When I was first starting out as an entrepreneur, I was offered a $100,000 book deal. I passed on it having neither the time nor the story.
(I knew it wasn't my last shot.)
After years of grappling with blogs, bios, social media profiles, search rankings, and changing my own physical path and place 15 times, I realized that the story -- my own story -- was lost.
I was expecting others would just know what I had done, or what I was capable of. Or why I made drastic transformations that changed my career path and life or why I walked away from everything.
But that wasn't the case. No one knew any of it.Knowing that I am my own best storyteller, I simply started writing. And haven't stopped. Indeed, my story is this place. It's ongoing. Moving here and there.
Getting better, deeper and more vulnerable.
By writing this story now, when and how I can, I'm actually saving time later and increasing the likelihood that the story gets out to you, dear reader, when you need it.
And the goal is no longer a $100,000 book deal... it is to own my own story. And to share it to help others in a way that only my story might.
Feel free to email me with questions, your story, or high-fives. (Seriously.)
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IN THE BEGINNING...
The Jackson (Pollock) & Stella (Frankie)Years
From slinging candy on the playground to building a highly
profitable lemon shakeup stand, I caught the entrepreneurial bug early.
I have formally founded or co-founded six "startups" using many structures: three LLC's, two C-Corp's, and a Political Action Committee. I have many other ideas that didn't get the chance to form. Some have been more successful than others in monetary terms. But, then again, money was never the primary objective for any of these startups.
All are expressions of my creativity as an entrepreneur.
You gain important experiences as you succeed, but 'failure' (or stopping) is just as much a teacher as 'success.'
In business, I am a 'Pioneer' and 'Visionary' that is constantly seeking to invent entirely new ways of doing business. I see things that don't exist, picture systems in my head to solve the challenge quickly, and have a lot of courage to try.
Every time I've worked for someone else I get disappointed by small thinking, mediocre culture, or a lack of leadership to empower a team. Some day I hope that changes. That means at this moment my only path is to hunt and kill what I eat. Fortunately, there's always a crew far more skilled than I am willing to help me out.
My community matters to me. I constantly seek to add value by aligning opportunities with needs and ensuring the voice-less are heard.
For some reason you are here in this moment. I am honored.
Welcome: This is my story now.
I'm grateful that you're taking the time to experience it with me.
I hope you'll co-create the next chapter.
I'll start the story in...
After running a Congressional campaign in Ohio, I was tapped by Ohio U.S. Senator George V. Voinovich to be his deputy communication director in Washington, D.C.
I packed my bags and hit the road.
After the Move
There I wrote nearly every public-facing document for our communication director, Scott Milburn, an amazing strategist, editor and writer.
After a few years, I was promoted to speechwriter.
The role of speechwriter for a public official is satisfying. It requires one to assume the voice of the other, and communicate difficult policy issues to various audiences. You learn to write as one would speak. And how to use font size, spacing, style and other techniques to aid the speaker to deliver the message as designed.
I became fascinated with words and stories. I used to spend my free-time reading Voinovich's speeches when he was mayor of Cleveland. The one's he wrote for himself.
In 2004, Taylor Griffin offered me a position on his team as 'National TV Booker' for the Bush-Cheney campaign.
Having my sights set on working in the White House since, literally, day one of arriving to Washington, I wanted to take this position. Don't get me wrong, I loved Senator Voinovich, but there was no doubt he'd crush his re-election, and I knew I could do more good for BC04. This was my shot.
Indeed, Senator Voinovich made history that year:
"In his 2004 re-election to the U.S. Senate, Voinovich garnered more than 3.4 million votes, nearly 64 percent. No other candidate in Ohio’s recorded history has received as many votes as Senator Voinovich did in 2004. Also in 2004, Senator Voinovich won all 88 of Ohio’s counties, a feat accomplished only once before – more than 100 years before."
Source: "George Voinovich." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004.
After the re-election, I was still a little bitter, and decided to move along.
In the spring of 2005, a communications director role opened for the then vice-chairman of the House Republican Conference, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah, GA.
I remember being interviewed by Jack and his chief-of-staff, Bill Johnson, and being asked how I felt about technology (a foreign concept on Capitol Hill at the time). I think he mentioned an 'iPod,' specifically.
