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Let's do it together.

Let's do it together.

The first three months of Plenty have been a whirlwind. It is hard for me to believe that we've only been around since the end of November, because in only a few short months I've learned so much from the fantastic team here.

It wasn't easy leaving Event 360, the company I helped found eleven years ago. Event 360 specializes in event fundraising. Through our work we raised nearly a billion dollars for charity. As the CEO, I was responsible for strategy, for presenting a great deal of our client-facing work, and more than anything, for helping drive the values of the company. Event 360 was (and will always be) my baby, and I'm tremendously proud of what I helped accomplish there.

And yet over the last few years I found my goals and aspirations changing. In particular I became increasingly interested in the philanthropic mechanics behind events -- a mechanic we call peer-to-peer fundraising. As my time and attention steadily turned towards constituent analytics. multi-channel approaches, and overall nonprofit strategy, it was harder for me to devote time to large-scale events.

When I finally talked to my partners at Event 360 about leaving, I found willing friends. They saw my evolving interests and supported my desire to do something new.

To say that I started Plenty from the ground-up would be a complete fabrication, because of course no one does anything worth doing by themselves. And in my case I was very fortunate to have six compatriots join me in the launch. From the beginning, we have tried to put as much emphasis on the foundations of our young firm as we have on the compelling work we do with our clients. We wrote Plenty's values together; we picked the brand together; we assess our performance together. 

I was reflecting on all of this while I was at the Run-Walk-Ride Conference in Atlanta last week. In a lot of ways, RWR was our coming-out party. Run-Walk-Ride is a tremendously important conference for the peer-to-peer space, and I've been lucky enough to present there for many years. But this year was the first time I attended with a business card that said, "Plenty."

It was fantastic to see the Plenty team share their expertise and energy throughout the sessions. Our group contributed in so many ways, and it was hard not to be struck by the sheer amount of competence and commitment the team brings to the table. But they bring something else, too. They bring a spirit of inclusiveness -- an eagerness to enlist others to create something bigger than themselves.

In the lead-up to the conference, our team was talking about something we could do at our conference booth. If you've ever staffed a sales conference, you know that "the booth" can fill even the most hard-core salespeople with dread. Working at the booth can be tiring; it can be nerve-wracking; it can be mind-numbingly boring. And so coming up with "something for the booth" is the trap of every trade show. It is easy to talk so much about SWAG and tchotchkes that you miss the core purpose of the booth, which of course is to engage with others.

In any case, we were kicking around ideas and a steadily escalating array of giveaways. Finally, someone on the team suggested we do something very basic: Hand out Post-It notes and ask passersby to write down what they are "Happy to have plenty of." It seemed like a corny idea, but no one had a better one, so we went with it.

You know what happened? People walking by the booth were interested to be asked to contribute. They stopped what they were doing and turned towards us. They would laugh and write a silly thought, then pick up another slip of paper and write something more meaningful. It's funny -- often in our desire to connect with others we forget to ask them to engage with us. We forget that they are the most important part of the conversation.

By the end of the conference, our board was covered with notes about abundance and reflections of gratitude.

I can't think of a better metaphor for my first three months at Plenty. We decided, "let's do something meaningful, together," and that was the most important step. 



Livestrong shows us how it's done.

Livestrong shows us how it's done.

Everyone knows that Livestrong hasn't had the easiest go of it lately. And so I was interested to see what I'd find at last night's Livestrong Assembly reception and dinner in Chicago. (I was actually quite touched to be invited – we've worked with Livestrong in the past, but it's been a few years.)

They nailed it. Doug Ulman, Livestrong's CEO, was open, honest, realistic about the six months they've had, and optimistic about the future. Everyone I met looked humble and a bit tired, but I didn't sense one bit of defensiveness or defeatism. And the crowd was fired up.

Sadly, we've seen lots of examples of nonprofit brand problems recently. Livestrong's response to theirs is a case study for how to respond gracefully and confidently. Well done.

