One of the hardest things about leaving an intense operating business is that virtually every minute of your day is spoken for. Each morning, around six I’d check my blackberry (Lotus Notes… ugh) to see what fire had floated over the transom. By the time we were selling product in Europe, flame mails had been flying since about 3AM EST. (I frequently responded in the middle of the night to scare my European colleagues into believing I didn’t sleep)
Once you leave the frenetic pace and late nights of start-up land, you go from being a centerpoint to having to create your schedule. In the past month, I’ve attended conferences on topics ranging from alternative energy to wound care to mobile internet. It’s actually hard to know what conferences to attend, what meetings are worthwhile, even what magazines to read. (All of sudden I’ve gone from reading Dental Products Report to Fast Company) While it’s easy to keep yourself busy, it’s hard to determine if what you’re doing is productive and focused.
As a senior manager, you spend most of your time transmitting rather than receiving. I’m finding that as you “go macro again” you actually have to go from being a transmitter to a receiver. I think that it’s critical to preserve at least 6-8 hours per week to read, research topics on the web and even just to think. I’ve also taken time (in this blog and elsewhere) to write down things I’ve learned from start-ups over the years and general themes on industries, technologies, and markets that are of interest. (more on this in a future post) It’s amazing how useful writing things down can be.
At the same time, you have to cast a wide net and can’t bury yourself in a home office behind a laptop. Entrepreneurship happens because “the stars align” and thus is serendipitous by nature. Therefore, you have to be out at networking events, conferences and meeting with folks with interesting ideas. Bouncing your latest ideas off others is the fastest way to diligence your own thinking.
You have to rebuild your own personal brand as well, particularly if you’ve been in the micro world of operating for a number of years. In a company, you’re the GM or VP Sales because that’s what it says on your business card and everyone respects that (for the most part). When you leave, you have to get the word out about your interests, your strengths and your plans. So much of “finding the one” is about being in the right place, meeting the right co-founder, or hearing the idea that you just can’t stop thinking about.
For me, success during this phase of my professional life will be about balancing my need to be “Type A” and structure everything with being a bit of a free spirit.