“Entrepreneur Mania Is A Real Thing” 5 Leadership Lessons With Michael Schneider, CEO of Service
“Entrepreneur mania is a real thing. Being manic — where your highs are very high, and your lows are truly crushing — comes with entrepreneurship. I don’t think I realized early on how powerful both forces are, and how important it is to steady yourself on both ends. I think they should teach the psychology of entrepreneurship in school. While I don’t believe entrepreneurship in general can be taught, I do think learning how to make your mind strong and resilient is a great skill to practice.”
I had the pleasure to interview Michael Schneider, the CEO of Service. Service is the app that every traveler should have in their back pocket before booking vacations this year. Enter Service the app that gets you money for travel-related hassles, like flight disruptions and hotel room price changes.
What is your “backstory”?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles (one of the only cities where being a local is unusual!). I was interested in computers from an early age. When I was five, my parents bought me my first computer — an IBM PS/2 Model 30. The day after it arrived, they came into my room to find the computer in pieces — I had taken it apart. They were not happy. But the next day, they came back to see it not only put back together, but still working. At that point, they realized that there might be something to my interest in computers and were very supportive. I remember standing in line at Egghead Software in 1995 for the release of Windows 95, and other nerdy things like that. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an interest in computers and a desire to never work for anyone else, which led me to start multiple companies: Video Game Central, one of the first websites (in 1996) selling video games, Fluidesign, a design agency I started in high school, Nesting.com, a “Facebook for moms,” Mobile Roadie, a way for anyone to make a mobile app (no coding required), and Service, which automates saving consumers money via an inbox connection.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
The premise of Service is, by far, the closest to my heart of any company I’ve started. Time is the most precious resource in our lives. Wasting time — especially doing inefficient things (like waiting on hold with a company’s 800 line) has always driven me crazy. The idea that there was a way to resolve customer service complaints automatically, while giving consumers assurance that they will be taken care of in the future, without wasting time, was incredibly compelling to me personally. Luckily, many others feel that way too, based on our growth.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I had a mentor at the end of college and for years afterwards — Bob Teller, the founder of the Orange County Marketplace, among other companies. Bob was a tough character — he didn’t let me get away with anything, and always challenged my thinking on pretty much everything. But I wouldn’t be where I am today without his toughness. He taught me to always question things, to realize that the world isn’t necessarily set up for entrepreneurs to succeed, and that to truly “make it” you need to be resilient enough to get to the other side.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
First, I don’t think I’ve done nearly enough, and I hope to spend much more time in my life dedicated to a few causes I feel really passionately about: global warming, education, and fighting corruption in politics. Maybe I’ll run for office someday.
For now, one small way I give back is always making time to talk to budding entrepreneurs. I’ve spoken to students at USC many times and have always responded to emails and phone calls from students who want to talk or ask me for advice. There were a lot of people who did that for me, and I want to be there for the next generation in the same way.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
Ricardo Semler’s “Maverick!” made a big impact on me. For those that aren’t familiar with Ricardo, he’s a Brazilian entrepreneur that has tried to tear down everything we “know” about work. It started with letting his employees choose their own furniture and office configuration, and now is at the point where everything is open book. All employees know each other’s salaries, and everyone decides who to hire and fire. While some may view this as “radical,” the thinking challenged all of my conventional wisdom, leading me to try to create a certain flatness and equality in my organizations. I believe that everyone’s an adult, no one is above anyone else, and we all need to treat each other as such.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started my career” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Entrepreneur mania is a real thing. Being manic — where your highs are very high, and your lows are truly crushing — comes with entrepreneurship. I don’t think I realized early on how powerful both forces are, and how important it is to steady yourself on both ends. I think they should teach the psychology of entrepreneurship in school. While I don’t believe entrepreneurship in general can be taught, I do think learning how to make your mind strong and resilient is a great skill to practice.
Your friends may become enemies (and vice versa).
When I was first starting, I had a pretty naive and simple view of the world. I was (and still am) fiercely loyal to my friends, and fierce with my competitors. As I matured, I realized that the world isn’t binary. There are many examples in my life where a relationship with someone started off on the wrong foot but who ended up becoming an important person in my life, and on the flip side, I’ve experience painful examples of people who I regarded as friends not acting as such. The point is, you can’t be too prideful, and while you should trust people, you should never blindly trust, especially when there are warning signs. The most painful example of this for me personally was a former business partner. We met while I was at USC (he was 10 years older) and became good friends and business partners. After a couple years of working very closely together, and without notice, he disappeared — and took all the money in our company bank account, leaving me with credit card bills and payroll to pay. It took me years to dig out from the scar that left.
Never be afraid to pick up the phone.
Especially these days, there’s an over reliance on virtual communication — texts, emails, etc. And I love virtual communication for most things. However, for important matters — and especially when you suspect there may be miscommunication — virtual communication just doesn’t work. Yet I’m amazed at how often people don’t just pick up the phone, talk to the other party, and nip something in the bud. I’ve had more situations that I can count where I’ve felt something spinning out of control over email, only to pick up the phone, have a 10-minute live conversation, and resolve it.
Never give up.
This is the most trite one on this list, and it seems so obvious. But it’s hard. As has been said in the past, entrepreneurship isn’t rational, because any rational person would give up. Most days it feels crushingly hard. The Instagram photos you see of “successful” entrepreneurs traveling the world and living in mansions aren’t real life. You never know what’s behind that picture. I do know that in the hardest of times — when every instinct in your body tells you to give up — pushing forward is the hardest thing ever. But it must happen for you to have a chance of success. I encourage those pursuing entrepreneurship to psychologically prepare for how hard it can be and to realize you’ll need to summon all your strength to get through very hard times. This can help when the time comes to actually do it and come out the other side.
Pay attention to who you surround yourself with.
When I started my first company, I was told by “friends” that I was crazy, or wasting my time, or that I should just go to law school since that was the safe path. You must realize that the world isn’t setup for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs usually break all the systems and procedures that make everyone else feel so comfortable. Because of this, it’s especially important that you surround yourself with supportive people in your life. Usually, this means friends that believe in you (they don’t have to be entrepreneurs; in fact, diversity among people is a good thing!). And it especially means choosing your partner in life — should you choose to settle down — very carefully. You will need that person by your side in the hardest times more than anyone else. Personally, the support of my wife (who is now also an entrepreneur) has gotten me to keep going when I feel like giving up in the hardest of times.
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? He or she might just see this :-)
I’ve always wanted to meet Ricardo Semler personally — and have tried very hard to do so. I got as far as his assistant, who was nice enough to reply to my emails, but I could never get “over the hump” of actually getting time with him. Ricardo, know that your book inspired me greatly, and I would be happy to buy you a meal and chat!