It was 2014, and we were dangerously low on cash. We were too early to raise our Series A. The end of runway loomed, and we were barreling towards it.
I was at the end of a diligence process with an investor I admired. I had pitched his partners, he‘d done customer calls, and he was going to visit our office. The deal felt imminent.
The morning of the office visit, he called me up:
“Your customers are absolutely in love with your service, the calls were great! Unfortunately, we don’t have the conviction to move forward.
We don’t believe you’re out for blood.”
I was devastated. My co-founder and I put a tremendous amount of time and energy into scaling the business. We also put great thought and conviction into our compassionate culture. I asked myself a slew of questions:
“Am I tough enough to run this, or any business?”
“Should we drive our people into the ground to maximize productivity?”
“Are we valuing culture over growth? Is that wrong?”
Here’s the email that I wrote back to the investor a few days later (sentences blocked to preserve his privacy):
I realized that he was right. I’m not out for blood. I’m out for love.
Love means that you care about humans. And — surprise! — humans have emotions. So you make space for that.
Love means you embrace what you’re feeling — if you’re having a shit day, you’re allowed to say it. You’ll find, in fact, that naming the emotion helps you move through it quicker.
Love means that you think about the long-term sustainability of your team — instead of churning through your people, how can you make your culture champions and most passionate people thrive for the long haul? Reducing turnover costs is a real, tangible win.
Love means compassionate termination — if someone intrinsically-motivated isn’t performing, they are miserable. Sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do is let someone go to pursue their best work elsewhere.
Needless to say, it didn’t work out with the investor and I — which was for the best. But I’m grateful for his candor. That interaction forced me to make an intentional choice, instead of a quiet one tinged with shame.
And that’s why I choose to build a love company.
I have no idea if Chewse will be the massive company Uber is. But, I’m convinced that if we build a company that’s authentic and compassionate, we will create long-term value.
I’m going to write in detail about how the principles of a love company come to life (I’ve already written about Attitudes of Gratitude and Authentic Job Interviews). They won’t fit most companies, but hopefully they are a starting point for fellow founders looking to cultivate cultures of compassion.
Building a company is hard, but building one with an authentic point of view is harder. It means saying no to exceptionally talented candidates who don’t fit your culture. It means telling investors things most don’t want to hear when they stand between you and that extra 12 months of cash you so desperately need.
And, ultimately, it means knowing that it’s worth it :)