Why I’m Starting My Own Company

Every entrepreneur who starts their own venture better have a clear idea of why they’re doing it. With a clear “why”, it will be easier to navigate when the inevitable obstacles pile up.  If for no other reason than to get my own thoughts straight, here goes:

I’ve got Some Personal Motivation

I’m a small business guy by birth – I grew up the son of a second generation entrepreneur. My grandfather took a huge risk in 1916 and started a car business. He never made it to college, but i benefitted because he had the right combination of courage, vision, perseverance and a super supportive wife. He sent his two boys (my dad and uncle) to college, gave a ton back to his church and community, and sold the boys a successful business. They managed it well and grew it so that their combined 11 kids could go to college and grad school. I can’t count how many of their employees sent their own kids to college, or bought their first homes or a cottage on a lake or were able to retire because they were paid well by dad’s small business. It’s in the hundreds. So, i’m a believer in main street. I think the world needs more successful small businesses. We probably have enough Facebooks, Googles, and Twitters.

I want to build a great culture – I was having coffee with Amol Dixit, the brains behind Hot Indian Foods and he told me that his goal wasn’t to get into the restaurant business. His goal was to build a great company and a great brand, first. The restaurant business was just the fastest way in. When he wakes up in the morning, he’s thinking about how to keep the business growing so the people that work there can get where they’re trying to go, professionally. I hope that, in my small way, the little company i create can be a place where others can get their start on a new career or at least a new phase in their career.

Create More, Consume Less – I try, everyday, to focus on creating. Whether it’s words on a page, music, or even a dumb sketch, it’s critical to me to put something good out into the world to balance out all the consumption i’m doing. Business is the medium where i think i can be the most creative (should have practiced my guitar more) and this is a time where creativity in business will be rewarded. I hope when i’m done working someday, i’ll be able to look back and feel proud of what we all created together at my little company.

Put it into Practice – I’ve been blessed to have worked with some amazing leaders. Whether it was learning how to manage through rapid change at Ameriprise, or learning how to build excellent brands at General Mills, or how to build an amazing professional services business like Ciceron or GoKart, i’ve been around inspirational folks my whole career. I owe it to those leaders to try to do something special. I want to see if i can put it into practice.

It’s time – I started out as a small business guy, but then found my way – through luck and being in the right place at the right time with the right knowledge –  into corporate America. My whole rationale for going corporate was to learn enough to sell some digital marketing into big companies. My longterm plan was to go start my own business; i just needed a little corporate experience first. As i look ahead and make my plan for the next 10 years, this is the best way to get where i want to end up.

Why this Particular Business?

We’re starting a company that will make it easier for companies to find the talent they need to innovate and change. It’s a professional services business, but not an agency. We’re going to have a pool of talented consultants who can provide interim leadership and support for your most strategic digital initiatives. They’ll have experience at the senior levels inside big corporations and agencies and could step into your VP and Director level roles.  I’ll save the particulars for another post, but the general reasons for this business are going to be pretty familiar:

  • The market size is huge
  • There’s a gap in the marketplace
  • There is long term opportunity
  • I’ve got a unique way to help address some market needs

More on that later…

But, beyond the financial and business rationale, there’s a deeper reason. The transformational change that most companies are pursuing will come about through hard work and courageous leadership. That change will be driven by technology, but it will ultimately be a cultural change, where the company vision, mission, values, incentives, ways of work, tools, leadership behaviors, communications and customer experience will all be challenged.

It’s going to come down to great leadership.  It’s going to take vision, courage, resilience and persistence. And – we think –  partners that work like we do.

The Middle is Where the Change Gets Real –  This kind of change will have to be supported at the “top of the house”, the C-Level folks. And, the execution has to happen everywhere, from the entry level folks on up. But, the leaders in the middle – the Directors, the VP’s – are where the real change happens. Or, I should say, where the change gets real. Those people are in the tough spot of trying to influence up (to the C-Level), across (to their peers) and around, to their teams, their vendors, their functional partners. They’ve got to bend and dismantle the old ways of working to create the space for the new ways.

