Expensify’s Good Intentions, and Weird Execution

There’s a fine line between a company saying what it thinks and delivering a lecture

Along with about 10 million other people, I got an email overnight from the CEO of Expensify — an expense management service used by many companies — urging me to vote for Joe Biden, and assuring me that any other vote was a “vote against democracy.” It’s a rather lengthy email, and it evidently went to every Expensify user at every one of its client companies. This, to put it mildly, is an unusual move for a company whose business has nothing to do with politics.

I’ve argued in the past that consumers increasingly want companies to look us in the eye and say what they believe; I’ve also encouraged companies to explicitly give their workers time off to vote. And it seems that Expensify management took a thoughtful approach to its decision— an “inclusive process that really engaged the whole company,” the CEO told Protocol; the letter and its particular elements were broadly discussed in a companywide Slack channel before a group of top employees sorted through the arguments and settled on the final product.

But while I’m sympathetic to the motivation, the execution is dubious. For starters, I’m not actually an Expensify customer; the company I work for is. Not surprisingly, some of those customers are not happy that some random vendor is directly engaging their employees on politics.

Moreover, there’s a fine line between a company saying what it thinks, and delivering a lecture. Ben & Jerry’s remarkable response to the George Floyd killing earlier this year was so effective because it was a full-throated statement of company values at a time when when most brands were offering up wishy-washy statements. The Expensify email feels more like a lengthy (and, to anyone following the election, very familiar) accusation. It’s getting plenty of attention on social media, pro and con, but it’s hard to believe it’s changing many minds. Basically a broadside, it is not a break from the rhetoric of the moment — it’s an extension of it.

By all means, Expensify should embrace its values, and declare them proudly. But be thoughtful about how you articulate those values, and even more thoughtful about who your audience is.

Author The Art of Noticing. Related newsletter at https://robwalker.substack.com

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