I think the most important business decision I’ve made in my career thus far has been to never make anything resembling a business decision*. Without realizing it, from the very start I have trusted in relationships and circumstance to provide the right opportunity at the right time.
I wrote the sentences above not entirely sure if they were correct. In order to prove it to myself, I wrote out the story of how I got to where I am (included below). It might only be interesting to me, but I think it pretty clearly establishes how much of what’s happened has been dictated by the people in my life, with a significant amount of chance thrown in for good measure.
How I Got Here:
Kristen Meuter** introduced me to Ryan Hoguet.
Ryan Hoguet got me hired at Sapient.
At Sapient I met Alder Yarrow and Zack Gottlieb.
I also met Bob Skubic, Shawn Collins and Pascal.
Alder Yarrow brought me to Tokyo to open Sapient Japan’s offices.
Sapient Japan fell apart in the Dot Com Bust, so I became a professional cook***.
Three years later, when technology consulting heated up again, Zack Gottlieb got me hired at MetaDesign.
MetaDesign got weird, but Alder Yarrow came along and hired me to work on HomeDepot.com.
At HomeDepot.com I got to work with Ryan Hoguet, Bob Skubic and Shawn Collins again.
Bob Skubic found out that Adaptive Path was hiring from his old Studio Archetype colleague, Peter Merholz.
Peter Merholz and I had met years before, at the second Fray Day party, back when I wrote a blog called Gangcandy.
Peter Merholz hired me at Adaptive Path, where Shawn Collins (who also had known Peter from Studio Archetype) sometimes contracted.
At Adaptive Path I met Jeff Veen, Bryan Mason and Lane Becker.
I started a new blog, and called it Second Verse.
Lane Becker created a program called New Ventures to provide Adaptive Path’s UX consulting to startups.
My first New Ventures client at Adaptive Path was Sphere, led by Tony Conrad.
The visual designer for Sphere was Kristen Meuter, who by that time had moved in with me.
Working on Sphere changed my entire perspective on product design for startups.
Lane Becker left Adaptive Path to start GetSatisfaction, so I led the New Ventures program for a while.
I left Adaptive Path to work on a startup of my own.
But first I got married to Kristen Meuter and had a nice honeymoon in Buenos Aires.
I forgot to mention that I went to high school with Jason Shellen.
Post-Adaptive Path, Jason Shellen hired me to work at his post-Google startup, Plinky.
I left Plinky after about 4 months, unsure on what I’d do next.
I started doing what I liked best, helping startups design products, and built that into a consultancy called Second Verse.
Jeff Veen and Bryan Mason were nice enough to let me work out of their space while I got my consultancy up and running.
Tony Conrad called me up and asked me to help him put some ideas together for a new startup.
I ran my small consultancy for a year while Tony Conrad and I put the pieces together for what we called Pumpkinhead.
That included hiring Shawn Collins and Pascal while Tony Conrad made a series of heroic negotiations to turn Pumpkinhead into about.me.
Mike Arrington told us to let users reserve their names during our private beta.
We couldn’t open publicly to everyone because we couldn’t scale fast enough to meet the demand.
When we were finally ready, we opened to the public.
Four days later, we were acquired by AOL.
Tony Conrad and I run the team together inside AOL to this day.
The words “coincidentally” could easily go in front of a half-dozen of the sentences above. Things just sort of always worked out, even when they didn’t look like they were going to. I have put faith in people, and relationships - perhaps a foolish amount of faith, to be honest - to put me in the right place at the right time. I count myself fortunate to have befriended so many amazingly talented and driven individuals, and for the fact that they have so unselfishly shared such tremendous opportunities to grow, both personally and professionally.
* That’s a bit of a trite fiction - of course I’ve made business decisions. I’ve hired, I’ve fired, I’ve purchased and sold. But I like to think that the most important decisions I’ve made have come from a very personal place, rooted in the things I believe are important. Almost all of those things revolve around how I relate to others.
* How I met Kristen, and wound up marrying and starting a family with her, is a story for another day.
** The second best business decision I ever made was to leave technology completely for a number of years, and indulge my desire to cook professionally. I left behind my entire life, trained hard, busted my ass, and gained a new perspective on life that has been absolutely invaluable.