Taking time to reflect – audio diary

Much has happened since I last wrote on this blog. At the time of my last post, I was very worried about what 2014 would become. I knew that I was about to be laid off and have to find a new job again, I just couldn’t publicly announce that yet. Hence the foreboding imagery in the post and the “uncertainty” that I referenced.

Since January 2014 I have done so much, some of which I can talk about and other things I can’t talk about. It’s why I haven’t written much publicly since last year. But now I’m at a place where I want to start writing and creating more content. I experimented a lot with this last year on Twitch (which I still want to get back into), and I’ve had some good success with my blog posts on Medium.

So, as a way to help capture some of my thoughts and to get me started, I’ve recorded this “audio diary” podcast and put it up on SoundCloud. I hope you like it. Let me know what you think, I hope I do more in the future :)

2013 — The year of Uncertainty

MediumPost

(I originally published this on my Medium blog, found here @samhouston)

If I had to create a word cloud for what my experience of 2013 was, it would include “fear”, “challenge”, “uncertainty” and “perseverance”. This year has been one of the most challenging that I’ve experienced, with a turbulent tenure at a startup that ended with a layoff, several months of unemployment, and then ending the year with joining a company as the fourth employee. Throughout this year I’ve been uncertain that things would go well, been afraid that I would fail, but somehow was able to persevere through the challenges.

After I was laid off, it took me awhile to get over the pain and self-doubt that came with being laid off. Despite being told that I was laid off due to reasons that weren’t performance related (just staffing/re-org related), I still felt like I had failed somehow.

I was laid off after being at Couchsurfing for only 9 months, which meant I had a tough story to tell potential employers. Several people that I interviewed with told me that it was hard to understand what I accomplished at Couchsurfing, since times were so hectic at the company and within the community. This assessment was very difficult to hear, and fairly de-motivating for awhile. I started to get fairly frustrated with my job search, since my options weren’t very satisfactory to me.

But it was out of this frustration that I was forced to be creative and come up with new solutions. I decided to run some Facebook ads to promote my Linkedin profile, and after only a couple of days I got lucky and met a guy for an interview.

The latest part of my journey has brought me to a pre-seed investment company as their first employee. This kind of startup is virtually the definition of ‘uncertainty’. At this stage we’re still figuring out what our product is and what it should be, who our customers are, and hoping that we’ll be able to make it all work. There are a lot of ups and downs with a startup, but we have to persevere and work hard to make things happen.

I’ve never been at a company this early in its life. By the time I’ve been hired, usually a company has figured out the things that have worked and you’re building off of those with the help of significant amounts of money that were raised. But this experience is a new type of challenge, where we’re working together to create something that fits with our vision of the world and where it’s headed. While I’ve found the inherit uncertainty of a tiny startup to be quite stressful and scary at times, it has also been very creatively and personally rewarding. At this point, we can attribute every download of the app to our actions, every press mention to something that we did, and the future of the company is sculpted every day by the four of us.

I don’t know what 2014 will bring and in some ways I’m scared, since 2013 was a very tough year for me personally. There were many times I’ve wanted to give up and wished that things were easier for me. I’ve written this post to remind me that despite how bad things can get, or how crazy and uncertain the future may look, things will work out and I’ll somehow find a way to persevere.

I’d like to thank my family, my girlfriend, and my friends for being so supportive this year. Maybe they didn’t always understand my want to take risks or thought ideas were crazy, but they still supported me anyway.

I hope everyone has a great 2014, thank you for reading this article and for ending 2013 with me.

Caught between a Qualitative and a Quantitative place

The evolution of Community Management as I’ve seen it in recent years.

After being laid off from Couchsurfing this past July, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my career, while I’ve also spent a lot of time interviewing with companies. This is the longest period of time that I’ve ever been looking for a job, which has been a source of both introspection and lead to some observations about the changing landscape of Community Management as a career and occupation. I’ve written this blog post to help describe some of the challenges that I’m currently facing and what I’m seeing with the current crop of Community Manager positions that are open these days.

