(Author’s note: This story begins with the death of a friend and mentor. It’s also about something I’ve been thinking about for the past week – a rare ‘wise old man’ for the Aussie tech startup community. Please bear with me and I. Promise it’ll be worth your time.)
Last week I was on the sunny deck of a beach bar with a small group of friends, family and colleagues who passed away last week after a long battle with breast cancer.
Jenny was someone I knew from my early career because she and her husband, Tony Blakey, were the founders of a PR agency, Blakey Macdonald, who served the technology industry for a couple of years from a career in technology journalism. A technology product management career, I worked as a PR consultant at Blackie McDonald’s.
This was in 1994-95 – a very long time ago. A lot of people there were like me – people who had been working at Black’s McDonald’s for a few years came to pay their respects, because for most of us it was just a few years on average, but Jenny meant it. A big size for us.
Jenny was exceptionally professional, a competent businesswoman, generous, genuine and funny when the situation called for it. As a young member of her team, she was not difficult to love and respect.
But talking to other people who worked for her, a theme started to emerge: like me, they didn’t remember how unusual the recruiting process was (it was traditional) or what it was like to work there (it was the same for other agencies), but what stood out in everyone’s story was Blakey MacDonald. This is how Jenny and Tony treated us when we left.
They were good to us when we stopped.
You see, when you leave a company in PR (as a rookie), chances are you’re taking a more senior job at a rival outfit, or you’re leaving to set up your own rival outfit.
You can take clients with you (whether you intend to or not), you can poach your colleagues (now and in the future) and you will definitely take away something unique and clever that you learn.
So it usually ends when you leave a PR agency (or startup); Words that may be regretted later, short emails are sent with meaning that can be found between the lines, confidentiality and non-compete clauses are waved on faces, perhaps by lawyers at 20 speed. You will never want to see each other again.
Which is a big mistake, because you never know where people are going in their career.
One of the people at Jenny’s farewell was now an internationally respected pitch coach, another was the APAC Marketing Director of a huge international software company, and yet another was the CEO of a unicorn. I will be a featured contributor for Startup Daily!
Jenny was a class act. Not only did we all trust her to tell her what our future plans were, she helped many of us screen the employer we were considering accepting the offer.
When their first foreign job fell through, she put someone in and after six months, they accepted one of us.
She helped me solve some of the problems I was stuck with in designing my own one-man outfit.
She eventually introduced me to the company I wanted to rent office space from. Months later, when I was in trouble, she answered my call.
In the years that followed, we all relied on Jenny and Tony’s support. And in the years that followed, I paid off that debt as often as I could with client referrals, potential new hires, potential story opportunities that could get fired, and when people always asked me which tech PR agencies I respected, Black McDonald’s was high on my list.
Careers last for decades, and within a few decades, what matters is not what you did (or what you did), but how it made you feel.
So, here’s the gist of the story.:
At fast-growing startups, we all have people hard at work designing great onboarding experiences for new employees. Along with a t-shirt and trucker hat, you’ll get a cute gift box with some starter books, some snacks and drinks.
A motivator may have lunch off-site or with the CEO.
An efficient and fun introduction to the systems, processes and startup culture you’ve joined, all designed to reduce time-to-productivity. Fast-growing startups don’t have time to move until they find a way to add value.
Investing is very worthwhile.
So you may or may not be lucky enough to keep those new employees beyond their four- or five-year vesting period. But even if you keep hiring young people for that twice – a full decade – you’ll only keep one-fifth of their total employment.
What are you going to do?
Who will they be?
What kind of power and influence do they have?
And do you remember how you rode them after all that time? I doubt it.
But even after 27 years, they remember how you got them off the board.
They will spend years paying you back.
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