When they call you a "good guy," you've already been garroted

By Sarah Lacy , written on November 28, 2012

From The News Desk

I've noticed something. Whenever someone talks about ousting a CEO in tech, they always feel the need to emphasize what a "good guy" he is. You absolutely never hear that as a description when someone is on the way up, only when he or she is on the way down. And it's stunning how universal it is.

When I was digging around about ShoeDazzle, every single source -- without exception -- felt the need to tell me how nice Bill Strauss was before describing how badly he'd screwed up the company. We've heard this throughout the year at PandoMonthlys, when I bring up a rival. Remember Kevin Systrom shrieking, "I like Dalton Caldwell!" about his once rival whose company picplz got funded instead of Instagram? Same thing.

I even noticed the anonymous quote in AllThingsD story about Andrew Mason invoked this disclaimer as well, saying, "The question is not whether Andrew is a good guy, but whether Groupon needs an Eric Schmidt.”

Now, I didn't hear the conversation between Kara Swisher and that source, but I guarantee you she wasn't asking if the issue was whether Mason was a good guy or not. It's clearly some cultural widespread guilt board members feel when they oust someone or that entrepreneurs feel when they best a rival -- some way to say, "Hey, look we're all friends! Nothing personal!"

But of course, most startups are intensely personal. Like any cliche, the "nice guy" spiel has become devoid of all meaning. Like how the word "frankly" is almost always followed by marketing spin or "basically" is almost always followed by a very complex explanation.

If you pay close attention, calling something a "good guy" is the new kiss of death.

Or as serial entrepreneur and Accel EIR Nick Mehta said on Twitter:

Keep calling me a bitch, people. I want to keep my job.