To reference the title of this blog post, I think I’m caught between the transition from community being largely focused on qualitative data, and now to a place where quantitative data is more and more important. Many employers are looking for data and success metrics that prove an applicant’s success in past roles, which can sometimes be hard to provide. On the flip-side, some companies don’t focus on or ask for these metrics and they are looking for other qualities in an applicant.

Though the growth of the job market has increased opportunities for a community professional, it hasn’t brought much clarity or consistency to the role, leading to a number of different challenges to those in the market. More specifically, I’ve noticed a few different specifications that Community Managers can get into, while the line between community and marketing continues to blur.

Build Relationships with Users

For a long time, much of the focus of community was to build relationships between a brand and its users, as well as connecting users to eachother. It’s often the goal of a community team to build brand advocates, increase positive sentiment, create community connections, and gather and process product feedback from users.

Most of my career has been spent doing exactly this, where I’ve spent countless hours talking to users, running user meetups, getting product feedback, and making sure that development teams are aware of what users want and need in the product. Many small companies focus on this process because they are trying to build a product pre-traction, or they’re trying to figure out how to evolve and grow. You may see big companies have their community manager focus on these tasks too, since they probably have other employees that focus on audience growth and user acquisition.

For the most part, I think community is still largely about building relationships with users, but I’m seeing more and more that companies are putting emphasis on marketing related activities. My most recent example of this split is my time at Couchsurfing, where I was 100% focused on helping support the product development teams and our VIP user programs, while we had someone else that handled all of our Twitter/Facebook/blog stuff. While this was good for me because it allowed me to focus more, I think the break from social media may have caused me some harm in terms of keeping up with the latest social strategies and techniques.

Social Media Specialists

During the same time that Community Management has changed, so too has social media management. Social media is no longer just an aspect of community, it has grown into a fulltime focused position that requires vertical/platform specific strategies and content generation experience. Each platform has its own weird ins and outs, with different communities requiring a different approach and unique platform uses.

It’s no longer good enough to just be on social media, it’s important to make sure you’re creating the right content in the right places. It’s also important to make sure that you’re measuring all of this activity and how it affects outlet growth, as data can indicate what tactics are working and how you need to adjust your strategy. The evolution of social media management is where I’ve seen marketing have the most impact on community.


Other observations:

  1. Writing and content creation is increasingly important for some roles. Creating content rapidly and using it as a means to drive traffic and user acquisition is often rolled into Community Management.
  2. Specialized CM’s for subject matter communities. The need for a community manager to be an expert in, or very familiar with a subject matter has become very important to employers.
  3. Make sure you’re documenting all the success you’ve had in your current role, especially metrics and data. I’ve sometimes made the mistake of not taking notes of various numbers, percentage increases, etc. that were the result of my work.

The need for people-people

Through all of this change, it’s still very important that a community professional is a “people person”. It takes a lot to be able to work with a community of users that just went through a bad product launch, or address a community that has received a buggy marketing promotion. In past jobs I’ve been described internally as the “meat shield” and I’ve had to join the frontlines of the community to help address a prickly situation. Since the community manager is often the most public touch-point for users, it’s very important that the CM is good with people, especially when the company is in a tough position.

A community manager is someone who has to wear many different hats and work with most departments across an organization. I’ve found that most CM’s enjoy this variety, but I think it has lead the “Community Manager” title to become a catch-all term for anything that doesn’t fit into product or marketing. We’ve also seen the requirements for a successful community manager continue to expand and evolve, which can make it tricky when you’re transitioning between roles.

As I look for a new role, I’m keeping all of the above in mind, in hopes that I can find the right role for me while also making sure that I pick up the skills needed for a more successful future.


What do you think? Let me know by shooting me an email at Sam@SamHouston.me, on twitter @SamHouston, or by leaving a comment. You can find me on Linkedin if you would like to learn more about me — let’s connect! Thanks for reading!

My time is up at Couchsurfing

I recently published a blog post on Medium.com about my change in employment, specifically that I had been laid off by Couchsurfing. You can read the full article here.

In the interest of being straight and to the point: I was laid off from my position of Community Manager at Couchsurfing last Tuesday and I’m now looking for a new full-time job. The news has left me with sadness, as well as a lot to reflect on and think about as I begin the hunt for a new job, and a new company.

