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Lisa Messenger
Entrepreneur

Lisa Messenger is the CEO of The Messenger Group and founder and editor-in-chief of The Collective. She has authored and co-authored over a dozen books and become an authority in the start-up scene

Lisa Messenger
Entrepreneur

Lisa Messenger is the CEO of The Messenger Group and founder and editor-in-chief of The Collective. She has authored and co-authored over a dozen books and become an authority in the start-up scene

When transparency and authenticity are such buzzwords in the startup space, how much should you reveal about what goes on behind the scenes of your company? Lisa Messenger looks at how much is too much.

A woman stands back to back with her mirror-image self in a different pose

In the business section of the online forum Quora, I recently came across a post titled ‘Deception’. “How can I create the perception that I make $100k a year, when I actually make more than $1million,” it read.

The poster – an anonymous 24-year-old – went on to explain that he didn’t want his friends and family to know how much he earned. He wanted to spend his sizeable income on investing and scaling, without having to take into account anyone else’s opinion.

This post, which had a few interesting answers, made me think. In the startup scene, when so much emphasis is placed on democracy, authenticity and transparency, just how much should you share with friends and family, and even your colleagues?

As a business leader – and a natural oversharer – this is a topic I grapple with on a weekly basis.

Whether Collective Hub is celebrating a win or commiserating a loss, should I gather my team to share in the joy or the disappointment?

Although I work hard to create a ‘we’re in this together’ culture, is it really wise for an entrepreneur, business leader or startup company to be totally transparent?

In my experience, the best option is to find a happy medium. You don’t have to, metaphorically, strip off and streak across the office. You can show the ‘real you’ while still preserving your modesty – and integrity.

As a business owner or leader, if you suspect you might be giving away too much (or too little), then here are my top tips:

Create it , don't fake it

I have always, purposefully created companies where our brand is bigger than our means. What does that mean?

Well, as an outsider, looking at the profile of  Collective Hub, you might grossly over-estimate how much revenue we generate. Our startup business plan ensure are in a constant state of expanding, creating and collaborating. Does this mean we’re rolling in money? Not quite. Our finances are constantly one step behind our expansion but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

They always eventually catch up. 

Who needs to know?

Dharmesh Shah, the co-founder and CEO of HubSpot, said at a presentation at Culture Code, “Today, power is gained by sharing knowledge, not hoarding it.”

I couldn’t agree more, but I do think it depends on the time, the place and most importantly the people you share with.

Whenever we’re developing a new side project for Collective Hub, I don’t swear my staff to secrecy. Although certain concepts are confidential, I also want to give them the freedom to discuss an idea with contacts or experts who could give us insight into how to develop it. 

Savour secret social media

Although I have a public Facebook fan page and I post pretty much everything that goes on in my life on Instagram, I still maintain a private Facebook page as well, which is locked from the eyes of strangers.

Although it can be time-zapping to handle multiple social media channels, I think it’s wise to maintain one private account – even if you don’t post on it often.

Let’s face it – certain news is still best shared with friends and family. Does the general public really need to know that so-and-so “feels anxious” while checking in from a networking event? I don’t think so! 

Get on board

Until 2018, when Collective Hub published its last print edition and went totally digital, we were old-school with how we shared information in the office. In the kitchen we had a big white board where the advertising team wrote their big wins.

I know we could could have set up a Trello board or Google Doc to share this information, but I quite liked the fact that, while waiting for the kettle to boil, these statistics are were in the direct eyelines of my employees. 

What better time to spend two minutes brainstorming ways to add to our wins? I’ve had some of my best brainwaves while hovering between the fridge and the recycling bin. 

Who wants to know?

We’re assuming that every employee wants to know everything.

But do they really? Or is ignorance sometimes bliss to certain team members? Does your intern, for example, want to know every transaction in your bank account? Or are they just happy to have an overarching view of your startup without knowing the finer details?

Think of it this way: as the boss, I bet there are days when you wish you didn’t know so much about your own shaky finances. But, you (hopefully) have enough experience to know that one bad day at the office doesn’t mean the end of a company. Especially if you have a sound startup business plan in place and the right people to make positive things happen. 

A younger staff member may not have that experience. You’re not deceiving them – you’re shouldering the burden. 

Need help creating a startup business plan?

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Originally published 24th November 2015. Updated 5th August 2019.

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