PowderKeg Podcast #001

I was less than a year out of college when I fist met Kristian Andersen (@KristianIndy). And while I had met a lot of people in school, I had never met anyone like him.

Andersen is positive but direct, which I believe is the key to why he is able to accomplish so much in his companies, investments, and community. You can trace the start of his streak of successes back to 2003, when he founded Studio Science, a design and innovation agency where he still serves as CEO. He and his team have helped many B2B SaaS and innovation-driven organizations (including Verge and Powderkeg) find their brand voice, define their positioning, and design their customer journey.

kristian-andersen-studio-scienceKristian Andersen is also an active angel investor and co-founder of Gravity Ventures, a seed-stage venture fund that invests in tech-focused startups. He’s gone on to co-founded a few startups of his own, including; Octiv, Lessonly, Visible.vc and Pathagility. In 2016, he also co-founded High Alpha, a New Venture Studio that conceives, operates and scales enterprise cloud companies.

Beyond working on his direct startup investments, Andersen sits on a few non-profit boards, co-founded The Speak Easy & Indy Made, and serve as a mentor at The Iron Yard, RunUpLabs, and the ARK Challenge accelerators. He lives in Indianapolis full time, his wife and six (yes, six!) kids.

So dive in with open ears and an open mind, and absorb some wisdom from my good friend and mentor, Kristian Andersen.

This episode of Powderkeg is brought to you by DeveloperTown. If you’re a business leader trying to turn a great idea into a product with traction, this is for you.

DeveloperTown works with clients ranging from entrepreneurs to Fortune 100 companies who want to build and launch an app or digital product. They’re able to take the process they use with early stage companies to help big companies move like a startup.

So if you have an idea for a web or mobile app, or need help identifying the great ideas within your company, go to developertown.com/powderkeg.

If you like this episode, please subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes. You can also follow us on Soundcloud or Stitcher. We have an incredible lineup of interviews we’ll be releasing every Tuesday here on the Powder Keg Podcast.

In this episode with Kristian Andersen, you’ll learn:

  • Why geography is not a factor in the success of your start up. (6:30)
  • The  power of entrepreneurship and how it’s transforming communities (10:30)
  • Why developing your narrative can mean the difference between success and failure. (22:00)
  • What separates the winners from the losers in terms of mindset.  (27:30)
  • The importance of gratitude. (32:00)
  • How to hire A players into your company. (37:00)

Please enjoy!

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode:

Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs:

Companies and Organizations:

Connect with Kristian Andersen:


Did you enjoy this conversation? Thank Kristian on Twitter!

If you enjoyed this session and have 3 seconds to spare, let Kristian know via Twitter by clicking on the link below:

Click here to say hi and thank Kristian on twitter!


What stood out most to you about what Kristian shares in this podcast?

For me, it was his ability to instill a transparent culture amongst his team.

You? Leave a comment below.


To subscribe to the podcast, please use the links below:

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To download the PDF file for the full transcript of this podcast, please use the link below:

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If you have a chance, please leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking here. It will help the show and its ranking in iTunes incredibly! Thank you so much!



Episode Transcript

Welcome to the Powderkeg Podcast, episode one. I’m your host, Matt Hunckler. And I could not be more excited about the stories that we’re going to be sharing with you on this podcast, we landed some crazy, awesome interviews, and the conversations were so valuable. And that’s why I’m so pumped to share these stories with you guys. Because I know that there is a lot of value in these conversations, I’ve gone back, listen to them multiple times, of course made the show notes and some of the transcriptions which of course, you can find on our website. Just so you know, you can find all the show notes at verge hq.com/powderkeg. So as you listen to this first episode, don’t even worry about taking notes on your phone or jotting it down in a moleskin. Because you can find all of that right on our website at verge hq.com/powder keg. Now our first guest is someone who has been a mentor and friend of mine for a long, long time, he has done amazing things with his career. And I cannot wait to share this story with you guys. But first, I want to give a huge shout out to our sponsors. Yes, we already have a sponsor coming out of the gate. With the first episode here we’ve got our partners, they’ve been partners of ours for many, many years. And that’s why I’m really excited to collaborate with them. Frankly, we weren’t looking for a sponsor, on this podcast, we really just wanted to get the information out there. But because this partner adds so much value to the conversation and to the community, we really wanted to incorporate them into this and then at the same time, use the budget to get more people to join this community of listeners on the Powderkeg podcast. So this first episode of Powder Keg is brought to you by developer town. Yes, developer town, these guys are amazing. If you’re a business leader, trying to turn a great idea into a product with traction developer down is what you want to look at. They are an amazing agency that has clients ranging from entrepreneurs to Fortune 100 companies who want to build and launch their apps or digital products, they’ve worked with huge, these fortune 100 kinds of companies all the way down to the solo entrepreneur, taking their ideas focusing on the start phase of the startup process. So they’re actually able to take this process and use it with early stage companies, but also apply those to bigger companies. So big companies can actually move like a startup. So if you have an idea for a web or mobile app, or need anything, that the great ideas within your company need to actually reach the light of day, go to developer town.com/powderkeg. Now the cool thing is developer town wanted to bring some of their clients some of their more entrepreneurial clients onto the podcast. And we’ll be sharing those here at the end of each episode. So stay tuned to the end of this one. There’s a founders named Scott, he’s got an amazing story. And I really liked how candid he was because he is a product owner, so an entrepreneurial product owner within a larger company, and he’s gonna share that story here at the end of the episode. But for now, let’s kick it off with our very first podcast guest and that is Christian Anderson. Christian Anderson is the co founder and partner at high alpha, a venture studio that conceives launches and scales, enterprise technology companies. Now some of these companies, you might have heard of lessonly, Octave, visible VC, these companies are making a massive impact in their respective industries. And in this conversation with Christian, he was actually still under wraps about the launch of high alpha. So in this conversation, we talk a lot more about another company that he started called studio science. So studio science is a leading designing innovation consultancy that works with high growth technology companies to help them do things like branding, messaging, culture books, so they actually worked with us to pick the name of this podcast Powderkeg. They did the branding for powder keg, they also did the branding for verge which of course is the company that is powering this powder K podcast. So all that to say Christian is involved in a lot of different things. We keep the conversation mostly on studio science, but also the companies that studio science is serving and the companies that Christian has invested in. So his experience as a serial entrepreneur and a serial investor gives him an awesome vantage point. And I love this conversation, because we dive right into the nitty gritty of what it takes to be an entrepreneur, what it takes to scale, an idea from scratch, and then at the same time how to continually tell your story while building yourself as an entrepreneur. So without further ado, here is Pat Got a kick podcast episode one with Christian Andersen. I’m here with Christian Anderson, who is the co founder of too many companies to list off here. I will probably do that in the introduction to this video that we’ll shoot later. But you have been very integral in helping several different startup and technology communities, connect, grow and nurture that progress along the way. And most of it has been through your work with studios science, formerly k plus a. And I have been lucky enough to work with you on a handful projects, several projects over the years with different tech companies and fast growing agencies. And I remember Do you remember the first time we met?