I’m currently looking for Community Management or Social Media Manager roles in San Francisco or Seattle. I prefer to work with smaller teams and have the ability to influence both strategy and the execution of community/social media. If you have any leads or would like to chat, please contact me on Linkedin.

Give yourself another chance and trust the goodness in others

Yesterday I decided to check my email while I was walking to work and there was an email with subject line that asked a great question, a question that I feel I need to contribute an answer to. “Do we need to talk about suicide?”, read an email/article that was published by Jason Calacanis, a tech entrepreneur and former journalist. Jason’s article focused on the pressures that company founders and entrepreneurs face, and how that pressure may lead to unfortunate outcomes. Jason’s question is a great question, it’s one that needs to be opened up to a much broader audience, rather than the relatively narrow niche of startup founders.

Over the past few weeks, the tech news sites have had a flurry articles about two prominent technologists that have committed suicide. Due to the nature of the small tech world that I live in, I happen to be friends-of-friends with both Jody Sherman (who passed away this week) and Aaron Swartz. Jason’s article also mentions a third person, Illya Zhitomirskiy, a guy who lived a few blocks from me and whom I had met at a party that a mutual friend invited me to. These three people are not just people I read about on the news and then forgot about, they’re people that have made very personal connections to friends that I care about. The articles about these suicides not only acted as a harsh reminder of suicide and its impact on my life, but also of the pain that it has now inflicted on my friends.

Working in technology is a highly competitive field, particularly startups and small companies that work hard everyday to make sure they exist and are relevant in the coming weeks and months ahead. Small companies don’t have the luxury of thinking in years or six-month plans, because there’s no guarantee that the funds required for such optimism will be available when you need it. This sort of pressure and reality results in many things that I love about startups, like not wasting time or working with people that are passionate about building amazing things today (not tomorrow, or next week), but it also results in a huge amount of pressure that is imposed on an individual, both externally and internally.

For some reason our culture revels in the failure of others. Sites like TMZ are basically Human Failblogs, and our tech news sites spend too much time speculating on and diving into the latest failure of CompanyX and the founders/CEO. The humiliation that inevitably comes with failure or mistakes is only compounded by the fact the everyone seems to be endlessly entertained by everyone else’s bullshit. Our culture needs to not just recognize the amazing wins and achievements of others, or laughing at the shortcomings of others, but it also needs to embrace the learning opportunities that come with mistakes and failures.

Failing gracefully is a skill that I hope to learn someday, as I absolutely hate failing at something. Failure in startups can lead you to the end of a company’s journey, a scene that features a Human Resources person handing out documents that you sign when you’re sitting in a room with all of your (now unemployed) friends, and the realization that the company and your hard work won’t exist tomorrow. The threat of failure is scary and intimidating, but it’s not the end, it just marks the start of your transition to the next chapter in your journey.

As cliche as it sounds, your life is a journey and a story. The lows that you experience help you appreciate and celebrate the highs in your jouney, and they also can prepare you and enable you to help others when they are experiencing their lows. Personally, I’m really good at convincing myself that my struggles and fears are unique to me, and that I’m just crazy and fucked up. My countermeasure to my negative thinking is to talk to others about how I’m feeling, the struggles or hardships that I’m encountering, so that I can get feedback and potentially have my feelings and concerns validated by others. I’ve found that it’s more than likely that my concerns and fears are valid, or if they aren’t, the person can help give me more perspective and change my thinking.

I’d like to encourage everyone to reach out to their friends and family when they’re feeling overwhelmed, as it will oftentimes help give you perspective and peace of mind. I know that this process can be scary to most people, since it involves making oneself vulnerable, exposing possible flaws and weaknesses to others. I’ve come to the personal decision that I accept the risks that are inherent to emotional vulnerability, because I feel that the risks involved with not opening up to others are risks that are just too high. The opportunities for growth, learning, and connection with others are much more attractive to me, and they help combat my fear of having my feelings hurt by someone.

