Exbiblio blog and total transparency

It sounds like the dream brief for a corporate blogger – a completely free hand to write anything you want about and for your client on their new public blog.

That’s the gig London ex-journalist, blogger and podcaster Hugh Fraser has secured in working with Exbiblio, a Seattle-based startup that is developing some cool hardware and software to make paper interactive (details here). The company started their blog – Exbiblio blog: The story of a startup – last week, on 19 July.

Hugh’s brief:

[...] The plan is that over the next year or so, I will write up what I see and overhear at Exbiblio on this blog. I have a licence to write as I see fit: the good, the bad and the ugly. It will be interesting to see how that turns out. I’ve had some unusual assignments in my life, but this is probably “takes the biscuit” as we say in England for out-of-the-ordinary.

There’s an extraordinary element to the assignment, though, that adds a unique aspect to any blogging endeavour, whoever is writing the content.

Hugh and I were chatting by email on Monday about his new project. In the course of our conversation, Hugh mentioned that one of the things that makes Exbiblio tragically interesting is that its founder, Martin King, has been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that currently is incurable.

In keeping with his open brief, Hugh blogged about this focusing on how Martin is dealing with his illness and the effect on Exbiblio:

[...] You would not guess that this is a man who has been given a short time to live. He looks well, he discusses many topics with great vigour, and retains the passionate enthusiasm of extreme youth. The only outward sign of anything untoward with his health is his inability to carry a weight above 10LB. Even his beloved Mac Powerbook gives him some discomfort when he brings it to work.

[...] Obviously this situation has a great bearing on Exbiblio. There is a sense of urgency about Exbiblio’s mission, which might not be quite so intense under other circumstances. Time is really short to get things done. There is also an immediate need to find a new CEO, and that has to be somebody who shares Martin’s values and approach to life, as well as his technical abilities. It’s a tall order.

Such candour is rare in the business world whatever the communication method.

Hugh’s candid post in fact caused some initial disquiet at Exbiblio, resulting in it disappearing from the blog for 24 hours. It’s now there again, along with an explanation post from Martin, one reason why I’m now writing these words.

Such absolute public transparency relating to the physical condition of a key person in a company really is extraordinary. It’s extraordinary, perhaps, because it’s probably the last thing you’d expect to read on a company’s public site, blog or otherwise.

Yet if you think about it, disclosing detailed information this way about Martin’s condition is the best thing Exbiblio could have done. It’s out in the open, disclosed in a way that is conversational, human and emotional, and it invites further open conversation. It’s not a massaged or spun message, it’s from the heart. It will be interesting to see if any dialogue develops about this on the blog or elsewhere.

In any event, if Exbiblio were a publicly-listed company, this may well be seen as a highly material fact about the executive leadership which, under the regulations of any stock market I can think of, most likely must be publicly disclosed.

Exbiblio isn’t publicly listed, but it’s still a material fact that has a bearing on anyone’s perception of the company and what it can do. Imagine if such vital information had not been disclosed, and then you find out about it somehow or disclosure eventually comes, along with the fact that Martin’s condition had been known for some time but not disclosed. If any investors were in the I-just-found-out group, that could have some worrying outcomes.

I think it’s a very brave decision to write about this in this way, including Hugh’s commentary on the urgent need to find a new CEO. I think you’re brave, too, Martin.

Wishing you all the very best.