Some days I have blue eyes; other days they are green. On New Year's Eve they were green ... with envy and with thoughts of how to finally hit the jackpot. As my partner, Jim, and I sat at NoLa in SoNo eating a NoLa-inspired meal (translation: an oyster bar in South Norwalk, Conn., featuring the flavors of New Orleans), I found myself juggling dueling resolutions/pledges and craving the arrival of 2014. (Last year was a year from hell that included a recurring brain tumor and a ruptured appendix.)
My must-get-dones are inspired by clients and commitments:
- Re-embrace my entrepreneurial roots. I believe you can be an entrepreneur even when you work within a big company, and especially when you lead a company that is allowed to behave stealthily (as I do as CEO of Havas PR North America).
- Figure out how to create jobs in unexpected places. Jim and I are also Airbnb/HomeAway entrepreneurs; isn't everyone in America these days?
The former makes sense if you consider my mounting recognition that I'm now in the middle phase of my life/work and that the happiest days were my entrepreneurial ones (my first job after college was a startup magazine), when I never understood the meaning of the word "no." I zigged when others zagged, which made for a life rich in adventure and learning, but alas one with no serious cash, so I shall be toiling in the proverbial coal mines until the day I die unless I have my next big eureka and stick with it long enough to enjoy a Lotto-style payout.
The latter makes sense if you share my belief that our nation's biggest cities (New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, for sure) are probably not where one is going to mine gold; this trio is already Disney in terms of the cost of entry. I'm much more wowed by the potential of being awesome in, say, Milwaukee, Tucson or Tulsa. (Full disclosure: Jim and I have bet the farm, our now-renovated horse farm, on the outskirts of Tanque Verde, Tucson, so I have a lot to gain in persuading Old Pueblo to embrace economic development, something it has reportedly shunned for decades, despite agencies and organizations created to bring innovation and investment to southwestern Arizona.)
But enough about us. And anyway, you will discover that despite my verve for entrepreneurship, I'm oftentimes just plain too early to the party: Proof positive is that I was truly first up with focus groups in cyberspace, with a company known as Cyber Dialogue (or American Dialogue), once the exclusive market research venue on America Online. Then there was Career Insights, a campus magazine for which I was but a lesser founder, but it too disappeared, replaced by dozens of other smart ways to connect graduates to jobs. Even my insider's guides to employers, co-authored with Ivy League friends back in the 1980s, seem like rotary-dial phones when you contrast what we wrote, and what was published 18 months later, with the real-time updates on Vault and Glassdoor.
One thing that really jolted me as the new year began its debut was a new client (and friend) following her entrepreneurial heart. Brooke Solis, founder of JustGoGirl, was a Yale-educated attorney on the partner track in a Silicon Valley law firm when she sprung her problem, literally, after she carried a set of twins. The fitness nut has now not only named that problem--"athletic leaks"--but also solved it with the smartest, smallest incontinence pad created expressly for female athletes. Like all type A personalities, as her bio says, she didn't just sit on the sidelines and moan; she assembled a team to create the perfect pad for athletic and yoga-pant-wearing athletes like herself. Most people with this challenge would hide it, but here's my friend and client brokering lemonade from the lemons life dished her.
Today Brooke, and her husband, Ren, and their five kids, call Austin, Texas (the next entrepreneurial mecca if ever there was one, after Silicon Valley), home. There, in addition to founding her own startup (which I expect will have people talking and jumping this year), she practices law by representing other startups.
I recently read that "entrepreneurship is the new American (and global) dream" on the website for YFS Magazine ("Young, Fabulous & Self-employed"). I think it's a real truism, as is one of my predictions (one of my other entrepreneurial labels is trendspotter) from half a dozen years back that is more true today than ever: "Local is the new global." When you partner them up, you begin to understand why young people aspire to be like Brooke Solis and marry their passions with their careers.
It made me sad, then twitchy, then I totally understood when a group of awesome millennials told me point-blank they would never want my career--not this corporate career filled with tradeoffs--but I do wonder if they would have wanted the career path I started down, the one filled with startups, failures, disappointments, learning and hard knocks that ultimately propelled me to make safer choices and do the right thing: Pick healthcare benefits and consistency and upward mobility, even if the rewards (big stakes) get wiped down when you give away the treacherous risks.
So, yes, I was green-eyed on New Year's Eve but very proud of all the new entrepreneurs I know, all the smart people who are building things and all the new things I could potentially build. Maybe this time I'll do it more cautiously, carefully and systematically. For now, I'll start by working on helping my startup clients and on our little Airbnb adventure.
For 2014, green is my new blue--an old trend recast all about me.