8 Things Sarah Lacy Could Learn From Founders She Covers


So I was at SXSW this week, where I saw first hand the hilarious debacle of an interview that the lovely (but maybe over-hyped) Business Week reporter, Sarah Lacy, did with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Read here for a short brief on the disaster, in which attendees,

…apparently tired of constant interruptions by Lacy and references to her own projects in the interview, essentially said they weren’t going to sit for such lame questions and demanded to ask their own.

One heckled her to coax “something interesting” out of Zuckerberg — which shouldn’t really be very hard: he is the youngest-ever self-made billionaire in the history of the world! The tweets were even worse.

So all this made me think: a) concerning her interview style, Lacy could learn a thing or two from the founders she (supposedly) spends so much time covering; and b) Lacy would never, ever, make it as a founder. But you know how journalists are these days — so I offer Lacy my “entrepreneurial” tips anyway. She’ll probably start a new media company soon.

1. When bullets fly, there is a time to duck and cover.The adversary has to reload sometime. It’s an honor thing. (You can read about it in history books.) So “Duck the 9’s”, that’s the 9mm stuff — a.k.a armor piercing ammo — and wait for the ebb and flow in the barage. It’ll do.

2. When you’re Captain of a ship taking on water
(i.e., MC of a keynote Q&A going south) don’t demoralize the crew with beatings. Lacy quipped to the crowd: “Do you think you could do better!?” Um, lemme think: … Yeesssss!! Because we actually care about audience. And a founder would never say ‘can you do better?’ when taking on water. The founder would say: “wow last month was really bad. Lets lick our wounds and get our rally going.” BONUS TIP for Lacy: Study Leno when a joke bombs; he’s the master of recovery.

3. Good looks are a bonus but not a crutch.
See Kevin Rose. (Ok, Kevin is better looking than most, so that’s not really fair. And he will probably sell Digg for hundreds of millions. See item #3) But on the Internet, not everyone can see you’re a cute lil’ ducky I know all about it and as Tom always told me: “Good looks on a man is useless like fur on a pussywillow.”

4. Always be ready to call in a reliever.
Good starting pitchers relieve themselves in late innings by changing their style/approach/tempo and delivery. Sarah would do well to split her dissociative personalities. Mix it up.

5. Everyone has a plan until you get hit.
A boxing legend friend of mine told me this once (see item #9). It’s good advice for entrepreneurs also, because we all know that defensiveness is kryptonite to entrepreneurship — and obviously to interviewers, too.
After you get your nose bloodied, can you “retrack” and reestablish the goal? Can you get back to fundamentals? Founders have to. Lacy couldn’t, and her interview went off the rails.

6. Know your audience. Meaning, their points of reference. “It was my Lesley Stahl moment…” Lacy kept saying. Finally, after like the 3rd time, the guy next to me asked me: “Who’s Lesley?” Note to Lacy: Geeks don’t know her, and can’t reference your big “Stahl moment.” Duh. (Hello vortex, meet Sarah.)

7. Never, never, never get emotional about failing,
even if it’s just an interview. “Your emotions betray you young Skywalker.” I won’t torture you with the part of the interview I’m thinking of here, but it suffices to say that founders know: worry about failing and failure becomes inevitable.

8. Always kiss and make-up.
If you’ve the power of the podium (or control the boardroom), kiss and forgive. “Tsai Jian Austin and keep on!”

Now that I think about it, Lacy’s upcoming book is called Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good. Maybe I get it now.

Larry Chiang is the founder of duck9, which educates student borrowers on how to establish and maintain a FICO score over 750. He is a frequent contributor to Found|READ. Two of his most popular posts are: 9 VCs You’re Gonna Want To Avoid, and 9 Things Stanford B-School Won’t Teach You, which he is turning into a book (like Lacy).