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Video: How to be an All-Star at Work. A Peek Inside

By Business Philosophy, Company Culture, Start-Ups,, Videos 2 Comments

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past couple years, it’s how critical it is to get the right team in place. The right team is more costly, takes longer to attract, but it pays for itself in spades by a quicker velocity and overall growth.

As we shift into a faster growth mode inside of TakeLessons, I wanted to paint a picture for my team on what it takes to be hired and, more importantly, what it takes to be an all-star. The company is growing fast, and we need people that have already been at the spot we’re going to be, and/or quickly assimilate into new roles, objectives, and way of doing business.

The lessons I’m teaching my team are not just applicable to those that work for TakeLessons, but they’re relevant to everyone in the workplace that aspires to grow into new roles and expand their work horizons.

  • Earn your spot on the team. It’s not given to you.
  • Get shit done.
  • Over-perform.
  • Do more than what you’re paid for.
  • Be responsible for your own growth.

So, I hope you take something valuable from this video and apply it into your own work. A transcript follows the video.




I want to again bring to the forefront of what we’re looking to do and how we’re looking to make changes.

In essence we’re looking at a change of mindset. This is where we were – down here – and this is where we want to be – up here.

What does that mean?

I’m glad we’re a venture-backed company – less than 5% of the people that can even apply to be a venture-backed company have what it takes to get there. We’re about to be backed again – we can’t yet make a formal announcement – but we have a very good possibility that again our venture capitalists believe in us and our vision and what we’re trying to do, to where we’re going to be able to extend out what we’re looking to accomplish this year.

But with that comes responsibility. This again is what is expected of you.

First of all: very clear strategic thinking. You have to – everyone, including myself – and everyone in here – we have to raise our game as far as how we think. We have to be able to solve customer problems and work in an efficient and in a better manner.

Second of all, we’ve talked about this: Bold ideas. No longer can we just be satisfied doing the same thing and building our company. We have built an incredible platform that can be used and we’re going to utilize it to the best of our capacity.

Third, and the most critical – this is a requirement for flawless execution. What that means is we’re going to put our best foot forward, and this means making mistakes. We will quickly learn from those mistakes and fix them – absolutely as quickly as possible.

As I pointed out before, we are not a family. In a family, you can’t choose who you get. With family, you basically have to love them no matter what.

Instead, we are a team – and what that means is every single day, every month, every year, we earn our spots to stay on this team. All of us do, including myself. We do that by making sure that we are rock stars at what we do.

Sometime’s it’s not even enough just to make the team. Everyone can make the team in this room, because you are all very, very smart, intelligent, capable, awesome people – thank you very much and take a pat on the back – but what we want is All-Stars. Think of yourself as an All-Star. It’s not even enough to play pro ball. What we want is to be able to take that to the next level.

How to be an All-Star at Work

The big question is: How can you become an All-Star? I want to just go through a few quick tips for you on how to be an All-Star here at TakeLessons.

Get Shit Done.

The top thing that you can do no matter what is: get shit done. We’re not paid to show up. We’re not paid to look busy. We’re not paid to fill out a cubicle. We are paid to get shit done.

That is in essence what drives this business. We’re not here just to goof off. We’re here to take the most important task and make sure that we’re completing them.

How do we do that? First and foremost, make sure up front that you have very clear, specific goals in what you’re trying to do.

If you don’t know your outcome, if you don’t know where you’re shooting, you’re going to have a hard time getting there.

How many of you have written goals for 2013?

It’s very, very critical to do that. Again, you’re going to have a direct path. You know what you’re supposed to be focusing on. If you don’t have written goals, I highly encourage you to do so, both personally – and it’s required – professionally.

If you do not know what your goals are here inside the company, talk to your manager today before you go home. Make sure that you have a very specific plan about what you need to accomplish.

Once you have those goals, always focus on first things first. What does that mean? If you’re like me, I have a list a mile long of stuff that I need to do. There’s always more things to do than there is time to do it.

How do you know what to do?

Make sure you’re prioritizing your list every single day. Never do a “B” or a “C” priority when there is an “A” priority to do. That’s the simple key. If you know that you can do an “A,” do it first thing in the morning.

I was talking to one of you last week, who said, “Yeah, I’m trying to get more time efficient. How do I get more done?” One thing that this person was doing was coming in, reading emails, and catching up on the news the very first thing in the morning. It is related to the company? Yes, it’s important to do, but it’s not absolute top priority.

