Episode 0036 · April 20, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.

Shut it All Down

[Unedited Transcript]

Paul Ford: [00:00:00] Oh, hey Rich. How you doing?

Rich Ziade: I love killing things.

Paul Ford: Cool.

Rich Ziade: I’m

doing well. How are you

Paul Ford: I’m doing good. Well, today we’re gonna talk about a subject that is near and dear to absolutely no one’s heart.

Rich Ziade: No one’s heart,

Paul Ford: which is the tendency of executive leaderships to brutally murder long standing projects.

That people have dumped their careers and years of their work into, and what, when to make that decision, why often that decision is made way too late and what to do if you’re one of the people who has given your entire life to something and now watched it turn to absolute dust. It’ll be a fun one.

Cool. I,

Rich Ziade: [00:01:00] I, I don’t think anybody makes anything successful like some, especially the ones that are like high profile successes, they’re crazy passionate when they talk to you about it.

And it could be like the most mundane thing, like customer happiness. Like it could be the most basic stuff, but they’re absolutely obsessed with

Paul Ford: The worse and more boring it is, the more likely they are to be like, I’ll tell you, the one thing I do, the one thing I do is I read five emails a day from our hat making team and you know, you just, oh, okay. Oh my god. And you’re, you’re like, I, I’m just drinking coffee man.

Rich Ziade: I saw Bob Iger interview where he very casually tells the, the, the person that’s interviewing him that he wakes up at four 30

Paul Ford: They

Rich Ziade: the morning.

Paul Ford: they all say they do that. Right? That’s all. They’re always, they’re, it’s, it’s, you know, answering, making phone calls from the treadmill is the, just the move. Right? That’s when I read, I read my five newspapers and then I have my macronutrients.

I punch my, uh, my team members and then [00:02:00] I get to work

Rich Ziade: and,

and we could be talking about executives, we could talk about entrepreneurs. We could be talking about a restaurant owner. We could be talking about someone that, um, Emptied their savings and decided to sell, uh, a very particular kind of iPhone case, uh, made out of recycled bamboo


Paul Ford: we’ve seen it. We have good friends. There is, we had a conversation the other day with someone who just was talking about, and it’s someone who is, uh, an investor and they’re like, sometimes you just gotta, yeah. And it literally, it was interesting to hear an investor say that because, Their goal is always to make lots of money and make things work.

And this person was like, man, a lot of times you just gotta do it as quickly as possible. And what his move is, is he goes, we gotta shut this one down. I think you should. You should shut it down. You should stop spending the money and then you should figure out where you’re gonna do next. And then I’m probably gonna invest in it.

Rich Ziade: I, I believe in you. Yeah. Right. And,

Paul Ford: and it’s not [00:03:00] over. You are not over. But this phase of you building a, a better website for cat sitting is probably done.

Rich Ziade: Yes, and I think the mistake people make is they give their endeavors an identity and a personality like

Paul Ford: Well, no, you’re killing a thing. This is Well, okay.

Rich Ziade: what the fact that we’re saying, killing presumes that it’s living.

Paul Ford: This is your superpower, and also what makes you kind of a terrifying human being to work with.

Okay. Okay?

Rich Ziade: We’re also recruiting at our startup.

Paul Ford: Now let me, let me make, let me do this straight up for you. Right. Which is we, we own this agency for a long time, and on day one you were like, We’re gonna sell it.

And I’m like, no, no, no, no. We’re building a community, we’re building a family.

Rich Ziade: There’s a place to put your bikes lined

Paul Ford: up my stuffed animals there on the bed, you know, and everyone, and it’s going to be great. Yeah. And then it took me about seven years and that [00:04:00] feeling of walking in the office and people just looking at me like I was a space alien.

And I went, oh, okay. This is where Rich was one day. One I got there.

Rich Ziade: I’ve also, I failed. I’ve failed in the past. I’ve had wonderful success, but I’ve also failed at

Paul Ford: Oh, me too, man.

