I was just starting out as an entrepreneur back then, fresh out of a successful corporate 500 leadership role.
We saw the need for a vertically synchronized global supply chain, and working with a great lineup of supply chain providers had built a system to track, move, store, and manage high tech components globally.
A couple of virtual semi-conductor divisions of larger name brands had signed up as clients.
It felt so good.
The clients were delighted with the progress of our development and the capabilities we could demonstrate.
This was so cool for me because, as a corporate executive, I had seen first hand the difficulty of tracking products across different businesses, and the expense of building interconnectivity.
EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) was the framework that was being adopted at the time. And boy, was it complicated, full of deficiencies, batch-oriented introducing all kinds of latency.
EDI was quite expensive and limited to those large and brave enterprises.
And oh, by the way, all it did was exchange data. What you did with the data was your problem.
Instead, we had developed a cross-enterprise like ERP. Something that was near real-time, easy to use, and most importantly, focused users on the critical actions needed to be undertaken.
It was like an artificial intelligent global supply chain or operations manager.
Then terrorists attacked the USA on 9/11.
It was at our peak.
We had finally gotten wings, and we were beginning to soar high in the sky like an eagle when the air was sucked out from under us.
My clients got hit.
One after the other, clients were going out of business or retrenching.
Every single day I was afraid to pick up the phone. I was scared because I knew what I would hear: “Hey Leon, this was a nice run. Unfortunately, we’re going to close down for now. We re not sure when we’ll be back up again.”
These were all fantastic people.
Sure, we had a few demanding clients, but most of them were terrific, and they were giving it their best to develop valued businesses.
However, building and sustaining a business has never been simple, has it? Something’s always coming to take you down.
The end of our dreams came quietly.
We stopped writing code.
We had no volume to support the network of connections.
Our team disbanded.
We shuttered our plans to connect the world.
We each did what we needed to do to take care of our families.
We were blessed that we had families. So many lost theirs from the attack.
Right after this horrendous terrorist attack, it felt like the end of the world.
But it wasn’t the end of the world.
Every day the sun came up, and every day I could cherish the fact that I still had a beautiful family with me.
I received hundreds of emails and calls of support from friends everywhere. Each was a reassuring foundation to build on.
I took what we learned about transforming the economics of business processes and systems and joined a couple old friends in doing consulting for several businesses that needed transformation.
We gained a reputation for being fast, reliable, and for delivering results that were multiples of our cost.
Eventually, an exciting role was designed for me to lead the transformation of another fortune 500 company, which got me back into mainstream corporate life.
We built the connected system that I had initially envisioned, crafted a great team, delivered fantastic results, and won accolades for our performance.
Then I did it a couple more times for different businesses.
Yes, I did well.
Looking at how a business operates and envisioning the transformation that can take place in its offerings, cost structure, and underlying performance have always been easy for me, in retrospect.
Being color blind and a minority meant I was forgiven for seeing the world differently. And seeing the world through a different lens is a massive advantage for disruptive thinking.
Remember Steve Jobs and Apples’ campaign promoting “Think Different?”
A new startup.
When we were about to return to the United States recently, after a successful 8-year stint overseas transforming businesses, I was faced with the question of what to focus on next.
Now, most entrepreneurs start with a need and figure out how to plug that need for a profit.
But that was not enough for me.
It wasn’t the way I thought about these important decisions.
I figured that there were a million different ways to make a buck, and quite frankly, the dollar was not my most important criteria in deciding on what to focus next.
I was much more interested in problems so consequential that finding a solution would make a measurable difference.
Over the years, I have grown fond of saying that I always wanted to leave things better than I found them.
Now I know there are many significant problems, poverty, pandemic, curing cancer, the opioid crisis, and sustainability, among others.
But there had to be something that my skills and previous experience could bring perspective to and allow me to reframe the problem in a way that disruptive solutions could become a reality.
If you know me, you know that I am a voracious reader. I love reading, and while I had spent a lifetime reading and learning about the significant issues, there was still a lot to explore.
I amped up my curiosity and devoured everything I could find about big problems in an attempt to discover where I could make a difference.
It turns out there is are several super scale problems that spoke to me and for which I believed disruptive solutions exist.
I called up a few friends who had worked with me before and talked to them about the first of new passions (that’s a story for another post), and we agreed to work together in creating a new business.
We created a startup, crafted a solution, and for the last two years, we were growing.
Until COVID-19 stopped the world!
COVID-19 won’t kill our startup
The 9/11 attackers killed my first startup.
In retrospect, we let the fear of the moment dictate too much.
We were young and unprepared for the shock.
But we have learned from that lesson and every other recession driving event that occurred after that.
We now know that COVID-19 will not be the end of the world.
We know that disruption on this scale creates new opportunities and changes some priorities.
But because we picked a big, consequential problem, COVID-19 has not changed the need for a disruptive solution, so our business focus has not shifted.
There is still a need for someone who is focused on making the world a better place, so we are safe.
Advice to my friends who are hurting from COVID-19
COVID-19 is a nasty bug, and I have written about the importance of battling coronavirus misinformation.
The best advice I received is to assume that everyone has it and act accordingly.
The corollary is to assume you have it and work to protect others.
If we all did that, it would go away soon.
It will be devastating to many families who will lose loved ones.
But it will go away!
Now, turn off the TV.
If the world is disappearing, you won’t need the TV to tell you.
The end of the world is overstated anyway.
Stop and think about your fear for a minute. It’s probably driven by outrageous TV media rants and cultivated by those who seek to benefit from the chaos.
Think about what you can do during these times to bring some wins to your table.
Think about how you can use the time to learn something new.
Try to figure out how you can contribute to a prominent cause that you are passionate about.
And prepare for when the coronavirus recession is over.
This is me telling you that I am thinking of you and here to help if I can.
Don’t let COVID-19 kill your dreams.
You got this!
Enjoy your time with your family.
Be grateful for your blessings.
Pray for those in harm’s way.
Help in any way you can.