What we did is switch that around: what they’re doing is they’re taking the biggest thing that would make the highest impact on the company and making sure that they do it first.

Brian Tracy calls it eating that frog. It’s a metaphor: no one wants to eat a frog anytime, but you specifically don’t want to eat it in the morning when you get up. It’s the toughest thing to do.

If you can take that highest task, the ugliest thing to do (like a frog), that makes the biggest impact on the company, do it when you’re the freshest: first in the morning. That’s how you accomplish things.

Put up the Numbers.

If you do those things, you are going to put up incredible numbers. I don’t necessarily just mean sales numbers, but whatever you’re measured up against: you’re going to put up incredible, incredible numbers.

You guys know who this is?

[“Miguel Cabrera.”]

Anybody know what he did?

[“Triple Crown.” “He lost the world Series.”]

The Triple Crown. He got on base, basically with the highest batting average, the most home runs, throughout the most people of anyone in his league.

Does this guy ever have to worry about a job?


Why? Because he’s an All-Star.

This is what I’m talking about. This is not the rules of TakeLessons. These are rules of life.

I was at a conference and someone said, “I’m afraid to work for a startup because I need job security.”

It doesn’t matter if you work for a big company or a small company. Job security is not in the job, it is in being an All-Star. It is putting up incredible numbers. That is what gets you to where you need to go. What’s great about that is you are the one in control of it. By deciding that that’s what you want to do, you’re going to knock it out of the park.

Master Your Role

Next, take a look at your role – focus on mastering and becoming awesome at that one role. Muhammad Ali was great at one thing: dancing, too,but he was an incredible boxer. He worked his ass off to make sure that he was the absolute best at his role.

Take your role and master it. Be the absolute best that you can possibly be and be an all-star in that particular role.

Help Your Teammates Win

It’s very important that you help your teammates win. Dwyane Wade could’ve taken the shot, but instead he passed the ball to LeBron.

This is a very important key. It’s not enough if one department wins. It’s not enough if you win and your department loses. We are all in this together. This company only works by all of us pulling together in the same direction.

Make sure that you’re an All-Star and then help someone else be an All-Star. if you know something that can help them, teach them. Share knowledge. Make sure that we’re collaborating back and forth.

Stay Flexible

Next, There’s a good possibility that whatever you’re doing today – by the end of the year – you’re not going to be doing that. It’s important to always stay flexible and know that things are going to change.

Did we have a year of 2012 that things change? Those of you who have been here a couple years, did things change?


Hey, I can guarantee you one thing: if you look at today and where we’re going to be at the end of the year, things will fundamentally change in our business. Don’t get too hung up on exactly whow things are going to change. Roll with it, because I can guarantee you that no matter what, we’re going to look fundamentally different at the end of the year.

You are Responsible for Your Growth

Also, it is up to you to grow. The company can only do so much – we have restricted budgets, we don’t have systems in place yet for productive growth in a methodical manner for every single employee. We’re just not mature enough to get there. That is no excuse not to grow.

I’m reading 2-3 times a week at home. Why? Because I’m afraid that the company will pass me by. That’s something that I encourage each and every one of you to do. It’s up to you to have your own personal development program.

Like I pointed out in the last meeting: when things grow, you leave your comfort zone – and when you leave your comfort zone, that’s when the magic happens. That’s when you can continue to grow past where you are today and be able to take on – and it’s not just about production but it’s about how your capacity to produce increases. And this is how you become that All-Star.

Do More Than You’re Paid For

Finally, I was studying Napoleon Hill’s 17 Laws of Success and he said the number one way that you can make sure that you stay with the company that you want, or that you are always promotable is to do more than what you’re paid for.

What does that mean?

That means that if you are worth “X” – down here – and you are doing work at a level up here, it is impossible for you not to get noticed. Think about our customers – if we give them more value than what they’re paying for, they love us.

That’s the thing: if you want to continue to grow, if you want to be an all-star, do more than what you think you’re capable of. That’s how you grow into this role.

They said Cabrera is the last guy standing when it comes to batting practice. Over and over again. He’s the All-Star. He’s the king of the team, yet he’s the guy who’s in there first taking batting practice and he’s the last guy standing. He knows the rules. He knows that this is what it takes.

