BACKGROUND: THE SPORT OF IT ALL
“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” – Vince Lombardi, legendary Green Bay Packers football coach.
Of all the great Vince Lombardi quotes, this one is my favorite. It adorned my email signature for my company correspondence during most of my tenure at Match. The quote’s direct message is clear. But, let me challenge you with a couple of thoughts and questions that delve a little deeper into its message as I see it.
- Someone has to be in the fight, before they can get knocked down and decide whether to get back up. I use the term fight metaphorically to represent any challenge. Active participation is required. Standing on the sidelines and watching doesn’t qualify.
- Someone who is in the fight will get knocked down. It’s not an “if” but rather a “when”. And, even for the best, it’s likely to be far more often than expected.
- It’s easy to stay down. It’s hard to get back up.
As you digest this information, I’ll also offer some additional questions for someone that is in the fight
- After a knockdown, will that someone analyze why? Will they learn from the knockdown and adjust/adapt so they can avoid more knockdowns in the future?
- For those that get back up, will they remember what and who helped them get back up? Will they recognize and appreciate them? Will they help others who get knocked down to get back up?
As a coach, it’s your job to determine who wants to embrace the fight and inspire them to do so. You must get them ready for the fight. You must teach them how to avoid the knockdowns. You must help them get back up when they fall. If you don’t, your team will not be successful. Business leadership is no different.
The truth is that if you never want to get knocked down, don’t do anything. Avoid the fight. You’ll never fail at anything. Of course, you’ll never succeed at anything either. Most people, most times, avoid the fight. Furthermore, when knocked down, most people take the easy path and stay down. We’ve all done it. As you get older, you’ll regret the times when you did so. You’ll wonder why, ask yourself what you could have done differently and ponder what the outcome “could have” or “should have” been. I have. Luckily, I had some great people around me, including those that I consider mentors, to teach me, to guide me, to inspire me, through their words and their actions, to embrace my challenges. Because of them, I am better. And, inspired by them, I wrote this book to help others embrace their challenges. One challenge that I want you to embrace is the fight for knowledge. Seek it. Attack it. But understand that you will never, ever achieve a complete victory over it. Even so, do not stop fighting. Knowledge is a worthy opponent, constantly shifting, expanding and going in new directions. It won’t sit still. You have to chase it. It will take your maximum effort to advance in this fight. Give it. Use the internet, books, your family, your friends, your colleagues, your competitors, your bosses, and leverage whoever and whatever else you can to further your learning. Knowledge is power and success will never come without it. When you get knocked down, and you will, do not stay down. Don’t take the easier path. Don’t be in the position to wonder what could have been. Make it happen. It won’t be easy but it is under your control. Nobody else can or will do it for you.
With that said, I am going to join your fight. Hopefully, this book will further your business knowledge. It will help explain what causes the knockdowns and what can help you get back up. After being armed with this knowledge, I also hope that it further inspires you to fully embrace your challenges. And, when you are down, I hope information in this book inspires you to rise back up. Business, like life, is a series of ups and downs. The key lies in how you handle them.
I will challenge conventional thinking within this book, provide real experiences and add a no-nonsense perspective on what I’ve learned. I’ll share this knowledge with the benefit of being in the fight and of repeating the pattern of getting knocked down, getting back up and re-embracing the fight. I’ve watched successful people around me do the same. They helped me understand what is required to be successful. I am not going to claim that everything I say is right for you or that it will work exactly the same way as it did for me, good or bad. What I will say is that I wish information like this was available to me before I started my business journey so I could have learned more, sooner. The events that I share in this book happened over the past 30 years. Foundational ideas and techniques withstand the test of time. The syntax and specific implementations may change over time but the core value and principles don’t. So, the core of what you’ll learn should be as relevant today as it was when I experienced it. Ultimately, you’ll be the judge of what I’ve written and that is the way it should be. I sincerely hope that it helps you.
Before I start on my background, I want to make a couple of points clear:
- This book is not about me, it’s about what I’ve learned. I am going to provide you with detailed information about my background, my experiences and my perspectives in the following chapters. I do so to provide context for you. Hopefully, this will better frame the lessons that I’ve learned. I’ve had the privilege to work with and learn from an unbelievably talented and diverse set of people.
- This book is not a chronological or complete series of events of the companies that I’ve worked for. Instead, I’m going to share the events that had the biggest impact on my way of thinking, organized by topic and the lessons that I’ve learned.
The purpose for sharing my background information is to provide you with additional context. I will share actual stories from my family, from sports, from business, domestically and across the globe, and from my experiences in the trenches and in the boardroom. I’ve been there. However, the key knowledge is not where I’ve been but rather in what I’ve learned from being there, from participating in many challenges, from working with unbelievably talented people, and from having the hindsight and the time now to reflect on it all. This first-hand knowledge can only be obtained by being there. And, whether you are there now or hope to be there some day, you won’t find this information in an academic textbook.
