Recently I had the opportunity to catch up with an old friend, Zack Johnson (not the blogger) who is the CEO of Syndio Social, a software company that helps companies roll out behavioral changes across their organization.
Syndio Social is a fast growing company that has been featured in many of the nation's top publications, such as Entrepreneur. I don't have any public or private information around how much the company is worth, but my gut tells me it's north of 20 million. Naturally, Zack is a pretty big figure in his space, and he has given a bunch of talks at various conferences.
Here he is speaking at Tedx Northwestern:
In short, he's achieved a lot of business success in 27 years - much more than most people do in an entire lifetime.
What I didn't mention, is that the last time I saw Zack, he was holding a bag of popcorn, on the other side of the concession stand of the movie theater, we both used to work at in high school.
It was great catching up with him, and getting advice for my new software product NinjaOutreach, and naturally, it led to me asking some questions, like:
"How has Zack achieved so much business success in such a short time?"
In fact, he's checked off a lot of the goals I outlined for myself. Goals that I'm JUST getting started on myself.
Now, I'm not trying to compare myself to Zack out of any sort of competitive spirit. I've had a great run myself, traveling to over 30 countries in the last two years, and running some small businesses that earned me a respectable living, which I could do from anywhere in the world.
So, no one is complaining.
But I do think it's worth reflecting on how two individuals, who come from similar backgrounds, can be at such different places professionally, after only a few years of even being so-called professionals.
What's the secret sauce to Zack's success?
Most of us would probably point to things like a skill gap, or connections, or wealth, or luck, but in my opinion none of those really can account for such a drastic, 20 million dollar difference in such a short time, between two capable individuals from the same humble beginnings.
I think there's something more to it:
He went for it.
As a junior in college:
- Zack laid the groundwork for Syndio Social.
- I mostly played video games and thought about where I would work after college.
- Zack grew his company and added employees.
- I went to work for a large financial services company, and thought about how I could rise the ladder.
In the last few years:
- Zack has grown his company by 100% every year.
- I went traveling.
Zack and I had different goals from the beginning. Mine was to enjoy myself and get hired by a large company to make some money. Zack's was to build a large company he was passionate about. What happened is simply a byproduct of that - we both achieved our goals.
Or maybe, those weren't my goals? Maybe, I didn't really have goals or know what mine were?
Whether or not I had formalized these goals, the fact was when I was preparing to ace interviews, thinking about how to dress, and reading about how to get promoted - I was prepping myself for this end scenario. I did exactly what I set out to do, knowingly or not, and ended up 3 years later exactly where I was supposed to; with a few years of corporate under my belt, and some money in the bank.
And I think that's the case for most of us. We set ourselves down certain paths and then 10, 20, 50 years later we look at where we ended up and think to ourselves
"How did I get here?"
But it makes perfect sense, really. We ended up exactly where we set ourselves to end up.
In light of this, it really begs the questions:
Are you setting goals for yourself?
Are the projects you're working on, the material that you're learning, and the people you're associating with in line to achieve those goals in 5, 10, or 15 years?
If the answer is no, then it's time to pivot.
This might sound trivial, but it's that exact triviality that leads us to overlook it and makes it so dangerous.
There's a definition I love about what it takes to be successful in business. It goes like this:
To be successful in business, you need a higher tolerance for risk and slightly better intuition than the next guy.
Developing intuition is a tough one, but I think increasing one's tolerance for risk is very doable, and certainly worthwhile.
When I was playing video games in college, I wasn't taking any risks, and I got nothing for it (except incredibly good at Super Smash Brothers).
When I went to work for a large financial services company as a business analyst, I wasn't taking any risks. I learned some things and I made some money.
When I quit my job and left to travel the world for two years, I was taking the biggest risk of my life. The result was that I learned a ton, I experienced a ton, and I made even more money than I did when I was working.
Sure, it's not always going to turn out that way, but it DEFINITELY won't turn out that way if you don't take the risks.
But what if you're not a risk taker?
There's a difference between going bungee jumping, and taking calculated risks to improve your life.
Often our aversion to risks comes from a poor understanding of what those risks actually are; how likely they are, and how awful we would actually feel about them if they came true.
What were my risks when I went to go travel?
- I die of some horrible tropical disease like Dengue Fever - terribly awful, true, but terribly unlikely. In fact not anymore likely than a fluke accident that could happen anywhere in the world.
- I return with little to no money, and few job prospects - much more likely, and although not ideal, would that really have been as bad as it sounds?
Would I not have gotten back on my feet, eventually?
Would I not have had friends and family to support me?
Couldn't I just go to business school and start fresh, like most other people?
I think the answer to all of those questions, is Yes - and when you put it like that, it really wasn't so risky after all.
The risk actually was NOT doing it. The risk was continuing down a path, and finding myself 5, 10, or 15 years later asking myself the same questions I'm asking my now.
And the upside?
Two years of once in a lifetime experiences and a hell of a lot more clarity around what I want and who I want to be.
By doing this soul searching, I know that the projects that I'm working on, NinjaOutreach and The Mastery, have the potential to achieve my goals. Everything is aligned (as best as I can tell, from my current line of sight).
Whether or not these goals will come to fruition directly from these projects is a whole other story, but at least I'm taking the "risk".
So, what are your goals and what are the risks?