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No. of Recommendations: 446
An open letter, and four crucial points, to the top management at TMF.

You are, of course, welcome to take this for what it is worth. For point of context, I am a former executive at a big-5 consultancy and have worked for and with several startups in the time since. As a result, I have seen many companies, some successful, some not. I survived a round of layoffs 3 months ago. I have seen what has happened to us since. What follows is, in my opinion, critical next steps to take in order to ensure that the layoffs were not in vain, and TMF gets back on track.

Once again, you are welcome to take it for whaterver you think it is worth.

1. Time is of the essense
You probably have a 1 year plan in place, especially if you just got funding. I will tell you right now: You do NOT have a year.

You have 3 months to show an impact. Tops. Perhaps as little as 6-8 weeks.

The honeymoon is over. Your employees were willing to give you the benefit of the doubt prior to the layoffs. But following the layoffs, many, if not most, of those same employees will no longer be willing to take your word at face value.

Actions will speak louder than words. You have up to 3 months to show a rousing success to your employees. That doesn't mean the company as a whole has to be an utter success in three months, but it does mean that you have to show positive momentum by showing an individual success. The current perception will be that momentum is negative. If you cannot change this perception in three months, you likely will not change it at all.

Trust me on this one. If it is not clear that the company is shifting in a positive direction, morale will become the cancer that kills the company. I've seen it too vividly. My current employer did layoffs about 3 months ago. They have failed to show a solid plan of action and failed to show a solid success since. Everyone at the water cooler knows that the days are counting down until the next round of layoffs. This isn't information leaking from above--this is observant employees who can see the writing on the wall.

You have 3 months.

Showing a success quickly is important, because...

2. Your people ARE looking for new jobs.
You hired great people, didn't you? Of course you did. Every company tries to do so. You have people who are smart, talented, and work hard.

Guess what? Every other company out there also wants employees who are smart, talented, and work hard. You are now competing against these companies for your own talent pool.

Does this mean that every single employee wants to jump ship? Hardly. In fact, you have certain employees who are loyal and diehard all the way to the end. However, those employees are fewer in number than you think.

You have a small group of extremely loyal employees. You also have a much larger group of employees who are sitting there right now saying "well, I'm not actively looking, but I'm willing to listen to options." This is very dangerous for you. As great as someone's job may be, there is always a better option out there. Maybe your employees will find it by "listening to options" and maybe they won't.

But the fact is, the easiest way to keep an employee is to keep them from listening to other options in the first place.

This ties back to point 1. If you show success quickly, you'll give employees a reason to say, and give them less desire to listen to their options. If no significant change has been noted in three months, open the floodgates.

Because of the doubt and uncertainty...

3. Communication has never been more important.
If there has ever been a time to be active in your employee communications, it is now. Morale will be low. Many employees are likely thinking "now what?"

It is your job to make sure that every single employee understands the next steps for the company. It is important to make sure each and every person understands how their job is contributing to the plan. If someone cannot see how their job ties into the plan, they will have doubt about how important their job is. If they have that doubt, they will "listen to options." The best way to combat point #2 is to be extremely open and honest with each and every employee.

Engage your staff. You now have in the ballpark of 210 employees. Every day, Tom, Dave, and Pat can each meet with two employees, a half hour a piece. At this rate, you'll meet with 6 employees a day, and have met face to face with your staff within 7 weeks. Listen to what the employees have to say, and act upon it. Don't feed them a "rah-rah" speech, they won't buy it. The key thing is to make sure the employees understand how it is they fit into the short- and long-term success of the Fool.

Not only will face to face meetings with all employees help them understand where they fit in, but it will benefit you as well. If most of your information comes from your department heads, you are out of touch. Department heads, in general, often don't pass along a lot of information, or are themselves unaware of information which needs to be passed on. I absolutely guarantee that you will come out of these meetings with at least a couple excellent ideas that never would have trickled through the management chain.

You may think you are running an open and communicative company right now. Well, whatever it is you are doing now, double it. This is the time to err on the side of too much communcation, rather than too little.

Along with communication in general, it is particularly important to...

4. Acknowledge your errors.
You need not fall on your sword, and you need not air every bit of dirty laundry to the community. But your employees need to hear you be open, honest, and direct about your mistakes.

It is not a sin to make an error. It is a sin not to learn from that error.

It is indeed a cop out to blame external forces. By blaming advertisers, you acknowledge that your business plan was destined to be successful if and only if everything went right. Clearly, that doesn't happen, and this time, 115 people paid for that mistake with their jobs. Put it this way: would you invest in a company whose annual statement said "We have a great plan for the next year...as long as all the breaks go our way"?

You have an obligation to hope for the best but plan for the worst. Don't make these same mistakes again. The message is not "Well, the advertising revenue wasn't there, what else can I do? We just caught a bad break." but rather "We staked a lot of this company's success on advertising revenues, and in this case, it happened to be the wrong decision." And the next statement should be "Here's what we've learned from that, and here is how our plan going forward reflects what we have learned."