In my life, I have been fortunate enough to have played sports at a very high level, to have attended one of the finest universities in the world, to have worked with great people and to have worked for great companies. During this time, I have competed against professional athletes, consulted at government agencies and worked at one of the most recognizable internet companies in the world, starting as CTO when it was valued near $50M and helping it grow to over $40B. I managed technology, customer care, product, international divisions, partnerships with top companies, travelled all over the globe, and worked with some of the smartest and most successful people in the business world. I’ve also worked as a greenskeeper, a landscaper, coached recreational youth baseball and spent a few years wondering whether I would survive a Lyme disease battle. Over the course of my career, I spent six months of my life in the sky, above the earth in airplanes. During most of this time, I rarely saw my wife and my kids until my oldest daughter was already a teenager. Successes and failures were part of my fight and one doesn’t come without the other. I’m sure that I’ll have more of both and that you’ll have your share as well going forward. Try to embrace the experiences, good and bad, and learn from them. I did.
The truth is that the best lessons often don’t come in easy times. They don’t come when you are comfortable. They don’t come in victory or in success. They often come in challenging times. They come when you are out of your comfort zone. They come in defeat and failure. They come when you get knocked down. And, success and pride are found when you get back up.
Most of the experiences and lessons shared in this book come from my 20+ years at Match.com, now Match Group including Tinder, where I held various executive level positions including Chief Technology Officer, General Manager of International Business, Senior Vice President and most recently, Senior Advisor. While I had 14 years of business experience before starting at Match, there are a few reasons for Match dominating the business experiences in this book:
- The people at Match were special. I’m talking about every single one of them that worked with me or for me or that I worked for. If any of you are reading this book, I want to thank you again. Match is all of our story and none of it happens without you.
- I started at Match in late 2000. Our parent company, Ticketmaster-Citysearch (TMCS), had just acquired Match and Match was in deep trouble. It hadn’t billed in 8 weeks and TMCS senior management was worried they were going to lose their investment. In fact, this is why I was brought in. This was at the beginning stages of the internet but also right after the collapse of the stock market. Everything was crazy. Being at the center of the fall-then-rise internet revolution in a high traffic, high profile internet company, Match was a unique environment to work in and to learn from over the next two decades.
- Our parent company, TMCS was owned by USA Networks, eventually becoming Interactive Corp and then IAC. During my employment, this conglomerate owned more than 30 well-known brands, many of them eventually spun off into their own public companies. The number of talented people that worked in these companies is staggering. Many of them are still there today, went off to start their own companies or left to run other top tier companies. These companies include Ticketmaster, Expedia, Hotels.com, Lending Tree, Home Shopping Network, Ask.com, Chegg, Zillow, Uber, Peleton, Samsung, Walt Disney, Electronic Arts, Home Advisor, and Ancestry.com. There were many smaller companies as well and I probably missed a couple of the big ones as well. Needless to say, I was fortunate to have worked with and learned from some of the most talented people in the world.
- Due to the size and scope of the company’s businesses, we signed deals with the biggest partners: Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, and Apple, to name a few. Some of these relationships, I personally managed so I had direct involvement in these deals as they happened. I also met many times with their product and technology teams including maps, search, messenger, and many other technologies/products as they were being developed. I got to see first-hand how these major technology companies operated. It was amazing.
- We had business across the globe. At one point, I directly managed our product and technology in over 40 countries, 22 languages and 26 currencies. I travelled to almost all of these countries, interacting with local teams, to gain first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to run an international business at scale in different cultures. It’s hard to truly understand the differences between cultures and business practices unless you’ve spent significant time in other countries with local talent. I was fortunate enough to have done so.
- I started with Match when the company was in its infancy. They didn’t have an integrated development environment or a testing environment before I got there. New code went right into production from the developers’ machines. Match didn’t have a product or an analytics team either. There were no legal teams or human resource teams. Given my enterprise background, I was put in charge of a lot of these functions in the early days. I was CTO but functioned more like a COO (we didn’t have one). I ran product, customer care, analytics and eventually, P&Ls, in addition to the technology. Given my early start, I was almost always involved in any legal situations that arose, including any patent disputes. I’ve been deposed, prepped by some of the best US attorneys and worked with internal and external legal counsel on most of the Match legal concerns during my first 10 years. I was also deeply involved in recruiting and did most of it myself before Match had a formal HR group. Afterwards, I continued to be involved because recruiting is one of my passions. This broad exposure across multiple disciplines was only possible because Match was a young, immature and fast-growing internet company when I started. I was drinking from a firehouse of knowledge and I loved it.
