Blog Archives

Is Tony Fadell in Nest’s Way?

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 12.05.13 AMLast week, we witnessed something fairly remarkable. A major Alphabet executive — Nest Labs CEO Tony Fadell — publicly shamed the cofounder and employees of Dropcam, the connected camera company that Nest had acquired in 2014 for $555 million.

In an article in The Information, Fadell said that he didn’t think Dropcam cofounder and CEO Greg Duffy had “earned” the right to report to him directly. Fadell also explained away an exodus of Dropcam staffers by suggesting they were subpar. “A lot of the employees were not as good as we hoped,” he told The Information. It was “a very small team and unfortunately it wasn’t a very experienced team.”

Fadell may have been reacting to comments by Duffy, who painted a highly unflattering portrait of Fadell in the same article. However, Fadell’s comments and his poor performance underscore what an ill fit Fadell is for Alphabet and why Alphabet needs new leadership at Nest.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, of course. Nest was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion in January 2014, a feat that earned Fadell plenty of accolades. Worried about competition and in awe of Fadell, who’d created the iPod as an Apple SVP, Duffy concluded that selling was his smartest play when Nest came knocking that spring.

Despite what seemed like a handsome payday for everyone involved with Dropcam, the bet soon looked like a poor one.

As we’d reported here in November 2014, not only did Duffy’s beloved VP of marketing almost immediately leave Nest over an apparent culture clash, but numerous employees we interviewed, along with scathing write-ups by former employees on Glassdoor, pointed surprisingly to trouble.

“Everything revolves around the CEO,” wrote one Glassdoor reviewer at the time. “It’s a dangerous mix of cult of personality and Stockholm syndrome. Comments like ‘[Fadell is] the next Steve Jobs are not uncommon, while people proudly say things like ‘I’m used to Tony screaming at me.’”

It wasn’t just the different management styles of Fadell and Duffy, whose organization was one-eighth the size of Nest and who was well-liked by his employees. There was suddenly an inability to get anything meaningful done. One Nest employee described to me a “huge meeting culture, to the point where anyone at the director level or up spends their entire day in meetings, many of them duplicative meetings about the same subject, over and over to the point where a lot of people have complained.”

Things remain much the same 16 months later, suggests The Information, whose report says Nest’s culture of micromanagement has more recently led the firm to plaster its offices with the phrase “Step Up” to ostensibly encourage lower-level employees to take more initiative.

More here.




The Tech IPO Whisper Wars Heat Up

chatterOn Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that GoDaddy, which provides domain-name registration and Web hosting services to millions of customers, is “preparing for an initial public offering” and that in “coming weeks [GoDaddy] plans to interview banks” to underwrite its offering. The source was “people familiar with the matter.”

For better or worse, such whisperings have now become the new normal, and we can expect to see much more of the same as a result of the JOBS Act and the changes it has brought to tech IPOs. (The JOBS Act permits companies to submit confidential draft registrations to the SEC and go public within 30 days of their acceptance.)

Before the JOBS Act, filing an S-1 was much more public. Competitors knew a company was planning to go public, and any revisions by the SEC caused costly delays that could cause a company to miss its “window” to go public.

GoDaddy was just one company that suffered through this process. In 2006, it tried to go public but later pulled its offering. Former CEO Bob Parsons, who was replaced as CEO in 2012, said at the time that he yanked the offering because he found the quiet period that came along with it “suffocating” as it prevented him for doing radio, TV, or his-then weekly Internet radio show. (The company was also losing money, according to its S-1.)

Today, the JOBS Act gives companies much more flexibility in timing their offering, and leaking their supposed IPO plans has become a big part of the process.

For now, the situation seems to be a win-win for everyone involved. Companies can test the public waters while simultaneously chumming for strategic acquirers, while reporters can feast on “scoops” that are hard to disprove.

If there’s any downside, it’s that not going public after all can be, well, awkward, says Jay Ritter, a professor at the University of Florida who studies the I.P.O. market. “One of the reasons companies like confidential filings is that if they start the process, then pull back because the market isn’t as receptive to their business model as they thought, it can be embarrassing for a company, just as it might be embarrassing for someone who broadcasts that they’ve applied for a new job and gets turned down. People like to wait until the good outcome is about to occur before they announce things.”

Conceivably, employee morale could take a hit, too, if staffers become convinced that an IPO is nearer than they thought based on press reports.

But John Fitzgibbon, founder of the research firm IPO Scoop, says the advantages far outweigh any potential downside.

“Before the Jobs Act,” says Fitzgibbon, “companies had to hang it out there and hope to God the market didn’t fall apart. But [the nearly two-year-old law] created market timing.”

Now, says Fitzgibbon, “You prime the pump, get the guns lined up and, like Bunker Hill, you don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”

Sign up for our morning missive, StrictlyVC, featuring all the venture-related news you need to start you day.




Dick Costolo’s Joke Bombs, on Twitter

Dick-Costolo-002Over the weekend, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo finally did something that millions of Twitter users have done before him: He tweeted a comment that’s attracting unwanted attention

The tweet was prompted by a New York Times report that Twitter has just one woman among its top officials. The story includes comments from academic Vivek Wadwha, who ascribed Twitter’s gender imbalance to “elite arrogance” and the “same male chauvinistic thinking” that permeates Silicon Valley. Costolo took to Twitter Friday night to call Wadwha the “Carrot Top of academic sources.”

 

Coming from anyone else, the tweet might have been mildly amusing if a bit mean-spirited — typical Twitter fare, in short. Coming from Costolo, it was a surprising misstep. Twitter is in its quiet period. Within weeks, it will be a public company. So why not just keep quiet until then?

In shooting the messenger and not addressing the message itself, Costolo also inadvertently helped feed people’s worst perceptions of Twitter, including that it’s not always a friendly place to hang out. As Josh Constine observed in a recent TechCrunch piece, many users already avoid or abandon Twitter because of its competitive undertones and the pressure they feel to be “thought leaders.”

Half a day after Costolo published his tweet, one such thought leader, the blogger-entrepreneur Anil Dash, decided to challenge him on it. Tweeting to his 477,525 followers, Dash said that he was “sorely disappointed to see @dickc respond defensively to criticisms of industry sexism. Why not just lead, as Twitter does on free speech?”

After a few defensive exchanges with Dash and others on the topic, Costolo suggested that he’s very mindful of the gender issue at Twitter, tweeting: “I *think* I have an acute understanding of the topic & host of related issues. Of course, proof is in deeds.”  (In a display of deference to Costolo that has also become de rigueur among Twitter’s most astute users, Dash “favorited” each of Costolo’s responses before responding to them.)

 

Whether there will be lingering damage from Costolo’s tweet remains to be seen. Plenty of people have lost their jobs over less, but Twitter doesn’t seem inclined to ditch its star CEO any time soon.

As for Carrot Top, a comic long known for his red hair and his use of props, no one yet knows how he feels about being dragged into the conversation. His publicity team didn’t respond to questions sent to them yesterday.

It’s worth noting that Costolo himself once tried to be a stand-up comic, an effort that led to zero job offers, as he shared during an on-stage interview in May. “It was one part of [my career] strategy,” he’d said, as the crowd erupted with laughter.

Sign up for our morning missive, StrictlyVC, featuring all the venture-related news you need to start you day.