Yesterday marked the end of a journey and the beginning of a new chapter. To feed the ADD folks among us the short of it is that yesterday was my last day as Minister of Interactivity for The Republic of Tea.
Las Vegas will be my fourth city in a little over four years, preceded by Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco (all with The Republic of Tea.) Clearly I need to settle down.
My experience at The Republic of Tea changed my life and made me a better person. While it’s still fresh on my mind I want to share a few thoughts.
Still want to know more? Keep reading.
Four years ago I was a sales manager. I joined The Republic of Tea as the Minister of Midwest Commerce based in Chicago. I’ve always been a good salesman though I’m not the kind who can sell *anything*. I align myself with something I believe in and hack a million systems to strip out inefficiencies and build revenue.
Two years and 220,000 miles later I realized something was wrong. I wasn’t fulfilled. I did what you might call a deep dive into my career (others might call it introspection) and realized that there were two common elements that defined me. Using technology to make business better and managing complex organizational change. I needed to align my 9 to 5 with what made me happy.
Around the same time it became clear that The Republic of Tea wanted to remake its online business. I knew the company, the people and the products so it seemed a natural fit to take on that challenge. I built a slide deck and pitched our CEO Ron Rubin.
In what was clearly a huge risk for the Company, he offered me the role. Back then the child in me saw his decision as quite natural, today I realize that he took a *huge* gamble on me. So in December 2008 I moved to San Francisco and started work on rebuilding everything dot com.
Much like in a startup, you learn a lot when your only option is “to figure it out.” Over the past two years we’ve rebuilt the web backend, completely redesigned the front end, rewritten every single word of copy and built a completely standards-compliant, scalable and supported system. By design, it’s a system that can survive the loss of any or all of its Web TEAm.
We’ve also rewritten the book on our “Direct to Citizen” business. I’ve worked with a team of people who are passionate about The Republic of Tea, but thanks to a few tough experiences in the past, are shy about change. It’s this aspect of my experience that changed me the most.
Change is hard for any organization, particularly one as set in its ways as we were. Thanks to my experiences, the kid that moved to SF in 2008 is now a professional who knows how to take small steps, how to genuinely work with a large team and, most importantly, listen.
I’ve learned how to see the bigger picture and anticipate the implication of decisions on far reaching corners of a company. I’ve learned that unexpected people can offer some of the most valuable input and I’ve learned more than I can write here about working with teams. Today I’m not just a better professional but a better person for the experiences of the last four years.
All of this is thanks to the support of our CEO and the many, many Ministers of The Republic of Tea. I’m indebted to every single person I’m leaving behind from management to shipping. Not only have I had the opportunity to travel around the world learning about tea, but I’ve had the opportunity to push myself to limits I never anticipated…and we all came out alive.
The Next Chapter
In December 2008 I was in Las Vegas for a friend’s birthday party. I was weeks from starting my new role with The Republic of Tea and thought it a good opportunity to learn something from Zappos. On a long shot I reached out to Alfred Lin, Zappos’ COO, and asked if he could arrange a meet and greet with a few members of his development team. Surprisingly, he did. After the infamous office tour I spent an hour or so with Brian Kalma and Brett Houchin talking UX and Social Commerce. At the time Brian was leading an effort similar to the one I was about to take on, rebuilding Zappos’ frontend.
As I moved through the project I leaned on Brian for advice and feedback from time to time. We traded ideas He gave me lots of ideas. This Spring when Brian announced he was joining Gilt Groupe, he put my name in the running to replace him. To say I was humbled by the recommendation would be an understatement.
The timing wasn’t right and I ultimately wasn’t the right candidate for the role but I kept in touch with the team at Zappos mostly because I enjoyed the few interview-like conversations we had in the Spring (that’s a rarity…to enjoy an interview.) Some time later we reopened the discussion for a different role that would, after a really fun interview process, become the User Experience Product Manager position.
Over the past four years I’ve grown by the grace of my friends and supporters. If you know me you know I work hard and I endeavor to learn everything there is to know about the things I’m engaged in. That alone doesn’t equal success. Relationships make the difference. I believe in the value of relationships…not for material gain but because I genuinely believe that I can learn something from every single person I meet. People make me better. I wish more people saw the world that way.
These relationships have made me a better professional, a better friend and a better person. They’ve allowed a kid from a tobacco farm to follow an unconventional career path, live out his passions and ultimately find his way to Zappos. I’m humbled.
Thanks to everyone and see you in Vegas!