- At the very beginning of my tenure, our parent company had limited technical resources with my qualifications so I was often tapped to perform the technology due diligence of their other potential acquisitions outside of dating. Our parent company was a big acquirer of new businesses so this presented a unique opportunity for me. The internet was exploding and I got to get inside many companies and look at them through this due-diligence process. I learned a ton and met some great people in this process. In my later years, I continued to be heavily involved in acquisition targets within Match. As mentioned, our parent company was a conglomerate and acquisitions were part of their DNA. So, we looked at a lot of companies. This gave me an amazing chance to evaluate different products, business models, technologies, marketing strategies, team structures, and many other business components that are typically shielded from public consumption for obvious reasons.
In preparing materials for this book, I was floored by the sheer volume of the experiences in total. I was there, of course, for all of them. However, I never thought of them as a collective whole until writing this book. I lived each one “in the moment” and each shaped my thinking and actions going forward one step at a time. Upon reflection, I realized that the collective set of experiences in this book defines much of how I think and act today. That’s why these experiences were easy for me to recall once I started thinking and writing. The details are almost as vivid today as they were back in the moment. I’ve been living them ever since. So, I’m glad that I have the time to share them all with you. This book will place you back there with me, watching, listening and getting my thoughts, so you can learn what it took me 30+ years to figure out. I haven’t figured out everything but I’ll share what I’ve got.
Before I dive into the details, I want to explain my background with team sports as further context for you. In my younger days, I loved playing hockey and baseball. And, while I was good at hockey, I was much better at baseball than most. Our high school team was a division 2 team and we won division 1 in western Massachusetts my senior year. I pitched for the Massachusetts All-Star team that year. I then started my college pitching career at Harvard University where I compiled a 7-0 record my freshman year, still a single season record at Harvard. We had a great team that helped me set that record (my ERA wasn’t so great). We went on to lose in the NCAA regionals that year, just missing out on a trip to the college world series, something I watched as a kid and still watch today with my family. And, like many kids, I had spent most of my youth on sports fields or at hockey rinks along with my two younger brothers. My middle brother played on the 1989 Harvard hockey national championship team. My youngest brother played hockey at Trinity College. Both were excellent athletes. During our careers, we all played against and with players who would play professionally. Thinking back, I can’t begin to count the hours that we spent, and my parents spent, practicing, playing or travelling for sports during this time. So, what’s important to understand as context is this: Sports permeate everything that I do, how I think and act. I learned so much through sports participation, by experiencing the teamwork, the locker room, the practicing, the games, the competition, the wins and, especially, the losses. I view almost every opportunity and challenge in life through a sports lens.
For most of my youth, I wanted to be a professional athlete and I spent a great deal of time pursuing this dream. Unfortunately, after my freshman year in college where I set the Harvard single season record, I hurt my pitching shoulder in summer ball and had to rehab a year. I was back pitching for my junior year at Harvard, but my arm was never really the same. I blamed the injury as the reason why I wasn’t able to get to the next level. However, I know better now. Excuses don’t help anybody and they certainly don’t produce value. Successful people know that they must face reality head on and the sooner, the better. Looking back at my sports days, truth is, I just wasn’t quite good enough. And, I certainly didn’t work hard enough to deserve anything other than what I got. Too much partying. Not enough time spent developing my craft or rehabilitating once I got hurt. Yes, I was young. However, regardless of your age, if you want to get ahead you must make more sacrifices than your peers. I didn’t. So, for me, the injury just produced the end-result quicker. After all that time and money spent throughout my young life, baseball stopped for me at an early age, as it does for most people who play sports. I was blessed with far more capabilities than most but the end result was the same. It wasn’t lost on me that I hadn’t worked hard enough to really give it my best. I’ll never know what could have been. Years later, after Match had risen to a billion-dollar-plus company, my dad told me: Maybe it was lucky that you hurt your arm. These words were in dramatic contrast to how we thought about things during my playing days. So, I’ll never forget them. And, although I was successful at Match and it may seem like the sports opportunity wouldn’t matter now, I still think about it. Not in the sense that I would have made it. But, rather, in the disappointment in not giving it my best. Squandering that opportunity is what led me to not squander another at Match.