I told Jack that I had been a subscriber to Wired Magazine for years, and that our future relied in taking the innovation in Wired and blending it with the policies of National Review, a conservative rag.
I got the gig.
In the Driver's Seat
Now in the driver's seat for the first time in my career, I started moving fast.
Kingston was the Chairman of the Theme Team, a relatively small group of Republican Members of Congress that gathered regularly to align on messaging, swap stories, and hear from high-level speakers.
I was the primary lead on this group first established by Newt Gingrich responsible for writing messaging, organizing, and identifying speakers.
So many interesting speakers came to speak to Theme Team. It was very 'insidery,' nestled deep in the annals of the Capitol Building, and I soaked in every minute.
Jack's leadership position, and a willingness to let me try, provided space for me to bring innovation to Capitol Hill by building and engaging a network of bloggers, building one of the first blogs for a Member of Congress, learning and using YouTube to communicate, and holding workshops to teach others.
I knew then that I was different. I had one foot authentically in culture, and the other in strategic communications.
For example, I stopped Ali G, a.k.a. Borat, from making a fool out of House Republicans.
And I even had a man I definitely consider a friend, Stephen Colbert, crash one of our workshops.
King of The Blogosphere
Through this work, Kingston earned the moniker "King of the Blogosphere" as well as an award for "Online politician of the year."
Remember, this was pre-Obama. We laid the ground work. No one did more for evolving online political communications in 2005-2006 than we did.
After a few years, I was anxious to try out this new communication strategy on the campaign trail and was asked by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to be communications director for Mike Bouchard's Senate race in Michigan.
There wasn't much of a budget. They thought my approach to communication was the perfect fit.
There we built the first campaign site on an open-source, WordPress platform, built and managed communities in social media platforms, and raised money through grassroots donors online. We had so much fun with YouTube.
Again, no one was doing what we were doing online.
On that race I realized that I needed to push out -- become the entrepreneur -- to further evolve political communications.
We lost that race, but so did nearly every Republican throughout the country. It was a complete pounding by the Democrats. Republicans lost their majority in both the House and Senate.
DAVID ALL GROUP
My entrepreneurial career took off when I pioneered the use of social media in politics and founded my first company, David All Group (DAG).
It wasn't easy or immediately embraced.
I had about $10,000 in the bank, a good friend, Matt Scantland, who had a team that could build websites, and a message.
Power of the Internet
I first created a company website / blog and started writing. I went back through races like George Allan's "Macaca" moment and detailed how he should have responded.
I created a YouTube video for my company of me talking to the camera detailing that Republicans had lost all of the races that cost them the majority by less than 1% in every race.
A mere 82,000 votes.
The point, I said, was that it wasn't the message that was wrong, it was the fact that the message was no longer reaching voters because Republicans weren't embracing the Internet.
STILL IN D.C.
AND THE PRESS TAKES NOTE
The Situation Room
Today may be a new beginning for Democrats on Capitol Hill. But it could also mean a fresh start for Republicans online. Some in the GOP say they have lost ground to Democrats when it comes to Internet outreach. And now they’re working to try to catch up.
Let’s check in with our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner — Jacki.
CNN INTERNET REPORTER
Wolf, this here is David All. He is the former communications director for Georgia Republican Congressman Jack Kingston.
He helped his former boss set up a popular blog. And now he’s leaving the Hill to help other Republicans harness the power of the Internet. He says, if Republicans were more Internet savvy and knew how to use sites like YouTube and MySpace, they would have a better chance of reaching constituents.
He uses George Allen’s campaign as an example, saying, if they had a better sense of how the Internet worked, they would have had better damage control.
Though none of my colleagues (or potential clients) had any idea what I was doing or talking about, and even made jokes behind my back, the media validation was wind in my sails.
I organized and created a group blog, TechRepublican, to further drive the message.
The Washington Post reported on our launch in a front-page, above-the-fold article.
“Today our Revolution begins. Tomorrow we fight.”
— David All wrote in TechRepublican as quoted by the Washington Post
I was quoted in hundreds of articles. Appeared on every major news channel.
