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It takes courage for a business leader to step away from what’s bringing them success in order to search for their own life’s deeper meaning and purpose.
However, that’s exactly what tech executive Cyd Crouse did, and there’s little doubt that the perspective she gained led her to even greater—and infinitely more rewarding—accomplishments.
Cyd is the Chief Marketing Officer at Muse, a tech company that develops a cutting edge brain-sensing headband made to improve meditation techniques. She’s also the co-founder of the Meditation Studio app and was a corporate executive for companies like Gaiam and Corporate Express.
So, how did leaving behind a multi-billion dollar company to recharge and discover what matters ultimately bring Cyd to lead such innovative, mission-driven organizations? By embracing curiosity and staying true to her own purpose.
Igniting Early Success
Before Cyd hit her 30s, she had already rooted herself as a strong leader. After graduating with a degree in computer science, Cyd landed a job at Corporate Express, an office supply distributor later acquired by Staples.
In her five years at the company, Corporate Express surged from $40 million in revenue to a staggering $4 billion—and a young Cyd was in the middle of it all. Her role was to lead a team assigned to “work on some really complex and new technology.” What started as team of twenty technologists eventually grew to 300.
So how does a relatively recent college grad not only achieve early success, but also effectively lead a rapidly growing team? At Corporate Express, it was all thanks to the culture.
“Everybody was just excited,” Cyd remembers about her days at Corporate Express. “These things are rare. There’s just so much excitement, inertia, comradery and optimism. It makes you want to create a great culture, attract talent and integrate people.”
Still, as much as Cyd loved her team, after a relentless decade Corporate Express, she began to burn out. She also says, “I found myself emulating people whose lives I didn’t necessarily want to end up living.”
Cyd may have achieved an executive level position at a billion dollar company before thirty, but she knew she needed time to discover more about herself—and about the world outside of Corporate America.
So, despite all the momentum a young leader could dream of—Cyd left it all behind.
Or at least she tried to.
From Boom to Bust
“In business, your ego gets out of whack—both in the credit it takes for the success and the credit it takes for the failure.”
After an intense five years building Corporate Express’ technology, Cyd needed a break. She was more than just drained from her demanding leadership role. She also wanted to take time off of her career to travel and find purpose outside of her job title.
But just thirty days after leaving Corporate Express, Cyd was presented a pitch from her ex-CEO—the opportunity to launch a new business. The startup was called ccgenesis, and Cyd was lured in with a mission she could get behind.
First off, the focus of ccgenesis was to only work with companies dedicated to positive missions. They were also committed to creating technologies with the potential to make a worldwide impact, including what was then called “shared infrastructure.”
Today, that technology is better known as the Cloud.
At first, things only looked up for ccgenesis. They partnered with organizations they loved like Whole Foods Market, Gaiam, Dr. Andrew Weil and Wild Oats. A little over a year later, they were already up to $6 million in revenue.
Then, the infamous dot-com bust of the early ‘00s happened. Just as quickly as ccgenesis rose—it all unraveled. Soon, Cyd was scaling back staff and eventually the entire company was sold.
When Cyd looks back, she attributes the failure of ccgenesis to more than the dot-com bubble bursting. She also recalls her own leadership mistakes—much of it she tied to ego, immature leadership and an unwillingness to accept business guidance.
“I actually had people reach out and offer mentorship…[but] there was a fear of having to show how much I didn’t know,” Cyd remembers. “It was actually a great lesson because…[later] I looked at what I’d done at ccgenesis and said, ‘I’m going to go do the opposite.’”
Now experiencing an extreme burnout after a decade of riding the highest highs and lowest lows of leadership, Cyd was more ready than ever to get off the grid and finally find herself.
“Two Years to Get to Two”
Cyd had one goal in mind when she embarked on what she calls her Spiritual Pilgrimage: Deepening her own human experience and answering the question:
It’s a complex question, presumably with a complex answer, and Cyd was eager to uncover it. The first step on the journey was to walk the the Camino de Santiago, a 500 mile ‘pilgrimage’ across northern Spain. Shortly after returning, another pilgrimage started when she hopped into her 1970 International Scout and drove south—way south.
Cyd traded the comforts of executive life and drove to Panama. Along the way, she volunteered and lived with host families. Still, Cyd wasn’t finding the answers she was searching for.
“As I got further and further into the trip, there became a burning need for me to figure out how to take my unique gifts and contribute those back to the world,” says Cyd.
Then finally, the answer appeared, and it was so simple.
“I was at the Copan Ruins in Honduras,” Cyd says, “And I just remember laying on this big old rock…I was just looking up at the sky and I was like, ‘What is going to be the mantra for how I define what I do from here on out?’”
Then, two simple words manifested—“Do Good”.
“So, I wrote it down,” says Cyd. “I felt like I had my answer, turned around and headed home.”
Turning Positivity Into Success
“We make the intangible tangible.”
After arriving back in the States with a new mantra, Cyd got to work searching for the right organization with a mission she could get behind. That path eventually led her to a stint at Whole Foods Market, a company that taught her art of positive leadership, employee appreciation and measuring your success in ways other than money.
From there, Cyd landed at Gaiam, a Colorado-based company dedicated to yoga and spiritual wellness. Armed with a deepened mindfulness practice developed while traveling, Cyd jumped at an opportunity to join the company as their COO. It was at Gaiam that she met her future Meditation Studio partner, Patricia Karpas.
With a burgeoning desire to combine their mutual passion for technology and mindfulness, Cyd and Patricia saw an opening in the growing smartphone app marketplace. In partnership with Gaiam, they began developing the Meditation Studio app.
But just as development was really getting off the ground, Gaiam was in the process of being sold. Meditation Studio looked like a likely casualty—and Cyd and Patricia took the opportunity to buy the app outright.
The app was almost an immediate hit.
“I think a few weeks [after we left Gaiam],” says Cyd, “we were named one of Apple’s Top 10 Apps of the Year and Time Magazine named it one of the top 50.”
However, as big, well-funded competitors began to dominate their space, Meditation Studio knew they needed to make a pivot. That’s when Cyd and Patricia connected with Toronto-based meditation tech company, Interaxon, most known for Muse, their meditation headband.
“It’s this amazing piece of technology,” says Cyd. “It monitors and provides input from your brainwaves amongst other things. It gives real-time feedback to people during their meditation practice.”
By pairing the Meditation Studio app with Muse’s technology, users could enjoy a truly interactive, innovative meditation experience. Muse acquired Meditation Studio. Cyd was also offered—and soon accepted—the opportunity to join MUSE as their Chief Marketing Officer.
Now that Cyd’s found her place intertwining her loves of mindfulness and technology, is her wanderlust and desire to uncover her inner layers finally at rest?
Don’t count on it.
“In a couple of years I’ll turn 50,” says Cyd, “and I have all the same feelings again.”
Then, she references a beloved quote from the poet Mary Oliver, which perhaps best sums up Cyd’s self-discovery journey—and it’s a question we all should ask ourselves.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Want to hear my entire conversation with Cyd Crouse? You’ll learn about her childhood growing up on a ranch in rural Nebraska, what lessons she learned through her business success and failures, how traveling the world impacts her life and so much more. Listen to the entire conversation on my donothing podcast.
Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and keep up with my company imageOne here. Learn about my mission to show business leaders how mindfulness can transform you and your business in my book donothing. Visit www.donothingbook.com for more information.
April 29, 2019 at 08:08AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs