People Doing Cool S***: Steven Clough

Marketing is a wide field that is becoming more and more expansive as digital strategies evolve, so to be at the top of the field, you not only have to understand markets, but you have to get people. I had the opportunity to chat with someone who has a commanding insight on both of those things, Steven Clough, Founder and President of AVO.

Quentin Hoffman:   Can you tell me a little bit about the work you’re doing now?

Steven Clough:   AVO is a consulting firm focused in behavioral economics. Our expertise in human behavior is leveraged in marketing, product development, and executive strategy work. The majority of my time is divided between working with clients and managing the business itself, which ranges from growth planning to the development of internal curriculum. I’m also currently working on writing my first book, an exploration of our cognitive biases. Beyond work, I sit on the boards of a few non-profit organizations, which has been a great way to engage with my community in a way that I might not have the opportunity to otherwise.

QH:   How did it start?

SC:   There’s no magical story to how or why I started the business. After years of working for big and small firms in the field, I admittedly became a bit jaded about the amount of misinformation that was perpetuated and (what I saw as) the poor quality of work being done. I don’t know exactly when I decided I wanted to start my own firm, but once I did, I focused on learning as much as I could. I was fortunate to have great mentors and peers who encouraged and supported the jump, and so I made the transition.

QH:   When did you feel like you ‘made it’?

SC:   Made it where? I don’t know if such a place exists. I’ll give you a bit of a roundabout answer to this one: The most important thing I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that being happy and being satisfied are not the same thing. Show me a person who is (seriously) starting and running a company, and I’ll show you a person who will never be satisfied. It has certainly been my experience – both personally and with my peers. So if you’re a person who is never satisfied and you tie your happiness to being satisfied, the results are predictably awful. It’s a conflict that many entrepreneurs (and non-entrepreneurs) struggle with, myself included. While this distinction may sound like a rather simple revelation, it was actually a game changer for me. What I came to realize is that satisfaction comes from accomplishments – the things we quantify or boxes we check on our task list – while happiness comes from pursuing and doing meaningful work. This doesn’t require that everyone become a social worker, but it does require that we re-evaluate our purpose, the motivations behind our pursuits, and how we spend our time. So to answer your question, I don’t think “making it” is an endpoint, it’s a state that we must continue to pursue.

QH:   Any advice for aspiring young professionals?

SC:   Pursue meaningful work. Be curious.

Interviewee: Steven Clough

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Quentin Hoffman
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