I’m embarrassed to tell you that I don’t recall the first time we met. We’ve known each other a long time. I could certainly cite some of our more pivotal interactions. But tell me what was the first time we met? So I

mean, obviously I remember this better, because I wasn’t I wasn’t nobody at the time. Well, we were both nobodies at the time. Definitely not sure you you. You still had the same swagger that you have today. And it was clear that you knew stuff. And I definitely remember that because I had just sold a company down in Bloomington, doing what you do at a large scale on a very small scale for small companies. And so I listened very intently when I first met. Booyah. It was with Brian Hall. Fran Oh, yeah. Right. So Brian, who’s an investor in gravity ventures with you was my mentor. And we were able to meet up at your old Broderick office. And the corner office in the hood. Yeah, Max Yoder welcomed me as the intern. That’s a pretty good person. Had you for sure.

Absolutely. We of course, we hired in to the or fellowship a year later. Yeah. So a lot of connections happen in k plus a.

And he was a big one, though. That was a coup for the war fellowship. Absolutely get max and it was a coup for us to get him when he walked in as a wet behind the ear college junior, asking it was interesting. He applied for a design internship position, was not studying design. We actually couldn’t find any relevant skills that he had that were applicable to our business. But you know, some people just make that big an impact. And he walked out and I said, we got to figure out a way to make a place for him. Yeah. It was it was a good decision.

I don’t think I would have I wouldn’t have known him prior to the or fellowship. Iron process. Same with proofs. Yeah. Yeah. This was a word fellow that class.

Yeah, that was an exceptional vintage. Yes. Yeah.

But that was, that was the year that I met you. And you certainly made an impression on me that meeting and then the following meeting, which of course was over oysters at Bruges, which is kind of your it’ll always stick out in my mind was the first time I ever had oysters, where they muffles or oysters, mussels, of course, they just want to represent the brand. And boy, they represent the brand. That’s good. That’s good. You know, one of the things that I immediately noticed about you was what a passion for entrepreneurship. You have, and not just here in Indianapolis, but all over the country and all over the world, which is where a lot of your clients are now is pretty much all over the place. So you’ve built up over the last, what, 1112 years with pseudoscience.

I’m kind of like an aging movie star at this point. The farm is right. We’re not there’s conflicting reports on when the actual launch date was. But yeah, we’ve been at this for really over 13 years.

So why is it important? Or why do you have such a passion for entrepreneurship and people starting companies outside of Silicon Valley outside of New York?

