Anonymous is a Coward

I don’t mind criticism when it is private and communicated with a motivation to help. In fact, I’ve been very grateful in my life for harsh private advice that helped me change my course.

I know I have a ton of weaknesses. That’s why I try to learn so much and work so hard. And I’ve got a long ways to go.

But anonymous public criticism, or behind the back complaining, is both cowardly and unproductive. I am not sure if it makes the critic feel good inside, or feel smarter or better than the person they are tearing down. I certainly don’t understand it or like it.

The other day I blogged about talking with your customers. I love talking with customers and am doing a lot to get feedback from dozens of LDS Media customers, where I am currently CEO.

Someone posted this comment (pretending they were Dan Taggart, my friend and business partner):

Try making a profit for once in your life. Look in the mirror and see how scattered you are.

Most anonymous criticism is completely uninformed. Is this critic trying to say I’ve never started or run a profitable company? This is absurd. (The scattered part I plead guilty to. That is what you do in an incubator. You try a ton of things and see what works and then do more of that.)

The worst anonymous public comment ever made about me (maybe there have been a lot worse ones in private!) was this post to f—company back on Dec 26, 2000 just days before it became public that my brother Curt was going to leave the company (he had been serving as Chairman). This must have been posted by an investor or insiders, because the Chairman change was not yet public. Here was the post:

re: Thoughts on your founders? Dec 26 2000 11:03AM EST

The founders of MyFamily.com are Curt Allen, Dan Taggart, and Paul Allen (not to be confused with Microsoft’s Paul Allen). Curt and Paul are brothers.

Curt Allen has the most business sense of the three. As of this writing, he has been asked to step down as Chairman by the MyFamily Board . . . . He used to be Chairman & CEO of Folio. Folio was built by Curt’s father and turned over to Curt to run before being sold to OpenMarket. Further back in his professional career he worked for Hewlett Packard. . . .
His exit as Chairman in December 2000 will essentially end his influence over the day to day operations of MyFamily.com Inc. Look for Curt to resurface not at MyFamily’s potential offshoot, but at another Utah software startup.

Dan Taggart is currently on the board but is no longer affiliated with MyFamily.com in an managerial capacity. He was the VP over Ancestry when he left the company 1 year ago. Prior to MyFamily he was President of Infobases, a religious CD manufacturer with strong ties to the Mormon church. Both at Infobases and Ancestry his success was strongly derived from the Mormon economic base: an economic base that is small, but is strongly supportive of products that focus on the theological standards of Mormonism (Ancestry-Genealogy, InfoBases-Mormon Doctrine).

Dan is trying to erect his own company that will help Internet start-ups with their business cases. . . .

Paul Allen is still with MyFamily.com as the VP over the MyFamily website. He has made a living off the success of Dan Taggart and Curt Allen. He formerly worked at Folio with Curt and at Infobases with Dan. The positions he held at both companies were created especially for Paul. Paul is affectionally called “Corky” by some external investors. This is a reference to the character played by the mentally impaired actor Chris Burke on ABC’s “Life Goes On” television series. This is a fitting reference for those who have met Paul. He is key player on the “MyFamily show”, but is embarrassingly inept at putting cohesive sentences together in front of his audience and is only affiliated with MyFamily because of his family connections (not his skills). He is pulling down a hefty salary for someone of his qualifications and limited capacity. Expect Paul to exit soon since both Curt and Dan are no longer working at MyFamily. He will presumably pop-up at either Dan or Curt’s start-up companies.

I’ve deleted the worst things said about Curt and Dan, but I feel at liberty to include word for word what was said about me.

This was certainly a kick in the face at a time when the company I founded was being taken over by outside investors and the management they had chosen, as well as some new management from Third Age Media, a company that MyFamily acquired in November 2000.

Many facts in the post are completely wrong. My father didn’t start Folio. Curt did. Dan and I started Infobases and Ancestry, so my job wasn’t given to me because of my family connections. When Dan was President of Infobases, I was CEO. (We actually flipped a coin back in 1990 or 1991 to see who would get which title.)

I continue to create my own companies and my own positions at those companies.

But maybe some of the post was accurate.

My high school counsellor told me I was “inarticulate” after my Sterling Scholars interview and I missed out on getting the Spencer W. Kimball scholarship (I was one of 24 finalists in 1983) at BYU for the same reason. My interviews were lousy.

I am sure I was nervous and inarticulate in some board meetings, so somebody really latched onto this and had some fun with it, at my expense and at the expense of Chris Burke, who is a wonderful person with an amazing story.

There were only a very few people who had insider information who could have posted this insulting comment, and I think I know who did it.

