In my previous role at PitchBook, I oftentimes helped John Gabbert, the company’s Founder & CEO, with writing assignments–blogs, speeches, and presentations. Below is a presentation and speech I wrote on his behalf, which he presented as his keynote at the University of Washington’s Business Plan competition in May 2016.
To develop this, he and I met to discuss his overall message, and collect any anecdotes he wanted to include. After that initial meeting, I crafted a loose first draft, and we met again two more times to make further edits and develop the presentation deck.
You’ll note the presentation’s distinct look and feel. Earlier in 2016, PitchBook’s Graphic Designer, Jennifer Sam and I worked to develop a personal brand for John. That is reflected in this presentation.
Deck: view full pdf
Thank you for the introduction. This is my third time coming to this competition, and I love being a part of it each year because I am always impressed by the caliber of thinking and strategy seen across the board. You all should be very proud of yourselves. I think you all deserve another round of applause.
I’m a big believer in business plans. I think when done well and realistically, they do a really good job of validating your business model, especially when you’re seeking outside investments. I wrote my first business plan while I was a student at UW. I worked on PitchBook’s business plan for well over two years.
My point is: I’ve been where you are right now. At this point, you’ve done a lot of the critical thinking. You’ve asked the right questions, done the research, met with the right people, received good advice, received bad advice, written and re-written. You’ve dedicated a ton of time, effort, and energy. And as a result, you’ve laid the groundwork for a real business that solves real problems for real people.
And now, I’m here to tell you that the majority of your businesses will probably fail. And that’s okay.
Making it, at this point in your lives, is simply not the point. The point is, of course, to learn as much as you can and get as much experience as possible. That leads to my first piece of advice to you today: maximize the potential of every opportunity that comes your way.
Right now, I am the Founder and CEO of PitchBook Data. Prior to that, I was the head of Research at VentureSource. But before all of this, I stacked cat food at Cunha’s Country Store in Half Moon Bay, CA. I washed and sorted cucumbers at a Cucumber Farm in Redmond, Wa. I also spent summers cubing and boxing cheese at Cibo Naturals in Kent, WA.
I’ve always worked, mostly because I had to – I wasn’t born into money. Growing up, my family and I benefited from government assistance from time to time. Not working was not an option for me.
But I also enjoyed working. It was actually pretty fun.
I know what you’re thinking – cucumbers…really?
Every job I’ve ever had, I turned into a game. I have always challenged myself to find better ways to do whatever my task (no matter how boring) faster, more efficiently or effectively.
No matter if you decide to pursue being an entrepreneur or find yourself at another company, you can do this. Learn how to play the game first of all, and then look for ways to do it better.
Even the most mundane jobs can be broken down in this way. And when you’re doing things like sorting cucumbers or stacking cans of cat food or starting a company – this will not only help you understand how to run an operation, but it also keeps you from going crazy.
My second piece of wisdom is this: Good leaders are not MVPs.
I was reminded of this recently by my two oldest daughters, Caroline and Mimi. Caroline is 15 and Mimi is 11; Caroline coaches Mimi’s volleyball team here in Seattle. Recently, they had their end of year celebration where each player won an award and was recognized for their contributions.
When it was Mimi’s turn to be recognized, she won “Most Improved” and “Most Inspiring.” Speaking as her coach, Caroline said something like this “Mimi isn’t necessarily the fastest, or the strongest, or the tallest volleyball player, but she’s improved significantly this year, and she’s really the heart of our team.”
Now of course, I could tell that Mimi took that as a little bit of a dig from her older sister. But I was immensely proud—that was a real compliment.
Simon Sinek put it best here: “The role of a leader is not to come up with all the great ideas. The role of a leader is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.” Leaders are never the most valuable player. A true leader’s role is to get shit done by inspiring others and continually improving. Doing this is a matter of grit, hustle and being a nice person.
That leads me to my last story today:
This is the third floor of the USCF Library. For nearly two years, I spent nights and weekends here working on PitchBook’s business plan.
At that point in time, I was head of research at VentureSource. I was also the sole provider for my family. With me working days at VentureSource, and nights and weekends at UCSF, it was hard for Sue and our two girls.
So, we made a difficult decision: Sue, Caroline, and Mimi would move back up to Seattle to be closer to our family and I would stay behind to continue my work at VentureSource, and on PitchBook.
When it comes to wanting to start a business…well, I feel like “want” is a very generic word. There are no free lunches here. Oftentimes, how bad you want something is measured by what and how much you’re willing to sacrifice.
For nearly 20 months, I lived apart from my family. I saw them almost every other weekend but I missed many of their first moments. I missed birthdays and anniversaries.
For me, this time away was only worth it if PitchBook was successful. And that was motivation for me to work that much harder. A lot of people want a lot of things. In the same way that you can be passionate about a lot of things. It comes down to choosing one, and truly focusing on it.
While I can’t offer you lessons on work-life balance, I can say this: You never get time back.
So, when you are seriously pursuing something, be certain that you’re ready to commit to the long haul. Be sure that it’s worth the time you put into and the sacrifices you and your family are inevitably going to make. And be sure that you’re passionate about it, because if you’re successful, it’s also likely you’re going to be doing it for a while.
This competition is likely just the first of many opportunities you’ll have to make your mark on the world. Whether you choose to pursue this idea, or one later down the road, know that if you milk every learning opportunity for its worth, hustle, improve, inspire and stay mindful of the bigger picture – I know you’ll find success and happiness. Thank you.