Finding Success in the Tech Industry - Carl Smith14:59 with Dan Gorgone
Carl Smith, founder of nGen Works, sits down with Treehouse's Dan Gorgone to discuss how to succeed in your company, on your own, and in today's tech industry.
[? music ?] 0:00 [Treehouse Friends] 0:04 [? music ?] 0:06 Hey, everyone, Dan Gorgone here from Treehouse. 0:15 We're at the In Control Conference in Orlando, and we're talking with 0:17 Carl Smith, founder of nGen Works. 0:20 Carl, thanks for joining us. >>Thanks for having me. 0:23 >>Caught your keynote this morning, very cool, very inspirational, 0:25 something that I think a lot of designers and developers, our key audience, 0:29 would definitely be inspired by. 0:33 You talked about your experience—very personal 0:35 experience—getting started in the tech industry. 0:37 >>Yeah, I learned early on how to make money but sacrifice my life for it, 0:39 and later started a company and got kind of all sucked up in that 0:45 and feeling important, and basically today I just wanted to share with people 0:50 the things that I'd learned and that there really can be balance, 0:54 if you just learn how to let go of certain things. 0:58 >>I know this is a lesson that probably had to be learned in stages. 1:00 I know that you talked about one of your 1st experiences 1:05 was working for a company that you weren't actually working for. 1:07 You just sort walked right in there and started doing things because 1:11 you wanted to do them. >>I wanted to work there. 1:14 I had interned at the company, and right when 1:17 I got back to college, they had a layoff. 1:20 They had gotten stiffed for some money, and when I came back, they weren't hiring, 1:22 and I was like, you know what, I know people here, there's nobody sitting over there, 1:25 I'm just going to go sit over there and start working, and eventually somebody 1:29 will ask me to help with something, and that happened. 1:32 And 3 weeks in, one of the owners asked me if I could work on the weekend. 1:34 He goes, "Hey, we're putting together this bid for"—it was actually 1:38 for the Jacksonville Jaguars, right—"we're putting in this bid, you get 1:40 an NFL team, could you come in on the weekend and work on it?" 1:43 I just looked at him and went, "I don't work here." 1:46 And he went, "What?" 1:48 It was like, "No, I've just been showing up. I'm living with my folks. 1:50 "I don't know what to do," and I got a call from the president that night, 1:53 of the company, and she said, "We'll pay you sixteen thousand seven hundred dollars," 1:56 and I was like, "I will take that money. I will come to work with you 2:01 tomorrow, on Saturday." 2:04 >>You know, there are plenty of other younger people out there that 2:06 are learning skills, and they have interest. 2:09 They have passions that they want to follow, 2:12 and are probably going to be in the same boat, where they just want to start 2:15 doing stuff, and many of them are, 2:18 whether they're members on our site or they're just out there 2:21 learning on their own and practicing things. 2:24 How can they take that step when they're online? 2:26 Or when they don't have a place down the street where they can go to? 2:30 >>You know, I would say you find that 1 thing 2:33 that you're really passionate about that you want to do. 2:36 You find your skills that you're really good at, and then, 2:38 I mentioned this, you find that thing that when you're doing it 2:41 you lose track of time. 2:44 That's when you know that that's what you're supposed to do. 2:46 And what I would say is if you don't have anybody to be paying you to do that, 2:48 sort of do it for yourself. 2:52 Put it out there, and show people what you're capable of. 2:54 And show people what it is that you care about. 2:58 It could be there's a not-for-profit, it could be a 3:00 guy with a hotdog stand, it could be whatever. 3:03 But find something that's real enough that it touches somebody else, 3:05 because the big issue I think a lot of people have is they 3:09 build something for themselves, and they keep the energy trapped. 