Be the best at preparing for the worst

Operating partner at VC firm a16z Margit Wennmachers about how to make it through a crisis with your startup at #bits20

When a company is facing a crisis, be it through a product failure or something like the current Coronavirus crisis, it's very often a test for its culture, says Margit Wennmachers, “one of the most talented spin masters in the technology industry” as WIRED names her and operating partner at the Venture Capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z). Joining this year’s Bits & Pretzels Networking Week live from her apartment in San Francisco, she talked with Bits & Pretzels Editor-In-Chief Britta Weddeling about what founders can do to come out stronger out of a crisis and build a more functional company’s culture.

According to Margit, founders should look at a crisis "as a way to make the company better rather than like ‘who’s to blame and how do I make the articles stop’”. It’s also important to have a crisis plan mapped out ahead of time and keep everybody in the company involved and informed about the current situation. And when a crisis actually hits, it’s important not to blame anybody because that won’t stop the truth from coming out. “The faster you get to the truth, the faster you get to the fix,” Margit stresses.

According to Margit, good crisis communication is like a book that you want to keep as short as possible, without leaving questions unanswered.

For Margit the responsibilities of the leader go even further, as for her "the founder is the human embodiment of the brand“ and he or she is "the keeper of the company’s culture” as well. But to enable your team to follow the corporate values, these values have to be transformed into actionable rules, guidelines and actual behaviors, that can later then be penalized or promoted.

The German-born communication strategist lives and acts in the Silicon Valley ecosystem for more than two decades now and was soon called by CNN "the real queen of Silicon Valley". It's safe to say that Margit is probably the person to ask about Silicon Valley’s success and advantage over other parts of the world. In Silicon Valley, startups are competing for talent and ambition with the big guys like Google or Facebook, she explains. It’s like “races beside the ambition”, and she hopes that this can be the case in other regions like the European ecosystem as well.