Business, Now It’s Personal

I sat down the other week for a conversation that was long overdue. I never used to be very upfront – I’ve been shy most of life, so these much needed conversations were rather hard to muster in the past. Fortunately, I’ve spent a lot of time breaking through this barrier and now prefer to bang the nail right on the head. I’m happy to say that I’ve come along way, and it’s done nothing but improve my life and relationships. There’s something so freeing about laying your thoughts and feelings out on the table – expressing yourself honestly.


I can’t say I’ve been around the block as far as business, but I do feel that I’ve been blessed with a set of rather rich experiences in my young life: competing as an athlete, turning a page of notes into a dance organization, helping five software engineers build a social media company which was acquired by Twitter, living in Singapore and traveling through 17 countries – many of which have an entirely different way of looking at the world, life, and especially business. Through it all, I’ve realized what I value most: experiences, interactions, and the people who join me along the way.


Back in the pub, the two of us were going through the play by play of past events and laying out our thoughts. I explained how I felt let down by the fact he didn’t come through on a commitment he had made to our business, and to me – is there a difference? My trust toward him had been put into question.

The commitment was fairly key in our operations and due to some new outside business projects, it wasn’t very high on his priority list. He dropped the line “It’s nothing personal man, It’s just business.” It sat heavy. I wasn’t sure what to think at first. It was weird to hear this. A phrase that seemed to make so much sense to me years ago, all of a sudden sounded like the biggest pile of shit I’ve ever heard. A few sleeps later, It still sounds pretty dumb.

How is it possible that someone could say this, and believe it? After letting it sit for a day, I’ve realized two very different contexts where someone could say this:

Situation A – You’re looking for a supplier, partner or an employee to fill a gap in your business. Each candidate is unique and you select the one which makes the most sense for you. Regardless of a current relationship with this person or not, your decision is very focused on finding the right fit for your business’ needs. It’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

Situation B – You’ve chosen your supplier, partner or employee and an ongoing relationship for mutual benefit begins. You’ve made a commitment to each other, and both parties expect the other to follow through. One says to the other, “It’s nothing personal man, it’s just business” – excuse you? It’s personal.

Before making a commitment and afterward are two very different situations. How is it possible that someone could say this, and believe it? It’s simple. That person doesn’t value the relationship in question, has extremely different views of what’s important in business, and in life. At least now I know.

The Physics of Business

Usually inspired by an unmet need, an idea spawns in someone’s mind and a bunch of bodies are gathered together in an attempt to solve the problem. Let’s think through this “It’s not personal, it’s just business” thing a little further:

Where does a company’s vision come from?

Where does its competitive advantage come from?
Indispensable human capital and strategic partnerships.

Who runs your company day to day (or programs the robots who do)?
Your team, your employees.

Who allows you to continue running your company each day?
Your customers.

What’s the largest expense on most income statements?

What do all these have in common?
Bum dada bum dada bum bum bum (I’m learning drums)

The collective intellect and relationships formed between a web of human beings is the single strongest force that will either make shit happen and make you happy, or destroy everything and leave you unfulfilled. Do take care.

If it’s not personal, it’s not good business.

What I Learned at Summify Before Twitter Swooped Down and Snatched-Up My Team

In June 2011, I began a whirlwind tour of working in a tech startup. I joined a stellar team lead by Cristian Strat and Mircea Pasoi, who had both interned at Google and turned down some cozy job offerings at both Google and Facebook to launch their next project – a beautiful daily summary of the most relevant news from your social networks, called Summify.

In a community building adventure that lasted just seven months, I joined five software engineers on a ride that went from iPhone app launch to Twitter exit. These are some the stand-out lessons I’ve taken away:

Here’s your email – goodluck! How to filter 100,000s of automated incoming messages in Gmail

Perhaps this was a great intro, or even considered training, for why a news aggregation and filtering product like Summify is necessary. I was literally getting 100s of unfiltered messages into my inbox everyday, mostly from automated systems that the software engineers were using. I kept the 10% of messages that were meant for me and re-routed the rest using Gmail filters – aka God/Allah/Buddha. As Frank Costanza put it: SERENITY NOW!

