Thursday, August 23, 2012

It's Not About Me. A Note to the Pictage Staff

It is humbling to read so many comments with regard to my departure from Pictage and the differences so many see in the company over the last few years.  To be honest these things aren’t easy for me to read.  I’m my least favorite subject.

Yesterday when I had a chance to address the team at Pictage there were some things I tried to say.  As hard as I tried when it came down to it I couldn’t hold back the emotion and I’m not sure they heard what I wanted them to hear.  

These two thoughts are connected.

It’s not about me.  

When I arrived at Pictage I had a fundamental understanding of business and a love for photography.  I knew nothing about the pro-photo space or what “pictagers” expectations for the company might be.  There were a lot of misconceptions.  These things are normal.

Many people asked me early on how I knew what to do.  My answer was always the same.  It still is.  I didn’t know what to do.  The team at Pictage did.  I listened to them and I listened to our clients and I found that I was hearing the same things.  All I really did was set them free to do what they wanted to do.  

In my first speech as CEO to a bewildered and deeply concerned staff I asked them for two simple things.  I wanted them to be honest with me about the challenges they faced and I wanted them to be willing to work hard to solve the problems we faced.  They didn’t just rise to the challenge, they killed it and in doing so created a groundswell of appreciation between our customers and the team that fostered true community.  There are few things I love more than seeing the personal connections they’ve made and understanding the shared passion to work together to create something great.

In my tenure I was unable to solve all of the problems we had.  Far from it.  To be sure, we changed the perception of the company in the marketplace and in doing so we greatly simplified customer acquisition.  In 2012 over 95% of new customer signups are referrals from existing customers. We have no overt marketing activities.  The service either works or it doesn’t.  When it doesn’t, no harm, no foul.  We move on.  But the fundamental challenge created by industry change remains.

Many people who have commented on the blog, on the Pictage Forums and in so many touching and heartfelt personal messages have expressed the same sentiment.  “Will the new guy keep it the same?”  Frankly, I hope not.  I think he’s smarter than me.  I think he’ll figure things out that I couldn’t.  I think he’ll make changes that will make the company even more successful and in doing so, bring even better services to our clients and to their clients as well.  I’m going to be doing my best to help him.

But as smart as he is, we won’t succeed on our own.  True success will simply build on the patterns of the past.  The people who will drive it are the people who DID it when I was the head cheesebag in charge.  (the title that most Pictage staff know is truly mine).  After working alongside of them for the last three years my faith and confidence in them is immeasurable.

It’s not about me.  It’s about them.  It’s about the unique relationships they share with each other and about the unique connection they (we) feel with our customers.  It’s about listening and studying and being willing to risk and change.  It’s about being open to being wrong and being willing to fix it when this is the case.  It’s also about standing up when you’re right and having the courage to say so.  They have all of that.  They had it when I arrived.  They have it as I leave.  I may have fed it but I didn’t create it.  All of that is on them.  They’re still there.  I’m hanging around to help them and to continue to be inspired by them.

That’s what I was trying to say yesterday.  Maybe it’s better to have said it this way.



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

All Good Things ...

Change happens.  It's kind of a theme of mine.  Many of you have heard me say it.  Still waters are dead waters.  That really applies to everything.  If the granite face of Half Dome is changing every day why wouldn't everything else also be changing?

The news is true.  As of the end of this month, I will no longer be the CEO of Pictage.  That doesn't mean though that I won't be involved with the company.  In fact, I'll be very involved.  The investors who have stepped up to take a controlling position in the company have asked me to take an active role as Chairman of the Board and to maintain my less formal role as spokesperson.  I'll be speaking at the uberpug in Nashville next week, at the PUG in Maine the day after Labor Day and at the New York City PUG during the second week in January.  I'll also be continuing to interact with Pictage's amazing customers on the Pictage Forums.

I've loved the time I've spent with you all.  I can truly say that as an industry you're an amazing and inspiring group of stunningly talented souls.  The photography marketplace has great character (and great characters).  While I had my hands on the reigns I did my best to move Pictage into a place where it could serve the industry as it changed.  We succeeded in some places, we failed in others.  That's how life is.  I'm immensely proud of what the staff accomplished during these three short years, for themselves and for the legacy of the company started so many years ago.

This blog existed before Pictage and it will exist after.  While many of the posts here have been directed at the photography marketplace specifically (for obvious reasons) the undercurrent really works for all small businesses and helping small businesses succeed has been my real passion for many years.

I always say what's next is what's important.  I really mean that.  I don't know what's next for me yet.  At least through the end of the year I'll be pretty busy around here.  When I know I'll probably say something about it here.  Both of my readers will be relieved.

I'm still just me.