PART I: The Lift9 Story, Picking the WHO? First

PART I: Picking the WHO? First

I had an idea and a gut feeling. Social media data was going to be increasingly valuable. Yet, no matter how many social media monitoring tools entered the market to pull this growing mountain of data, it would never be of substantial value to businesses without human analysis, which is expensive.

I just had amicably parted ways with Ascentium, the company that had bought my web analytics consultancy, ZeroDash1, the year before.  I was ready for another venture.

I met with Ed Kim in July, 2009 at the prodding of my wife, who happened to be friends with his mother. Ed didn’t have any experience in marketing, much less social media. He seemed a bit unsure of himself at times, but I knew right away he could be instrumental in getting the Lift9 business plan off the ground.

He was naturally analytical and I could sense his hunger for a new challenge. Even more importantly, I knew he would appreciate the opportunity and be extremely honest and loyal. I hadn’t perfected my plans yet and needed someone who would trust my direction from the start.

Two weeks later, we flew to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam — him, with a one-way ticket. His world was about to be rocked. The plan was for him to start a social media research center in Ho Chi Minh, a place he had never even thought of visiting until I met him.

The truth is I had a lot of support infrastructure for him. My brother, nephew and a good family friend had gone to Vietnam two years earlier to set up a web-based real estate information company. They had a facility we could use, and offered to let us leverage their two years of experience of running a company in Vietnam. Their support ended up being truly invaluable.

Ed built a tremendous team. His work ethic exceeded all my expectations, and he gained his own social media knowledge very quickly. More importantly, he and I shared a common vision about the work culture we wanted to build in the research center. We both wanted to create an environment that would be fun, interesting and nurturing within the context of the Vietnamese culture.

Meanwhile, I was heavily recruiting a local social media expert, Warren Sukernek, who was with Radian6 and under challenged. I needed an expert who was delivery focused, someone who could execute on the vision.

After several meetings, Warren, a relatively risk-averse individual, took a leap of faith and joined our startup venture in October. Warren has been my right-hand man ever since. He fills my void with his pragmatism. Yet, he grasps concepts quickly and is able to implement ideas into tangible outputs. Although our personalities are different, we were very much aligned on the corporate culture that we wanted to build. Once he started interacting with the Vietnam research team, he put his heart and soul into ensuring their success.

We were an unlikely group to come together to start Lift9. Our backgrounds didn’t obviously align at first glance, but our ethos and desire to build something that reflected our principles did match up. As I’ve blogged many times, it’s the Who first, then the What ? (Good to Great, by Jim Collins).

Entrepreneurs many times hire people like themselves or someone with just a great resume. At a startup stage both those strategies may backfire. If everyone is of the same personality or perspective, you collectively will have big blind spots. Someone with a perfect resume may not be prepared for a startup environment and become disruptive.

I was fortunate to have picked the right team and empowered them to grow, even fail at times, but to ultimately be successful.