The phone call
It was December 1st, 2008. I was sleeping soundly, the cool San Diego breeze blowing through the screen door when the ringing of my cell phone woke me up. I rubbed my eyes and shook my head to dissolve the remaining fragments of my dream. I squinted at the clock and discerned it was 4:30am. I put my pillow over my head and let it go to voicemail.
It rang again. I reached over and checked the caller ID.
In the next 30 seconds, my exhausted frustration turned to excitement. My friend Paul had called to tell me that Seth Godin had blogged about an opportunity to change your life; an extremely selective six month MBA program in his office north of New York.
Suddenly, I was very awake.
The next two weeks were a blur. The process was (intentionally) very different than a traditional MBA. Applicants had to create a Squidoo lens answering some unique and open ended questions. Applications were due in only 14 days. I submitted my application a few days early and was thrilled when I learned that I had secured one of the 27 spots in what would be the only interview round. A flight to New York and a unique group interview later, my excitement had quadrupled. After the interview, I flew from New York to San Francisco and was still up at 3am when I found out that I was one of the ten selected into the program.
My corporate job consulting with Accenture had taken me from Minneapolis to Boston to Philadelphia and I was finally putting down some roots in San Diego. None of it mattered. I took a leave of absence from Accenture and headed to New York.
Merriam-Webster’s second definition of inaugurate is “to bring about the beginning of.” Our first day of class was, fittingly, a day of change. January 20th, 2009. It was Barack Obama’s inauguration. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was our inauguration too.
Nine best friends
Over the course of the six months, I learned as much from the my fellow students, now lifelong friends, as I did from Seth, my longtime business idol.
A mountain of a man with a heart to match, Al is as energetic as he is sincere. As evidenced by his daily early morning workouts at the health club in Grand Central Station, Al is extremely disciplined and always kept us on task. When we studied how to be a better salesperson, Al honed his already effective persuasion techniques and led by example for the rest of us. Al also crushed me in basketball and I might not sleep until I get a rematch.
The boy genius, Alex is the youngest of the SAMBA crew. Just out of Cornell, Alex brought a fresh perspective to the team. His edge never having been worn down by years of post-college accountability, Alex’s perspective was still razor sharp, and we needed that. Whatever Alex lacked in ‘real world’ experience, he more than made up for in raw intelligence. ‘Wicked smaaht’ doesn’t begin to describe the depths of Alex. Like a Spinal Tap amp, Alex’s brain goes to eleven. (That, and he’s seen everything on the Internet. You can test him.)
Always wheeling and dealing with big fish and big ideas, Allan was our resident connection to the world of venture capital and big finance. Having started a successful venture fund in college, Allan learned to write his own rules and taught us all that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. Occasionally, Allan would ‘miss’ class but soon we would learn of a huge meeting he orchestrated in the city or a big deal he was working on. Early in the program, I had a specific business idea and Allan challenged me that it wasn’t large-scale enough to be worthy of my talents, so I scrapped it and changed course. To this day, because of Allan, I always challenge myself to determine whether my ideas are big or worthy enough.
Always smiling, Becca would brighten the room just by showing up. If it’s possible to be too nice, Becca would toe the line. Always eager to help and to teach others, Becca brought a wealth of experience from the startup world and an energy that kept us on our toes. An absolute ‘connector’ in every sense of the word, it was natural for Becca to take the role of party planner, often connecting us with fun dinners and evenings in New York City. Wherever Becca went, fun was inevitable.
Our resident musician and chef, Emily could improvise a beautiful song as quickly as she could improvise a delicious lunch. Emily brought a creative perspective that was unique and invaluable. She challenged us and made us think, using a different lens to evaluate our ideas. Emily always came up with an angle we hadn’t thought of. Some of my favorite memories were sitting with Emily at night, drinking wine and helping her write the lyrics to a new song as she invented the melody on her Tacoma guitar. I secretly hope to be Emily’s roadie someday.
I was fortuitous to get to partner with Ishita on a project for most of the program. Ishita is an amazing mix of compassion, insight and curiosity. Her sincere kindness and ability to listen and truly connect is unlike anyone I’ve ever met. She contstantly looks for the best in people and as a result, that’s exactly what she gets.
Having lived in England until age 12, Jon’s lightly British accent would occasionally appear when he said certain words. An inside joke quickly developed that Jon was ‘a little British’. Jon and I shared a sense of humor and a passion for social media. As a result, we bonded quickly over Flight of the Conchords clips and twitter and Ning best practices. Jon’s amazing mix of wisdom, generosity and drive continously set a bar I can only hope to achieve.
Known as the executioner, Susan “gets things done”. An interesting dichotomy, Susan preferred the rules to be well-defined, but even when they weren’t, she would flex her unparalled design chops to create a logo, brochure, e-book or website that puts the rest of the class to shame. Susan blend of experience, reliability and organization allowed her to overdeliver every time, often making me look woefully inadequate in the process.
One generous teacher, who became a friend.
Seth taught us more in six months than I thought it was possible to learn.
Early in the program, he took us skate skiing. The only way to propel yourself on skate skis is to lean forward. Then you pick up one ski and put it in front of the other. Pretty soon, you’re gliding faster and faster along the snow.
The metaphor was clear.
Last Friday, Seth took us out on the Hudson river and taught us a completely different way to canoe, facing backward with the canoe tilted on its side. The amount of control and power gained using this technique was astonishing. Another lesson…
The obvious tactic is rarely the most effective.
Those were the bookends. In between, Seth taught us about goal setting, sales, emergencies, game theory, pricing, shenpa, marketing, design, laywer eliminating contracts, the correct way to peel a banana, communication, cashflow, project management and countless other nuggets of business acumen.
Seth was the mayor of Nuggetville, population: us.
In addition to Seth’s own wisdom, he consistently brought in lots of his close personal friends and former colleagues.
One afternoon, Derek Sivers explained to us how he ‘accidentally’ started CD Baby, selling CD’s out of his backpack and later sold it for $22 million (which he turned around and donated to The Independent Musician’s Charitable Trust, which will fund music education long after he passes away.)
Talk about show & tell.
When Seth wasn’t teaching us, organizing educational field trips or cooking us delicious lunches, he pushed us to overcome our fears.
He showed us that the goal isn’t perfection, the goal is to ship.
He inspired me to blog everyday.
He taught us how to create our own business; and our destiny.
He gave us all the tools to change the world.
Now it’s up to us.