Simply put: If someone isn’t able to help you when you need it, or able to listen to you when you need to talk, you probably can’t have that level of relationship with them(yet). But there are many others in your life, and even strangers, that will happily take you up on the opportunity to help you in your time of need. To trust someone in this way is taking a leap of faith, but that leap of faith will pay off.

I encourage everyone to open up and to try to help themselves and help others when they need it. Our conversations and experiences with others help us learn about ourselves, the world, and the goodness in people. Listen to others, share your stories, and I bet you will experience a greater connection to the world around you, and at the very least you can usually get a good hug out of it.

To end this blog post, I think I should include the story that I told that helped me connect with others in a new way, a process and experience that changed my perspective and helped me greatly. Here is my story about my father’s suicide, a story that I posted on Quora:

Read Quote of Sam Houston’s answer to Suicide: What does it feel like to have a parent commit suicide? on Quora


Saying goodbye to an adventurous 2012

Closing the chapter on one of the most formative years in my life is a curious feeling. I’m nervous and excited for 2013 and what it will bring to me, and I’m thankful for what I learned and what I became in the year that has now passed. While there were some trying times in 2012, I think I’m in a much better place now.

When I went home to Ohio for the Christmas of 2011, I had a hard time grappling with the fact that my hometown no longer felt like “home”. I went to bars and met people that I’ve known for years, but there was a part of me that couldn’t fully relate to them, and I’m sure they couldn’t fully relate to me. At this point in my life, San Francisco is home for me and it is where I feel the most comfortable and relaxed. Today I returned from my week long trip to Ohio for Xmas 2012, and this year I was much more comfortable and OK with being home, as I now had a much better mindset from which to approach things. My time with my friends and family was much better this year, as I no longer was distracted by the overwhelming feelings of being in a place that once felt like “home”, a place that may now feel a bit strange.

I often refer to this year as the year that I had my quarter-life crisis. Since my birthday is on January 2nd, the year and my age are very closely intertwined. As a 24 year old this year, I had to learn to be comfortable and confident in my own skin and in my personality, and I had to become comfortable in my career. I wrote about this over the summer, where I talked about my career/job change at BandPage, and when I described “being real” and authentic. This year I fully embraced my independence, which meant defining myself independently of anyone else, any job, and any career path that I’m in. I learned a great deal about myself, I went after some goals, not the least of which was exercising more and taking up cycling, which resulted in a loss of over 30lbs in the past 6 months. As I took on and conquered new challenges, this year has been freeing and greatly rewarding for me, for which I’m also very thankful.

Golden Gate Bridge bike ride

My bike after a very foggy ride over the Golden Gate Bridge

In November I quit my contract at EA/Origin and decided to take a new job at Couchsurfing as their Community Manager. Relatively quickly after joining Origin, I realized that I’m not as comfortable working at big companies as I am at small startups. There are a lot of things you can and can’t do at big companies, there are lot of things you can and can’t say. Things are usually more defined for you at larger companies, and there are usually many more people involved and many more moving parts involved in pushing forward projects. Working at EA was a culture shock, after coming from the small startup, “just get shit done” environment at BandPage.

I started my new role at Couchsurfing on November 20th and it was like a breath of fresh air. Couchsurfing has a massive, deeply passionate and engaged community of well over five million members that have been couchsurfing for years. It’s worth mentioning that “Couchsurfing” has many different meanings in different contexts. Couchsurfing can mean the company that I work at, it can mean the actual act of Couchsurfing, and it can mean the website or mobile applications that the company develops. I feel very fortunate to be trusted by the company to help shepherd a community that is so passionate and emotionally invested, and the role has presented a lot of fun and interesting challenges.

Couchsurfing (the company) has a very flat organizational structure, one where open communication and suggestions are always welcome. Our CEO, Tony, deeply believes in working with the community and strongly influencing product development and iteration based on community feedback. I’ve never had an opportunity like this, to empower a community to have great impact on the products that it uses, and this is an extremely exciting opportunity for me. I’m very thankful that I took my friend (and now co-worker) up on her offer to get a beer and learn more about Couchsurfing, since it ultimately led me to interview for a job that I’m confident will be great for me personally and for Couchsurfing (in all contexts).

