Looking back on what I’ve learned as I start something new

Today is my last day at Kadro Solutions, my employer for the last 4 years. Over the next few days, I’m going to take a brief foray into the wilderness with some friends to clear my head. After that, I’m embarking on starting my second company, Appozite. I’m excited (and a little nervous) about this new step but I want to take a moment to talk about my experience at Kadro.

My time with Kadro really started back in 2000 when I was a co-op at iXL in the waning days of the .com bubble. I worked there in Raleigh, NC with most of the guys that would eventually form Kadro. Fast forward 3 years later: they call me up out of the blue, tell me about their new company and ask if I might be interested in helping them out. I really appreciated that they had remembered the skinny sophomore from back in the day enough to search me out and get in touch. It really could not have come at a more opportune time for me. It was during a difficult period for Liquid (the company I started in college) right after I had graduated and gotten married. By 2004, I was working at Kadro full time.

It was a tough choice to spend less time on Liquid and start working at Kadro. In retrospect, I believe it was the right one. Everyone who has the entrepreneurial gene like me struggles sometimes working as “just an employee” even at a company as small, flexible and supportive of individual initiative as Kadro. However, I soon came to realize that working with this smart group of veterans meant I would learn an incredible amount.

I learned how to really sacrifice and really take risks to get a business off the ground by watching the Kadro owners go without pay when necessary and work incredible hours when things were tough in the earlier days. I don’t think I had learned this lesson well enough at Liquid. There are just times when you have to double down.

I learned what it means to deliver for a customer and be committed to their success even if that means you sometimes have to put your own short-term gain on hold. You ask questions. You learn the customer’s business: what makes them money, what costs them money, what they want to achieve. Often this means you stray far beyond just the technology that you’re responsible for. This means you become a trusted advisor, a friend, a long-term partner. A business that just throws things over a wall to the customer, collects an invoice and moves on is not a sustainable business. I’ve watched Kadro grow and become very successful this way. It’s the right way.

I learned what it means to fall short despite heroic efforts. If you work at Kadro, you know what project I mean. Ultimately, it succeeded but it certainly was rough at the time. Until this project, I had always delivered and delivered well whether it was an application or a school project. This one though, didn’t quite work out that way. It tested my team and me to our breaking point (and probably beyond). I learned that you have to pull yourself up and do whatever you can to make it right. These things happen but you can do better next time; you can plan better, you can manage expectations better and you can ask for help when you need it.

I learned what it means to trust and be trusted by a group of business partners. Sometimes you have to take a risk and extend trust to someone before they’ve truly earned it. Kadro did this with me time and again. Whether it was letting me contribute directly to our core code framework from very early days to entrusting me as account manager of one of our biggest customers, Kadro chose to give me the responsibility and the freedom to take on important tasks. I hope that I ultimately earned what they gave.

I learned what it means to build friendships that start within a team of colleagues but that grow well beyond that. We worked together but there was a lot more to it than that. We played ping-pong, we went to lunch, we argued, we came up with ideas, we developed 1000 inside jokes. We even had the occasional KHappyHour (thanks John). I watched Malcolm and Scott add to their families, commiserated with Rick as he’s taken care of his and kept Andy and Elizabeth in my thoughts as they struggled to start theirs even though I couldn’t help much from all the way out here in Austin.

Finally, I learned that you should never, ever let Scott pick a name for your company, or work for your company, or get near anything of value.

Thank you to everyone at Kadro. The experience has been invaluable and I hope the friendships last well beyond this transition.

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2 comments

  1. It doesn’t really feel real… I think I’m still stuck with you for a while yet though. :-)

  2. […] what exactly we’re doing but suffice it to say that I’m excited enough about it to leave my job at Kadro Solutions to get Appozite off the ground. We’ll start to fill everyone in on the details in time. Just […]

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