Yeah. I mean, my passion really isn’t limited to folks that are doing it outside of those geographies, right. I happen to have a deep affection and a lot of respect for folks that are doing it in those geographies as well. I think what I find interesting about entrepreneurship in kind of less visible locales, it’s a slightly different game. And I’ve always had a penchant for the underdog, I guess it might stem from my diminutive stature. That’s what my mom says. I’m not sure but growing up in Arkansas, which is a really, I mean, kind of unbalance pretty economically repressed and depressed state, right. So it’s, it comes in as a solid 49 Typically on most meaningful measures of economic vitality. Yet, even in a state that, you know, it’s much maligned for being kind of behind the times. You’re looking at certain pockets of a place like that. It’s certainly not unique to Arkansas. How do you explain the rise of the largest retailer in the world? Right, how do you explain the rise of one of the largest transportation and logistics companies? Walmart JB Hunt Tyson chicken. Yeah, you know, and Dillards department stores axiom, which was really kind of the original kind of big data company came out of Little Rock. And Adam really kind of the most unlikely places, they actually, you obviously see that around the world. That necessity is the mother of invention, right. And that success is not limited to zip code. But I think most people, specifically kind of aspiring entrepreneurs and people who are still kind of trying to feel their way through kind of their ambition, or personal ambition levels, feel that they have to move, they have to go somewhere else, they have to locate to what has historically been thought of as a center of power in order to build a big, meaningful business. And the truth of the matter is, that’s not true. And I would argue that it’s never been true, I would say it’s less true today than ever. That technology has been such a great democratizer In terms of locale, but kind of observing this and being kind of an amateur student of economic development, specifically, outside of kind of tier one cities, it dawned on me that there are really, really big opportunities. I mean, in the finance world, they would call them, you know, arbitrage opportunities, right? And whether it be Indiana, or parts of Ohio, or Kentucky, or Oregon, I mean, pick your state, right? Not all of California is Northern California, right? There’s a lot of areas in the rest of that state that this is true for as well. I’m really wanted to help carry the torch and tell the story about the power of entrepreneurship, and how it can transform communities, and the economic development prospects of what kind of historically depressed economies?

Well, you’ve done a really good job of carrying the torch here in Indianapolis and one of the recent articles that you’re quoted and quoted as saying, we used to feel like we had to apologize for being located in Indianapolis. And that’s not the case anymore. Yeah. Do you talk a little bit about that? Yeah, we

sit now we think of it as a competitive advantage, right. And, you know, it’s important to kind of separate the kind of rah rah cheerleading from fact, right? Because there is, there is a dynamic where you do have to kind of fake it till you make it a little bit, you have to do that as a person. My dad used to always say, you know, act as F, right, you know, dress for the job you want, right? And there is some of that that is true for for individuals, cities, states and even countries, right?

You’re an entrepreneur that that has done that well, that you can think of probably all

of them. You know what I mean? They get really, really good entrepreneurs. And I’ll segue from your initial question. But really, really good entrepreneurs are fundamentally, really, really good storytellers. And it doesn’t mean that they’re telling stories that aren’t true, it means that they are telling the most interesting, most compelling, most articulate story possible. So is there an example of an entrepreneur who faked it till they made it really stands out? The question would be, give me an example of a really successful entrepreneur that did not do that. And that’s when I have to go do some homework. As a general rule, they’re phenomenal storytellers. And they’re having to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, in most cases, right? They don’t have enough money. They didn’t necessarily go to the right school or have the right degree. They’re trying to sell a vision for a product that doesn’t exist yet to customers that they haven’t found yet. No, I think that is actually a critical and I’m making a very clear distinction between the line and being a good storyteller and being able to cast vision, and being able to get people to follow you why and I have zero tolerance for, but telling a good story. Being able to craft a vision and articulate that well and get potential customers or employees or investors excited, is an absolutely critical skill. And at the state level, if you look at a state like Indiana, you can’t literally start with nothing, right? You have to have some raw material, whether it be your brain, or deep pocket books, or as Peter Thiel talks about, you got to know a secret that very few other people know, we can have one or more of those things to really spin things up in Indiana, we were really blessed by having a you know, all the normal stuff, highly educated workforce, the good old fashion, not myths, but kind of fact of the Midwestern work ethic and a number of businesses that had created kind of micro clusters for us to take advantage of from an entrepreneurial perspective. And that’s why when today I say we used to have to kind of explain away why we were based in Indy. Today, we lead with that because in so many parts of the country now, this particular city is recognized as certainly as being a hotbed of marketing technology, right. And it’s not limited truly to marketing tech, but certainly that’s kind of the sharp end of the spear. You’re sure we’ve had a lot of success. Certainly a lot of that owed to exact target. But it really transcends exact target, as you know, many companies before put a dent in the universe here, including Interactive Intelligence and software artistry and a primo, and and, and so on and so forth. And through that we’ve built such a dynamic base of talent, managerial expertise, large hiring base, it’s why just over the course of the past few months, a number of companies that are headquartered out of state have begun opening offices at a pretty rapid clip here, right to take advantage of that arbitrage.

Yeah, absolutely. Well, it kind of goes to the point of sort of branding your city, and being able to get everyone behind a single message. And in sort of a vision casting aspect of entrepreneurship, you’re gonna probably cringe when I say this word is a little bit of developing a personal brand.

I do cringe a little bit when you say, I knew I knew it.

But you know, I don’t know what other phrase until you come up with a better phrase than personal branding. So, you know, I do think that the personal brand and and entrepreneurs is very important and clearly impacts the way the company is branded. Can you talk a little bit about what you coach entrepreneurs, whether they’re young or not, but first time entrepreneurs, as they’re going about vision casting and building their pitch deck and going out there raising money or building prototypes? What are some of the things that you frequently encourage entrepreneurs or course correct with entrepreneurs around branding their startup?