Rich Ziade: Uh, and, and the biggest mistake you can make is to have an emotional attachment to the thing such that it takes you to an irrational place.

You’re convinced the entire world is. And you, they just don’t get it yet. And, uh, you keep at it. And what you end up doing is it’s a nasty spiral downward. We’re oversimplifying by saying either. Make it succeed or kill it. Pivoting is a type of killing. Actually, you could pivot in a very dramatic way, right?

Some of the most famous tech startups were actually wild pivots. They were gonna be games and they ended up productivity tools or vice versa. Like [00:05:00] there’s all kinds

Paul Ford: ultimate meta pivot, right, is Amazon Web Services, where they’re like, oh, you know what we should do, right? And suddenly it, it’s this huge part of a huge

Rich Ziade: business.

Amazon made a phone at one point. It probably cost them ungodly

Paul Ford: Oh, that was a bad

Rich Ziade: it. It was called the fire phone. Like not anyone. I don’t think anyone wants fire in their pocket, but here we

Paul Ford: I had to review the Facebook phone for the MIT techno

Rich Ziade: Facebook phone.

Paul Ford: I was a strong cup of

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Yeah. And, and so what advice can we give people?

Paul Ford: Well, first of all, you live in a world in which only success is celebrated. You know, and it’s a funny thing, VCs are funny because they just talk about what geniuses they are.

And if you look at it statistically, like 95% of what they do is bad and they make mistakes.

Rich Ziade: Well, it, I mean that’s the model. Yes. You need like two or three out of 30 to hit and the rest are failures And,

Paul Ford: Meanwhile, everybody who win by, by VC logic, everyone who wins big in Vegas is [00:06:00] actually a

Rich Ziade: Yeah, I was talking to an entrepreneur, really smart woman. She’s outta Stanford and her, her startup wasn’t taking, it just wasn’t taking, it was a, it was a food delivery delivery type thing, and, and it didn’t take, and she was such an adult about it. She’s like, it, there’s no market. She came to me as if, like, she’s gonna tell me the backstory and get my advice about what to do.

I was like, oh. Like halfway through I was just like, oh, you just want me to tell you to shut it down cuz you know you should shut it down. Well she actually knew she needed to shut it. down.

Paul Ford: It’s one of the things we come back to on this show over and over again, thei and Ford advisors, but most people just want permission

Rich Ziade: The Ford permissions

Paul Ford: literally what this show is. People are listening right now going like, should I shut my thing down?

Rich Ziade: Uh, and, and what was interesting about it?

Paul Ford: are we shutting things down? We’re shutting them down because they run hot. They’re expensive, they’re time consuming, and they’re, they don’t contribute to growth of some kind.[00:07:00]

And this could be not-for-profit, secret, novel project or startup. It, it doesn’t, it could be anything.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. It could be anything. Exactly. And, and I think


Paul Ford: have also failures. Let me, let me keep ’em. Failures have a tendency to linger. Uh, and because nobody wants to name them. Failure itself, once you name it, it, it’s over.

Like you can go like, all right, well that

Rich Ziade: over. Yeah.

Paul Ford: But, but there’s like a, a gray state where you’re like, oh, we just haven’t figured it

Rich Ziade: out.

I’ve been, I’ve, I’ve been close to people who could not let something go and it kind of messed them up. Like it really beat them up. They felt like failures themselves. They felt like they’d led investors down. It was, it was, it was a bad scene.

Paul Ford: that way about writing projects that never got finished. I feel terrible about them.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, and, and, and so. Bullet one, bullet one. It takes about 36 hours to call the state of Delaware to set up a company that, in legal parlance is what’s called a fictional person or [00:08:00] an, an, you know, a, a, a legal construct of an of a, of a person that protects you, so they don’t take your house if you emptied your bank account to start a business. Businesses are ephemeral. They don’t mean anything. Your product effort doesn’t mean anything. They come and go,

Paul Ford: okay, I get that. But what does mean something is the network of humans that have gathered around the problem.

