Mike Germano

Fast Company Changemaker Video on Carrot Creative Social Media Agency

Today's Fast Company online magazine profiles the Brooklyn-based social media advertising agency, Carrot Creative, and its three co-founders, including its CEO, Capture Your Flag interviewee Mike Germano.  The video, linked below, is a wonderfully produced account - part of the Shatterbox produced "Changemaker" series - of how a basement startup blossomed into a leading big city business.  In his Year 2 Capture Your Flag interview, Germano shared additional insight into what he has learned, including some challenges of going into business with friends and what qualities he finds most valuable in his business partners. 

On Making Successful Career Transitions

Each January, so many of us go into sprint planning mode to set our plan in place for what we want to accomplish in the coming year.  These New Year's resolutions often occupy our thoughts temporarily, only to be washed away and replaced by another thing to do.

Career change considerations rank high on New Year's resolution lists.  What are the best approaches to incrementally advance career transition and career change considerations and undertakings beyond the New Year's resolution window?  Transformative results, be they rebuilding natural disaster shaken societies or reshaping careers, take sustained efforts over time. 

Career change is not a January concern; rather, it is an ongoing concern.  Over the past year, several Capture Your Flag interviewees have touched upon change, specifically why they made career transitions and how this reshaped their future.  Some shifts were minor and some massive, but all mattered. 

Watch Capture Your Flag interviewees share Career Transition experiences

How do career changes develop and what happens throughout the process considering and acting upon them?  In reviewing interviewee stories, I see three common themes through the processs.  They are as follows:

- Why Leave?

- What Comes Next?

- What is Possible?

There is a lot of fear trapped in these steps.  Fear of leaving behind the known, fear facing the unknown, and, most importantly, fear of failure.  But there is also a hope.  Loads of hope.  When we think through the steps making a transition and communicate them to others clearly and passionately, something magical happens.  We find unexpected support in surprising places and expected support in larger, unanticipated quantities.  With the intent and the support we find ourselves in the Capture Your Flag sweet spot.  Cultivate those passions.  Shape that purpose.  Guide those dreams.  That is why we do what we do.  Now, let's see how our interviewees are inspiring us across the three stages: 


After performing in bands and playing guitar for nearly a decade, stand-up comedian Matt Ruby decided to not only relocate from Chicago to New York, but also to put the guitar down and give stand-up comedy a try.  Four years into performing five nights a week on the New York City circuit, Ruby looks back on leaving a stagnant place in music - one that should be more fun or more lucrative - to take a crack at making others laugh. 

Whereas Ruby left music, Teach for America educator Andy Epstein found it.  After several successful years teaching, Epstein entered the music business from the bottom, literally, to get his foot in the door.  With a college rival from Michigan State presented Epstein a temp job answering phones and making copies at Island Def Jam Records, he lept into the abyss and took a chance.  It may look like a long road when making that leap, but with support, effort, and, most importantly, time, amazing things can happen.  Epstein's temp job was indeed temporary.  His several year progression up the Island Def Jam ranks was anything but. 

The Goldman Sachs trading floor provided Phil McKenzie an unmatched finance experience after attending business school at Duke University.  Learning how to successfully operate in chaotic, unpredictable, time-sensitive environments, McKenzie fortified skills that could never be taken away.  Over time, McKenzie concluded Wall Street finance was less a long-term career than a temporary stop on his journey. Shifting his focus to philanthrophy and non-profit with Parks Hall, McKenzie proceeded to opened doors to the next life chapter.  There, McKenzie applied his Goldman Sachs' skills and relationships to accelerate his efforts shaping the FREE media mission to celebrate socially conscious tastemaking audiences across arts and culture.


The pessimist says there is a long road ahead full of uncertainty.  The optimist says there is a long road ahead ripe with opportunity.  Either way, the change has occured and now it is time to test one's mettle and, simply put, go for it.  Setting aside the past to construct the future helps identify the unknowns, challenges that over time must be addressed.  Departing Digg to co-found SimpleGeo, Joe Stump left behind the comfort of a previous team leadership role to become a business owner and learn new ways to lead.

