It's been a year now, but I can remember last September 10th like it was yesterday.
That was the day that Apple first announced the iPhone 5S and, most importantly (in my personal opinion!), the first implementation of the Touch ID. You see, Apple had bought the company I helped found, AuthenTec, in late 2012 and the Touch ID was the result of that acquisition. As Tim Cook announced the Touch ID, my old iPhone 4S blew up with literally hundreds of texts, emails and phone calls all offering congratulations. Honestly, it was pretty cool and I was proud of what our team at AuthenTec had accomplished.
The fact is that when we founded the company, our dream our passion was that one day our products would be a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives, as we often said, making your life easier, making the things you own more secure, enhancing your privacy. For us, it was all about the end user and now Apple was making it happen in ways we never could. Yes, I was proud of our team and grateful to Apple not many entrepreneurs get to see their dreams come true. But then things got a little squirrely.
Despite probably a hundred requests for interviews from the national media before and after the announcement, I only agreed to three, all local two in the Triangle area of North Carolina (our new home) and one with the local paper in Melbourne, Florida (our home for the prior 32 years and where AuthenTec was founded).
The original three articles were fine I was happy to support the local media but then a couple of them got picked up nationally and the troubles began. Others did not always get it right, especially editors coming up with catchy audience-drawing headlines that were often inaccurate. Moreover, at various speaking engagements, where the title of my talk was usually something like "Making a Difference", the pre-event press was sometimes flat out wrong. I often found it quite embarrassing, not only because I did not deserve some of the credit being afforded me, but I felt like I was almost stealing from others, getting credit that belonged to them.
It got to the point that I would often start my speaking engagements with a slide titled, "Breaking News" with the following three bullets:
I WAS NOT THE INVENTOR
IT WAS NOT MY COMPANY
I DID NOT SELL THE COMPANY
Moreover, by the time of the acquisition, I was not even the CEO, having stepped aside for the very guy I had recruited, Larry Ciaccia, and I was by then just another member of the board. Larry did an outstanding job, not only running the company, but patiently managing the acquisition process.
Well then, if I didn't invent the product, didn't own the company and didn't sell the company, what is it that I did you might ask? OK, so lots of people have asked that question and while I like to think I did have some things to offer, my best talent by far was being able to assemble a truly excellent team. And frankly, there is no more important a job for a CEO, especially as a founder. None.
The fact is that I don't care how smart you are (or more likely, think you are) or how good the plan is that you have laid out, if you don't have a team around you a team that can execute on that idea/plan your startup will fail. Do you really think that someone like Michael Jordan could have achieved what he did without others like Scottie Pippen or Phil Jackson? Or that Jackson's best laid plans or Zen philosophies would have made a lick of difference without guys like Jordan or Kobe Bryant? The answer is no. Paraphrasing a bit from both Bill and Hillary Clinton: It takes a team, stupid!
Don't get me wrong, the CEO is an incredibly important and tough job. The CEO is the face of the company and often its chief salesperson selling the vision to potential team members, investors and customers. Yet, it is important to remember it is about the company. All too often, I come across startup founders who seem a bit more focused on building up their own brands than that of their companies.
I was very fortunate, in fact blessed, to have been part of the AuthenTec team. There were bad days (ok, really bad) and great days (and yes, really great and a lot more of them), but no matter what, we were a team all working toward the same goals. This might sound weird, but I loved the people I worked with. And please don't get me wrong work is not the most important thing in my life. That is, by far, God and family. But I do relish the startup environment, whether at AuthenTec or my latest startup K4Connect (also co-founded with a smart guy, this one being Jonathan Gould). It's just fun being part of a team, whether it is a startup or a sport.
I make a lot of sports analogies, but let me tell you at least one case where being part of a great startup team is even better than being part of a winning sports team and that is what you leave behind. Let me explain. The fact is, that when you build a great company, product or technology, it lives on long after you are no longer part of the startup, in fact possibly long after you are no longer part of this world! You can't say that about sports look at Chicago after Jordan left or Cleveland after James moved on.
Sure, their names and legacies live on, and that is pretty cool. But when you work in a startup, when you are focused on making a difference in people's lives, well there is a chance that your work will far outlive you that what you did can make a difference to others, to the world, long after you have moved on.
And that, my friends, is even cooler.
As a company, AuthenTec itself is no more, but I like to think we made a difference, that we left something behind and we did that as a team.