“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Søren Kierkegaard
I don’t have many business regrets, but I do wish that, over the past seven years, I had stopped more frequently to reflect. The urgency, often artificial, to grow had me always trying to peek around the next corner. I often wonder how many “mistakes” could have been avoided simply by pausing to spend a little bit of time looking backward and reflecting on previous situations.
Seven years ago this August, I was at Disney World with my wife. Although she was seven months pregnant with our first child and it was August, my parents thought it tragic that she’d never been and so they organized a trip. When your parents offer to do something like this, you don’t ask questions—you pack your bags and go!
I’d been to Disney World two times previously, but it was pretty awesome seeing it for the first time through my wife’s eyes. It was also pretty cool seeing everything as an adult vs. as a child. Not only was it just as magical as I remember as a child, I was blown away by Disney’s attention to detail on the business and customer service side of things. All in all, it was a lot to take in.
In between trips to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, etc., there was also magic happening in my head. In July 2007, just before we left for Disney World, Bob and I had met with Rory Coakley and pitched him on letting us do for his property management business what I had been doing for DrinkMore. This pilot program (and a few others) would become the catalyst for what was to become Blue Corona.
I distinctly remember walking from our hotel room at the Marriott Harbor Lake to the resort pool, brainstorming business domains, searching for available URLs, and thinking about the resources necessary to get the new venture off the ground. I also spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about the long-term viability of whatever we might build.
Flash forward seven years.
I’m back at Disneyworld with my parents and my wife, but this time I also have my two kids—Jack (6) and Kelly (4). Much has changed. Blue Corona is no longer an idea in my head—it’s a leading digital marketing company and two-time Inc. 5000 company.
Over the past seven years, we’ve …
- Helped 100+ companies use data, technology, and the web to generate more leads and sales
- Assembled an amazing team of data-driven digital marketing experts
- Created a values-based organization with a strong ownership culture
- Learned how to play The Great Game of Business at a world-class level
- Generated nearly $11 million in revenue
- Positioned Blue Corona to be one of THE recognized and referenced authority for high-end, measurable, digital marketing solutions for owner-operated companies in the home service industry
For as much as things have changed, one thing I noticed recently is that I worry just as much today—maybe even more—than I did seven years ago. I think I get my worrying from my mother (sorry, Mah), and it might even be exacerbated when I’m in her presence (like on vacation).
Seven years ago, I worried how we’d differentiate ourselves from the thousands of other marketing firms out there. At the time, every business name I came up with was already being used by another online marketing firm! I worried about how I’d have the time to build the business with a newborn.
When I was in the early stages of building the company, my father would all too often ask, “How will you handle all these sales you’re making. I mean, how can you keep selling and find time to do the work?” I’d confidently answer, “I suppose I will, Pop … until I can hire and train more people.” Of course, in my mind I was thinking, “Thanks for reminding me, Pop. I really don’t know how I’m going to handle all this given that I’m already working 90 hours a week.”
Somehow, it all just worked out.
You’d think I’d be on cloud nine today. Not even close. Today, I have a whole new set of worries.
I worry about how we’ll adapt our services to the ever-changing digital marketing landscape. I worry about the impact Google moving from advertising into commerce will have on our clients. I worry about the same thing with Amazon expanding into the home services world. I worry about managing our team’s expectations with respect to the need to re-invest in the business vs. the desire to distribute profits in the form of bonuses.
Through all this worrying, I thought of something Norm Brodsky wrote about in his book Street Smarts: An All-Purpose Tool Kit for Entrepreneurs. When you’re starting a business, there are a ton of problems to deal with. This can cause tremendous anxiety—especially for new entrepreneurs. Some can’t hack it and go back to work for someone else.
For successful entrepreneurs, as the business grows, the problems seem to disappear. The thing is, the problems are still there; in fact, as a business grows, problems actually become more plentiful, frequent, and complex. The reason successful entrepreneurs feel like the problems have disappeared has to do with a change within the entrepreneur.
According to Norm, the entrepreneurs who make it are those who learn to re-frame problems as things to figure out and solve. Savvy entrepreneurs get caught up in the fun of fixing problems. As Ben Horowitz says in his book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, they learn to “embrace the struggle.”
In his book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story, Dan Harris suggests asking the question “is this useful?” When it comes to my worrying, I find that a little bit is useful—it keeps me sharp and hungry. What I’d like to eliminate are the times when my anxiety takes me to a place that’s WAYYY beyond useful.
In reflecting on the last seven years, I understand now that there will always be something to worry about. The things I worried about seven years ago seem trivial to me today. I suspect that the same will be true seven years from today. The journey IS the thing. Give each moment your absolute best and let the chips fall where they may. There’s no such thing as failure—just results.