Ever since Greg Storey and I met at SXSW in 2007 (where seemingly everyone met back then), that’s pretty much how people referred to us. It was easier, because where there was one Greg, the other was not far away. Storey would chat someone up about proper steakhouse decorum, and I would simultaneously be chatting someone else up about his chatting up people about proper steakhouse decorum. And after Storey’s company Airbag became part of the Happy Cog family in 2009, our relationship was further solidified in inseparable Gregdom.
After we got tired of the accounting headache associated with operating two separate businesses flying the same company flag, we decided to formally merge our operations in 2013. We called it Hoy Storey at the suggestion of our attorneys. The lawyers would say, “It’s kind of like “Toy Story,” get it?” Nudge nudge, wink wink.
Greg Storey is first and foremost a designer. Airbag (his alter-ego as much as it was the name of his company) was always about design. His personal site offered insightful pieces with one-word titles about all things design, often incorporating odd military references and inside jokes. It didn’t matter if you understood anything the dude was saying, you just bought into it because he was so convincingly witty. He inspired thousands. People, even long after he slowed his writing down, would come up to him and thank him for his contributions. I saw it happen all the time.
And me, well, I fell into web design via a more “businessy” track. I was a good designer, but I longed to be a great designer. Even if I would never get there, I was just as happy focusing on the business stuff. And by and large, that’s how my career has evolved.
So there we were, the Gregs. By all accounts, a two-headed boss. We both liked meat, liquids that made us feel funny, wearing our shirts untucked, chatting people up, laughing until no sound was coming out, and providing experiences for our employees as importantly as paychecks.
As we worked through the past two years, we began to struggle with our roles. Do I analyze the business? Does he do the marketing? Who should the buck stop with? Do we both pitch? Who has final say on design stuff, if either of us? It was like a big game of Perfection where we both had shitty pieces. Even though we enjoyed working together, we struggled. He’d go down a path that I’d invariably try to impose my will upon, or he’d try to design something and get his hand slapped. We were both relying upon our experiences running smaller shops, where we could make decisions with impunity. Lots of things about our collective mindset didn’t scale gracefully, especially as we approached 35 people.
2014 has been a year I’ll never forget. It has taught me more about running a business than any other. We’ve had successes and we’ve had failures, and nothing has been automatic. Many of the failures were out of our control, but some we contributed to, for sure. I think one of the biggest failures is falling prey to the mindset that your job is your job, and if it has veered outside of your passion zone, too bad—you’re stuck with it.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, it was evident that we needed to change our status quo. We made some extremely difficult decisions. And at the point we decided our course of action, Greg said the time was right for him to move on. He did so out of concern for his coworkers, but I could also tell he did so for himself. When facing the reality of struggling to find his role vs. the opportunity to simply focus on design, design won. And design should have won.
And just like that, his name in Slack went from a constant boldface to a thin, opaque italic. His daily quips are gone. His larger-than-life charisma will now be for some other TBD lucky dog to enjoy on a daily basis, as will his incredible design thinking and endless ideas. But I know he’ll be happy, and I know I’ll still see him. But man, it’s weird not having the other Greg around.
Next time you have the opportunity, raise a fine glass of Pinot Noir (“properly chilled and decanted,” preferably “from the Russian River Valley” recommended after a 20 minute conversation with the sommelier, because “they’re the experts”) to a guy who put his ass on the line for his colleagues, and is now rightfully doing the same for himself.
My pal, Greg Storey.