Friday, October 22, 2010


One of the questions I am asked frequently is whether my background as a lawyer has been helpful to me in starting Julep. Although I LOVED my law school years (being the only time in my life where I have ever felt remotely close to “cool”), there’s actually not much about the study of law that is related to my day-to-day work in growing a company.

One of the rare exceptions is the concept of “BATNA”, which was introduced to me by Lee Van Der Walde in our second-year Labor and Empoyment law class. In between passing notes to Ali and Renata (my then-boyfriend, now-husband, refused to sit next to me in class because he thought I wasn’t paying sufficient attention), I learned that making the most of any bargaining situation is all about your BATNA – “best alternative to negotiated arrangement.” From what I can recall (now decades later), the principle is that your ability to get what you want in any negotiation is only as strong as your next best alternative. So if Person A wants to buy your car for $500, you have a “BATNA” of $500 when you go into your conversation with Person B. You can tell person B they need to pay you at least $500.01 or you’re walking away. You got BATNA, baby. If you walk around and create higher and higher BATNAs, you will ultimately get the best price for your car.

BATNA is everywhere. In fact, “the greatest love of all” (a-la-Whitney Houston) is really all about improving your life BATNA. Learning to love yourself is just good relationship economics. It improves the value of your “BATNR” or Best Alternative to Negotiated Relationship. Improve your BATNR, and you’ll be in great shape to negotiate what you need from any relationship.

When you feel like you have no BATNA, as my daughter Yumi must have felt when she asked me for hot chocolate first thing this morning, then a “no” means disaster. Your world feels like it is falling apart – it’s “A” or nothing and so you are powerless and destroyed when you told you can’t have “A”. (Because you are relying exclusively on largesse or inattentiveness at that point to be able to get your way, and although I often have large doses of both when it comes to my daughter, it’s still never a good starting point for a negotiation). Sometimes just asking the question, “what’s my BATNA?” can be soothing – it can remind you there are other amazing things in life and that life will still go on – even if the chocolate milk negotiation falls apart. I hope Yumi will find the strength of BATNA someday. . .

Spun around and put more positively, BATNA can also be about standards. When I had kids, my home BATNA rose through the roof, my best alternative to being at work was the opportunity to kiss buttery-smelling, chubby cheeks as often as I wanted to. I couldn’t tolerate a mediocre job anymore – I had higher standards for what I wanted to do with my time.

I see entrepreneurship, and perhaps life in general, as all about creating great BATNAs - so that I can go after what I want. Anyone who has worked with me for any length of time knows that I like to have my “what I would do if I had a gun to my head today,” plan – just in case someone jumps me in the street with a firearm, demanding to know my next business decision immediately. Although this hasn’t yet happened, I am learning that often life does NOT go as planned, and in fact, start-up life seldom goes as planned. And sometimes even your backups fall apart. Increasingly, what is important to me about the idea of a BATNA is not any particular negotiated result or BATNA itself, but rather my confidence in our ability as a company to continually generate new BATNAS to help fuel forward motion. We have a plan and, you should help us achieve our plan because we have a long list of exciting alternatives to you, and won’t you feel sad and left out if you don’t jump on our bus. And by the way, we’re full of ideas and plans – you can say no to us, but you can’t take away our ability to generate BATNAs.

I love my life, and I love my BATNAs. Or maybe I love my life BECAUSE I love my BATNAs. . .