While we will probably be hired by “senior management”, we think we can make the most impact by helping to lead from the middle. So, we are building this organization to to help at the Director and VP level, the ones who have to make the change actually happen. The ones taking the risks to innovate where their peers are playing the game, the ones who are trying to create something new or pioneer new techniques instead of following the path laid out by their boss.

This might be one of the best times in American history to start a new business. It’s also the best time for existing business reinvent themselves. And, it’s an amazingly interesting time to be a business leader. If we work our plan and this business evolves the way we want it to, we’ll be doing our little part to help those great companies – and the leaders inside – reinvest in their futures and reinvent themselves.


It’s Time to Make Goofy Apps Again

We’re about to enter another great era of digital creativity. When you look at the tools that are coming at us to make digital things – voice contral, AI, gestural interfaces, presence indicators, smart devices – it’s clear we’re going to have to rethink a lot of things. That means, unlocking creativity and imagination as we explore what the technology can do. My kids (who both are interested in technology) will have the same chance to sandbox with AI, voice interfaces, and other cool stuff like i did with HTML and visual basic.

I LOVE this post for it’s focus on play and creativity and it’s thoughtfulness in articulating how to pull together all the tech.

What an amazing time we’re in.

The BlockChain is the Beauty Inside Bitcoin

I need to come back and write up a clear article on this, but i’ve been digging deep into Bitcoin. Not the cryptocurrency part, but the actual protocol behind it. The think i’m curious about: What else could we apply the blockchain concept to. That is, what kind of decentralization can happen when there is a secure, transparent, open, scriptable, public ledger holding the system together.

Lots more to think about,  but here’s a couple important articles for my own future reference:


One Good Writing Lesson from Mad Magazine’s Al Jaffee

I think this is pretty good advice for any writer. It’s easy to be emotional and strident, but the best work channels that energy through a distinct, mostly consistent view of the world. And then, funny is usually better.

“When we’re successful, it’s a funny take on a serious subject,” explained Jaffee. “When we fail is when we preach.”

via Cartoonist Al Jaffee Reveals the One Fold-In ‘MAD Magazine’ Wouldn’t Run | Newsmakers – Yahoo News.

Why Food? — For Positive Change in the Food Industry by Yvon Chouinard – Patagonia Provisions

This is another great example of a purpose-lead organization finding new growth (new products, new categorys, new customers) by starting with their purpose, and using that to inspire invention. In this case, their entry into the food space.

So it only makes sense that we’d want to share some of our favorite food with our customers. But that’s just the beginning; we also believe there is great opportunity—and an urgent need—for positive change in the food industry. With Patagonia Provisions, our goals are the same as with everything we do: We aim to make the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and perhaps most important, inspire solutions to the environmental crisis.

via Why Food? — For Positive Change in the Food Industry by Yvon Chouinard – Patagonia Provisions.

Brand purpose is often the best place to start when seeking new revenue growth. By recommitting to your core purpose, you can start envisioning whole new ways to play in your own business landscape. Or, like Patagonia, you can move into whole new categories with completely new products. Operational and business model complexities aside, to consumers, moves like this make sense when there’s a clear purpose behind the brand to tie them together. Invention (identifying new ways to grow like new products and services) comes fastest when there is a clearly articulated brand purpose guiding the explorations.

Social Media is Going to be Everyone’s Job

Good overview of the changes happening in the social media job space. Key point is that, just like “digital” before it, social media is blending into just about everyone’s role. But, companies aren’t really ready for that (Surprise, surprise):

Whether everyone is adequately trained for that job, however, is another question. Just as it took years to fully onboard email, integrating social media into the workplace is frustrated by a skills gap.

But, the biggest transformation is still just beginning. And functional skills won’t be the problem. Businesses are going to have to remake their cultures. As more and more of the core functions of business take on social, realtime dimensions, businesses are having to become truly social business. That’s a culture problem. Companies are still in the mode of adding social as another tool to do what they’ve always done. But, real innovation comes when businesses realize they can solve problems in new ways and pursue completely transformational opportunities that come when brands work in new ways.

So, lets do away with the job title. Let’s make social media part of all of our roles. But, great leaders will have to both understand the practical/skill aspects AND have a deep curiosity about how the culture of their businesses can evolve quickly.