This year will be one of great importance to me, a year which was packed full of memories of great highs and some occasional lows. I turn 25 in roughly 36 hours and tonight I’ll be saying goodbye to an adventurous 2012. I hope 2013 will be as good to me as 2012 has been. Happy New Year’s – let’s make 2013 a year to remember and celebrate.

 

First day back

Today (7/23/2012) was my first day back at EA, otherwise known as Electronic Arts. It also marks my first day back in the video game industry, after a nine month fling in the ever alluring music industry. I’m now a Community Manager for Origin, EA’s one year old digital store and PC Game download client. I’m working alongside J “OneLetter” Goldberg, who previously worked for Volition as the Community Manager for games like Red Faction: Guerrilla and Saints Row: The Third.

Being back in video games, and being back at EA (for the 3rd time)…it honestly all feels quite surreal. The closest analogy I can come up with is your first day back at school, after a long summer break.

As I waited for the shuttle down to EA’s main campus (EA Redwood Shores), I ran into several people that I knew and used to work with. As I walked around the campus and waited for my orientation, I saw several people that I knew and they welcomed me back to EA. It was all a reminder that I used to work for EA..I used to work in video games..and I know some people!

And then came the meetings, meetings with a bunch of new people, and the hazy feeling I had for about half of the day. That feeling that you get when you show up for your first class, or when you sit down at your desk after a long vacation from work. I had a hard time shifting gears, changing my mindset from what works for musicians to what could work for an international public company with over 9,000 employees. I had a tough time remembering community management tactics and strategies for the game industry, as well as remembering what I like to do in this space and what I’m really good at. I knew that I was good and that I had fun with all of these things…but I couldn’t put anything into words just yet.

But luckily it started to come back to me. I started to remember how things worked, remembered all of the great people that I’ve worked with and met in video games, and I started to get genuinely excited about what could be done and what we should do at Origin. That’s not to say that I wasn’t excited before, but now it felt a bit different.

Up until that point, it was hard for me to understand what had happened in the past month. It was only just over a week ago that I was working at a 40 person startup in downtown San Francisco, but now I’m working on the 5th floor of one building that is a part of a campus of four buildings with thousands of employees.

When I left video games last year I was a bit jaded about the whole industry. I was frustrated with where it was going, with some of the latest trends, and with where my career was headed. But now I’m excited again, excited to work with J and the other Community Managers and marketing and public relations folks across EA, to work with the EA.com and Origin teams, and to help shape the future of EA’s relationship with gamers.

The team wants to make an impact and do something a bit different. It’s not going to be easy, but I think we can do it.

Thanks to everyone that reached out to me over the past few weeks and gave me support and words of encouragement, and recently all of the words of congratulations. I’m very fortunate to have a lot of very supportive and friendly people (friends!) in my life.

I’m still going to do some music stuff for fun and outside of work, and I hope to continue to explore my writing on this blog and perhaps other blogs.

Thanks for coming along for the journey! :)

Being Real and overcoming the Attention Economy

Last week I interviewed for a job and I met with several people. I tried to describe to each of them a problem that I see everyone facing in the very near future. The problem I see is this: We’ve got too much stuff to read/listen to/watch and a limited time to do it all. This problem particularly affects people like me, because my job is essentially to come up with stuff that is interesting to people and to engage them on a variety of different social platforms. If no one gives a shit about what I’m saying or where I’m saying it, I’m just wasting time and money.

This past December I was grappling with a number of different concepts, with the main concept being “Realness”, as in “being real” or authentic to others. I decided that I wanted to “be real” with everyone around me and I only wanted to interact with people that were being real with me, since I feel that this is the way to get the most value out of life. If we all drop our acts and speak honestly with each other, I think we can connect with each other in a more meaningful way and get what we want from life.

And I think that’s what everyone is looking for, and that need will only increase over time. The fact is, so much of our world is Bullshit right now. We’ve got politicians constantly changing positions and distorting facts, companies totally destroying nations, environments and economies, and a growing amount of mistrust in the people and organizations around us. It’s quite sad, and I think the public cynicism and apathy that will come out of these trends could force us to change how we live our lives and do business with one another.