Don't act helpless in the face of adversity. Stand up, accept responsibility directly and openly with your staff, and show them how you have learned. Communicate this with them (point #3) as well as their role in that plan, so that they have reason to stay (point #2).

And remember, back to my first point: You have 3 months.

Best wishes on a rapid and strong turnaround,
--WonderPup
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No. of Recommendations: 9
Damn Pup, that's possibly the most information efficient post I've ever seen. I don't even know many details of TMF, but I know that is all great advice. Excellent work and very generous.

Rick
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No. of Recommendations: 31
Congratualtions, up, you have now just put more thought into salvaging the Fool then they themselves seem to have.

I would expand one point that you made. It is not just the employees that are listening to options. Once there is blood in the water, your customer base starts looking around at options, as do your suppliers, in this case the very advertisers that you blame for the recent turn of events.

One more bit of advice. Drop the arrogance. When you were putting out top returns and had the company performing you could get away with it. Last year you proved that you weren't bullet proof with the advice, and this year 115 unemployed shows that the business model ain't all that.
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No. of Recommendations: 18

Indulge a topline? The four points, distilled, are:

1. Time is of the essense
2. Retention is critical.
3. Communication is extremely critical.
4. Acknowledge your errors.
____

The calls to action out of that are:

You have a very small amount of time. Not only do you have to do something about retaining users, you must also do something about retaining employees as well. You should redouble efforts to communicate internally and externally, and bag the preppie schoolboy attitude that it's your Godgiven right for things to work out in your favor.
____

This is nice, and a different tack, because it's not what to do, it's how to find out what to do, how to find the best options regarding what to do.

At the end of the day, you have to live and die with your own decisions, your own product and service development--but if you've had a long string of online failures, changing the managerial method by which you develop the revenue enhancers may be the only chance to meet a different end than Fool.de and Soapbox.

Managerial experience is a glaring weak spot at the Fool--can we all at very least admit that? Pup's topline is a management brief, not a product development brief. I think right now might be a good time to listen, sincerely listen, to some people out here in the community, where there is a lot of managerial experience (and one helluva lot of experience with layoffs), maybe to listen not so much for what to do, but how to find out what to do. I think you could do worse than to print that post and xerox it and put it on a few desks.

jps
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No. of Recommendations: 6
Point 5 regarding 1 and 2.

No one completely trusts you anymore.

You laid off 115 of their friends who are going to work somewhere else, probably for more money and better benefits. When they meet at Murphy's and hear the tales of gold . . . .
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No. of Recommendations: 4
To the Gardner's, please take note of point #4 NOW, and don't bury your acknowledgement within your webpage.

Aiko
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No. of Recommendations: 4
<<An open letter, and four crucial points, to the top management at TMF.>>

One of the all time great posts on the Fool...smart readers will take the points and apply them to the companies that they own, to see if they seem to be following the advice that WonderPup has given to the Fool.

--ETurkey
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No. of Recommendations: 5
A truly stunning post!! Worthy of 100 reccs, if I could give 'em.

I can only add one more observation re: Point 2:

100% dead on target. From down in the trenches of another "company", I guarantee "Options" are being looked at, the antennae are up and tuned in, and "back-up plans" and "alternatives" are being prepped by AT LEAST 175 out of the 215 employees. Of the remaing 40, 20 will stick it out to the bloody end, and 20 just haven't caught on yet, but will in approx. 6-8 weeks, unless there's that shiny "SUCCESS" WonderPup speaks of.

Listen & heed, a ton of good advice there.......The sharks are circling, but all is not lost.......yet

-YodaCo
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No. of Recommendations: 6
The brand is powerful. The March 17 issue of PC Magazine, which came Monday I think, had a cover story "100 Best Web Sites", divided into 10 categories. Fool was in the finance category, and listed with a star indicating the author liked it especially (31 out of 100 got stars, I counted). The review was just sort of a capsule movie review, just a paragraph.

The remarks were: commentary is OK, charting and following your own portfolio is good, but the real virtue is the message boards. (They liked the p-box, too.) There has to be a lesson in there somewhere, though I don't know how that could be turned into revenue directly.
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No. of Recommendations: 0
The brand is powerful. The March 17 issue of PC Magazine, which came Monday I think, had a cover story "100 Best Web Sites", divided into 10 categories. Fool was in the finance category, and listed with a star indicating the author liked it especially (31 out of 100 got stars, I counted). The review was just sort of a capsule movie review, just a paragraph.


Here's a link:
http://www.zdnet.com/pcmag/stories/reviews/0,6755,2685150,00.html


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No. of Recommendations: 1
WonderPup, UNBELIEVABLE!!!

If I didn't know better I'd say you were someone who worked for MY company.

In January, the Bank came in and took over everything.

we were 10 million in debt. They cut off our financing so we had to operate of cash, forced the owners to lay off any personal not totally necissary, put 2 Auditors in charge of micromanaging every dept and all capital spending had to be pre-aproved by them, forced a close down of a plant in Arizona, etc...
and gave us six months to show improvement.

