40: Learnings From The Past Decade
Last week was a big milestone for me: I turned 40, and I'm not a big birthday person, so it was relatively low-key. I spent the weekend in Providence, RI, at my daughter's dance competition, to which she performed incredibly. She got her dancing skills from me (or not). This weekend, I'll celebrate my bday with family and some of my friends I've known since kindergarten (or even before).
I was casually talking to my wife about turning 40 and what would be different in the past decade to the next decade. I told her I wanted to experience things more, go out and do "stuff." It's not that I've not done stuff the past decade, but I realize that life is short, and there is less time to do things than I expected. Life has a way of accelerating at a certain age…
Live music was a big part of my life in my teens and my 20s. I went to some shows in my thirties but not nearly the amount of shows I wanted to attend. I always wanted to see Avicii perform… unfortunately, I waited too long, and sickness got the best of him. I'm hoping to get back out to live music in my 40s – yes, more Dave Matthews Band and a variety of other artists. There's something magical to a live show.
Now, for the work-related stuff about turning 40.
When I turned 30, Business Insider asked me to write a piece about what it was like to be the youngest executive at the table. I did. I recently read the article, and much of it still holds true, and I would not have changed much even a decade later.
So, I am not writing a Business Insider piece as I turn 40, but I am writing four business lessons I've learned in my 30s… and how they can help as I head into my 40s.
Outcomes over Activities. All too often, we like to celebrate activities in business. Activities are things like "we served 10 million impressions" or "surveyed 500 customers." Outcomes are things like "we generated an incremental $30 million of EBITDA" or "we stemmed churn 23% which led to $20M of gain." The majority of all my conversations as both an investor and senior business person are around the latter… outcomes.
If you can change your mindset to outcome-thinking when trying to solve a problem or prioritize your work, it will help you. Remember the "why" – what outcome are you solving for, and what is most essential to achieve it?
Momentum. I am a huge believer in momentum, and business momentum trumps almost anything. I was at a product development offsite last week in Boston for one of my portfolio companies, and I spoke about this very topic. Finding a way to get momentum with a product, marketing, advertising, sales, support, whatever… will only benefit you. All too often, I watch companies wait to start building momentum, which ends up hurting them. The product may not be perfect, but it's good enough to launch, and the momentum you gain will trump any minor flaw… and over time, flaws become fixed. Nike says, "just do it" and I say, "just launch."
Relationships. Much of my career is a testament to the relationships I've built with numerous people over time, including many of you. I am grateful for that. I often choose to work with the same company and team repeatedly because we've built up a solid working relationship that trumps being promiscuous and trying new providers every time. Relationships are built over time and can change… but the critical part of relationships for me is the idea of "trust." I need to know that the other party trusts me and I trust them to get the job done. As the stakes get higher with the work executed, I turn to close relationships where the trust factor is there.
Stay Out of the Crap. I have near-zero time for gossip or annoying conversations about who did what and so on. I wouldn't say I like those conversations, and they take up way too much time and, frankly, add very little value to my life. You all know what I mean here: we have multiple opportunities to participate each day… shift the conversation into something meaningful and substantial.
I know I said I would only write four business lessons that I've learned… well, here's the 5th and probably the most important one.
Be Nice and Human. I had an old boss who put a tremendous emphasis on being "nice." So much so that it became part of our agency credentials presentation. It's incredible to me to see how many people in this world are not nice. And the "human" component is important too, and understand that empathy is not just essential but a superpower.
If you can meet people where they are, find ways to rally teams on a human and empathetic level, and put trust in the folks you've hired… you have a great chance of succeeding. This is not hard. If you are nice and human, look at how many more doors open for you.