Things like this in the harsh business world cause me to repeat to myself the words of a popular song, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down.” That is my business theme song.

My advice to everyone is this: don’t believe anonymous public criticism. If a person is a coward, they are also probably a liar, and are tearing someone else down to gain some personal advantage. Never trust anonymous.

P.S. If you want to say some nice things about my improving teaching, speaking, and presentation skills, I would appreciate it, because I have been practicing a lot. 🙂

(Note: I have not been associated with MyFamily.com since February 2002 as an officer or director. So my opinions are personal.)

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27 Comments

  1. Your piece here is one of the most honest posts I’ve ever read. It takes a lot to post your critic’s comments regardless of their integrity, and it obviously shows “anonymous” your willingness to accept substantiated criticism and to continually learn.

  2. Trent

    Paul, you are a lot more patient than I am. Since I am honest about who I am in my blog, I expect the same of my commenters. I have a very itchy delete finger, which some people would say isn’t good. Hey, I just figure if I am expected to be forthright then the same should be said of my comment posters.

    And on the speaking area, I personally haven’t noticed it with you one way or the other. I tend not to notice those things very much, as it is never a good way to judge a person or his skills. I remember a recent President of the United States that I very much disliked that is very eloquent so everyone thinks he is so intelligent and sharp. Very often the “upper crust” of society bases everything on the ability to be an orator which is just silly. All I know, is that speaking words is a lot easier than doing them.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. Anonymous

    Paul, I agree completely with your assessment and agree associating anonymous attacks with cowardice. I wish people were more honest in their criticisms. Further, anonymous criticism typically reveals some level of ignorance, either in their form as ad hominem attacks or in their base in poor information. All such attacks are made out of spike and show no charity or respect for others–the actions aren’t “Christian” to use an antiquated expression I’m sure you appreciate.

    One of the principles I have been able to learn from you over the years is the importance of voicing concerns and reservations. Anonymous or back-room conversations about others are typically driven by a lack of knowledge and respect.

    I believe that the value of a good friendship is partly derived from fair and honest assessments and gentle correction from friends who have a sincere interest in helping you grow and become the person you are trying to become. You’ve always been an excellent example of that in your dealings with others. . . .

    And let me add that you have become more focused and powerful in your communication style and ability over the years. Maybe there’s even hope for me. At least you’ve given me the courage to dream 🙂

    Finally, I’ve also found the converse of this principle to be true . . . that acts of love and friendship are often more powerful and inspiring when done anonymously.

    Warm Regards,
    Your Friend

  4. I remember going to a lecture to hear Paul speak and walking away with a list of things that I wanted to do and change about my own operations and myself. I have since sought out every opportunity to hear Paul speak and have come away every time with a new list. I never noticed any problems with his articulation because I was too busy trying to write down all of the content that was being delivered and understand the principles behind that content. It’s funny to think that both I and this anonymous commenter left Paul trying to make ourselves better but his application was through the belittlement of others. I hope it is obvious that this would be a reflection on the character of the one applying the desire to be better rather than the character of the one bestowing the information.

  5. I had the privilege of being one of your students at BYU. I remember the first day of class was kind of intimidating; so many students with so much knowledge about internet marketing. I certainly felt out of place. But then, you started to teach, and your knowledge was filled with passion, and your passion became my passion, and your teachings changed my life. Someone once said that we think of the effective teachers we have had over the years with a sense of recognition, but those who have touched our humanity we remember with a deep sense of gratitude. I am grateful for your teachings, your example, and your inspiration. Thank you Paul.

  6. Paul, I agree. I would not trust any “anonymous public criticism.” They are likely unhappy about something, and are afraid of public exposure. I wouldn’t worry about it, true friends are not afraid to tell you something.

  7. Interesting, I just posted yesterday on my blog about something similar happening, i.e. someone impersonating a former business partner of mine and bad-mouthing me in an attempt to drive a wedge between me and my former business partner. It took several months for me to be reconciled with my former partner because it took that long before I said anything to him about it, at which point I found out that it wasn’t him at all bad-mouthing me.

    In a separate but topically-related incident, someone who was offended by something I had done (or rather in this case, not done) confronted me directly about the matter, and it turned out to be nothing but a misunderstanding.

    All in all, I’ve found it’s better to confront people directly about things rather than trying to go around their back to get things done. And certainly spreading rumors and/or outright lies about somebody does nothing good for anyone.

  8. When criticized, I often think of what Truman Madsen said about Joseph Smith. Paul, I think you have done a great job with not just this part:

    “One of the great qualities of the Prophet Joseph Smith, not always characteristic of others, is that when he was wrong he acknowledged it. The Lord rebuked him several times. Those revelations are published alongside the revelations in which he is given promises and blessings.”