Since a lot of my time at Harvard was focused on baseball and having fun, the journey to Match was a lot more luck than skill. Sure, I studied and graduated with a degree in computer science from Harvard. However, like most kids, I wasn’t ready for the business world. It’s so easy to see now. I had no real idea or plan on how to use what I learned, which in hindsight, wasn’t very much at all in the grand scheme of things. I had no business plan to make it big. In baseball, I knew everything. Pitch in college, hopefully get drafted, then onto the farm system. Single A, Double A, Triple A and then the big show. I knew what statistics mattered, feeder leagues like Cape Cod and Alaska ball, and what I needed to work on. I knew the MPH (miles per hour) of my fastball and how that compared to major league talent. In fact, I knew all the statistics. I had no such roadmap for my business future. So, after graduation, I was brutally unprepared for job interviews except “Harvard” on my resume. You may think a college like Harvard is the big differentiator in business. In my opinion, these fancy degrees are HIGHLY overrated. After my experiences at Harvard and in business, I don’t believe that top colleges make unsuccessful people successful. Rather, they attract candidates that have a higher probability of ultimately being successful in the first place. These colleges are the first choice for many of these candidates so, by definition, they appear better. The New York Yankees were absolutely dominant in the pre-draft baseball era. Why? Because all the best players wanted to play for the contract-rich Yankees and could. College football isn’t much different than this today. The university of Alabama seems to compete and win at the highest level every year. They also get top recruiting talent every year. Is it the program that makes the players or the players that make the program? Sure, it’s a combination. My view is that the players make the program far more so than the other way around. Once Alabama stops winning, top talent will stop making it their first choice, and Alabama will find it difficult to stay on top. So, they will fight to never let this happen. But, if you are a young football player and get denied at Alabama, what does it really mean? I’ll ask you this question: “How many NFL players didn’t graduate from Alabama?” The answer is most of them. So, in this context, what do elite college degrees, like mine, really mean? Basically, they say that you passed the rigor of a highly competitive admissions process and successfully passed their curriculum. Is the curriculum that much better than other universities? Will these people learn more just because they attend or because that is who they are? Does someone who doesn’t try at Harvard learn as much as someone who busts their butts at a so-called “non-elite” college? Doubtful. Every college has the resources for students to excel if a student makes it happen. I’ll tell you a funny story from my Harvard days:
On my recruiting trip to Harvard, my parents met my eventual baseball coach. He was a 69 year-old Armenian who loved baseball and had a long history of successful coaching at Harvard and other colleges prior. Yet, all he talked about with my parents was academics. He repeated his key points that basically conveyed the following:
- Harvard is an academic university first.
- Harvard has a good baseball program but that’s not the focus.
Fast forward to my freshman year. We are traveling to a play a road series. We typically took a bus to the other colleges and played double headers on the weekends. Some of these trips, like the one to Navy, were long bus trips. So, one day, we are on a road trip to Navy and a bunch of the freshman have their books out, working. Our coach notices this and comes storming back. “No f-ing books on the bus” he yells waving his fingers and pointing. “We’ve got an important set of games coming up and I need everyone focused.” He then mumbled his famous phrase “God damn 1600s”, referring to us as 1600s, in reference to someone with book smarts but not necessarily street smarts. When I was in college, the SATs were scored in two parts, Math and English, and an 800 was a perfect score for each (1600 a perfect score combined). He used the term 1600 with us many times when we made stupid mistakes by thinking too much instead of reacting, doing what we’ve practiced many times.
Even Harvard takes their sports seriously. But, that’s not my main point. The main point is embedded in my coach’s reference to “1600s”. It’s the fact that intellect capacity (book smarts) does not necessarily make one execute better (determine success in the real world). In fact, it can be an impediment when not grounded in reality. Sure, in some context, “theory” matters. However, most of the real world isn’t theory. Like sports, you need to be prepared for non-ideal situations. You need to be able to think on the fly. As I’ve said before, you can’t memorize your way through life. In sports, strict memorization may help for the first few plays (my first pitch of a game was a breaking ball, football coaches often script the first set of plays, etc.). But, that’s it. The game dictates the rest based on what happens. You need to react, adjust, and make decisions as the game unfolds and the pressure mounts. Practice helps to prepare for these situations. Being in the situation before, with known outcomes, is also a huge benefit. Our actual experiences help make us execute on-the-fly (street smart) and this is often the difference between winning and losing. So, let’s get back to my view on elite colleges in this context.
First, I’m not saying that Harvard isn’t a great school. It is. However, just like most NFL players don’t graduate from the University of Alabama, the vast majority of successful business people do not graduate from Harvard or from what I’ll the call the top 5 college brands. These colleges are Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and MIT. I know this top 5 is debatable but I view these as materially different, essentially, the top of the top. Others may have their own views but this is mine. I’ve reviewed many resumes and if I see these colleges on a resume then it’s a differentiator. The theory here is that the people from these colleges are likely smarter than those who are not from these colleges. I say “likely” because I constantly hear my coach’s voice: “1600s”. It reminds me of the “book smarts” versus “street smarts” consideration. It reminds me of preparation, execution and results over everything else. And, now, after enduring 30+ years in business, my coach’s voice is louder than ever. Here’s why:
- There are many people with elite college degrees that don’t make it in the business world.
- There are many people without elite college degrees that have changed the world.
Do not underestimate the value of street smarts. Do not overestimate the value of book smarts. Tom Brady of the New England Patriots was a sixth round NFL draft pick that will go down as the greatest football player of all time. Steve Jobs of Apple attended but never graduated from Reed college. Who you are and what you do will mean more in the end than where you came from. Your hill may be harder to climb but anything is possible if you can differentiate yourself. And, there are many, many ways that you can develop differentiating experiences (street smarts) that carry much more weight than a top degree on a resume. Please remember this.
