12 years. 12 lessons.


Email to company on October 15, 2013.

Welcome to the anniversary of my favorite red letter date in history, October 15th, 2001. The day Centro was incorporated and officially become a company.

I called it “Intégrent” back then. What a dumb name that was. No one could pronounce it correctly. I wanted a name that was both tech sounding and something I could emotionally get behind. I wanted to build a company with strong values and integrity. After two days of red bull, no sleep and freaking out because I couldn’t find a name I loved that wasn’t already taken, a friend of mine typed the word “integrity” into a French translation dictionary and the word “intégrent” came up. Sounded tech enough and I could get the URL (never mind that I’m not French and had never been to France).

It’s been 12 years.

If you had told me twelve years ago I’d still have a company, that we would achieve the size and scale we have, that I’d still be CEO and that I’d still love going into work each day and have the depth of passion I do for our future, I would’ve bet everything in my bank account (which wasn’t a lot) that you were dead wrong.

You would have also been the only person in my circle saying that because no one in late 2001 (post tech bubble and 9/11) was saying anything like that to me. I had a lot more people telling me why my idea and business wasn’t going to work. Which is a great lesson: there will always be more people around you telling you that you can’t do something than those telling you that you can. To be fair, statistically those people are right. Most companies don’t succeed and those who do rarely scale to 100, 300 or 500 employees. But just because everyone around you is telling you that you can’t do something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

So, rather than a cute Happy Birthday email, I thought I’d take a moment and offer 12 lessons about business, entrepreneurship and life I’ve learned since starting Centro. Some of these may come across as hard lessons and some may even feel negative but, candidly, it’s the hardest times you go through that teach you the greatest lessons.

There are more people around you that will tell you that you can’t do something than will tell you that you can. If you’re willing to give up everything, put it all on the line and work your butt off to achieve your goals, don’t listen to them. If you’re not willing to do that, you should probably listen to them.

Success isn’t easy. The bigger the goals you have, the more you’re going to have to give up in life to accomplish them. As the saying goes, “If starting a business was easy, more people would do it.” Trust me, I would’ve much preferred to go out with my friends on many weekends versus staying in and reading books on leadership, management, programming, biographies, etc. And I can’t count the number of “Sunday Fundays” I didn’t get to participate in. But I recognized there were many times when learning, work and focus take priority over having fun.

Happiness and joy in life begins with your values and principles.

Twelve years is a long time. A third of my life has been spent building Centro and I’m having the time of my life.

The reason I think I’m still enjoying it so much is I established the values and principles I would live life and lead my company by early on. The Centro Manifesto established an ethos for us. We knew who we were. We knew what was expected of us. We knew the types of people we wanted to join our team. We’ve never wavered no matter how much money was waved in our face to do things out of line with our principles. We built a company we are proud of.

Are we the biggest and most successful? Nope. Have we accomplished a lot? Yes. Am I proud to say I work at Centro? Absolutely. I’m deeply and incredibly proud of the type of company we’ve built and who we are, collectively, as a company. And someday, maybe we’ll also be considered one of the biggest and most successful too.

Zip codes, pedigrees, GPAs and the school you graduated from don’t matter. Never ending intellectual curiosity, an insatiable desire to keep learning and hard work does.

I was born on a farm. Raised in Ridgeville Corners, OH (a village with population around 200). Graduated in the bottom 50% of my high school class. Graduated with a 2.49 GPA from Bowling Green State University. I was the first generation in my family to attend college.

It doesn’t matter.

What mattered is I didn’t think learning stopped once I graduated college. I knew I didn’t have the opportunities and exposure to successful people or mentors like other kids may have had. I also knew I wasn’t as naturally gifted as other kids were. What I did know was that I was willing to commit to being a “student of the game” forever and that I was willing to work 3x harder and longer than anyone else to achieve my goals.

Life isn’t fair. Get over it.

Too many people walk around lamenting what their childhood was like. Or that they didn’t have the same opportunities as other kids. Or that they aren’t as naturally talented and gifted as other people.

Get over it.

The sooner you get over it, the sooner you’re on your way to a better life. You can’t change it so why let it define the rest of your life? Per Lesson #3, I wasn’t cool, didn’t have money, wasn’t smart, wasn’t athletic, wasn’t tough, wasn’t attractive and got picked on and bullied all the time. So what. Life isn’t fair. I wouldn’t go back and change my childhood for the life of me because, although it was often hard, I learned a lot and it made me who I am today (I need to add here that I was adopted into the most amazing family…I can’t express my love and admiration for my parents).

All I knew was that I was going to have to work 3x as long and as hard as others if I wanted to succeed. Never once did I feel sorry that I was going to have to spend my life working longer and harder as other people would. My choice was to either be angry, depressed and blaming others or I could get over it and get to work.

I chose to get to work.

There is no replacement for reading non-fiction books. Everything you need to know is in a book.

If you want to be considered successful, interesting, mentally attractive and smart you have to read – and fiction books don’t count (okay, maybe a few fiction books but relatively few). Everything we need to know is sitting in a book somewhere.

A personal anecdote on reading: I spend countless days each year reading books. Some are great, many are okay, and there are some that suck. But even those that suck, I probably learned something valuable from the 10% of the book that didn’t suck. Even if I learned one important lesson from the time I spent reading the book, it was worth it.

Adversity doesn’t build character. Adversity reveals character.

We’ve heard the quote, “adversity builds character”. I don’t believe that. It’s been proven time and again that, “adversity reveals character”.