We’re also running into a problem where everyone is becoming increasingly addicted to the Internet (read that article, it’s well worth it!). You can’t have dinner or drinks with someone without constantly checking Facebook, your email, or Twitter for the latest information. We’re disengaging with the world right in front of us to keep connected to the world around us, but I think we’re missing the bigger picture and losing out on the great experiences of every day life. Our ever increasing thirst for more information and content has warped our attention spans and our ability to prioritize what’s really important, since everything seems important and deserving of immediate attention.

Meanwhile every company and product is trying to get your attention with new advertising and new ways to access even more information, but we just don’t have enough time to give. And if it’s all a bunch of bullshit anyways, who cares?

Some people call this problem the “Attention Economy“, where we only have a finite amount of time that we can devote to the content and information around us.

My hope is that there will be shift in the way we communicate with one another and a change in what people find important in their daily lives. We’ll need to reduce the amount of noise in our life, focus on the few channels/people/etc that we consume and communicate with on a daily basis, and a big factor in this decision making process will be the way that we’re communicated with. We need to be communicated with in a way that makes sense to us, with information or content that adds to our lives in a positive way or connects with us on an emotional or intellectual level. There will still be room for mindless entertainment and fun escapes, but I think we will collectively have to find more balance in our life and take power over our Internet and content addictions.

There are companies already trying to figure out what’s important to you and filtering out content based on those inferences. Most notably is Facebook, with its somewhat controversial “black box algorithm” called EdgeRank, which is used to decide what you see on your Facebook News Feed. As a user of Facebook, you only see a subset of the content from your friends, the bands and musicians you like, and the companies you’ve liked on Facebook. That’s why you typically only see the same people/things in your News Feed, and never see any content from that random person from high school (that you’re not really friends with anyways). But EdgeRank isn’t perfect, and it still doesn’t solve the problem that we’re facing with millions of Blogs, constantly updating twitter feeds, and the bombardment of advertising and messaging that we experience every day.

In my opinion, it’s very important that companies, brands, musicians & bands, and individuals keep these trends in mind. If we focus on giving as much value to the people around us by being real and authentic and creating something that addresses real needs and wants, we will find the customers, listeners, and friends that are most important. This may result in fewer “friends”, or a smaller customer base, but it will be a group of people that will give us real results. Those results could be an increase in money if we’re trying to monetize relationships, like a band does when it sells a new CD at a show, or it could result in tighter, more enriching relationships with the people around us.

If we don’t do this, you’re going to have a hard time finding success. Sure, there are companies and people out there that will find success by Bullshitting and not creating real value, but do you really want to be like those people? We have a very small amount of time on this Earth, and I’d rather not waste it acting like someone I’m not, or doing something I don’t believe in or think is worth it.

Over the past two months I’ve tried to be more Real through my writing, by opening up about parts of my life and being more vulnerable. It started when I shared for the first time publicly the story of how my father died, when I made a post on Quora that answered the question: “What does it feel like to have a parent commit suicide?“. The reactions were stunning and happened almost immediately, with friends and strangers reaching out saying that they were amazed I went through this tragedy and spoke so openly about it. I even had a phone call with my mom about it, where we talked about what each other experienced during those couple of days. That was the first time my mother and I ever talked in that depth about the day my father died.

Last month I decided to share my story of why I’m not at BandPage any more, and that too  received some great reactions from friends. All of a sudden I’m talking to friends about how I feel, the struggles that I’m going through and facing every day, and I’m also hearing about their daily struggles and concerns. I feel like I have a deeper connection and understanding of some of my friends, and I think they have a better understanding of me.

Recently I’ve noticed others sharing publicly and it has been quite inspiring. Two weeks ago Frank Ocean, a new hip hop artist, got a lot of attention when he announced that he was Gay. The announcement created a lot of controversy, but it also resulted in a lot of support and a better appreciation for the great strength and courage that it takes to be open about who you are in an environment that usually is not accepting of “alternative lifestyles”.