Well, you know, the, the irony is one of the things that will kind of damage your career Early on, if you’re wanting to position yourself as an entrepreneur or company builder, is to spend too much time and effort trying to figure out how to brand yourself as an entrepreneur or a company builder, right? It’s always used to be a turn off. Now I have, the older I get, the more empathy I have. But it’s always struck me as interesting or odd when a 22 year old walk in and give me their business card that would say, kind of serial entrepreneur or something like that on it, right? I’m sure there are 22 year olds who are legitimately serial entrepreneurs, there’s not a lot of them. You know, at the end of the day, the best marketing is a great product, right? So this is true for software companies. This is true for automobiles, this is true for cities that are trying to figure out municipal branding. And it’s also true for people, right, so those who are focused on kind of the traditional approach to personal branding, which is all about building your own mission statement and relentlessly, being present and visible on social media and showing up to every conference and trying to get on the panel and get it you know, and so on and so forth, if all of that energy was being funneled toward building the product, and I mean, in some cases, the product being the person, how will you create value in the world, I think you would see a lot more success. And I’ll give you just a finite example. Right? The way to build a great personal brand is to help people. So that may be the people you work with maybe the person you work for today. Maybe the people who you’re trying to hire attract into your company, could be people in the nonprofit space people at your church, whatever the case might be, right? Investing in people, is a really, really quick way to effectively build your own brand. If you have a reputation for being somebody who gets stuff done. Who when people ask for help, who delivers that help, that is so much more effective in establishing credibility and boosting your visibility rather than just being noticed. And and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t blog and be active on Twitter. And of course you should write but all of that should be I believe, done through the lens of how am I helping? How am I creating value, right? How am I How am I making the world a better place? How am I advancing the agenda of my organization or the city I live in? And I think that’s where people most often go go wrong. And I could cite a whole lot of examples. And I won’t bore you with the details, but it seems like a simple truth, but it’s one that people have hard have a hard time grasping.

Well, let’s get a little specific there. Because I really like that idea of entrepreneur as a product right before make they even have a product built and entrepreneur viewing themselves as a product. So if entrepreneurs out there are viewing themselves as a product, what do you see at this point in time? 2015? What are people out there hungry for in terms of a product as it pertains to an entrepreneur as a product? What kind of entrepreneurs does the world need right now?

You know, unfortunately, what the world needs and what people are hungry for rarely the same thing. People are not particularly really rational, as you know, and have a hard time kind of playing the long game, right? So, you know, I fear my answer will be kind of unsatisfactory because it’s so banal and obvious. But the simple version is we need more people doing and less people pontificating, right. So I mean, you, we see this everywhere and our business and the companies that we work with in the companies that we’re talking to, from an investment perspective, execution, trumps everything, ideas are cheap. You and I meet with people every day that have ideas, I’ve never met anyone who didn’t have at least $100 million idea of rattling around in their brain, right? Ideas are cheap, you know, in terms of currency, it’s people that actually kind of advance, move the ball forward. And that means rolling up your sleeves and being prepared to face and a whole lot of rejection and casting aside any sense of entitlement one might have about what the world owes them or, or what they deserve. Once again, it’s a that’s human nature, right? I mean, we are kind of broken people and neatly right. And we constantly have to battle, selfishness I want I deserve, why me, you know, so on and so forth. And I think the people who end up being most successful are folks that get to work, building something that has value that transcends themselves. And this once again, this goes back to how do you do personal branding? Well, I can tell you do it wrong, right? If it’s focused purely on you, building your CV, making sure you’re the most visible, brightest light in the room. Over time that pays, you may get some pops from it that pays diminishing returns over time. Humility is so underrated. It is unbelievable. And people talk about it all the time, as if it’s like this core value that everyone shares. And I’ll tell you true humility is an extraordinarily short supply.

It’s hard to come by, hopefully a little less hard to come by here in the Midwest. Yeah, but

you know what, there’s even this perverse arrogance in the Midwest about their humility, they love to talk about how humble they are. It’s interesting, I was on a road trip with someone the other day, and we were taught, we were kind of comparing the different geographies and what’s true about him. And I was making this case for Midwestern humility. And he was like, you know, even in the Midwest, you see humility, perverted into vanity, where it becomes this bad. Hey, look, look how humble, it’s a little bit like when somebody gets their Oscar and they go, you know, anytime somebody says, I’m so humbled by they actually mean the exact opposite of that. Right? So it’s another word that is slowly losing its meaning.

Yeah, sure. Well, let’s say that founders out there watching this right now are working on building great product. And they’re, they’re building a great team as best team they can with whatever money they’re bringing in from their product, there’s still some amount of communication that they need to do in order to continue to attract the right talent, potentially attract investors and market to clients. What are kind of like, especially in the earliest stages? What are some of those things? As let’s say, a founder is going out to start the fundraising process? How can they communicate who they are and what they’re about effectively with their brand? Or what is to become their brand?

