Mea Culpa

Posted on Aug 24, 2011 | 94 comments


On this blog I’m often trying to combine lessons for entrepreneurs and market commentary. Yesterday it was my turn for the lesson.

In my zeal to prove a point I often take a strong stance on an issue. I then debate the topic in the comments section and hope that we all learn from the conversation.

It’s my personality to do this.

Yesterday I pushed this passion in the wrong direction.

I have long wanted to write about FNAC (feature, not a company) because it’s part of my normal lexicon to push teams that present to me to think harder about where the economics in their industry is coming from.

I have also spent the past year talking publicly about how I didn’t believe that their were strong monetization opportunities in “group messaging” and that people offering that product would need to find other ways to monetize.  I repeatedly said, “I’m not saying anything wrong about these products, just that they will need to find adjacent ways to make money.”

Yesterday I combined these topics in post. The problem with this is that it came right on the heels of GroupMe selling its business to Skype. It somehow implied that they “weren’t a real company” in some people’s eyes. And while I tried really hard to choose my language in the post carefully to NOT imply that, the truth is that my internal compass told me that the timing was wrong on a post like this.

I received a couple of emails from my friends and colleagues vigorously defending GroupMe. In my responses I kept pointing out, “I didn’t say anything was wrong about GroupMe – I said the opposite! I said it was a great product that was well marketed.”

But the truth is that even I felt bad all day about my post. It lingered.

Then an email came in from somebody I know that made it clear to me what was wrong and what my internal compass had been trying to tell me. It said

“Whether you are right or wrong doesn’t actually matter. What matters is that this is a great team with two really hardworking founders that have always stayed positive about their competition.  There were two justified responses to their sale — either ‘Congrats’ or nothing at all.”

And that sums up perfect what I should have done.

Congrats, GroupMe team. I have always been impressed with your product and execution. I’m sorry if my post in anyway implied anything other than that. And I’m sorry that this unadulterated congrats came a day late. Mea Culpa.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    thanks, girish.

  • http://ordinarystrangeness.com/ holladown

    for sure. timing is everything.  “knickers in a KNOT”.  Twist may be a newer slang of it.  I work with two old timey British colonialists. one from the ZA and another from the JA, and they use it constantly when the ladies in the office get bent over something. The Brits keep things fun and witty for sure. Cheers!

  • Anonymous

    Odd post, Mark. 

    The email that prompted your mea culpa makes little sense. 

    Your initial view was the right one. GroupMe was not a stand-alone business. From my reading that sounds correct, and your advice to entrepreneurs shouldn’t change in that regard. 

    Whether or not one congratulates some guys who are getting rich because they’re feature has been acquired by a business now rolling in dough itself is merely a matter of courtesy and good will. 

    It can be a feature not a company, and it’s good for the guys that they sold it. These are not mutually exclusive concepts. 

    People in tech have been making money selling half-baked apps for a good while now. It’s the whole basis of a voguish mindset. Get bought by Google, Facebook, Twitter, or someone else that’s big.

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    That clears up the rationale for me, as I didn’t immediately see the issue. You have an important message, but timing was off.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/rajatsuri Anonymous

    No need to apologize really, your point was pretty clear in the original post. It seems like it was a response to a tweet that was trying to make you eat your words… pretty legit.  Don’t go self-censoring yourself all of a sudden…that your VC side talking , not your founder side ;)

    Don’t agree with your original point. Several very narrow ‘features’ like Dropbox can be highly profitable and companies in their own right. I wonder how many people thought Web Search at some point was a feature, until Google figured out how to monetize it?

  • http://www.azteria.com Lloyd Fassett

    I read your blog because of your honesty, and backtracking on your opinion because it’s not apropos is the wrong direction.  The email reference that ‘no response or congradulation’ is just inauthentic idle chat that makes for common accepted behavior in a group. While being in the group is something to heed, if you want to fund revolutionaries, don’t be afraid to have an original opinion and to throw it out there.  You could use different words, sure and I could wear a tie, but saying that saying nothing or congratulations I can not get from a lot of other VC blogs.

    I also happen to agree with you though on the thesis.  If you want to do something significant, you have to change the underlying economics.  Maybe GroupMe (or Groupon) can get there from where they are, but they aren’t there now.  GoupMe had a good financial outcome, but as an investor, I’d think it could have been a crap shoot if the amount invested was very much.

  • http://twitter.com/Melinkim Melinda Kim

    A mistake we can all learn from.  Definitely not a hard mistake to make.  Thanks for posting and making it okay to apologize.

  • http://twitter.com/to2 Trevor Owens

    Cheers to one of the most self-disciplined and principled people I know. Your intentions were good, but sometimes good intentions back fire. Agree with your perspective on this one. I share some blame as the instigator, so I apologize to the GroupMe guys as well – didn’t mean to be anything but positive about the recent events and they’ve done a huge service for NYC.

  • http://joeyevoli.com Joe Yevoli

    Sounds good. Should have lots to talk about by then.

