Just Like Starting Over

I stole the title from John Lennon, but this post is inspired by a different John; John Zimmer.

Earlier week, I listened to the “How I Built This” podcast, which is produced by NPR. Each episode features a guest who has built a company from scratch, and discusses their successes and challenges along the way.

This week’s episode features John Zimmer, one of the founders of Lyft. While I have been more of an Uber user, I decided that Monday morning was a good time to learn something. The more I listened, the more engaged I became.

Zimmer was working for Lehman Brothers in 2008 when he left to build his first company, ZimRide, with co-founder, Logan Green. He met Green through a mutual connection on Facebook and they started ZimRide while living on opposite coasts. That company was a web-based ride-sharing platform that they sold to colleges and universities on a subscription basis.

One of my great friends worked at Lehman at the same time, so I asked if he knew Zimmer. His comment was, “He stood up on a Tuesday, in a bull market, and quit, while the rest of us snickered. We all thought, 'what an idiot. Who quits Lehman Brothers to start a company?'”

For those keeping score at home, Lehman Brothers filed Chapter 11 on September 15, 2008.

ZimRide was a successful company, but the turning point in the story was in 2012 when Zimmer asked himself, his partner, and his team the following question:

If we were building it from scratch today, what would it look like?

They determined that their web-based platform was not ideal. Mobile was going to be the key moving forward. Their team built Lyft in a matter of weeks and they sold ZimRide to Enterprise to focus 100% of their time and energy on their new company.

Zimmer started over when he left a great job at a great company, started over again when they pivoted from ZimRide to Lyft, and he’s not done yet. That said, Lyft now has a $5 billion valuation so I think he’s made some smart moves.

This doesn’t only work in business. Earlier this week, I reached out to someone I worked with at the beginning of my career. We’ve had a rocky relationship through the years, but anything that caused that rockiness happened over 15 years ago. I simply picked up the phone, thanked him for helping me at the beginning of my career, and told him that if I can repay him in any way, to please let me know. The call lasted less than five minutes. I started over.

All that’s left is what’s in front of us. You can’t change anything that’s happened. If you don’t like where you are, move on. If you want to start a company, start it. Don’t talk about it. Just do it. The good news about starting over is that you have unlimited opportunities to do so, until you don’t. Every day is a new day and another opportunity to reinvent yourself.

If you were starting from scratch, what would you do?