Needless to say, we employess were extremely P.O.ed.

What did the owners do? Exactly down to the minutest detail of what you just said!!!!

Needless to say, we employees turned the company around in 3 weeks in which we made 6 million. The Auditors were gone in 6 weeks, two other corperations invested in us, the Current Bank refinanced us and we are almost break even!

Uncanny, I'd swear you were upper management at QA Label!

vf
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No. of Recommendations: 3
great job wonderguy....and the thing that the boys need to do..is charge us something....we know those of us who found a home here..and made a slew of friends..would be more than happy to kick in.....t-rat
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No. of Recommendations: 1
I would pay a membership fee rather than see the Fool discussion boards go under. While other boards compare in quality of posts, their interface is garbage compared to the Fool's.

I think the Fool is very smart not to race into fees. I guess it risks decimating the active customer base that they can sell to advertisers.

I hope they manage to pull it out. Maybe cutting expenses is the way to go. Personally, I want the message boards only. I don't care about content, stock quotes or any of the other services here. I would expect a message-board-only operation would have to be quite inexpensive to run, maybe 20 employees needed?

Anyway, I hope some Fool reads this and feels better about the effort they make, since current times must be pretty depressing.

Thanks Fool!
Ralph
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No. of Recommendations: 0
Ralph said:
I would expect a message-board-only operation would have to be quite inexpensive to run, maybe 20 employees needed?

Many informed estimates place the number around 6. Servers are machines, you know, and Compaq and Microsoft works so we don't have to.

Rick
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No. of Recommendations: 4
"You have 3 months."
-- WonderPup (February 14, 2001)


Ding!

Okay, class, that bell means that your time is up. Please put down your pencils and pass your papers to the front of the room.

Yes, David Gardner, that means you, too. Thomas, I want you to put your pencil down now!

All right. Now, who wants to be the first to talk about their answers to our little quiz?

Albaby

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No. of Recommendations: 3
Damn, WonderPup is up to 431 recs. It's got to be a record. And well deserved.

For my part-

I was thinking about the future of TMF the other day. I may have to pick up the pace if I am going to get one of those gold stars.

Everyone seems to have decided that TMF was blind-sided. They couldn't have seen it coming. They were victims of the economy. Blown up by the bubble. Even most of the recently departed don't seem to realize how arrogant TMF was with other people's money and their lives. Hell, all they had to do was read the boards.

http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=14334616

The thing that shook me to the core when I toured TMF was the amount of money an hour the place HAD TO BE hemorrhaging. If I knew it in 20 minutes, a few managers with decision-making power should have been canned.

http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=14335193

Another point of view-
<<I was fortunate enough to tour Fool HQ about one year ago as well. However it wasn't obvious to me. Can you tell me the signs?>>

See above. See below.

http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=14335783

People. People elbow to elbow. People sitting in rooms and hallways. And as you said, very few writers. A ton of Admin and techies, but very few writers (for the size of the organization).


PEOPLE. The most expensive thing a business can have.

But it isn't the fault of the people. It is the fault of the “visionaries.”

I used to think the biggest mistake they made was not striking while the iron was hot and cashing in on the IPO craze.

The boys will end up taking the biggest round trip of them all. They didn't just buy shares in pets.com or priceline.com, they missed the IPO prize.

Well, they can always go back to writing a newsletter.
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No. of Recommendations: 0


PEOPLE. The most expensive thing a business can have.

WRONG. The most expensive thing a business can have is advertising that doesn't work. I happen to have a modest example in hand:

http://www.geocities.com/dbahuitclos

I am shocked, shocked I tell you, to find that there is a bank out there that offers its clients the option of CHECKING.

jps

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No. of Recommendations: 0
<<I am shocked, shocked I tell you, to find that there is a bank out there that offers its clients the option of CHECKING.>>

Golly, how does that work?
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No. of Recommendations: 0
Damn, WonderPup is up to 431 recs. It's got to be a record. And well deserved.

http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=12251371

If they hadn't folded, you could read the rest of his story at soapbox.com

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No. of Recommendations: 4


http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=12251371

If they hadn't folded, you could read the rest of his story at soapbox.com


Pup's post was instructive. That other one--not even to the author.

Despite my rather rough experience with the volatility of this stock, I believe in the company now stronger than ever.

http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=12831453

jps
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No. of Recommendations: 0
The only other four-digit rec post is this stain:

http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=11642061
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No. of Recommendations: 0
Hi luke007,

look earlier in this thread. There´s one with almost 2.000 recs...

Jörg
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No. of Recommendations: 1
<<The only other four-digit rec post is this stain:>>


That is a worse case of rec whoring than even JJ can muster.

I thought he was the master.

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No. of Recommendations: 1
Oops,

only now I saw that you wrote "the only other ..."

Sorry.

Jörg
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