I mean, once again, I think goes back to storytelling, and I really don’t make a distinction. So I talked about to be one story, should it be many stories, there used to be one story that certainly can be contextualized for the audience. But no, there needs to be there should only be one story. And that story needs to live in the product. Okay, not exclusively, but we tend to fall into this way of thinking where there’s marketing, and there’s product. And those are different things, right. One is how you fulfill demand. The other is how you generate demand. And I tend to think that those are not the same thing. And increasingly, as people purchase experiences, not products, you have to think along the lines that you have to the continuum is different. The retail experience if there is one, the advertising experience, if there is one, the product experience, so actually interacting with when I’m paying money for the services experience that I’m dealing with, if I have a problem, or I need to return it, or something broke, I mean, that’s all the product. And really, the most successful products are stories, right? And I mean, if you if, if I said, Hey, named the three most interesting dynamic products on the planet, rather, you said the Nest thermostat or a Tesla or MacBook Pro or whatever, those are really kind of like living narratives, right? I mean, literally, it’s a story and it’s a story that’s constantly being tuned and it’s constantly being tweaked. So, my first point would be that you need to view your product and that experience of consuming it, buying it consuming it as part of that narrative. More specifically in the fundraising process. I like to think of the pitch deck. It’s a novel, it is a, hopefully not a work of fiction. But it’s a book. It’s a story. And it has a plot line that should be clearly articulated. It has a protagonist, your product coming to save the day, it has an antagonist, what’s the problem that’s been addressed? What’s the great wrong that has to be righted, it has a day noon wall, it has a climax, right? The climax may be when that problem gets solved for a particular customer. If you’re talking to investors, it might be when there’s a liquidity event that puts money back in the investors pockets. But I think if entrepreneurs would force themselves to think in terms of the narrative constantly the narrative, who’s our hero, who is our enemy, what’s the great quest or challenge that’s been put in front of us, right, kind of the hero’s journey that goes a really, really long way. And that way, when you get nervous, or when you need other people to help carry the water and tell the story, we might all give slightly different versions of what happened in Star Wars. But in general, we’d be able to tell the same story. And it’s the same thing when you’re when you’re raising money, and you’ve got a CEO or if you’ve got a co founder, and you’re split up on you’re in different planes, and you’re pitching different groups, you want to be singing out of the same hymnal, the same thing is true when you’re selling to customers. The same thing is true when you’re recruiting. And this is why the idea of story living inside of the product living inside your organization, being the culture is so critical. Because if you’ve got a story that’s properly articulated and codified, then it’s not just up to you to be able to tell that story.

Let’s get a little more brass tacks. How long should that story be?

Once again, I think you’ve got to contextualize it, right. So if your LAUNCH Festival, you got two minutes, it should be two minutes long, right? You know, if you’re sitting down recruiting a VP of sales, you can take a lot longer to tell that to tell that story. But you know, if we want to think of it through the kind of rubric of the investor pitch, obviously, less is more 10 to 15 slides following that plotline of who we are what we do, here’s the problem. Here’s how big the problem is, which is a really critical thing that many entrepreneurs get wrong. There are a lot of terrific problems out there that are real, and no one’s going to argue with the fact that they’re real. But if you’re successful in addressing that, in a vacuum, it may not be sufficient to build a venture scale business around it. Well, I want to add one thing, because the one thing that’s I’m really on a Peter Thiel kick now, so I’ve forgive me, but the one zero to one was, one of the things he points out in that book that I think is critical is that most really, really big ideas, a seem dumb initially and be appear to be attacking a problem that’s too small, you really need to understand how big the opportunity could be. The flip side of that is, folks that are only targeting $10 billion minimum, total addressable markets, I think we’re missing the boat, because many, many great ideas are great, because they actually change consumption habits, they change the way people behave. So trying to size that market before you’ve disrupted it can be an impossibility. And I think if people are too fixated on that, that means we’re gonna miss out on a lot of great ideas.

That’s a really good point. And I think that if you can kind of shape that in your story, right? And show who was I don’t remember who was talking about how they did this effectively. But it was literally, in this industry, this company did this and this industry, this company did this. And this industry, no one’s done it yet. That’s because we’re doing it. Yeah. Are there other things that you see that kind of escalate that story to the, to the climax, or sort of the apex moment of, of the story?

So once again, this a lot of this is conventional wisdom, but I think we hear it so much that it loses its efficacy, you know. And another big deal in the in the storytelling process is you really have to, people have to care about you, the individual before they can care about your product, right or even care about the problem that you’re trying to solve. Make someone care about you. Yeah, that’s a good question. Well, a number of the things we’ve already touched on, right? So it really comes down to who do you want to invest in? What are the character traits that exist and this differs from investor to investor for sure. But there’s some commonality by and large people want to invest in winners. That seems kind of crass, but it’s the absolute fact and winners have kind of one defining characteristic and you’re ready for this. Winners believe that they are going to win. So losers think they might win if everything goes according to plan and nothing happens. You know, nobody screws with them from the outside and the market doesn’t get disrupted by a third party and winners don’t think about that stuff as soon as the shoes are laced up, they’re out there. They’re not just trying to win. They believe that they’re gonna win. Right? I mean, Ali is like the greatest example. Right? Sure.


Yeah, yeah. Well, you know what’s interesting though is there was lots of things that he knew he wasn’t good at. It’s very lots of stuff. Right? He happened to be right about the one thing he believed he was good at. Right. And that was whipping people. So don’t confuse humility with fake self deprecation or self flagellation. That’s not what I mean, you can know you’re really good at something, and still managed to be humble in the process. And also baked into that as people. So people want to invest in winners, they want to invest in people who they believe are teachable, because nobody knows at all. So coming across, somehow striking that balance where you are confident, and self assured is critical, but also that you are flexible, because we know you’re going to need to be coachable, teachable, and I’ll tell you it, there’s not a you can’t read a book on it and turn it into that person. Right? I mean, it’s like everything else, you got to practice those things. You got to practice being confident. Yeah. It’s all about like at bats, right. And that’s why constantly pitching, working on your story, interacting with people refining your message. In many ways, talking yourself into what it is you’re trying to talk other people into is so critical. I do believe that there are probably some entrepreneurial genes that are passed along from mother to daughter or father to son, but as a general rule, most of that is a function of training and learning.

