During the period between 1999-2002, I worked as Director of Business Development for a small technology start up that tried to change the world with $1 million in seed capital. Of course, in retrospect, we squandered the money…not on parties and salaries…rather on a lot of heavy lifting in development and data entry (don’t ask).
In the end, the company was acquired by CNET Networks and that was a small victory. I still communicate regularly with the 2 principles (I was a heavily optioned 3rd leg of our own little trilateral commission), and have seen the progress, growth, and maturity of them (and hopefully in myself) as we now contemplate our businesses, family, corporate America, software development, and venture capital via instant messaging, email, and blogging. Here’s a few insights that (if seen by anyone in the blog-sphere other than the author) may shed some light on the "Thirty-something what the hell am I doing working for these people since I’m smarter than them and I’ve had 8 jobs since college and I still don’t make enough money to do what I want without incurring debt, and I REALLY still don’t know what I want to do because I got a business degree and was in sales and I hate sales but the money was good" ….group.
1. Owners want solutions. Remember the saying, "Opinions are like a**holes…everyone’s got one?"…Well it’s true…and it’s usually uninformed, self-absorbed, and small minded people that are the first to offer an opinion of why things are horribly messed up…in your firm, with your kids soccer team, or your church council. If you’re a business owner, seek out those who offer solutions and not those with Acute Myopic Viewpoint Verbal Diarrhea. The cure for this condition takes a substantial mind shift away from assigning blame to taking responsibility for affecting positive change. Key sub point here…you CAN’T train this…it’s a self-awareness thing that comes from introspection.
2. Only hire people who can type fast. I still believe that the two fundamentally most important classes I’ve ever had were Typing and Speech…both taken in high school (no slight on my college Alma mater). How can you expect someone who can’t type fast to crank out a proposal, craft a key response to a customer complaint rapidly, or simply get things done at the Chinese pace. If you cannot type fast…you may end up irrelevant and not even know it. Invest the $xx.xx for the class, CD-ROM, or on line training session. 60WPM is my baseline for consideration (errors are OK).
3. Ask people you’re interviewing what they read, how often they read, and who their favorite authors are. If you don’t…you’re losing the most valuable keyhole into who they are, what they think about, and how much they step outside of themselves. The author doesn’t claim to be smart but will claim a far deeper understanding and appreciation for the big picture (refer back to #1)..and an ability to craft creative solutions before spewing venom about what’s messed up. This comes from reading books about business, strategy, success, failure, group dynamics, start-ups, and politics, personal relationships, and successful people. I’m not discounting the value of reading novels for pure pleasure…I just have never exercised that part of my brain that enjoys fantasy, science fiction, or other such dramas. One key area that I fall terribly short in is the reading of Biographies. I have a massive respect for those that can Encapsulate life’s experiences into manageable and understandable nuggets because they’ve already seen similar situations through the eyes of other very interesting, smart, and/or thoroughly insane people. No one…has ever…asked me what I read in a job interview…even when it was a large company with very well developed HR policies and wicked interview junkets. Never. By the way, I never got any of those jobs.
4. Nothing you are doing is new. Aside from the new new technologies, etc…just understand that all of the meetings, sessions, and questions you’re asking have happened too many times to count before you came along. Flash back to number 3. By reading books, you’ll become humble enough to understand number 4 and hopefully be able to pull on your memories of how "Jack Welch or Dan Bricklin (obscure but important guy) handled this situation" I’ve pulled many a quote from a book on business out during a meeting and brought an otherwise ridiculous situation into focus.
5. Understand what you’re GOOD/NOT GOOD at. This seems quite obvious but how many folks that you’ve encountered in life are truly aware of themselves? I believe that Pareto is right on here…80% don’t even question themselves…and 20% obtain some form of personal awareness. A very small percentage hone in with laser precision on what they’re good at and do just that….steering clear of that which they do poorly or do not have passion for. There will always be an element of "the crap you just have to do" to a certain extent, but get good at what you do and you’ll be able to afford an outsourced person to complete these things. I struggled for years on this believing that, "I was weak to not become the greatest sales person in the world because I’ve read the books and fill my mind with powerful success images and blah blah blah". WRONG. I’m not wired to love rejection and to bang out 30 calls a day to meet a quota. Ask anyone and they’ll say, "Doug’s a great salesperson". But I’m NOT. Great salespeople relish the chase and the victory of grabbing NEW business! I get that satisfaction sure…but not at the expense of calling people who haven’t been introduced or "warmed" in some fashion to what I have to say. Revenue generation achieved by the author is merely an effect of the value that I bring in my relationships. I don’t sell, I "Talk to people about their own businesses and they end up giving me money based on what I said."