When you do that, what happens is your work naturally stands out. You can’t help but to get noticed.

These are very simple rules of life. These are not TakeLessons rules. You can apply them to anything that you do.

By doing that, what happens – that comfort zone of what you’re capable of doing continues to grow. While you used to be a hot Corvette – now, you’re a burning, flaming fire! This is where you want to go. This is where we need to drive the company.

I know we have what it takes in here to build a world-class company. It is going to be up to each and every one of us to make sure that happens.

We’re off to a really good start, it’s 10 days into the first month, we are going to have an incredible year.

New Book from Maynard Webb – Rebooting Work

By Business Philosophy, Entrepreneur Insights, Web and Tech No Comments

Maynard Webb, former COO eBay, CEO LiveOpsMaynard Webb (one of my investors in TakeLessons and former COO of eBay) just launched his new book, Rebooting Work.

In the book, Maynard Webb identifies 4 different mindsets around work (the company man, CEO of your own destiny, disenchanted employee, and the aspiring entrepreneur). It organizes those who are self-motivated versus those who are waiting to be discovered and aims to give readers the tools to become more self-actualized, happier, and ultimately more fulfilled in their careers.

Maynard has always been the go-to guy when Silicon Valley companies have thorny problems. Whether revamping eBay’s crashing servers (transforming their technology weaknesses into a competitive strength) or investing in emerging technology start-ups, he brings strategic and operational savvy to every issue and venture.

This is his first book, and he brings this same focus to tackle outdated models of work, created a century ago, which no longer sync up with either individual or employers’ needs.

Pick up a copy. You’ll love it.


Maynard Webb book Rebooting Work

4 Things I Learned About Business in 2012

By At Work, Business Philosophy, Entrepreneur Insights One Comment

57-504091852861cI’m a big believer in CANI – Constant and Never Ending Improvement (or Kaizen). It’s one of the core values I live by and it’s one of the joys of life.

So, in that spirit, I wanted to share with you four things I learned about start-ups, business, and life during 2012.

Lesson 1: Get the right people on the bus.

Nothing trumps getting the right team in place. And the ‘right team’ differs depending on the stage and growth of the company. Knowing when to bring in outside help is a tough skill to learn for most founders because our decisions become skewed by (a) what we don’t know – such as who else is out there that could rock the job and (b) our loyalty to the current team.

When you do hire outside, make sure you plan in advance so you have the time to thoroughly vet out the candidates.

We made a major hiring mistake at the executive level early 2012 that cost us dearly. Without going into too much detail, we got enamoured with the big company names and titles on the resume and didn’t do enough diligence checking references – both the ones that were offered, but more importantly, the ones that weren’t.

My advice for doing senior hires is to check both up and down the reporting chain. Check with their superiors (which we did) AND check with people that reported into the person (which we did not). If we would’ve looked deeper we would have found that the person we were considering was not a good match.

Brian Tracy always says to hire slow and fire fast.

Lesson 2: Put people in a position to succeed.

I’ve found that it’s not enough to get the right people on the bus. You also have to make sure they’re sitting in the right seats.

I learned this the hard way.

The company needed a Product Manager lead, so I took one of my best performing people and put them in the role. He was a quick learner and I figured he’d be able to figure out what we needed. From day one, he told me that he’d give it his best shot, but that he didn’t know what he was doing. 3 months later, the role had not advanced, the Product department was at a standstill, and one of my best guys was spending his days reading books on how to do product management.

Rather than just hire an expert in the field, I put someone in the role who didn’t understand it. Yes, he could’ve become a great Product leader, but it was going to take a year to get him there, and we didn’t have that much time.

Find people who play at things you have to work at.

If you think it's expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.

Lesson 3: Prepare for Rain.

One thing is for certain. It’s gonna rain. And the team that has thought through what might happen will be better prepared for the storm. In Jim Collins’ latest book, Great by Choice, he calls it Productive Paranoia. It means that those that perform the best in business assume that things will – at some point – go wrong.

The 10X winners in our research always assumed that conditions can—and often do—unexpectedly change, violently and fast. They were hypersensitive to changing conditions, continually asking, “What if?” By preparing ahead of time, building reserves, maintaining “irrationally” large margins of safety, bounding their risk, and honing their disciplines in good times and bad, they handled disruptions from a position of strength and flexibility. They understood, deeply: the only mistakes you can learn from are the ones you survive.