Rich Ziade: Now the people is another matter. I’ll tell you to finish the story with that entrepreneur person.

Her investor was like got any other ideas?

What they were saying was, I’m not betting on your idea, I’m betting on you. I think you are smart, you are thoughtful and I’m okay with betting on you. Look, it also, you know, there is, it is a, if you’ve succeeded in the past, It’s easier to bet on you cuz you’ve

Paul Ford: is true. You know, post, post

Rich Ziade: out of Stanford or Harvard, it’s easier to bet on you. [00:09:00] So everybody triangulates on the data points here as to whether someone’s worth betting on, but at least they’re betting on you, right? Like at least, I gotta tell you, coming outta Brooklyn College, I don’t think anybody’s gonna make any bets on

Paul Ford: no outta school.

No. I went to a little school upstate and got an English degree. Not a lot of betting going on. They didn’t see me with a saddle and a jockey on me going, that one,

Rich Ziade: But, but when people do bet. A lot of people see it as like, I have to prove to these people who effectively took on risk And want to want me to succeed for them.

They view it as like almost like a sort of personal commitment they made to these other people. And really what you should really tell everyone, anyone that gets into your, if you’re borrowing from family for your Bamboo iPhone case, tell them you might, you might. Just, Hey, don’t take the mortgage money here.

Like if you want, in some PE I have had people, because I’ve seen success, people come to me and in a joking way say, can I please invest in your thing? [00:10:00] People who are doing okay, some are wealthier than others, but they just want to, they want in.

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm.

Rich Ziade: And.

I’ve dodged it up till now because I had their personal relationships, but I may change my mind, but I’ll tell you, when I do change my mind, I’m gonna tell them.

Assume this money is gone. I may come back to you with good news. I’m crazy.

I’m an I, it’s a startup. You’re not investing in GM here or Exxon and best of luck and, and be. Why? Because I value the relationship. And I will kill it. I will kill it. Like I, it is something that, it’s a skill to be able to emotionally detach yourself and realize that you’re getting, you’re gonna get a lot of stuff

Paul Ford: Well, let’s put ourselves on the table here. We’re two and a half years into building a startup that’s about to launch. Um, and we don’t have to be specific cuz we haven’t had the discussion, but, but, but what [00:11:00] broadly, right? Like, here we are, we’re about to launch, we’re go, gonna go out. You and I have invested quite a bit of our own money.

I don’t, no secret there.

Rich Ziade: Yep.

Paul Ford: Okay. What are the frameworks when you go out and you go live and like, when do you, when do you make a decision like

Rich Ziade: Let me make a suggestion. Vis-a-vis the Ziti Ford podcast. There’s a notion, uh, I have in in my head. I, I don’t know if I read it. I’m older now and, and may have read it. It’s something I call strategic flexibility.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: Strategic

flexibility means if you are embarking on something. That is a very particular constrained bet. Um, you are much more exposed if you’ve decided

Paul Ford: gimme the example. I,

Rich Ziade: If pe you’ve decided that people want this new type of crept that you roll into a cone and then fill with pudding

Paul Ford: Mm.

Rich Ziade: in Queens and you’ve got the storefront.

That is a very particular bet you’re [00:12:00] making. There’s particular machines you need for it.

Paul Ford: it. And before I started the weight loss medication, that probably would’ve really hit me hard, but now I’m like, oh God no. I don’t want that.

Rich Ziade: The narrower, the, the market, the narrower, the fit you’re going for. The less flexibility. If I have to buy very particular Crep rolling

Paul Ford: I’m only making size 12 shoes. And I’m o

Rich Ziade: it’s a particular bet. And so. Can I, how hard is it for me to turn that into a burger joint? Right. And that is very limited strategic flexibility. Our startup

Paul Ford: shop, right? And then people and a coffee shop opens down the street and your coffee shop doesn’t do that.

