Today’s blog post comes WebPT President and CTO Brad Jannenga
Earlier this month, I packed my bags and headed off to Washington DC along with Courtney Klein Johnson and Chris Petroff, founders of social incubator and fellow Phoenix tech startup, SeedSpot. Why were we heading to our nation’s capitol? Aside from wanting to see the famed cherry blossoms bloom, we were invited to take part in Startup America’s Champions Take DC event. Packed with amazing dialogue, brilliant insights, and lots of awesome people, the experience was a lot of things—exciting, educational, inspirational—but most of all extremely humbling.
Here are my top four most awe-inspiring moments:
1.) During a networking event at startup hub 1776, I had the opportunity to reconnect with Scott Case, CEO of Startup America as well as Co-Founder and former CTO of Priceline. We started a topical conversation that quickly turned into a much deeper dialogue about personal and professional growth. Scott stepped away with me from the event—an event where everyone wanted to speak with him—devoting almost an hour of his time to a fellow entrepreneur—essentially turning our conversation into a spontaneous mentoring session. Not once did Scott tell me what I should do or what he would do in my position. Instead, he asked questions and pushed me to articulate—and therefore better understand—what I want and thus how to tackle the decisions I face. It was meaningful to me not only because of several ah-ha moments but also because of Scott’s altruistic and genuine nature. Awesome experience.
2.) Todd Park is the CTO of the United States—isn’t that the coolest title in the world?—and it was such a privilege to speak with him at the White House. Todd is a true technologist and not some Washington bureaucrat or politician. He has a firm grasp of the challenges our country faces and he’s eager to tackle them with innovative technology solutions. But there are no stars in his eyes; he understands the hurdles of working inside the government and the limitations that come with the job. In short, he’s brilliant, dynamic, effective; and to possess those qualities in a position with as much reach as he has is impressive and inspiring—especially for me as a CTO.
3.) For those who don’t know a lot about SeedSpot, it’s a relatively new startup—a nonprofit incubator focused on supporting Arizona's most innovative social entrepreneurs; those creating high impact ventures that improve the lives of people and communities on a local, national, or global scale. Basically, it’s a startup worth paying attention to. Of course, that wasn’t always the case.
When Chris and Courtney started SeedSpot, everyone said they were crazy, that the idea wouldn’t work, that they might (gasp) fail. Supportive, huh? It happens. It’s one of the challenges of being an entrepreneur—you have to be okay with the possibility that your idea might not be good, you might be a little crazy, and you might fail. But that’s okay. If you believe in something, how can you not see it through? I didn’t know much about SeedSpot’s early struggles. By the time Heidi and I met their team, they were determined to make it work—and we were determined to do everything we could to help. After all, Heidi and I believed in their idea and the burgeoning Phoenix tech community. Nothing grand, mind you. I mean, we hooked them up with wifi (at the time, they set up shop in the same warehouse as WebPT), answered a few questions here and there, and then became one of their Community Partners. Six months later, SeedSpot has already made it’s mark on Phoenix and beyond.
During my trip to Washington, Chris and Courtney filled me in on some of their hurdles—ones I knew nothing about—and to my surprise, thanked me. I had no idea we made any sort of impact or difference; we were just pitching in and being neighborly. I was sincerely touched to hear we played a little part in their success and helped them over a hurdle or two. No one really knows how hard it is to create something; most people just see the end product and think “that looks easy.” But it’s not easy, and it warms my heart to be a part of helping someone else’s dream come true.
4.) When I was a kid, I wanted to be a chef. Instead, I became a technologist, but the foodie in me is still oh-so-present. So, I can’t wrap up this post without mentioning dinner—ahem, my culinary adventure—at Lincoln. Featuring a smattering of sensational seasonal small plates, my dinner at Lincoln was the epitome of perfection, a true representation of food as art. The food didn’t all come at once, crowding the table, like you might expect of a small plates restaurant. Instead, the food came out at different times and at random. This way, every dish was incorporated into the conversation and kept us guessing what was coming next. We were taking part in every bite, every tastebud-scintillating surprise together.
But it didn’t stop with great food. The restaurateur and his team nailed everything; they thoughtfully crafted every last detail from the great service and beautiful presentation to the fantastic flavors and inventive cocktails.You could tell they took great care to ensure every element of their restaurant—and our experience—was perfect. And it was inspiring. This experience made me contemplate my own company and how important every last detail is in ensuring that our customers (Members) are more than just satisfied; I want them to be delighted. The same time and care Lincoln demonstrated is what every entrepreneur needs to conduct in their own startups. We all need to strive to produce more than just mediocre products—anyone can do that; we need to provide excellence.
Now that I’m back home, it’s time to turn what I learned into my work, into making this world better through technology. That’s my major takeaway from the trip: generally, there’s a lot of time wasted on networking, schmoozing, and chit chat. Each interaction we have is an opportunity to learn and grow and there is so much more to get out of these events than just talking for the sake of talking.
Trips like this are once in a lifetime, so I’m determined to make something fantastic happen as a result of them. Arizona is the number one destination for startups. As a member of this community, I owe it to my fellow entrepreneurs to foster and inspire growth, build talent, and ensure success. And I can only achieve this by providing support, encouragement, guidance, and most of all a willingness to learn. After all, my mentors provided me the same camaraderie. The Startup America’s Champions Take DC has not only reaffirmed my (and WebPT’s) core value of giving back, but has also provided me with a plethora of insights to use in my efforts.