Bro Factor - Intimate Relationships Which Provide Your Startup With An Unfair Advantage

bro.JPGBro - abbreviation of "Brother", meaning friend or dude. A term of endearment used to denote a familiarity beyond a casual friendship.

In the world of Big Dumb Companies ("BDC"), there is little likelihood you will establish a professional relationship with someone outside of your company that goes beyond a casual friendship. At large companies, such behavior is often discouraged and in many organizations, it is even considered unprofessional. However, in the world of startups, relationships that go beyond a casual acquaintance can provide your adVenture with a significant competitive advantage.

Obviously, even folks at BDC's form strong rapports with their counterparts at other organizations. However, in most BDC's, there is a level of decorum and cultural rigidity that limits the degree to which employees are comfortable establishing relationships that go beyond that of professional colleagues.

The difference between the relationships established by members of a startup and those pursued by employees of a BDC is analogous to the contrast between the teacher / student relationship at private and public elementary schools. At a private institution, it is not unusual for teachers to express their affection for their students via hugs and other forms of appropriate physical contact. In contrast, their counterparts at public schools are generally forbidden to embrace their students or otherwise usurp the institutionalized formality of the teacher / student relationship. Such a distinction is understandable and appropriate in a school setting. However, at your startup, establish rules of engagement which encourage your team to create professional, yet intimate, Bro relationships.

Establishing an effective Bro relationship involves a delicate alchemy - part contrivance and part genuine friendship. The relationship is borne from an artificial situation (e.g., two people involved in commerce, such as a salesman and a buyer, business development executives jointly crafting a deal, etc. However, even though there is an unnatural aspect to the environment in which the relationship is established, the resulting friendship is not phony.

As you establish Bro relationships, be mindful of the natural tension which is always present. Each party's first allegiance is to their organization. In most instances, relationships can be established in which both parties' loyalties are aligned. However, there are inevitable instances when what is best for your company may not be optimal for your Bro's firm. This duality of Bro relationships results in circumstances in which your Bro is also your Bro Foe, as discussed at great length in Kiss of Death.

Bro'ing is not exclusively a male experience. On the contrary, Bro'ing involves establishing a strong connection with another person - male or female. As such, men can Bro up with other men, women can Bro up with men and women can Bro up with other women. Bro'ing is not a guy thing, it is a relationship thing.

Danger Will Robinson

Even though establishing Bro relationships is not gender specific, additional care should be taken when Bro'ing up with a member of the opposite sex. One risk which arises in cross-gender Bro situations is when one of the parties misconstrues the Bro's overtures as an expression of romantic interest. Clearly, such crossed signals are problematic and can ultimately impair your adVenture's effectiveness. As such, tread carefully when establishing cross-gender Bro relationships.

In addition, many people are simply not valid Bro candidates. Respect this fact and do not risk making such people uncomfortable. They will interpret affable and friendly actions as a transparent sales ploy. Such folks avoid establishing personal connections in their workplace as they believe that such an approach will allow them to remain impartial. Unfortunately, they do not realize that their professional lives would be more fulfilling if they allowed themselves to form personal relationships outside of their organizations.

There is a fine line between unprofessionalism and bro'ing up. Do not cross it. In particular, never take advantage of your Bro status by making unreasonable requests. If your Bro begins to think of you as an annoying relative who is always looking for a handout, your Bro status will be in jeopardy. Save your favors for things that matter. You want your Bro to feel that they are getting the better end of the bargain. Just like real friends, Bros help each other; it is not a one-way street. Protect and respect your Bro status.

As noted in Single-Serve Bros, the key to effectively Bro'ing up is to only deploy the Bro strategy when the other party is receptive. Do not force it. Too much familiarity too quickly is creepy and a huge turnoff. Be patient; meaningful Bro relationships can take months and even years to establish.

You Know You're "In" When...

Bro'ing up breaks down the conventional us versus them mentality and allows your Bro to become part of your adVenture's extended family. You know you have successfully Bro'd up when your fellow Bro starts to share her company's dirty laundry, often in the form of bad-mouthing members of their team, criticizing their processes, etc. You have crossed over to the other side when your Bro is willing to share such intimate information. When this occurs, it is a sign that you are considered a kindred spirit who can help your Bro overcome their internal challenges.

Bro's enjoy spending time together outside of work. At one of my companies, a salesperson Bro'd up with a customer to the point that the customer extended his vacation to ride dirt bikes with the salesperson. As every salesperson with an expense account has known since the dawn of commerce, activities outside of work foster Bro'ing up

Brother Oz

What characteristics make an effective Bro? Certainly there are many qualities which will help you enhance your Bro'ing efforts. Some of the more important characteristics include:

  • Honesty
  • Sincerity, sympathy and empathy
  • Active listener
  • Creative problem solver

oz2.JPGOne need look no further for an prototypical example of a Bro than the Wizard in Frank Baum's, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. You may think, "How can you consider the Wizard to be a Bro? He was a charlatan who tricked everyone he encountered."

As stated in Time Wounds All Heels, successful serial entrepreneurs are honest, ethical and avoid even the appearance of deception. Thus, as with all analogies, the comparison between a Bro and the Wizard is imperfect, as Baum's protagonist did initially rely on deception.

With that said, Baum clarifies that the reason the Wizard tricks Dorothy, her companions and the people of Oz is because he fears for his life and the liberty of his people. The Wizard rationalizes his deceptive ways through his concern that the Wicked Witches of the East and West would kill him and the people of the Emerald City would fall under their evil tyranny if they learned that he, in fact, had no magical powers.

After the Wizard is proven to be a fraud, he is honest with Dorothy. When she angrily admonishes him and calls him "a very bad man", he replies, "Oh no my dear; I'm really a very good man; but I'm a very bad Wizard, I must admit."

The Wizard was an extraordinary listener, as he was able to determine what each member of Dorothy's company wanted. He also devised creative solutions such that everyone was satisfied with their reward for eliminating the Wicked Witch of the West.

If you remain unconvinced as to whether or not the Wizard effectively Bro'd-up with those around him, consider their reaction when he departs Oz. Baum notes that Dorothy felt sorry at losing Oz, and so did her companions. The Tin Woodman wept and said, "Truly, I would be ungrateful if I failed to mourn for a man who gave me my lovely heart." The people of Oz commented, "Oz was always our friend. When he was here, he built for us this beautiful Emerald City..."

Even Baum's readers loved the Wizard. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Wizard departs in a balloon, presumably to never be seen again. However, due to demand from his readership, Baum was forced to write him back into the adventure series. In the Introduction to the fourth book in the series, Dorothy and The Wizard In Oz, Baum notes,

"There were many requests from my little correspondents for ‘more about the Wizard'. It seems the jolly old fellow made hosts of friends in the first Oz book, in spite of the fact that he frankly acknowledged himself ‘a humbug'."

Even after they realized he was a fraud, Dorothy, her companions and the citizens of Oz felt fondly toward the Wizard. This forgiving response is emblematic of a Bro relationship. Even when they fail, Bros are often given the benefit of the doubt. In such cases, the friendship they have forged reduces the other party's natural disappointment arising from the Bro's failure.

It is easy to piously declare that the Wizard should have admitted his shortcomings to the people of the Emerald city long before Dorothy arrived on the scene. However, Oz was put in a situation similar to that of an entrepreneur who is trying to survive and satisfy the competing desires of his Stakeholders. As Baum points out near the end of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, after Dorothy's companions have received their rewards:

"Oz, left to himself, smiled to think of his success in giving the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman and the Lion exactly what they wanted. ‘How can I help being a humbug', he said, ‘when all these people make me do things that everybody knows can't be done?' It was easy to make the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion happy because they imagined I could do anything."

The primary secret to becoming an effective Bro is to instill within your Stakeholders confidence that not matter what, you will deliver for them and then simply deliver what you promise. This talent is further described in Great Expectations.

Bros on The Fringe live by the following credo:

"People do not care what you know, until they know that you care."

Think about it Bro.

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John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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