In life it’s really useful to learn to figure out things on your own – a process known as Google-ing. The day after they hired me, Mircea and Cristian hopped on a flight down to Silicon Valley. I couldn’t just stand there; I had to bust a move – even though I didn’t really know what that move was. It was a slow and slightly rocky start, but once they returned we went over expectations and smoothed things out.

Team work, remote work, communication

It all starts by explicitly covering expectations – your team has to be on the same page, so everyone can act accordingly. And that goes both ways, and across all levels.

Whenever one of us found a valuable blog post we’d share it with the team. One day I got a fantastic post on communication guidelines in my inbox, and we immediately implemented it as our foundation. Here they are, as I remember them:

  • if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do, or don’t understand something, ask.
  • if you’re not able to complete your task by the deadline, for whatever reason, tell the team now, not later, and adjust as necessary.
  • if you need help, get some.
  • the task isn’t done until you say it’s done.

A final touch of my own: nobody can read your mind or your heart, so speak your mind and tell people how you feel.

Use these simple rules as a framework for communicating and your team will be in good health.

Chill out, it’s just chaos

Calm down. Control the things you can, and let go of what you can’t. Stress solves nothing, and it’s rather excellent at creating more problems. Last time I checked, chaos included enough problems, so do give yourself a little break here.

Cristian and Mircea were some of the most relaxed guys I’ve met. Perhaps it’s because they’re engineers – who I’ve been told tend to have low energy – but I’d argue that 90% of people would not be as composed as these two, albeit, like ducks, they were paddling under the surface like maniacs.

Here’s a short-list of what they’d go through regularly: investor meetings, consistent pressure to hit targets, product advancements, the possibility of being kicked out of the country due to sub-sub-par visa laws for immigrant entrepreneurs, systems breaking in the middle of the night – appearing fixed – then breaking again, cash flow, and a potential acquisition by Twitter, which succeeded. I’m sure they’d be happy to give you a more extensive list.

Bottom line: stop whining and make shit happen. If you want to make a dent in the world, it’s not going to be easy. Nike says it best.

Sometimes it’s cheaper to act and iterate, than to try to get it all right in one go

Actually, it’s probably true all the time. Action is not only key in the consumer internet startup world, but really important in life. Analysis paralysis will kill your business, and make your life suck on more than one level – it stresses you out. Pulling the trigger on an idea, shipping a product or clicking publish is the best feeling in the world.

Decision is powerful. It sends your momentum in a direction and gives you an outcome from which you can make your next decision. You don’t have to jump off a cliff, but you do have to try something.

Nobody really knows anything – there are way too many variables – and that’s why you have to set something in motion. Try it, track it, fix it. Now you know if it does or doesn’t work and you can move on – next.

Being exposed to this bias toward action has been so valuable. I’m doing my best to apply it in my own life and I look forward to the results. Looking back, I wish i had the courage to experiment more while building Summify’s community. The other plus side to action is that it only leaves the possibility to regret things you’ve done, not those you haven’t, eliminating the soul-sucking feeling: “what if…?”

I think if we all spent a little more time during each day to reflect on what we’ve learned we’d have a greater grasp and perspective on our lives.

What are the greatest lessons you’ve learned from your latest adventure?

P.S. Follow the Summify boys as they cook-up something great with the Twitter Growth team:
@mirceap, @cgst, @mkychua, @nimalan, @prostul

The Road to Recovery

I just had to…. In a cave near Vang Vieng, Laos. Photo by @SaraThePRobot

I remember the night in September 2007. I was battling with my crew at the Harbour Dance Centre in Vancouver. My training had been suffering for a while and I wasn’t anywhere near by best but we made it to the semi finals of a 4 on 4 b-boy battle with just the three of us. After it was all said and done, we lost the semi-final, I was struggling to walk and was left limping for the next three days.

I reached my breaking point and I couldn’t do it anymore. My hip flexors and adductors were shot, I couldn’t lift my leg, and my IT band was incredibly tight, making it rather painful to walk normal. That was it, I was done. No more dancing. I needed to find an answer to why my hip was hurting so much. For the next two years I tried everything under the sun and short of a shaman: physiotherapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, yoga, rest – nothing worked – not even the extreme Singapore heat during my exchange could ease the pain on my joint. Lucky for me it only hurt to do extreme movements, but there was one problem – those extreme movements were what I lived for.