Reflecting back on my college days with respect to my focus on sports versus learning, my thinking seems so ridiculous to me now. Hindsight provides clarity:
- The vast majority of sports players do not have professional talent. Many of them thought they did and still believe they should have or could have made it. There will be a variety of reasons for their beliefs yet almost never will they include the simple fact that they were not good enough. There is no shame in not being good enough at something. Not moving on from it to another opportunity, well, that’s another matter.
- There are people who had professional sports talent and never made it in sports. Most of them are now unknown. There will be a variety of reasons for their failure to use their talent to its fullest. Outside of true injury, a key factor in most will be a lack of focus and effort, often fueled by the belief that they are entitled to becomes a professional athlete without doing the hard work to achieve it.
Given this, my questions now are numerous. How could I not have known my situation better? Why didn’t I ask more questions along the way? Why did I believe that being a professional athlete was a reasonable and possible path for me? And, why didn’t I develop more business skills before and during college? Truth is that I was just ill-informed. I was also lazy. I thought getting my degree was all that I needed for business preparation. Beyond this, my motivation and passion were elsewhere. Luckily, my father always guided me to education first so I didn’t make the mistake of attending a baseball university over Harvard. And, yes, I briefly considered it. With that said, my college choice was fairly obvious to me once I was accepted to Harvard. Harvard had a good baseball team, was located close to my hometown and was great academically. What wasn’t so obvious, and what I didn’t understand at the time, were the business choices that I could have been making in parallel. Let me explain one example:
Since I was a computer science major at Harvard, I learned to develop programs. In the summer, I worked for my dad developing engineering programs. He was a professor at a nearby college. We had an IBM PC with an Intel processor in our basement. I programmed in one of the earliest versions of Microsoft C. PC’s were not common in the home back then. Today’s phones are much faster than that PC but, at the time, it was amazing what I could program on that machine. It felt like magic. I chuckle now thinking about how slow it was swapping the floppy disks in that computer. Hard drives weren’t even available then. However, I don’t chuckle at what I wasn’t thinking about.
Not once did I ever think:
- I should invest in IBM (the PC maker)
- I should invest in Intel (the new chip that powered the PC)
- I should invest in Microsoft (the software that I was using to program)
- I should go work for one of these companies
I never learned about investing in high school, even with a school curriculum that sent me to Harvard. At Harvard, my computer science program and pre-requisite core requirements didn’t force me to take any either. I’m sure that Harvard had these classes available. I just never thought to seek them out. I wasn’t going to be a finance major so why would I care? My parents were spending thousands of dollars a year sending me to college, spending more on me playing sports and I was literally sitting on a gold mine and never knew it. And, just to emphasize this point:
$781 invested in Microsoft stock in the summer of 1986, when I was programming in Microsoft C in my basement, would be worth over one million dollars as I write this.
Let that sink in. I likely spent much more than this on food, drinks and going out that one summer. Ouch.
Everyone should be encouraged to develop business skills at an early age so they can actively seek and be equipped to recognize great companies. And they should know that it doesn’t take a lot of money to produce huge returns in the long run if they are right. Run the numbers on a few of the following scenarios:
- 25 years ago, a heavy coffee drinker stopped drinking 1 cup of coffee at Starbucks each week and instead bought the stock with it ($200/yr). Just the $200 from the first year in 1994 would be worth about $18,500 today. Do the calculations on the rest of the years, add them all up, and see what you find. Hundreds of thousands of dollars saving one cup of coffee per week. You’ll probably be shocked at the return from such a small investment if you do the calculations yourself.
- A heavy shopper cut back Amazon purchases by $200/year after Amazon went public in 1997 and instead invested this $200 in Amazon stock every year. Just the $200 from the first year would be worth about $250,000 today. Think about that. Imagine 20+ years of the $200/year investment. Millions and millions of dollars today.
The story here isn’t about the stock market. If you want to read more about business/investing, I recommend reading Peter Lynch’s or Jack Welch’s books. I’ve read them all. Jack was an advisor to our parent company and I was fortunate enough to talk with him a few times at our company events over the years (he was in my golf foursome at one IAC retreat). My main points are about focus, priority and having the ability to recognize great businesses early on. You can invest in great businesses or you can go work for them. However, you can’t find them if you are not looking and/or haven’t developed the skills to know what to look for. You also need to develop a mind-set that is contrary to societal focus.
Society places so much emphasis and value on things that are not good long-term investments. Becoming a professional athlete is one of them. Many young people spend much of their youth on traveling sports teams, playing sports year-round, and following this same “professional athlete” dream. I want people to follow their dreams. I’m just hoping to expand their universe of dreams. I want more people spending their time looking for great companies and developing business skills while they are young. I want parents pushing their kids in this direction with the same passion and support that they push their children towards sports.
