I was having dinner with a friend recently and telling her about my desire to do something historically significant. She remarked that at just 27 years old I’d accomplished quite a bit, but I replied that I didn’t benchmark myself by the people I know.
No offense to my friends, who are plenty inspiring and very successful entrepreneurs, lawyers, music industry players, teachers and the like, but when I say historical I’m talking about my idols: Ben Franklin, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to name a few.
I don’t pretend to be on the wavelength of the aforementioned legends of diplomacy, literature and social justice, but I do believe they represent the type of mindset I have when I go to work each day.
Funny thing is, for the last 20 months I haven’t had to go to work each day so it’s been a tad difficult to measure. In August 2009, I jumped off the professional fast track – the one that just years prior had me serving as the chief speechwriter for FEMA after Hurricane Katrina at just 22 years old - to launch Sneak Attack, a pop-up sneaker boutique.
In the year-plus since I’ve gone from sneaker slinger to published author to Austin Music Commissioner to Style X head honcho, which to many represents an ascent from small-time entrepreneur to big-time mover and shaker.
But history could care less about me. Sure, I’ve re-charted the course of my family simply by graduating from college (first in my fam) and possibly been a real role model to some of the young kids I’ve had the privilege of mentoring or speaking to over the years…but history is still beckoning.
That’s precisely why I’ve created yet another new role for myself to pursue. Starting later this month, I’ll start working at Austin-based tech company Bazaarvoice as its Director of Operations and Strategic Initiatives, a newly-created position.
In its simplest form, this new job means I have a boss and the kind of day-to-day responsibilities I’ve shunned for nearly two years. In it’s grandest form, it means I’ll be helping the social commerce company continue along (and hopefully hasten) it’s meteoric rise from startup to employer of 700…and a good employer at that having been voted Austin’s best place to work last year by the Austin Business Journal.
But don’t worry friends, this opportunity with BazaarVoice won’t fully limit my abilities to pursue other projects and passions like Sneak Attack and Style X, but it will require me to hand over some of the reigns to my partners in those endeavors. Thankfully, I’m comfortable doing so because I trust the people I’ve worked with the last two years.
Over the last five years, I’ve had opportunities to work for NFL owners and sports leaders, national media companies, high-ranking politicians, major corporations and passed on many of them because they either weren’t in Austin or they weren’t engaging enough. This one is in Austin and it just seems different.
Several months ago, I made a list of the places I would be willing to work and it was a very very short list. BazaarVoice came in out of nowhere and trumps every other company on the list because the reputation of the company was strong from first impression – me moderating a panel for the UT MBA program back in November in which Chief Operating Officer Heather Brunner was a panelist – on forward.
I’ve spent months now in talks with Heather, the co-founders, CEO Brett Hurt and Chief Innovation Officer Brant Barton, and the senior leadership team that includes Erin Nelson, who just came over as Chief Marketing Officer after having the same role at Dell. Each of these meetings has left me more and more impressed and more and more open to the idea of taking a step forward into the job world in order to help this company take an even mightier step forward.
I see this role as a win for so many reasons: 1) It’s in Austin, 2) The leadership team I’ll be working with is supremely talented, 3) It’s in tech and I’ve never been this deep in tech and (after working intimately in sports, politics, music and fashion) want to learn more, and most importantly 4) They hired me because they want to tap into (instead of disregard) all the things I’ve been doing over the last several years.
In essence, I looked at the landscape of what I could spend my time doing following the initial success that was experienced with Sneak Attack, Real Role Models and Style X and decided I’d be well served to surround myself with proven leaders, learn more about the tech industry and give myself a healthy dose of humility in the process by accepting a full-time job with full-time priorities rather than continuing along the path of part-time work and full-time independence.
So what’s the historical significance with this job? Well, to me it’s rather simple. There’s no way that I can help make Austin the kind of city that caters to globally-minded, locally-driven, multi-cultured, music-loving, public transportation-using, informed, civically-engaged, well-dressed, fun-natured and tech-savvy people if I don’t do two things: 1) Make the most of this opportunity to help Bazaarvoice climb far beyond the peaks achieved by the likes of other Austin “next big things in tech” companies Trilogy and Vignette and 2) Push to make Austin the center of social commerce, which in turn helps to embellish the city’s place as the social media hub of the world and, ultimately, the world’s only tech capital that isn’t completely nerd-driven.
Mega-media mogul Walter Isaacson called Ben Franklin, "the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become."
In introducing Sneak Attack, writing Real Role Models (and my forthcoming book, Indisputable: A Fan’s Guide to the Live Music Capital), creating Style X and serving on the Austin Music Commission and helping organizations like Austin Music People, I’m doing my absolute best impersonation of my ultimate idol on behalf of the city I love. A city that, much like colonial America, is in transition and constantly in need of civic stewardship. No, I’m no Ben Franklin. But I can strive for the type of life he lived.
At just 21 years old, Franklin started Junto, which became a group of young, like-minded people who sought to improve Philadelphia from the inside out by discussing the important subjects of the day and looking for solutions to major problems. As a connector of people, an author, an inventor and a diplomat, Franklin did his part top to bottom.
I’m already half a dozen years and a lifetime of accomplishments short of what Franklin did, but Americans live longer these days too so my hope is that working for Bazaarvoice will get me around enough tech brainiacs to invent something even one percent as useful as Franklin’s bifocals or the lending library.
I will say this though: Ben Franklin didn’t become the ambassador to France until he was 72 years old so I have another 45 years before I start wondering if that ambassador to Brazil job is going to come my way…
During that same conversation with a friend that I mentioned at the outset, we spoke about the path of far too many to simply settle with being average. A prime example would be when top students go to the top universities and make the top marks and get the top jobs only to be average workers. Happens all the time. That’s why it’s always important for me to continue looking for new opportunities to learn, improve and sharpen the saw and to not get too comfortable with the small slithers of success I’ve had.
So, yes, I’ll be taking my talents to South Beach. It’s going to be awesome. But there are also some big moves in the works including Camp Lo and other shows we’ll be bringing to Austin, many more pop-up gems from Sneak Attack this summer and beyond, even bigger things coming together for my next book Indisputable later this year and still more ginormous plans for Style X 2012.
Until you hear from me with far too much information again, stay tuned and stay classy, San Diego.