I had planned to post this earlier today, but as I've learned all too well from entrepreneurs, something always seems to come up and nothing ever goes exactly according to plan. (I'm sure there's some other cliche I'm forgetting.) So I'm punching away at the keyboard as the clock approaches midnight, and yet, it doesn't really feel like work. I think that's what makes this fun.
All evidence to the contrary in the paragraph above, journalists are taught to rarely, if ever, use "I" in their work -- to remain neutral, to observe, to keep themselves out of the story. (Well, at least before the 24-hour cable news shoutfest and drive-by blogosphere descended upon us.) And for most of my career, this unwritten mandate never struck me as particularly difficult. On the contrary, I always viewed my profession as an excuse to occupy a front-row seat to interesting people, places and things. I liked playing storyteller, especially when you're lucky enough to tell entrepreneurs' stories for a living. You guys are nothing if not entertaining.
All that changed exactly one year ago. And not because I moved to the opinion-spouting dark side or had some kind of Howard Beale moment. You see, today (at least for a few more minutes) marks my one-year anniversary at AOL. A year ago today, I walked into AOL headquarters here in New York, to take the helm of AOL Small Business.
I was charged with relaunching this site, enlisting top entrepreneurs and journalists as contributors and creating a destination for people who want to start, run and grow their own businesses. Having grown up in an entrepreneurial family and spending nearly a decade as a journalist chronicling the adventures of this unique population, I was finally afforded the opportunity to experience life on the other side of the proverbial fence. Sure, I was joining a major corporation, one of the pioneers of the Internet that was charging full speed ahead into a new decade, but I was also given the creative freedom and support to create and shape something almost entirely from scratch. An "intrapreneur," as some have told me. Watching something that literally began as scribbles on a piece of paper (check out the photo above) turn into a real product used by millions of people has been an incredibly rewarding experience. If you've done it -- and many of you have -- you know what I mean.
That's when I realized I was shedding at least some of my journalist skin and becoming an entrepreneur-of-sorts, and in the process with a platform like this, an advocate for other entrepreneurs. I think entrepreneurs are a truly remarkable breed, and the wealth they generate, jobs they create and lives they enrich help make this world a better place. That's another cliche, but it doesn't mean I'm wrong. You need only look at our Board of Directors for proof. Where else are you going to find a billionaire knight who owns his own island and now plans to conquer outer space, a pro skateboarder-turned-serial entrepreneur who gets attacked by a shark to promote his toy line and a college dropout who makes millions literally making things out of trash. Having this group at my disposal, and engaging them in conversation each week, is like having a cross between Ocean's Eleven and the Knights of the Round Table on speed dial.
So, as I wrote on the day we relaunched AOL Small Business, our job here remains pretty simple -- to help all of you do your jobs better. To help your businesses flourish. I'm fortunate to have an incredibly talented, creative and dedicated team alongside me. Just one of the many entrepreneurial lessons I heard from countless entrepreneurs over the years and recited to others, but only really experienced myself over the past year. It's experiences like this that I hope have made me a better storyteller, adviser, and yes, advocate for entrepreneurs.
But, like you, I'm always learning on the fly, and this feels a little like a race with no finish line. I think that's what makes it fun too. Not only do I promise to continue all that got us to this point, but to continually look for new ways to provide the inspiration, advice and tools you need to realize your own dreams (American or otherwise). Stay tuned.
In the meantime, as always, I invite you to tell us what you like, what you'd like to see more of and what we can do to help your business. (You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.) After all this, I think I can say with confidence -- we finally speak the same language.
On behalf of everyone here, thank you for your support at AOL Small Business, and we wish you continued success with your businesses...
The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 1/19/11.