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For the Opportunity to Be Great, You Have to Be Lucky First

What a few months it’s been, Choose Energy sold to Red Ventures and my partners and I made our first investment into a startup. These big…

What a few months it’s been, Choose Energy sold to Red Ventures and my partners and I made our first investment into a startup. These big events have led to a lot of discussions among myself and my friends and colleagues. This led me to reflect on the biggest factors in my growth up until this point, and it was easy to conclude that I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with so many people who shared their skill sets to help me expand mine and gave me the opportunities to put those newfound skills to work.

Almost 4 years ago I was laid off from NRG Energy. While I should have been panicked, I had an amazing group of friends from SMU that came to my immediate aid. There wasn’t anyone I asked who didn’t offer to intro me to their network. Despite these enormously kind gestures, I had no idea what I wanted to do. What I did know is that I was done with energy and had a pile of student debt that needed paying off.

Enter Jerry Dyess. Job offer in hand (from a chance meeting at a wedding), I agreed to meet Jerry after being introduced to him by a colleague from NRG who had scrambled to help anyone and everyone after the layoffs. Jerry is the CEO and founder of Choose Energy and among his many skills as a leader, the guy could sell water to a fish. After 10 minutes I was hooked by his vision for the company and knew I had to be a part of Choose. It was, and still to this day, is the best career decision I’ve ever made. Jerry taught me how to be a professional, how to conduct myself in meetings, and how to do subtle things like reading body language. He also taught me the phrase “things of that nature” which I now use habitually.

After reporting to Jerry for several months, it became clear to him that I wanted a deeper connection to Silicon Valley, and to his credit, Jerry moved my role underneath John Tough. John is the ultimate mentor. He expects you to perform at a high level, he shares any and every thing he can to help you grow your skill set, and most importantly (and most like Jerry) he cares about people. John taught me everything from operational finance to strategy to fundraising. He remains my biggest mentor and there’s no doubt my future career wouldn’t be possible without his guidance.

I’m not sure what these two saw in me, but for some reason, they decided to let me build and lead what eventually became the US’ largest B2B energy marketplace. It was the learning experience of a lifetime and one I likely didn’t deserve at the time. After our new product launched, John set up a meeting with David Mount at Kleiner-Perkins who challenged me to think about our business in ways I hadn’t thought about before. It was the first time I’d been challenged to rapid-fire, board-style questioning and I was hooked. Jerry and John ensured that I was included in almost every board meeting moving forward and that exposure was invaluable.

Jerry and John weren’t the only Choose employees that helped me tremendously along the way. As a new product manager, I needed the benefit of learning from people who had been there before. Kerry W Cooper, our then CEO, set up a lunch with Bryan Byrne, the first B2B product manager at Yelp where I learned lessons about how business owners view their time and prioritize it which helped us prioritize features from day one. Afterward, Kerry and I set up a bi-weekly touch-base where I was able to discuss strategy on how to scale a company with a seasoned executive on a regular basis.

Throughout my time at Choose, I was surrounded by an incredibly talented product and engineering team. I worked closely with guys like Ethan Wais who has a capacity to learn greater than anyone I’ve ever met. Working side-by-side with him for over 2 years was as challenging as it was rewarding. Challenging here is the ultimate compliment because there was never a day that I didn’t believe I needed to learn something new just to keep up with the guy.

Over the last year, I had the privilege to work Sai Nayagar and our engineering team (Jeff, Chad, Donnie, O’Neal, Jake, Kat and Melody). Similar to the board meetings, sprint meetings opened my eyes to an entirely new aspect of our business. This team worked tirelessly, creatively and with great patience while a non-technical product manager learned the ropes. There’s nothing quite as intimidating as sitting in a room with 9 really smart people speaking in a language that might as well be foreign to you but these people made me feel right at home.

My string of good luck continues as I explore a potential new career. I’ve had complete strangers on Slack, Facebook, and Twitter introduce me to their network in order to help me get off the ground. Lastly, in perhaps the greatest stroke of luck of all, my business partner was introduced to me by the best man in my wedding. Their moms were high school friends who reconnected after a decade.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to think of luck as a flywheel that creates amazing opportunities. By being curious and willing to learn it becomes possible to capture the most from those opportunities which in turn creates more luck down the road. I’m thrilled to be moving on to a career where I can not only leverage the lessons I’ve learned and pay forward the amount of luck I’ve had, but also help others create their own.

Originally published at kevindstevens.com on July 19, 2017.