Crisis management tips from startup whisperer Margit Wennmachers

When it comes to building a company, lots of things can and do go wrong. Margit Wennmachers — an operating partner at Andreessen Horowitz and long one of the most powerful public relations pros in the startup world — knows this firsthand.

Thankfully for all of you, Wennmachers was able to join us for our recent Early Stage event, where she shared some of her tips and tricks for dealing with everything from fast-ballooning crises that reporters catch wind of, to laying off people during a pandemic, to why lawsuits can actually fuel some companies’ growth.

It’s advice you might save for future reference. As she noted, how a crisis is handled can make or break a startup, and the list of things that can go wrong at even the smallest outfit is “long,” including a product needing to be recalled, a site going down, a cyber breach, a founding team that doesn’t get along, inappropriate behavior, lawsuits and cultural issues.

Some of her most actionable advice included:

Prepare for the inevitable crisis

First, said Wennmachers, spend time modeling out the scenarios, and “let your imagination run wild” as you do. Spend a month on this if necessary. As you’re thinking of worst-case scenarios, also figure out the team that would be involved in a crisis response. Legal will always have to be involved but also, often, HR, outside counsel, and, if a startup can afford it, the help of an outside crisis communications team. If it’s a product failure, you’ll also need the product lead, too, she noted.