What’s your history with us and what keeps you busy?
The first time I was exposed to TechStars was at a Demo Day in Boulder. I lobbied pretty heavily for the program to come to Seattle, where I’ve been a mentor since it began. I’ve recently mentored EveryMove, LikeBright, GroupTalent, and GoChime. In the past three years, I’ve been really active with University of Washington’s entrepreneurship program and also Startup Weekend. The lean startup stuff has really been taking off here. I’m also a speaker at Founder Institute.
What did most founders need from you? What is your specialty?
I’m mostly a product guy and somewhat of a process guy. I seem to hear consistently from the TechStars teams that I take a chaotic set of decisions and help them make sense of it all. Something I learned from Brad Feld is that he doesn’t say, “here’s the answer.” He says, “Well, here’s how I would go about thinking of solutions for this issue.” I like that. I’m good with specifics whereas other mentors might give generalized answers. I help the founders focus on one thing at a time rather than the big picture because compartmentalizing certain aspects of the business and prioritizing accordingly helps them move forward.
You’re great at engaging your audiences. I noticed that you respond personally to some users on Twitter when they have technical issues with Gist.
It’s about building relationships. Gist as a product is about knowing who you’re talking to and being able to listen more effectively. It’s a blend of immediacy and context that allows us to do it. It’s so important for any CEO to know how to use social media and how to participate actively. When you listen to people, they know you care.
I know you love to sail and have been around the world. Would you humor me with an analogy? How is sailing like entrepreneurship?
Funny you ask, I do a whole presentation about this. When sailing, we would always try to create a technical advantage. We would look around and say, “Where are the areas that I can exploit? I think I can do a better job of x, y, z.” You start iterating. In the case of sailing, you’re in a two month cadence where you’re testing new sails and you keep everything else the same. When you have the perfect sail, you change the math. And so forth. Then you regroup and decide which category to invest more time in. In sailing, if you create enough boat speed, anyone can drive the boat. Startups are the same way. It’s very difficult for your competition to copy you when they haven’t been fine tuning and don’t have the expertise.
9 Strategies to Maximize the Value of Mentor Meetings by T.A. McCann