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Seth Goldman

Seth Goldman co-founded Honest Tea in 1998 with Barry Nalebuff, his professor at the Yale School of Management. The Bethesda, Md.-based company, now owned by Coca-Cola, has been continuously recognized for its growth and business practices.
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The startup that loved me

This piece is part of a roundtable with Post columnist Steve Pearlstein and four of our On Leadership expert contributors about LinkedIn, and life after an IPO.

I always enjoyed the James Bond movies where his actions were literally saving the world, even when his choices were as basic as clipping the blue wire instead of the red wire.

Taking a startup like LinkedIn from seedling to blockbuster IPO doesn’t happen without an overriding sense of purpose that trickles down to the ins and outs of everyday work. The morning after my own startup, Honest Tea, completed our sale to Coca-Cola, I flew down to Atlanta to introduce our Bethesda-based organic brand to the world’s largest beverage company. When I left the airport, I saw two leaders of our marketing team, Patrick and Matt, driving an Honest Tea vehicle. I had last seen them at our celebration in Maryland the night before. It turns out they had stayed a bit too long at the party, were likely to miss their plane and chose instead to drive overnight (10-plus hours) to Atlanta. Though I was concerned for their safety, or at least their sanity, it was good to know their passion and commitment to the brand was just as strong the day after the transaction. 

That’s the challenge: maintaining a staff of James Bonds even after a big transition. Sure, most of our employees welcomed more cash in their pocket the day after the Deal , but the transaction with Coke also represented the chance to elevate the scale and scope of our charge. So rather than daydreaming about how to spend newfound money, we turned to thinking about how to leverage Coke’s vast distribution resources to expand the reach of our mission in a bottle. 

Whether it’s a non-profit or for-profit, the best organizations create accountable cultures where employees understand why their work is important – not just to the organization, but to the world. They need to have both the autonomy and an understanding of the bigger picture so they can feel, especially after a major victory, that their role is still meaningful and their contributions still important. Granted, we may not feel like James Bond every day, but feeling that most days is a pretty good start. If the LinkedIns out there can keep hold of their original purpose, then they’ll find such success creates a nice financial cushion, and perhaps even a little more loyalty to the enterprise. Lose sight of that, and a cash windfall just becomes a ticket for those who once cared most about your organization to move on to the next opportunity. 

Other than adding a new Coke vending machine filled with Honest Tea products, we tried not to change anything at our headquarters – same recycled desks, same open design with no enclosed offices, same hotel rooms on the road (at the Hampton Inn). And a few weeks after Patrick and Matt’s overnight drive to Atlanta, they joined me in producing Honest Tea’s first (and last?) official rap video. Whatever the quirks that make LinkedIn tick, they should have a place in the company’s IPO afterlife—because success doesn’t mean it’s time to change your behavior. It just means you’ve chosen some of the right wires, and now it’s time to get back to saving the world in your own, offbeat, way.

Click here to see our full discussion page, or dive straight into another expert’s perspective by following one of the links below:

Alan Webber: Is it LinkedIn, or is it the zeitgeist?

Deborah Ancona: When the party ends at LinkedIn

Roger Martin: Those poor folks at LinkedIn

Steven Pearlstein: LinkedIn, meet the two rules of blackjack

Be in the know on everything we’re covering here at The Post’s On Leadership section. Follow us on Twitter (@post_lead) and “like” our page on Facebook (On Leadership at The Washington Post).

Seth Goldman  | May 13, 2011 11:45 AM

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