3:11 It has to go out and touch somebody else so that they're like suddenly 3:14 your ambassador, saying, "Wow. He is awesome at designing identities, 3:18 and that's what he loves to do. Look at what did with this hotdog cart." 3:22 You know, whatever it is, however silly it might feel, just work 3:26 at what it is you love, and make sure that it touches somebody else. 3:30 >>You talked about the concept of stored energy in your talk, 3:33 and energy being stored, being trapped, through money. 3:37 Or worrying about what different people think about what you're doing 3:42 or the strategy that the path you're taking— 3:47 Can you talk about that stored energy? 3:50 Are there different ways to release that energy and to build more energy? 3:52 >>Absolutely. And it's not my concept, although it's one I truly embrace and love, 3:56 and actually, I think the 1st time I ever read about it might 4:00 have been like a Motley Fool's investment portfolio, or something. 4:04 But the idea that we have is we can either have a life, or we can have a lot of money. 4:07 And my belief and things that I've read is that money is just stored life energy. 4:13 So you're going to hire me to cut your lawn for 20 bucks. 4:19 I'm going to give you 20 minutes—well, you probably have a big lawn 4:22 because you're very successful—I'm going to give you an hour and a half of my time, 4:25 and you're going to give me that 20 dollars. 4:28 And I've exchanged that. 4:31 Now you have gotten that hour and a half back in your life 4:33 in exchange for that money that you earned doing something else. 4:35 So a lot of people don't want to have a yard service, or they don't want to have 4:38 a cleaning service, or they don't want to do these things. 4:43 I think it's important to do that, right? 4:45 Because you have to keep energy flowing, and you have to keep money flowing. 4:48 Otherwise, it goes stagnant. If you just try to hold onto money, 4:53 people won't help you. 4:56 But, and I mentioned it, if you're at the bar and you buy that 1st round, 4:58 guess what? Somebody's buying the 2nd, and somebody's buying the 3rd. 5:01 And there's a new person that shows up, and before you know it 5:04 you got a free beer, right? 5:08 And if you guys see me later tonight, we'll totally try this. 5:09 [laughter] You'll buy me a free beer. But that works on a bigger scale as well. 5:13 If you—like, I helped a client who lost a job find a new job. 5:16 Well, a year later, he showed up, and he had work. 5:21 It gets to hippie juice, right, and then that's what I call it 5:25 when you start thinking about certain things, but I really think karma is real. 5:28 I think there's no debt in the universe that doesn't get repaid. 5:31 And so when you do good things for people, intending to do good things 5:35 and not thinking about the outcome, I think it comes back. 5:39 >>You know, as someone that's worked as a designer 5:43 and has built sites and worked on projects, I have some experience of 5:47 trying to do that and do good at the same time. 5:53 And I feel like one of the risks is when you get involved with people who are, 5:57 like friends and family, and it seems like there's a whole different 6:02 set of obligations when you have a client that you don't necessarily know, 6:06 versus someone that you know personally, that you have feelings for. 6:10 You don't want to disappoint them, you don't want the relationship, 6:16 which is so special, to be affected in some way. 6:21 Can you work on these different projects in the same way 6:23 and work with friends and family, at the same time work with other people out there? 6:29 >>You know, I think it's going to be a case-by-case basis, 6:34 and it's going to be the context of that relationship. 6:37 The thing that I would say is take an hour. 6:40 Find a quiet place. 6:44 Sit down and think about what that's going to be like, 6:46 and if you feel yourself in discomfort, do not do it. 6:49 But if you find that you feel really good because you can envision 6:53 everyone celebrating whatever it is you accomplished, then do it. 6:57 We know the things to do, we just ignore the signals. 7:01 So I think that's a big part of it. 7:04 Personally, I think you can. I don't think I could ever work on a project with my wife, 7:06 because it's too personal, right? There's too many little things. 7:10 I wanted to have an office in our house, and I work from outside most of the time. 7:15 And I wanted to have an office in our house. 