When Your Biggest Obstacle Is Trusting Yourself

Jeff Suffolk wasn’t sure he had what it took to run a fast-growing company. Turns out his passion and commitment counted for a lot more than he realized.

COMPANY PROFILE

Human Movement Management founder Jeff Suffolk had a freak-out moment when he realized that his Louisville, Colorado, company, launched in the spirit of fun, now had almost 100 employees. Putting on beer festivals, zombie adventure races, and other activities was a real business. But could he run it?

I started Human Movement in 2009 with a bunch of carpenters, beer drinkers, runners, hockey players, and mountain bikers–people who loved spending their weekends having fun. We had no official work hours; we’d show up in yoga pants and board shorts, with our dogs in tow. Most afternoons, we poured beer from a kegerator and hashed out new ideas while reciting lines from The Big Lebowski.

By 2012, things had really taken off. At the same time, I became a father. Suddenly, I thought I had to become a parent-type figure and start wearing khakis and stop skateboarding to work. I started fake-interviewing myself every day with questions like, “What makes you the ideal candidate to be president of this company?” When I couldn’t answer, I decided to find a real executive who could lead a fast-growing business. I did just that, and I failed miserably. It was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made.

The new chief operating officer implemented policies about workday hours, email protocol, and reporting structure. The spirit of the company died almost instantaneously. He lasted just 60 days. When he left and I didn’t replace him, I worried that people would think I was indecisive or that I lacked judgment. But I decided to own up to my mistake and believe in myself and in what we had built.

We embraced the part of our culture that breeds passion, creativity, and imagination. I kept the air-hockey table as our conference table. We play home-run derby in a nearby field. People follow passion, not titles or protocol. But I have realized that parts of our business need more structure. People really want a clear chain of command, and they need systematic reports to handle what are really complex events that entail a lot of hard, detailed work. I also found I needed to convey my vision better and do it more often. Ultimately, I learned how to trust myself.

As told to Inc. contributing writer Jennifer Alsever.