My talk with NPR was quite popular. (Perhaps my greatest 'hit.')
THE BUSINESS SIDE
The 'business-side' of leading a 'Revolution' took off.
I took on a minority business partner thinking I needed to, and wanting to more swiftly accelerate my growth. I loved solving communication challenges for our forward-thinking non-political clients.
With resources and cash-flow, DAG grew swiftly with offices in multiple cities. We were doing global work.
And having fun.
We made some really great hires; and some not so great. We created a beautiful headquarters that told an amazing story. We won more than a dozen awards for our work.
I'm sure other entrepreneurs relate, but it's the things we did that got the least amount of attention that I'm proudest of:
DAGPad: Our Startup Incubator.
Capitol Hill Tweet Watch Report: A daily snapshot of Tweets from Capitol Hill.
AMP Summit: Annual event bringing together the ecosystem.
act.ivi.st: Applying gaming mechanics to advocacy campaigns.
DirectConnect: A tool that made it easier for people to connect with Congress.
And several social media guides that we gifted to the community.
It took a 'Revolution' to convince Washington the power of people empowered by technology.
But it worked.
We worked for Senators, Governors, Members of Congress, and even helped elect David Cameron in the UK using our leading edge technology platform, act.iv.ist.
They were calling me Karl Rove 2.0.
After raising millions over a weekend re-framing a national political crisis with social media, politicians were approaching me asking how to create moments of national crisis.
My credibility was at its peak after this moment.
I was at the top.
All doors were open.
I chose to leave.
Frankly, I was disappointed with every politician I worked with through DAG.
I only sought out those that appeared to be the most principled of the bunch, thinking they were different, but through the experience of working with them and their old school mindset consultants, it proved to be an act.
Our work was being used to tear down the opponent, and to pilfer donors for dollars to line the pockets of ruthless, overpaid TV consultants.
Not one dollar more.
But there was something else.
I've never told anyone this part, but philosophically, I was moved by John Brady's book, "Bad Boy: The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater."
My worn copy still sits on my bookshelf.
Though I've been called 'Karl Rove 2.0,' and certainly was flattered, I always wanted to be the much cooler sidekick, Lee Atwater.
I even got into the blues.
What moved me the most from that book was that on his death bed, struck by a brain tumor at the age of 39, Atwater regretted everything he had done in politics.
All of the dirty tricks.
He also shared this deep insight:
"Long before I was struck with cancer, I felt something stirring in American society. It was a sense among the people of the country -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- that something was missing from their lives, something crucial. I was trying to position the Republican Party to take advantage of it. But I wasn't exactly sure what 'it' was. My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood."
– Lee Atwater quoted by John Brady in Bad Boy
I was heading down the path to be one of the top political strategists, and it was clear to me that I didn't want to regret becoming Lee Atwater.
How Can I Help?
That's when the phone rang.
It was Intel, the world's 7th largest brand in the world, and they needed to better reach creative consumers through their campaign with the YouTube Play contest.
The campaign was a partnership between YouTube and the Guggenheim Museum to find the world's top 25 video artists.
I explained that I had always loved video art because it's such a visually engaging medium, but through all of my encounters, I had never had met a video artist to hear their story.
On the phone, in the moment, I articulated a strategy for a new Facebook community called '247Creative' which would be open to the community, and tell the stories of the video artists and how they are empowered by technology to create.
They loved the idea; we were up and running within a week.
That one phone call changed my life.
We were now working with the world's 7th largest brand.
What I had learned in politics -- basically always having to build and engage communities without resources -- proved interesting in consumer markets.
The key insight I took to consumer clients was the notion that every brand could reach, engage, and activate their 'Brand Activists' -- their most loyal supporters -- to build and protect their brand online.
Telling them the story about the 1-9-90 Principle which informed our thinking sealed the deal.
The work with Intel led me to move west and focus on building our consumer practice.
Everyone should live in San Francisco at least once in their life.
Inspired by art, technology, culture, a healthy lifestyle, and a refreshing attitude that welcomes creators, I felt at home in San Francisco.
I loved all the strange.
DAG started working with amazing clients like Intel, Google, Lenovo, and Burning Man.