On the video game side of things, Jeff Green recently made a post about his battle with depression, a post that surprised a number of people and received a lot of support from the gaming community. It was great to see Jeff speak so honestly about his 25 year long struggle with depression, and even greater to see hundreds and thousands of people support him.

I truly hope that over time we will see that letting our guard down and opening up to others about the common struggles and challenges that we face daily, will result in a better world. You could probably argue that I’m naive in that Hope, but I’m afraid of the consequences of an increasingly cynical and jaded culture. I think it’s time that we decide that we’re done with the Bullshit, that we need to connect with each other and companies around us in more meaningful ways, so that we can collectively live a more meaningful and fulfilling life. I encourage you to give it a try, and I’m going to continue to try it myself too :)

Thanks for reading!

Sincerely,

Sam

I realize the above could be seen as perhaps a bit naive or altruistic, but these are things I’ve had on my mind for a number of weeks and months. Hopefully you get something out of this, as I honestly just needed to get some of these concepts and points out of my head and onto virtual paper. Please let me know what you think!

Don’t worry, be happy

Disclaimer: Below is a somewhat lengthy explanation of why I ended up leaving BandPage.  It’s a bit personal, but my hope is that it will help people understand where I’m coming from, and why what happened, happened.

When I announced two weeks ago that I am leaving BandPage, some people asked some good questions. Most notably, people asked “Why are you leaving so soon, even if you weren’t happy?” or “Why are you leaving, I thought you loved that job”. Both are good questions and they deserve a good answer, since otherwise it could look like I’m a flake and I’m just bailing from a company on a whim. As always, things are bit more complicated than that.

The last (almost) nine months at BandPage have been transformative for me, both professionally and personally. BandPage’s culture is built around being open, honest, direct, and caring about each other. It’s very friendly in that sense, while also being very serious and hardworking since the problems the company hopes to solve are huge and difficult tasks. This kind of atmosphere showed me what I felt was true, but have had a hard time finding: your work atmosphere should be friendly and supportive, while also working hard and accomplishing great things as a team .

It is through this culture and company that I’ve been fortunate to form great friendships that have similar approaches and philosophies. In the mix of all of this, I turned 24 and I’ve been thinking a lot more about what it means to be a male adult and being confident in who I am as a person, as a professional, and as a friend. Out of all of this, I’ve learned that I’m most comfortable when I’m open with others about who I am and what I’m thinking, when I’m being honest and caring, and when I’m doing something that makes me happy and that I’m passionate about. This has forced me to change my approach to the friends I choose to have, how I interact with people, and ultimately the jobs that I want to do.

Sometimes I need to stop and remind myself that I’m only 24, that I dropped out of college and started working at a startup when I was barely 20 years old. I skipped out on a lot of things, and I’m in the middle of pretty standard early 20 something stuff (the whole figuring yourself out thing), while still trying to have a successful career that’s now over four years in the making. I’ve got a lot to learn, a lot to figure out, and a lot of hard work to do. It’s important for me to remember where I’ve come from and how I got here, since it’s a bit different than most of my peers.

In the midst of figuring out “Who is Sam Houston, really?”, I’ve also had to adjust my view of who I am as a professional. For better or worse, I identified myself as a “Community Manager in the video game industry!” for the first three years of my career, since that’s what everyone came to know me as and what had become my personal brand. I had spoken on panels at video game conferences about it, I had launched websites and gained a bunch of Twitter followers because of it…it was who I saw myself as. When I left video games I had to reexamine all of that, since I was no longer in an industry where I had a name – I was now in the music and tech startup industry, where not many people knew me and I definitely had a ton of catching up to do in terms of knowledge and familiarity. It was a scary challenge.

A few months back I was asked to go through another change: transition from Community Manager at BandPage to Customer Support. I had my apprehensions, but I knew I cared about users and I’m good at making people happy, and I also really cared about the company and wanted to help out where I could. This change in roles threw my professional view of myself into even more chaos, since I now needed to adjust not only what my industry was, but also my job and my entire career path. I worked really hard to convince myself that this was the right choice, I bought some Customer Service books and tried to inform myself about what this new world was all about. I honestly wanted to rock the role and create a vision for customer support.

