Career Q&A with Dan Jimenez, Chatbooks COO

With the new year, I’m kicking off a series of Career Q&As with successful leaders. The goal is to provide insightful lessons and practical advice you can leverage to further your career. The first one is with Dan Jimenez, who I first met in business school. There are a lot of gems in the interview. I particularly love his advice on career risk, how to think about the different decades of your life, and how he bounced back from an early career setback. Enjoy!

Dan Jimenez is the Chief Operating Officer of Chatbooks, a company that creates photo books right from your phone. Since joining Chatbooks in early 2015, Dan has helped the D2C business scale revenue 30x while growing the team to over 130 and fulfilling orders to 45 countries worldwide. Prior to his current role as COO, Dan led the raise of $25M+ of venture financing as Chatbooks’ CFO. Previously, he was an associate at Peterson Partners, a Utah-based Private Equity & Venture Capital fund, as well as a strategy consultant at Accenture. Prior to earning an MBA at the BYU Marriott School, Dan was a vehicle dynamics engineer at Ford Racing where he was part of winning two NASCAR championships and 33 race wins, including the 2012 Daytona 500. Dan is a frequent guest lecturer at universities on topics of entrepreneurship and strategy. You can find him on Twitter at @TheDanJimenez.

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1) What’s a book that has influenced your career or life, and why?

Zero to One by Peter Thiel. I happened to be reading it at the time I was faced with the decision of either sticking with going into strategy consulting after completing my MBA, or instead take a risk and join Chatbooks, a tiny Utah-based consumer tech startup. There’s a segment of the book where Peter describes in painful detail how an MBA teaches many otherwise smart and talented individuals to become risk-averse optionality-seekers — and that choosing the consulting path was the ultimate move of optimizing for career optionality that an MBA grad could make. I knew at that moment that I had to take risks early in my career if I wanted to accomplish something special. I knew that every year I waited to take that career risk, it would make it less and less likely that it would ever happen. Zero to One has been a book I’ve read and reread, as it has principles that I think apply well beyond business into life.

Was there an experience you had before age 21 that shaped who you are? What was it?

When I was 21 I worked my first internship as a mechanical engineer at a small NASCAR racing team in North Carolina. I was young, inexperienced, and very intimidated by the very smart and talented professionals around me. I didn’t grow up “wrenching” on race cars, I was an engineering and design nerd who thought race cars were cool. But I felt like the ultimate imposter, to the point I went into work each day sick to my stomach that I’d do something embarrassing. That summer taught me the importance of portraying confidence and not being afraid to ask questions when you don’t know the answers. I figured out what I could uniquely contribute to the team and focused on providing value where I could, and ignored what I didn’t know yet.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

I worked the last 18 months of my undergrad program as an engineer at an oil & gas services business. I enjoyed the job and liked the people I worked with and hoped it would be a place I could spend the first phase of my career. I assumed things were going well enough that a full-time offer after graduation was a lock. A few weeks before graduation I found out I wouldn’t be getting the offer to join full-time. I had apparently done and said some things that rubbed my boss the wrong way. I was in a state of disbelief, but with graduation a few weeks away (and now without a job) I didn’t have time to sulk. I walked out of that office with a chip on my shoulder that I’d prove to them that they were wrong about me. I’d become a kick-ass engineer and grow well beyond what that company could have ever provided for me. I know it sounds quite egotistical, but that experience has been a constant motivator for me to work hard and prove that old boss wrong 🙂

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

One of the best pieces of career advice I ever received was from a Managing Director at Accenture during my MBA internship. He said (paraphrasing) “In your 20’s get as many diverse experiences as you can. In your 30’s specialize. In your 40’s make your money. And in your 50’s start to give back and mentor others. If your focus is right in your 20s and 30s, then you’ll make all the money you need to in your 40s and after”. I liked this because it put into perspective how long careers are and that you need to approach it in phases. It’s also helped me to not worry about money so much in my 20s and 30s. Optimize for the right experiences right now, and the money will take care of itself later.