I ran the San Francisco Marathon. (03:51:42)
When you're in San Francisco, you start a startup. Or, in my case, another startup.
I caught a wave of creativity and co-founded Crumbly, a mobile application inspired by the story of Hansel and Gretel that helps people find places they'll love.
The basic gist is that we have so much interesting instagram, foursquare, and facebook data tagged with locations that is seemingly lost in the moment, but would be highly relevant when you're in that exact location.
So next time you are in San Francisco, you would see all of my favorite spots based only on my Instagram photos that I "dropped." Like a crumb.
For me, the story was powerful enough to solve the "location" challenge in consumer tech.
But the truth is: with technology startups, a good story is not enough.
Being among so many deep thinkers and new mentors opened my eyes to what really matters in life.
I took copious notes when people told me their story or gave me advice.
I listened well and read more books than ever before.
Philosophically, I transformed.
My agency was successful, propelling me into the 1 percent income bracket, which gives you a unique perspective on "things" and "stuff."
I realized that to get the company to $10m in revenue, I'd have to do even more work with companies that were only motivated by scarcity.
The final straw: I refused to work with a bioengineered food company causing an impasse in the company.
As the creator, I went with my heart.
I shut it down; walked away.
R.I.P. David All Group
October 15, 2012
BIRTH OF A
SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURIAL MINDSET
Travel is a powerful tool to clear your mind.
Over Thanksgiving break, I went on a trip to Costa Rica.
When I returned, I turned to my blog and my most vulnerable form of expression, poetry.
At the time I thought this might be a clarion call of sorts, but now I realize it was my first expression as a 'Social Entrepreneur.'
DECEMBER 11, 2012
I am the Generation of Abundance.
Awake from the failed Dream of scarcity.
Free from the cycle of consumption where enough is never enough.
No longer motivated by fear.
Breathing for the first time.
I am not alone. I see you.
Hold my hand.
Feel our collective exhale.
Crumbly became my focus, but eventually it came to an end.
I was using the agency to fund Crumbly; indeed my biggest mistake not to secure investment.
However, my experience with business partners was not a good one, particularly once we made money.
Lesson: Do not take a penny if you don't absolutely need it. Seriously.
I had also realized that we approached the "location" challenge in the wrong way, and knew we wouldn't be able to pivot the product at the clip I wanted us to shift.
So many lessons learned.
At this point, I'm a bit lost professionally and personally. And really beaten down as an entrepreneur/CEO/Founder.
Turns out you don't just "walk away" from a $5 million company. In fact, it never seems to go away. Indeed a seemingly never ending crucible.
But I made it out alive. I was living in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, Mill Valley, surrounded by Redwoods, and spent several months in love, with loving friends, reading philosophy, writing my blog, exercising, eating nature and not trying to figure out what to do next.
A bright spot emerged when President Barack Obama created the "National Day of Civic Hacking," (June 2013) urging government to open their doors to entrepreneurs, software developers and technologists to solve civic challenges.
I founded CivicHacks then to support this charge.
A bunch of do-gooders rallied around the idea of a 'civic hack,' and worked with the city of San Francisco to transform an abandoned building into a culture civic center.
We had a hell of a good time.
But then the good times came to an end.
Due to family, a lack of professional direction, and the high cost of living, I decided to make my way back to the midwest to start over while I had the savings to do so.
After a career as a successful entrepreneur who demonstrated how to innovate an industry, I moved to Chicago to get my MBA at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management.
They said they care about innovation; I thought I'd be embraced.
The application required essays, letters of recommendation and an interview. No test scores needed (Phew! I test poorly), and I graduated college with honors. I didn't receive a single substantive question in my interview.
I didn't make the cut. I received a form rejection letter. I wasn't crushed, but surprised.
I tried to launch an agency for 'Storytelling for Good,' to help brands reach millennials.
But I can't say it had much of a chance.
I relied on the research-backed message and the story I could tell; no network of potential clients.
Looking back, I'm glad that agency didn't work out for a number of reasons.
Chicago was a lonely place; not the city for me.
I made the move back to my hometown.
AMERICA'S CAPITAL OF COMPASSIONATE CAPITALISM
Home: Test City, U.S.A.
