Who Did You Learn From in 2010?

Welcome to Year in Review at JasonShen.com. I’m going to spend a couple posts looking back on 2010 – lessons, successes, failures and general reflection. I hope you find it valuable and of course, I strive to write so that you can take these ideas back to your own challenges and kick some ass.

So 2010 has come and gone. Did you make the most of it? I hope you had a chance to grow, achieve, learn and enjoy yourself in the past 12 months.

I’ve been thinking about mentors and teachers and how important it is to continue learning way after your official schooling is done. This past year, I’ve been lucky enough to learn from a great number of smart, interesting and passionate people who have made me a better person. I wanted to pay tribute to some those people in this post, and share some of the lessons I learned from them and perhaps you might find them applicable to areas in your life. I’d love to hear your stories in the comments. Enjoy!

Charlie Hoffman – co-founder of the Stanford Daily Publishing Corporation (where I served as COO / Business Manger), chairman of the Friends of the Stanford Daily Foundation and serial entrepreneur.

Charlie was a great mentor to me during my time at the Stanford Daily and taught me the value of making bets on people. He certainly took a bet on me when I was hired – I had no experience in the publishing industry or in the Daily as an organization – but he knew the organization needed someone who had entrepreneurial drive and a hunger for making change – and he thought I had it. I still appreciate that.

If you’re evaluating people for a position, figure out what they absolutely must have, and consider taking a chance on someone who’s got a lot of that but might not necessarily check all the boxes. They’ll appreciate it – trust me.

He also taught me about value of timing and capitalizing on a trend. After completing a major building project that brought a lot of alumni together to share fond memories of the Daily, Charlie saw an opportunity to rally the troops (so to speak) toward a new focus: digitizing the archives of the Stanford Daily. He’s been a great force in securing the resources and connections necessary to make this project happen – because he knows how important it is that we do this NOW. What opportunities do you need to be capitalizing on?

John Ramey – founder and CEO of isocket (where I work now as Customer Scout)

I’ve learned a great deal since I’ve joined isocket (and wrote about those lessons here and here) but I’d like to highlight particular lessons I gained from John. The first is calibrating and providing context when answering questions. When people ask what isocket does, I could just rattle off a quick “We help publishers package and sell ad space directly to advertisers.” But a quick question or two – are you a publisher?  do you buy advertising? – makes it much easier to deliver a pitch that can really hook customers (and our customers’ customers)

The second is keeping your own counsel. I’m the kind of guy who shares pretty much everything with everyone. I like it that way for the most part, but especially when it comes to business, John’s taught me the value of keeping your mouth shut from time to time (especially when chatting with a competitor or the media) to avoid giving away a strategic advantage.

Third lesson from John: don’t half ass anything. John has high standards for the work he does and the work we do as a company. And whenever someone raises the bar for me, I try hard to meet it. I find myself reviewing my work for areas to improve and thinking through ideas more carefully and my output is much better for it.

Bob Michitarian – board chair of the Stanford Daily Publishing Corporation, campaign manager for Bevan Dufty for SF Mayor 2011.

Bob taught me a great deal about leadership and getting things done. He showed me the power of setting the agenda at board meetings. When you control what gets talked about and when it is discussed, you are able to frame conversations and sometimes force issues in your favor. That’s some gold advice right there.

Of course, the board meeting is rarely when anything is actually decided. Hallway conversations that happen behind the scenes are really how big group decisions are made. It was not a natural thing for me and if I did more of this, I would have been more successful with my initiatives at the Daily.

I inherited essentially no business staff when I took over as COO and worked hard to recruit and retain talented students to work for the Daily’s business team. I remember me and Mary Liz (the VP of Sales) spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about what kind of incentives would motivate our staff and which projects each person would be best suited for and most interested in. We wondered outloud if we crazy to do so much psychoanalysis and Bob simply said – “That’s not crazy; that’s leadership.” Thanks for that Bob.

Ryan Hupfer – Customer BFF at isocket (where I work now as Customer Scout), all-around awesome dude.

The first thing you need to know about Hup is that he has friends everywhere. Ryan is the kind of guy where if you take a call and let him walk into the bar first, you’ll come in 5 minutes later to have the guy chatting up the bartender and toasting with a random group of strangers who think he is the coolest guy ever. It’s an amazing skill and I think the key is that he treats everyone like a friend. He’ll make fun of people, pat them on the back or crack random jokes and people love it. This is something I’m studying and working on (and I realize how lame that might sound).