    But also with this part:

    “And when others found fault with him, instead of confrontation, putting all the blame on them, the spirit of his counsel to himself … was otherwise: ‘Look deeper, Brother, and see if maybe there is a kernel of truth in what they are saying.’ That, I suggest, shows wisdom.”

    You found whatever kernels of truth were there and internalized them, and the rest can be let go because it says more about the criticizer than it does about the criticized.

    And it’s good to clarify what the kernels are and are not, so the people who don’t know you well aren’t left to wonder. =)

    (Source above: Truman G. Madsen, _Joseph Smith the Prophet_, Bookcraft, 94-95.)

  9. Paul:
    I have to say after being around many business/entrepreneurial types. I consider you to be one of the best assets that this state has. You give back a lot more than you take. Plus (as I have been told by those who have done deals with you i.e.Judd, Brock) you are the most honest and fair person to deal with.
    THANKS!

  10. Anonymous

    Paul – I used to work for you. You hired me right out of BYU to join your “Fast” growing company.
    I think there were about 15 of us there and most being recent college grads. You held a company meeting at
    6 am one morning about 1 month after I was hired. You were excited to tell us that you were going to California
    to open 2-3 new offices becasue the company was growing so fast. Everyone was excited. You even asked us to
    think about ptentially moving to be leaders in the new offices. A week later, you fired 30% of the company. Well,
    you had others fire us while you were in California at Disneyland with your family. There were no new offices, the
    company was not growing, in fact you had just lost 3 clients and had to get rid of 30% of the employees to
    stay aflout. You lied to us, and you went to California like a coward so that you wouldn’t have to do the firing. You knew there were no new offices and you new you were firing people when you held the meeting. It was all a lie. Your VP admitted the same to
    one of the people let go.

    Now you want to rip on people that criticize? Do you have the courage to leave an honest post like this up? Are you afraid
    people will learn the truth about you? You burn bridges everywhere you go. You read books and then preach the priciples like they are your own.
    You are a self proclained Internet expert and entrepreneur yet you can never stay with anything long enough to make it work.

    I have moved on. I have a great job with a great company. Which by the way, is the same company that fired you in 2002. Of
    course you claim that you left. You were asked to leave. You almost single handidly drove the company out of business with your
    “scattered” ideas and purchases. Only The billionaire Sorensen was able to save it. At least this is what everone here says.

    There is a reason comments like the “Anonymous” shareholder posted are made. It’s true. If you are going to promote yourself
    and put yourself in the public, then expect criticism. Or even better yet, try being honest for once and you will
    stop making enemies. I don’t hate you, I feel sorry for you and all the people you have flattered into following you and
    working for you. They will no doubt come to realize what i and many thousands before me learned. Don’t trust Paul Allen.

  11. I approved the Anonymous post warning everyone not to trust me, but I’m not sure why. The comments about my exit from MyFamily.com are as inaccurate as the part about me lying to the staff at 10x Marketing. (Tom Stockham, Craig Sherman, and Jeff Weber at MyFamily can verify that I was offered a promotion if I would stay for two more years, and that I was never fired.) It amazes me that this individual believes what he is saying.

    At the same time, the “kernel of truth” comment earlier makes me think. I have always wished to apologize to the people who have been laid off from my companies, from Infobases to MyFamily.com, and to 10x Marketing and beyond.

    That is the worst part of business for me. I know that many of these layoffs, especially at Infobases, were a direct result of my own inexperience. I was a Russian major in college, and knew nothing about business when Dan Taggart and I started our first company. We had annual layoffs, as it were, because we didn’t know how to forecast our sales.

    In the 1990s I saw the play “Gadianton” at BYU and it really made me think. I believe it has recently been published. It is a powerful play about greed in the modern corporate world — sacrificing others so you can get rich.

    I’m glad that God will be my judge — not Anonymous.

    His version of the story is completely wrong. I’ve just been re-reading the details of 2002 at 10x Marketing, and how we almost landed a $20,000 per month contract with Sonicblue (where former MyFamily CEO Greg Ballard was running the company) and we almost therefore opened an office in California. But Sonicblue changed their personnel just before we signed a deal, and we did lose other clients, so our plans changed and we did have some layoffs.

    But I know that I have never laid anyone off for the purpose of getting rich and I have never lied in a company meeting so that other people could do the dirty work for me.

    I have changed in one very significant way in the last few years and I’ve written and blogged about it before. The book “Love is the Killer App” changed my life. For the first time in business I started realizing that the people I work with are more important than the “mission of the company.” Too many times in my early career I was more focused on sales and product development and statistics and results than I was on the people that I worked with every day. I thought people were expendable. And so I didn’t spend the energy that I should have developing relationships.

