Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"You know, like Justin"

My first gig in the start up space was as Director of Recruiting for Clearspring (now AddThis). It was an amazing experience and we built a great team, but it was really hard - especially at the beginning. I'd just started to feel comfortable in the role when our VP of Engineering made a request that knocked me right back off balance. The conversation went something like this...

Will: "We need to hire a Community Manager"
Me: "Huh?"
Will: "A Community Manager.  Someone to work with developers and publishers using our widget platform.  A mix of marketing, evangelism, technical support, implementation, and customer care."
Me: "Huh?"
Will: "Someone whom both developers and business people genuinely love talking to. You know, like Justin"
Me: "Ah, yeah. OK. I get it"

Although I still didn't fully grasp the role, I knew exactly what Will was looking for. He was referring to Justin Thorp, officially a Web Developer at the Library of Congress, but unofficially a prominent ambassador for the DC start up scene. Justin was an unmistakable and consistent presence at local tech meetups, where is booming voice, trademark beard, and infectious passion for all things geeky helped establish him as a major influencer, a Titan if you will, in DC tech circles.

Still somewhat confused, and having a large and growing backlog of positions to fill, I chose the direct approach.  At the next evening's meetup, I approached Justin with a simple proposition.  "We'd like you to keep doing what your are doing, just with our business card." He bought in, and a few weeks later was signed on as Clearspring's first Community Manager.

Justin thrived as our Community Manager, impacting our product and our culture.  Through his example, I learned what it means to be part of a professional ecosystem, and the value it creates for your business and those around you.  There is a long list of people who've been influential in getting my business off the ground, and Justin's name is certainly near the top of that list.

Although we don't work together anymore, Justin and I have remained friends, sharing a good number of beers and ideas over the past few years. Tonight we'll share a few drinks at a going away party for Justin and his entrepreneurial spouse Lauren, who's thriving eCommerce start up, UmbaBox, has been successfully courted by the Zappos-infused start up scene in Las Vegas.  Their departure will leave a big hole in DC's tech scene, one we'll have to work hard to fill.

Success is a tough thing to measure, as everyone has their own unique view of what matters most.  But if your day-to-day includes having a widespread impact on those around you, helping foster innovation and success of others in your community, and becoming commonly known as a benchmark in your profession - then you've accomplished something special.  You know, like Justin.

Safe travels, dude.