When A Push Becomes A Leap (Growing When it Hurts)

I just received an email from Google congratulating the Growth Guild squad on our first 100 days. I have to admit, I was a bit shocked. In some ways it feels like it’s only been a few weeks and in others, it seems like I’ve been at this forever. As they say, time flies when you’re having fun!

The urgency to write this post is driven by my amazing colleague Laurel who pushes me to stay regular on our content deliverables. This time, I thought I’d switch things up and take some time to tell a little bit more about my and Growth Guild’s story. It’s been quite the journey thus far.

Preparing for the Inevitable

As you you may know, the four partners at Growth Guild—Astrid, Laurel, Steve and I—were each a part of the engine that was the Growth team at Astronomer, a data engineering startup in Cincinnati. We joined early on (I was hire #9) and we accomplished an exciting amount over a short period of time. It happened so quickly, in fact, it was hard to wrap our head around where to focus, whether we were onboarding a new SDR or overhauling our website.

At the same time, due to the nature of what Astronomer does (in the simplest terms, they build pipelines to connect and unlock value out of the massive amounts of data within organizations), the product required more time to be fully built out. After some tough conversations and even more difficult decisions that had to be made by the founders—and by now, our friends—Ry and Tim, Astronomer wisely decided to pivot the energy and focus of the company to the product.

But that meant pausing on growth … indefinitely.  

Everything Changes

The day I found out about Astronomer’s final plans to part ways with the entire Growth team will be one I’ll never forget, on so many levels.

I was still riding a bit of a high. The week prior, I had returned from San Francisco where I had the opportunity to knock out one of my “career bucket list” items. I gave four different presentations at Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Einstein. As a big fan of Salesforce, and a five-time attendee of the conference, it was quite a thrill.

The week of my return, there was a palpable feeling of unrest in the air. If it had to be described in a color, it would be gray. This feeling was present not only at the office but personally as well. My dad, Jerry, had been dealing with dementia for the better part of seven years. While the majority of his life he was blessed with a clean bill a health, his later years proved to be bit different. My mom, Paula, was as amazing of a caretaker and wife as anyone could ever be, and a true advocate for his comfort and happiness. It turns out my dad was a great patient as long as his caretaker was my mom.

While in San Francisco, I had a crazy-weird, lifelike dream—one that woke me up in the middle of the night in a panic. It was about my dad, and without going into too much detail, he was encouraging me in that dream to get home. Needless to say, my dad and I were close.

The Monday after Dreamforce, I went into work feeling a bit jet-lagged and tired from my then five-month-old son, Jerry (junior!). Not to mention, a sense of foreboding that stuck with me since my dream. After a few meetings about some of the yet-to-be-decided change happening at Astronomer, my Mom called. This time, it was true: I needed to head home. The night prior, my dad had been taken to hospice and his health was failing quickly.

In retrospect, I was in autopilot, not fully realizing what was happening or what was in front of me, but I quickly packed my things, picked up my wife Liz and little Jerry, and headed north.

The night before had been awful for my dad, to the point where he fell into a silent state that would eventually be the first step in his next journey. Our entire family rallied around him, hugging, laughing, crying, pacing, sighing, hoping…

I was still by his side when my phone rang.

Normally, I wouldn’t take a call in those circumstances, but knowing about the impending changes at work, I ducked out of the room to answer. It was Tim at Astronomer who had the begrudging, terrible task of informing me that I, along with the rest of the Growth team at Astronomer would be let go. We both exchanged tears on the phone along with a few details of what was next. I was pale-faced and red-eyed but had more important changes to cope with.

My dad passed peacefully that evening after spending some alone time with my mom. Change happens fast.

Things Happen for a Reason

Clearly, that day is one that I’ll never forget. In the moment, there was such a great feeling of loss and worry about what is, what happened and what will be. I just lost my dad and one of my best friends. I just lost my job, which I loved. And for the better or worse, I was worried about going into the holiday season and our son’s first Christmas with no clear reason to celebrate anything.

I’ve thought it before and validated it then: Things. Happen. For. A. Reason. I think all of that happened as a way to distract me from feeling devastated about one loss over the other. I had to remain calm, stay strong, understand my new normal and find a path forward. There is a large part of me that believes my dad was the one who took the wheel to help me cope and be strong for my family and my mom. It’s not without saying how much support, love and strength I received from all of my friends and family at the time, most of whom didn’t even know I had lost my job. It made me grateful for the impact my dad had made on so many people’s lives, but also changed my perspective on how I impact others. This was going to be a push that made me grow stronger as a person and a professional.

A Bourbon and a Phone Call

After a few weeks of planning, mourning, grieving and thinking about what was next… I felt ready to chat with a few of my closest colleagues at Astronomer. We scheduled a Google Hangout to just catch up, get a sense for how everyone was feeling, to vent about the unemployment process and put our feelers out for what we’re looking to do.

Astrid, Steve and Laurel had exchanged some texts amongst each other, but I had been quiet for a bit… A rarity by most accounts. On that call, Astrid and Laurel both brought up the idea of forming our own company. I listened and thought about it, but honestly was still more interested in the seemingly safer routes posted on Indeed.com and LinkedIn. That was more real to me than us actually starting our own agency.

Once again though, change happened fast. And I was wrong. Laurel, Steve and Astrid took the lead on putting some feelers out to our network and talking to some organizations that needed help with marketing and growth. We had some conversations, and while all were encouraging, some were easier than others. But we hustled. And people gave us the time and support to share our vision.

In the days and weeks following, when we were thankfully able to sign enough clients to kick off work in the new year, we knew we had something. The four of us, while all very different people with very different skill sets, work together so well. We felt we had to commit. We built a business model with the help of our Astronomer friends and put together some goals to hit. We didn't hit them. We beat them. Oh, and we found a name for the company we liked. :-)

Forced to Grow

As I share this bit of a story, it’s amazing and exciting to think about how the past six months have changed my course. Just like any story about growth, some days are great and some are awful. I think about how much I’ve grown personally from being a dad and husband—and now professionally being a business owner. It’s hard enough to grow personally or grow one company, but we’re helping to grow dozens now.

The most rewarding part of this adventure has been the opportunity to learn about the potential and opportunity that exists within each company we work or talk with. I’ve found myself passionate about things I didn’t ever think possible. Quickbooks = love. Selling something I believe in = love. Setting up office space = love.  

A “growth plan” is almost an oxymoron in some sense. Growing a business, like growing personally, should always be guided by a plan with intent and expected outcomes, but your hardest days, hardest quarters, hardest months and biggest losses are often what ultimately dictate exactly what your growth will look like. It’s a journey. Every day you’re building, even on slow days. Every day you’re growing, either intentionally or by events unplanned.

Regardless of all of how quickly growth and change happened in the last year, I know that it’s not unique to me. It’s just my story. I am so incredibly lucky and grateful to be able to grow through this experience and be surrounded by such amazing people like my wife, son, 3 dogs, family, friends, partners and clients—most of whom are facing their own “pushes.” It’s genuinely a joy to grow better together, in every way.