7:20 She goes, "No, that's the den." And then a year later, she put a desk in there. 7:22 And now she works in there! That's not cool! [laughter] 7:26 But you know, that's what a relationship is. You figure it out. 7:29 I think a big part of that, too, is that idea of becoming defenseless. 7:33 And I mentioned, defenseless is not a negative word. 7:37 It doesn't mean helpless. 7:40 It means there's no longer a need to defend. 7:42 And when you stop worrying about how everybody sees you, 7:44 and not in a cocky way but in a I totally respect you 7:48 and I don't think I'm any better than you, and I don't think you're any better than me, 7:51 so really it doesn't matter what you think, this is what I'm doing, 7:55 you get so much of your time back. 7:58 We spend so much time judging and defending. 8:01 And if you can learn to put it aside—and I mess it up every day. 8:04 I'll see some guy with an iPad, I'm like, did he steal that? 8:09 [laughter] It's little things where you find yourself doing that, and you're like 8:11 this makes no sense; why would I even worry? 8:16 So I think there's a lot of steps that you can take to work with friends 8:19 and work with family, but I think that the truth is you'll feel it in 8:23 your gut or in your heart or your headache that you might get. 8:26 So I think that's the thing—Just listen to the signals for you. 8:30 >>One other thing that you mentioned, and this goes for a lot of our 8:33 members, as well as entrepreneurs—Staying with what you know 8:39 versus trying new things. 8:44 There's always a fear of the unknown. 8:46 What are the advantages of trying those new things 8:49 and sort of breaking down those internal barriers into parts unknown? 8:53 >>You know, I think uncertainty is the path forward. 8:59 I mean, you can go back to, you know, "I chose the one less traveled." 9:04 You can do all of those types of things, but the reality is 9:10 if you fall back on what you know, 9:13 then you're no longer going anywhere. 9:16 You're not moving, you're going backwards or you're standing still. 9:19 If you take that chance, if you do the uncertain thing, 9:22 you're going to learn new things. You're going to find something. 9:25 And it's like I mentioned having goals., and I change those goals all the time 9:29 because I do something I didn't think I would do, and I realize it's—Writing a book is silly. 9:34 There's no reason for me to write a book, it's because everybody else 9:36 has written one, and I feel like I should. But I want that time back 9:38 so that I can then help somebody, right? 9:41 I don't know how I said it, but people tweeted it, so I think it pretty good. 9:44 If you do what you know, you lock yourself in a prison of the past. 9:46 I said something like that, right, it was really good. 9:52 >>I think that works. >>Yeah, that one works. 9:55 So I think uncertainty, if you're nervous about something 9:57 but you don't feel bad if you're nervous, but it's like excitement, 10:00 you need to follow that path. If you're not sure about what you're doing, 10:03 then you're doing something. 10:06 >>Well, this idea of helping others, I know that it has carried through 10:08 your work and through your leadership, too. 10:13 There have been a number of opportunities you've talked about where 10:15 you've supported your own people so that they could leave, 10:18 which seems like—Thinking about running a company or running a business, 10:22 seems like the craziest thing you would want to do is send these 10:26 amazing, talented people out to work on other things. 10:30 But in supporting them, you've actually gained even more. 10:34 Can you tell us about that? >>Sure. I mean it started with Microsoft, 10:40 and Microsoft had come in and, as a company, we couldn't see eye to eye 10:45 on how to work together, and they approached some of the individuals. 10:50 And one of the individuals came to me, and he goes, "You know, this is a 10:54 "lot of money," and I was like "Go do it. You're young. 10:56 "Take their money." And our concept of having a core team and then a— 11:00 what we would call, like we have the engineers and then the fringeneers 11:05 as the secondary team, and I said just don't quit. 11:08 Just take a step back. 11:11 And this kind of set a precedent, where now we had somebody who just got 11:13 pretty much sucked up into a startup, 11:18 and she said, "Can I be a fringeneer?" 