From my perspective now, the odds of becoming a professional athlete are like hitting the lottery, another frequent “big money” dream in society. In sports, only the professional level athletes make money. Everyone else, like those in the farm systems and college, makes peanuts or no money at all although now, fortunately, some college athletes are being allowed to do so. In a lottery, the sponsors promote the jackpots and showcase the winners. Unfortunately, these winners are the very, very few. Everyone else loses their money. In business, almost everyone has an opportunity to make good money at all levels of an organization. I’m sure that early employees at Microsoft, Google, Apple, and all other successful companies did very, very well. Match is no exception. While there is a pay gap in business, it’s not like everyone at the lower levels lose all their money. In fact, if some ownership in the company is available through stock options, returns can be staggering at all levels. Very few of the world’s billionaires made their money in sports or the lottery or other get-rich-quick dreams. They made it in business. And while these billionaires usually make the news, there are also entry level and support employees that made millions by valuing their ownership options in these businesses.
So, why do people pour their hard-earned money into lottery tickets? Why do so many spend so much time, money and effort solely on the pursuit of the sports dream? Why did I? Fame, glory, money? Probably a little of all of these. What I didn’t fully understand at the time was the probability of success. More importantly, I failed to appreciate the other alternatives readily available with a much higher probability of success and, possibly, an even higher return. So, again, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t follow their dreams. I just question the origin and practicality of the dreams that society plants in our minds. We watch TV, read the internet and are constantly bombarded with rich and famous people. Get rich schemes are promoted all around us. We all need to understand that those pushing the narrative often have their own interests at play. They are “selling” us. Whether it’s some new hot stock, the chance to be an MVP or hit the jackpot, don’t buy the Las Vegas mentality. Don’t be fooled by the promise of easy money. There is no easy money in life. Instead, spend your time and money on learning and on developing business skills. You absolutely can’t go wrong by investing in yourself. The sooner, the better. You won’t regret it.
Hopefully, this chapter has given you some insight into my background and mindset. I wouldn’t quit playing sports if I could go back and do it all over again. I would still invest some of my time and money into my sports experiences. I loved playing sports and learned a lot from team sports that ultimately helped me in the business world. I encouraged my children to play for these very reasons. However, I should have developed long term business skills in parallel. I should have used much more of my time and money in this area, much sooner. I didn’t and, quite frankly, I wasn’t motivated because I didn’t fully understand the potential rewards. And, even if I did, I wouldn’t have known how. So, I’m writing this book to help others who are interested in learning how. It’s never too late to start.
Before we get started, I wanted to explain a technique that you have already seen in this chapter and will continue to see throughout this book. I often use analogies and explanation context to compare business and technical situations to other, more common, real-world examples. Often, the details and context of business situations are not as easily understood because we don’t have the training or the experience to fully comprehend the reality/practicality of them. For example, if I tell someone that the storage that we have on file is 1 terabyte of data then a person without a knowledge of what a terabyte represents may not really comprehend what I’m telling them. However, if I explain that that is enough space to store 5 copies of the names of every person on planet earth (over 7.5 billion people), or store about 300,000 digital MP3 songs, well, you get a more relatable context.
Many of the business situations in this book will be specific to Match. However, at the core, I believe that they can be applied to all businesses. We had three main drivers at Match: Acquisition (new people), Pricing (how much each paid for our products and services) and Retention (how long they stayed a user of our products and services). Each is extremely important for the Match business. Retention was by far the one that interested me most. Acquisition typically requires spending more to attract new users. Pricing can be adjusted but typically impacts volume. Retention, however, is free money if you can get users to stay longer. You’ve already acquired them (typically via a paid channel like advertising). These people will also be supporters of your brand – bringing others in as new users. They will impact the press and consumer views of your brand. This will impact acquisition and pricing. I’ll talk more about this later. For now, when you see examples used, think about how the core lessons could be applied to your business. I’m sure that it won’t map exactly but I do believe that it will map directionally.
Finally, some of my analogies and/or context will use sports situations because it’s often easy for me to compare to and easier for people to understand sports context. Other times, I’ll use other common situations to make my point. To help you understand this further, I am going to share with you my “top 5 technical myths” that I used to communicate to my technology staff to get them in my preferred strategic mind-set. I wrote them before starting at Match because I’ve used a similar philosophy for most of my career. I’ve discussed and debated these topics for 30+ years. I believe strongly in their importance on the technical side. Others can have their own views and different ways to execute that could also work. Teams need to be on the same page, executing together. There are many ways to execute – different techniques, strategies, etc., that can all lead to success but it only happens when everyone is operating on the same game plan. I’ve expanded my thinking, my roles, and my experiences over the past 30 years but I haven’t really changed how I communicate all that much. So, in this book, I use analogies and context, sometimes intentionally exaggerated, to help make the information more understandable and relatable. Hopefully, it works for you.
Top 5 Tech Myths
What if real life worked this way?
