Business is Personal
I found myself at Hewlett-Packard, some 15 years ago, as desktop and laptop computers still dominated our lives and the iPhone was merely a sparkle in Apple’s eye. With my PDA in hand, and Microsoft Zune spinning tunes, HP’s marketing team released a brand campaign designed to reposition the company and remind consumers that the computer is the one device in your home that’s intimately yours.
The Computer is Personal Again
The Personal Computer, the PC, ubiquitous throughout the world thanks to Dell, Acer, and so many others, had become a commodity, as technology is wont to do.
A thought tickled in the back of my brain, that losing the personal touch in our lives, whether in the technology with which we work, or the relationships we develop, HP recognized and tossed a Hail Mary pass to hold tight, the fact that if we don’t put people first, we’re likely to lose the humanity in our lives.
Following my time in Palo Alto, I had the great honor and opportunity to get to know Kevin Reeth and the team he pulled together in building an online bookkeeping platform. Team. Reeth had this oft repeated saying that burned its way into my brain and as I found myself pivoting through the life that cancer hands you, it became a mantra of my own, “You know that saying ‘It not personal, it’s just business?’” he’d remark, “I hate that saying, it’s probably the worst thing anyone can think and I’ll never work with anyone who thinks that way, ‘sure, go ahead, take advantage of me, it’s just business!’”
Business is personal. As we find ourselves in 2021, questioning the role of the office, discussing social impact investing, debating social media, and pondering the future of work, on one thing I hope we can agree, it’s all personal.
Mark Birch and I had a chance to catch up this past week; author of Community in a Box, and the forward to the book, from Xiaoyin Qu, CEO of Run The World, caught my attention, “Wanting a sense of community is human nature. Yet, very few people know how to build lasting communities. Especially this year, when COVID has broken the world apart and deprived us from having those friendly gatherings, happy hours, meetups, conferences, or even casual dinners, the old way of building communities simply didn’t work. What do we do?”
Part 1 [of Mark’s book] reminds us of Helen Keller, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.”
Birch posits two key questions as he explores how to build great communities and as I read these words, I couldn’t help but think well beyond community building, into our very lives:
- Why do you think your community is needed?
- What impact will your community make?
Why do you think YOU are needed and what impact will you make in your community?
Business is personal.
As a startup founder and mentor who works with hundreds, we know intimately that our success (or failure) is a matter of the people with whom we work; that, we’re not working together just to start a business and have a job, that if such a risky endeavor is going to succeed, it’s all very personal.
Consider all of the ways in which we venture forth as entrepreneurs: that social impact is personal, the cap table is personal, being agile or remote requires everyone doing their part for one another, designing thinking puts the person in mind, media is personal, the marketing, you’d best be doing, is about people, and so too certainly is customer validation; even predominant concepts in today’s economy: two-sided marketplaces, software as a service, platforms, and sharing economies … it’s all about what we’re doing for others, together.
Andrew Tull brought this to mind for me most recently, in a fireside chat with Q2’s Will Furrer “A lot of people like to throw individuals at a project, whether from a staff augmentation perspective or through the approach of “more bodies makes more work,” but we don’t always think that’s the best way to do things. The mantra behind Tailwind isn’t “Software as a Service,” but “Software as a Relationship.” In other words, the relationship between a particular individual and a company to achieve mutual goals is paramount.”
This article, these thoughts, I confess, may seem like a string of loosely related incidents and conversations, strung together to make a point. Let me state unequivocally, that’s exactly what it is. Our mission in MediaTech Ventures has been to build a community that teaches others and helps investors connect with founders in ways not found elsewhere in the world. If there was ever a notion that has shifted from the back of my brain decades ago, to the front, it’s that business is personal, and the string of incidents and what otherwise might seem like platitudes or observations most definitely are not, the world is telling us something — work with people who matter for it’s people who matter.
“Programmers are stereotypically bad at navigating relationships and relationship conflict. I don’t mind this stereotype because it describes me pretty well,” shared in his blog on Medium. “Designing software and helping others design software led me, over and over until I finally accepted it, to the conclusion that the human part was the hard part and absolutely necessary.”
– Kent Beck; Fellow, Gusto