“Don’t Get Complacent” The 5 Lessons I Learned Being a 20-Something Founder

I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Rizzetta, CEO of North 6th Agency (N6A).

Jean: What is your “backstory” of how you became a founder?

I grew up in New York with a great family and was inspired by my grandparents. They immigrated to the United States, and made so many sacrifices along with my parents in order to put me in a position to succeed in life. I wanted to build a special company, and something that they could be proud of. Finally when I was 26 I founded our company, and named it after the street my grandparents immigrated to as a tribute to them. My wife gave me her blessing, and really believed in me. We didn’t have much back in those days, but it was an incredibly exhilarating time in my life, and it set the foundation for what we have become today.

Jean: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

It’s really the people that make N6A stand out. We have a great culture, which is driven by innovation, experimentation, and a relentless commitment to self-improvement every day. Our people are super competitive but care deeply about each other. We’ve always done things differently to give back to our people — from sending our top performers on trips all over the world, to month-long sabbaticals, to simple things like our weekly lunch traditions and celebrating life moments in the office.

Jean: Are you working on any exciting projects now?

Yes, we recently launched an employee rewards program called Pace Points. It’s a customized rewards program that lets employees choose perks according to what interests them the most. We have categories for cash, quality of life, travel, experiences, health/wellness and food, with rewards ranging in value from a few hundred dollars to over $50,000. This was an exhaustive process that took a year of rigorous testing, financial modeling, patent and trademark filing, and logistics planning before we rolled it out. It’s a constant work-in-progress, and something that we’re trying to improve for our employees every day.

Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

I know it’s not a book, but there was a TED Talk that had a profound impact on my life. It was about the concept of living for your eulogy versus living for your resume. I listened to it during a time when I was being offered a large sum of money to sell our business. I was at a crossroads, and couldn’t decide if I wanted to sell or scale. That speech really changed my life, and convinced me to go “all in” on the eulogy approach when it comes to running our business. From that point forward every decision I’ve made in our business has been with the eulogy concept in mind.

Jean: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a Twentysomething Founder” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. People decisions will define you: you will be defined by the people you surround yourself with. Most of my regrets from my early days in business come from people decisions — people I hired or didn’t hire, people I fired or didn’t fire, and so on. Be very smart about the people decisions. Don’t be afraid to take extra time, pay extra money, and do whatever you have to do to get the people right.
  2. You are always in improvement mode: you should treat every day as an exercise in making yourself better. If you’re a twentysomething founder you are going to make mistakes. Embrace them, learn from them, and get better from them. In time it will make you a much more effective leader. You should never stop learning no matter how far along you are in your business journey.
  3. Success is best when it’s shared: don’t forget good leaders understand that they are the last ones at the table to eat, not the first ones. Take care of your people, take care of your vendors, take care of everyone in your company’s network, then take care of yourself last. Success is best when it’s shared. Take your people with you and give back as your company keeps growing.
  4. Balance big and small company virtues: when you’re small you should learn things from what bigger companies are doing. As you get bigger you should learn things from what smaller companies are doing. You can build a great company if you’re smart and bring an effective balance of big company infrastructure and process along with small company flexibility and resourcefulness.
  5. Don’t get complacent: the more successful you become the hungrier you should get. People will tell you how great you are, but don’t let anything get to your head. There are no guarantees you will be in business tomorrow. Let that hunger fuel you. Complacency will destroy you.

Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I have a ton of respect for so many business leaders and public figures. But honestly, if I could have one meal with anyone it would be my grandfather or my sister. I would give up just about anything to have one more day back with them and to show them the role they’ve played in my life ever since they left me.

— Published on June 27, 2018