Things to just say no to

If you are in Silicon Valley long enough, you feel like you have seen it all. Here are some things to “just say no” to.

1. Envelopes full of cash. Google used to give out everyone’s Christmas bonus as a thousand dollars in cash in a plain envelope on the same day in December. Urban legend has it as Googlers would disembark off the shuttle to San Francisco, they would get collectively mugged of tens of thousands of dollars by thieves who heard about the company’s generosity.

2. China. Uber had come the closest to succeeding in China with its 20% ownership of Didi, but basically every other tech giant has been blocked and then cloned in China, with early operations shutting down. For most companies, a China strategy ends up being a painful, money-burning fail.

3. Giant chrome pandas. Dropbox bought a giant chrome panda at the height of its funding success. As time went on and the company focused on frugality, the giant chrome panda became a sign of its earlier wanton spending, and became a constant reminder that you should save money. You can instill that lesson without wasting a ton of money on a chrome sculpture—for example, one company I heard of recently put a Juicero machine in its office as its own version of a “chrome panda.”

4. Pool tables. When I first moved out to Silicon Valley, I joined a Sequoia-backed startup that had 120 people. Within three months it grew to 150, and then shrank over the next 9 months down to 12 people over four to five rounds of layoffs. After the first round of layoffs, the company bought a pool table to “help employee morale.” Unfortunately, anyone spotted playing pool tended to be laid off in the following round. Eventually shooting pool was a sign that the people playing would soon be gone. The pool players probably had the free time to play pool, so probably that was correlation rather than causation. Still: Not a good sign.