My father used to say – think your mother was a glassmaker? Meaning I cannot see through you. My pride would be hurt. Not because of what was said, but that I did not notice I was in the way and awkward at it too! That said it has parallels for business. Recently we were asked a question – I have done all the necessary steps to get my idea to market, don’t they know how important it is – it could change everything! I even spend $300,000 on IP Lawyers to protect our precious idea from copiers. Still going nowhere, why? Our reply, no worries ‘you’ are the problem. The problem is pride and being too proud and too much unbridled passion in your beliefs. Then our friend said; that is what the other guy said! Adding, they said you are not ready for success and it is very common when ideas get to the point of needing objective assessments and not just hard work. It is at that point where what could go wrong really goes wrong with the next step and it is ‘you’.
If we start with the hard work equation, Co2Land org Posted on July 23, 2014, Waltz with your innovation – 1,2,3 step. From this you will get a good visual on the issues. Then there are the mistakes: Chances are you challenged conventional wisdom – first mistake. Someone else has something to lose. Chances are you have improved a widget – next mistake. It was someone else’s cash cow. Chances are you did not realise you have set a new standard, or at least the potential to change is recognised. This means you are causal to change. Have any of you ever thought that what you cause to change might not like to change?
Then there is the problem of objective assessments and the blockers for it: What you might need to change is your pride! It is that point where your pride will not let you give up; you might want to walk away. But you cannot. It is that point that is too much for good business.
But can you still be proud that at least you give it a go? It is normal behaviour for you to hate to miss the next step for ‘your baby’ to succeed. What you would not like to hear is ‘you’ might better help the company by stepping back for three to four years and it would be good for your company. Why? It is in your mind – you are the best thing for the new company. It is your right in being there for the transition from inventor to innovator to leader. The reality can be different – too much passion to project and not being willing to share the problem.
For further explanation of why, maybe you should step back the following from: Jason Thibeault Sr. Director Marketing Strategy at Limelight Networks; Co-Author of “Recommend This!” on August 13, 2014, wrote: “About a year ago, I had an amazing opportunity to go work for a startup (PokitDok). This startup had everything I could possibly want in an opportunity: a great team, a lead investor who was a personal friend, an amazing mission/vision (which is what really drew me to them). And it was a gut wrenching decision to leave my position at Limelight Networks where, for all intents and purposes, I had an extended family and had just helped pivot the company to new messaging and direction. But I pulled the trigger anyway.
No risk, no reward, right?
Well, four weeks later, I was back at Limelight and wrote this personal reflection because I hope that people can learn from my experience.
The truth about startups
Everyone sees the startup opportunity as a potential lottery win. Sure, there’s the possibility of a windfall financially but for every one that hits it big, there are hundreds, even thousands, that don’t.
There are three things that people don’t quite understand about startups (and that I had forgotten unfortunately after doing a few). First, they are very tight-knit. Even post series-A, PokitDok had 13 people who had all worked together at some point (everyone in the company had a relationship to the two founders). They were already like a family. So there is a lot of intimacy in a startup which, for classic introverts like myself, is very hard to deal with. Second, they move fast. Everyone is doing a lit bit of everything at some point. When work needs to be done and there’s no one who is “responsible” for it, someone picks it up and runs with it (or they acknowledge they will get to it later if it’s not part of the focus). That can be a major cultural shock for someone coming from a public-company environment where roles and responsibilities are fairly well defined. Third, it’s all about focus. There are limited resources (time and money) and in order to be successful enough to garner more investment (or, heaven forbid, revenue) the company has to remain focused on the tasks that lend themselves directly to proving the company’s business model. That can have significant challenges for introverts who are big thinkers and visionaries.
I got broadsided by all three of these issues. As an introvert with an HFA diagnosis (high-functioning autism), I quickly withdrew. It was massive overstimulation. Every meeting, every “huddle up”, every problem I saw, every “lacking” element from the marketing function generated more mental output than I knew what to do with. I couldn’t process it quickly enough. It was overwhelming. Which, of course, led to another problem: I began to get manic. In my introverted mind, I wanted to get the minutiae tackled. I wanted to get all the processes and day-to-day stuff out of the way so that I could concentrate on what I was good at: thinking, pontificating, dreaming, exploring, examining. So I was producing a lot of stuff but not very deeply. I wasn’t very focused. Which is all great for brand and strategic marketing, not so good for day-to-day.
When the shoe drops…
So at the end of 4 weeks the CEO and I agreed that “it wasn’t a fit.”
It’s important to understand the implications of coming to this conclusion. It wasn’t a reflection on my skills or my ability to accomplish my work. It was all about my role (as a senior executive) and the current state/size of the company. In 3 or 4 years? Maybe a different story. They needed to get tactical and operational. I was operating a few levels above that.
Some people might find this a massive blow to their ego. They might not hear the part about “it’s not a reflection of your skill, we still need you to help us.” Only I understand startups and so I applauded the CEO for her ability to make a quick decision. There’s really no way to hide a problem, like someone not fitting or a lack of focus, in a startup. That intimacy exposes everything. And because of that second thing about startups, things moving really fast, someone not fitting can turn into a huge problem that snowballs completely out of control in a matter of weeks (where it might take months or years in a more established company).
Still, I did what anyone would do: I freaked out a little. I just lost my job (despite the consulting opportunity). I had no health benefits. Ruh, roh…
There really is a silver lining
Thankfully, I had left Limelight under great circumstances. I didn’t go to a competitor. I didn’t blast the company over their issues. I didn’t leave angry. In fact, I left sad (and I was actually still consulting with them because I still believe strongly in what they are trying to accomplish; heck, I helped get them there). So I reached out to my former boss (Kirby Wadsworth, with whom I was co-authoring a book for Wiley anyway) and told him what had happened. Long story short, I went back at Limelight for the long-term.
I know that a lot of people are excited by startup opportunities but going into one with eyes wide-open is critical to being successful which is why I impart this one piece of advice: The startup culture (fast, intimate, focused) has to fit with your personality. It’s probably not the best place for a classic introvert unless you are an engineer where it’s expected that you are heads-down in code.
Every experience, no matter how small, changes us
But I also learned a lot about myself. In fact, it gave me a new perspective on my role in helping a business be successful. That new perspective actually empowered me to come up with a role at Limelight (working for Kirby) that is perhaps the most exciting role I could have ever imagined. So what did I learn?
That I’m not a “leader”. That’s not me. Worrying about leading takes away from my ability to do what I do best. When I played hockey, I was a go-to guy because I worked hard. But I was never the captain.
That it’s okay not to be the best at everything. I’ve embraced what I’m really good at: strategy/vision, writing/storytelling, and speaking. Those are my three core strengths. Everything else…no thanks.
That being happy with myself means recognizing #1 and #2.
Would I have liked the startup to work out? Sure. They really have a powerful mission and vision. Yet I also don’t think that I would have had a “life changing” event if it had worked out. I might have continued to believe that I was good at everything, that I was a leader (and deserved the title to go with it), and that I was happy. So in a sense, everything worked out for the best. I got to go back “home” to my extended family (and an exciting new role) while making new relationships with the people at Pokitdok (who are all really awesome people, by the way).
My ultimate advice to everyone? Be truthful to yourself. Accept your weaknesses and embrace your strengths. Don’t try to make strengths out of weaknesses if it’s going to make you miserable trying especially at a startup. Understand that you cannot place anything above your own personal happiness. Because if you aren’t happy, you can’t contribute to other people’s happiness and when it comes down to it, happy environments make for productive employees.”
Well there you go! As long as you experience – you live! You also have reason to be proud, no need to be sorry. Just be cool!