Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done. Today’s post comes from Marcelo Somers of The Syndicate ad network and the blog Behind Companies. I’ve been a fan of Marcelo’s for a while now. While nearly every geek who straddles a day job and a habit of creating for the web has an idea for a side business, Marcelo executed on his… which is something that far too many of us only dream about.
The next decade will be a thrilling time for creators. We are surrounded by the most incredible tools ever and the ability to instantaneously connect with anyone in the world with the tap of our finger. The world is begging us to create the next generation of things that society can consume.
As John Gruber said at Çingleton 2011:
This is the right time and the right place. This is a once in a career opportunity. This is like being a rock and roll musician in the late ’60s, like being a filmmaker in the late ’70s after Spielberg, Scorsese, George Lucas.
The only thing any of us are going to regret is if we don’t aim big enough. If you don’t feel you are now in a position to do the best work of your entire career, to look back and say, ‘I was there,’ ‘I did this,’ ’I made this thing a reality,’ then we you need to find a new position. This chance will never come again.
We are so lucky that it even came this once.
Just like the shift from an agricultural society to an industrial society, or industrial to information-based, the next decade is one that will tee up the success of the next century, making the next Carnegies and Vanderbilts or Gates and Jobs.
What set these visionaries apart is that they stopped waiting for the world to pick them and they picked themselves.
As Seth Godin said on The Great Discontent:
The opportunity of a lifetime is to pick yourself. Quit waiting to get picked; quit waiting for someone to give you permission; quit waiting for someone to say you are officially qualified and pick yourself. It doesn’t mean you have to be an entrepreneur or a freelancer, but it does mean you stand up and say, “I have something to say. I know how to do something. I’m doing it. If you want me to do it with you, raise your hand.”
It’s unfortunate that in our world, the first 18–22 years of our lives are spent in an education system geared toward convincing us to “fit in,” to meet the status quo. We spend our days appeasing teachers who bestow upon us a grade that becomes the key to success in our life.
That mindset is cancerous, and it took 24 years of my life to realize that.
Since the end of my time in college, I’d always considered myself a “creator”. Then one weekend my wife went out of town, and it all changed for me. I decided to do something crazy: email some writers about an idea I had.
The Syndicate was born over that weekend on my own. It is an ad network with a unique spin: we run sponsored posts across 11 sites that reach nearly 90,000 readers each week rather than traditional online advertising. It’s an opportunity for sponsors to share a unique story and build a relationship with the readers. We constantly encourage our sponsors to rethink how promote what they do, whether it’s through a jump start guide or giving away geeky gifts.
The network was inspired by friends like Chris Bowler who founded Fusion Ads. I loved reading the community of tech/mac/design blogs, and I wanted to find a way to contribute, beyond my personal writing. I couldn’t do it on my own, but I had to stop waiting to get picked.
When I started, I had no idea what I was doing. I tried thinking 10 steps ahead, and it felt like there was no way this would happen. As daunting as it felt, I had to focus on the single next action that got me closer to making it a reality. This is where so many creators fail. I didn’t start tinkering with a website design, registering a domain, or figuring out what task manager I should use. Those were noise at that point in the creation process.
I had to contact publishers. Negotiate a fair rate. Find sponsors. Figure out how to invoice them. Figure out how to have them pay me. Make a website. Launch. Make mistakes. Apologize. Change things when they’re not working. Fail. Try again. Fail again. Feel like you’ve made it. Be humbled and realize you haven’t.
Doing something “big” like starting my own business in the evenings is a massive roller coaster. It’s time consuming, and some of the most stress I’ve ever put myself through. It’s also some of the most fun I’ve ever had. I’ve learned skills I would have never had a reason to learn that have made me even more of a creator. I’ve had the chance to write giant checks to bloggers who I love to read and have become my friends.
This time in our lives may never come again. Never forget Clay Christensen’s concept of disruption theory as explained by Luke Wroblewski:
Disruptive innovation is often led by more expensive and less capable products that create new markets. These crappy substitutes do only one thing better: they give people access to something they didn’t have before.
We each have the opportunity to strip industries of the bloat they’ve accumulated over the last century. While The Syndicate hasn’t revolutionized advertising, sponsors often share with me that they enjoy the fresh spin on how to promote their products. I hope that I’m making my own little ding in that industry. On a much larger scale, someone like Marco Arment is completely rethinking the magazine publishing industry with The Magazine, and he’s doing it to critical acclaim.
“Actually Getting Big Things Done” starts with not waiting to get picked, rather taking the single step forward toward making your idea a reality: learning a programming language, finding publishers, or whatever it may be. You don’t need to have all the answers or steps mapped out before you start, because even if you did have a map sitting in front of you, the path is going to change along the way. Only focusing on that first step will keep you nimble and able to adapt as you move forward and realize new things.