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No. 2175
January 11th, 2016

Back in the Saddle*



After three years at the company, I decided to leave Moz at the end of 2015.

Moz was basically my first real job ever.  I’d had a couple of short stints at small companies in the Bay Area back in the mid-2000’s, but nothing like working at a venture-backed startup with over 200 employees.  The company is as TAGFEE from the inside as it appears from the outside, and it was a pleasure to work with so many talented people.

Not least of which, the engineering and design teams who built and are continuing to carry on Moz Local.  I’m really proud of the progress we made on the product, and in a competitive space, it is the absolute best enterprise listing management and local analytics offering out there.  One of my few professional regrets from my time at Moz is that I was not a better salesperson for it.

Needless to say, I’ll be rooting hard for its continued success from the sidelines.  I also plan to continue advising the team, when asked, on an informal basis.


A Few Lessons Learned in the Software World
(Perhaps Applicable Only to Myself, but I’ll Share Anyway)

In the end, I think I simply got burned out after working on the same product for seven-and-a-half years.

I wouldn’t call it an epiphany, but I realized last summer that I no longer felt in control of my career path. The not-entirely-expected success of GetListed had shifted me firmly into the software world, and I wasn’t sure I wanted that, at least not yet.

Here are a few things I’ve been ruminating about in the last few weeks and months.


1. If you haven’t yet, take the time to define career success for yourself.
Colleagues earlier in my career had, to a person, advised me that software was the way to go if I really wanted to be “successful,” but until recently, I’d never taken the time to realize that other people’s definition of success often looks very different from my own.

I actually enjoy consulting, to a much greater extent than almost anyone I know in the SEO or local marketing industries.  After engrossing myself in the SaaS world over the last three years, I’ve discovered just how much more complex it is than the consulting world–although the idea of scaling my expertise still holds a lot of appeal.


2. A metrics obsession can only take you so far.
I gather from countless Medium and TechCrunch articles that metrics like churn and gross profit margin can make or break SaaS companies. But I see a lot of SaaS companies focused on numbers without thinking about what they’re selling, or to whom they’re selling it, first. (Thankfully my role at Moz insulated me from obsessing over these numbers the way so many technology product owners do out of necessity.)

To my mind, customer feedback should matter a whole lot more than numbers–especially if you’ve got venture financing and profitability is not paramount. Churn percentage is actually a lagging indicator of whether you’re delivering a valuable product. But that’s not a story that you can sell to investors, or a stock market in an IPO.

At any rate, in some respects I also missed the creativity that the consulting world allowed me–especially the stimulation by different sets of problems on a near-daily basis.

Churn percentage is actually a lagging indicator of whether you’re delivering a valuable product.


3. I don’t know how Jack Dorsey does it.
The split-screen mindset of having one foot in the consulting world and one in the product world was just way too mentally taxing.  So whether I decide on software or consulting for my next career segment, I’m going to focus on it 100%.


4. A strong, unified vision is one of the most important ingredients for a bigger company’s success. 
If I had one takeaway from my time at Moz that was 180 degrees from my expectations going in, it is this. Never having worked at such a large company before, I had always dismissed this as MBA drivel.

After experiencing Moz’s growing pains firsthand, it now makes complete sense.  In a given month, we probably had 5-10 new people join the company and 1-2 people leave.  With this kind of fluctuation in headcount, in an industry where it takes years to develop domain expertise, assimilating new hires and new teams and getting everyone to row in the same direction is much easier when this kind of shared vision is in place.


5. As is a ruthless commitment to priorities.
At GetListed, we were as guilty of this as any startup.  I let us get distracted into a lot of rabbit holes without rigorously evaluating the opportunity cost of said rabbit holes.  At a bigger company like Moz, we had more smart people involved in high-level decisions, but it still happened on occasion, causing unnecessary delays in feature releases and missed (larger) growth opportunities.  Opportunity cost might be the decision-making criterion to which I pay closest attention in the future.

Opportunity cost might be the decision-making criterion to which I pay closest attention in the future.

So What’s Next?

I’ve been asked this question by everyone I’ve talked to in the last few weeks–industry colleagues and friends-and-family alike. And I’ve given everyone the same unsatisfying answer:

I don’t know yet.

I started out calling it a sabbatical, but a number of friends have suggested “funemployment,” so that’s what I’m going with moving forward. 🙂

I’m taking a few months off to enjoy our glorious Oregon winter!  I plan to spend a number of days, even weeks, entirely offline.  Some of them here, or perhaps even here. Later in the spring, I’ll start thinking in earnest about whether to go back into the consulting world, or whether to do another startup. And perhaps take a trip abroad somewhere in between.

Although I plan to post the occasional blog entry, Mozcon Local and Local U Williamsburg will be the last two events I speak at for quite some time, at least domestically. (Register for either, or both, today!)

Thanks again to Sarah, Rand, Dudley and everyone at Moz for a terrific three years, and to the community for the stimulating conversations–both online and off.

And unless you’re in Seattle or Williamsburg this spring, I’ll see you again in a few months!