    After reading this book I realized how many missed opportunities I had to make friends with people that I worked with but didn’t take them.

    And I can think of quite a few people that I worked with over the years that I didn’t show proper respect to. I’ve often wanted to apologize to them.

    So I guess, after getting slammed by Anonymous yet again, it’s a good time to tell everyone that hasn’t had a good experience working with me that I’m sorry, and that I’ve really tried hard to do better and to follow the “Love is the Killer App” way, and it has made a difference.

    I hope Anonymous will email me so we can have a private conversation soon. I’ll be happy to share with him all of my private email correspondence and journal notes around the 10x Marketing events so that he can know what really happened and stop judging so wrongly. Because how you judge others, you will be judged.

  12. I wish I had a place where people who didn’t like me would lay it all out… 🙂 I was the victim of a rumor mill a few years ago in my singles ward, as have many of us been, and I’m still a little sheepish when I see anyone from that era. Likewise am I sheepish with everyone I’ve ever “broken up with,” some ex-business partners, some ex-roommates, the scores of people I’ve dreamed “at” and then had to watch as my company du jour decided not to keep its promises to them… I think we all have fears that someday in politics or church leadership someone will appear to tell the half of the story I didn’t know about or don’t remember. So in that regard I think many of us dream of hate mail: I look forward to the day when I’m famous enough in business or otherwise that someone I’ve hurt will confront me. Then we can heal together and move on.

  13. For the last several months I’ve worked very closely with Paul and have had a chance observe him in a wide variety of situations. In that time, we’ve experienced highs and lows and excitement and frustration with situations, each other, business directions, expectations and failures. Through it all I have found Paul to be the most honest, open and humble person Iâ

  14. As Paul’s sister, I have a pretty clear picture of his faults and his abilities. I have worked for Paul at Infobases, 10x Marketing, as well as many contract jobs. I’ve even attended his Internet Marketing class at BYU. As I have read some of the criticizing posts, my heart has been saddened by the venom spewed upon the pages. It has been evident that the people who write nasty things are just showing what is inside of themselves. I have never heard Paul critize or tear anyone down in any way.

    He has been an entrepreneur even as a young man when he would put my younger brother and myself in competitions to “win points” by racing to get him a sandwich. We loved doing it. He encouraged us and made us feel like winners even when one of us came in second. I still am looking forward to collecting on all of those “points” I won.

    Paul is truly one of the most brilliant people I know. I love talking to him because each time I do, I come away wanting to be a better person, having tons of new business ideas, wanting to read another recommended book, wanting to learn more, do more, be more. He is inspiring and kind and willing to share his knowledge with anyone. As a business owner myself I am amazed at how Paul is willing to help people even when he gets nothing from the exchange himself. (He learned that from my Dad who has given away more than most people will ever have in their life time.)

    So, I would like to speak to “anonymous” — I recognize your perceptions are your reality. You truly to feel you have in some way been injured by Paul. If you could see his intentions, his heart, his motivations, and realize that in no way, never in his life, would Paul ever do anything to lie, cheat, steal or hurt anyone. I would hope that you would be willing to see things from another perspective. And to the really mean “Corky” comments I just shake my head — again and again — there is no real way to reply to someone who is just making up garbage.

    Paul — I also reiterate my feelings about your marketing class — It has been the most helpful, most informative, most beneficial and valuable class I have ever had in my college career. I’m typing up my notes to help me in my new business venture — so thank you again for your inspiration and knowledge! I can’t wait to pick your brain again. 🙂

  15. I worked for 2 of Paul’s companies, taken a class from him, and read his blog. He’s one of those rare true optimists. He also has guts to try things (risk) and learn from both the success and the failure.

    I’m stunned that after this post, the same person does it AGAIN. Amazing. You’d think this time he’d post his name!! Annonymous says he has moved on and is successful — so why the need to put Paul down in public? He publicly apologized in return. Forgive and let go. As others have written, and I’ve seen, the good in Paul far outweighs any of his faults.

    Janet

  16. Micheal Green

    I went to a break-out session several years ago that you taught. I thought you were quite articulate and well spoken.

  17. Bart Gibby

    To: Anonymous Says: Posted on March 24th, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    I too have worked for Paul Allen, I have gone through various emotions while working for him, loyalty, frustration, anger, amazement, loneliness, and doubt.

    The fact is at one time I thought, Paul sucks, he lied to me about how search engines work and how I can make money on the internet.

