You Can't Want to Want It. You Have to WANT It
"Wanting to want it:" Becoming addicted to the struggle. At my last company prior launching Brand Amper, I got called out for "wanting to want it" in a moment drove me to make the biggest—and scariest—decision of my career. This is the story of that moment.
To set the stage: LinkedIn had made me their first certified service partner in North America.
Think about this for a moment. LinkedIn hired me to help both their clients and their own consultants optimize how individuals and companies used their platform. Yes, it was a tad ironic that LinkedIn would use an outsider to get smart about its own product, but they were (and are) a software company, and software companies sometimes need this kind of help. It's a thing.
I built a small company around that certification. We grew. I developed a rudimentary technology and told the world that my goal was to morph my consulting firm into a tech platform.
But while my growth was nice, LinkedIn's growth was meteoric. They started sucking all the oxygen (read: dollars) out of the talent acquisition ecosystem. I found jobs getting delayed a quarter or two as clients waited for budgets to reset after making massive LinkedIn spends. Their explosive growth also meant that my champions inside the company were constantly getting shuffled around (sometimes internationally), replaced, or saddled with increasing pressure to grow their core business. The cost of doing partnering with LinkedIn—coupled with the delays from my clients—started putting intense stress on my own practice.
Separately, I knew from client feedback that my evolution into tech had to happen sooner rather than later. My clients were large enterprises, and they needed help reaching tens of thousands of people in short periods of time. I couldn't scale quickly enough.
Yet I liked my problems: revenues were coming in, a technology platform was budding, I was being asked to write and speak for LinkedIn (and killing it, according to #3 on this list ). I was winning some of the biggest brands in the world as clients, too. It was all good.
Until it wasn't.
Out of the blue, one of my team members—the one I really wanted to keep—came in and quit.
"You promised we were going to become a tech company. We're not. You don't want it—" she had my attention, "—you want to want it, but you don't want it. And I quit."
Ooof. I listened. I explained why she was wrong. And then, after she left, I allowed myself to admit that the punch-to-the-gut feeling I was experiencing was about more than losing a great teammate... it was about why she had just quit. Something didn't feel right.
I did the math, and saw she was right: the relationship with LinkedIn was on the wrong trajectory. The cash flow challenges I was having were no longer growth-related, they were operational; I was being stretched as their growth outpaced mine. Looking ahead, I could see there was no way I'd be able to keep the lights on, pivot my growth strategy, and fund the development of a new product.
I would have to either go all in on the tech, or go all in on my core service business.
What she didn't know that day was that LinkedIn had asked me to return for a fourth year to run the Rock Your Profile booth at their annual conference, and I was sitting on the final version of the contract for that deal.
It just needed my signature. I had to let them know if I was in that week.
I wanted to want it, she said. She had handed me an Awful Truth. I sat with that punch-to-the-gut feeling for a full day.
A very, very, very long day.
Some moments, it turns out, take awhile.
The question was stark: Did I truly want what I was telling everyone my goal was, or did I just want to talk about it and blame circumstances when it didn't happen? After what felt like an eternity, it dawned on me that in my internal dialog, I kept framing the choice for myself not as what kind of business I wanted to build, but as whether I was going to make my dream happen or not.
I'd like to say that when this realization hit me, that everything got easy, but it didn't. Clear, yes. Easy, no. What I was deciding to do was the scariest thing in my professional career.
I was about to fire my biggest client.
I made the call to LinkedIn. I said no thank you. I had a Scotch, I think.
I had just killed the goose that laid the golden eggs. LinkedIn was more than a client, it was a source of business development. So the decision led to the immediate disbanding of my firm. Different consultants took over client contracts directly. I engaged Developertown to build out the tool I had been envisioning. I borrowed money to get the job done (a topic for another day), called the team member who'd just quit, and told her what I'd done.
Very shortly thereafter, Lisa unquit (sort of) to become my co-founder at Brand Amper. Together, we built the technology I had promised myself I'd build. and this year—less than 3 years after launch—our technology was acquired by The Muse.
I won't soon forget how easy it was to get caught up in my day-to-day struggles. (As an old client once told me, "Revenue hides a lot of problems.") With the help of someone who was willing to hold me accountable, and with the courage to admit to myself that I'd fallen in love with the idea my goals, I was able to correct course and accomplish what I'd set out to accomplish.
Because I never just wanted to want it.