The following is an entertaining and oh-so-true guest post by Ivan Gaviria – friend and startup lawyer exraordinaire. Ivan is a partner at Gunderson Dettmer’s Silicon Valley office, practicing in the Corporate and Securities Group. He has extensive experience working with startup and emerging growth companies through their entire lifecycle as well as representing venture capital, private equity and other investors.
Oh, and warning: harsh language below – nothing new to you Valley-types…
Ten Classic Valley Clichés
by Ivan Gaviria
As a partner in a startup law firm I have spent countless hours in board meetings over the years. This front row seat has led me to conclude that one of the Valley’s underappreciated contributions to society is the wealth of catchphrases, clichés and buzzwords that permeate the culture. Ignoring the industry specific hacker and technical slang and the trendier offerings, there are a number of phrases that seem particularly unique to world of venture backed startups and have stood the test of time. The following are a couple of my favorites:
“Open the Kimono” – Basically means to reveal sensitive or confidential information; usually in the negotiation context. Example: “It’s going to come out in diligence and we don’t have the time to play games so we just need to open the kimono and take our chances.” I’m frankly amazed that this one is still in heavy circulation with the politically incorrect overtones, but I think I hear it at least once a week. Extra points when it’s accompanied by an illustrative hand gesture from a middle aged guy with a BMI of 30+.
“Agree to Disagree” – This is essentially just a polite version of “fuck you”; it functions as a segue to allow the negotiation or conversation to move on after hitting an impasse and where an actual “fuck you” would be unproductive. Example: “I think we just need to agree to disagree on this and move on.”
“We are in violent agreement” — Sort of a cousin to “agree to disagree” this is also a segue to move the conversation forward, but without the “fuck you” element – it’s more of an acknowledgment that people are missing each others’ points and don’t really disagree but are getting spun up.
“Spun Up” – Essentially, to get upset, irate, etc. In my experience, used predominately as a threat, i.e., “I could bring that point up with our side, but people are going to get spun up.” Can be used in tandem with various head related hyperboles such as “he’s so spun up his head is going to explode/pop off his shoulders/lift off” etc.
“It Is What It Is” – This is a handy phrase for the moment of resignation when it’s clear something can’t be changed. The issue has been fought, the other side won’t concede and you’ve got to accept the point and move on. “It is what it is.” Depending on your perspective it’s either a super trite cliché or a koan with real existential implications. Lastly, with the right intonation, it can also mean “fuck you.”
“At The End of The Day” – This phrase means something like “when all is said and done” and precedes some conclusion about an open discussion point. Example “At the end of the day, this is a small risk and shouldn’t stop us from doing the deal.” It can be used interchangeably with “the bottom line” or in a cliché combo such as “at the end of the day, it is what it is.”
“Is it the Horse or the Jockey” - The first time I heard this one was during a discussion of whether a high priced, highly recruited sales guy was getting the job done. After the discussion, one of the VC’s leaned in and said “We need to sort through these product issues before we can discover if the problem is the horse or the jockey.” I’m not sure if it’s the Woodside thing but equine metaphors in general are pretty popular in the valley.
“Horse Trade” – A “horse trade” is distinguishable from a reasoned negotiation point and typically made in some non linear fashion often at the tail end of a negotiation. A rational negotiation point might be a founder arguing for a smaller option pool increase because her hiring plan calls for only a modest headcount increase. A “horse trade” would be something like “Ok, we’ll drop the post money pool to 15% but we’re going to increase our participation cap from 2X to 3X.” One could say that a good horse trade is also a variation of “fuck you.”
“Sleeves Off Your Vest” – This one’s presumably been around since before the days of business casual. Giving someone the sleeves off your vest is a concession that doesn’t actually cost you anything. Its corollary among sartorial metaphors is the “belt and suspenders” – a purposely redundant addition to an agreement made to satisfy a paranoid party.
“Reach Out/Ping/Circle Back” – No one around here can just call someone. You have to “reach out” or “ping” them, etc. I’m not sure why this is the case but … it is what it is.
If you have the bandwidth, and I can get your mindshare – I’d love to hear other people’s favorites. Comment below!