What I have learned in the last few years
In 2013 I decided to do the unthinkable: leave a five-year promising career at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, WA, sell everything and go on a life adventure. Mind you, that leaving, included leaving a cushy five bedroom house with an outdoor Jacuzzi on a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course, a Nissan Z350 and so many other material “stuff” that was somehow supposed to make me happy. Especially in the US, it seems that the more we have, the happier we should be. It goes without saying that in the US, we are conditioned to base our happiness on our material wealth. Deep down, I never connected material wealth with happiness… I yearned for more but wasn’t sure what that meant.
My wife and I had many ideas, and together we decided that we wanted to build something for ourselves. We needed adventure and a bit more than the regulatory two-weeks-a-year routine vacation. So we planned our escape over the following year and (after several garage sales) we left for Spain with four suitcases: our entire belongings stuffed in them. We had rented an apartment for a month in Barcelona, and that was it. No further plans. Crazy? yes. Scary? yes. Exciting? Hell yes.
My wife had just gotten her Cambridge CELTA certification to teach English. She, however, decided to create a property development company, which would repair and sell vacation to British vacationers. Realizing that most Spaniards do not speak English very well, gave her an edge with the marketing aspect and conversing with prospective foreign buyers.
I, on the other hand, had become heavily involved in following and learning everything there was to know about Bitcoin, a new cryptocurrency that would revolutionize the world. I was doing some mining, casual buying, selling and felt there wasn’t a tool to keep track of gains (at the time Bitcoin was headed in only one direction: up). So, my first project was coinspector.com: a tool that would display a dashboard with Bitcoins (or altcoin) purchases, dates, gains, sales, etc. It would pull the info directly from the corresponding blockchains and price history from the available API’s from blockchain and MtGox (at the time). I wrote the project and failed to convince anyone to use it.
Several other projects followed and, although they turned out as I envisioned, without a marketing team, I found myself spinning my wheels trying to lift these projects off the ground.
As a newfound entrepreneur, I was beginning to realize that, while I had a tremendous amount of passion for learning and writing the actual code, I failed at communicating the concept and was under skilled as an online marketer. I thought I could do it all, and I learned my lesson:
Having an experienced team is invaluable, and almost imperative for launching a new idea or project. A team where its members complement their variety of skills required for the project.
I then, coincidentally, ran into two local acquaintances who possessed the complementary skills I lacked and desperately needed- sales and marketing. After a few rounds of beers, we partnered and formed Protos: a software consulting firm, which focuses on software solutions for the education industry. In less than three years grew from 3 to 15 team members.
As expected in any startup, the first year as a co-founder were hard. But with hard work and dedication, the three of us watched our small startup grow beyond our expectations. Of course, much like a marriage, or any close relationship, we had our disagreements, gotten in arguments, been blissfully happy and high-five’d many times with fantastic results.
During the ride, we have had to learn how to manage clients, projects deadlines and direct entire local and remote teams. I believe we have been exposed to unknown grounds and have grown both professionally and personally awhole lot.
As a leading director of the firm, I have come to realize the importance of choosing the right team members with a combination of a genuinely free work environment. If one wants to build great things, one needs great people in the team. A team that complements, as well as overlaps, each other in skills and, at the same time, allows each to be a rockstar in their field.
I let them “own” their area, knowing well that that ownership comes with responsibility towards the team; they are part of it and therefore, the result. We all own a piece of it.
Let them speak up at any time since they are the experts in that field; that is why I hired them. Let them come up with new ideas, propose, present, justify and explain, explore proposed inventions, foresee obstacles or experiment with new technologies. Give them that freedom. Foster an environment of safe communication.
This approach has allowed me to maintain a team that remains passionate, hungry, inquisitive and rowing with the rest of the crew in the same direction.
As managers, leaders, mentors and coaches, we need to be very aware of this environment and nurture it with care. Clear philosophies, scheduled one-on-ones, and encouragement by setting the example are essential. Keep in mind that each team member is different and might be motivated by very different reasons. One needs to sense if team members are becoming unhappy, unmotivated and try to mitigate the issues that are causing the negative influence.