Fab CEO Sent This Terrifying Memo In A Bizarre Attempt To Rally His Staff

"Have you ever been clinging onto a rocket ship, then cut the engines at full speed, and then tried to fly again? That's what we’ve been going through at Fab the past months."

In an attempt to set the tone for a new, restructured, and a hopefully one day resurrected Fab, CEO Jason Goldberg has sent around a memo that is less rally-the-troops and more "you're lucky to be here." Titled "It's a fucking startup. Why are you here?," the note, also posted on his personal website, continues to remind his employees that they could, very realistically, lose their jobs.

"I can say with confidence that Fab will win or lose based on our ability to assemble and manage the right people for right now," he writes. "People always say that it’s all about having the right people. That’s too easy. It’s all about the right people for right now," he continues. In other words, the remaining 300 workers at the design-obsessed retailer aren't the right people for the job, they're just the right people for right now. That's a very encouraging message to send to what is probably a pretty shell-shocked group of people, after seeing 450 of their co-workers get fired over the last year.

Making the entire message more anxiety producing, the note is punctuated with the words "it's a fucking startup" every few paragraphs, reminding people that their lives are hard for some greater moral cause. Although some might equate that cause to the whims of a CEO and his profit margins, as one commenter did on Y Combinator. "Asking me to live and breathe the job is all good but if I'm not getting to share in the rewards the same as you then you're really just asking me to be your slave and make you rich."

But we have to give Goldberg credit for pointing out that all his employees' hard work for a Fab comeback might not ever pay off:

It's been said over and over and over again that startups are hard. True that.

Startup turnarounds? Really fucking hard.

Have you ever been clinging onto a rocket ship, then cut the engines at full speed, and then tried to fly again? That's what we’ve been going through at Fab the past months.

In the history of startups I bet you can count on one hand the number of companies that went from $0 to $1B in valuation in just 2 years and then voluntarily cut their operating expenses by 2/3 and then rose to greatness again. Will Fab be able to do it? We'll see. There are days when I'm certain we will. There are days when I question if we can. I've had VC after VC tell me that they've basically assumed Fab is going to die; for how in the world can a company possibly survive 3 rounds of layoffs and cost cuts as we've had?

See, it's all very encouraging. Even the venture community has lost faith in Fab. But, it's okay, troops: This is a fucking startup. And if the exciting prospect of working for a fast moving upstart that in all likelihood will implode doesn't lift company morale, what will?

[Image: Flickr user Steve Jurvetson]

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21 Comments

  • Diego LLaneza

    Hi, I don't mean to be nasty, but ... this articles offer nothing to the reader. Maybe this kind of things (like a memo from a CEO) are better off if presented without any comments. Four or five sentences thrown into the wind by someone who is no way close to the person / firm or particularly knowledgeable in the industry mean quite little to anyone interested in the title.

  • Rob Leclerc

    Sounds like he just finished reading Ben Horowitz' new book. I'm sure we'll see a lot of this coming from CEOs in the future.

  • Christopher Beauchamp

    I'm not sure of the genesis of this email, but it seems that there isn’t a lot of responsibility taken for choices made. 10000 of those inflect the trajectory of the group; some obvious, some not. Regardless of the outcomes, ya gotta OWN 'EM. The Fab site, used to drown in its excesses, which tells me the owners never had a clear vision. They kept bloating (as Shellhammer has said). Were they trying to become Amazon or a boutique destination? By being a generalist with far too many SKUs its impossible to differentiate as a niche player, because you're not going to undercut Amazon on commodity sales. Struggling through 3 startups, I think the best CEO does a few things right: a) pushes talent to willingly exceed their limits in service of a larger goal. b) Protects her team so they can focus; and c) gets the hell out of the way when she becomes the obstacle to growth instead of its catalyst. Based on those 3 roles, seems like Goldberg has only one path left.

  • In contrast to CEO's who talk about pie-in-the-sky future and tell their employees the future is bright, all the while planning their own exits and or the layoffs of their personnel, I find this refreshing.

    Most people think disillusionment is a bad thing. It's actually just the removal of illusion to see the bare reality of a situation. You may feel queasy at first, but in the end you're better armed for success.

    Anyone talking in concrete terms about the future is kidding themselves at best, full of shit at worst. Anyone believing it is no better. The truth is that stability in any job is a total fantasy. Once you realize that, it's quite freeing and empowering.

    Stay in the moment, respond and handle what comes up, learn, and keep moving.

  • Wow! I have seen friends who worked in this kind of environment. They came home at night sick to their stomachs. They were less productive as they know their jobs may not be there in two weeks. How demoralizing! It's not what you say, but it is how you say it. This is not a rallying cry. This is a 'better feel lucky you have a job, you piece of shit.' (Nor this is my interpretation and not the CEOs. The cry should be 'we can do this. We need 110% from each of you. You are important to our success.'

  • Yeah, perhaps if I was working for FAB, had bills to pay and a family to support and then saw that blog post... then I may have felt a bit numb and demoralised. Mainly because it wouldn't have put my mind at ease :(

    BUT

    I'm not. And I think this is a rallying call. A scream of defiance! I would rather have a CEO [boss] like that than one with a foot already out the door, looking for a payoff or the next entrepreneurial excitement. Good on him.

  • I thought it was inspirational! And right people for right now I don't think is a threat. As "A fucking startup" it's probably going to change and hopefully evolve, as are the people working for it. It doesn't mean your job is always in jeopardy no matter what, it means here in this moment, I am glad you are here. You are exactly what is needed now. That may not always be the case. You could write your own ticket after we turn this website around, find a company that suits your needs more, those could change from whatever your wants and needs are now. You could start your own fucking startup, who knows what the future holds. The company could go bottoms-up and bankrupt tomorrow. We could flame out or we could become legends that are remembered throughout history. But here, now, with these people and in this life and in this fucking startup there is no place I would rather be. Be excited because these are the exciting times and this is the opportunity of a lifetime!

  • Hell, I don't even work there or for a startup but it made me feel excited to see what the day holds and what the future holds!

  • Kevin Peterson

    Rebecca .... I have news for you. No one ever said life is easy, becasue it is not. I think the high flying business environment of Silicon Valley has destorted some young people's vision of just how difficult it is in the business world. The way it looked to me, the CEO was just being straight with his people. Sometimes the truth is something different than what you want to hear, that does not mean it should not be told.

  • Kinkery Fawkery

    Bitchy and pointless post. Could have been really interesting on what goes on in the minds of a start-up.

  • Jason Goldberg

    Hi Rebecca.

    This was not a memo to the Fab staff. This was an open public blog post about the honest challenges in turning around a once high-flying startup.

  • There's his version of CEO honesty and there's what I call a 'captain's honesty'....We all see the waves coming, we all know the ship may more than likely sink...but I want my Captain to look me dead in the eyes and say "row, just keep rowing".....