But ultimately..I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get excited about Customer Support, I couldn’t create a vision for ways to make support amazing and awesome for years to come, and I couldn’t enjoy my day to day tasks. This reality bummed me out, since I still loved my company and who I worked with, but I didn’t like my job at all. It’s way easier to hate your job AND hate the company. Not only was I going through disappointment with my new role, but I was also going through all of the personal stuff (and then some) that I mentioned earlier…and the end result was a very sad Me.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, I had a meeting with the exec team at BandPage, and in that meeting I talked about how unhappy I was. Out of this discussion we decided that since I was so unhappy, and since the company doesn’t have another role for me right now, that I should find something else outside of the company that would make me truly happy. It was the tough decision to make, but ultimately the right one, even if it does complicate things in the short term.

Luckily I’m now feeling much better about things since I have a better understanding of what makes me happy, who I am as a person and professional, and I’ve got ideas for what I want to do with my career. I’m much happier about life in general, and I’m excited about the future. I confidently know that I’m passionate about connecting with people and that my weapon of choice is the internet and online community tools like social media. I love telling stories, showing the human element of brands/companies/projects, and giving fans what they really want.

So now I just have to figure out how to do all of that, and I’ve been lucky enough to have many supportive peers, friends, and contacts that want to help me along the way. I’ve got some ideas that really excite me and I’m contacting companies and people that I’d like to work with. I’m very excited about the future and now it’s all about finding the path to making it happen :)

Keep Movin’ On

It’s a shame that I haven’t updated my blog for the past 8 months, as I’ve done some really great things in that time. I’ve been a part of several BandPage feature launches, gone to SXSW 2012 and helped run and promote a 9 day music festival (that we ran ourselves and had 200+ bands…), I’ve met some amazing people along the way, and been more than fortunate to work with many of them every day. BandPage has become like a family to me, and showed me that you can build a company full of amazing people that are real, genuine, inspiring, honest, and caring.

But unfortunately, my time at BandPage is coming to an end soon. We recently decided that my needs and the company’s needs are not quite working out, and that I should try to find something that is a right fit for me. I still really like everyone at BandPage, and I’m leaving on good terms, but it just came down to the fact that the roles available at the company just aren’t the right match for me.

After SXSW, I started to transition into more of a Customer Support role. At first I thought I could do this, and do it well, and hopefully enjoy it. What I found is that I am good at helping people and making them happy, but I just don’t enjoy the challenges of customer support. It’s not creative enough for me, and I wasn’t inspired by customer support. It left me fairly upset and frustrated with my role, and ultimately lead to the decision that I should find something outside of BandPage.

I’ll still be at BandPage for a little while, to help make this transition a smooth one. I’m still on good terms with everyone, including the CEO (and friend) J Sider. I want to thank him and the rest of the BandPage crew for helping make my experience an awesome one, and ultimately being supportive to me when they learned I wasn’t happy any more.

So what’s next? I’m not sure.

What ultimately lead me to leave Playfish for BandPage was an opportunity in the music industry that I see, and I believe is still available today. In my opinion, the relationship that artists/bands have with their fans is sorely lacking, and could be improved upon greatly by using social media in smart ways. I think someone like me, a Community Manager, could be used to interact with fans, create and share content regularly, and make a stronger connection between the artist with the fanbase. And through this connection, there will even be ways to monetize the fans (in a fair way), because you’re creating great content and great experiences for fans.

BandPage is an extension of that. New companies like Shaker and Instagram are definitely a part of that, as are “old” companies like Twitter and Facebook. And media like Blogs, YouTube, and Photos will be key. But they need to be done all in concert with one another, with a strategy, and not left to the guitar techs or the band members (who often just do it when they have time).

My hope is that I can find a way to channel this passion and vision that I have for the future of the music industry into a new role. I’m going to need your help though, since this is something new for me. You can find me on Linkedin Here, and if you know of anything that you think would be interesting to me, please contact me on Linkedin (or Twitter or Facebook).

I want to change the music industry and give fans and bands the experience that they deserve. Hopefully I can find the opportunity to do that :)