Do you horde information and do your business from your private email account like Hillary, or are you about as popular as a Trump in a lift, like Donald?
It’s almost impossible to ignore what some observers have labelled the most unedifying race for the White House yet, however hard we try. Trump’s baboonery versus Hillary’s buffoonery; the mud-slinging has been so intense, the accusations so base, the ego’s so vast and unyielding – it makes Obama look better and better with each toe-curling, accusation and counter-accusation fuelled day.
Reading the press or scrolling through our Facebook news-feed, it would be easy to believe that Adolf Hitler and the Duchess of Malfi were going bouffant-to-bouffant for the right to lead the “free world”…but let’s put the hysteria and the bizarre, seemingly inexplicable behaviour of those who like to play politics at the highest level to one side for one minute and acknowledge that what we also have here are two exceptionally canny operators; risk takers who play fast and loose with the well-being of nations simply in order to be the ones making the big decisions.
Let’s ask, what can we startup founders learn from Donald and Hillary? And yes, sadly, there is a lot to learn – both what to do, and what not to do.
We’ve all watched House of Cards and Game of Thrones and hence we all know that “all power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
Let’s put our hipster/techie founder credentials to the test – we want to save the world, we want to change the world, right? How can we do it without creating the kind of collateral damage that seems to dog Hillary and Donald everywhere they go? How can we be more like Barack, and less like his would-be replacements? Here are some things to think about.
You don’t have to be controversial or underhand to get noticed
Two words here – Barack Obama – can you remember one presidential gaffe? The guy does not court publicity, he attracts it because of who he is and what he does.
Dirty Tricks don’t work because nobody likes underhand tactics
What neither Hillary or Donald seem to understand is that mud-slinging is a poor way to publicise. It almost never works. Remember the BA “dirty tricks” campaign against Virgin Airways. If BA had simply accepted that there was another player in town and tried to up their own game instead of trying to handicap their opponent, Branson’s business would almost certainly have failed. He was struggling badly. But BA’s malicious and unnecessary hounding of Virgin, when it was brought to light, had the opposite effect, acting like a virtual guarantee that the pendulum would swing towards Branson and away from BA. How daft, not to mention embarrassing, was that?
Sometimes, if you spot your opponent’s weaknesses before they do, you just need to lend them enough rope to hang themselves. If you get angry or indignant, or try to tell people, they may interpret this as a sign that you are panicking.
Don’t tell your customers (or your rival’s customers) they are stupid!
You get the sense that all Hillary has to do to win this election is to continue to talk about politics and her vision for a better America and not get involved in a slanging match. But she took the bait and rounded on Trump’s supporters, labelling them “deplorables”. Remember the Conservative poster campaign that depicted Tony Blair with devil eyes? Or even “Project Fear”, the pro-EU camp’s attempt to scare us into voting remain. Abject failures, all of them.
Rise above the politics of fear.
Last night, during the presidential campaign Hillary quoted Michelle Obama – “when they go low, we go high!” Rise above your opponent’s dirty tricks campaigns, and the moral high ground is yours. Stoop to their level, and in your customer’s eyes, you’re just another Trump. Ouch.
You can’t share everything with your customers (or your staff) but share as much as you can!
Every founder has secrets just the same as every politician has secrets. There are undoubtedly things that Donald and Hillary would love to tell us, the public, their “user base”, but can’t. Founders are in the same boat. Their PR teams will tell them, “don’t say this, it will make your users panic”, and the founder will go to the pitch knees knocking with fear – “I’m telling them everything is perfect, but we are working through a potentially major technical hitch.” It happens, and it takes strength of character to pull the wool over your clients’ eyes because you have been reliably assured “the ends justify the means”.
Remember, Donald and Hillary have huge teams of advisors working for them – as a founder, you most likely have people whose opinions you listen to – your investors, for example. To keep everyone happy, you just have to resign yourself to the fact that your public persona is going to become a caricature of who you really are. For all of our sakes, let’s hope that’s what’s happened to Hillary and Donald.
If you lose, lose with dignity!
Things get said and done in the heat of battle that people regret after. It will be fascinating to see, once the final votes are cast, how Trump reacts, because let’s be honest, he’s going to lose. Let’s pray he loses with dignity – when asked to name one thing about Hillary he liked last night, Trump declared that Hillary “was a fighter”. Hillary said she admired Trump’s children. Ok, it ain’t a hug and a handshake, but maybe, just maybe, these two have some qualities in common.
As a founder, you probably need to accept that other, rival founders, have some admirable qualities. You have to have some to be able to lead in the first place. It’s how you use those qualities that really matters. So if you lose, don’t blame others, don’t lash out – in life we are always learning new things, things that can help us grow as people and come back stronger next time. Take rugby, for example – 30 people batter seven shades of shit out of each other for 80 minutes, then they shake hands, hug, and go out for dinner together. I have to admit it’s unlikely you will see Donald and Hillary sharing a Wagamama’s any time soon – but as a founder, the importance of accepting a set-back, blaming nobody, and starting over cannot be over-estimated.
Travis Kalanick would never have founded Uber if he hadn’t accepted his previous business had failed. Simon Cowell would never have shown his smug face on X-Factor if he hadn’t had the humility to move back in with his parents at the age of 34. You win some, you lose some. You hope you end up winning more than you lose.
It’s all you can do – Hillary, Donald, if you’re listening, remember that you are campaigning for the right to represent your people, not rule them. Founders, remember you build your products to make people’s lives better. The criteria of judgment is always the same, and its as fair as its probably ever gonna be.
So keep on hustlin’