  • http://twitter.com/newmanea Eric Newman

    That makes sense.  Thanks for clearing that up.  The GroupMe team should certainly be celebrating a huge accomplishment, no doubt.  The point on FNAC still remains though.

  • http://blog.ideatransplant.com Jan Schultink

    No need to apologize, the comment discussion reflects your nuanced perspective about the whole thing.

  • Vladimir Plavsic

    IMO GroupMe was way overvalued, but hey thats what inpatient big companys do

    Just smack that 8 figure number and buy it asap.

    Anyways, i got a product going.. that i would not even sell for 1 billion

    One thing related with my product:
     Bet on Expedia/Travelocity bankruptcy, and all the major agencies for that matter

  • Henry Fawell

    I read your first post and it struck me as on point. However, the public reaction is a great reminder of the old saying: “It’s not what you say; it’s what people hear.” 

  • http://twitter.com/MikePmalai Mike Pmalai

    I hope today’s TWIVC is live. You could spend the whole episode on FNAC, M&A, Flips, etc. Great stuff. Apologies are not necessary. FNACs get acquired all the time.

    Personally, the most interesting part of all this is Skype is buying GroupMe in the middle of their MSFT deal. Not something you see everyday.

  • http://jlscribbles.com jlscribbles

    Echoing the sentiment here, an apology doesn’t seem necessary. I thought you made your point clear and was in no way insulting. I get it that people may feel the timing was off.

    Nonetheless, as an entrepreneur, I very much appreciate the FNAC post. I *want* to understand the nuances in the tech startup world and make my decisions on for my own venture.

    Thanks for communicating your thoughts and feelings. Please keep them coming :)

  • http://about.me/humphrey HumphreyPL

    I agree with Tom and I have to say it is at these exact points in time when a business which might have limited scope to grow gets acquired and hits the news that you almost need to take a step back and think this is the exception rather than the rule. Entreprenuers should really think about where the business can progress in the future no matter how great the founders are. Teams are so important but misguided time and effort can get the best of us.

    I guess maybe its is a PR issue since you are a celebrity but really highlighting how people think about their business is going to save a lot of readers a lot of time and money while one blog post isn’t going to make a dent in the GroupMe founders wallets.

  • Anonymous

    JLM – as always, your grip on the nuances is firm.

    I agree, no need to apologize but the apology is the right call.

    I’m skipping over the whole Speedo thing.

  • Anonymous

    Only one place in the world where they say “fair play to ya” and it is a damn good place.

    A Brennan by blood from the Cty Cork

  • Anonymous

    On second thought, perhaps a CFS would be in order?

    While a good BBQ and beer is always in order amongst friends, a CFS is a mark of respect or a badge of honor and acceptance as a kindred spirit sort of like if the Queen of England were to attend SXSW as say, a presenter.

    So BBQ for sure and maybe a CFS?

  • Wschroter

    You’re not the first person to post a blog post with bad timing that he regretted, Suster.

  • http://www.closetgroupy.com Kelly James

    Or a rich mom ;)

  • SD

    Yesterday was the best day to make your post because it was a teachable moment for your pov on an ongoing debate/ discussion. You are a VC, not a cheerleader. Anyone implying that a well placed analysis lacks “decorum” is misguided.

  • Marrik1

    You have no need to apologize. The content of the post was about FNAC not GroupMe. All I took away from the GroupMe comments was that they were well managed and promoted. If we all spent more time making sure that businesses were not only viable but also well managed and promoted the products we produce would be better for the market. Keep the info coming.

  • http://hirethoughts.blogspot.com Donna Brewington White

    I love this new thing you are doing with photos in your comments.  Well played. 

  • http://hirethoughts.blogspot.com Donna Brewington White

    An occasional “Mea Culpa” is good for the soul.  

    And who knows, perhaps having “gone on record” with the previous post may be of value in retrospect some day.

  • http://steamcatapult.com/ Dave Pinsen

    “I call bull on the “congrats or nothing at all” mentality.”

    Agreed on that. I don’t know enough about Group Me to have an opinion about that business one way or the other, but I’ve seen plenty of fawning on Twitter (and in the tech/business press) over other start-ups that seem like, at worst, pretty stupid ideas, and, at best, ventures that have yet to prove themselves.

    Sometimes it seems like people are suspending criticism either to maintain access to sources (in the case of journos) or out of fear of spiteful reciprocity (in the case of entrepreneurs).

  • http://dissertationtoday.com/writing/uncategorized/the-dissertation-writing-process dissertation writing

    very cool post! thansk a lot!!!!!!!!

  • http://twitter.com/steviemccallum steviemccallum

    Apologies in the press and on blogosphere usually come buried somewhere at the bottom of a bland page, under a nothing story where nobody will see or notice (if indeed an apology is even issued).

    A separate blog post is an admirable, wide reaching gesture of apology.  Good work Mark.

    “There are no mistakes – only lessons” – chinese proverb (apparently)

  • Vincent van der Lubbe

    I agree with most that the mea culpa was not necessary for me. It is always refreshing to hear a somewhat different opinion and you made it clear (to me) that you greatly value the founders and their work. But that is for you to decide if you and some other readers and friends of yours feel that way. In the end, you want to make sure the “community” appreciates what you do and if that takes a mea culpa in this case, fine. I appreciate your blog for its well opinionated pieces from which I learn.