Blogging. Man, this is a big one. I restarted this blog in August of 2010 and a big part of this was due to Hup. He has been blogging with his then girlfriend, now wife, Stephanie for several years and it’s been a great thing for them in interesting ways. For example – Ryan was able to land an apartment in Palo Alto that had a number of buyers at the open house because he sent an email to owner and said basically “hey – I know we didn’t talk much but we’re great folks. We love BBQ’s (link to bbq video) and going for hikes (link to post on hiking) and we’re just decent folks (link to family post).” That’s powerful and just a small example of what blogging can do for you. I’m so happy Hup encouraged me to blog.

If you’ve got a minute, you should also check out Hup’s posts on his upcoming mission in the Congo. Him and Steph will be teaching English at orphanages and helping folks out with their technology needs. Show them some love!

Mary Liz McCurdy – COO / Business Manager of the Stanford Daily Publishing Corporation (succeeding me after I finished my 2009-10 term)

Mary Liz was the VP of Sales when I was running the Daily’s business side and even though I was ostensibly her manager, I learned a great deal about management *from* her. For one thing, she was much better at managing her student staff than I. While I would haphazardly give some general guidelines to students and then get distracted later as I had to correct their mistakes and answer questions, Mary Liz would block out some time in advance and write out exactly what she wanted her team to do, how they’d do it, and basically pre-answer as many questions as she could think of. Then when she handed the instructions over, she could tell her staff “If you have any questions, re-read the instructions first, and if you still can’t figure it out, then you can ask me.”

Not only did this save time, it helped her think through exactly why this project was necessary and how best to execute it. It also made her team feel like this project was important as anything that’s carefully written takes on additional signficance. This practice of thoroughly outlining project specs is something I’m still learning as I work with my team of virtual assistants on isocket projects – glad I had a good example.

So those are some of folks I’ve learned from in 2010 (there are of course many more that I couldn’t mention here). As I review this list, I see that it’s composed entirely of people who I’ve worked with in the past year. In some ways that makes me think I’m some kind of workaholic and that I should be trying to learn for more lessons that applicable to life in general. But all in all, I hope you enjoyed it, and I’d love to hear who YOU learned from in 2010 and what they taught you. Post it in the comments!

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and talent expert. He is CEO of a performance hiring platform called Headlight, a Fast Company contributor, and an advocate for Asian American men. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonshen and subscribe to his private newsletter.

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    • @edwardshui Thanks Edward! Reach out to people you respect, you might be surprised at how they respond!

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  5. Did you include me in this list just so that I stop making fun of your faux-hawk? :)

    Thanks for including me in your list and more importantly thanks for actually listening to me. You have an awesome ability to listen, internalize and make changes with what the many different people in your life tell you, which is something that I’m just now becoming more and more comfortable with. You’re ahead of your time, my man and I’m looking forward to working with you and learning more from you in 2011.

    Keep on hustling and don’t even stop doing handstand push-ups.

  6. Did you include me in this list just so that I stop making fun of your faux-hawk? :)

    Thanks for including me and more importantly thanks for actually listening to me. You have an awesome ability to listen, internalize and make changes with what the many different people in your life tell you, which is something that I’m just now becoming more and more comfortable with.

    You’re ahead of your time, my man and I’m looking forward to working with you and learning more from you in 2011.

    Keep on hustling and don’t ever stop doing handstand push-ups.

    • @Hup Thanks Hup. I’ll keep on handstand pushup-ing as long as you promise we’ll rock the mic again soon =)

  7. Excellent Blog Post, Jason. Since most of my time was spent in remote parts of Scotland andin Antigua, much of my lessons came from books and videos. I think the video that inspired me themost was from Ricardo Semler, Lead By Omission -http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/308/. Next up was Tom Preston-Werner, Optimizing for happiness – http://www.justin.tv/c3oorg/b/272031754.

    • @chegra Thanks Chegra. I’ll make a note to watch these videos when I get a chance. Glancing through Tom’s blog post makes feel pretty excited and optimistic about how you can build something awesome AND enjoy the process.

  8. Great post, Jason! It is amazing how much you can absorb from a co-worker. Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned and encouraging your readers to reflect on the people that helped them out in 2010. Without taking the time to look back at those relationships, it is difficult to truly appreciate all that they have provided.

    A quick note – you forgot the links in the first section:

    (and wrote about those lessons here and here)

    If you could edit this part and add link it would be awesome!

    Here’s to a prosperous 2011. Keep the posts about your mentors and other influences coming!

  9. Another great post Jason. Great job sharing your insights. Keep it up and looking forward to more!

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