I’ve been around a lot of people that are amazing, fantastic, nice, gracious and caring when things are going great. But when shit hits the fan and the world is crumbling you will see the true character of those around you. Unfortunately and far too often you’re not going to like what you see.

Character is something that runs deep. It’s almost impossible to change the character of someone. Look for signs of the person’s character in how they handle the small things and see if you like it. Because if their attitude turns sour in the small things, get ready for a tsunami of darkness when it things get real bad.

Always trust your gut.

God built us with this innate sixth sense. This instinct that we can’t explain.

Your gut is never wrong. Trust it. The biggest regrets I have in my life come from times I didn’t trust and listen to my gut.

Don’t put off hard and difficult conversations or decisions.

My goal is to build the strongest and most powerful organization I can. This means I need to build the strongest and most powerful teams. I define strong and powerful teams as the ability to give, and accept, critical feedback, in real-time and in front of others on the team.

But this is one of the hardest things we’ll ever do. I’ve learned most people have the inability to tell others how they truly feel because they “don’t want to hurt his or her feelings”. And God forbid if they had to say how they truly feel in front of everyone else on the team.

Anytime I spot this, I know the team is weak and inefficient. Say what you feel. And say it in a way that lets the other person know you care about them and you care about the success of your team — which is why you are mustering up the courage to say it.

And when it comes to having difficult conversations, or making a difficult decision, prolonging the conversation and the decision only makes the situation worse. At the executive level at Centro, although we’re not perfect at this, I feel we’re doing well at saying exactly how we feel, exactly when we feel it and we can do it in front of others on the team.

“Who you hire is more important than what they’ve accomplished.”

This is pretty cut and dry. Find people with great character, a desire to grow and learn, someone with humility and a selfless spirit combined with great care and concern for the well-being of others and you’re going to build a great team. When you’re interviewing someone, put down the resume and focus on “who” they are, what makes them tick and what drives them in life. You’ll make much better hiring decisions.

1 10 “Work hard. Play hard. Just remember to always work harder than you play.

Are you sensing a theme here? I’ve always believed in the work hard/play hard philosophy but I think some people use it as an excuse to show up to work 40-50 hours a week and then party their butt off when they’re not working. Hard work and hard play sit on either side of a scale. Just make sure the hard work side is a lot more weighted than the hard play side and you’ll most likely be successful.

1 11
“Money is a great amplifier.”

A wise man told me many years ago that, “money is a great amplifier.” I’ve come to learn how incredibly wise this is. I’ve had many friends and acquaintances who have made fortunes in the last few years. And what is most surprising to me is how money shows up in their life. To those who are well-grounded, caring, charitable, love life and love those around them, money only enhances all of these things. But to the person who is wretched, vain, angry, mean and greedy, money only makes them more so.

My good-natured friends realize money doesn’t buy happiness and wealth is only a tool to help them serve the world, their families and their loved ones in greater ways. Unfortunately, it’s the opposite with my not-so-good natured colleagues.

1 12
“Appreciate God and your family in the good times, because they’ll be the ones who get you through the bad times.

In building a business, no matter what level of success you achieve, you are going to go through some dark times. I believe starting, growing and running a business, especially over a long period, is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in life. It’s not easy and you will be forced to make gut-wrenching, difficult and unpopular decisions that will affect people you love and care about. Or things like .com crashes or Great Recessions come along, almost wipe you out and test your character, resolve and determination in every way possible.

It’s easy when times are good to take my relationship with God, or my Family and me for granted. I hope I’ve learned not to. In fact, the more success I have, the more I realize how little the success has had to do with me and what a major role God has had in leading me, equipping me and helping me (honestly, there are some things that have happened through the life of Centro that defy all logic and that I can’t explain…those are the times I know I’m not in charge and something greater than me is helping me).

At the same time, when the world is crumbling around you, and your life feels like a living hell and you’re staring into the abyss wondering what it’s going to feel like when you hit the bottom, that’s when you starkly realize that when you do, the people who will love and adore you at the bottom, as much as they love and adore you at the top, is your Family. I can’t express my appreciation enough for both God and my Family and I hope they know how much I appreciate them and that I don’t take my relationship with them for granted.

The last 12 years of life have been an absolutely insane, crazy and beautiful experience. We’ve accomplished many amazing things. And we’ve always done it “our way”. We’ve stayed true to our values and principles and we’ve built a company we can all be proud of.

However, and most important, our mission is far from over. What we’ve accomplished in the past 12 years needs to pale in comparison to what we achieve in our next 3 years. It’s not until a super-majority of the global advertising industry is using our media management platform to manage their work lives, data, relationships and businesses will we have achieved the mission we set out to accomplish.

I’m certain there will be more rough times ahead, but I have faith that the character, resolve and determination of all of us, on an individual and collective level, will greet the tough times head on, address them swiftly, conquer them and move on faster, stronger and healthier than other companies. We’ve overcome a lot and we’ll continue to overcome more so in our future.

I can’t express my love and appreciation for everyone here. I realize that where you choose to spend moments of your career is one of the biggest and most important decisions you’ll ever make in your life. I never take for granted that you’ve chosen to spend a part of your life at Centro and I will continue to endeavor to make this a successful, rewarding and enjoyable experience for you.

Have a beautiful day. And happy birthday Centro.


Shawn Riegsecker
Founder and CEO

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Shawn Riegsecker

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By Shawn Riegsecker