6. Learn to respect the people in the RED states, farmers, and tradesmen. I work almost exclusively with companies that produce, rent out, and move big earth moving machines around North America. As I’m there talking about technology and certain solutions for their businesses, at the end of the day, I walk out knowing that during the last 60 minutes, that they made 10x what my entire solution costs + my annual income for the next 3 years. These people, these machines, and those Copenhagen dippin’ guys who fix them are the infrastructure of this nation. Get some coveralls on, buy some boots, and get dirty working 1 day on a factory floor in middle America. Then go out to dinner with these folks, meet their families, and catch a ride back to your hotel in their Chevy trucks. When you’re at the next cocktail party with your technorati colleagues shoveling the shrimp and Sam Adams before the bar closes…think about the fact that Walmart is the largest and one of the most profitable companies in the world.
7. Exorbitantly successful people usually get divorced. I’m very content knowing that I’ll not be a Donald Trump or lead a Fortune 500 company. These jobs don’t sound very nice anyway. There’s too much sacrifice of family and spouse to attain ranking leadership. The old adage about never saying "I wish I’d spent more time at the office" on your death bed is true. Let your family growth and well being dictate your level of success. Sure you’ll vacillate between working hard and long hours…and taking more time off…but understand that your wife and kids love you for being a great husband and daddy…not a yes man that works 15 hours a day so you can activate your life insurance policy early.
8. If you’re 30 something, own a home w/at least $200k in equity on the coasts…bail out NOW. Unless family ties and a job that is wildly fulfilling are keeping you put…sell out and get yourself some room to breathe. It’s widely known that in most of the states West of NY and EAST of CA…you can get a nice big house on .5 acre or more for about $250k. Grab yourself a 100k mortgage and start working for yourself. If you have kids like me, the weather is probably the least of your concerns considering it really only affects my 1 hour each way commute.
9. If you have kids, encourage them at all costs to study languages. I had a weird goal when I graduated high school…learn at least 5 languages. If I would have pulled the trigger, right about 9/11/2001 I would have been hiking my rate from $250 to $450 per hour. The sky is the limit in this area. Have you ever heard, "We just have a glut of Arab and Chinese language specialists sir…you’ll have to try again next year." Give them the basics in their youth…Spanish, French, German, etc. then do what you can to encourage the love…and power of knowing communication in the native tongue of your fellow global citizens. Some day, ask them, "How do you say ‘Hey, this fire is burning the leather elbow patches on my wool sweater!’"…….in the Basque language.
10. Find and cultivate a few key GOTO guys/gals in life. I have about 5 GOTO’s in my world. If I launch a new project, changed careers, or need a technical project executed…I call the GOTO’s. These people are very smart and very business minded. They can typically bridge the gap between technology and business better than most. Some of my GOTO’s are just "Good at adapting" so I call them when I need to make a key hire for a small company "Catch all" position. GOTO’s have typically been there and done that and have the perspective to roll with the punches. My list has come from working in small companies and being forced to wear many hats. It’s a lot tougher to build this list while sitting in a cubicle doing your assigned tasks for the week.
11. Find a Mentor or Mentors now. I actively work with 2 mentors. One is venture capitalist and business adviser, the other a Regional Director for the Quick Service industry. Getting the outside perspective on career moves, planning, and strategy have paid wonderful dividends for me. Refer back to #4…they’ve likely done what you’re doing…only about 10-20 years ago and in a different context. Leverage the power of their knowledge, contacts, and savvy to accelerate your own life and career. I think Tony Robbins (and many other gurus I’m sure) teaches you to, "Act like and emulate the people you want to be like…and guess what…you start to become like them." It’s true and it works. Ask your mentors what books they’re reading…and read them. Take a suggestion from them and really put in the time to research it and come back with thoughtful opinions of why you agree/disagree. It will be a powerful experience. Sub tip 11a…learn to golf and golf with your mentors. Golf is one of man’s last chances to spend 4-5 hours with like minded company..unencumbered with phones and email.