What Startups Can Learn From Celebrity Meltdowns


Two and a Half Men has been a delicious vice of mine from the first day it came on the air nearly eight years ago. The campy, overgrown, man-child character played by Charlie Sheen was an immensely lovable rascal. Now Sheen’s bad behavior, which looked so cute on the small screen, has unfortunately spilled over into real life, where it’s not so cute and tolerable.

Woody Allen, once said, life doesn’t imitate art, it often imitates bad television. Somehow those words do ring true at the time.

It has been amazing to see Sheen unravel so publicly. His comments about his colleagues eventually became so offensive that CBS (the network which carries his show) and Warner Brothers, the company which produces his show decided to cancel the amazingly popular show – even though they stand to lose a lot of money and face legal action.

Whether you agree with their decision or not, it is undeniable, Sheen’s behavior was selfish, and in the end, it would end-up costing many people their jobs. These are members of the team that helped Two and a Half Men become successful.

Despite the presence of stars, television shows and movies are collective endeavors — like an orchestra. When it works well, you have a television show for the ages. Seinfeld is an example.

Actually, startups are no different. If you put together the right ensemble, you end up building a company that can last a generation. I was there to see Google build an amazing ensemble and that eventually paid off handsomely for one and all. We are seeing Facebook build an amazing team that works in perfect harmony.

Unfortunately, not all technology startups are as lucky. Many of us who have started companies, or have followed them closely, have known of certain employees who develop the spoiled-star syndrome — although it is very different from Sheen’s behavior.

From a tech perspective, the spoiled star-syndrome shows up when an engineer or a product manager or a designer start to act “entitled” and begin believe he is not only awesome, but he is actually superior to others on his team.

From that arrogance follows an inability to communicate and work with others. Then he starts ordering others around and that results in a breakdown of communication. And when that happens, things get ugly. While these problems aren’t isolated to small startups — we know of enough incidents at big companies — when you happen to be a relatively young company, prima-donna behavior can prove to be a death knell.

Let me explain. In the early days of a startup, you don’t have much time. You are resource-constrained — be it money, engineers or time — and you are trying to beat competitors to the market. In other words, you have to basically use your limited resources as effectively and efficiently as possible.

If there are distractions such as a team member who starts to believe he’s superior to others, a large amount of friction is introduced into the system, which leads to the breakdown of the entire production. An employee with a bad attitude can do the same amount of damage as a drunken actor on a television show.

And just like Sheen, perhaps it’s time for those prima-donnas to go — no matter how good or great they are.

What to read on the web:

[wufoo form=”z7m8z1″ username=”gigaom” height=”300″]


Comments have been disabled for this post