Well, if you’re in America, chances are you have some of those genes in Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that’s right. So those are really good pieces, you know, in terms of the character and bringing out that character, in telling that story, your entrepreneurial character, as well as the protagonist and antagonist in your story, you know, as you’re going through and developing a relationship. You know, one of the things that I’ve always admired about studio science is, you know, even though I haven’t always been your biggest client, or nor have, I probably ever been your biggest client, the care that you take in developing that relationship with just little things like sending gifts, you know, when I was on the front page of the IBJ, you guys, were the first people to send a thank you note. Talk to me a little bit about one, where did you get that? Trade? Because I know, I know, it’s not you, you know, writing every card, but it comes from you, the founder of the company. And and could you maybe tell me a little bit about why that’s important?

Well, certainly it’s not, as you noted, that’s the culture, studio science. And the culture of gratitude is really strong here, some gratefulness being grateful. And I think we are all I know, we are all really grateful to have the opportunity to do what we do for a living. I mean, it’s a really dreamy job. And we’ve been successful at it. And we’ve been rewarded along those lines, which has been terrific, but that at the risk of sounding trite, that’s definitely not why we do it, because there are easier ways to make money, as they say, but I think everyone here is really grateful. And so it’s when you are yourself satisfied, and content, and grateful and acknowledge the fact that you have a lot of stuff that you may not deserve. That makes it really easier, makes it a lot easier to be happy for other people. Gratefulness is the exact opposite of resentfulness. So what that leads to is it leads to a culture of celebration, where you not only want to celebrate kind of your own successes, but you naturally just want to celebrate other people’s as well, right. I think it’s one of the reasons why we’ve been such an active and prolific cheerleader of this community, is that we’re proud to have played some role, and its ascension. But more than anything, we’re just happy. We’re happy for the people who live here and work here. We’re happy for the people who’ve had those successes. And you’re asked where it comes from. And I think that in my case, and it certainly doesn’t all come from me here. But in my case, I was certainly raised in an environment where I was reminded to be grateful, where that was part of the culture of my family to give thanks. And to give thanks, religiously, if you’ll pardon the pun, and that spills over into every aspect of your life, right? It does not mean that I’m never resentful. It doesn’t mean that I never look at somebody and go, I sure would like a car like that someday. But I think it’s sincere. And I think it’s interesting. It’s gratifying to hear you say at about studio science. I think that’s something that this team owns, and spends a lot of time trying to be really intentional about in terms

of that being a core value for studio science. One, do you think that that needs to be a core value for all companies? And then the follow up question is, do all companies need to define what their core values are?

I mean, the second, the last question is simple. Yes. I mean, at some point, there needs to be some shared understanding about what’s important.

At what point is that important Do you think that’s when you hit the road pitching?

Yeah, I think in the beginning, right. I mean, and once again, you know, I’m certainly not saying we’ve always been good at that. And that’s always a process. I believe values can change, by the way, right? And I’m most people would say, No, you set those in stone. And those become your guiding lights. No, I think things change, people change and what may be important 10 years ago, may not be as important to you, maybe you achieved that. Or maybe you thought that was important to you. And you realized over time that it wasn’t, but no, I think you absolutely have to be really proactively engaged in evaluating what’s important, documenting it somehow. And this is the role of a CEO is to establish what is important for that business. And then relentlessly communicate that down into the organization until people are sick and tired of hearing it in terms of should gratefulness be a core value for all businesses? I mean, I have no idea I’m far be it for me to say what should what company what should be important to them? So no, it is been important for us, it has served us well. It’s been something that we can delve into, you know, can galvanize around and and rally around. And it’s certainly paid paid dividends. It’s the kind of quintessential what goes around comes around. Yeah, scenario.

That’s good. That we talked a lot about what companies can do, to communicate well and to grow, specifically focusing on product and developing the right messaging around that the right times. What are the things that companies? What are those things that growing companies need to avoid? We obviously touched on some of that to focusing all your time and attention on doing the Look at me right side of things. But what are some of the pitfalls you see, especially in fast growing companies, which you work almost exclusively? With fast growing companies?

