Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!

The Fixer Framework is follows a series of questions and answers for various scenarios you might face as a startup operating in a highly regulated area or in a market full of powerful incumbents

If You’re a Startup Facing: Trying to decide whether to ask for permission or beg for forgiveness

Ask yourself:

  • What’s the jurisdiction? Is it a place you should be able to work with or are they intractable/corrupt and a fight is required? There’s a reason why Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Louisiana have the reputations they do.

  • Can you count on grassroots support from your customers?

  • How is your narrative compared to whomever you’re disrupting? Can the press influence the regulators and politicians? Will they care enough to bother? This gets back to your relative goodness versus theirs and whether your issue is interesting enough for reporters to care.

  • What are the existing laws on the books? If you beg for forgiveness, is it at least arguable that the law was fine in the first place? This is a really important point—you don’t have to concede that the law as written outlaws what you want to do. Just because it’s silent (if the regulator could have envisioned whatever you ended up doing, she’d be an entrepreneur and not a bureaucrat) doesn’t mean the tie goes to the runner and the entrenched interest gets to ban you from competing. It’s possible the law as written prohibits what you want, but that’s very different from not having explicit permission.

  • From whom are you begging forgiveness? A regulator? A judge? A jury? Could you end up in jail? There are risks worth taking and risks not worth taking. As someone who has testified in three trials and two grand juries, I can tell you that even being a witness is awful.

  • How politically powerful and sophisticated are your opponents? How likable are they? How much money do they hand out? How are they viewed by the public? We’ve covered this above too, but the upshot is you need to understand the political strengths and reach of whomever you’re disrupting.

  • How important is this? Do you really want to take on this fight? How committed are you? Do you run the risk of going halfway, angering the people who regulate you without doing enough to actually force their hand? If you do it, do it right.

Inaction from regulators who don’t know how to interpret what you do under current law (or simply refuse to do so)

Ask yourself:

  • Why are they stalled? Is it out of genuine confusion, bureaucratic intransigence, or regulatory capture? Sometimes they’re being instructed by the politician who appointed them to keep you at bay. Sometimes they just hate change. Sometimes they’re subject to regulatory capture. (Think Stockholm syndrome for regulators where they do the bidding of the people they’re supposed to regulate.) And sometimes they’re just genuinely confused. It’s hard to know how to proceed and how to fight if you don’t understand what’s driving them.

  • Did they decide to put the brakes on or were they instructed to do so by the elected official they report to? If the latter, is there a way to make this about pay-to-play? Look at the campaign donations from the interest you’re disrupting to the politician who appointed the regulator screwing with you.

  • Does your model open up a regulatory/legislative can of worms? (In other words, do they have a valid reason for delay/concern?) While there’s almost always a political reason for why you’re facing trouble, there may also be a legitimate policy reason. You need to understand what it is and develop a reasonable, workable solution.

  • What will it take to move them? Do you need a big public fight? Just some nudging internally? Do you need to embarrass them? And do you have the weapons to credibly do so? In other words, you need a campaign and a campaign strategy. This may be something you can solve with a good lobbyist. Or you may need all guns blazing—earned media, social media, paid media, opposition research, and grassroots. You can’t win if you don’t even know what weapons you need to bring to the fight.

  • If you succeed in moving them, how does that impact you in other jurisdictions? Can you use it as a precedent and validation? Some places are more important than others. Fights in major media markets get noticed elsewhere. Policy agreements or political fights with high-profile politicians get noticed elsewhere. If you’re looking to pick your battles or send a message, this all needs to be taken into account.

A decision whether to try to mobilize your customers to advocate for you politically

Ask yourself:

  • How much do your customers care about what you offer them?

  • Are your customers truly passionate about your product/service? Can they live without it? Saying no doesn’t mean you don’t have a great business. It’s just that some things inspire political action more than others. Misunderstanding that can lead to a lot of wasted time and money. What’s the incumbent like? How strong is the juxtaposition between what you offer and what they offer?

  • If the competition offers a really crappy product and your alternative is dramatically better (think taxi compared to Uber), the risk of having to go back to the old way is often enough to motivate people to act. If the distinction is less severe, grassroots may not work.

  • Do you have enough customers to move the needle if mobilized? (Assume you’re only going to get 5 to 10 percent of them involved no matter how good the political dynamic.)

It’s possible that you meet all the criteria to mobilize your customers but it won’t matter because you just don’t have that many of them yet. It’s hard to assume more than 5 percent or so of the people you ask to advocate will actually do so. So if you only have three hundred customers in a market, fifteen tweets may not do much to help.

  • Do the electeds involved care about your customers? Are they prime voters? Are they at all politically active/aware? Not all of your customers are viewed equally in the eyes of your regulator. The only ones who matter are those who vote—or at least could vote if they were sufficiently outraged. While whomever you’re advocating to probably won’t check the voter records of each person who tweets at them, the more local your advocacy, the better.

  • Can you credibly threaten to turn your customer base into a political force? Can you register them to vote? Keep them informed and motivated? Present a credible electoral threat? Conduct a real get-out-the-vote operation? It’s great to know how to try to scare a politician. It’s not likely to work if they don’t think you know how to deliver on the threat. You at least need to have the resources lined up so your claims are credible.

How to layer in a political analysis into your market-expansion strategy

Ask yourself:

  • What are the laws on the books around your issue? Some jurisdictions may already permit what you want, some may have laws that are silent, some may prohibit it. You should know this before deciding what markets to enter.

