The 17 guiding principles of Genius - Brooklyn


Dec. 3, 2014 11:41 am

The 17 guiding principles of Genius

Andreessen Horowitz has a podcast. Two cofounders of Genius appear on the latest episode. It's devoted to the 17 ISMs (you know, "IZ-UMMMS") that govern the online annotations company.
Swag from the “Rap Genius” era.

Swag from the "Rap Genius" era.

(Photo by Brady Dale)

Genius, the company that believes its recipe for annotating text will eventually be baked into the very fabric of the internet, has generated almost as much news for its unconventional culture as for its business.

On the latest episode of Andreessen Horowitz’s a16z Podcast, which came out the week of Thanksgiving, cofounders Tom Lehman and Ilan Zechory speak with Andreessen Horowitz Partner Michael Copeland about their list of ISMs (“pronounced ‘IZ-UMMMS,'” as Genius puts it). They’re posted on the Genius Meta Channel.

The ISMs are 17 guiding principles the founders have come up with over the course of company’s five-year history, as it grew from a place to talk about the meaning of rap lyrics to a platform for collaboratively scrutinizing text, with around $57 million in venture money.

The Genius guys also explain to Copeland what Gowanus is. You can, of course, annotate the transcript on Tech Genius.

Here are a few of the more striking ISMs (all quotes are from the explanatory text below each aphorism):

  • Feel it to my face

    And in general, always err on the side of transparency. Keeping secrets is much harder than you think (ever seen A Simple Plan?), and it’s hard to productively interact with people from whom you’re keeping secrets.

  • It’s not not your job

    These are the stakes: Genius will either become part of the fabric of the Internet, or it will go into the dark.. Which one is up to you.


  • The chaos will not be minimized

    Plus, if this thing succeeds, what we are today will be unrecognizable 2 years from now. So fasten your seatbelts and get ready for some craziness – it’s gonna feel weird, but we’ll figure it out.

  • Write like a human

    Arguably Tom goes too far here with stuff like “muchhh loveeee” in emails and so forth, but it’s better to sound like a corny weirdo than a corporate drone!

  • Run into the spike

    Doing big, important things in life / at Genius is hard! Recognize the feeling of doing something good and hard and unnatural and learn to cherish it – you’ll accomplish big things by running into the spike, not going with the flow.

    Life is a battle against the evil voices inside that tell us to give in and take the easy way out. Beat back the forces of darkness by learning to love the spike.

We are fans of the a16z podcast here at

This episode enabled this reporter to finally get why mobile is, in many ways, more important than the web. It’s also food for thought for anyone in tech who feels the ground moving beneath them.

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