Let’s Change The Game — A You X Farewell.
As of January 4th, 2021, Teija & I have joined LEON as Head of Design and Head of Product respectively. As of today — You X Ventures will be closing its doors.
Here’s our story on how this all came to be.
Oh Captain My Captain.
Five years ago, my Father-in-Law passed away while my wife was 8 months pregnant with our 3rd child. He was too young and too full of life to leave so suddenly.
He was an entrepreneur who had to start again having left South Africa for Toronto with a young family. His law degree didn’t mean much here. He started a bunch of different businesses of all shapes and sizes until he found one that fit — just before his passing. He was one of my heroes and while I had to be strong for my wife who was crushed — I found it hard to keep it together.
At the time, I was working as a Sr. Director at a startup Design agency — helping someone else build their company from the ground up. We had lots of financial success and lots of cool artifacts to show for it — including a 4,000 sq/ft office in the heart of Toronto and our own coffee shop.
Despite the glowing appearances, the company culture was cold and dark on the inside and it became an impossible place to work.
I knew I had to leave and start again — but I didn’t know where to begin.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that the answer was really quite simple. The best way to honour Lawrence, support my family and get my life back on track was to roll up my sleeves and do what he would’ve done:
get right back at it.
The only thing left to figure out was what the hell “it” was.
The Great Zissou
I did my best to channel my inner Steve Zissou and channel my disillusionment towards something productive. Perhaps Steve’s ultimate revenge mission against a mythical Tiger Shark isn’t the perfect analogy, but I knew I’d come up with something. In my deep sea diving, I came up with a few truths & topics that I feel a strong connection too.
To capture the sentiment, I wrote the following down on paper:
People > Pixels.
This meant so many things to me all at once:
- It meant that I wanted to start a company that helped people who help people.
- It meant that I wanted to start a company that experimented with radical approaches to put their own people first.
- It meant starting a company that believes that saying “It’s not personal — It’s just business” is utter BS.
- It meant starting a company that could inspire others to do what the love.
- It meant doing things differently with people at the heart of it all because healthy, inspired and valued people can accomplish anything together.
All I’d really known until that point was a mix between agency world, special education and product development and so — I tried to make the best version of all 3 of those passions.
With that — You X Ventures was born.
LE(AN) ON ME
I’ve written a fair bit already about all the experimentation we tried to make agency culture something not just “less-toxic” — but exemplary. You can read all about our approach here, but that’s not what this post is about.
This post isn’t about how we did things, who we worked with, the projects we shipped or the money we made.
It’s about understanding your own why and knowing how to recognize it when you see it.
In October of 2020, we started working with a company out of New York & Philadelphia called LEON Health Science. We started as we do with every client, with an executive workshop where dig into OKR’s and a company’s why.
Bryan Smith and Ketan Seetha talked about how they want to build a product that helps companies accelerate and optimize their growth. What the company was doing wasn’t what caught our attention. Teija & I have worked with so many interesting companies doing all kinds of interesting and meaningful work. It was the how that really captured us. The intelligence and heart of how they planned to get there. By helping companies build the healthiest workforces in history.
LEON believes that employee health & wellness is the key to growth.
The company wants to build an industry leading product that helps us deeply understand how employee well-being impacts the goals you’re trying to achieve. They want to address burnout, falsehoods in company cultures and help quantify the intangibles that fuel successful companies.
Listening to their impassioned purpose, I started to feel a close tie to our original purpose.We’d tried to change the reality for ourselves, but LEON was doing something entirely different.
LEON is trying to change the game — for everyone.
I was completely captivated by the opportunity to dive into the product, collaborate with the team and help them reach their goals.
Teija and I got to work and started to carve out a new vision for the product together. What I didn’t realize at that moment, was that the more I worked on LEON, the more into the LEON Zone I fell. Everything else that I was working on, despite being compelling on paper, didn’t carry the same weight anymore. RFP’s that we were winning felt like misdirections. Then the feelings turned into a question?
What if we could join LEON and work on this product everyday?
Teija and I had lots of heart to hearts about You X & Unicorn Dojo over the years, and many more of them after she became a partner of the business in 2020. We talked about what drives us everyday, what we enjoyed most about You X — and what we could do without. We kept coming back to the same conclusion:
If we could join an amazing team together and have a shot at building the product and company we’d always wanted to build — it would be an opportunity too good to pass.
With a few weeks before the holidays, I scheduled a chat with Bryan, shared our feelings and discussed what it would look like for myself & Teija to come onboard to lead Product & Design respectively.
For all the complicated business booked that are written about deals and mergers and the like … this conversation was exactly what I’d come to expect from Bryan who’s personality is the best personification of what LEON stands for.
It was an open, no-bullshit, honest discussion and it triggered a flurry of activity that worked itself out over a few short days.
And Now … Back To The Future
The holidays provided a truly perfect amount of time to decompress from what’s been the longest year in human history (feels like it) and coming out of it — we’re overwhelmed with gratitude for every moment we got to spend working with inspiring founders and teams and collaborating with incredible teammates in the process.
I’m sure a time will come for a thoughtful retrospective on You X, the highs, the lows, the lessons learned, the thank you’s and and the emotional rants … but right now: all of that is 1,000 miles away in the background and we’re looking forward to focusing all of our efforts on The Future of Work with LEON — for all of YOU.