I get asked why in the prime of my career I went back to working for a startup company, run by young talent, in a field on the cutting edge of analytics. It was because, for the first time, I felt like an owner had a vision I could get behind. He wanted to be something better, do something different, and wanted me to help him create something magnificent. I saw it as a unique opportunity because, for the first time, I found a true entrepreneur.
Most people define anyone that starts a business as an entrepreneur, which is actually not accurate. That definition is the definition of a business owner. An entrepreneur is a mindset, a way you do business and how you look at problems. I knew Grant, the CEO of Contemporary Analysis, was different when he told me he was going to turn down being bought by 2 different companies. That alone puts you in a different class. Most owners would sell if they ever got the chance. In fact, Grant has no intention selling off or IPO'ing his juggernaut of a company. In fact, he wants to be a privately owned Fortune 500 company headquartered in Omaha, NE. Grant not only is an entrepreneur, but he has vision. And big vision at that.
People have told us that we can't do it, and yet, we keep doing it. We will easily have over $3 million in revenue for 2012, double that of last year and 10x's that of 3 years ago, and already have contracts with 2 of the Fortune 500's in our hometown. We are hiring, building out, releasing new products, and thinking about how to do business better. I have worked at a couple of startups in my life, but this is the first that does that kind of reflection and planning. Our goal is to not only grow, but grow in a way that is sustainable and scalable by taking the time and energy to do things right the first time. We want to build our products, people, systems and processes so they last, instead of being obsolete the next year. While this requires extra time to research, tinker and think about what the future will look like, this philosophy allows CAN to grow without having to look back. I wanted to be part of a company that has that kind of philosophy.
This philosophy has appealed to me. I used to think I needed all the answers before I could recommend change. Through the books Grant, he wants us to grow as humans and executives, has given me to read, I realized that I didn't need all the answers before tackling a problem. In fact, our whole company is based on the fact the answers that are out there are not the best way any more. We have to invent new ways to stay ahead of competition or risk being a follower. That understanding changed what I defined an entrepreneur as. No longer did I see it as someone who likes risk, who lives on the stress created by it, and who loves the idea that while he or she may fail, the reward for winning is enormous. Instead, I began to see an entrepreneur as someone who isn't willing to accept things as they are as the best way. In the hands of a true entrepreneur business is the best platform to change the world.
My philosophy also changed how I viewed risk and how I found that entrepreneurs viewed risk.
In the book Breakthrough Entrepreneurship, Harvard Business Professor Howard Stevenson defines entrepreneurship as "the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled." From working with Grant, I know that this is true. He has the unique ability to take action that require using resources that he doesn't have and sometimes that don't even exist. For example, he founded Contemporary Analysis in 2008 well before you could even Google "big data", "data science" or "predictive analytics".
Also in the same book, Jon Burgstone, summarizes a true entrepreneur's ideology:
Every time you want to make any important decision, there are two possible courses of action. You can look at the array of choices that present themselves, pick the best available option and try to make it fit. Or, you can do what the true entrepreneur does: Figure out the best conceivable option and then make it available.
This is what makes Contemporary Analysis great, our leader does not look to see what choices are available, instead he looks for the option that would be best for the business, and then goes and finds out how to make that option available. This takes leadership that is empowered, and empowers everyone they work with to question why everyone has always done everything.
For example, we go directly to buyers and talk only to people who have the need,willingness, and resources to buy what we sell. Also, we research every decision we make from chairs and desks to computers and phone systems. We find the system that makes sense to us and then find the vendor who sells it. We certainly don't wait for cold calls, don't put up with bad customer service, or buy from poorly trained sales people. We do things differently.
I am excited to work here. I have no pedigree of how things have been done for years to try and get out from under. I have the freedom to help my clients answer the questions that they have been struggling to answer for years, and help them make better decisions on how to make their businesses succeed. At CAN I am not limited by the technology or resources available, but empowered by the mandate to help every client work smart.
One more quote from Professor Stevenson:
When you don’t have the cash to boss people around, like in a corporation, you have to create a more horizontal organization. “You hire people who want what you have and not what you don’t have." In other words, entrepreneurs offer their team members a larger share of a vision for a future payoff, rather than a smaller share of the meager resources at hand. Opportunity is the only real resource you have.
And this place is one of the best opportunities to make a difference in the world I have ever seen.
That's why I work here.