What got us here, won’t get us there.

A few years ago I heard someone say “what got you here, won’t get you there.” It was a major “AHA!” moment for me. Everything in life changes. Everything. When you’re in charge of a company you can miss the evolution. You can ignore the inevitable that one day you won’t be the right person to run the thing that you started. It sounds painful, like a failure. But it’s the opposite actually. If you are successful you have to let go. Because nobody can do it all. Especially if you’ve done your job as a founder effectively.

Some of you reading this will be familiar with the Jellyfish Model, nGen’s take on the philosophy of running a “flat” company. You must be without ego, put the team first, make decisions collectively, share everything openly and not be afraid of growing or reducing the size of the team. Everything is decided democratically. The team hires the team. The team fires the team. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? If we were robots in a perfect test lab it may have worked. But there were times when things went wrong and the team couldn’t decide what to do. And while we tried to go to the extreme of removing the owner from the company altogether…

The number one thing my fellow nGeneers asked for was leadership.

Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Like many shops, nGen hit a bad patch in 2014. While I had been out of the company for nearly a year, I came back and we tried to turn the tide together. Sadly we couldn’t and many of our good friends and coworkers moved on. Even though I had a new love, I stayed because nGen is my baby. Plus, if I were to truly leave that would have been the end. I wasn’t prepared to see 12 years vanish and get written up as further proof client services is dead. So, I started dividing my day between nGen and my new passion, the Bureau.

Part of my role at the Bureau is managing the sponsorships. And that’s where I met Ben Jordan.

Ben was the head of Customer Experience at InVison. After a few Skype calls, a bromance formed. We were supposed to meet at Owner Summit, but Ben ended up not making the trip. I was heartbroken.

We connected the following week and he filled me in on his situation. He had decided that he was going to start a new agency. As he described his vision for the digital agency of 2015, I realized it was very close to my vision.

I opened up with him about nGen’s struggles.

As we kept talking about this new breed of digital agency the lightbulb went off. What if Ben joined nGen Works? Scratch that, what if Ben took over nGen Works?

A week later, Ben was in Jacksonville and we were brainstorming and quizzing each other. There were some tense discussions about how things would work and what the deal breakers would be for each of us. For Ben, if he was going to buy into the company I had to be able to let go. For me, nGen had to keep the best parts of the Jellyfish Model while building a structure that supported our growth. Eventually, we had a list of the requirements for us to accomplish our collective goals.

After three energizing and exhausting days, we shook hands.

The Regeneration Will Be Televised

After I dropped Ben off at the airport I waited for my doubts to seep in. For my inner critic to tell me that I had made a big mistake. But it never happened. Instead, our trust has grown as we’ve continued to be blatantly honest with each other. That’s not to say it hasn’t gotten heated from time to time. It damn well has.

Since transparency is an nGen core value we’ll be recording our weekly check-ins and letting you listen in as we learn to dance together. Soon you’ll be hearing about the roles we defined for ourselves, the requirements for the new nGen and our critique of our first new business pitch. We hope you come along for the ride.

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