In the next few days, I’ll be wrapping up my tenure at Microsoft and jumping into a consulting engagement for the CIO of a major non-profit.
It’s very difficult – painful even – to leave Microsoft. I really do love this company and the people I work with. Microsoft makes great products for billions of people, and it’s taken care of my family very well for the last 6 ½ years. I’ve made some great friends and worked with great people. I learned what it means for a teammate to have your back at Microsoft, and it’s not easy to leave that. I felt very sad when I told my boss I was leaving, partly because I felt as though I was letting down my teammates.
Why am I leaving then? Well … it’s just time. I took the opportunity to work at Microsoft because I realized I had grown stagnant as a consultant after thirteen years. The same is now true in reverse. I had been in approximately the same role for six and a half years, and I didn’t see much room to grow. Don’t get me wrong … there are GREAT opportunities at Microsoft, and I recommend working there to anyone – but at a certain point, I would have had to move to the Seattle area to do my best work at Microsoft, and Seattle isn’t a good fit for my family these days. It’s time to go, but it still hurts.
I’m excited to be returning to consulting, but I’m approaching it quite a bit differently than I did in the past. Before Microsoft, I was more of a contractor – a temporary employee, really – mostly as a programmer, sometimes as a true architect. It was good work, and I enjoyed it. But I tended to bounce around from one gig to the next without building on previous successes.
As I venture into consulting this time, I’m following the specific approach that Alan Weiss describes in Million Dollar Consulting (and 29 other books). I’ve long said that I want to go where I can create the most value, and Weiss’s approach is based on that tenet. I’m using all my experience, creativity, skills, and connections to help companies get more out of IT. Based on my initial leads and first customer, it appears that I’ll mostly be working with CIOs at companies with medium-sized IT organizations. I’ll probably also work directly with CEOs at smaller companies and with directors at really big IT organizations, but clearly my bread-and-butter customers will be CIOs who want to innovate faster.
I was inspired to take this approach by Patrick McKenzie. He’s the most bad-ass consultant I personally know, and he often emphasizes the importance of focusing on the value you create more than your needs or competitive rates. Of course, if you want to make money for yourself, you have to go where money gets made – if you want to be valuable, you have to make an impact on the bottom line. Patrick is also unapologetic about being both a consultant and a “product guy.” They are both just part of his overall business life. He’s simply an entrepreneur.
I’d like to go down that road as well. Consulting is a business that creates immediate revenue, but when you stop working, the revenue stops. Products have the opposite profile – they require lots of up-front investment before you get revenue, but then the revenue continues beyond the initial investment. To me, they’re just two sides of the same coin. I need revenue to feed my family, so consulting is the way to go. I’m taking it very seriously and becoming a student of the profession. Doing it right will force me to learn more about marketing, sales, managing revenue, and prioritizing my time. And frankly, I enjoy it.
After an initial transition period, I intend to reserve some of my time for product work (like Tribbon). For this work, I have an amazing cofounder in Jody Burgess, and we’re going to keep experimenting with product ideas until we find one that works. We WILL succeed at this, but it might take us years. Consulting gives us both an outlet to use our strengths for other companies. We’ll also learn more about successful companies, while we put food on the table. Jody and I thought about joining forces as consultants, but we decided not to for one simple reason: you should only formalize a partnership with someone when 1+1=3. For our product work, Jody and I add up to 3 … but as consultants, we’re 1+1=2. We bring such different skills to such different customers that we don’t make a compelling package deal (at least we haven’t discovered that synergy yet). So we’re separate consultants, but we’ll continue to work on products together.
Moving forward, I’m going to be blogging for a specific audience – CIOs of medium-sized organizations. I won’t be quite as pensive anymore, and I’ll be providing updates of my son’s gymnastics exploits at his own blog (coming soon).
Finally, as I leave Microsoft, I’ve been thinking a lot about what worked and what didn’t. My best work at Microsoft was more “extra credit” than part of my job: the Startup Success Podcast that I did with my friend Bob Walsh. The podcast allowed me to meet many amazing people (both listeners and guests) … one that had a surprisingly deep and lasting impact on me was Seth Godin. Since interviewing Seth three years ago, I’ve been reading his blog every day and every new book he writes. He inspired my first lightning talk, Give More Than You Take. In his blog and recent book, Icarus Deception, he talks about being vulnerable – and while it’s prudent to stay in your “safety zone,” it’s dangerous to stay in your “comfort zone.” You only grow by breaking free from the bounds of your comfort zone and doing new things.
Ultimately, that’s why I’m leaving Microsoft – it’s time to expand my comfort zone and be vulnerable in a new endeavor. Thanks for your support.