Kevin O’ Connor’s advice:
In the fall of my first year at Doubleclick, I was lucky enough to be promoted before my 1 year anniversary. Not only did I gain confidence from the promotion, but I started to feel more comfortable with my new environment in New York. Growing up in Seattle, New York was definitely a more harsh environment, but I started to get used to it. My confidence led me to email the CEO at the company at the time and ask him if he would be my mentor. I love the concept of mentors and wish there were more in the world & thought maybe there was an off chance he would say yes.
Well, I knew the chances of him saying “yes” were slim. And when he replied, I wasn’t surprised when he said “no.” However, my coworkers were surprised he even replied. I was slightly impressed as well that he would read my email & get back to me in such a prompt fashion. What was even more surprising at the time was that he said he would buy me lunch despite not being able to be my mentor. I thought it was a fair deal.
About a week later, we met up and walked to a favorite place of his for lunch. The conversation was really uncomfortable for me because I was this lowly “Sr. Quality Assurance Engineer” and he was the CEO. He also spoke in this manner that was unusual for me. It may have been the fact that I was nervous as well, but for some reason every time he responded to any of my questions, it was delayed by like 10 to 15 seconds. Since the meeting was a bit awkward, I kept on asking a 2nd question before he answered my initial question. He would then interupt me in the middle of my follow up question & answer. It was definitely an uneasy meeting.
Nevertheless, I walked away from it with two pieces of advice I will never forget. First, I asked him if he read any interesting publications on a regular basis. He responded that he didn’t for the most part, but he did like one author he read in the past. He mentioned that Ayn Rand’s books Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. He explained that the books emphasized concepts like “laissez-faire” capitalism and that she was a proponent of it. The books preached through the stories that gov’t had limited function and should only serve to protect individual rights. While I haven’t had the chance to read through the books, I felt like the basic truths these books provided society were probably right. From my 15 years in business from Media to Consumer Goods Management to Education then Internet Commerce & Marketing to Sales and a combination of all of them in my most recent capacity, I’ve found that the free market is probably one of the best systems to provide the best to the most in society.
The second idea he shared was very simple. I asked how did you create the company now or how do you create companies? My interest in this question came from my own deep hearted interest in creating my own organization. He said it was remarkably straightforward: think of a problem in society and fix the problem as best as you can. I thought at the time, this is too elementary and it had to be more complex. Well, 7 years later, his point resonates in all that I’ve done. It is pretty simple and that’s even the same basic tenet that Larry Page and Sergey Brin thought when they created Google. I was reading their paper on building Google & at the time, it read as simply an essay responding to the simple problem that search engines weren’t good at really returning what users want.
We now see what that simple solution did to line Page & Brin’s pockets. The same thing happened when a certain young man named William Gates thought computers didn’t need to be so complex when being used. Again, we saw the benefit of that idea…