Career transitions all involve a point A and a point B, however the timeline getting from A to B varies.  For Joe Stump, leaving Digg and founding SimpleGeo was the product of months experimenting with side projects, gathering information and advice, and committing to the entrepreneur route.  New York Magazine editor and writer Mark Graham entered media and publishing in a similar way.  While working in digital media marketing within General Motors' OnStar group, Graham began his blog and cultivated his talent writing about popular culture.  Over time he attracted interest in media professionals, including Fred Graver, who engaged Graham in development conversations.  All the while, Graham continued honing his craft, shaping his voice, and building his audience.  Planning what comes next was difficult, given blogging was stil in its infancy.  Yet, Graham continued the conversations and, over time, shaped those exchanges into viable opportunities, ultimately opening doors for his transition to VH1

Similar to both Stump and Graham, entrepreneur and MyFootpath founder J.T. Allen shaped his vision of what comes next collecting experiences as an Ernst & Young management consultant.  Upon deciding to leave the firm, Allen exposed himself to newfound opportunities unavailable in his client services role.  In short, he could own and implement the decisions he was recommending and assume responsibility for making them happen.   

After years planting trees and working in forestry across Alaska, Washington, and Oregon, Patty Green was ready for a change.  Similar to how Andy Epstein left one profession for entry-level at another, Green's foray into winemaking began with the basics, specifically picking grapes at Hillcrest.  This did not last long, as Green began applying her operations and mechanical aptitude to incremental responsibilities in the winery, cumulating in her move to winemaker.  Reflecting on the initial transition, Green, proprietor of Patricia Green Cellars, showcases how identifying what comes next opens doors to possibility. 


Career transitions and career changes are not complete upon making the move to what comes next.  Rather, the reset redefines possibility, more often than not in ways not considered previously. 

As Shaheen Wirk puts it "You probably never realized you liked Thai food until someone took you to a Thai restaurant."  Wirk's own "Thai food" moment came upon being exposed to the intersection of medicine, technology, and finance as while studying medicine at Duke University.  Role models facilitated this learning experience and Wirk, realizing career paths were anything but linear in medicine, changed his course and applied his education toward making investments and financial decisions in biotechnology, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals. 

Mike Germano has always known his career would be about building better communities.  As an elected official operating within Connecticut politics, Germano came to realize how risk profiles differ between public and private sector opportunities.  Germano decided to leave politics for an entrepreneurial career at Carrot Creative and risk financial failure in return for the much higher financial reward possibilities business provides. 

There are many approaches to transitioning and changing careers.  The constant across all - Why Leave?  What Comes Next?  What Is Possible? - is that it is a continuous process.  There is no standard finish line in career and there is no measure of success that is applicable to everyone.  You have a right to define your own goals and pursue them in ways most relevant to you.  Capture Your Flag aspires to continue sharing stories on how individuals shape their own sense of fulfillment, in this case through considering career change and transition.  Start now by writing down what you want in life and what questions remain unanswered.  Do not force yourself to answer everything in context of a New Year's Resolution.  Name your goals, put a commitment in place (day, milestone, etc) and begin your mission.  Think of it this way: There is no final draft paper to be submitted, only steadily improving drafts that get you excited about what comes next and what you need to do to get there.  Onward.  Upward. 

*** For a complete list of all "Career Transition" chapters, click HERE ***

- Erik


"On Establishing Trust" by Erik Michielsen

In assessing, naming, and aggregating roughly 100 common character shaping elements across Capture Your Flag rising leader experiences, “Establishing Trust” seems an appropriate topic to begin sharing my thoughts with you in 2010.

We are motivated and supported by those around us.  Trusting relationships offer clarity and openness that lead us to act more sincerely and receive more honest feedback when making decisions.  Clarity removes obstructions.  Without obstructions, we each can then use the tools necessary to inform, make, and follow-through on our decisions.


When I polled several friends about what matters most in establishing trust, “Follow-Through” was most frequently cited.  Is it surprising that follow-through then creates the bonds with others that lift them in their own ways, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and professionally?  Certainly our many world religions and their underlying emphasis on faith will not think so.