Collins, Jim; Hansen, Morten T. (2011-10-11). Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All (p. 102). HarperBusiness. Kindle Edition.

In our company, we’re optimists. While that plays to our advantage in most cases, we’ve learned that it can be a detriment if we fail to protect the downside.

In 2013, we’ve decided to do things a bit differently.

We still believe we can conquer the world (of course we can!), but we are putting in place definitive finance contingency plans just in case we’ve overestimated our ability to perform. This gives us a fallback plan that allows us to react quickly to several market scenarios and bounds our downside risk.

This does not mean we are risk averse or shying away from big plan. Oh no. Just the opposite actually. We have bigger plans this year than we’ve ever had. However, in addition to the optimistic plan, we have a strategy to protect us in case those plans go awry. We know where we need to be

Lesson 4: Life is an Ebb and Flow

I live in San Diego and regularly get the pleasure of watching waves come crashing into the sand. Then, just as easy as they roll onto the beach, they subside back into the ocean.

Business is a lot like that. It’s filled with highs and lows – ebbs and flows.

What I learned was to not let the highs get me too high, or the lows get me too low. Just as everything seems to be going our way, there’s always a next unexpected slap to the face. And, when I have my “oh shit” moments, I can rest easy knowing that ‘this, too shall pass’.

This helps me have the resolve to fight on in the darkest of hours, and it keeps me from believing my own bullshit in the good times.

Question for you…

What business or life lesson did you learn in 2012?


The Confidence Loop

By Business Philosophy, Leadership, Life Lessons, Motivational, My Writings No Comments

I was chatting with a young employee over a beer the other day and we started talking about confidence and its importance. Here is a summary of the conversation along with a diagram on the cyclical pattern of confidence.

What is confidence?

Confidence is a state of mind. It is a lens that we choose to view the world with. What’s cool about it is that it’s available at any time, to anyone.

The state of mind then carries over into how we carry ourselves and the actions we choose to take.

By acting as if you’re confident, you take on the role of a confident person. Your body changes, your mindset becomes different. You become that which you think. You begin to look and carry yourself in a certain way. And a funny thing happens. People treat you as such.

When others see confidence, they instinctually trust and follow it because we all know that these are the types of people that end up creating wins for the companies, their families, their communities, and their world. People instinctually know that the results will be beneficial and leave positive lasting affects on them.

For the most part, people admire those that make impact and they end up sharing their feedback with those that have taken action. That positive feedback helps fuel even higher levels of confidence, which in turn creates more action and results.

It’s one big loop – I call it The Confidence Loop. - The Confidence Loop

How to Get Confidence? Start the Loop

And how do you start the loop? Take Action.

Take action on things you fear. Things you know you should be doing, but are afraid of what people might think.

Take action on something you care about deeply – something that makes a difference.

Be comfortable with knowing that a lot of the action will not produce the outcome you want immediately. But if you keep working at it and persisting towards a clear path, you WILL get better, you will produce better results, and you will be able to affect change in the world.

People (except haters) love others who take action because they’re a true manifestation of living the dream. Just by getting the results, it means the confident people chased their dream, and they’re making it. They are making it work – and it shows us that we, too could have our dream.

It’s a hope for a better tomorrow. Hope for a higher plane of happiness.


The Importance of Mentors and Your Chance of Business Success

By Business Philosophy, Entrepreneur Insights, Leadership No Comments - Successful People Seek Mentors

I’d love to say that my best ideas were formed inside of my head, but truthfully, the biggest breakthrough’s I’ve had are because I was able to take the raw thought material in my head and receive insights from other smart people.

If you’re smart, that’s a good start. But someone not as bright can play at a much higher level by getting the help of others.

For me personally, mentors have played a critical role in my business. Each time I’m faced with a seemingly overwhelming set of circumstances, I lean heavy on the men and women in my life who have been there and done that. Why would I want to try to figure it out myself? No way! I’d rather learn from the experiences of others and not have to go throug the pain.

Mentors play another key role. Many times, they don’t tell you the answers to your problems. Instead, they help you ask the right questions. I’ve been so deep in a situation that I can’t see alternatives other than what I’ve been thinking about. Smart mentors help you take a step back and look at the problem form another viewpoint. And sometimes, that’s all you need for a major breakthrough.

