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17 Hours in Iowa – Matt Douglas

Topics

Authentic &
Refreshing

Entrepreneur
Perspective

Matt Douglas, Founder and CEO of Punchbowl.com

17 Hours in Iowa

Once in a while I get asked about the “core values” of our Company. I typically point people to this “What We Believe” page that’s part of the About Us section of our site. But that only scratches the surface on what we truly believe and how we act to fulfill our values.

I reflected on our core values this past weekend as I traveled to Iowa for the funeral of our CTO’s father. I made the decision to surprise Blake and show him how much he means to me and the rest of our team. It took a village to make the trip happen, and many people showed up to help. This is one of our core values, and I’ve never been able to articulate it or demonstrate it as clearly as I did this weekend. I went to Iowa to be there for Blake and his family. I went there because we show up.

We show up.

We show up when one of our teammates needs us, and we show up to demonstrate our care and love. We show up to celebrate life milestones (I love weddings!) and we show up in sorrow and grief. We show up when it’s not convenient and we show up when the easy answer is to skip it. We show up because we are humans more than co-workers, people more than employees.

Crab Rangoon “Pizza”

My trip to Iowa started on Friday at 9:15am. There were very few last minute flight options to Des Moines, so I had a long layover (3+ hours!) in Chicago. I arrived in Iowa without any problems around 8pm. After a quick walk and some Crab Rangoon “pizza” (ehhhhmmm flatbread) at Fong’s Pizza I settled in for the night. It was a long day of travel, but relatively simple overall.

The visitation and service were Saturday morning. After a quick breakfast, I got into an Uber and headed over to the Church. I was nervous walking in, somewhat worried that my surprise arrival would unsettle Blake on an already difficult day. My heart was pounding in my chest as I waited in line.

There were only about two minutes that elapsed while I waited to see him, but as I stood there I reflected on Blake’s role in the Company over many, many years. Blake is the most talented and smartest person at the Company and the critical linchpin in everything we do. He is an innovator, a creator, and a critical thinker. He’s the absolute best at his craft, and our partnership over the years is one of the key reasons for the Company’s incredible success. We’ve learned so much together, and we are all so fortunate to have Blake at the helm. Countless times Blake has shown up to deal with product or system operations issues, even when it was really inconvenient for him and his family. This trip was an opportunity for me to show up and to show him how much he means to me and the rest of the Company.

I will never forget Blake’s face when he saw me. After a few choice expletives (“what the ^%@!&%!?!”), we embraced and it seemed like he would never let go. In that moment, all of the crazy logistics were worth it. I showed up, and he felt it. (Funny moment: our embrace caused a person behind us to knock over ALL of the easels with photos of his Dad… a sitcom moment!)

A note about some of the crazy logistics of the trip: the biggest part of the challenge was that I had the kids this weekend. Despite my urging, their Mom wasn’t willing to help with childcare so I had to assemble a village in her absence. And get this: all of the people who stepped up to help — who showed up — are connected to the Company. Every single person went above and beyond to make sure I could get to Iowa and support Blake.

Ariel (CMO) picked the kids up from school on Friday afternoon, and Shirley (Business Manager) came and decorated cupcakes with them in the evening. Dan (Board Member) took over from Shirley and stayed overnight. On Saturday morning Rock (Chief of Staff) took over and spent his entire weekend day with my kids. Unbelievable. Rock handled lunch, played games with them, drove my son to his basketball game, took them to his house, took them to a local entertainment center, and put them to bed. I arrived back at 11:30pm so that he could go home after a long day with my kids. All of these people volunteered to show up. I’m so grateful.

My Uber driver “Saw”, somewhere in Iowa

My trip home was quite eventful. With no flight options from Des Moines that would get home before midnight Saturday, I decided that a non-stop flight from Kansas City was a better option. It’s about a three hour drive from Des Moines so all I needed to do was find an Uber/Lyft to take me there. That proved to be much harder than I thought. And I have an epic story to tell as a result (ask me more directly if you want to hear more, it was craaaazy!). Here’s a quick snapshot: driver after driver refused to take me to Kansas City (apparently drivers can’t see the destination until after pick-up?!?). On my fourth attempt and with time tight, I convinced a woman from Burma named “Saw” to drive me to Kansas City. It was quite a leap of faith she took… after all, I had to cajole her to drive me across state lines with a promise that I would pay her cash. The Uber map wasn’t working for her so we even decided to cancel the trip (in retrospect this was a very bad look!). No wonder her husband called about 15 times during our journey (side note: after a three hour journey together she knows all about my life and kids, and we’re text penpals!).

I arrived safely home to Massachusetts and without any additional issues after a long day of travel. When I got home, I simply sat. I had been in motion for most of the day, and I felt it. Tired, drained, but deeply grateful for the people who enabled me to show up for Blake.

I started a Company because I abhor most of the nonsense of traditional Corporate America. I don’t want to write a stuffy mission statement or a florid list of “core values.” Instead I think we show more by doing. And this weekend, my colleagues and I showed up for Blake.

I arrived in Iowa around 9pm on Friday, and left by 2pm on Saturday. That’s about 17 hours in Iowa. I realized on my way home that my trip was about one hour for every year that Blake and I have worked together. Time well spent.

©2023 Matt Douglas


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