Party Like It's 1999

by , Mar 20, 2008, 11:15 AM
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I was living in San Francisco in 1999, which was a considerable upgrade from Union City, N.J., where movers picked up my milk crates five years prior.  It was in 1999 when my beloved Shanghai Kelly's softball team won the league championship, stocks I knew nothing about made my bank account swell, and I started working for Snowball.com. 

I haven't swung a bat in years and the swelling has gone way down, but the lessons I learned from my time at this dot-com venture continue to play an integral role in my professional life.  Snowball.com could be a poster child for the dot-com heyday turned May Day.  We were one of a relative few that survived and prospered. After being renamed IGN.com, we really found our groove and were eventually purchased by Fox for more money then they paid for MySpace. 

We had the right leadership, the right market, and the right offering, but there was something further down in the trenches that drove our success: a powerful belief that suffocated discontent and kept us moving in a positive direction.  It was the people that had been randomly collected under this dot-com roof that made our success quantifiable -- and the lessons I learned working with them in 1999 are just as relevant today.  Here are three that rise to the top as I reflect back on this experience.

 
1.         It's all about the process. There was a "kid" that started working at Snowball.com in the fall of 1999 named Winston.  A few months after he started, he came into the office one morning and casually dropped "Waasssup" well before it became national banter.  Winston had great instincts, and we followed his focus on the internal processes needed inside our building to properly fulfill what our sales team sold outside of it.   "It's all about the process" became a verbally shared mantra inside our white-boarded conference rooms.

Selling online programs is more challenging internally then selling a page in a magazine or a 30-second spot on television.  If your organization diligently focuses on the "internal processes needed to execute what is sold," your sales force will have greater confidence in what they are tasked to sell -- and that is never bad for business.

 2.         Working remotely has a remote chance of working. There were always requests to work from home -- and at the time, San Francisco was more wired then most and an easier city to work remotely.  As a manager, I refused these requests.

Everyone would love to work from home a day or two a week -- and when anyone does, everyone in the office feels the unfairness.  So while making someone happy, you're hurting your team's emotional balance.  Your team is one beating entity, and remotely placed parts don't help it function more cohesively.  Sitting with one another every day forces a team to gel.  An individual contributor sitting at home creates leaks.

Placing the needs of your team ahead of the needs of your individuals may not make you more popular as a manager, but it will return greater results for your shareholders.

 
3.         In the battle of us against the world, my money is on us. There was a unifying passion that made "us" feel like we were in it together.  Our battle was for survival and our collective pride was on the line.  We bought into this idea, and that's the lesson here - what is your company's battle cry, and has everyone bought in?  This is an intangible I find difficult to explain.  But when it's present you just know it -- and when it's not, you can sense something is missing.

Tomorrow night, I am attending a Snowball.com reunion in San Francisco.  I am so excited to see old faces, relive our experience working together, and, for just one more night, party like it's 1999.

 

Note: Two weeks ago I wrote a column about branding online.  I used the example of the University of Phoenix to illustrate my point and by doing so, inadvertently offended those who attended this university.  I am sorry.

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