The Big Kahuna: Humanity in Business

After posting a very personal article to LinkedIn last week and not only watching it become the most popular thing I’ve posted but also elicit highly personal responses from others, including complete strangers, I’ve been thinking a lot about humanity in business and in life. I may be writing more on this, but in the meantime, it made me think of this monologue from the movie The Big Kahuna.

“If you want to talk to someone honestly, as a human being… ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are. Just to find out. For no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it. It’s not a conversation anymore. It’s a pitch, and you’re not a human being, you’re a marketing rep.”

Instagram logo

Instagram tip: Create an archive page for all your “Click link in bio” links

If you use Instagram, you’ve seen people publicize a URL they want you to visit by saying “Clink link in bio.”

Pitchfork Instagram

Why do people do this?

They do this because Instagram doesn’t automatically hotlink URLS that you put into the caption of your photo or other comments. And since the great majority of people use Instagram on their phones, copying and pasting a URL from a comment is, well, no one is going to do that.

The only place that Instagram does hotlink a URL is the “Website” field in your Profile. This is a ubiquitous field in online account profile screens, and it’s made for people to link to the home page of their websites.

But the Internet is smarter than that, and Instagrammers have come up with a “hack” to use this field to link to their latest blog post, or deal, or whatever the latest thing is that they’re promoting.

So, the simply say “Link in bio” or something similar. You click the bio, click the link, and you’re off.

Easy. (Sort of.) Clever.

What’s the problem?

Here’s how you think this works:

  1. Change the profile URL to the thing you want people to see.
  2. Post a new image to Instagram and include “Click link in bio” to steer people to it.
  3. People see the post, click the link in your bio.
  4. Everybody’s happy.


This would work if Instagram’s feed was simply chronological, showing your posts to your followers in the order you post them. But awhile back, Instagram followed Facebook’s lead and started using a fancy algorithm to display posts.

You’ve probably noticed that sometimes you see posts for two, three, five days ago in your feed. This is the algorithm deciding what to show you and when.

Are you starting to see the problem?

If you post every day, and in each post you put, “Click link in bio,” but I don’t see your post until several days later, the link in your bio will go to something completely different from the post I saw.

You know what happens when people don’t get what they expect on the internet? They leave. Because, oh look a cat video! Or #breaking news. Or literally anything else. There’s always something else.

And remember, because of the algorithm is based on each followers activity, likes, etc. you have no idea what post is getting shown to who or when.

What’s the solution?

The solution is to make an archive page on your website that has links to all of the things you’ve linked to on Instagram and put that link in your profile.

You might even want to make it to make it easy, like the NY Times and Pitchfork do.

This way, no matter when your followers see a particular post they can easily get to the link they were looking for.

There are other benefits to this as well:

  • Ease for you: It’s a constant URL, so you don’t have to take the time to change it with each new post
  • Fool-proof: Similarly, you never have to worry about forgetting to change it with each new post
  • Ease for fans: It’s super easy for your followers to remember, so even if they aren’t on Instagram, or can’t find your post but want to get back to a URL (you know, to share with a friend), they can simply go directly to this URL.
  • SEO: This creates a nice launch page of links for search engines to crawl
Gutenberg Bible

Valuable is More Important than Viral

Maybe don’t worry so much about “going viral,” and put more energy into the depth and value of what you’re putting out there.

There’s a lesson here that transcends religious doctrine. Modern professional culture encourages collaboration through instant communication and globalized networks. But Luther’s legacy as one of history’s most influential thinkers shows us that there are certain epic projects — such as the systematic rethinking of foundational dogmas — that require time to mature and space to germinate before they are safe for universal exposure. Without that window, they die.

Via Nobody listened to Luther at first. That’s why he succeeded. – The Washington Post

Lavender mums

My Dying Mother, My Startup, and the Best Advice I’ve Ever Gotten

It’s Halloween again. The day my mother died, five years ago.

She died of pancreatic cancer, brutally and mercifully, three months after she initially felt sick, and just six weeks after we figured out what was going on. Brutal, because it was so quick. Merciful, because it was so quick.

I was running a technology startup at the time. I was CEO, which stood for “Chief Everything Officer.”

I was spending a lot of time at the hospital in Richmond, VA, returning to work in DC every few days. I was attempting to spend as much time as I could in both places, and both situations were suffering for it.

Sitting here, five years removed, it’s easy to look at the situation and know what to do. It’s likely obvious to you… Spend all your time with your mother. Of course, right? But at the time, it wasn’t so clear.


On Labor Day 2012, we knew my mother was sick, we just didn’t know how very sick. You read books about people with cancer, and they say things like, “they gave me six months to live.” What you don’t realize is that this is: a) a wild-ass guess; and/or b) not an estimate, but a maximum.

The other thing you may not know, if you’ve never gone through something like this, is how much hope and denial you have in the moment.

Had my mother gone through an unsuccessful surgery and countless other procedures that did little or nothing? Yes.