Well click like your coffee shop’s done because you’re coffee shop’s. Yeah. Because you can’t suddenly become a bar, you don’t have a liquor license,

Rich Ziade: Et cetera, et cetera. So what I wanna do is actually talk about strategic flexibility in another podcast, because one of the things that I think is so interesting about our venture, which is a board@aboard.com, is that it is [00:13:00] really hard to tell where we are in 12 months, and that’s a good thing.

We are not gonna be presumptuous about what a board is gonna do

Paul Ford: is true. You and I built an enormous amount of flexibility into the

Rich Ziade: It is a true platform and it’s partly a byproduct of us being technologists who are just, who think in very, sort of abstract data centric

Paul Ford: ways.


Rich Ziade: And, and now we are, we also appreciate telling real world stories that resonate with people, but we know some people are gonna reject us and some may embrace us.

We don’t know, which, what’s so interesting about our platform is that I think it has a very. Uh, aperture in terms of strategic flexibility. I wanna talk about strategic flexibility in another

Paul Ford: Well, let, let me come back to you. Be the, you be the ceo. Not okay. Not our company. Cuz you’re right, we have way too long to even know when, when we’d hit a failure state. We’re, we’re in a beginning state. But you walk in, you’ve looked at a lot of companies, I’ve looked at a lot of companies.

What makes you go, Hmm, I wonder if that one needs [00:14:00] to get the, get the ax.

Rich Ziade: ax. Um, If, if there isn’t forward initiative, if there isn’t, like, okay, look, we’ve got 12 locations. Nobody seems to want flip flops, but they do ski a lot around here.

You have to come forward with what is effectively a new

plan, you’re like, okay, that’s gonna take five months. We need new art, we need new product, we need a marketing campaign, and we’re going to, uh, talk to all the ski resorts and lodges in the area. For example, if you don’t have anything

Paul Ford: mm-hmm.

Rich Ziade: and you’re langu, if it’s flip flops and you’re like, you know,

Maybe a different flip flop campaign will unlock this.


Paul Ford: hold on, I’m gonna make it worse. Let’s how you do everything right and you’re like, you know what we’re gonna pivot to. We see skiing is growing. If you look at all these charts over here, it looks like a ski slope. It’s gonna be [00:15:00] really exciting. The tendency at that point is like, whew, there’s a lot of bleeding.

Let’s stop that bleeding, and, and we’re gonna, we’re gonna pivot to skiing and we’re gonna save so much money pivoting to

Rich Ziade: skiing, Mm-hmm.

Paul Ford: we’re gonna, we’re gonna be able to get right back to where we were. Flip flops, whiskeys. Now the person that you’re pitching to is like, wait, I’m just gonna gamble on something that will get me that the status quo, and I’m gonna lose my, I’m gonna lose my investments.

Rich Ziade: It’s a new gamble. It is a new

Paul Ford: the new gamble needs to be like, if we pivot to skiing, I can get you three x the per store revenue.

And it’s worth doing.

Rich Ziade: You’re pivoting.

Paul Ford: Yeah. But what most people want to do is like, I can make up the gap, man. Just gimme a minute, gimme a minute,

Rich Ziade: Give me more. I, you know what, what’s a a, a telltale sign.

I, I need double the marketing budget.

They just don’t know about the flip flops. I just need double

Paul Ford: There’s that and it’s just, or if we switch to, if we switch to skiing, I We’re gonna catch up. It’s a no no. One you’re pitching to, if they’re good at their [00:16:00] job, can give you the money and resources to get back to status quo because they’re just, then, they’re just eating the losses from before if you succeed.

Rich Ziade: So warning, sign, asking for more budget.

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm

Rich Ziade: When the train is clearly headed off


Paul Ford: Cliff and without a plan to like triple

Rich Ziade: Another warning sign. We need to hire

the right Leader.

the right team.

Paul Ford: true.

Rich Ziade: the

Paul Ford: be a, it’s like vampire growth would be, there’s like a, there’s a kind of growth where people are like, oh, if we just could just get the right head of whatever in here.

