I recently had one of those heart-to-heart "I love you so much; thank you for all you've sacrificed and done for me" talks with my dad. As our parents get older, I think we tend to cherish those moments more. He told me the best thing I'd ever done was starting to play golf when I did. Reflecting on this, I think he's right.
My company, Jumper Media, provides social media marketing tools and services for small businesses and, in two short years, has grown to have more than 3,000 clients and 50 employees, with plans to hire 50 more. Of course, I didn't set out to be the CEO of a marketing company. My first love was golf, and Dad was proud when I went on to compete in college after barely making the cut on my high school team. However, it wasn't my scores that made him call golf the best thing I'd ever done – the lessons and relationships that came out of it were key.
After college, I noticed a trend: My friends were talented golfers stuck in minimum-wage jobs and lacking opportunities to coach or teach. They had knowledge and skill that they wanted to share but no idea how to get the word out. I predicted that social media would be the way to bridge the gap. After all, if you're a golfer or have close friends or family who golf, you know how ravenous we are when it comes to consuming golf-related news. These instructors just needed a bit of guidance on how to frame and showcase their value on social media. This led to me start Jumper Media.
When people ask me how I went from a golf addict helping my golf friends score coaching and teaching gigs out on the course to running a full-service marketing agency with $6 million in annual recurring revenue in under two years, I often reflect on the parallels between golf and marketing. On the surface, it seems like they couldn't be more different, but once you dig a little deeper, you find that the two activities share similarities.
First, the secrets to success both in golf and the world of social media marketing are purely psychological. Golf may seem like a physical sport, but even if you allow a full second for each stroke (which may be generous) and have an average score of 85, that means the "physical skill" element of your entire round of golf has taken 85 seconds. And if you've just spent four hours playing, that means most of your time has been spent leading up to every shot you took – planning, strategizing, visualizing, measuring and tracking. This is very much like a successful social media marketing campaign.
Golf connects people. No matter your skill level, everyone who plays knows how every up and down in the game can affect your headspace. In any given round, you might have moments when you are at your most vulnerable and your most indestructible; it's a real metaphor for life. If you can overcome self-doubt, remember your fundamentals and put your own unique spin on your efforts, you'll succeed.
Golf is also a game of skill and character, and you can learn more about a person by playing around with them than you can ever gather from their online profile or any bio. The way they react and handle situations on the course provides insight into their business and personal tendencies. The game is like old-school social networking – it's always been a catalyst for building businesses, even if just for the sheer number of deals that are decided over 18 holes.
I had a chance encounter in Miami with a great instructor named Evan Cather. After his struggle to find new students came up in conversation, I offered my help for free to see if I could add any value for him. Today, he has more than 67,000 loyal Instagram followers who love every piece of content he posts, countless new in-person clients who first discovered him on social media, and a new revenue stream of online teaching created from his audience on Instagram.
Naturally, once Evan broke through to the public eye, everyone wanted to know how he was generating his new clientele, making him not only a shining example of social media success, but also a valued professional relationship. He began referring new business owners from all fields (who took lessons from him) to me, to help do the Instagram magic for them.
Once I reached 27 clients in a few months just from word-of-mouth, my time was stretched thin, and I had two options – stop taking more clients (not a real option!) or figure out how to develop processes and find help to leverage my sudden, unexpected success.
Two of my best friends, Peter Sercia and Gian Pepe, who had been following along during the whole journey, jumped at the occasion to build this together before I could even finish asking them. They both had been making incredible strides in their respective corporate backgrounds: Peter has the magic touch when it comes to sales, and Gian was born to be a business/organization guru.
In the beginning, it was just like the bootstrapped business cliche. We all worked out of a living room in San Francisco, hustled on the weekends, and made the kind of ridiculously ambitious forecasted growth goals that get squawked and laughed at on Shark Tank. We couldn't help but be optimistic, and yet we were surprised when, after six months, we compared the projections with our actual sales. We had hit every single goal, and Gian pointed out that we were no longer the typical bootstrapped business – we were growing at the same rate as well-funded, investor-backed startups in Silicon Valley.
At that point, we figured it was time to get an office and decided to call San Diego home from then on. This might be the second-best thing I've ever done for myself.
