We all make mistakes, but not too many of us have made a $100 million blunder, as AppSumo founder Noah Kagan claims to have done when he got fired from Facebook. And there are lessons to take away from this story that are enormously relevant to each and every one of you, so pay attention.
Kagan joined Facebook as a product manager in 2005, about a year after Mark Zuckerberg founded the social network in his Harvard dorm room. But as the company grew from 30 to 150 people, Kagan couldn’t adapt, his issues got the better of him, and he was deemed more of a liability than an asset. And then he was gone.
As he tells it in a blog post, “I wanted attention, I put myself before Facebook. I hosted events at the office, published things on this blog to get attention and used the brand more than I added to it.”
He also says he was fired for going around the marketing team and for not being “great at planning or product management,” skills that the company needed to scale, not to mention that they were also part of his job description.
Now for the lessons. Some are his and some are mine, but they’re all counterintuitive. Not only that, they fly in the face of some massively overhyped myths that masquerade as common wisdom, these days, especially among the entrepreneurial crowd:
Build great products, not your personal brand.
According to Kagan, “The BEST way to get famous is make amazing stuff. That’s it. Not blogging, networking, etc.” He couldn’t be more right. If you focus on helping to make great products that customers love, that will make your company more valuable and that’s what matters.
Business is about business. It’s not about you. And when it becomes about you, that’s when things go south.
Figure out and fix your career-limiting weaknesses.
One of today’s most insidious fads is that people should focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses. And they should focus on the positive, not the negative. Not only is that a complete load of nonsense, it’s absolutely the worst advice for advancing your career and your business.
“If your weaknesses are hindering you at your job,” says Kagan, “fix them or move to another position.” The only way to grow – personally, in your career, and in business – is to figure out what issues, blind spots, or limitations are holding you back and fix them. We’re each our own worst enemy.
Getting fired can be the best thing that ever happened to you.
You heard it from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech, you heard it from me in my new book, Real Leaders Don’t Follow, and now you’re hearing it from Kagan: Getting fired can be the best thing that ever happened to you, but only if you take a cold, hard look in the mirror and face the truth.
On getting fired from Apple, Jobs said, “It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick.” The truth is, we often lock ourselves in our own little self-destructive cages, and it takes an emotionally charged, painful, and traumatic event to break us out.
It’s way easier to admit our faults than to change our behavior.
Kagan says that getting fired from Facebook was a $100 million lesson. And while I’m sure it was a big lesson for him, that statement is more than a bit of a stretch. It’s actually a Grand-Canyon-sized leap.
Maybe his shares or options were worth that much when Facebook went public, but he was only there for eight months and was fired in 2006 – a full six years before the company’s IPO. In other words, he still had many years to go for the shares to fully vest and for a liquidity event that would allow him to cash out.
My concern is this. One of Kagan’s self-professed issues is that he put himself and his need for attention ahead of the company and its product. I could be wrong, but I’m not so sure he’s addressed that limitation as well as he thinks. I’m just saying that maybe he still has work to do.