by Rod D. Martin
February 18, 2014

Recently PayPal CEO David Marcus wrote an email to his staff that has spread far beyond San Jose, resulting (at least) in two Venture Beat stories and today an editorial at Fox Business.  The gist of it is that a bunch of PayPal employees were seen out and about forgetting their PayPal passwords, failing to use a PayPal mobile app, and in some cases outright refusing to download the thing.

This hacked off their boss.  So he sent an email to “All Staff” suggesting rather strongly that people who don’t believe in the company’s products enough to use them shouldn’t work there.

There’s a been a lot of disagreement over this, and I should note that one of the people who was particularly and publicly unimpressed was Keith Rabois, a friend and former PayPalian for whom I have great respect.  Keith’s take is (roughly) that Marcus is engaging in the John Scully model of leadership, and that if your employees won’t use your app you have a problem with your product and your culture.

That’s very likely true.  It’s also true that there were a number of other things wrong with that email, and that approach.

But while I certainly would not have written the email Marcus sent, I think his thought was right, and I think the Fox Business writer in particular was entirely too touchy-feely about it.  Maybe his opinion reflects a view of PayPal as just another company among many giant companies, and maybe that’s true today.

But that’s not our PayPal.  We were an insurgency out to change the world, and we did.  The lowliest janitor had access to the CEO, and was expected to be on the team (and was rewarded as a member of the team).  Honestly, if you didn’t share that vision, you didn’t belong there, you wouldn’t have wanted to be there very long, and you were certainly detrimental to what we were doing, no matter how skilled you might have been.

Moreover, if we were really that much better and were willing to ask you to trust us with your money so we could prove that to you, the idea that anyone would (a) not have a PayPal account or (b) not use it or (c) not care — especially out in public in the Valley — would have been exactly the equivalent in message and in damage to a bunch of guys working for Steve Jobs going to lunch with their Windows laptops and Android phones.  Total train wreck.

So yes, Marcus didn’t handle this well, yes you cannot create good morale through threats, and yes the company should seriously consider whether it has either a product problem or a morale problem or both. But I have to confess that if I were David Marcus, my tendency would be to squash this like a big ugly bug.  I know PayPal’s not a startup anymore, but for my part at least, it remains a place that requires and deserves your passion, and if you don’t have that passion, you should go work somewhere that sucks.

And that’s pretty much how I feel about everything we do, because that’s the only way you ever do anything truly great.