Building Great Businesses Is Not An Individual Sport

  • by , Featured Contributor, February 17, 2022
I have been fortunate to spend the bulk of my professional life helping build businesses. For more than 27 years now, I have founded and run start-up technology companies in New York City.

Why New York? Not because I am from here (few of us New Yorkers are), but because I was astutely told in 1995 that if I wanted to start a technology company to disrupt the world of advertising, I needed to do it in New York since that’s where the center of the industry is -- and where the people of the advertising world work, live and play.

Where  people are located matters. Building great businesses is not an individual, but a team sport.

The idea of the lone founder dreaming up a magical idea that suddenly becomes an extraordinary business is a fiction in almost all cases. Building a great business is all about collaboration, teamwork and shared efforts.

The origin stories of my companies (Real Media, TACODA and Simulmedia) certainly have some individual ideas at their roots, but in each case they only came to life and became what they did because they were incubated, nurtured, brainstormed and finally built by teams of people, with the core of those teams physically working together in offices or work spaces (sometimes shopping malls with free WiFi) each and every day.



I write about this because so many of our industry leaders and companies are at this moment wrestling with pivotal back-to-work decisions. Do you fully reopen offices? Do you go fully remote? Is there a hybrid work model that can capture the best of remote and in-person rather than the worst of each?

I can’t answer those questions for others. I am neither omniscient nor presumptuous. However, I do know from my own experiences that, when it comes to building technology in the advertising and media industry, the people matter a lot, and people are better together. For sure, ideation, innovation and creation happen differently person to person, and some folks are better at it than others. But, no matter how good or bad they are, they are always better at it when they are together.

Add in the advantages of improved communication, faster cycle times and increased capacity for improvisation that come with in-person interaction. I know that attacking our customers’ problems as a team training and building together will beat trying to do it with individual athletes operating remotely only.

To be clear, working through this horrific pandemic -- which is now an endemic part of our lives -- has taught us so much about the values of freeing teammates up from the office at times. We’ve learned the cost of commutes. We’ve learned to work better from a distance. We’ve learned that sometimes people can accomplish tasks better without distraction. We’ve learned that people can better balance responsibilities to their family, their community and their health and well-being by having flexibility in their work lives.

Incorporating these lessons will be part of smart companies’ future working plans. The future of work will have a level of flexibility that would have been unimaginable for most companies only two years ago. Bringing folks back together the majority of the time doesn’t mean eight hours a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year. The punchclock of the past must die forever.

Just ask yourself, could the curlers, hockey players, figure skating pairs or bobsledders that we have been watching on NBC and Peacock this week do what they do as well as they do if they were training and performing by themselves? Nope. You can't win team sports with individual athletes alone.

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