When I profiled Moz and its co-founder Rand Fishkin a few years back, the story focused on the Seattle-based company’s “TAGFEE” culture—the first letter of which stands for “transparent.”
Fishkin and his successor as CEO, Sarah Bird, have gone well beyond what most privately held tech companies do in that regard, regularly penning in-depth blog posts explaining major technology decisions, fundraising adventures, operating results in good times and bad, and even Fishkin’s own struggles with depression.
The latest news at Moz is perhaps the hardest to share yet. But again Fishkin, pictured, does not shy from giving a detailed look—with the caveat that these are his opinions, not the official company line—at the turns taken by the Seattle search marketing company over the last three years, culminating last month in a wrenching decision to lay off a quarter of the company and pare back to its core business in a bid to become profitable.
It’s compelling, heartfelt stuff that can be read as a cautionary tale of pursuing growth ahead of profitability—despite that being the de facto model for software-as-a-service companies, as Fishkin notes—but also as a reminder that it’s damn hard to predict the direction of business and technology, and build effective products that people want, even if you’ve already done it once successfully.
Fishkin notes that “many companies and founders share openly about how they pursued a risky strategy and it brought great success. Almost no one writes about the reverse—when a path you’ve chosen to double-down on goes sideways with painful costs. To the best of my ability, I’m going to try to do that in this post.”
Fishkin is upfront about the challenge of writing the post, which appeared Wednesday. “Never before have I been so challenged to walk the line between empathy”—another of the TAGFEE tenets—“and transparency,” he begins. “Never before have I had to get a blog post approved by my boss, board, and legal team.”
It goes on from there for some 4,000 words. You should read it yourself.