“It’s Too Ambitious” – Dev to Founder – Greg Dizzia

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Greg Dizzia: Founder of Omatum

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My boss and I leaned over the foosball table, and between sounds of spinning metal rods and the clack of the ball against hard plastic defenders, I asked what he thought of the ideation. “I like how you riled everyone up,” he said. “We love your ideas.”

I had presented an idea to the members of my incubator and members of the parent company’s corporate structure, a major staffing company. He continued: “It’ll never happen. It’s too ambitious.” His words rattled home like a foosball draining into my goal. We had worked all day to find new, creative, out-of-the-box avenues for the company to pursue. I had suggested creating a pipeline of talent from the folks we helped employ in dead-end factory jobs; we could offer free education to low-earning laborers to turn them into high-earning professionals. Taking a $4 per hour margin and transforming it into $80. A trailblazing solution; a win-win for both sides. Sitting on uncomfortable high chairs around a table that cost more than those factory laborers made in six weeks, we explored the idea and crunched the numbers. The idea gathered momentum and excitement, and I was doing what I had always loved to do; disrupting expectations, discovering huge solutions and making life better for people.

At the end of the day, I presented the idea to the group in front of a floor-to-ceiling whiteboard, the ghost images of previous ideas still stained on the backdrop. My audience, about 20 employees from corporate and 10 or so fellow members of my incubator, appeared to like it.

But my boss was right. The presentations before and after mine dealt with ways to tweak efficiency, ways to bump margins a tick higher here or there. How can we improve speed in the hiring process? How can we prevent employee certification lapses? Is it possible to make spreadsheets that connect directly to each other? The problems were simple and the solutions – a calendar, another calendar, and a day or two of programming – were just as unambitious. One might have required software, two could be done with a cork board and push pins.

It was a systematic problem. A desire for simple and efficient, instead of bold and disruptive. I had joined the incubator in the hopes of making big products, overhauling current methods of matching workers with recruiters and ultimately with jobs.

The scope of the projects aimed for global labor markets, global impact. But as the incubator grew, ambition faded into fear. We took on employees from a failed startup, and these employees were scarred with failure. They saw all the possible molehills and claimed a lack of climbing equipment. Our products shifted towards inward facing, small-problem solvers. We siphoned features from our products, cannibalized success. We limited our scope and aimed lower. Ambition drained from the company as fear—not just risk avoidance, but fear—took over product teams. Fear is the lead prosecutor of ambition. And in an industry where ambition is bad, fear is good. Visa, Mastercard, or any of the major banks could have invented PayPal, but it took a finance outsider, Elon Musk, to implement a radical new vision of money transfers. Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Books-A-Million all failed to act on the internet as the industry upheaval it was. Instead, Jeff Bezos, a hedge fund employee, founded Amazon.com.

I left the incubator. Despite the pay, the flexible hours, the freedom to work any projects I chose, I knew I had to leave. When I gave my formal notice, my boss said he understood and didn’t try to stop me. A month later, I found myself toying with an idea that had been rejected at work before I could even finish the sentence. And a month after that, I was putting together a startup for a project management software suite, unlike anything I’d ever heard of. I now run a startup of five people working without reined ambition. I was speaking with a product head who runs engineering teams recently. And when I gave him the two-minute explanation of my startup, he responded; “Wow, sounds ambitious.” This time, I laughed. “I’m glad you think it’s ambitious.”


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