It was bound to happen eventually. You can’t expose someone to the entrepreneurial bug and not expect them to catch it. But before we get into all of that, let’s start with a little background for context. A little over 2 1/2 years ago I was an out-of-work network engineer. A career which, even through my 6 year stent in the military, had been for the most part my sole focus for my entire adult life and heck even some time before that (I’ve been a hardcore computer enthusiast since I was 8 years old). But the economy was bad, I had been without a job for about 7 months and my bank account was running dangerously low. It was time for me to start exploring other opportunities.
I made up my mind pretty quickly that even if I couldn’t get a job as a network admin or engineer I at least needed to still be in front of a computer. I didn’t really care how much I’d be making so long as I was making the rent. “It’s only temporary until the economy picks back up” I told myself. So I started hunting. I applied everywhere. I even applied at a tech support call center (who informed me that I was grossly overqualified, and then proceeded to hire my roommates pot-head boyfriend who lasted all of 2 weeks before being fired). Eventually I stumbled upon a craigslist posting looking for “Google search help”. It sounded simple enough. I figured if I could set up a computer network in Iraq in 125 degree temps under hostile fire, getting someone’s webpage listed in Google had to be a snap in comparison.
I fired off a resume, and when I got the call I rushed down in a suit and did my best to impress. I landed the job before I even knew what the heck the job entailed. I didn’t know it at the time but that interview would change my life, permanently.
Flash forward a year. I’d been conducting hardcore guerilla warfare style reputation management for my employer for some time. I’d completely fallen in love with SEO. What started out as a 35 hour a week job had quickly turned into a 16 hour a day obsession. I had gotten good. Damned good. I’d made friends in the search community. I was ready ditch the in-house job and step up to the big leagues. Agency work. I applied for a job opening at Distilled. I enlisted the help of Rand (using my 2 question credits at SEOmoz) for ANY insider tips to ensure I nailed the interview. It was happening. Not only was I going to get an agency job. I was going to get THE agency job. Working right with the Distilled-SEOmoz tag-team duo. I. Was. Stoked. I walked into my boss’s office fully prepared to tell him I was ready to blow this Popsicle stand.
It’s crazy how fast that plan of action was diverted. By the time I left my bosses office I had received a sizeable raise and an offer to build, direct and have partial ownership in my own agency in exchange for staying. Uh… how exactly does one turn something like that down? Needless to say, I didn’t. And thus Click2Rank was born.
Flash forward another year. Click2Rank spans 2 countries, has more than 20 employees, has gotten contracts with some of the biggest companies in the world, and has become a brand that other SEOs have actually heard about. My big dream for my little agency was starting to take shape. We were getting the culture thing down. We were getting some pretty frickin smart SEOs to come work with us. We were getting speaking engagements at conferences. We even had a new office on the horizon.
In just one short year I had taken both Click2Rank and myself from the realm of unknowns to the company of folks who had been at this biz for a decade. Needless to say, I was proud. REALLY proud. There was just one “small” problem. See my boss wasn’t a lone ranger. He and his wife are a bit of a dynamic duo when it comes to business. She didn’t really like the way our company was shaping up. So she came aboard, and with her change followed soon after. The cheeky t-shirts and designer jeans had to go. Flexible work hours? Gone. Spending money on conferences? Wasteful. Team Building events for the Philippine employees? Unnecessary expenditure. Unlimited Energy drinks for employees? Hell no. Too much fun in the office. It was time to get corporate.
The problem is when you nurse a company from birth and someone else comes in and tries to change it, your first instinct is to resist. To fight for the vision you are working towards. I even tried passing around copies of books like “Delivering Happiness“, “Smart and Gets things Done“, “Rework” and videos like Dan Pink’s “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us“. Let me just say that when you only have a very small stake, this is not that great of an idea.
It wasn’t long before a suitable replacement who found corporate rigidity and the new direction more palatable was brought in to head up the company and I was relegated to directing a department that essentially had no function: Product development. I know what you’re thinking. “Of course product development has a function”, and normally you’d be right except that one of the first decisions made by the new leadership was to let the developers go. It’s rather hard to develop products without developers. And so it went. Clients were turned away. Contracts were canceled. The focus shifted from external to internal. Brick by brick I watched as the company I had built with my own 2 hands was replaced with something entirely different with just enough cadence to keep the logo from falling off the front of the building.
That brings us to today. Jerry Maguire moment ala Kris Roadruck. I’d be hard pressed to say that the owners didn’t have a solid plan that made sense. If I’m putting my pride aside I can totally see their motivations, goals and to an extent understand their method of execution. But what I was completely unable to reconcile with was my new position as a mere placeholder in a company that was literally crafted out of my own blood sweat and tears. Building Click2Rank taught me what it was to be an entrepreneur. It also gave me the opportunity to expose myself to all sorts of information on company culture, leadership styles, and all the excitement that comes with working in a startup environment.
While I know that the “Corporate Culture” of reams of policies, and carrots and sticks, layers of bureaucracy and binding contracts that protect the company while damning the employee does in fact work for many of the largest companies in America, I also know that having been exposed to the alternative, I simply have no desire to take part in that style of company, leadership, or work environment. I had caught the bug. As I contemplated all this in the past week I knew without a doubt what had to be done. It was time for me to throw the dice. Take the big risk. Walk away from the guaranteed high-dollar salary and pursue opportunities that matched my new found set of values. So here I am. Not a CEO or COO. Not a Director. Not an Owner. Just a guy, who walked away from something big to pursue something bigger. Wish Me luck!