I think this is pretty easy question, actually, as we like to say talent is the atomic unit of success. That’s kind of the irreducible complexity of success is who are you working with? You’ve got a crappy product, if you hire the best team, they will fix your crappy product, right? You got bad customer service, you hire the right team, they will fix your bad customer service. Talent can fix anything, it can fix a bad product, literally, right? It can, it can fix a broken sales model, literally. And so getting the right people on board is so critical. And everyone pays lip service to that right everyone. Yeah, talents are, you know, our most valuable resource or whatever. The reality is that when you’re hyper growth company, and you’re hiring 50 people a month or 50 people a week, it can be really difficult, almost impossible to hire, well across the board, right? When you’re the size of studio science. It’s not easy, but it’s manageable, right? If we need to slow our roll to make sure we’ve got the right folks on the team, we’ll just slow down. If you’re a hyper growth venture backed company, that the wolves are at the door and the competitors are circling and IBM decides to get into the business, you can’t take your foot off the accelerator. So hiring is so critical and getting that right, so critical, it’s so difficult. And so knowing that at scale, it’s going to be almost impossible to continue to hire a players, building the right type of culture, with the right type of values that are rigorously and religiously conveyed to those inside of the organization can help smooth out a lot of those rough patches, because the second best thing you can do next to hiring the right person is firing the wrong person quickly. And if you’ve got the right culture in place, the right values in place the right people in place, the host organism will reject folks that are not that are not good fit folks that are either toxic or not up to the task. It’s not always that they’re bad people, sometimes they just don’t have a horsepower, right. And when you’re going through that hyper growth curve, especially early on a couple of bad apples can really muck up the works once again, this kind of conventional wisdom. But the interesting thing about a player’s is a players will hire and subsequently inspire other A players. The problem was letting just one B plus person in the door. That’s tricky because b plus people walk like a plus people and they talk like a plus people that can be very, very hard to understand the nuance. The minute one of those folks come in the door, the wheels begin to fall off the wagon, because B players hire and inspire C players and C players hire inspired D players. And it’s like a virus A players are so unique in that regard. And I’ll tell you if you want to know the secret to divining the difference. How do you know when a from a B in the interview process? It’s pretty simple. I think I’ve got it down that’s here. When you ask them the kind of perfunctory question about tell me about one of your greatest failures like when a project went wrong or whatever. You know, this is kind of a standard interview one on one, what you’ll find is that the a player and the B player both tell you about the failure or then you’ll set it a person. Why did that happen? Here’s what a person’s say, I failed to do X and didn’t recognize it until two weeks later. And by that point, it was too late. Or my manager told me to do X, but I decided to do Y, and it failed, or I slept through my alarm or whatever the case may be a big player, the cause will be external. Well, my boss insisted that we use an offshore development firm, and they didn’t really understand what we were trying to do. And or we’ve had this new sales guy came in and he’s he sold a bunch of vapor that doesn’t even exist in the product yet. And it was no way for me to write, it’s always going to be some external event or individual or set of circumstances that drove the failure. And I mean, to me, that has proven itself to be the clearest, cleanest, Crispus way to distinguish two parties that on paper look almost identical. How do you know who’s really who’s got the bandwidth, the intellectual horsepower, the humility, the leadership, to move to the next level? That simple test usually will render that out? Do you

ask that question to to us foreigners who pitch to you? Or do you have a similar kind of litmus test, you know, with round character,

you know, it’s interesting, the way we deal with a someone who’s coming in and asking for money and the way we deal with somebody who is gracious enough to consider coming in joining us, we manage them a little differently, right. So those are two different, it’s interesting question. I’ve never thought of it that way. But those are two very different processes. There’s a different set of patterns, that I personally am looking for an entrepreneur. And once again, a lot of this is kind of intuitive or intuition driven. Some of it is a little more practical and linear, you can ask some questions. And the first thing is to be a great entrepreneur, you have to be oriented toward entrepreneurship. Right. And one of the simplest ways to find find out the answer to that question is to ask them about their entrepreneurial background. I mean, it is shocking. I mean, it is really shocking. how similar the backgrounds of most successful entrepreneurs are. I mean, there are a series of very some, you know, I always ask, tell me about the first time you remember making money on your own, right? I mean, like clockwork, it’s the same answer. I mean, contextualize a little differently. But they were selling cinnamon toothpicks on the playground, or they were having their mom drop them off at 711. And buying Lemonheads and then crossing the street to the elementary school and marking them up 50%. Or they were selling T shirts to the sorority girls when when they were in college, or they were mowing lawns at the beginning of the summer. And by the end of the summer, they were running a crew of five of their friends mowing lawns, and they were just counting checks. And I mean that cadence of being a starter, being able to execute minimal to build teams, whether it was in third grade someone’s cinnamon toothpicks, or you know, brokering t shirt printing to college kids, it’s really similar. And as you know, just because you did that does not mean you will be successful. That’s not my point. But those who are successful by and large, a disproportionate number of them have similar experiences a matter of fact, a disproportionate number of them never even had real jobs.

And those with real jobs, we haven’t already started an entrepreneurial venture, should they stay away from starting something? So

good question. So if you if you have not exhibited the gene historically, are you saying is that enough of a reason to not move into entrepreneurship? I don’t know. That’s a good question.

No matter what you say, because the person that’s the right person will would start no matter what.

That’s a that is an excellent point. So yeah, for anyone who that would dissuade them, they’re ignoring what I’m saying anyway. So that’s, that’s good. And I think the answer is, no, because I think that you can come to things late, late in life. No, that’s certainly. Yeah, absolutely. And I also think that that I’ve used this word several times, and it’s an important one, I think the context of entrepreneurship has changed dramatically, and will continue to change as well. So we are large as we largely continue to move into this kind of free agent nation. idea, right, the idea of well, I’ve been at the same job for 28 years. I don’t know if that’s we’re not going to have a lot of those conversations in the future. So I think that one of the things that’s happening is everybody is having to become, at least at a micro level, entrepreneurial, even in their day to day jobs. So I don’t know that the cinnamon toothpick test will be as meaningful five years from now as it was five years in the past.