Myth # 5 – Complex solutions are a sign of intelligence
Complex solutions are a sign of inexperience or lack of proper decision making by management. The first question should always be “Is there a simple way to solve this problem?” Often, the problem isn’t unique. You’re not the first one in the history of the universe to ever encounter it. Likely, there are good, proven and simple solutions already available so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel with something way too complicated. Just look.
What if Scenario (Pool/Billiards Game):
Host: “So, Billiards Player #1, you lost again to Billiards Player #2. That’s 20 losses in a row to the same player over your short career…”
Billiards Player #1: “Did you see that double-bank shot I made? What about the jump shots? How about the around the back shot? Did you see the triple-combo? Only a few people in the world could have made that shot. I made incredibly difficult shots. Billiards Player #2 had easy shots – anyone could have made those. I deserve to win. I’m a much better billiards player than he is.”
Host: “So Billiards Player #2, what’s you’re secret?”
Billiards Player #2: “I’ve worked very hard on my ‘leaves’, you know, where I leave the cue ball after I make a shot. My goal is to leave myself with the simplest next shot possible. That way, I improve my chances to win significantly. Winning a game is a lot more than some difficult shot making. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. It’s finding a way to minimize the number of difficult shots that you have to take and maximizing the number of difficult shots that your opponent has to take. Someday, Billiards Player #1 will realize this and he will take his game to the next level.”
Myth # 4 – Whiteboard Solutions Are What’s Required
Users will want everything in absence of actual cost/usage. Technical people tend to look for the “best” solution based on this. Often, this “best” is in the technician’s mind and not the user’s mind. Users can’t comprehend the actual system until they touch it and have to pay for it – then what really matters to them is cost, ease of use, and efficient functionality. The best ideas often come after initial launch when they use it “live” and provide feedback.
What if Scenario:
Bob: “Joe, I hear that you’re wasting three hours a day walking to work. Why not buy a car?”
Joe: “Tell me about it. You should see me on rainy days. I saw a commercial on a Ford Explorer.”
Bob: “You don’t want a Ford Explorer. Get a Porsche – it’s the fastest car on the planet. It will get you to work faster than any other car out there. I have a friend that will get you a great deal.”
Joe: “Wow. Cool. That will get me there the fastest. But, a car like that needs a MP3 player. No, forget that – it needs a complete digital stereo system and surround sound. But, isn’t the speed limit 55? “
Bob: “Sure it’s 55. But what if you decide you want to take your car out on the Texas Motor Speedway? I mean, you never know.”
Joe: “Right, I don’t know. I’ll also need a racing helmet and gloves. What about a roll bar in case I turn over at the Speedway?”
Bob: “No problem – I’m sure that can be mounted on. Wow, this is great. Should I call my friend and order you one?”
Joe: “What does something like this cost?”
Bob: “About $125,000. That’s a bargain though for that type of car.”
Joe: “$125 grand?!! For a car? I don’t understand. All I need is something I can drive 2 miles to get to work. Hey, maybe a bike would be faster. It’ll save me 2.5 hours and $124,900 and I can deal with the rain. Thanks Bob.”
Myth # 3 – Don’t Do It At All If You Don’t Do It “Right”
“Right” is a subjective term. No system that failed to see production can be deemed “right” regardless of the design behind it. No system that didn’t return a positive ROI can be deemed “right” regardless of design. Business is about making money and this means ROI based on realized value. There are many “rights” (acceptable cost-based solutions, different target consumers, etc.) so deliver one without unnecessary costs, delay and/or continued over analysis/thinking in search of perfection that doesn’t exist or matter.
What if Scenario:
Car Buyer: “I’m here to buy a Ford Explorer SUV.”
Ford Dealer: “OK. That’ll be the Ford Explorer, Eddie Bauer Limited Edition. It comes with standard everything – leather interior, heated seats, power mirrors, towing package, reverse sensing, 6 CD/DVD combo, XM radio, 16 speakers, GPS, 8 Cylinders, 4 Wheel Drive, 12 year unlimited warranty, built-in Sony Playstation, and many other features. It will cost you just over $50,000. It’s the ONLY one we sell.”
Car Buyer: “What do you mean it’s the only one you sell? I’m not sure I need the limited edition and all those features. I can’t afford $50,000.”
Ford Dealer: “Well, at Ford, we only want to be the best. And, the limited edition is the best. Anything less would be an inferior product. So, we don’t even bother selling the other lines any more. If you want the best, you should definitely buy this car. You’re cheating yourself if you don’t.”
Car Buyer: “I’m sure the Eddie Bauer is the top of your line. But all I really need is some room for my kids and ample back storage. I need an SUV that fits into my budget. That’s what’s best for me. I think I’ll try another dealer.”
Myth # 2 – “Basically Done” Means It’s Done
The hardest part of any feature/system is the last 20% no matter how much work is involved. If a system is not executing in a production environment, it’s not done. This is the biggest hurdle of all. Then, once in production, it still isn’t done – so don’t even think about moving all the resources off after launch.