    What I find more difficult is the fine balance between writing a blog post on a certain industry and promoting certain investments (companies and its people)  your company did in that space. Especially since I have learned to trust many of your judgements. Here I find it much harder to distinguish between the “objective” view and the “interested” one. I personally would welcome here more arguments against the “own” case or some other “voices” which differ from yours. But that is also for you to decide.

    Please remove my comment if this is inappropriate here or if I seem to critical on a blog which I enjoy reading and value the time and hard work you put into it to make it so worthwhile.

  • Dave W Baldwin

    Guess you’re right regarding timing.  I still can’t see what was wrong with the last post.

    Smart move to do the mea culpa and move on so that ‘GroupMe’ or ‘Not To GroupMe’ doesn’t become an Apple is everything scenario.

  • http://profiles.google.com/higheredcio Jerry Bishop

    I understand having done similar things myself. You mea culpa is perfect -with one caveat. The quote you shared from the email you received has a major flaw. The fact that the founders are hard working and that there is a great team is what is irrelevant with regards to your original post. Lots of very nice hard working people have been responsible for colossal failures including those from great ideas that just couldn’t make any money. In the end you have to ring the cash register.

  • http://kwIQ.eu James Ferguson

    I liked this post – doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons is what we are all trying to do. It is encouraging when those that have done well whether in industry, on-line or in the general media set an example, show a little humility and give a moral compass to more impressionable people.  Might is not always right, but holding your hand up to “cherry-tree cutting” incidents always makes you mightier yet!

  • Anonymous

    this is one reason you are so well liked.  always the gentleman and a class act.

  • Jebb Dykstra

    Mark – everyone loves leaders who acknowledge mistakes. even if they are minor mistakes like this. it makes a superstar like you real…

  • http://jbdcolley.com John Colley

    Mark, very gracious of you!
    I would like to add that I enjoy your forthright style and appreciate that you always have a “View” I continue to listen to the TWIVC podcast regularly and will stay subscribed!
    Just for the record, please allow me to add my Congratulations to the GroupMe team – getting a great exit is not easy!
    best regards
    John

  • http://byJess.net Jess Bachman

    Lesson #2:  Mea Cuplas are hugely popular! Mark you should do more of them!

  • http://pivotpointsolutions.net/ andy_mcf

    Thanks for seizing the high road when the easy road would have been to say nothing at all.  An honest apology goes a long way.  http://bit.ly/c8XNwx 

  • DaveE

    As a CEO of a deep technology play, I appreciate the timing of your FNAC post.  GroupMe’s acquisition was the perfect opportunity to draw attention to the topic.  They deserve congratulations but it is probably much more important for new entrepreneurs to understand FNAC.  If you had simply congratulated GroupMe – you would have been reinforcing that model.  The problem I see with FNAC is the noise in the funding community and the marketplace – they drown out real technology innovation and eat up available talent.  Probably not good for new entrepreneurs to think building a company is as simple as building a cool web app in a few days.  I think your original post reinforced for me that you are someone I’d want looking at my company.  

  • http://davidfishman.tumblr.com/ David Fishman

    What I have learned …. and you have emphasized over and over.  It’s about the team.  Yes a congrats. is definitely in order.

  • http://twitter.com/ModifyWatches Aaron Schwartz

    Per usual I woke up and found an article by you. And I loved this (better: learned as much from this) as I did from your GroupMe article. Thanks for sharing your thought process, I think it’ll make me better as a friend as much as as a CEO

  • http://www.eqentia.com William Mougayar

    As a VC, I think it’s more important to be right with your investments than with your blog opinions.

  • http://twitter.com/BrowseMob Browsemob

    It’s probably more indicative of your personality than anything else. You don’t want to be misunderstood, nor do you want to trivialize the accomplishments of a clearly successful team and venture.

    As an startup founder, I constantly remind myself of what my goals and obligations/responsibilities are.  When asked, “Do you want to be rich or do you want to be King?” The right answer is rich, but the heart pulls you towards King regardless.  

    In the last few years, I’ve seen a lot of FNAC.  Mobile clients to access social networks, link shortening, check-ins, group text, Q and A, instant messaging,  etc.  More often than not, startups prove there is a market and a gorilla either buys, builds or competition floods in and turns the once premium feature into a freebee.  They don’t all die, but most of them do.  I’m still shocked that FB dropped check-ins and killed QA.  But, back to your point, GroupMe could have went either way and selling was a win.  

    There’s nothing wrong with being Omniture.  I’m totally jealous of GroupMe (congratz to them).  I read your post as a teaching moment.  Timing is everything and no matter how much success you achieve, there is always risk.  And, it’s better to be rich than to be King. 

  • http://round-dining-room-tables.blogspot.com Perdanalucky

    really inspired story. Good work

  • Michael

    isn’t it great to to have readers who care and to learn from those you teach!