The first time I met John Saddington, I was a guest observing the very first cohort of startups Peter had recruited to Greenville in 2012. At that time, I was still working in an agency and The Iron Yard wasn’t even born yet—the accelerator was still called “The Next Big Thing.” Seeing John mentor startups was fascinating. He’d experienced multiple exits as an entrepreneur, was fluent in multiple programming languages (in almost all of which he’d built successful apps) and somehow managed to have blogged every day for more than a decade, establishing him as an authority in all types of online publishing. Needless to say, I felt privileged to spend some time with him on that day. If you’d told me that I’d one day build a company with John, I’d have called you crazy.
Fast-forward more than three years and what seemed like a pipe-dream has become reality. When Peter, Mason and I made the decision to begin expanding The Iron Yard, we knew we needed to round out our team with someone who had experience growing companies in a variety of contexts—a seasoned entrepreneur who could jump in and add value no matter what they were working on. Most importantly, we knew we needed someone who cared about our mission of helping people as much as we did. John was made to order: on top of his extensive entrepreneurial experience, he held a masters degree in education and had often talked about figuring out the right way to pursue that passion. After a few phone calls and meetings, John joined our team at the dawn of 2014.
In many ways, The Iron Yard is what it is today because of John. From the very beginning, John spearheaded all of our content and social efforts, which he’s extremely adept at. But comparatively, that was a small glimpse of his role. I’ll never forget the months of living on airplanes, traveling to new markets with John to meet staff, students and employers. John and I built and executed marketing plans that we still use parts of today. John was (and is) the #1 advocate for our company culture. Sometimes I go back and look at the early drafts of the formal mission and values documents that we codified for the team. Defining those components of The Iron Yard was an incredibly important step in our journey. On every team call and in almost every team communication, John reminded our team of the mission—the reason behind the work we were doing.
As we grew and our hiring needs became more acute, John jumped in full-steam and built out our recruitment and hiring process. He tirelessly searched for and pursued Instructors and Campus Directors who believed in our mission and had the talent to execute it. In 2014, John took our company from 4 employees to over 40 employees with extremely low attrition, which is a monumental achievement by anyone’s standards. Most importantly, John’s commitment to our mission meant that even in periods of incredible growth, our culture was carefully protected every step of the way and employees at The Iron Yard maintained a palpable sense of purpose and camaraderie in the work they did.
— ericdodds (@ericdodds) December 3, 2014
As much as John did for the company, his impact on my life personally is what will always stick with me. As a new entrepreneur, I had a lot of lessons to learn and John gently guided me through The Iron Yard’s growth, helping me avoid many pitfalls he’d seen along the way in his own ventures and at other companies. He taught me how to keep my priorities straight and stay physically healthy during life on the road. John’s encouragement has matured me as a writer and I still hear his voice today when I’m staring at a blank screen trying to type out what’s in my head. Beyond work, though, I felt genuinely cared for by John—and still do. It’s easy to ask how work is going, but he always started our conversations asking about life and my family. In fact, he messaged me just last evening asking those same things.
As The Iron Yard has grown from a startup into a maturing mid-size company, the partners have constantly evaluated our roles and they have changed a good bit, especially as of late. As John looked at his role and conversed with us as a team, the possibility of him moving on came up, which was as strange as it was natural, a rare combination among partners in a fast-growing company. John said it best: “It wasn’t anything complex and it wasn’t a terribly difficult decision – the organization and business had changed and her needs were just different.”
It’s hard to describe what a bittersweet experience this was—seeing someone follow their passion and skill to start a new adventure is incredible, but not working daily with someone who played an integral role in your company and life is a significant change.
A few weeks ago, John wrote about his transition. He summed up his feelings this way:
With that, I just want to say “Thank you” to my partners and my team – what a ride, what a gift, and what an opportunity to work on something that really matters. I’m going to cherish the time that I’ve had with all of you for the rest of my life.
I feel the exact same way. We want to say “thank you” to you, John. You’ll always be part of The Iron Yard family and the work you did building this company lives on.