What are the bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

I think there can be too much emphasis put on “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. I got the chance to work in my “dream job”, as a vehicle dynamics engineer for a professional auto racing team. After the honeymoon period wore off, it kind of started to suck. It was a hard job, and “success” was dependant on so many variables outside of my control. The sport I used to love had become the job I was growing to dislike. Compare that to what I do now, operating a consumer tech company that helps consumers get photos off their phone and into their home. I wouldn’t say I’m naturally passionate about printing photos. But I do greatly enjoy the challenges of operating a business. The substance of the product or service at Chatbooks could (and will) change, and I’d still be just as happy because being an “operator” is at the core of what I enjoy doing. 

If you could go back in time to when you were entering the workforce and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Ask more questions. Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know.

What’s one of your proudest professional accomplishments? (while this can include an obvious accomplishment, feel free to include a more personal one)

Growing Chatbooks into a business that serves millions of happy customers, employs 130+ extremely talented professionals with a culture that makes it a joy to come into work. 

Since entering the workforce, how have you changed or transformed?

I’ve learned that the greatest value you end up providing is determined by how you interact with your teammates. Are you a “Multiplier” (to steal a term from Liz Wiseman), or are you a “Diminisher”? I believe the engineering training I got gave me a lot of diminishing tendencies (i.e. not trusting others to do the analysis, etc.) But as a leader, I’ve learned that I need to let go of the reins, and trust others to do the job I believe I would do. Once you progress in your career a bit, it’s much less about what you can individually contribute and much more about how you enable others to be successful and provide multiples of value to your company.

Who is one person, dead or alive, who you admire? Why do you admire them? 

Ok, this one may be fed by recency-bias, but Taysom Hill. Taysom had 4 season-ending injuries in college but still put in the work to make a run at the NFL draft. Despite having a super impressive combine he didn’t get drafted but made every opportunity count in his first preseason with the Packers. He still got cut, but was picked up by the Saints. He then made himself into whatever the Saints and Coach Sean Payton needed him to be. He didn’t sit back and say “No I’m only a QB and I can’t risk getting hurt”. He did whatever he could to provide value, and he’s subsequently become one of the most talked-about players in the NFL, playing virtually every position on the field. For me, Taysom is an example of the value a great “generalist” can provide, which I see all the time in startups. He’s also shown an incredible amount of grit and determination to never let his dream die after so many setbacks. 

What habit or practice helps you manage stress? (the more specific you can be, the better)

You have got to keep your whole life in balance. You have to eat right. You have to exercise. You have to talk about your worries, anxieties, fears with someone — they can’t only live in your head. Proactively manage your mental health like you would your physical health. A few things I’ve done that have helped me manage my stress are: 1) I found a stress release through playing the piano. I suck at it, but it works a part of my brain that relieves the pressure I feel elsewhere. 2) I’ve worked with my doctors to get all my hormone levels tested and corrected. We figured out what was out of balance, and after some simple treatments, I feel like a new human being. Actually, I feel like myself again. 3) Talk openly about your stresses. Find someone you can confide in, whether that’s a significant other, a mental health professional, or even your boss. I’m lucky to have a boss who cares deeply about my mental state and has made it part of our regular 1-on-1’s to check up on me. In summary, you’ve got to manage your mental and emotional stress, or it will manage you.

5 Habits That’ll Ensure You’ll End Every Day Feeling Successful

You know those days when you leave work feeling amazing, pumped that you were highly productive? On the flipside, I’m sure you have days that are just the opposite. Ones that leave you feeling frustrated, wondering whether you got anything done. What if there was a way to end every day knowing that it was successful?

Unfortunately, there’s no bulletproof formula to guarantee this, but there are certain practices you can follow that’ll help.

Here are five habits that, if practiced daily, can boost your success at work:

Click here to view the full article on The Muse.

3 Better Things to Do Instead of Obsessing Over Finding Your Passion

You’ve spent so much energy trying to “find your passion” that you’re exhausted. And while you’ve invested countless hours to discovering your dream career path—doing all the things you’re supposed to do, like setting up informational interviews, and growing your network—you feel like you’ve made little progress.

