understanding of mistakes if previously you’ve built transparent company culture.
Be forthright with all the things you share with your customers, not just the negative ones.
The Buffer Way
Buffer has given a great example of transparent culture up to now.
In fact, Buffer has set a certain benchmark of transparency that startups who claim to build a transparent business say that they are building a company “the buffer way”.
Buffer has openly revealed their salary and equity formula of all the workers and founders. Disclosing these costs is extremely useful for startups and has given the startups the fresh perspective on how successful companies such as Buffer handle those things.
Buffer has been so open along the way that they also revealed step by step journey to raising $3.5M funding.
Besides Buffer a lot of other companies are doing it too:
- Groove HQ – You will find everything you need to know if you are selling cloud-based software products. They write about product features, investors, design, marketing, revenue, growth strategy and learning from their failures.
- Moz – Moz has grown to be a $35M company with zero sales people – ever. Rand Fishkin shares their insider story of venture funding of $18M worth as well as all the future plans and current metrics.
- Hubspot – If you are a Hubspoter or at least a marketing or a sales person, you’re well aware of their two blogs where they share in-depth insights about marketing& sales.
- Basecamp – 37 Signals – now, Basecamp has contributed immense value in startups by their open and transparent way of doing business.
There was a time when Basecamp was down for a few hours. It was in the middle of the night, US time.
The outcome was that ninety nine percent of the customers never knew about that, but they’ve decided to come clean about it. Here’s an “unexpected downtime” notice to their blog:
“We apologize for the downtime this morning — we had some database issues which caused major slowdowns and downtimes for some people. We’ve fixed the problem and are taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again…Thanks for your patience and, once again, we’re sorry for the downtime.”
- Smart passive income – share monthly income reports that have have helped a lot of entrepreneurs find out a way to adjust their budget and advance their business
- Tonetag – whose founder shared their startup journey story in a long blog post.
- Tomtunguz – announced their investments and partnerships openly to public on their blog here
- Elev.io – shared the story about increasing their trial to paid conversion from 11% – 22% overnight
- Baremetrics – this doesn’t even need more narrowing, head over to their blogand see for yourself
- Mymoneydesign – shared their way of saving money on taxes here
- Shoutmeloud – head to their newest January income report
- Jobrack – shares their HR costs and case studies from their remote job board
- Alittlesliceofthepie – share ecommerce tips and tools that helped in making money online
Is transparency preventing you from making more mistakes?
All of this being said – transparency is the way to go for most of the modern startups and online businesses.
But, can coming clean about the processes and income reports of your business keep you on the right track of making each time fewer mistakes?
We’ve interviewed some of the entrepreneurs who are running a transparent business to hear what are their thoughts on the subject.
Always set goals to work towards each month
“I started our blog series “Journey to $10,000 per month” as I was inspired by reading the journeys of other entrepreneurs. The blog has been great to help us track our progress each month. We record key stats such as revenue, traffic and social media followers.
It has been really helpful as a reminder to always set goals and gives us something to work towards each month. It’s also extra motivation to work hard and grow the business as the goals are out in public.
Another benefit has been the connections that I have made with other entrepreneurs who have read the blog and got in touch, it’s even lead to a few partnerships.
Overall, I’m not sure if it has helped us make less mistakes, but there are a lot of positive reasons to be open and transparent about your business.” Jason Slater founder of Custom Filterz
Keeping a close eye on monthly income
“I absolutely believe being transparent with all aspects of BugMuncher has helped me avoid mistakes.
Writing and publishing monthly income reports forces me to keep track of important financial and growth figures such as MRR, conversions, churn and even how much money is left in the bank.
If I didn’t share these details publicly I doubt I’d keep such a close eye on them, which I’m sure would lead to mistakes and bad decisions. I believe being transparent was a huge factor in my achieving profitability.” Matt, founder of BugMuncher
Networking Is The Key
“Creating a transparent startup is the best move I could have made as an industry “outsider”.
I am a non-technical founder, and didn’t have a pre-existing network of connections within my local startup community.
As a result I took the approach of giving my time (and knowledge I learnt along the way) freely. This allowed me to meet and develop relationships with other startups, entrepreneurs and investors who I perhaps wouldn’t have ordinarily met.
This in turn provided me with a network of people I could reach out to for advice and feedback.
Two particular instances stand out in my mind.
The first, was when I was planning the launch of the beta program for my startup Task Pigeon. By engaging with a group of ~50 people I had previously helped I got much more valuable feedback and was able to refine our messaging before going out to a wider audience.
Secondly, I have a core group of founders who I know who are one or two steps “ahead” of me.
They have bought into my journey however, read my posts and are genuinely interested in helping where they can. “ Paul Towers founder of Task Pigeon
Transparency allows outreach to influencers
“Transparency first and foremost helped validate our ideas and assumptions.
We have have obtained feedback from industry leaders who read the blog and reached out which we would never have had access to otherwise.” Chris Benjaminsen, Chris Benajminsen Blog
Research always and consult the best in the industry
“By being transparent and publishing monthly income reports, I do think that this has helped me make less mistakes.
This is because I’m much more mindful of what I’m doing, because I don’t want to give anyone incorrect advice and I also don’t want everyone to see me doing something incorrectly.
So, I research everything like crazy, consult professionals, and more when I’m unsure about a decision with my business.” Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, Making Sense Of Cents
We learnt immensely from it
“When we were starting off our blog, we had one thing in mind – transparently share our experiences working in a remote company. All our content is written for entrepreneurs and business owners in mind. We write for humans, and all the things business humans get to go through in their business endeavors.
Hiring mistakes, fears of letting employees go, troubles with organizing your work.. those are all hot topic in every entrepreneur’s life. And we’ve been through most of them throughout JobRack’s existing. If we’ve gone through it, we’ll share transparently. What were the actionable steps that helped us overcome a situation? How we dealt with it? Those are our guidelines when writing case studies.
The feedback was always supporting and positive, and very often we got to immensely learn from it. Transparency has helped us boost our productivity and stay more open in the team about how things are handled – in every part of our company.” Neil N, Jobrack
Don’t get distracted
“As an entrepreneur it’s tempting to get caught up on things that don’t really matter. I’ve even seen startups take weeks deciding what logo they should use for their MVP! As a transparent startup, we publicly reveal our revenue metrics on our blog.
The hope is to help other entrepreneurs with their journey, and hold ourselves publicly accountable so we don’t get distracted” Ed Moyse, If No Reply (ifnoreply.com)
Be swift, direct and honest
As long as we agree with Greg Sherwin, Vice President of Application Technology atCNET about this:
It may sound strange, but the best-case scenario is when the company itself reports the bad news. This is proactive and prevents your company from being put in a weakened, defensive position.
…we do believe that both – good and bad things in business should be handled with equal transparency.
Going transparent when the company is facing a downtime (and we do send #hugopshere too) is certainly a great way for a swift damage control that will prevent your company from being put into defensive position.
However, there’s no relationship that is built exclusively on putting the bad news on the table openly.
Businesses need to go transparent about the way they’re improving their business, things that they are learning on the go and things they already know a lot about.
In order to gain trust, meaningful feedback and quality advice, businesses have to build a transparent culture that is much more than a marketing trick to gain followers.
This includes a lot of time investments and honesty – but, as the practice shows it – it’s seems that, in the long run, it is worth it.