My friends at CoverMyMeds -- one of the fastest growing startups in Ohio -- brought me on to the marketing team where I loved learning about all the challenges in the health care space.
When a Startup Weekend opportunity came up, I jumped at the shot, and took first place with a team motivated by the idea of building a social media command center for pharmaceutical companies.
That idea, WellHQ, continued to take off and was my first taste of a startup based on "rocket fuel" -- a highly-profitable endeavor.
But ultimately, based both on some advice from smart people in the industry, and my general concern that it would be a "money-motivated" startup, I shut it down.
It was hard to trust anyone that wanted to work on this project.
When the President once again promoted the "National Day of Civic Hacking," I answered the call and started organizing what would have been Columbus' first event.
But, unfortunately, that event had to be cancelled. Too much, too quick.
I then decided to work on CivicHacks full-time and started organizing two events tobring startups together to swap stories with public officials, and make wearable technology to address civic challenges.
After those events, I realized that I needed to find a job and started working with a technology consultancy that I thought was authentically committed to doing good in the world.
After the sold out spring 2015 Startup Storytellers, I decided to work on CivicHacks full-time.
I was finally a 'Social Entrepreneur.' But not just another, a 'Pioneer' in the industry.
CivicHacks has helped me re-discover a love for public service; something that was lost in the divisive trenches of politics.
It is also a platform for me to express my unique, and highly valuable skill-set solving communication challenges for our partners through storytelling and building community.
And unlike the first agency I tried to launch; we're not limited to only reaching millennials through cause-based storytelling.
The intention of CivicHacks, and why we're doing this work, is to garner the resources, talent, and make time available to co-create a better Columbus.
For example, here's a project we're working on that we hope to fund for 2016.
BUT THE STRANGEST THING HAPPENED IN THE
SUMMER OF 2015
I got back into the political game.
On my terms. With my experience. Being who I am with my principles.
For a short period I consulted for the Super PAC supporting fmr. three-term New York Governor George Pataki.
His ideology, in many ways, mirrors mine. I'm back to the middle, where I started.
Republican. Equality. Choice. Science is real in Climate Change. Supply-Side Economics. Good Government. Work Across Party Lines. Entrepreneurship. Strong on National Defense and at Home. Commonsense.
I'll continue to be honest with you: My participation in politics is not about 'winning the election today' as a sign I had made which adorned the wall of my office used to proclaim.
It's simply about the best way forward. To me, that means bringing people together.
Pataki bowed out of the race for President. That's a shame, his moderate, thoughtful message would have resonated widely just as it did in New York. Few others carry his message.
And for me, I've learned all I can learn from politics. It was good to know my seat was still warm.
Being Vulnerable in Business
I'm writing this piece of the story on New Years Eve 2015.
My new French Bulldog pup, Stella Frankie, is snoozing at my feet.
The truth is, I feel for the first time that I can be vulnerable in business once again.
The DAG crucible -- the pain of deceit and abandonment -- has made me stronger. It hurt every piece of me. My mother still points out my mistakes and what it cost her and our family. But maybe my ego need realignment to my truth.
Being denied by Northwestern, failing my agency for good in Chicago, fumbling around in Columbus being disappointed working for others, fearing launching the health care startup... all caused by being in the well of that crucible.
And yet, I write. My story continues. And I own it.
Starting In December 2015 to mid-January 2016 at the age of 36, I found freedom, power and bliss
I experienced authentic transformation.
I signed up and participated in Next Level Columbus. I went into this emotional intelligence leadership training one way and came out the way I really wanted to be with nothing holding me back.
No drugs ('medicine'), hocus-pocus, religion, or higher power were necessary in this transformation. Just experiences designed to make you dig deep, confront reality and learn the tools to pivot and carry on. Powerful is how I'd start to describe it; life-altering is the outcome.
This section is filled with chapters I directly attribute to my transformation and beyond.
A week ago today I called my dad on the phone as part of our assignment in an emotional intelligence leadership training program called Next Level Columbus .
I let fear go, found courage, understood the benefit of authentic forgiveness, and focused on my desire to have a loving family with the foundation of a present father.
MEET JACKSON & STELLA
TELL ME YOUR STORY