Career Spotlight: Matt Bigge (F'92)

Matt Bigge (F'92)

CEO and Co-founder, Strategic Social Holdings

Describe your current position and what led you to your job:

As CEO of Strategic Social, my role is to provide leadership and vision to facilitate the growth of the company. As a business, we provide technology, program management and consulting support to government and private sector customers in emerging markets. All of our work is driven by deep field research focused on market, culture and economic factors. The role of the CEO is to provide support, resources and decisiveness to empower the rest of the team to give our customers the world-class solutions they deserve.

We started the company in 2009 based on recognition of opportunity and a desire to give back. When I left military service in 1996, my career focus was entrepreneurship and venture investing in technology markets. While those efforts were rewarding, my goal with Strategic Social was to build a business with an explicit double bottom line mentality—to do well while doing good. In early 2009 the global economy was in bad shape. Recession conditions typically provide a superior environment for entrepreneurship and innovation. During recessions, large organizations tend to revert to their core business to the detriment of innovation. Over the past four years we have refined both the business model and our approach to helping people in developing countries. So far, the results have been solid and the experience rewarding.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your career?

From a career standpoint, the most reward moments have been observing the impact of our work on others. Whether it is the literacy program we manage in Afghanistan or the professional development of our local national team members around the world, being a part of a team focused on doing well while doing good is the best reward I could ask for. I am a firm believer that financial rewards tend to coincide with doing work that is intrinsically rewarding and fun—we tend to be better at doing things we enjoy.

What is the best career advice you have received?

Early in my graduate studies an alumnus gave me the following advice: "Figure out where you and your family want to live. Move there. Be happy. Figure out your professional life around being in a location you love." It took a few years for the advice to resonate, but following that advice has been the best decision I have ever made. In today's globally connected environment, it is easier than ever to live where you want and work everywhere.

What would you recommend to someone interested in working in your field?

FIRE: Fun, Interesting, Rewarding and Entrepreneurial. Keep focused on work that has these four characteristics. All four won't be present every day, but keep your eye on the big picture and seek projects and programs with FIRE. If these characteristics are not present, you are officially just working for a paycheck. If you have FIRE, your avocation becomes your vocation.

What challenges have you faced and how did you successfully manage one situation?

With startups, there are challenges every day. With a focus on developing markets, the challenges grow exponentially. Whether we are dealing with import-related issues, language issues or simply time zone issues, it never stops. Challenges are what keep business interesting. For me, the biggest challenge is managing work/life balance. Juggling time management to enable solid personal/family time while meeting business responsibilities is critically important. Actively scheduling time to exercise and be with my family keeps me in sufficient mental and physical shape to deal with the demands of business.

What skills are necessary or what prepared you the most for your career?

While I am hesitant to claim that I have a "career," I believe there are two key takeaways from my time at Georgetown that have been instrumental in my professional life:

  • You get out of things in direct proportion to what you put into them. Lt. Col. Joe Bonet from Georgetown ROTC taught me the harder I work at something, the more rewarding it will be. We all tend to be better at things we enjoy and we enjoy things we are good at. A virtuous cycle.
  • Learn like Socrates and Father Winters, a professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. Asking questions and seeking understanding enables one to learn vicariously and situationally apply concepts. Memorizing specific answers to specific questions allows a person to deal with only specific challenges. Understanding the rationale for questions and answers enables a person to extrapolate those concepts to inform decisions across a breadth of life and business challenges.

What professional associations have aided in your professional development?

I'm not a big professional association person. My personal experience has been that individuals do business with each other while organizations have contracts between each other. Contracts exist for when personal relationships fail. Personal relationships developed at Georgetown, during graduate school, through my Army service and through life have been invaluable. I would recommend focusing more on people than associations.

If you could have another career what would it be?

If I had to do something different, I would want to teach. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to be a guest lecturer at a couple of universities, and I have found the work to be immensely rewarding.

How did your time at Georgetown University influence you and your career path?

I have cited some examples above. I would add to those:

  • An improved awareness of the interconnected nature of the world. During the dark days prior to the Internet, globalism was less obvious. The School of Foreign Service was instrumental in helping me understand the causal impact of international events on everything from the domestic economy to culture and security.
  • Find experts and learn from them. Professor Godson once told me that studying foreign affairs in Washington, D.C., was wonderful because it should keep me out of the library. His point was that I should always eschew books when I could interview the experts who influenced events or the leaders who defined those events. While I try to read as much as possible, I always seek to meet and learn from people who are leaders in their field. No book can communicate the nuances one can learn from a discussion with those who made or witnessed history.