Who are your mentors? It’s good to have them in business as well as your personal life. Mentors are people who add value to you by providing you with another way to view the world.

A great mentor never gives you the answer. They only help you ask the right questions.



The Life of a Startup

By Business Philosophy, Entrepreneur Insights, Start-Ups, Uncategorized No Comments

Here is an email I sent this morning to my team. First, I wanted to have them see that most startups go through the same struggles that we go through. Second, I wanted them to know that I have full confidence, faith, and trust in their abilities and that I see them as leaders within our company.

The email features a blog post by Mark Suster of GRP Partners called Entrepreneurshit.



I hope the week is going well.

I’m outside on a patio in Kauai doing a little reading and contemplating.

I’ll be doing that a lot this week, so you may get more emails. 🙂

Below is a link for an an article I just finished from Mark Suster on the real life of a startup. I met with Mark during our last round. Good dude.


The takeaways:

Sometimes I get frustrated and I wonder if we’re the only company struggling to find market fit. Are we the only ones that got off track? Does anyone else have issues with hitting metrics? Why in Gods name can’t we get a teacher application that works better? How do I get the entire company to move faster?

The truth of the matter is that these things are fixable and will pass. Doing a startup is not glamorous – full of highs and lows, almost-wins, and busted quarterly plans.

However, what will see us through is that we, as a team, (a) never doubt our outcome (b) challenge each other to get better, (c) learn quickly and apply those learnings throughout the company, (d) have each other’s back (e) work towards truly creating value for the people we serve.

As you start prepping for next year, I want you to raise the bar – for yourself, your team, and each other.

Start thinking about what you want to get done next year. Design your life. Require more of yourself, and judge your own success based on how well you are helping your team succeed.

YOU are the leaders of this company; I want you to digest that – own it – let it settle in. When this company makes it, you will be the reason.

Today, ask yourself, “How do I raise my game next year?”, then take action to do it.


Things I’ve Learned Being an Entrepreneur

By Business Philosophy, Entrepreneur Insights 5 Comments

Steven Cox San Diego EntrepreneurAt TakeLessons, we’re in the process of working on a 2013 strategic plan. One thing I did this year was looked back and just wrote down some things that I’ve learned over the past few years on how to build a business. Here’s my short list.

  • As a company and personally, I’ve had a tendency to overestimate what we can get done. We also seem to be over confident in our ability to deliver revenues.
  • It is difficult to produce a sustainable competitive advantage.
  • Know what gives you the greatest chance of creating a space in the hearts and minds of those you serve.
  • As the company grows, the infrastructure of the company to support the growth has to be kept in check, lest it gets out of hand.
  • Always have faith, but never believe my own bullshit.
  • Any system we put in place when we were at 20 people broke by the time we were at 40 people. And the systems put in place at 40 broke again at 80. In other words, we should be ready to rethink our model, our systems, our people every time we double.
  • We cannot be reliant on investors. Our only safety net is that we produce enough value for a customer that we can make a profit.
  • We have a tendency to want to build everything. Normally, building it vs. buying it takes longer and is not necessarily better.
  • One great person takes the place of 3-4 mediocre people. The ratio may be even greater.
  • As we grow, it gets incrementally harder to acquire customers at an acceptable cost.  This is why creating products and services that spread virally and through word-of-mouth become critical. And the best way to have people spread your product or service is to build something that REALLY adds value to their lives.
  • There is a natural affinity we have towards doing what we’ve done in the past and not being open to risk. We need to risk and try more (seed planting). We need to build a culture of quick trial and plenty of error.
  • In order to win, it’s not enough to create ‘enough’ value. We have to ‘create incredibleness’ – so much that our users couldn’t imagine going anywhere else – so much that they talk about us and share the service with others.
  • Always be crystal clear on what is considered a ‘win’ – weather it be for a single call, a monthly goal, a strategy, or even an exit. In the words of Stephen Covey, begin with the end in mind.

Questions we asked ourselves

  • What is our definition of “Win”?
  • What gives us the highest chances to win?
  • What are our assets? What can we do better than anyone else?
  • Does the customer value what you can do better than anyone else?
  • Can we do it profitably?
  • What produces the most value for the customer we serve? Are we doing that?
  • What do we enjoy doing / not enjoy doing?