Pick up the phone already

Time to get locked in with the heavy hitters

The initial buzz has passed, and it’s time to get to work.

It’s funny how something can be at the forefront of our minds one moment and then quickly fades into the background as we move on to the next something. I’ve been reading books about startups for what feels like forever, and one consistent theme in these entrepreneur chronicles is the rollercoaster of highs and lows.

Happy Plastic Surgery GIF by E!

It’s a looping sequence. For me, these feelings can fluctuate within the same week, and even within the same day. Earlier last week, I was deeply immersed in a side quest: constructing a multi-step automation on Zapier to streamline part of our project management and invoicing process. I was energized about the prospect of saving 1.5 hours per project while envisioning how those savings might multiply across 10 projects.

However, I soon realized I had made a stupid error at the start of the automation rule that would require another weekend’s worth of work to fix and recreate. Within the span of 10 minutes, my feelings that I was the world’s smartest automation engineer were humbled and turned into frustration as I begrudgingly added the issue to my whiteboard parking lot. I’ll have to address Zapier later now.

I’ve come to embrace these momentum swings, recognizing that today’s problems contribute to the ongoing struggles of building a business and that these problems are exactly that —today’s problems, and nothing more.

The motivation remains clear: to build something that requires minimal maintenance in areas of the business that I find less enjoyable (e.g., invoicing and collections), and to reclaim time for activities I actually do like, such as talking with clients and partners.

Finding your cohort

I follow several startup thought leaders on platforms like LinkedIn, and one individual I particularly like is David Cummings. As the founder of Pardot (now owned by Salesforce) and the Atlanta Tech Village, Cummings is a serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist who shares his insights through a weekly blog titled “David Cummings on Startups”. His reflections, spanning from 2009 to present day, offer insights into the startup ecosystem, while emphasizing one thing more consistently than any other weapon in the this founder’s arsenal — the importance of community and mentorship.

Reflecting on my own path, my first career step after graduating from The University of Georgia in 2014 was a 3-year stint at Ernst & Young (EY). The experience of joining a cohort of campus hires can easily be summed up as the purist form of terror (at least, that is how I anticipated that first day).

On the contrary, from the moment I stepped into the EY Atlanta office for that first orientation day, I felt belonging with the rest of the new hires making up my start class. Despite the challenges of navigating the corporate landscape as a newcomer, there was a shared understanding between us that we were going to do this together. The first weeks, spent in a bootcamp setting isolated in a suburban Marriott hotel, were a whirlwind of training sessions, case study presentations, and bonding experiences at the less-than-stellar conference center lobby bar. Looking back, those early days were limited in project value, as we transitioned from bootcamp to our first billable client engagements. That first client project provided a healthy dose of imposter syndrome for each of us as we experienced our own feelings of fake it till you make it.

At Mastermind, one lesson I’ve already become dependent on is the staying power of cultivating a strong network and actively engaging with it. While the early innings of a professional services career may be challenging, having a support system can make all the difference — maybe that is why I needed 10 years of working for the “man” before I took this step as an entrepreneur.

With this new chapter, I’m once again leaning on the mentors, friends, and former colleagues who are part of my personal network. While there may not be a cohort of 30+ campus hires this time around, I’m finding my new support system and embracing this stage of connections.

Stop texting, and call them already!

I love talking and I especially like talking on the phone. During the shortened Memorial Day holiday week, I called 15 people just to catch up. Primarily, I am talking with people that I consider part of my mid-life crisis cohort (ok, that’s dramatic). These are my favorite communications and I make several of these types of calls each day. These calls are not a chore, but rather something I very much enjoy, are almost never scheduled in advance, and frequently hit well later than closing time at 5PM.

You know that you are on my short list if your significant other knows that an inbound call from me means you are going to be busy for more than just the next few minutes.

Step Brothers Ryan GIF

I use these calls as a way to invest in my network, get second opinions, and create a trusted sounding board for my ideas. I hope I am not naïve with this statement, but I think my friends and professional connections receiving these calls feel similarly about their value, too.

I haven’t performed a real investigative data analysis, but I would estimate these calls last no fewer than 25 minutes each and, I would argue the most important detail about these calls is to be free of distractions when we are engaging with each other. For me, I like to pop in my AirPods and go for a walk with Bear (the best pup) or make these calls when I know I have at least a 30-minute commute ahead of me — otherwise, IMO we would just text.

Your network is an incredible asset, but you have to nurture and invest in it consistently.

Your career will undergo several pivots over time, and I’ve found myself experiencing the same rush of excitement (read: terror) and uncertainty all over again similar to my first steps inside Corporate America.

This time, however, I’m forging a new path, supported by a different network. As I navigate this period, one thing remains unchanged: your network is your net worth.

David 🧠


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