Committing to the company and its clients
Fortunate timing, in that our business came together when people were realizing the power of social media and wondering how to harness it, likely played a significant role in Jumper Media's first-year success, as did our preference to focus more on Instagram than other social platforms. However, we think that the corporate culture we created and the customer-service values we hold dear were also major contributors. Our goal with each new client is to always be thinking of new ways to add value: to the client, to their followers, and to social content as a medium itself. When social media campaigns are built with integrity and the focus on adding value before all else, each effort is more impactful, and success is far more likely.
As Jumper Media moves forward, the company will continue to reinvent, solidify and evolve, hoping for our share of indestructible moments but never shying away from being vulnerable and trying for those long shots. My five-year goal is to have at least 150 employees helping us share our clients' stories, and I have no doubt the Jumper team will achieve it with our core values and principles guiding the way. I love what I do every day, and if I can get in a few rounds of golf and the occasional lesson from Evan Cather, even better!
Mark was always one of the smartest kids in his class. He’s done well in his career, but when he checks Facebook, he sees people he outperformed at school who have now achieved more. Likewise, there are colleagues at his firm who have leapfrogged him. Sometimes he wonders, “What am I doing wrong?”
Sound familiar? You might relate to Mark yourself, or have an employee or loved one who struggles with similar feelings. Raw intelligence is undoubtedly a huge asset, but it isn’t everything. And sometimes, when intellectually gifted people don’t achieve as much as they’d like to, it’s because they’re subtly undermining themselves. If you’re in this situation, the good news is that when you understand these foibles you can turn them around. Here are five I’ve seen smart people particularly struggle with:
1. Smart people sometimes devalue other skills, like relationship building, and over-concentrate on intellect. Very smart people sometimes see their success as inevitable because of their intellect, and don’t see other skills as important. For example, an individual who finds workplace diplomacy difficult might write this off as an irritation rather than as a core skill required for their role. Similarly, they might see it as critical for a secretary to be personable, but not an executive. Therefore they don’t invest time and effort in developing these skills.
These views don’t come out of nowhere. Most people have a natural bias towards wanting to capitalize on their strengths and, conversely, would prefer to avoid thinking about areas in which they’re not naturally as strong. Bright kids typically receive a lot of reinforcement throughout their early lives that their intelligence is valuable. They grow up being told they’re smart, and during their schooling, experience that success comes more easily to them than to others. It’s easy to understand why, as a result, they would continue to focus on their intellect as a adults.
But in most workplaces, you need more than raw intelligence to get ahead. And only focusing on your greatest strength, rather than also addressing your weaknesses, tends to be self-sabotaging.
Solution: Use your strengths to overcome your weaknesses. If you’re good at learning you can simply learn the skills that don’t come as naturally to you. You don’t need a personality makeover, you just need a game plan and a genuinely constructive attitude. For instance, identify three specific workplace diplomacy behaviors that would improve your success in that area.
2. Teamwork can be frustrating for very smart people. When someone grasps concepts quickly and has high standards for their own performance it can create difficulties when working with others who take longer to process information and pick up concepts. If a person felt held back at school by being in a class with less smart kids, this frustration with teamwork can develop early — you know what this feels like if you routinely did most of the work on group projects, or got scolded for daydreaming during a class that was moving too slowly for you. These feelings can get re-triggered throughout life. When people develop an emotional raw spot as a child, they often have outsized internal reactions when that raw spot is rubbed in their adult life.
Smart people also sometimes find it difficult to delegate because of a sense they can do a task better (regardless of whether this is actually true.) This is especially likely for those who have a perfectionist streak.
Solution: Be self-compassionate about your internal reactions and understand where they come from, but also learn to genuinely appreciate what diverse minds bring to a team.
3. Smart people often attach a lot of their self-esteem to being smart, which can decrease their resilience and lead to avoidance. If a lot of your self-esteem rests on your intelligence, it can be very difficult to be in situations that reveal chinks in your armor. That might be working with people who are even more skilled or intelligent, or receiving critical feedback, or taking a risk and failing. Any situation that triggers feeling not- smart is experienced as highly threatening. The smart person may even seek to avoid those situations, which ultimately holds the person back.
Solution: Take an objective view of the benefits of working with people who are, in some respects, smarter than you. If you’re surrounding yourself with smart people, you’re doing something right. Remember, iron sharpens iron. Develop relationships with people who you trust to give you help constructive feedback. The more you become accustomed to receiving critical feedback from people who believe in your overall talents and capacities, the easier it will become.
