After several missteps with other startups, this past week, I got official word that one of my business ventures that sells sophisticated telecommunications services to other businesses, IPNETZONE COMMUNICATIONS INC., earned a position of (1) #416 on the 2011 Inc. 500 in Inc.’s annual ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in America; (2) #14 within the telecommunications industry; and (3) #34 in New York City under my leadership. Normally, I’m not one to pause and dwell upon my accomplishments but this news definitely gave me pause and greeted me with mixed emotions: happiness and pride in my team; thankfulness for the support from customers and collaboration from partners; but sadness because I’ve shifted my executive energies towards other ventures I have in the hopper, just before the announcement of this accolade.

Before hearing the news, I was actually very confident that we’d make Inc. 5000 but being in the list for Inc. 500 pleasantly surprised me – I actually did some back of the envelope calculations and anticipated being somewhere in the middle of the pack of the 5,000.

So why did I decide to step down right before, knowing that we had a good shot of being a part of such a prestigious list? One of the determinant factors wasn’t because of ramrod challenges that faced me on a daily basis or the fear of success, it was, in fact, the lack of emotional returns from leading an enterprise in mature and saturated markets. I felt as though my efforts weren’t making transformational changes in people’s lives. It was more transactional in nature – a commodity – and I wanted to create something more disruptive in the market or more meaningful for myself.

I know, this comes off as sounding a touch self-important but who doesn’t want to be a catalyst for change that improves the way people behave, interact or just plain live? If we’re talking about deploying telecommunications capabilities in third world countries or emerging markets, I know the quality of people’s lives would drastically improve – but not for the U.S. market or for the other developed countries, for that matter. Sure, we were implementing game-changing business models and leveling the playing field for private networks in the B2B (business-to-business) markets (i.e., corporate customers and other telco carriers) through our MPLS Exchange Platform (MEP), but I still felt that it wouldn’t have the transformative impact on the ultimate end-users that I was looking for. So I decided to change my professional trajectory to be more aligned with some of my personal desires and encouraged my predecessor to succeed me with a window of transition.

Stepping down wasn’t an overnight decision. It was months and months of planning, implementing and delegating until I felt the timing was right for me to pass the fiduciary baton – Inc500/5000 had very little influence in how and when I wanted to execute my succession/exit plan.

Happy

Discovering this simple emotional misfit wasn’t easy for me because I’m good at what I do and I’m doggedly tenacious – a self-proclaimed (and admitted) workaholic poring over business strategies, developing complex financial models, scrutinizing contracts, creating standards and procedures, racking marketing collateral and trying to integrate it all. When I dive, I dive deep, which isn’t always healthy, as I can easily get disconnected from the other needs (and “callings”) in my life, like the need to come up for air. Metaphorically-speaking, the professional “air” that I’ve recently decided to focus on are ventures that involve:

  • An opportunity for me to be the catalyst for transformational change in people’s everyday lives and shake the universe;
  • A means to align my personal passions and feelings of happiness with the venture’s goals and successes; and/or
  • An opportunity to tap into the horridly-neglected creative and artistic side of myself that would be unique and uniquely mine.

Besides the years of my close friends asking whether I was “happy” and always answering that I was not, I knew deep down that I needed to love “why” I do what I do. Since a large part, of our lives, is consumed with professional undertakings, I think it’s pretty damned important to continually readjust our paths to be closely integrated to our personal definitions of happiness.

Personally, I don’t regret stepping down right before the announcement. I think it’s actually encouraging because I’m not quitting a “winning game,” I’m putting a winning dog in the fight that I’ve been losing for years now – my happiness project. Being in Inc. 500 just validates that I can and should create something great for myself on a personal-level that’s aligned with my business ventures. If I’m this productive while I’m not happy, can you imagine what the results might be when I am?

For all my IPNETZONE’rs, I’m so proud of you – it was truly a team effort and I’m so honored to have served with you. Keep plugging away and let’s stay in the company of the other American business icons such as Microsoft, Oracle, Jamba Juice, Zappos, UnderArmour, Intuit, Clif Bar, Pandora, Patagonia, Timberland, and the many others that once graced the pedigree list. I’m looking forward to seeing the company in Inc. 500 again next year!