Was she on massive doses of a complicated narcotic cocktail, including a morphine drip and a patch that fed her a steady stream of fentanyl, the drug getting attention these days about being so much stronger than heroin it kills people? Yes.

Was she transferred to the palliative care wing of the hospital, where they no longer treat the disease, they simply focus on pain reduction? Yes. (Pro tip: When this is good news, you know things are bad.)

But she was also having really good days where she was lucid, or would actually eat something, or would ask to be wheeled outside so she could arrange flowers, or we’d get good reports about her bilirubin, or some other obscure medical topic I had become a micro-expert in at the time.

Hell, maybe she’ll fight this thing into the New Year?

So, you hold on to that, not all the other stuff. You have to.

And you just don’t know. Now I know. Now I know what to look for. What weeks, days, and hours away from death looks like. Back then I didn’t.


The company was at a very fragile stage itself.

We were very small. We had big clients and some big contracts but revenue was uneven, and we were in the middle of completely revamping our product and engagement model.

We were also in the middle of a startup accelerator program. For the unfamiliar, these programs give (or loan) companies tens of thousands of dollars with the expectation, or at least the hope, that they turn it into millions of dollars. The culmination of these programs are “Demo Days,” where you travel the country to present in front of rooms of potential investors. Demo Days for my program were mere weeks away.

We had three employees, one of whom had a child on the way. If you’ve ever been responsible for payroll, you know the pressure of supporting your employees and their families. I had written personal checks to make payroll at times.

People were counting on me to either give, or make, them money. Not only that, the sole focus of my life, indeed my identity, for the last four years, was this company.

If there were bets on whether my mother or my company would die first, I’m not sure which would get better odds.

CEO of Mom’s Happy, Inc.

You’re sitting there rolling your eyes or yelling at your computer. You know what you would do. You have no doubts. That’s because you’re not going through it right now. I needed help making a decision at the time.

Luckily, I had a trusted business mentor and personal friend that was perfectly equipped with the combination of context and confidence to help me sort this out, and we had settled into a habit of getting together for drinks during my stints back in DC.

I had a decision to make. I couldn’t keep splitting my time. What should I do?

The advice my friend was: Your job right now is to be CEO of Mom’s Happy, Inc.

No regrets

I spent the last three weeks of my mother’s life with her.

I didn’t respond to a single work email. The only calls I made were to tell my employees and investors that I would not be at the first Demo Day presentation. (I would be at the subsequent ones in San Francisco, NYC, and Boston, a week later.)

I don’t regret it for a single second.

I love you, mom. Happy Halloween. (My mother loved Halloween.)

Tree with exposed roots

We’re On The Same Team

Years ago, after one of those silly arguments all couples get into, my wife and I made a rule for ourselves. No matter what the disagreement, we must always keep in mind that we are on the same team.

We may vehemently disagree with the other about the topic at hand, but fundamentally, we are in this together and reaching for the same goals. We are both trying to improve the relationship and push our shared goals forward, even if the way we do it may differ or if we make mistakes along the way.

We’re on the same team.

This creates a foundation of understanding and trust, a lens through which to view flare-ups and screw-ups, and a way to move forward together.

That escalated quickly

Years later, I had a situation at work that could have used this foundation. A person on my team screwed up. I don’t remember exactly what the incident was, but it was minor.

The Account Executive on the account stormed into my office claiming that both I and my direct-report who had made the error were sabotaging the project, that my direct-report should be fired. To top it off the AE questioned my abilities as manager (this person had never managed a team).

I didn’t know where to begin. I was angry at the accusations and the mountain-out-of-molehill nature of them, but knew I had to find a way to calm this person down (they were on the verge of tears) and make progress on resolving the issue in the short-term and keeping an effective working relationship long-term. This wouldn’t be the only project we worked on together.

Root cause

I couldn’t help but be reminded of the arguments my wife and I had gotten into. The AE wasn’t concerned over the actual mistake, she was expressing a much deeper concern. I took a deep breath, asked the AE to calm down, and told them the story about me and my wife (with more detail than I did above).

First off, this took us both out of the heat of the moment so we could calm down and gain some perspective. Second, I was sharing a personal story; opening yourself up emotionally is always disarming. Third, it gave us a productive way forward and allowed us to address their concerns.

Most importantly, it addressed the root cause. This was not about a missed deadline, a website error, an unsent email, or whatever the actual mistake was. This was a trust issue. The true problem, that would continue to come up if unaddressed, was that the Account Executive did not think, did not trust, that we shared their goal.

I reminded them that no matter what happens, even if someone screws up, we have to go into every discussion with the trust that we’re on the same team, we all want the same thing: a happy, successful client.

We’re on the same team.

Trust + shared goals = happy client, happy team

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last time this happened with this Account Executive. I, and others, had multiple tear-soaked run-ins where minor mishaps were turned into catastrophe and career questioning. Now we all had a useful shorthand to diffuse the situation and remind everyone what was important. It became our mantra:

We’re on the same team. We’re on the same team. We’re on the same team.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia