22 12 / 2010
What would a frat boy do?
Before we moved out of Berkeley office, we had a large sign on our wall that read “What would a frat boy do?” People who came by would always ask about it, and I never really knew how to explain it. But, today I saw an excellent video of a TED talk by Sheryl Sandberg that really sums up this sign. Sandberg’s talk really hit home, because I could relate so well to her points on assertiveness:
I love her example of how she gave a talk at Facebook on this exact topic and told everyone she would only take 2 more questions. But after the two questions, while all the women put their hands down, several men continued to raise their hands. It’s this kind of assertiveness that is so key to getting ahead in business but yet so unnatural to people/women like me who are taught to “play by the rules”. It’s this same assertiveness that turned a startup called Google into a major company, when then VP of sales Tim Armstrong lead his team to camp out at AOL’s headquarters for an entire week until AOL finally agreed to do an Ads deal with them. It’s this same assertiveness (for 21 days) that enabled startup Excite do a deal with Netscape even after Netscape told them no.
This kind of assertiveness doesn’t come naturally, because I was raised to be nice, play by the rules, not be obnoxious, and not annoy people. But, oftentimes when you’re running your own company, you have you break all those rules if you want to be successful. You have to annoy people (in a nice way and sometimes not in a nice way). You have to invite yourself to things when you’re not invited. You have to call or email people a thousand and one times to get attention — all the things my mom taught me not to do. (I suppose my mom never taught me how to use email.) Meanwhile, over the years, both my co-founder and I have noticed that a number of frat boys (not to generalize all frat boys) have shown they’re really good at doing all of those things. So, when it comes to thinking about whether to call XYZ person for the 100th time and it feels like an annoying thing to do, we always check the sign before picking up the phone.