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Venture Hacks Revisited: Ask Forgiveness, Not Permission

Venture Hacks Revisited: Ask Forgiveness, Not Permission

We would rather have someone do something wrong than ask permission to do it.

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ask forgiveness, not permission

Fourteen years ago, AngelList co-founders Naval Ravikant and Babak Nivi launched Venture Hacks—a blog dedicated to startup advice. A lot has changed in the world of startups and venture since their first blog post, but many of the ideas shared on Venture Hacks remain timeless. We’re resharing some of Naval and Babak's more influential posts in hopes that the lessons and insights can inspire a new generation of founders and investors. These blog posts are being republished in their entirety with minimal edits.

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This article was published on February 11, 2013

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AngelList’s “corporate policy” is that team members should ask forgiveness, not permission.

We would rather have someone do something wrong than ask permission to do it.

Or better, we would rather have someone do something right and not need permission to do it. This is the most common outcome.

We would rather have people ship to production whenever they want, than go through an internal review process. We can fix it on production. We prefer the customer’s review process. And it isn’t too hard to reveal a new feature to a small portion of our users and iterate on it as we expand it to more users.

Eliminating Permission Increases Speed and Diversity

Eliminating permission increases the speed and diversity of our decision-making.

There are some sensitive parts of our product that are walled off from this “ask forgiveness” policy. There are some things we want reviewed by the people who “know better.” But it’s really rare.

How It Works

This policy only works if you hire insanely smart and capable people and let go of the ones who are not. We also filter for people who are mission-oriented, care about our customer, and want to learn more.

And it doesn’t mean that the founders aren’t standing over your desk telling you, “this isn’t good enough to ship.” That’s why we write down and promote these ideas. Because there is always pressure from someone important to do it another way.

It also wouldn’t work without these other items of corporate propaganda:

You Break It, You Bought It

If you break something or your stuff is buggy, please fix it. As in, straight away, mate.

If people are going to ship whatever they want, we need them to sweat the details if they’re going to avoid mistakes.

The best way to do that is to have the rest of the team constantly complain that your code and/or design sucks or, in polite terms, “contains opportunities for improvement.”

Actually, mistakes are fine. They’re something you trade off for other variables like speed of iteration. We just want people to sweat the details because we care about the details.

Be Real

Again, if people are going to ship whatever they want, whenever they want, how do we get them to make good decisions? One answer is that we ask them to “be real.” As in, treat our users like real people. Treat your teammates like real people. Just be real and do the right thing.

Do What You Think is Right (And Be Right)

If you have the freedom to make decisions, you also have the responsibility of being correct.

They Who Code, Rule

Another way we promote good decisions is by pushing the decisions down to the people doing the work. We memorialize that with the motto, “they who code, rule.” As in, when we disagree, the person doing the work makes the decision.

Own the Result

Pushing the decision-making down to the worker works best if the same person is responsible for the metrics. So we try to have one-person teams whenever we can, and we ask them to own the result. We also hire people who care about our customers and want to solve problems for them.

Freedom and Responsibility

All of these dictums are variations on freedom and responsibility. Netflix has a great presentation on the topic. So does Valve. Peter Drucker probably wrote about it 50 years ago. We didn’t invent this stuff, we don’t claim to know what we’re doing, nor is this a perfectly accurate or complete model of how we operate.

Freedom

  1. Ask forgiveness, not permission
  2. Do what you think is right (and be right)
  3. They who code, rule

Responsibility

  1. You break it, you bought it
  2. Sweat the details and corner cases
  3. Be real
  4. Own the result

If you’re interested in working with us, we’re hiring.*

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Read the original post here.

*We're still hiring :)

Disclaimer:

The information in this post and others in the Venture Hacks Revisited series is provided for informational and discussion purposes only. The posts reflect the view of the authors, at the time the original post was authored and may not reflect the current view of AngelList Venture or its employees. These posts do not constitute advice of any kind.
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