01 Aug 2014

You wouldn’t believe this was me a year ago

2 Comments Featured, people management

A year ago, I had nothing– no health, no money, and a career that looked more like a homeless man’s exploits than what might pass as a functional business. I explain what that life feels like here.

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Ever chase money and feel like a hamster on a wheel?

I was chasing the idea of success, as no entrepreneur wants to admit public failure. They ask each other at tech events how things are going, and out come the white lies. This reinforces the false reality of running a business, creating a loneliness that only a founder or business owner would know.

I still get the email subscriptions of people who have worked for us, which creates a chore for me to unsubscribe. Do you sweep the floors, too?

Today, I saw a video of a young man pitching his self-help materials. He was standing on a yacht, talking about how he could teach us success. Gold watch, blazer– all that was missing was the exotic car or bikini babe.  Though he was promising how you could be 3-5 times more successful by following his advice, all I could think was “Gee, how much did he pay to film his one minute video on that docked yacht? Or maybe his parents have a kind friend.”

I downloaded his ebook and read it in 3 minutes flat.  It was a younger version of Tony Robbins– good for young folks to understand that hard work, passion, and planning count and that we have to set goals in our careers, personal lives, health, spiritual lives, etc…

And while the advice wasn’t necessarily wrong, it reinforces the very problem it claims to solve.  Kids coming out of high school still don’t know what they want. And neither do adults well into mid-life, as they are just older kids.

I never understood the transition from school to work, so I was still swimming when the water turned to land.  The techniques I used to get good grades didn’t seem to work in getting me a job.

In fact, it hurt me.

School taught me that collaborating with others was cheating, that there was always a singular right answer in the book, and that once you submitted the paper, that bit was over.  People in the real world know the opposite is true.

You must act quickly to fail quickly and iterate.  Business owners make decisions based on relationships, not by your GPA. The stuff you need is not in the textbook, although Googling things can be quite helpful.  Yes, I used to work at Yahoo! and us engineers were using gmail and googling things.

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And in doing Internet marketing for the last 20 years, if you count bulletin boards and dial-up, I’ve witnessed the same transition struggle for business owners. They understand the core of their business– the customer, their product, and how to drive sales.  But the electronic world has left them befuddled in a maze of software and witch doctors selling their wares. I get confused, too.

The education system is like a giant soft serve machine that oozes out vanilla twist, left on with nobody watching.

It’s pumping out millions of graduates each year, who are not equipped to work in today’s modern world. It’s not the school’s fault, since a degree was never a promise for a job. And it’s not the businesses’ fault, since it’s not their role, at least not in the United States, to train students on basic business principles.

We’re not even talking about teaching the mechanics of Facebook ads, learning how to program, or fancy stuff.  What’s missing is simply being able to communicate in a business setting, knowing how to manage your time, and fundamentals that matter in any type of gainful employment.

Living here in Minnesota, the land of not 10,000 lakes, but actually 12,000 lakes, we have many rivers, too. To portage is to carry your canoe out of the water to get around an obstacle or something in the way. It’s a necessary transition that requires multiple people to lift the canoe and someone to guide the group.

I had no direction or true vision a year ago, though I could talk a good game.  But now, I have a family of close friends, a mission that matters, and a support network that is far more valuable than money.   And this is a transition, a portage, that has taken me a long time.  We have a lot to share and I’d welcome your help in this journey.
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I’m looking forward to sharing this with you over the coming weeks and months.

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written by
Dennis Yu is the Chief Technology Officer of Portage. He is an internationally recognized lecturer in Facebook marketing, having been featured in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, LA Times, National Public Radio, TechCrunch, Fox News, and CBS Evening News. He is also an author at InsideFacebook and AllFacebook. Dennis has held leadership positions at Yahoo! and American Airlines. He studied Finance and Economics from Southern Methodist University and London School of Economics. Besides being a Facebook data and ad geek, you can find him eating chicken wings or playing Ultimate Frisbee in a city near you. You can contact him at dennis@portage.co, his blog, or on Facebook.
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2 Responses to “You wouldn’t believe this was me a year ago”

  1. Reply Do you want to really understand Dennis Yu? says:

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