Rich Ziade: I have attended offsites where the only tech takeaways were like five new hires. There was nothing constructive that was like, we should focus on this and do more of that, and less of this. It was like, we just need five more people. Mm-hmm. As if they come pre-packaged with the solution.

And guess what? They never do. They never

Paul Ford: all you’re looking at. If you’re on the other side of that conversation is cost. You’re just like, oh, thank you. I asked you to grow the [00:17:00] company and you just told me how you’re gonna cost me another two to 3 million a year.

Rich Ziade: That’s right. Consult or hiring consultants.

Sometimes people go to consulting firms and they’re like, it’s not taking, they don’t seem to wanna buy flip flops in Alaska. Well,

Paul Ford: and then what happens is McKinsey tells you you need to fire 48% of your staff.

tell you that.

No, and that’s, that’s how they get the, that’s how the savings get baked in. But again, like, and then you’ll be able to grow and it’s just like, man, it’s, it’s, this is, so, all of these things are swimming around and then it’s like, it’s

Rich Ziade: If, if I’m not mistaken, I’ve read a couple of books about Amazon and its culture and whatnot. They are very much a pitcher idea. I think you write the press release first

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah.

Rich Ziade: and you’ve got a window and they don’t mind killing it. Like they’ll give you the nine months, they’ll give you the

Paul Ford: Oh yeah. They look

Rich Ziade: like little ventures

Paul Ford: specifically for run rate against the platform. See that’s Amazon is a true platform company. You build your product on top of it. How’s it doing?

Rich Ziade: At one point, they [00:18:00] built this ridiculous, ridiculous camera robot that sort of roamed around your house,

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm. Alexa built it. Mm-hmm.

Rich Ziade: Someone wrote that memo and they’re like, you know what?

We’re worth a cajillion dollars.

Paul Ford: Let’s give

Rich Ziade: try the robot.

Paul Ford: And then, and then the day came and Well, I think what Amazon too. I think it’s

Rich Ziade: kills. They will kill it.

Paul Ford: You look at the you, they look at the chart and they look at the spreadsheet and they go, well, that, that’s not the one.

Amazon is, is also purely aligned around consumer intent. They just know it. It’s all they are. All they are is a company that measures what people want and then tries to give it to Um, alright, so. Rough parameters around when to shut things down, the warning signs, et cetera. So if you’re in one of these organizations and people are like, oh, if we could just get a new director of blah, blah, blah.

And yeah, I know things aren’t that good, but we should think about ski. Okay, but what if you’re in one of these orgs?

Rich Ziade: If you’re in one of these orgs, a lot of psychology kicks

Paul Ford: in


Rich Ziade: advocates

for it. Dig in further,

Paul Ford: people, [00:19:00] create a narrative suc of success in the face of the most profound.

Rich Ziade: Absolutely.

Paul Ford: And so you are caught in a narrative of success and you’re actually incentivized and told that if you don’t believe in this narrative success, that’s when it’ll be like, come on snowflakes, you gotta get it together.

You know? That’s send that resume out, my friend.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. And, and, and

Paul Ford: now if the boss looks you in the eye and they say, Hey Rich, uh, it is not great for flip flops and we’re doing skis, and I need you to go research the hell out of all of our competitors and tell me what’s going.

Rich Ziade: That’s someone that’s trying to gain knowledge so they can make

Paul Ford: decisions. If you’re in a position, if you are in a position where you can go learn about the ski industry, and they’ve said, I think you, you have now been asked to help level up and resolve what’s, what’s going on. Usually that happens after they have fired boss A and new boss B is in, and then they’re figuring out if you’re a person who will actually go research the skis or not research the fricking skis my


Rich Ziade: [00:20:00] Uh,

Shedding this is this, what this is about is shedding the past. It’s, it’s really very much about that because it is, we’re talking casually here about killing projects or killing initiatives or killing businesses.

