Two years ago, today (July 10, 2015) I turned in my blue AWS badge as my last day at Amazon had arrived. Even though it had been planned, communicated, my customer accounts had been transitioned, and we had been moving towards this for months the emotions of the day were strong and left me feeling unsure and excited for the future. It was a big, scary leap—with big risk or big reward—and I was about to take it.
I count July 10 as one of the most pivotal days of my life. Honestly, I now want to celebrate it more than my own birthday—not because I am glad I left Amazon or that I didn’t love it there (I often tell people if I wasn’t doing this I would still be at AWS), but because stepping outside my comfort zone and the accompanying hard work has led to one of the most rewarding periods in my life.
On my way out of the AWS Kumo building, I stopped to have a photo taken in front of the Amazon reception desk.
As the heavy glass doors slowly lumbered shut behind me I wondered what my future would hold. Little did I know the growth I would experience over these following two years.
I am often asked what I have learned in starting a business and decided to share a few things:
- Business is personal
The saying “It’s not personal, it’s business” is a lie. In order to do business, you need to connect with people and to be personal. I hope at the end of my life I have much more than a business relationship with everyone I know. I believe real relationships transcend any business we work with or for. Here are two examples that illustrate this: First, I have known one of my team members since he was a young kid, now he has kids of his own; well before I recognized his genius, I recognized him as a person and counted him as a friend. Next, one of my mentors at AWS has become one of my most valued friends; since leaving AWS we’ve remained in contact with each other and continue to enjoy each other’s company, leaving AWS didn’t change that. The relationships we develop in our personal lives can easily translate to relationships furthered in business, and vice versa.
- Change your questions, change your results.
When I started 1Strategy, my work hours became the priority in my life. My wife, Amy, used to come into my office around bedtime and say, “When will you be done working?” I would say “I am sorry, I don’t know.” She would walk out and I would see her the next morning. This pattern repeated for weeks.
One day, Amy again came into my office around dinner time and asked the same question. I stopped typing, turned my office chair and looked in her eyes. She looked weary and exhausted, I said “Aim, I don’t think I’ll ever be done working.” Amy paused, looked at me with frustration and said “Okay then, when can you stop working for today?”
I stopped and thought about it then realized I could stop where I was and pick it back up the next day. So replied “I can stop right now.” I shut my laptop, we ate dinner that night as a family, I didn’t start working again until the next morning. Ever since that day, we’ve figured out that asking the right question will elicit the right results.
- Gather support
Before I started 1Strategy, I held a family meeting where Amy and I sat down with my five children to talk about the sacrifice required to start my own business. I told them we would have to stop all of their extra-curricular activities and that we would be living out of our savings. My daughter, Madi (16 at the time), began to tear up; she understood what I was asking of her. I continued to look around our living room and my sons, Dade (14) and Fox (10), didn’t have tears in their eyes. Instead my son Dade humbly looked at me and said “It’s ok Dad, we will get jobs, we will mow lawns and we will help pay the bills.” At this point, Madi was not the only one who was emotional as we all had tears in our eyes. The family was all-in and it made the stretching-to-near-breaking-point moments a little easier to get through. Having the support of the people around you makes a big difference.
- Take Breaks
I hadn’t taken a real vacation in years. In February of this year, I had come to a point where I needed a vacation. I scheduled a family vacation to take my boys and my little girls to Disneyland. I disabled e-mail, notifications, and Slack for a week. I allowed myself to focus on my family, riding rollercoasters with my boys, and watching my daughters dress up as princesses. We spent time doing nothing “productive.” It reminded me why I work so hard in the first place. Without time together, it would have been easy for my family to begin to resent my work and easy for me to get overwhelmed and burned-out.
- Hire and Develop the best (Amazon Leadership Principle)
From day one, I have hired people that honestly are THE VERY BEST. They make my job easier, not harder; they are amazingly gifted, brilliant, and talented individuals. However, even more important than their intelligence and knowledge, is their caring, humility, and especially their willingness to learn.
a. We are a family; we all care about each other. We like to be around each other and try to make each other’s lives better.
b. Our successes are shared and celebrated. We cheer each other on. When we have failures, each member of our team quickly asks, “How can I help?” rather than looking to place blame.
c. We love to learn! I look for people who are eager to learn and continue learning, who are never completely satisfied with their knowledge or in their comfortable resting on their experience. They are constantly asking how can we do better and then put the required time and energy into becoming better.
At the time I started 1Strategy, I was serving in a volunteer church position which required me to spend 15 or 20 hours of volunteer service each week. I watched my local leader and noticed that his ability to delegate was amazing. I watched him immediately delegate anything that didn’t require his attention. I struggled to delegate and I still question it from time to time, but every time I do it, our business grows. One month, I hired someone specifically to help me with many of the tasks that didn’t require my direct attention. The next month our financials saw a significant jump. I realize it was due to my focusing on the things that were most important for me to focus on and allowing someone else to worry about the other things.
As I wrote this, I have questioned whether I would if I could go back in time and hand myself this list. I have decided wouldn’t do it; the process of learning these lessons was just a valuable as the lessons themselves. However, I would give myself the following words of reassurance:
Dear Younger Me,
This is going to be the hardest and most rewarding two years of your career. You are going to find some of the most amazing friends. You will no longer worry only about putting food on your table, you will worry about putting food on the table of many families. You are going to struggle, fail, learn and become so much better. Rich, believe me, in two years you won’t recognize the growth that is coming to you. I won’t tell you exactly what is coming because you wouldn’t believe me anyway, but I want you to know this: it will be all ok, regardless of success or failure. You will grow more in the next two weeks than you did in the previous twenty years of working for someone else. You will come to learn you are capable of much more than you could ever imagine. I look forward to seeing the growth we have made in another two years.