11:21 And I was like, "Absolutely, the doors don't shut any more. 11:23 "Go do what you have to do." She wanted to be in an office. 11:25 She wanted that energy, she wanted that excitement, and they pretty much offered her 11:28 a lot of money, and she said, "Well, I'll give you 10 to 15 hours a week." 11:31 And I said, "We'll take it. Let's do it." 11:35 And so she's still maintaining a lot of what she did. 11:37 But the idea that people are supposed to stay somewhere forever 11:40 is a little ridiculous. 11:44 Especially if you're a small team, and there's nowhere to grow. 11:46 There's nowhere to get to. 11:49 So I finally just realized, for me, that doesn't matter. 11:52 If they're learning, and they're going somewhere, 11:56 and eventually they're going to go somewhere else, 11:58 maybe they'll come back, maybe they won't, but either way, 12:00 we still have a really positive relationship, and I'd rather have that 12:03 positive energy than I would, you know, seeing them in the store 12:06 and going, "Oh, I'm going the other way." 12:10 >>And you never know. That relationship could flip as well, 12:12 If something happens, and then suddenly you're looking for a project 12:18 or an opportunity. >>That's absolutely true. 12:22 You know, the team actually picks the work. 12:24 I'm not involved in it that much any more, and one of the things for me, 12:27 and I didn't mention it, was I don't want an exit strategy, 12:31 I want an irrelevant strategy. I just want to become irrelevant. 12:33 And one of the amazing things about doing nothing is how much you become 12:35 a part of everybody else's life. 12:41 How much you—You get that call, and you don't dread it. 12:44 You want to find out how it went. 12:47 One of the people that left, I shot her a quick IM, and I go, 12:49 "How's the first day on the job?" And she was like, "Stop being so nice. 12:53 "You're making me feel horrible." [laughter] I was like, "What? I'm seriously 12:55 curious, I want to know how it's going." 12:58 My youngest daughter, about 2 years ago, she was 7— 13:00 maybe it wasn't quite that long ago—I just finished the Steve Jobs biography, 13:05 and she said, "What do you want people to remember about you?" 13:08 And I said, "That I was a nice guy who was really successful." 13:12 Because it seems like those don't exist anywhere. 13:18 And she wanted to be an astronaut. 13:22 So I think she won, but it was just one of those amazing moments where 13:24 somebody with no expectation of your answer whatsoever 13:29 asks you something, and you get that clarity of— 13:32 I'm not always nice, I should work on that. 13:35 So that was a pretty beautiful thing. 13:38 >>Moving forward, how can our members learn more about you? 13:40 I know you have a podcast. >>Yeah, I have Bizcraft with Gene Crawford. 13:44 And if you go to unmatchedstyle.com, who I believe is 1 of the sponsors here, 13:48 if you go to unmatchedstyle.com, you'll find the Bizcraft podcast. 13:53 And we've done, I think we're coming up on 18 episodes, 13:57 and you'll be able to send in questions, and we'll answer them on the air. 14:01 We actually had Daniel Pink, who—I don't know if you're familiar with Daniel Pink, 14:05 but we had him on a podcast a few weeks ago. 14:08 And that for me was one of those exciting moments where it was just like 14:11 oh, my God, I love your work. 14:14 I'm such a fanboy, I will get this—let's edit that out. 14:16 But so, yeah, so I think that's a way to contact us. 14:19 And also on Twitter, I'm just carlsmith, with a c. 14:21 Or send me an email, email@example.com. 14:24 One of the things that I mentioned is I spend about half my day trying to help 14:27 the team at nGen and about half my day trying to help the industry. 14:32 Anybody that I can—One of my goals is to have somebody create a company better 14:34 than mine, and I was just able to help them on some level. 14:38 >>Well, I think we all appreciate that. 14:40 Well, thank you, Carl. Carl Smith, founder of nGen Works, thanks again for joining us. 14:43 >>I appreciate it. >>And we'll see you next time on Treehouse Friends. 14:49 >>Have fun, everybody. 14:52 [Treehouse Friends] 14:54 [? music ?] 14:56
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