Paul Ford: thousands of people get put back into the circulatory system of the economy in that moment.

Rich Ziade: Not just that I, I put five years into this. I put five years

Paul Ford: killed and you just, you just stare at the wall

Rich Ziade: and you’re, you’re, you know it’s right. You know it’s right. But you know what? I love it. Why do I love it? It’s because it came over for the weekends and the nights and.

Paul Ford: not always right. Sometimes they kill them just out of like, it’s because a new boss comes in and it’s politically expedient to kill it.

Rich Ziade: We, we worked on a project together before our agency

Paul Ford: was a good product.

Rich Ziade: someone like it was a very good product and like a new CEO came in and they were like, what the heck is that?

Paul Ford: Click,

Rich Ziade: Delete. And it was gone. Exactly.

Paul Ford: And it was really good. It was ahead of its time, and if they had [00:21:00] invested in it, I think they could have found some success, but they got scared and they decided to do ad optimization instead.

Yeah, right. Such as life, I don’t know. Yes, you do. Grieve. It is a little scary. You’re thrown into the wilderness. I remember feeling very wilderness after that, but also like, eh, back to your point, we’re back to your point, Richard, which is, it’s a business you go.

Rich Ziade: you go on I, I, let me give a

Last piece of advice, if you’re, you know, I, I really admire and respect people who are taking the leap on their own.

They like quit the job and they’re gonna empty. They’re gonna borrow against the house and give something to go. Just be careful, uh, be very careful. Most businesses fail. That is a

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm.

Rich Ziade: and I love the idea of taking on some risk. Um, but don’t expose your life, uh, and your home and whatnot. I, I don’t, I don’t think, look, there are great success stories.

Um, I, I listened to a podcast of the five [00:22:00] guys, uh, burger guy.

And he had been trying different things and failing and.

Everyone loves a juicy burger. Literally like that was his pivot.

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm.


Rich Ziade: if it’s a little fatty and you kind of mush it against the grill, I think everybody likes it.

Paul Ford: Yeah. No, and, and then I’m gonna fill a, a trash bag with french fries and shove it in a family’s face. Don’t worry. Yeah. No, no.

Rich Ziade: So

Paul Ford: point, right, we live in a media economy in which stories of success are absolutely favored.

And so it’s very easy to think that failure is avoidable and you can, you, you know, there are a lot of people who will tell you exactly how

Rich Ziade: you don’t wanna be in fortunes 30, under 30. They all end up in jail anyway, so don’t do it.

Paul Ford: Yeah. Get into the, it’s, it’s gonna be a grind and, and all that. Okay, so all that aside, if you’re in one of these, like keep your, keep your eyes open.

If you’re the boss, it’s often time to kill, you know, Ford [00:23:00] permission. What permission are we giving to people?

Rich Ziade: Um, trust yourself, not your, your project or your endeavor or your business. This

Paul Ford: This is real. Build your career,

Rich Ziade: your career. Um, trust your ability to, to shed biases and try other things. Don’t get emotionally attached to a particular path that

Paul Ford: Well, I’ll make it simpler. You have, you’re able to not get emotionally attached. Try really hard not to take it personally, and then when they ask you to stay around and dismember the corpse, it’s actually kind of interesting. Stay around and do it, but send out your resume at the same time. Yes. Yeah. All right.

Well, there we go. I think we really helped people through a

Rich Ziade: this was an overly optimistic podcast, Paul.

Paul Ford: cheerful. It’s good stuff.

Rich Ziade: hang in there. Uh, reach out. This wasn’t, you know, I feel like we could have talked more about this. If you’ve got questions or follow ups, hit us at hello@zitiford.com.

Paul Ford: we like disagreements too. I, I enjoy it when people, uh, reach

Rich Ziade: at

Paul Ford: I like a good slap. Um, okay. And [00:24:00] follow us on Twitter. Give us five stars and tell your friends we love you and we’ll talk to you soon.

Rich Ziade: Have a lovely week.

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