    But the fact was I was blaming him for work I had not done, did you do all the work you could have for him? Were you so busy trying to make money for him that you actually have the right to say he lied to you?

    After I realized this I said to my self Paul has not lied to me, I have lied to my self. I told my self wow this will be easy!!! Well it wasnâ

  18. b n beaufort

    From an entirely outsider perspective, looks like disgruntled former employees are exercising their disappointment.

    That said, a disconnect for me between the “open and honest” rhetoric is the incontestable fact that 10x Marketing was sold in summer 2005 to Vista.com (aka Innuity).

    There may have been complicating quiet period or strategic needs that prohibited acknowledgement of the sale, but now that the Innuity merger and 2005 10k documents are in the SEC public record, why is 10X still referred to as an Infobase property?

  19. Lee Richan

    One turn-of-the century leader’s employee made a
    million-dollar account mistake. “Where are you going?”
    asked the leader to the slump-shouldered man. “Aren’t you
    firing me?” he asked. “Why would I fire you? I just paid a
    million dollars to train you!” came the reply.

    Paul writes he rejects any idea that employees are
    disposable. Although he has done nothing negative toward
    me, his works illustrate (perhaps as a typical American)
    the way many of us flubbed our early careers.

    In business, family, and all other realms, people ARE
    paramount. They ARE your company’s face, hands, and feet.
    You can’t cut them off without hobbling your purposes,
    too.

    I learned the lesson working in Japan over two decades,
    when my company, Omron Electronics, experienced extremely
    hard times in the 1980s. Sales were over US$1Billion, but
    profit margins ranged from 1% to 3% for many
    heart-stopping quarters.

    But President Yoshio and Chairman Kazuma Tateishi stated
    ALL would stay– workers are as family. As the company
    fared, so would all.

    So I became part of that astounding show of support.

    When 25,000+ workers in 40 factories around the world ‘put
    their shoulders to the wheel’ with voluntary overtime,
    extra-mile service, and even foregone paychecks, Omron
    prospered (becoming the 10th to 15th largest company in
    Japan). We invested our scant pay back into company
    stock– gladly– to support the leaders who cared for us.

    Smirk all you like, but we felt loved. Times were rough
    but no one was cut. And so everyone worked smarter AND
    harder, and results arrived.

    For those mis-trained in western ways of “READY! FIRE!
    AIM!” –and then try to cover our errors by faulty
    tweeking of personnel, the lesson is this: “Human
    Resources” isn’t a euphemism. It’s a concise success
    principle in every aspect of life.

    We have in our midst a special man who has been trained
    through his million-dollar mistakes… interpersonally, as
    well as financially.

    Our society has paid a good price to train him. His best
    and most seasoned years are yet to come.

    Give him space to grow.

    Lee Richan
    Salem, Utah

  20. Marshall Burtcher

    Wow. That is incredible negative feedback. I’ve had my fair share of such, but the anonimity is chilling. Cowardess is a symptom of lack-of-integrity disease. I’ve found some are jealous of one’s skillset or accomplishment, as resort to guerilla character asassination.

    Also, thanks for such an open post. It is real life that needs to be captured and conveyed. This helps us all feel a little better about critisism and the negative feedback that comes down the pipe. Why? Becuase we know we’re not alone!

  21. Russell Page

    I have never met you Paul, and I have also never heard anything but good about you. When people I know who have been around you have nothing but good things to say about you . . . that says enough for me.

  22. jordy

    It’s hard to be articulate when there’s so much to cover. 🙂 We don’t hold that against you. In fact, it’s quite enjoyable to hear you speak because there is so much that can be gleaned. It’s part of what makes you truly inspirational.

    With such a dynamic leader with so many good ideas, I have worried about Provo Labs getting too scattered because I beleive there is something to be said (stratigically) about picking a few things and doing them well. I think yesterday’s meeting went a long way to addressing this issue, however. I like your idea of picking 2 companies we want to make work and focusing on them. If we can do this I really see a lot of potential.

    As for negative Anonymous posts, I couldn’t agree with you more. If someone’s got something to say, they should say it. But if they want credibility, they should put their names on it.

  23. Roger Andrus

    Paul is one of the most gifted entrepreneurial talents around!
    I feel lucky to just to read his blog and learn.

  24. Chris Sandberg

    Paul is one of the most inspirational speakers I have ever met. He has so much knowledge too share and is very sincere when he speaks. Every time I hear him speak I come away with a new feeling of empowerment because of the new knowledge I have gained and Paul’s optimistic manner in delivering his message. I have learned so much from Paul that has helped and will help me greatly. I am grateful for the chance I have had to know him. Paul is an prime example of what Tim Sanders calls a â

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