What role does establishing trust play across the Capture Your Flag interviewees?  Childhood is a great place to begin.

Today, Jennifer Duberstein is an attorney for Major League Soccer in New York City.  Her path into professional sports started to take shape with a childhood embrace of sports – at age five she was reading the sports page – and an ongoing interest in how sports enriches society and community.  Jennifer shares the importance of building trust through the teamwork, group preparation, project settings, and shared goals playing sports provides participants.  As a result, participants learn how to better communicate and manage relationships in different settings. 

As a teacher for Teach for America in New York City’s Bronx borough, interviewee Andy Epstein shared how his experience building trusting relationships with young children in a classroom setting facilitated a better collective learning experience.  Like Duberstein, Epstein mentions practice – repetition – in creating open sharing environments.  Listening to students, asking them questions, and engaging them daily not only proved effective teaching, it also proved personally gratifying.  


Interviewee and “Start With Why” author Simon Sinek said it well in our conversation connecting authenticity to trust when he shared, “What authenticity means is the things you say and things you do you actually believe.  We are social animals and trust comes from the feeling we have when you get a sense of somebody.”  He continues, “We are good at figuring people out.  It is what makes us successful as a species.   So when you are authentic, when you only say and do the things you actually believe, people will trust you.” 

Stand-up comedian Matt Ruby shares Simon’s approach and has learned to embrace it while developing his career as a comedian.  Several years performing stand-up five nights a week has taught Ruby the importance of being unscripted, spontaneous, and in-flow with the audience.  This openness invites interaction between the comedian and the audience, not only creating conversation and engagement but also, as a result, creating trust between the parties.  The support boosts Ruby’s willingness to explore new topics and fail if necessary.  The crowd’s trust provides Ruby the extra rope to extend himself, not hang himself. 

What about giving that extra rope to a 19-year old kid you have hired to reprogram your entire business’ website?  At age 19, Joe Stump had this opportunity not once but twice.  The first experience involved completely redesigning the website for Affordable Computers (www.acinc.com).  The second opportunity situated Stump squarely in the middle of big time Silicon Valley Internet life at Care 2 (www.care2.com).  Establishing trust in relationships often involves a comforting feeling, a shared acceptance.  It also means taking chances by supporting a Joe Stump or a Matt Ruby and seeing what they can do.  Stump undoubtedly had the education and training to program at high levels. The trust instilled upon him by company management opened the longer-term doorways for Stump to apply that aptitude as a leader.  

Establishing trusting relationships pushes us to stretch farther when setting goals.  Real estate developer Brett Goldman has spent nearly a decade at Triangle Equities in New York City learning from his boss about the marketplace.  Goldman has been entrusted with more responsibilities, become more confident in his actions, and as a result created more trusting bonds with partners and clients. 

Before a shared experience can occur, pieces must be put in place to enable a connection.  For Jennifer Duberstein, this meant joining a team.  For social media and Carrot Creative co-founder expert Mike Germano, this means joining a social network and communicating through that medium.

In our interview, Germano provides insight into how trust is not earned by simply connecting with another person, but the ability to learn more about another’s interests, connect with those commonalities, and build trusted bonds through them.  Openly providing information about oneself not only puts others at ease in that you want to participate, but also it provides the necessary pieces to make a connection. 


It is apropos that in my first note writing about what Capture Your Flag interviewees have shared about building trust, I should reference our very first interviewee, James McCormick, and our March 26th, 2009 conversation about how he, as a legal career advisor with Empire Search Partners, builds trust in his relationships.   

In addition to being honest and engaged, McCormick shares the importance of effort and time in developing trusting relationships.  A long-term focus when building connections goes a long way to enjoying and embracing the incremental steps that make for fulfilling relationships regardless of their origin. 

Understanding how interviews use and apply common themes, including "Establishing Trust" to connect passions to purpose and shape a sense of fulfillment is an ongoing goal to which Capture Your Flag aspires.  I look forward to hearing from you and continuing progress toward bringing out the best in interviewees and learning from experiences, individual and collective.

*** For a complete list of all "Establishing Trust" chapters, click HERE ***

- Erik