Is it possible you’re making it more challenging than it needs to be? What if it’s more about looking inward and less about going on one million coffee meetings?

I’ve seen this firsthand in my experience as a career coach. Most people I work with can’t identify their passion, and they stress over it. They devote too much time and energy into the process.

I understand: There are few things as frustrating as not knowing what you’re meant to do want to do or what’ll truly fulfill you. But the answer isn’t going to appear if you overthink it and analyze every little thing that happens in your career. And with that, here’s what I recommend:

Click here to view the full article on The Muse.

Just Lost Your Job? This Day-by-Day Timeline Will Get Help You Land a New One

You just lost your job. You may be crushed. You may be in denial. You may realize your work was toxic and be genuinely happy you never have to go back. Or, you may not fully understand how you’re feeling.

Regardless of your state of mind, it’s hard, and finding a new job can be even harder. Many people simply update their resume and apply for positions that look interesting. That’s one way to handle it, but it’s also likely to be insufficient. Plus, it’s important to give yourself time to process the loss.

I’ve been in the exact spot you’re in now. I was laid off from an investment bank at a time when finance roles were hard to come by. Through personal experience, and through my work as a career coach helping countless people find jobs, I’ve put together a comprehensive timeline of the steps to follow if you’re in this situation.

Day 1

The very first thing you should do after leaving the office…

Click here to view the full article on The Muse.

3 Realistic Things You Can Do When Your Career Isn’t Living Up to Your Expectations

When I started my career, I felt like I could accomplish anything. I hustled to land my dream internship, managed to turn that into a full-time offer, and was pumped to get started making my mark. I was confident that if I just pushed myself and put the time and effort in, everything would work out. I had high expectations for my future and was certain I’d succeed.

Less than a year later, the company I’d joined went bankrupt. My team was absorbed by its competitor, which only served to delay the inevitable: I was laid off a few months later. After a long period of unemployment (that probably felt much longer than it really was), I found another job.

Although it was a decent role at a respectable clothing company, it wasn’t what I really wanted to be doing. No matter how much I told myself I was meant to be in in the retail industry, I always felt out of place. I just wasn’t passionate about it and trying to force it only made me feel more dissatisfied. I felt like my career had derailed.

Getting my it back on track took time, and I learned several critical lessons along the way. If you feel unhappy with the path you’re on, consider the following:

Click here to view the full article on The Muse.

5 Questions That’ll Help You Pinpoint Why You’re Unhappy at Work

We’re all on an endless quest for happiness, aren’t we?

And there are certainly career benefits to pursuing this endeavor. Harvard Business Review reports that happy people are 31% more productive, have 37% higher sales, and are three times more creative than their peers.

There are countless habits and hacks that can help, including exercise, expressing gratitude, or starting a side project, but how do you know what will really make you feel happy in your career?

When I was in college, I stressed a lot about whether the career I chose would be fulfilling. I’d seen plenty of people who were miserable in their jobs, and I wanted none of that. As I sought advice from friends and family, I was frequently told I should “do something I love” or “pursue my passion.” None of that advice resonated though because I didn’t yet know what I loved, and I worried that I’d never figure it out.

My path hasn’t been a straight line, and I’ve had my fair share of setbacks, but I’ve learned a lot along the way.

By asking myself the following five questions throughout my career, I’ve been able to pinpoint causes of my discontent and determine what changes I needed to make to be happy.

Click here to view the full article on The Muse.

How to Bounce Back After You Lose Your Job

The day was January 14, 2009, but it still feels like yesterday.

Sitting at my desk, I felt a tap on my shoulder. When I turned, I was greeted by the head of my group, who asked, “Can you please swing by my office?” I knew it was over. I sheepishly followed him, like a kid being escorted to the principal’s office, my heart pounding uncontrollably.

Our conversation lasted only a minute or two. He thanked me for my work and told me that times were tough. Cuts needed to be made. He handed me the number for our HR rep and wished me the best. Moments later, I was asked to leave the building.

