I'm feeling nostalgic about Atlanta
I came here with little or no expectations, just a desire to try something new. From there, and the people I met, something ticked. For many Atlanta appears from the outset to be quite sleepy, but once you cut through the leafy streets, and the urban sprawl, there is so much more depth.
In the South, people are very nice. They are polite and helpful - or at least most of the time. Occasionally, the 'loud American' thing happens, but that is few and far between, and once you dig deep, you realize that these people don't actually come from here.
The music playing in a local taxi may be Gospel (it's also known as the Bible Belt), hip hop or country music - and very little in between. There is a quaint Dutch community and quite a few Ethopians as well. The mixture is quite nice. Actually, most things are nice.
When I first came to Atlanta, our Australian dollar was over $1 in value in comparison to the US dollar. I felt rich (well, kind of), and when people were talking up their luxury homes and they were worth less than a million dollars, I did think to myself, "this is quaint". What I didn't realize was that many people in Atlanta have not travelled outside of the US, and most that I meet have not even been to New York when it is merely a 2 hour flight away. I cannot phantom that as I have always travelled, and it has given me some of the best experiences in life.
Opening Marketing Eye in Atlanta was the right choice for me, even though I found it hard in the first instance, not because of the fact that I had to find clients, but due to the fact that I was out of my comfort zone.
To be successful you must step out of your comfort zone
Sitting in a big city, in comparison to any city we have in Australia, with strangers every which way was daunting. Living in hotels was isolating, and although I had heaps of friends, even some from back home, I found myself to be lonely.
That feeling of being homesick yet knowing that this is the adventure that I had in fact chosen, came with a lot of mixed feelings.
The business took off
Eventually, the business took off, and it became something that forced me to change my business model globally. I implemented a flat organizational structure, with no management in place. We hired self-starters and people who would lean on each other to do their jobs at the highest level possible. Doing this had teething problems, and when something went wrong, people always look to place blame on others. It was interesting to see the psych of the people that sat through that transition. I learned a valuable lesson and that is "some people need leadership" while others want to collaborate or lead themselves.
You have to hire differently, and be prepared for backlash. People often look for reinforcement but with no management, sometimes the only person that is going to tell them that they did a good job is their clients. It also requires people to work at a pace that suits them, and what we found is more often than not, people were working at 30 percent of their capacity in terms of billable hours. No business would keep a person who did that, but we perservered as we were trying something new. That was another mistake. By doing this, when any person is asked to improve their capacity to do more billable hours, their noses are immediately out of joint.
Facebook interview techniques are something we can all learn from
Sheryl Sandberg talks on interview questions and how important it is that she hires people capable of accepting constructive feedback. We hired the opposite, and I am thankful of listening to her podcast, so that I didn't continue to make those same mistakes.
We are now a few years in and a growth spurt is dominating everyone's mindset. Two of our loyal, long term team members have a slice of the action and everyone else is on their way to the same. It feels great to be able to watch them grow and prosper, working truly under a flat organizational structure, with no bitching to be heard.
My proudest moments have been not about what the company has achieved, but what individuals have done so in their personal lives. Watching this and creating a bond with people I now see a lot less frequently has been special and highly rewarding. If I can make their dreams come true, they have in fact made mine come true too.
Business isn't about counting how much money you have, as many distasteful entrepreneurs who have paved their way to the top gloat as being how they define success. It is about the lives that you truly change and the people you inspire to believe in themselves.
I have a fondness for my team in Atlanta. They deserve my time and respect - as they walk the walk.
They bring so much more to the 'table' than what I have seen in employees of the past and while I spend my time innovating, they keep us across every possible marketing tactic or technology that will help our clients catapult their businesses to new heights. It's a win-win for everyone - and god it feels good.