Post by Rob Collie
If you believe in redemption
I’m calling to you from another dimension
Turn the Corner, Press the Accelerator
This post will have a definite “personal” flavor to it, but also a strong professional flavor – of what you should expect from us over the coming year. Personal and Professional are ALWAYS closely intertwined, and I’m less squeamish about blurring that line in 2015 than in 2009, when we started this journey. Running my own business has taught me this, but really, it was always true. I was just less aware of it when I worked at Microsoft. Now matter how you slice it, it’s our lives.
A few days ago, I resolved a long-running personal matter. It’s… done. Just looking at those two words – “it’s done’’ – wow, I’m still letting the new reality settle in. It’s going to take awhile perhaps. But we’re going to move forward aggressively now. A new lease on everything. And we’re not going to waste it.
Lemony Snicket’s Series of UnFortunate Events
And I can’t help but ask myself
How much I let the fear
Take the wheel and steer
In 2008, while working on “Project Gemini” (later renamed Power Pivot) at Microsoft, I started disentangling myself from a bad marriage. The woman I had married in 1999, at age 24, was a bad match for me, and I for her. We couldn’t have been MORE mismatched, really, but we couldn’t tell that in 1999. We had two AMAZING children in 2002 and 2004, but that didn’t “fix” our relationship, and for years I was far too fearful to do anything about it. And when I finally did, in 2008, it was still a clumsy and terribly fearful process. Fear made things more painful, for both of us, than it should have been, and I have many regrets from that era.
The professional “twist” in the story came in 2009, when my ex decided to move from Seattle to Cleveland, with my children. Cleveland – not exactly the land of big software engineering firms, and my entire career was built on a specialty (program management) that doesn’t even EXIST at smaller firms. Yikes.
Moving to Cleveland seemed like a career-extinguishing event, in my eyes at the time. So I fought the move in court. Paid an absolutely horrible attorney a monstrous sum of money – for the pleasure of losing. And really, I should have expected to lose. But how do you accept reality when reality seems to be saying “your life is OVER?” A hard thing to do.
Anyway, I fought the move, and lost. Ugh. What an epic beatdown. Psychically scarring. And terrifying. What the HELL was I going to do for a living in Cleveland? I was about to find out.
Cleveland – Where WE Found Ourselves
Then you rise again
What don’t kill ya
Make ya more strong
I keep switching between “I” and “We.” That is deliberate. First of all, my girlfriend Jocelyn, who was also a Microsoft employee back in 2009, chose to move with me, so I wasn’t making this “sacrifice the MS career, move to Cleveland” move on my own.
We got married here in Cleveland, in 2010, and yes, this is a MUCH better pairing. We share an acknowledged life mission of conquering fear, becoming more courageous, and sharing that journey with others – the children, our friends, and yes, the professional community as well. (We are simultaneously a work in progress and an open book, to mix metaphors). Jocelyn has been a critical element of everything that’s happened with PowerPivotPro since 2009.
But now, there’s a LOT more “We” than just the two of us:
We’ve grown to a part-time staff of 5-7 additional employees (a total of ten people now have @powerpivotpro.com email addresses).
We’ve recently hired multiple “support” firms – legal, accounting, and technical – to handle a lot of day-to-day stuff for us
We’ve also forged close alliances with folks like Power Planner and Bill Jelen
We used to get 300 page views a day. Now we get over 6,000. So there’s also a lot of YOU in this WE. And we are very glad to share the journey with you.
So yeah, there’s a very strong “WE” now. It would be selfish of me to use the word “I” as if this was just me. And it would sell everything short. Our business, the New Way of doing BI, everything – it would be cheapening to imply it’s one person. Way bigger than that, and we’re going to Keep. Making. It. Bigger.
An Aside: Cleveland ROCKS! And it LUCKS!
