May 15, 2021 • 8M

New Job, Old Memories

My company's acquisition, work gratitude, and OutKast

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Kevin Huynh
Relatable words on creating, optimizing, and being a person. Essays read out loud by creator, author, and engineering lizard brain Kevin Huynh. Subscribe and read along on Substack.
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I got to announce this week that People & Company, the strategy company I co-founded, was acquired by Substack. You can read about it on Substack’s blog and in People & Company’s announcement. 📣 🎉 😌

I've been reflecting on the last four and a half years.

The moment that sticks out was a sweltering afternoon in Manhattan Beach during the first year of our biz.

In Bailey's living room, the two of us huddled together over her iPhone for a conference call. We took turns nervously asking questions and fielding replies while on speakerphone with a prospective big name client. Then we hung up, sullen. We were sure we bombed it.

As we attempted to distract ourselves with the freezer aisle at a local grocery store, another email dropped in our inbox. It was a “no” from the one other promising lead for a new project.

We warmly refer to this period in People & Company history as “the dark night of the soul.”

Life of a Project, Maureen Mchugh via Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist

Impostor syndrome shined loud and proud. Entrepreneurial spirits were at an all time low. We even tried lifting our spirits that day from the downward spiral with a game of Pickleball. It didn’t work.

Calm would wait to come during a call with Kai later that day. He reminded us, “Don’t let the highs get too high. Don’t let the lows get too low.”

We weren’t players cut from a roster. We were doing the work.

That time our car broke down while on a client visit. We rode in a tow truck from Costa Mesa to LA.

Building People & Company cemented my gratitude for chances to do interesting work.

I’ve had the privilege to do work I find stimulating for a lot of my career.

My parents didn’t have the same choices I do. As they set roots in the US during the ‘70s, they optimized for security and good jobs. My dad filled potholes in the Texas heat and stacked pallets of soda at an A&W warehouse before starting his career in electrical engineering. My family built a foundation that afforded me a chance to craft a career.

I had it different—the resources to pick and choose, to follow my gut, to pursue opportunities with less guaranteed. Even those "darks nights of the soul" at People & Company, though harrowing, they felt purposeful, unexpected, and fun.

My old living room, where we named the company People & Company.

When I chose to start P&C, I believed that the most important quality in a cofounder was a complementary skill set.

But my perspective has shifted. Cofounders also require a willingness and ability to spend unearthly amounts of time together. I think if you find that, it's a competitive advantage. 🪐

People & Company’s run as a community strategy firm was like a planetary alignment of partners with complimentary interests, personalities and time. We knew this chapter of our partnership was temporary. Reminding myself of that rare confluence every day spiked my gratitude.

While running the biz, I'd tell myself: any day, one of us could be offered the opportunity of a lifetime. Any day, one of us could wake up with the desire to chase a new interest. Any day, one of us could end up in the hospital (all three cofounders did at various times).

Embracing the temporary meant that each day was a gift—one more day to push the current chapter forward, together.

Posing for a candid team photo in Singapore when I had food poisoning.

Together, we decided to turn a new chapter

My team and I have already onboarded with our new team. At Substack, Bailey is now the Head of Community. With Katie as a Community Manager they’re figuring out how to accelerate and celebrate all of the writers on Substack. I’m the new Head of Services scaling up programs like legal support, insurance, design, and editing for writers. And Kai is an advisor to our teams. We’re moving in new ways. We’re strategizing towards new goals. We’re operating in a new context.

Moving on from our old setting has come with grief—like saying goodbye to a house that has served you well, even if you know your life requires a different space. Yet on the whole, the change feels refreshing. We are plants potted in new soil. 🪴

I described my new gig optimism to some friends yesterday, referencing the story of OutKast’s dual album: Speakerboxxx and The Love Below.

Here’s a mishmash of quotes from Mr. Wavvy for okayplayer:

Just when everyone seemed to have OutKast figured out, the two artists threw fans for a loop once again. The plan: For their fifth LP, both members would deliver solo albums, each highlighting the best of their individuality…

OutKast created one of the most defining albums of the 2000s by staying true to themselves. The idea for two solo albums allowed Big Boi and André 3000 to explore their inner depths like never before…

On Speakerboxxx, Big Boi does a remarkable job at staying grounded in his southern roots while opening the doors for the next generation... The Love Below shows the payoffs experimentality may have to offer. Its venture into 3 Stacks’ sensitive side continues to inspire artists left and right...

A few years into our small biz, Kai, Bailey, and I codified the purpose of People & Company: an evolving partnership that enables us each to bring value to the world through our work and play.

Our partnership has evolved, consistent with its purpose. Our personal growth paths required new pathways. New white space to experiment. New challenges to chew on.

I am grateful for the chance to record alongside and witness one another in a new environment.

Want to work with me at Substack? 😬

I’m hiring a Partner Manager for Design Services. Help me build a diverse roster of independent designers and other creatives.

Bailey is hiring a Community Storytelling Lead, and there are many more opportunities at Substack.

Music: Glue by Mikos Da Gawd

Kevin here! I write about creating, optimizing, and being a person. Subscribe below to join a few hundred folks and get notified whenever I publish new words.