Today, November 18th is a big day for Jen & Brian. Not only does this date represent the day we officially opened our business after leaving 20-year careers in high tech, but 11/18 is also a sign of serendipity to us. If you’re not familiar with our origin story and the significance of “11/18”, you can read about it here.
Recently, we reflected on our journey together and thought it would be worth sharing with you. Not so much to admire or promote our accomplishments, but to share the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
2016 – Open for business and searching for our first client
We spent a lot of time talking about our purpose or “Why” before we started pitching our services or “What” to potential clients. Over the past seven years, we’ve OFTEN referred back to conversations we had during those early days. The lesson here is the importance of taking the time to establish a solid foundation. For us, this foundation was a combination of our business strategy, but also the partnership between Brian & Jen.
We signed our first client in December and began the engagement in January (2017). The scope included defining and operationalizing core values, despite the client not seeing the need to define core values. Instead, she wanted help to solve a hiring challenge – specifically, she kept hiring employees with fantastic resumes, but for some reason, they didn’t thrive at this particular organization. We learned the importance of selling the solution to a big problem instead of selling the product or service itself. It was also a fantastic validation of the importance of hiring based on fit-to-values for an organization.
2017 – The PEAK Values Card Deck was born
In June, Brian called Jen from the parking lot of a client who wanted to do a core values exercise for their entire staff. Brian asked, “What do you think about creating our own core values card deck?” Jen (who was driving back to Portland from Palm Springs at the time), used an improv technique known as “Yes, and…” and suggested we change the typical (playing card) format and also use pictures and images to make them aesthetically appealing and focus on the user experience. Exactly one month later, we had a final design and printed 100 decks. There were a couple of lessons from this milestone:
- Perfection is the enemy of progress. We both knew the value of quickly getting a product to market that is “good enough” (Minimally Viable Product or “MVP” in entrepreneur lingo) and then evolving it based on user feedback. Those first 100 decks are significantly different than the current version, but so is the iPhone 15 versus the first iPhone.
- Listen to your customers and keep an open mind. Our original purpose was to have a branded tool to use with clients; it was mostly about establishing a brand. We were pleasantly surprised when people kept asking if they could buy the decks for personal use. Why not?!?! Over time, we’ve incorporated your feedback and suggestions by adding new values, changing images, and revising definitions.
ASU is very proud of the fact that they’ve been ranked #1 in Innovation (over MIT and Stanford) for the past nine years. One of our early engagements was with the “Entrepreneurship & Innovation” department at ASU mentoring early-stage entrepreneurs. A year later, the same department offered us part-time positions as a part of their Venture Devils program. Having the ability to be a part of this program has allowed us to build experience in areas that we may not have been able to on our own. The lesson here is to look for either collaboration opportunities or identify organizations that are already serving the same customers that you want to serve and forge partnerships with them. We’ll revisit this lesson in 2022.
2019 – Proving that you can balance Profit, Purpose, Planet, and People as a Business
From day 1, we have always said we were for purpose and profit. In 2019, we took the time to be deliberate about this while also putting in place mechanisms for holding ourselves accountable. Heading into our third year, we had hit our stride in terms of acquiring new clients, re-signing existing clients, and growing our revenues to a level that felt sustainable long term. This gave us some breathing room to spend time to be more deliberate about doing good in the world in addition to making enough money to support ourselves. In Arizona, Brian was getting deeply involved in the local Conscious Capitalism community and even attended the National Conference. Meanwhile, Jen was introduced to Benefit Corporations for Good and took The PEAK Fleet through the certification process. Not only were we part of the first cohort, but we were the first business to be certified by BCFG which was incorporated outside of the Portland area (today there are BCFG-certified businesses in 38 states and counting). The key lesson is businesses can be a force for good, and that there is a way to back it up with data.
2020 – The Pandemic Teaches us all about the importance of Resilience and Adaptability
The pandemic taught all of us lessons in resilience and adaptability. Since launching our PEAK Values® card decks, we received many suggestions that we should turn the exercise into an app (something we politely declined each time). Since our business was nearly 100% in-person, we had to deliver our services in new ways, including our PEAK Values® exericse. We experimented with several different options and by the fall, we launched an online version of our exercise. In addition to being reminded about the importance of Resilience and Adaptability, we learned a lesson about being open to help from others. Even if you are strong and determined, pulling yourself “up by the bootstraps” isn’t the only way to navigate a crisis. Initially, we weren’t sure about accepting government support. In the end, it allowed us to not only remain in business but to make investments that have made us stronger post-pandemic.
2021 – The Path to Unity is Paved in Values
We’ve long believed that having clarity of values can help us navigate through ambiguity, adversity, and uncertainty. In 2020, we produced a series of short videos designed to help people process and understand what they were feeling during the pandemic shutdown. After the January 6th insurrection, we offered our help (for free) again. This time, our idea was to gather up folks at the US Capital (from both sides of the aisle), sit them down, and take them through our PEAK Values® exercise. You can read more about this ‘moonshot’ idea of ours here. This lesson was a reminder about the importance of having a clear “Why” or purpose. Yes, we started this company as a way to employ ourselves after significant mid-career changes, but we also founded The PEAK Fleet to make a difference in the world. By this point, we had plenty of examples and evidence of how our values exercises had positively impacted organizations as well as individuals on a personal level. The offer still stands, so if you know a politician or government official who would like to run her or his team through our exercise, please send them our way!
2022 – “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
Brian and Jen celebrated their fifth anniversary with a strategic retreat on the central California coast in January 2022. During this time together, we reflected on past engagements to determine how and where we wanted to focus moving forward. Instead of the urge to say “yes” to every single business opportunity, we had finally developed enough confidence to realize that it was not only OK to turn away new business that didn’t align with our purpose and values, but it also created more space to say “yes” those that did. The next two years ended up being our most profitable, but also the most enjoyable. One big highlight in 2020 was the launch of the Business Pathaways to Opportunity and Development (POD) with the Greater Vancouver (WA) Chamber of Commerce. Similar to being able to work through ASU to help early-stage entrepreneurs in 2018, we once again were reminded about the ability to reach well-deserving people (in this case, small businesses in Clark County) by partnering with other organizations.
2023 – Put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.
One of the goals we discussed at our strategic retreat in early 2022 was achieving more balance in our lives. “Work / Life Balance” is hard enough when you’re a W2 employee, but it can feel nearly impossible as an entrepreneur. Balance was an intention in 2022, but became a practice for us in 2023. We’ve been very intentional about prioritizing investments in various aspects of our health and wellness over growing our clients and revenue. At this point, we fully expect to be doing this for another seven years. Therefore, we are not only making sure we pace ourselves appropriately but also ensuring that we’re taking the time to experience joy and happiness regularly. Instead of allowing thoughts of selfishness to creep into our heads, we remind ourselves that we’ll be in a better position to help our clients if we take care of ourselves first.
2024 – Are you ready for the universe to share a lesson with you?
We are currently in the season of gratitude, but it’ll be 2024 before we know it. Instead of making (and then breaking) resolutions, we suggest that you revisit your values. Then, instead of creating arbitrary goals for yourself, we suggest that you focus on being very intentional about prioritizing the things that are most important to you. At the very minimum, we suggest that you focus on being Persistent, Empathetic, Authentic, and Kind. We’d also love to hear about the lessons that the new year brings to you!