I’d only been an investment banking analyst for six months. Considering that I joined the company in 2008, I knew that the industry was in a weird place. For weeks there had been talks of layoffs, and I had a gut feeling that when they came, I would be included.

I wasn’t wrong.

Click here to view the full article on The Muse.

8 Career-Boosting Books That’ll Get You Ahead This Year

Despite the many benefits of reading actual books, I’ll admit that for a period I read very little, always using lack of time as an excuse. Sound familiar?

But three years ago, I decided to make this a priority, and I’m proud to say that I’ve read at least one book a month since setting that goal. I’ve found it’s not only given me a competitive advantage in my career, but I’m also learning a lot more than ever before.

As I look to the year ahead, here are the eight books I recommend you pick up.

1. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss

Over the last few years, Tim Ferriss has interviewed over 200 people on his podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show. His goal in each episode is to analyze these world-class performers to extract the tactics and tools each of us can use to improve ourselves and our success quotient.

Ferriss’ latest, Tools of Titans, summarizes the key lessons from each of those interviews. The chapters are concise and each one focuses on the morning routines, exercise habits, favorite books, time-management tricks, and other insights from the podcast guests. Regardless of your exact pursuits, you’ll no doubt find something in here to help you get to the next level.

Click here to view the full article on The Muse.

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2016

We regularly hear about the importance of reading actual books. Despite the many benefits, for years I read very little, always making the excuse that I didn’t have time.

Three years ago, I decided to make reading a priority and I’ve read at least one book a month since. I’ve found reading to be a competitive advantage and I regularly learn new things I wouldn’t be exposed to in any other way.

I read a lot of great books in 2016. Here are my 10 favorites (in no particular order).

1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Originally published in 1984, Cialdini’s classic book is just as relevant today. Whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or an analyst fresh out of college, you’re likely trying to become more persuasive. Influence outlines the psychological tactics used by people when influencing us to say yes when we would otherwise say no. These tactics are lumped into six categories which Cialdini refers to as weapons of influence. He shares why TV laugh tracks work, how free samples are effective in increasing sales, and why censorship may actually stimulate demand. In addition to teaching how to gain more influence, this book shares how we can avoid the tricks and tactics used by others to get us to do things we normally wouldn’t.

2. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

The book vividly captures the struggles of an entrepreneur’s life in the trenches. It’s easy to look at a large, wildly successful company like Nike and presume that it was bound for success from the start, but that’s failing to look at the bigger picture. The same can be said of your career. Instead of focusing on the end result of our efforts, consider the importance of strife along the way to achieving a goal. Knight, in fact, faced plenty of obstacles and turbulent times throughout his rise as a leader of the impressive brand. Your missteps are a part of your journey, and this personal account will help you see that.

3. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Do you struggle with distraction? I certainly do. My quest for productivity and efficiency is continually offset by the hundreds of things vying for my attention. Cal Newport argues that the ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly more valuable in our economy. I recorded an audio clip where I provide a summary of Deep Work, including my favorite passages and how I’ve tried to implement the books principles.

4. Linchpin: Are You Indispensable by Seth Godin

In Linchpin, Godin argues that everyone is an artist now. By his definition, an artist is somebody who does “emotional work.” Work that you put your heart and soul into. Work that matters. Work that you gladly sacrifice all other alternatives for. And in Godin’s words, the only way to get what you’re worth is to stand out, to be seen as indispensable, and to produce interactions that organizations and people care deeply about. My favorite lesson from this book was understanding how you can change your job without actually leaving it.

5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

When I was at LinkedIn, part of my job was spent facilitating trainings to help people work more cohesively and effectively. At the beginning of each session, I shared Maya Angelou’s quote: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

After quoting Maya several times, I decided to read one of her books. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the first of her five volume autobiography. It starts with her early childhood in rural Arkansas and ends with an unwanted pregnancy that dramatically changed her life. Angelou’s stories are heartbreaking, eye-opening, and inspiring. Her life experiences brought a different perspective and changed how I see others and the world around me. Reading this book helped me to know better. I hope, as she promises, that it will help me to do better.

6. Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

previously wrote about why I love this book and books written in a similar fashion, so I’ll skip right to my favorite passages:

  • “Employees work smarter and better when they believe they have more decision making authority and when they believe their colleagues are committed to their success.”
  • “Motivation is more like a skill, akin to reading or writing, that can be learned and honed… People can get better at self-motivation if they practice the right way. The trick, researchers say, is realizing that a prerequisite to motivation is believing we have authority over our actions and surroundings.”
  • “Sometimes the best way to learn is to make information harder to absorb. This is known in psychology as disfluency. The harder we have to work to understand an idea or to process a piece of data, the stickier it becomes in our brain.” (Example: our memory is stronger when we take notes on paper instead of a laptop.)

7. Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi

I’ve never been an avid tennis fan, but I absolutely loved this biography. While many celebrity memoirs stay at a surface level or only share the part of their life they want you to see, Agassi’s bio is different. He is brutally honest with himself. He bares his soul. You get to know him at an intimate, personal level. And you find that he, like most of us, is a very complicated person. Agassi’s dad forced him to play tennis at a young age. He required Andre to hit more than 2,500 balls a day and one million balls a year. Agassi grew to despise the sport, yet he still played into his mid-thirties when he no longer needed the money. He hates tennis, as he shares repeatedly in the book, yet his identity is integrally tied to the game. I found Agassi’s vulnerability refreshing and empowering.

8. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

As an HR leader, I regularly think about how to recruit top talent. When I watched Angela Duckworth’s TED talk, I was persuaded that grit is the most important trait to hire for. Last year, Duckworth took her research on grit and published a book on the topic. In short, grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. According to Duckworth, grit is a better predictor of success than anything else. Grit wins over IQ, EQ, raw talent, good looks, physical health, and education. Gritty people view unmet goals not as a setback but as an opportunity to learn and grow. Reading this book will teach you how to develop more grit so you can do the things that are most important to you.

9. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

A fantastic biography about a man who needs no introduction. Walt demonstrated how “one could assert one’s will on the world at the very time when everything seemed to be growing beyond control and beyond comprehension.” My biggest takeaway from this book was the importance of finding people with strengths that complement your own. Walt couldn’t have built what he did without his brother Roy. Walt was the creative visionary, while Roy was the steadying hand who helped finance and operationalize Walt’s vision, a role that was vitally important to the growth of the Disney empire. Of Walt’s many accomplishments, his most impressive might be leaving behind a company that continued to innovate well beyond his passing.

10. Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Holiday convincingly argues that ego is the main thing holding us back from reaching our full potential. In our careers, ego can prevent us from developing our talents, and when we taste success, it can blind us to our own faults. Holiday shares anecdotes from the lives of historical figures who reached high levels of power and success by con­quering their own egos, as well as those who let ego conquer them. These stories drive home lessons that we all can apply. My biggest takeaway? Don’t focus on what your neighbors, your co-workers, or your classmates are doing. Focus on what you can control. Keep your own scorecard.

Last year I started publishing a monthly newsletter where I share the top career-related books and articles I’ve read. Click here to check it out.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself if You’re Questioning Your Career Path

You’re not completely sold that you’re on the right career path, but the idea of making a change is daunting. There are so many unknowns, and we all know the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Plus, if you do decide to change course, you may have to take a step back to develop necessary skills.

The time and energy required to transition into the right career path may be valid concerns, but they shouldn’t stop you from pursuing a path you love. Several years ago, I went from working in finance to being on a human resources team—unconventional to say the least. The decision wasn’t easy. I knew that I would be unsatisfied if I stayed in finance, but I wasn’t 100% sure HR would be the right fit. After hours of conversations with friends, family, and people in my network and months of introspection, I finally worked up enough courage to make the leap. I haven’t looked back.

Before you make a switch of your own, ask yourself the following three questions.

Click here to view the full article on The Muse.