Turned Out to Be the PERFECT Place to Do What We Needed to Do
People often are surprised that we’re based in Cleveland. I like to joke that Cleveland is the Silicon Valley of the Midwest. That joke KILLS every time. No, Cleveland is not a high tech town. Much MORE high tech today than it was six years ago, but still, Google/Apple/Microsoft aren’t opening new campuses here or anything.
But it’s been perfect. Gritty, honest, friendly, and a more blue-collar, “no bullshit” vibe – the perfect backdrop for the kind of work we do. Yes, technology is important. But it’s not THE thing. PEOPLE are the important thing! Tech serves US, not vice versa. And it’s easy to forget that when you live in a high-tech center like Seattle or San Fran. (For perspective, Twitter STILL has net-negative earnings, and yet, investors keep pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into startups whose goal is to REPLACE Twitter. You know, to become the leader in losing money. Reality is distorted there. The rest of us live in a different world, where the bottom line actually matters).
But also, WOW, how LUCKY we have been! That I worked on Power Pivot as my last job at Microsoft… and then that Power Pivot turned out to be a true breakthrough product… and that I’d had just the right experience to notice how different it was from the old methods. The odds of all of that are basically ZERO. And yet they all happened.
When I started the blog in 2009, with The Great Football Project, I will be honest with you: I expected Power Pivot to FAIL. I thought it would disappoint, that it would fall short of its goal of empowering Excel users like me to build industrial-strength models on par with traditional BI tools. Because really, ALL new software fails, in my experience, to deliver even a fraction of what it set out to do. But what else could I write about? And Power Pivot seemed like a decent place to start, in terms of a potential new career. I didn’t have any better idea. That’s it. The sole reason.
So when I realized a few months later that Power Pivot was actually MUCH BETTER than we’d even dared to hope at Microsoft, oh boy. And as I started to realize WHY it was better, and that the “why” was because of the people element of the equation, the gears really started turning.
So, let’s be completely honest here: while we HAVE made a lot of our own good fortune, and while we HAVE discovered a New Way, and while we ARE very proud of that… we were quite literally ALSO in the right place at the right time. So yes, Universe, we acknowledge the quality of the hand you dealt us. I’m neither particularly religious or superstitious, but it’s all so unlikely that it does make even me wonder sometimes.
The New Chapter: Heading to Indy!
NOT same as the first
Much like 2009, this move is again precipitated by my ex wanting to move for her career.
But this time we are choosing it. We probably could have stayed in Cleveland and kept the kids there. This time around we had the moral high ground – sacrificing your career and re-inventing yourself in a new city for the good of the children tends to be a pretty big deal in the eyes of the court. But rather than fighting to the end, this time we came to a deal. No one is losing, this time around. And that feels much better.
Plus, it’s quite validating in many ways, to be able to make such a move.
From a biz standpoint, this new Agile BI / New Way / Whatever-You-Want-to-Call-It is almost by definition independent of geography. A business model where the client is ultimately empowered to solve their own problems, rather than dependent on the consultant, does not require long periods of on-site time. (The onsite work we do typically lasts two days – even the REALLY involved projects last only a week). And we help a LOT of companies via remote screenshare and offline work. Even our team itself is geographically distributed. We are very much a new kind of operation. Geographically independent and resilient. Our company is in many ways “just” an idea, and a group of individuals who have all seen the promise and the payoff of that same idea.
From a personal standpoint, it means taking back the steering wheel, once and for all. It means getting to spend even MORE time with the children, as part of the deal. It means having the power to choose. And all of that bleeds over into the professional realm, because the only boundaries between personal and pro… are artificial. The company is made of human beings, and the human beings in the nerve center are feeling better than ever. Indy is going to be another great city for us – another stop on our tour of the world. Tremendous personal weights have been lifted – some were carried for a year, some for six years, and others for a lifetime. We’re looking forward to what we can do without that weight.
Thanks for being with us on this journey. We won’t let you down. Together, we are going to remake an entire industry.