A couple of months ago, I was at an networking event. It’s the kind of networking event that has a wide variety of people: from people who dream of starting a company to CEOs of very successful enterprises. Like most events, I was wearing a name badge with my name and company.
Towards the end of the event, I was approached by someone who I’d never met before. He came up to me as I was saying goodbye to someone else, and he said, “Matt Douglas?! Wow, I’m a big fan of what you guys are doing at Punchbowl.” I smiled and thanked him. After a few more accolades, he launched into a description of the start-up that he was trying to build. I honestly can’t remember a thing he told me about it. It was the end of a long day. And if I remember correctly, it wasn’t particularly innovative. It sounded like he was still in very early stages, and he didn’t yet have any demonstrable traction. And in the back of my head I was thinking, “Wow, you’re pretty clueless, and I’m tired. I’m kind of a big deal, you’re not, and I need to get going.”
Yeah, that’s right. I’m kind of a big deal. I’m the founder of a successful consumer-internet company. I’ve raised multiple rounds of funding from venture capitalists. Millions of people use the product that I created. I have lots of employees and a big office. People get excited when they see me at an event or conference. I have won awards. I’m kind of a big deal!
Back at the networking event, I said goodbye to my admirer and I made my way to the exit. Just as I was about to leave, an old friend called out to me “Hey Matt, I want you to meet a colleague of mine.” The next thing I know, I’m standing in front of one of most well-respected CEOs in Boston. This guy is top-notch. His company has $500M+ in revenues and he has hundreds of employees. It was awesome to meet him. Of course, I wanted to tell him a little bit about Punchbowl — so I described to him what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and how the company is growing fast.
And that’s when I saw it. He had that slightly glazed look in his eyes. He was tired, he wanted to go home, and I was blathering to him about my rinky-dink start-up. I looked into his eyes, and it was almost as if I could see the words painted onto his retina: “I’m kind of a big deal.” I’ll never forget that moment and how it made me feel. Just minutes earlier *I* was a big deal, and now I was in the presence of someone who was (in my eyes), a really big deal. And yet, in the presence of one of the great CEOs of our time, this “big deal” CEO would feel like a nobody just as I did in front of him. How do you think Steve Ballmer or Steve Jobs would act in front of this “big deal” CEO at the end of a long day?
I think back to the early days of my journey of starting Punchbowl, and I’m certain that there have been numerous people who had a similar experience with me. I was a nobody, trying to be somebody, just hoping for my break. I’m sure that I sounded clueless and naive to lots of “big deal” CEOs. And look at me now. That’s right, I’m kind of a big deal.
Don’t you see? We’re all kind of a big deal. To have start-up success, you need to start with that attitude in mind. And then, regardless of your success, stay humble and down to earth. You never know who you might run into next.