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On Crisis Communications and “What if We Didn’t Own the Company?”

The past 48 hours have been intense. Last night we got some rest and now we are beginning to reflect on our trials and tribulations.

If you read this post, you know that as an acknowledgement of our recent troubles, we decided to upgrade every FreshBooks account – even those unaffected by the issues.

Now, I’m a numbers guy. When I can, I like to make decisions based on numbers, carefully considering how things will affect the bottom line. When we decided to upgrade everyone’s account. I didn’t run the numbers. We just did it, because we felt it was the right thing to do.

Consider another scenario. One where we did not own the company and outsiders did. How would our decision to upgrade everyone’s account have played out in that context? We made the decision at approximately 2:00 AM. The process was simple: I asked Joe and Daniel if we should do it. They said yes. We did it.

In a larger company, or at a company owned by outsiders, I suspect this decision might have been much more challenging. At the very least, I suspect that more people would have had to have been consulted. That would have taken time. In times of trouble I believe that being able to communicate quickly and clearly is essential. The notice on our home page and the corresponding blog post were huge assets yesterday.

There is a long history of businesses responding to challenging times in much the same way we did yesterday. The classic example is Johnsons and Johnsons Tylenol recall. In that case the problem with the tampered Tylenol bottles was isolated. Yet despite that, Chairman James Burke swiftly decided to recall all the bottles across the nation. And there are other examples, countless in fact.

So in trying to learn from this episode – a process I am sure will go on for weeks to come – so far I can tell you this:

Communicate early.
Communicate often.
Communicate honestly.

I heard Yung Wu speak last year and he said, “In tough times, over communicate.” (tip #11). To be honest I think this whole episode may have been driven by that advice.


  • http://www.donnavitan.com Donna

    I think you guys will only do good if you continue to follow this honest communication process. And I do agree that had you have overhead outside bosses, this would take alot of time and calculations to just go ahead with the upgrade.

    My account was one that was affected by this incident and I just want to thank you for what you have done already. I am fortunate enough to not have lost a lot and hope that this is the kind of service I can expect in the future: prompt action and honesty.

    Keep it up.

  • Reginald D

    So this is why everything went to hell in a hand basket? Well I must say that I feel silly waiting until now to read your blog. I assumed that one of my employees fudges things up… I suppose I should apologize for yelling at him or maybe I should give him your phone number so he can pass along the obscenities I shouted at him.

    I take full responsibility for my lack of awareness and I am tastefully satisfied that you have done the same for your mistakes. There is just one thing that bothers me about this whole disaster and that is the company who is at fault is rackspace. This is troublesome.

    I truly am A OK with Freshbooks. If Freshbooks would have been the ones who fudged up AND then take responsibility (kudos!) I have not think twice about continuing doing business with you folks. The problem is that the incompetence displayed by rackspace is out of your hands!

    I would like a contact name and number for someone who works at rackspace. I want to be assured that they will not be asleep and actually be able to avert this sort of disaster from occurring ever again. Furthermore, where is their apology? How many millions of dollars in revenue have gone up in the air in an air balloon as a result of their actions?

    Freshbooks – A OK. Rackspace – Phooey!


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