Column: How CEOs of Public Companies Should Think About Their Stock Price

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

Column: How CEOs of Public Companies Should Think About Their Stock Price

Congratulations! You've gone public, something to which many founders aspire but few achieve. In addition to the extra wind in your sails from the capital markets and the quarterly scrutiny of your performance (both huge factors to adjust to), you have a third concern: the stock price.


The stock price is a brand new unknown for founders of newly public companies, and (like everything else) no one really gives you a guide on how to do it well. For instance, how do you handle the balance between retaining the stock you own personally to show confidence in the company with your prudent desire to sell some stock and diversify? How do you keep in check your own PR, which can distort your perspective? And perhaps the most important to the health of your company, how do you mitigate the stock price's effects on your company's culture and prevent it from becoming a daily distraction which can impact employee morale and motivation? These are all questions I grappled with in my journey leading Zillow as a public company, and they are questions I receive periodically from CEOs of newly public companies.

1. Preset a Plan To Protect Yourself.

The roles of founder and personal shareholder will inevitably lock horns from time to time, and you need to protect both. My advice is to pre-set a plan for selling stock and creating liquidity for yourself, because every sale you make as CEO will be subject to scrutiny. A programmatic 10b5-1 plan helps you do this, as it allows you to sell a predetermined number of shares at a predetermined time. You don't have to pick and choose a date or price, and you don't have to explain to anyone -- shareholders, hedge fund managers, employees -- why you sold because it's all programmatic.

With a predetermined plan, you still need to decide frequency and quantity. It's nearly impossible to give blanket advice here, because everyone's situations are different. I've always opted to sell small amounts of stock along the way, and even though I've sold plenty of stock at lower prices than today's, I've never regretted a single sale. With a distributed approach, you can't really "mis-sell" at the "wrong" price.

In terms of how much to sell, if you haven't taken much liquidity to date, think in terms of what percentage of your holdings you'd want to sell in a given period of time. For example, a starting point could be aiming to sell 10% of your holdings each year for the first five years post-IPO, then reassessing this approach two or three years in. Taking more liquidity early on puts a premium on building your nest egg, enabling you to let plenty of stock ride in the long term but still putting away potentially life-changing money in the short term.

2. Invest in Objectivity To Keep It Real.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of an outside advisor to help with personal money management and investment strategy. As a founder, you are the number one believer in your company because you brought it into existence. Of course it can be worth $100 billion someday. Why would you ever sell a single share of such a promising venture?

An outside advisor provides the more conservative end of that spectrum, tempering your unshakable conviction in the reality that most companies don't reach that stratosphere. Neither one of you is absolutely right, but representing both perspectives will land you somewhere in the middle where you're committed enough to the cause but diversified enough to protect yourself.

Please don't think you're immune from this blind spot; even the most cynical and risk-averse founder will believe their own PR and fall victim to it in the absence of objectivity.

3. Don't Let Stock Seep into Your Culture.

For newly public companies, stock is a valuable lever for attracting top talent. But once that talent is in the door, they shouldn't hear about stock anymore, outside compensation statements. Owning and selling stock is their business because they've earned it, just like they've earned their salary. Never give your people, including executives, a hard time for selling stock. Sometimes I hear stories about CEOs berating employees for selling shares, and I think it's one of the most ridiculous and damaging things you can do as a leader. As with everything in your culture, you set the tone for this at the top.

At Zillow, it was taboo (intentionally) to even talk about the stock price; we discouraged focus on the stock among our leadership and employees because it's terribly short-term, and companies that last focus on the long-term. There was, however, a time when I broke my own rule: The year we launched Zillow Offers, a game-changing evolution that expanded Zillow's business from media into hard assets, our stock price plummeted and many newer employees were completely underwater. There was anxiety afoot, and we needed to address it.

At our annual meeting, I showed charts of Amazon's stock price when it launched major innovations like third-party marketplace, Amazon Prime and AWS. In each of these instances, the stock took significant dives: -94%, -56% and -60%, respectively. I then showed Amazon's ascent to current day to make a point we'd made all along: Stocks go up, and stocks go down. Take care of our customers and focus on the long term, and the stock price will take care of itself.

My team and I debated the decision to break precedent and discuss the stock price internally because on the surface talking (at length!) about the stock price went against what we'd ingrained in our culture. But a couple days after our meeting, an employee emailed me with a heartfelt thank you for doing so. He appreciated the message to focus on the long term while recognizing the short-term realities of the stock fluctuation for employees -- in his example, money he and his wife were counting on to pay off student loans. Stock can be life-changing for many of your employees (not just you), and sometimes you need to talk about it.

The final point to this story, and to all of this advice, is that stock is personal. Sometimes you need to change the plan. Sometimes you have to break your own rules. Be strategic, not dogmatic, and you'll find the best path for you and your company as a public founder.

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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
Image Source: Discover LA

In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.

Pickleball

Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle


Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out


Day Trip to Catalina Island

Image Source: Love Catalina

Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities


Top Golf

Image Source: Topgolf

Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo


SoFi Stadium Tour

Image Source: Discover LA

A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours


Corporate Volunteering

Image Source: L.A. Works

Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch


Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
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Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.


🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

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