Putting people first

When you’re working with technology every day, and when your daily work is mostly about convincing computers to do things, it’s easy to forget that success doesn’t depend on how well you interface with a computer, but with other actual human beings!

It turns out humans are everywhere. Your co-founders, employees, vendors, partners, investors, and customers — they’re all people. All the other companies you deal with? They’re entirely made up of people too! While we may joke that corporations are people — they’re not. People are people. Full stop.

People are complicated, inconsistent, quixotic, emotional creatures. They can’t be programmed like computers, and they can’t be bought and sold like equipment. So get really comfortable with this simple fact:

Ultimately your success in business will be determined by what other people think of you, your company, and your product.

What makes people really connect with a company? I don’t think you can entirely separate your opinion about a company from your opinion about the people. Good or bad. Marvel is Stan Lee. Vlambeer is Rami Ismail. Valve is Gabe Newell. Funomena is Robin Hunicke. Uber is Travis Kalanick. Tesla is Elon Musk. Microsoft is still Bill Gates, and Apple is still Steve Jobs — for me anyway.

The “face” your company puts forward into the world is going to be a human face — very likely your own. How people feel and respond to the people in and behind your company is just as important as any other aspect of putting your business out there — your brand, your vision, your values, and your products. That starts internally, with how you treat people — be they current or future employees, partners, or customers.

I spend most of my time dealing with other people — their opinions, their emotions, their talents, and their struggles. When you’re my coworker or customer, your problems become my problems. Some days this is insanely rewarding, like when I can help someone deal with a situation and they have no one else to turn to for support. And other days it’s so frustrating it makes me question every decision that led me to start a company in the first place.

It helps to know this is not a fringe case: this is an expected part of starting a company, and you signed up for it the moment you started up. Maybe like me you became an entrepreneur because of your love for computers and video games. But now that you’re in business, you’re in the business of dealing with other people.

So how does this look in practice?

I try to always remember that there’s another human being on the other end of the line. Is a customer complaining about something not working? Is a reviewer writing a mean-spirited review of your game? Is an employee complaining that there’s no more sparkling water in the fridge? Is your business partner telling you that they can’t go another month without a paycheck? Even if you strongly disagree with their point, you have to try to understand their perspective.

When people point out problems in your product, company, or management style, don’t take it personally — take it seriously. Ask yourself, why is there a complaint? How can we resolve this complaint in the short term? What can we do to avoid this type of complaint in the future? It’s insanely difficult to do, but as an owner you have to hold yourself to a higher standard than everyone else you deal with.

While you can’t fix all of the people you interact with, if you give them a fair shake, and treat them with compassion and respect, they’ll usually be able to see your point of view. And if they can’t, well you can eventually decide to not do business with them anymore.

Please pay attention to how you treat the people around you. You never know when today’s intern touching up alpha channels will be tomorrow’s VP you’re asking for money. A friendly hello today could turn into a million dollar deal tomorrow. I’ve seen it happen.

See y’all next week! Play nice!

Speaking of people, here’s a guy I know. You know, for social media.