Passion is a starting point for a great business, says a been-there, done-that entrepreneur. Then it's time to outwork everyone.
Editor's Note: This is from a commencement speech at Florida State University's graduation given May 6 by Brian Murphy, founder, president and CEO of ReliaQuest, a Tampa-based company that specializes in IT security. ReliaQuest is one of the fastest-growing tech companies in Tampa, with more than 200 employees, including nearly 100 hired in 2016. Murphy graduated from FSU in 2000 with a bachelor's degree in accounting and finance.
Not long ago, in December of 2000, I was sitting right where you are... I remember thinking: This is it. Now it's time to go find success. Now it's time to win. Now it's time to go be great. At the time, I thought success was this singular thing. This destination. This place you packed a bag to get to. And once you get there, you're done. You're good.... It was a point I needed to run to.... I couldn't have been more wrong.
Success is multiple. It's interdependent. It's dynamic. It means something different to everyone. Success is personal. It's something you strive for, and I'm not sure you ever reach it... Hopefully I'll never reach it. Hopefully it's something I keep striving for.
I thought about some of the things that I use every day, some of the things that have driven me. It's really just three basic things, and two questions. Those three ingredients, for me, are attitude, energy and effort. These are three things that coaches have probably yelled to you across a field at some point, or teachers or your parents have said to you. They're very basic, and that's the point...
And then the two questions. I've asked myself these things since I was a kid, and now we use them at ReliaQuest to challenge ourselves. They are: How good can we be, and why not us?
Let's start with attitude. In 2007 I started ReliaQuest. We got off to a rocket start. I quickly hired six employees. And then coming into September of 2008, I started noticing our customers canceling contracts. The newscasters were losing their minds about the financial market's performance... that was the beginning of the second-worst financial crisis in the history of the United States. So I'm sitting there with six employees, my 3-year-old daughter Devin, my wife is pregnant with our son Parker, I was burning through cash, spending everything in my savings and leveraging every last bit of credit that I had. These are the times in your life when the spectators will come out. They'll fill in the arena... and question what you're doing... then you turn on the news and it's nothing but negativity.
I remember a day, standing in the mirror, asking myself a series of questions: Can you do this? Yes. Do you work with good people? Yes. Do the people who matter, the people in the arena, do they stand with you? Yes. My wife, Renee, was right next to me and said, 'Just go get it.' So I started to ignore the spectators and I started to focus on the people who were actually in the arena. We went step by step and we started the grind. While everyone else was focused on those things they couldn't do... we were capturing market share. We were finding those companies that were finding ways to win. And by the time we came out of the Great Recession, we had been sling-shot ahead.
In the past 10 years, there was only one year ReliaQuest hasn't doubled in size. And that year we grew by 40%... for all you business majors out there, that's pretty good. Last year we grew by 300% in our core business. It's all about the attitude. How are we going to perceive what's coming at us? So I will challenge you, as you move on to your careers... pay attention to your attitude. It's your filter. How are you reading that email? How are you reading that text message? You don't have to be positive all the time... that's not possible... just don't be negative.
Energy. Energy is an interesting one when you run at the pace we run... last week I was across the east and west time zones four different times... I don't really remember... In entrepreneurship and in business I've heard a lot and I've read a lot. There's this challenge people talk about of, can you be good at what you do and be a good mother, father, partner, significant other, son, daughter... can you have it all?
Most people tell you no. I disagree with that. I think it's about an allocation of energy. What's made me successful? It's focus. What's most important to me? I love my wife, I love my children and I love my company. And I allocate my energy accordingly. I don't go to certain events, I don't waste time, I don't talk about what I'm going to do.... At our corporate office, there's a diagram painted on the wall. It's a dog barking and it says, 'No show dogs.' What I challenge you is: Don't listen to the show dogs. Focus on what's important to you, and go execute.”
Finally, effort. To beat me, you have to out-work me. I can control that. Just work hard. And when you think you are working hard, work harder... I have two older brothers, they are seven and eight years older than me. And my parents, one year they made the decision to drive down to Florida ... with probably less money than you will spend in a bar tab tonight. I can't imagine how scared they were. If you grew up in the Murphy family, you learned how to work. They worked hard, and they were there for us all of the time...I encourage you to work hard. It's the easiest thing you can do - just continue to work. Find something you're passionate about and do it better than anyone else is willing to do it.
As I said, there are two questions that I use every day ... I challenge you, as you move on to your careers or to further your education, to ask yourself two questions: How good can you be, and why not you? Why not have the next leader of global finance in this room? Why not have the next leader in education? Why not have the next leader in government? Why not have the next leader in the arts? Why not you? And when you get to some place that you are proud of, ask yourself: How good can you be?