What to do with good news and bad news

Last week I sent an email to the investors in World Vital Records with a bunch of good news. We had a record sales week. We are signing more partnerships. Our marketing programs are gaining momentum. Our content collection is growing fast. One of them emailed back with a question: how are our Facebook apps doing?

I hadn’t addressed our Facebook apps in my investor email, because it is not yet one of the areas where we have positive news. Even though I attended the Facebook platform launch event and immediately called my developers and told them this is the biggest opportunity in ten years, and even though my enthusiastic blog post about Facebook was widely quoted and even linked to from Marc Andreesen’s blog, I have failed to successfully implement a Facebook strategy so far.

The good news came from our own sites, Worldvitalrecords.com, and our FamilyLink.com social network site, which is growing faster since we enabled our site members to upload their family tree and share it with others. Nearly 2 million names have been added already.

I realize I have a tendency to get excited about good news and to share the good news. I like to highlight the things that are working, or that are promising, and to not call a lot of attention to the things we are struggling with, or that are frustrating. Of course, in my day to day work, I spend the majority of my time finding things that aren’t working and fixing them. But in my communication with key stakeholders (investors, partners, customers), I tend to emphasize the good things that are happening. I want everyone to believe what I believe–that World Vital Records can become a major player in the online genealogy industry. If our current momentum continues, we really will achieve that goal.

Sharing positive news as it happens builds momentum.

But I’ll never pretend that there isn’t bad news as well.

Startups always face obstacles and challenges. I hope that everyone knows that. When you are celebrating a record week of sales, your merchant account transaction limit is hit and you can’t process credit cards for 24 hours. But you talk about the record sales and quietly fix the merchant account problem. When you add 1,000 databases, you broadcast it, and then you quietly fix the image usability issues that were discovered soon after they launched.

You always have good news and bad news. I think it is proper in the normal course of business to report on the good things and quietly fix the bad ones. Success breeds success, and good news leads to more good news.

There are always Chicken Littles who believe the sky is falling. If the sky is actually falling, or if the company is literally out of runway and hasn’t achieved take-off, you must accept the reality. But if you are an entrepreneur who sees traction and momentum, and believes that your company will turn the corner and reach the blissful state of positive cash flow, and eventually make its hopes and dreams come true, then you will probably, like me, find yourself taking about the good things, the things that excite you, and that will excite others as well.

I suppose I could take the opposite approach and constantly talk about all the disappoinments and failures and problems that are we are facing. But I don’t know any successful entrepreneurs who do this. Entrepreneurs tend to be optimistic and hopeful. Sometimes to a fault. They don’t tend to be hampered by a negative attitude.

Eric Ruff (PowerQuest, Quickutz) once said the way to ensure success in a startup company is to identify all the reasons for potential failure and eliminate them one at a time. I suppose that a startup will fail, by definition, when no one believes in it anymore. Sharing good news is a great way to help others believe in a companies future success.

I have never worked for a publicly traded company, where I am sure there are many regulations about disclosing both good and bad news. But I have served on several boards of directors and I have seen the absolute need for full disclosure of both good and bad news to board members. I have seen the awful consequences of over-emphasing the good news and ignoring the bad news at the board level. And I have seen equally bad consequences when only bad news is discussed and the board thinks the sky is falling, when it really isn’t. I think honest and balanced reporting of what is going on in a company is absolutely essential at the board level.

At World Vital Records we have our share of challenges and setbacks. In the past two weeks I have contacted two talented people I know, one with a job offer, and the other with an invitation to interview for a position. Both accepted jobs with the same fast-growing Utah company just days before I called them. Also, we have made offers to two lead developers in the last two months, and both decided to do their own startup company. One already had commitments from investors. Recruiting the right people will take some time. Utah has the lowest unemployment rate in its history.

We have ongoing discussions with many strategic partners, some of which have had successful outcomes, but many of which are still underway, taking longer than we had hoped. Our web sites are still not as usable as they should be, our search engine enhancements are taking a lot of time, we just had to spend another $10,000 on new servers to handle the load, our internal management systems are weak, our royalty calculations and financials are complicated and too manual, and there are many well-funded competitors that also seem to be gaining momentum.

So yes, I admit, there are a lot of startup issues. Some days we are emotionally up and some days we are emotionally down.

But whenever I get a chance to share good news, even great news, I like to do it. Here are a few examples:

  • Yesterday WorldVitalRecords.com had its highest unique visitor count ever, with 16,706 visitors. Our previous high was September 18th with 13,740 visitors.
  • We passed 15,000 subscribers recently
  • We signed up 1,006 new subscribers in a single week, by far our best week ever
  • We have more than 500 million genealogy records online and continue to add new databases every business day
  • Dick Eastman and others have reported on our recent funding. We had decided not to announce our funding yet, for several reasons. But the news came out apparently from filings that investors make. The news was first reported by pehub.com and then it showed up on venturebeat.com.
  • DearMyrtle, commenting on our recent partnership with RootsMagic, said “WVR clearly wins the award for the ‘most prolific agreement-signing genealogy website of the year.'” I loved her comment since one of our highest goals is to be the best partner in the genealogy industry.
  • I was honored by the Utah Genealogical Association at their recent annual banquet. They surprised me with a prestigious award and made me a Fellow of the Utah Genealogical Association. David Lifferth said to me the next day, “Do you have any idea who the other recipients have been? They are the ones who walk on water in the genealogy industry!” He mentioned several prominent names. I accepted the award, but I do feel underqualified. I have a long ways to go before I can walk on water. But I do pledge to UGA and to the genealogy industry that I will try to grow into this award. For months now I have been travelling a great deal and studying genealogy handbooks and research guides for many countries around the world. I hope someday to have the kind of knowledge of genealogy sources that would qualify me to be a UGA Fellow.

There is a lot of good news and there are a lot of promising possibilities that are not ready to be shared publicly yet. And of course, there are private and internal challenges that will probably never be openly discussed. But for me, the overarching good news that I want to report is that I love my job! I love focusing on online genealogy and family social networking. I love the people in the genealogy industry. We have been received so warmly by so many people in this industry and we are determined to be a great partner and provide a great service and be a significant part of helping people find their ancestors and connect with their living relatives.

One Comment

  1. “Sharing positive news as it happens builds momentum.”

    I disagree, Paul. Servicing customers to the point where they start giving you money builds momentum. Internal pep rallies can actually build a false sense of reality.

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