  • How powerful is whomever you’re disrupting in that market? If you’re trying to decide between multiple cities, your opponent is not uniformly powerful or powerless in each. It changes by jurisdiction. You need to know how they stack up in each place.

  • How much does the elected official in charge want to seem pro-innovation?

This is a combination of looking at their rhetoric (speeches, op-eds, campaign promises), actions (what they’ve actually done while in office around tech), and political ambitions. (How much does having genuine tech accomplishments help propel them to the next job?)

  • If you succeed in that market, do other cities/states or mayors/governors follow their lead? While all mayors and governors see themselves as great leaders, some resonate much more with their colleagues than others. Picking jurisdictions that others want to emulate always helps.

  • What media market is it in? How much will a fight in that market help/hurt your profile and narrative? If you’re going to invest time and money into a fight, you should use it to send a message everywhere else. That means, if possible, conducting the fight in a place where people pay attention (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C., or Chicago).

  • Are there any relevant supporters of yours in that market (investors especially)? You may not have any preexisting resources that are useful in a regulatory fight but you should at least survey what you have (investors, personal relationships) and make sure you note anything that could help.

An attack from an entrenched interest you’re disrupting

Ask yourself:

  • How sympathetic are they to the public, the media, regulators, and customers? What’s their narrative about why limiting competition from you makes sense? Some entrenched interests are already seen as sleazy (taxi medallion owners, casinos) and it’s easy to counter their political influence. Others (affordable housing advocates) are seen as sympathetic and it’s tougher.

  • If the public knows and hates the product/service provided by whomever you’re disrupting, it’s a much easier fight. (If the product/service is beloved, you presumably wouldn’t be trying to disrupt it anyway.) Checking their Net Promoter Score is one quick way to tell.

  • How politically influential are they? Based on what? Campaign donations or something more? Does the elected official(s) in charge of your issue fear them? Look at how much money they’ve donated and to whom. Are they major donors? Over what period of time? (This sounds complicated but anyone with access to the Internet can find most of the information pretty easily—there are a slew of websites that reveal campaign donations both by specific people and to specific candidates.)

  • If your enemy has real political power—can turn out votes in an election, their endorsement matters, can influence public opinion—it’s much tougher than if they just have deep pockets and expect their largess to protect them from you.

  • How ethical are they? Can you turn their strength (campaign contributions) into a weakness (corruption)? While politicians are desperate for campaign cash, there are very few donors important enough to risk a story alleging corruption over. More than $100,000 in donations may sound like a lot, but a three-day story about pay-to-play politics does more political harm than the donation does good.

  • How important is their well-being to the agenda and policy goals of the elected official(s) you need? If you’re Airbnb, for example, and the politician trying to rein you in has made affordable housing a top issue, that’s a problem. But if you’re a bike-share startup and that’s not something the mayor has ever even talked about, it should be a little easier.

  • Who else can they bring to the fight? Do they have powerful allies or can they be isolated? Unsympathetic but smart opponents will line up others to do their bidding. If they can rally clergy, unions, policy advocates, and the like to their side, it gives the politician they control more cover to screw you over. If they’re isolated, it’s harder.

A decision whether to take on a political fight in any given jurisdiction

Ask yourself:

  • What tools do you have at your disposal?

  • Can you solve the problem by hiring a good lobbyist? If so, do you know how to manage a lobbyist? Keep in mind, the real client for most lobbyists is not you—it’s the elected official you’re asking them to lobby. They usually have a lot more clients who want something from an elected official than political capital with that elected official. So the name of the game is to mete out progress, keep the retainer coming, juggle each client’s priorities, and not expend too much capital on behalf of any one of them. The antidote is to manage them very aggressively, require constant progress, and force them to spend their capital on you.

  • Do you have the moral high ground? Can you frame your opponent and the politician doing their bidding as corrupt? We’ve covered this already above, but the trick here is to turn their strength into a weakness—it’s much harder for them to use their political contributions as leverage against you if the politician they donated to is being called out publicly for corruption.

  • How interested is the press in your issue? Can you generate enough coverage to make a difference? Just because you find something interesting or important doesn’t mean the media will. Reporters tend to like covering process and politics. (Policy is tough to cover these days.) Scandals, corruption, hypocrisy, and new gadgets usually work too.

  • How much money can you dedicate to this fight? Enough to run a real campaign? Buy TV ads? Radio? Direct mail? Digital? The first question is how important the fight is in the first place. Far too many startups go in half-cocked, spend some money, get no results, lose their fight, and end up worse off than when they started. Know what success looks like, what it will likely take and cost, then decide. (And once you do, do it right.)

  • Can you successfully mobilize your customers to advocate for you?

  • Do you have any other assets that are politically valuable? Can you offer or threaten jobs? Tax revenue? You may have more weapons than you realize. Threaten to move your headquarters. Threaten to close your local office. Talk about how other cities/states are more tech-friendly and deserve your jobs more. Show what the city/state stands to lose long-term if you leave.

  • Can you build a coalition? Is this a true consumer-rights issue? Will other advocates come to your defense? Americans don’t like being told where they can and can’t shop, what they can and can’t do with their cars, their homes, their stuff. Property rights are underappreciated as a narrative and advocacy tool.

  • Are there other political dynamics at play that can be useful? Did the same politician just crack down on a different startup?