4. Smart people get bored easily. Being smart is not exactly the same as being curious, but if you have both these qualities you might find yourself becoming easily bored with executing the same behaviors over and over. Some types of success stem from creativity, but other types come from becoming an expert in a niche and performing a set of behaviors repeatedly. If you’re smart, curious, and have a love of learning, you might find you quickly lose interest in anything once you’ve figured it out. The execution side of performance might bore you, and you’d rather constantly be learning new things. This can end up being less lucrative than finding a niche and repeating the same formula, but that might seem too boring or unchallenging to you.
Solution: Try taking a 30,000-foot view of when it’s worth tolerating some boredom to collect easy wins when it comes to your overall success. Instead of attempting dramatic change, decide when tolerating short periods (a few minutes or hours) of boredom could have a very beneficial impact on your success. For instance, devoting 5 hours a week to an activity that’s monotonous but lucrative. Additionally, make sure you have enough outlets for your love of learning across the various domains of your life, including your work, hobbies, physical fitness, understanding yourself etc.
5. Smart people sometimes see in-depth thinking and reflection as the solution to every problem. Bright people are accustomed to succeeding through their thinking skills, but can sometimes overlook when a different approach would be more beneficial. For example, the smart person might attack every situation by trying to think it to death (over-researching every decision and ruminating over every mistake) when other approaches would be more fruitful.
Solution: Notice when thinking becomes an unhealthy obsession. Consider when strategies other than thinking are more likely to result in success. Experiment with taking breaks to get unstuck, and allow yourself to learn by doing rather than through exhaustive advance research. Expand your range of skills for reaching insights so that you’re not the person who sees every problem as a nail because their only tool is a hammer. Finally, whenever you find yourself ruminating (doing negatively toned overthinking), disrupt it by doing a few minutes of an absorbing activity (such as a puzzle). This can be a surprisingly effective strategy for breaking out of negative thinking.
Which of these five patterns do you identify with the most? Try rank-ordering them. Are there colleagues or other people in your life who seem to fall into these traps? Try to let go of any sense of shame or judgment — it’s not necessary or useful for overcoming these habits. For any of the tendencies you personally relate to, know that even longstanding and deeply psychological patterns can be turned around with the targeted, practical, problem-solving approach I’ve outlined here.
A small percentage of U.S. companies — including PwC, Fidelity, and Aetna — have stepped up to help their employees cope with the education loans weighing them down by offering them cash to help them reduce their debts. While I applaud them, one downside of their approach is simply giving their workers cash raises their income taxes, diminishing the impact of their efforts.
To address this dilemma, Abbott, where I lead Human Resources, took a different approach. We introduced a program last August to contribute 5% of pay to a tax-deferred 401(k) plan for full- and part-time workers who direct at least 2% of their pay toward paying down their student loans. The Internal Revenue Service reviewed — and ruled favorably on — the 401(k) plan structure we came up with to make this possible.
In addition to the tax issue, our program — called Freedom 2 Save — helps tackle another problem: two-thirds of millennials aren’t saving for retirement. For every decade a person delays saving for retirement, the amount he or she ultimately needs to save doubles. Unless they start putting aside money now, many graduates will have to work into their 70s.
Over 10 years, an employee with a starting salary of $70,000 could earn $54,000 in his or her 401(k) account — assuming a 6% annual return and yearly pay increases of 3% — without contributing a dime toward retirement. Thanks to the power of tax-deferred investment returns, that amount could grow to hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time he or she turns 60.
Freedom 2 Save offers Abbott a number of benefits. We believe that it will easily pay for itself by helping us retain employees — a big deal in an era where millennial turnover alone costs businesses more than $30 billion every year. (Ninety percent of young workers say they’d commit to a company for five years if it gave them some loan relief, and workers with student debt stay at their jobs 36% longer if employers help pay off loans.) In addition, it will help take a load off of workers burdened by debt who say the resulting stress negatively impacts their job performance.
So far, 400 Abbott employees have signed up for the Freedom 2 Save program. Once it is well-established, we anticipate thousands will take advantage of it.
Although we’re the first company to work with the IRS to structure a program like this, it’s possible that more companies will be able to do something similar with time. (An employer group has asked the IRS commissioner to expand the ruling it gave us to all companies.)
There are no easy or universal solutions to America’s student debt crisis. But as employers, we are in a unique position to come up with innovative benefits that have a tangible positive impact on employees’ lives. By increasing our ability to recruit and retain the best people, such efforts are highly worth it.