This is a series about getting your life back on track and achieving your goals.
I was certain I needed to get back to my roots. I wanted to recreate what was the most fulfilling experience in my life. I wanted to return to entrepreneurs and startups. That’s where it was all happening. That’s where I was meant to be. That’s where I would be completely and totally fulfilled.
For the last decade, I had been working as an operating executive (GM, VP, President) for public companies here and in the UK.
I became a corporate guy.
When I started as a corporate executive, I loved it. I was learning so much. Initially, it was with my mentor, Jim Porter, who taught me how to lead and manage companies as a professional manager. Later, with my mentor, Sterling Williams, who showed me how to build an enterprise. Over time, as the companies I was responsible for grew in size and my responsibilities increased, I became increasingly disenchanted.
Being out of the real action left me disillusioned.
I loved the place where business really happens, in the market. Working shoulder to shoulder with the men and women on the front lines. Executing on strategy rather than setting strategy. I wanted to be back to selling, delivering, supporting customers, and hitting goals as a team.
I believed, for me, this could only happen in an early stage company. Being out of the Atlanta startup scene for close to a decade, I had virtually no network. But I knew one guy who knew everyone and they knew him: Richard Brock.
While I was doing my corporate thing, my former partner, one of the greatest entrepreneurs I know, was building his own company. He built a company from scratch called Brock Control Systems. It was here Richard coined the phrase “salesforce automation.”
In seven years, he grew Brock Control Systems to be the salesforce automation leader and a public company with a $90mm valuation. This was big in 1992.
“I know I have been out of touch, but I need your help. Can I come by your office?” I asked Richard.
I sat in his office overlooking the Atlanta skyline.
I said, “Congratulations on building such a great company. What you’ve accomplished is nothing short of amazing.”
“Thank you,” he replied, “but I didn’t do it all myself. My partner, Roger Johnson, helped make this into the company it is today. He is a great president and leader. I am so fortunate we found each other.”
“I’ve been following you, even though I haven’t been in touch,” I said. “I wanted to confess to you, I’m jealous. You have everything I want. I am not second guessing myself on the path I chose after we sold our company. I met some amazing and talented people and learned a ton and made great money. But I believe I was meant to be in early-stage companies and not big corporations.”
“So what are you doing now?” he asked.
I told him the story of how I left my corporate job. Then I said, “I want to get back to early-stage companies. I want to come back to working with great entrepreneurs like you. I miss it. Can you help me?”
He said, “There is an entrepreneur who came to me for help last week. His name is Mark Bloomfield. He started a company called AudioFax. He might be able to use your help.”
Mark and I met the next day.
When I walked into his office, I felt the startup buzz. It was like breathing fresh air again. I walked in the front door of AudioFax and said to myself, “This is my environment. I need to be here and not in a corporation. I love the electricity of fear and excitement in the air.”
Mark and I talked, and then he took me into his R&D lab. He showed me a combination voice and fax circuit board. It was the first of its kind in the market. He held it with such pride. I could see this circuit board was a vision which became a reality. I saw all this just by the way he admired it and handled it with such care. He said, “This is breakthrough technology, and I hold the patent on store and forward fax. AudioFax is going to be a billion dollar company.”
This was the first time I ever heard an entrepreneur say “billion dollars.” Mark had that special something. The gift of creating something from nothing. The gift and the ability to cast a big vision combined with the leadership to inspire others to follow him.
We moved quickly. I became president of AudioFax. In short order, we had a new strategy which forecasted fast growth. We raised money, reconstituted the board, hired salespeople, created new brochures, and were developing product and selling. We were on our way to a billion dollar company.
In eight months, I resigned.
It wasn’t Mark, the company, or the strategy. It was me again. I wasn’t fulfilled. I thought recapturing what I had with Richard would give me the fulfillment I so desperately desired. But I couldn’t shake the thought of “I’ve already been here and done this.” I was fighting the same problems I found so exciting ten years ago. But now I found them boring.
As I was walking out of AudioFax, something Richard had said in our conversation in his office came flooding into my mind. “It will do you good to go without a paycheck for a while.”
I was scared.