Kulp Leadership Principles

i’m barely 30 years old and have been wearing the same pair of basketball shorts for 9 days in a quarantine jail.

you’ll see below why i’m shipping these ideas anyway.

leadership vs management

i am not a good manager. luckily management is not leadership. we tend to lead our way into management roles, however, so you find a lot of managers who aren’t leaders, but rarely the other way around.

if management is a system, leadership is the approach to making that system. following are leadership principles i’ve developed through hiring and managing over 30 people.

everything is reversible

if i had to stack rank my principles, this would be ground zero. believing everything is reversible is synonymous with believing that every mistake is fixable.

we make a lot of mistakes in life. especially at work where we only put in half the effort as choosing a restaurant to eat at for dinner. so it’s empowering to know these mistakes are not permanent.

i cannot imagine how crippling it would be to think a subordinate’s mixups could tank an organization. at Fomo, the flagship product in our portfolio, i’ve never gotten particularly upset about a crashed server or missed revenue target. usually i just laugh. because it doesn’t matter: everything will be OK.

expecting <= myself

a lot of managers get in hot water not when they tell engineers to work the weekend, but when they themselves don’t work the weekend alongside them.

as the saying [sort of] goes, we don’t rise to our level of greatness, we fall to the level of our manager’s ability to inspire.

since i set high expectations for myself, including but not limited to working 7 days a week, sleeping as little as possible, and doing whatever it takes to accomplish a task, it’s reasonable i expect my team members to do the same.


the caveat here is team members are just that — players, not owners. therefore my final calculation is expect_from_others = (self_expectation * 0.7).

it took me years to realize that you cannot expect a team member to play at owner level when they have 1/100th of the upside potential. and that’s OK. but you can get very, very close.

a great leader is someone who can narrow the gap between player <> owner performance to near nil levels.

willful ignorance

to lead a team that builds something great you have to simultaneously understand inherent risks while also assuming you’ll blow them up.

for example. 2 years ago we decided to build an ad network and after spending a lot of time and money on it we finally shut it down. i (Ryan Kulp) failed to build an ad network, and it’s all my fault. so what’s next?

we decided to enter another red ocean, retail tech. but leaner this time, to get to the truth faster. thus we launched Storefront, with 1 engineer working on it part-time and a pilot customer who pre-paid.

a great way to kickstart a culture of willful ignorance is to host a hackathon. we’ve done these all over the world. the double-dip benefit is they also fast-track camaraderie between otherwise distributed team members.

regarding this post’s introduction, i’m shipping the piece because i believe i have something valuable to share even if you are older and have more leadership experience.

stay ig’nant.


enlightened readers will spot the pattern:

expecting excellence from oneself begets excellence from one’s team.

this applies in real life too. how will your wife get fat if you work out every day? how will you raise dumb kids if dad is always studying in his reading room?

a lot of people think leadership requires some degree of martyrdom. but if you make tough choices, early and often, you don’t have to sacrifice yourself to save the ship. you can, and should, make survival a team effort.

during my first couple years as a founder, leader, manager, whatever, i put myself dead last in every equation. when profit increased, we grew headcount or gave someone a raise. when profit decreased, i forewent a salary.

now i prioritize the fundamentals: if we don’t have a business, we can’t afford people. attempting to solve the former by clinging to the latter is ludicrous.

affection for psychology

leaders often moonlight as quack psychiatrists.

whether you sell keto peanut butter or lines of code, you’ll have deep conversations with team members about their feelings, sense of personal security, and future career goals.

this is a wonderful aspect of vulnerability, but you have to be prepared for it. some leaders are anxious to give advice, which i’m guilty of too. but listening more and asking questions that lead your team member to figure things out on their own, is best.

for the stoics out there, fret not. i am potentially a sociopath yet still manage to communicate sentiments to the right person, at the right time.

a little crazy

i don’t think being crazy achieves anything. but acting a little crazy is a cheat code.

in a world where everything is dull and people are so predictable and [insert more teen angst movie quotes here], the “crazy” ones get noticed.

they’re called crazy because they’re a little too… eccentric. bold. charismatic. heartless. offensive. abrasive. energetic. optimistic. anti-authoritarian. genuine. honest. choose a few and go nuts — literally.


i have a long way to go as a leader. but i can only get there by acknowledging where i am today.

if i read this post in a year and hate it, i’ve grown. which is my final principle: forward motion.