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Bulding a successful company usually takes a lot of hard work, and a lot of time. But destroying a successful company can take be measured in hours and minutes. Case in point: TechCrunch.
Started by a single blogger, Michael Arrington, TechCrunch became one of the most prominent voices of Silicon Valley and the tech startup scene and was acquired a year ago by AOL for an eight-figure sum.
But following the firing/resignation of Arrington over his ambitions as an investor, TechCrunch has fallen into a state of chaos, with employees (and now-former employees) questioning the blog's future, and disparaging each other in public,
For many of us, TechCrunch's fall is not all that important. Yes, it's a popular tech blog, but if it were to disappear tomorrow, it wouldn't be the end of the world. At the same time, however, watching its demise play out in real time for all to see provides five lessons that all professionals and entrepreneurs can learn from.
Lesson #1: An exit isn't always what it's cracked up to be.
For many entrepreneurs and startup employees, few things are more desirable than a successful exit. Not only can an exit be a rewarding financial event, it is a marker of achievement than relatively few startups earn.
But the life of a company typically doesn't end when it is bought, and many employees simply don't retire to a private island in the Pacific. Unfortunately, acquisitions often end in disappointment.
There are plenty of reasons why: the acquirer is a bad fit, leadership leaves prematurely, employees lose interest. Whatever the case, anyone going into an acquisition as a founder or employee should not be naive to the reality that acquisitions aren't the destination, they're a part of the journey.
Lesson #2: Companies are built by people, not egos.
Michael Arrington and the people he hired to write for TechCrunch are responsible for its popularity and success. Period.
But as we're seeing, when individuals have more ego than empathy, courtesy and professionalism, everything those people collectively worked so hard to build can sadly be tarnished or destroyed in an instant.
Lesson #3: Good businesses thrive when times are good, great businesses thrive when times aren't so good.
It's easy to build a good business when everything is going swimmingly. But good businesses become great when times aren't so good.
Whether it's a financial crisis, a leadership crisis or some other crisis, companies are defined by how they address their problems, not how well they do when nothing is going wrong.
Lesson #4: Dirty laundry should be aired before it starts to smell.
The embarrassing public drama that is taking place amongst what's left of the TechCrunch team has revealed one thing: all was not well behind the scenes.
Obviously, no company is perfect. Few businesses are without internal politicking and disagreements, but unhealthy levels of tension are never good because inevitably, they blow up, often leaving significant, lasting damage.
For this reason, it's far better to try to create an environment in which individuals feel comfortable speaking their mind and resolving differences before it's too late.
Lesson #5: The high road may not be paved, but it's usually the road you want to be on.
As professionals, most of us face situations that demand hard decisions be made. In some cases, these decisions require us to choose between actions that may be instantly gratifying or actions that are prudent long-term.
In many cases, instant gratification is appealing, but the high road almost always leads to the more desirable destination.