It’s depressing

Losing something you’ve been doing since you were in the 7th grade is hard – no, EXTREMELY hard – but you’ve got to move past that. Feeling sorry for yourself gets you no where and only starts to make other areas of your life suck just as much. The only thing worth doing – and its way more difficult than letting yourself be depressed – is figuring out what to do about it.

It’s a decision

For me, I can’t just let go of things that easily. I’ve heard of countless people coming off injuries way worse than mine and I know there had to be a way to get past my situation – little did I know what my situation actually was – so I did my best to stay optimistic. In order to stay close to what I loved I founded Famous Circle and began organizing and promoting b-boy events, but after a while being around the scene began to take a mental toll on me. It just wasn’t the same as it used to be – I couldn’t dance, I couldn’t get down when the funky music hit me. It just hurt. I just watched.

Finding the answer

After managing to put together a stage show for the Hip Hop 360 showcase at the Canada Dance Festival in the Summer of 2008 and returning from my University exchange overseas, I began an intense few months of Bikram’s yoga in early 2009. The pattern of failure continued, It didn’t help, but it did help surface a new issue I had (yay!). My right shoulder is a lot lower then my left. This led me to get X-rays at my cousin’s (Dr. Bartlett) BackFit practice in Victoria, BC which turned out to be a phenomenal 9 month rehab experience. (note to self: write a post on measurable results from BackFit). At the same time I also got a referral to a rehabilitation specialist in Victoria so I could ask him what the deal was with my shoulder. It turns out he wasn’t concerned at all about it, especially because I was right handed: “Don’t worry it’s pretty common.” Does that mean’s it’s good? Anyways, the guy also took a look at my hip and took special notice to the fact the internal rotation of my right hip sucked by at least 50% compared to my left. “You should get an X-ray, this isn’t normal,” – at least something wasn’t normal.

* * *

Change leads you in new directions . Giving up something you’re crazy about is stupid hard, but life goes on, and there are other things out there – sometimes not even that far out there. Enter salsa.

I’ve always loved the sound and energy of latin music, and when I’d break, I’d often be getting down to latin percussion, so it was almost a natural shift; besides, I always told myself I’d try it one day.

I started frequenting the Cuban Salsa Club at the University of Victoria and as soon as I figured out how the hell to dance with a partner and move her without feeling like an idiot I was hooked. In January 2011, I joined Sabor Asi’s performance group, danced in a few festivals, and was on to a new adventure.

Who knew salsa could be just as fun, if not more, than slamming your body on the ground with a bunch of sweaty dudes? Exchange slamming for walking and dudes for beautiful women and you have salsa. You should try it, seriously. It’s a blast, super social, and the most popular partner dance in the world, so you will share a mutual interest with all sorts of fun and interesting people where ever you go. Sometimes a change leads to new discoveries. Not so bad huh?

* * *

A few weeks later I went back into see Mr. Rehab Specialist. Turns out I needed a surgery – it all made sense. No wonder my pathological focus on improving my soft tissue didn’t do shit – it wasn’t the problem. The head of my femur was grinding away the cartilage in my hip socket, giving me a pre-arthritic hip. My condition is called Femoral Acetabular Impingement (FAI). It’s actually pretty common, but most people don’t realize they have an impinged hip unless they’re super active. It’s a condition that’s been left under-studied and not well treated until more recently. Finally, I got my referral for an arthroscopic procedure from a Dr. Gilbart at the UBC Hospital in Vancouver. Of course he was the only one in the province who could do the procedure and the wait list was supposedly three years long.

After one more year, I finally got the call to see him. Our meeting was 10 minutes. We said “Hello,” rushed a few questions and I got the word that my surgery would be in 3-5 months – that was March 2011. Seven months later my glorious surgery date arrived, November 7th 2011. After almost exactly four years, I’m now on the other side and it feels so good.

Sometimes what you want is worth the wait and worth the journey to get there. Having the faith that you’ll get there is the hard part.

Get depressed, decide, let change lead you in a new direction, never give up.

Have you ever been through a difficult recovery? What’s your story?

Copyright © Robin Campbell 2014