What I've learned about business after ten years in business.

Somehow, unbelievably, Event 360 – the company that I founded with two of my most loyal friends – turned ten years old today. It is amazing to me, and for one of the few times in my life I find myself at a loss for words. 

I woke up this morning early so I could head downtown for a meeting. It took me a few minutes to remember what day it was, but it hit me while I was fumbling around the coffee maker. When I remembered, my first thought was to call a few people to say "thanks" and "happy birthday." My second thought was about my long to-do list. And maybe that's the sum total of my advice: Recognize the people you work with, and keep plugging away. 

Frankly, I feel like I should write a long, thoughtful post about all the hard lessons I've learned. But as I sit down to type, I realize I don't have that list. My list is pretty short. 

Here's what I've learned about business after ten years in business:

  • Love what you do.
  • Love the people you do it with.

That's it.

Wait! I know it sounds trite, so before you move on let me offer a bit more exposition. When I write "love," I don't mean it as the kind of passive, reactive, "I hope I fall into it" love that we often think will come and seek us out in our lives. I mean LOVE in the sense of a powerful, active choice we each can decide to make every day. 

To all would-be business owners, entrepreneurs, leaders, and change agents, let me tell you this straight up: What you're trying to do is going to be hard. If it weren't, you wouldn't need to do it; someone would have already solved the problem you're trying to solve, or created the product you're trying to create. Nope, let's be honest and say, wow – it's going to be hard.

And so I've learned to make an ongoing, passionate, persistent, proactive choice to fully engage with what I do. You have to choose to love your work, particularly during the challenging times. Otherwise you're going to be employed at best and miserable at worst. You're too good to just be busy. Decide to be passionate.

More importantly, you have to choose to love the people you do it with, because without them you're sunk. I know they have their faults, but let's be honest, you have plenty too. Nothing, zero, zilch gets done alone. If you can set yourself up to be the least important person in the organization, then you've achieved one of the great accomplishments of leadership. 

I'm grateful for what I do and who I do it with. I wish you the same. It's onwards and upwards from here.

Yes, you.

There’s a problem again. You know the one. The one that everyone is whispering about. The one that no one can figure out how to solve. The one that is keeping everyone up at night.

You’ve got an idea about it, but you’re pretty sure that your idea is stupid. Just plain dumb. I mean, it will never work, right? So you’ve kept it to yourself. Cause, come on, what do you have to offer?

But here’s the honest truth: The probability that a white knight is going to ride into your school/office/house on a winged horse holding a magical wand forged from fairy dust in an enchanted volcano and instantly vaporize your problem is, to be frank, pretty slim. It sounds great, and I’m all for it, but I’m guessing it isn’t going to happen.

If there’s a hero in your story, it’s going to have to be you.

You can do it.

Why you need to say what needs to be said.

You’ve been there. You’re sitting in a meeting, or in class, or at lunch with some friends. And someone says something that is so obviously wrong, incorrect, ignorant, predujiced, anecdotal, off-base, or just otherwise ridiculous that you stop chewing and drop your jaw. You glance over at the person next to you and it is clear that she feels the same way you do. And you wait for a second, because someone is obviously going to disagree, right? Somebody is going to tactfully but firmly say, “Well, wait a second, I’m not sure I agree with that.”

You wait for a second or two, but the first person just keeps on talking. No one interrupts. No one disagrees. Everyone leaves wondering, “Wow, am I surrounded by idiots and cowards? And am I an idiot and coward too?”

There’s something on your mind that you probably need to say today. Telling someone that you love them; telling someone you’re sorry; telling someone that their great idea is neat but probably too risky; telling someone that you like them as a person but you can’t agree with their viewpoint. 

Speaking that thought to power is going to be difficult. But would you rather face that challenge this morning and say what needs to be said, or face yourself in the mirror tonight knowing that you let the chance to be yourself pass for one more day?

You have something valuable to say. No one hears it until you say it.