What if Scenario:
Announcer: “Coach, where are you going? There are still 2 minutes left in the football game!”
Coach: “I’m going to the locker room, we just won the game.”
Announcer: “Won the game? You’re losing, down by a field goal and the game isn’t over.”
Coach: “Hey, we just marched 60 yards in 5 plays to get to their twenty-yard line. 20 more yards, plenty of time on the clock. So, we’re there. I mean, how hard can the last 20 yards be? My players tell me it’s easy. I want the locker room to be ready for the celebration. I’m somewhat surprised the referees haven’t called the game or the other team conceded yet, or better, just give us the league championship now. We’ve basically won the game at this point and that means we have the best record in the league.”
Announcer: “Wait a minute, what just happened? Hey, your team just fumbled and your opponent now has the ball. Looks like you’re going to lose the game and won’t be league champions.”
Coach: “This isn’t how it worked in practice. In the play book, we don’t fumble the ball. This is definitely not how the play was designed. I mean, we had the game won.”
Announcer: “Maybe you should wait until the game is over to declare victory next time. And, maybe you should consider being on the field and get your team more motivated and ready for the last 20 yards. Maybe that’s when the real work starts. Just something to think about…”
Myth # 1 – It’s an Easy Change: There Should Be No Impact
It’s never an easy change. Maybe the actual code modifications are quick. What about the time to decide what to do? Discussion time? Coordination Time? Testing Time? Problem Fix time? Reporting on results time? Unexpected, related issues it causes? And, how many of these add up to months of delay?
What if Scenario:
Patient: “Doctor, I hear I need the operation tomorrow on my chest?”
Doctor: “Yes, but it’s an easy procedure – I’ve done it a million times. Also, I noticed from your charts that you have a few other anomalies – things that aren’t exactly perfect.”
Patient: “Really, are they serious?”
Doctor: “Oh, no, not at all. In fact, we wouldn’t have noticed them if we didn’t take the x-rays. No action is required. Most people have these anomalies – they are very common in the general population. However, while I have you cut open, I think I’ll fix them too. Do you mind?”
Patient: “Is that really necessary? What improvement will I feel? Doesn’t that increase the risk?”
Doctor: “Of course there is some risk, everything has some risk. It shouldn’t be a problem. All of these things are easy to fix. You won’t notice anything different after but the anomaly will be gone. I like my patients to be free of anomalies. Ideally, human beings wouldn’t have any at all. It’ll only add a couple hours to surgery and the extra cost shouldn’t be substantial. Unless, of course, something unexpected happens but that’s unlikely.”
Patient: “Have you done all this together before?”
Doctor: “No, not exactly because every human is different, but that shouldn’t impact anything. It’s all basically the same.”
Patient: “I think I’ll stick to just my actual problem that needs fixing. Maybe I’ll come in another time for the other stuff or maybe I’ll get another doctor…”
These may seem like exaggerated examples. That’s the point. Most people can understand things that they experience in life: buying a car, going to the doctor, and watching a football game, for example. However, in many cases, technology is understandably foreign to those that aren’t experienced in the field. So, crazy ideas in technology don’t scream “this is crazy” when they are reviewed and/or proposed to business people. Again, it isn’t the non-technical person’s fault. They aren’t trained in the field. Often, technology has this “mystical” connotation like it can solve anything by defying the laws of physics. Just program it to. Well, it doesn’t work that way. My myths are like a funny exploitation of this thinking. However, it’s not a joke. You wouldn’t let a doctor mess around changing things in your body without a damn good reason and justification. You’d research their history, possibly consult with other doctors for second opinions, and make sure that the benefit was worth the risk. So, don’t let some programmer go messing around in your proven code base that is generating millions of dollars just because “they have a better idea”. The same diligence is required in business. The core principles that my myths address apply to all businesses (and not in just technology):
- Simplicity Vs Complexity
- Theory Vs Practice
- Seller View Vs Buyer View
- The Definition of Complete
- Projected Results Vs Proven Results
If something “has to be complicated”, find out why. If you are doing something for the first time, start slow and assume it won’t work the way you expect. See if others have been in your shoes. They probably have. If you are a seller or a buyer, don’t assume the other side sees things as you do. “Done” means different things in different contexts. Projected results are worthless until they are proven. These are just a few high-level takeaways for you from these myths. I’m sure that you can relate some of your own experiences to this context. I’ll expand on many of these ideas throughout the book.
I wrote these myths over 20 years ago. While these examples may be viewed as a little dated, it’s amazing how some things don’t really change at their core. Good practices remain good practices. Experiences and actual results prove what works and what doesn’t work over time. Reality trumps theory. The rest of this book will lay out what I believe are the most important lessons that I have learned over my career. Hopefully, using examples and context like these will help me explain things better and make it easier for you to understand and relate to my core points.
So, let’s get started.