That’s a good point. Well, Krishna could probably ask some questions all afternoon, if you’ve let me say stuff to do. And we’ve got another conversation coming up in a couple of days. So anything else you want to touch on or something that you just really wanted to expand on, but I cut you off?

No, I got it all out of my system.

Awesome. Thank you so much. Thank you. So Okay. So that was our first ever episode of the Powderkeg podcast. And it couldn’t have been a better episode for a number of reasons. The first reason being that Christian and I go way back, he has been an influential mentor to me. And that is really one of the things that I want to make sure we highlight on this podcast is who is helping entrepreneurs and investors and top talent along their journeys as they go, and they learn and they grow and scale their innovative tech companies. And one of the things I love that Kristian said was, is really all about telling your story. And one of the cool things about our story here at Powderkeg. And at Verge is that we have some really cool stories with some really cool entrepreneurs. And one of those entrepreneurs that’s here with me today, is a partner at developer town, which is actually our partner in this podcast throughout the rest of this year, at least. And then we’ll see if they like us enough to bring us back. But I’m sitting here in the room right now with Nick wangler, partner at developer town. Nick, thanks for being here. Happy to be here. Nick, I’m curious, out of all the things that you could partner up with, why did you guys decide you wanted to partner on this Powderkeg podcast? Well, we’d love

I mean, we love the work that you’ve done in Indianapolis, in particular, Matt, with Virgin and Powderkeg is really the the next step for that. And so we love leaders, both entrepreneurs and business leaders inside of big companies. And the ability for this community to really rally around those types of people is, is unique. And so we’re happy that you’re indie based. And we’re happy that we’re able to support those, those leaders

well, and one of the things that we’ll be sharing is the journey as we’re expanding and other communities around the country. Right now we’re in eight cities now that host monthly verge pitch nights, sharing the entrepreneurial stories on stage. And then as well through our global media partners. And you guys partnered with us on the launch of verge Nashville earlier this month, which was awesome, you guys came down there with us, we really appreciate the support there. It was cool to see what’s happening in the Nashville tech community in Nashville, Tennessee, that is, and at the same time to see how a developer town can use their experience of helping these entrepreneurs grow and scale to provide real live feedback right there at the events. That’s actually what we’re going to be doing, instead of giving a straight advertisement in each of these episodes. I really loved your idea, Nick, of sharing a story of one of the entrepreneurs that’s working with developer town.

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we again, we love the leaders that are doing great things. And so because we work with so many different leaders who are at incredibly pivotal moments of a new web or mobile product, in particular, they are risking a ton, right? And so they’re in a unique position to be able to tell some pretty amazing stories and, and really share insight with what’s going well, what’s not going well, what they would want other people to hear. And so we love those people. And so we thought it’d be best to highlight them for our sponsors.

So who’s in this first episode?

So first one, Scott Humphries. He’s actually a, what we would call the product owner for one of the projects that we’re working on. And he’s from Johnson Controls, which is like a $30 billion company. And so amazing guy, just super smart he, entrepreneurs don’t have to be outside of large companies. And more and more, we’re seeing large companies see the need to be more entrepreneurial, and innovative in their approach when they’re bringing products to market. And so Scott is just a great example of that. And so I’m excited to talk with him.

I love it, who’s got Humphries,

my name is Scott Humphries, and I’m a product manager and an internal startup with Johnson Controls. So what my focus is, is on how do you commercialize new products that are coming to market? How do you do something different than what Johnson Controls has been doing? Just a little background on Johnson Controls, they are mainly in the HVAC and control systems, they also do power. And I’m originally from Tyco International, which is a security company. So from the security mixed with all of these other you know,

what would you say is the most interesting thing about what you do,

the most interesting thing about what I do is looking for ways that I can come in and disrupt my own business. And in this scenario, you know, I have a video background, I’ve worked for a video segment of the business. So what can we do that’s going to bring something new to market? So

obviously, there are a lot of ways you could bring a product to market. And there’s a lot of different organizations you could work with. What made you guys interested or intrigued by what developer town does here?

So developer town, you know, when we were originally starting out on our first project, what we we knew we needed to bring in outside help, we weren’t going to be able to get the internal resources to, you know, help us on the marketing and help us do validation or the actual engineering. So we went out we started talking to different companies. And what we realized is there’s a lot of businesses that do staff augmentation, and that’s not what we were looking for. We We wanted to partner we wanted somebody that could come in and help us with, you know, the market validation, who could bring the creativity, the design, you know, so end to end support, so that we knew we could go from an initial concept to a launch.

Great hearing from Scott Humphries at Johnson control a client of developer town. So if you’re an entrepreneur inside a big company or at a startup, and have an idea for a web or a mobile app, just go to developer town.com/powderkeg. You can sign up there, get some free resources, learn a little bit more about developer town. And why does such an awesome partner, not only for us here on the podcast, but for so many companies from startup, to scale up to big companies with entrepreneurial kinds of culture. So that wraps it up for our first episode of Powderkeg . Thank you so much for tuning in for being a part of this would really appreciate your feedback. So if you could please just give us a review on iTunes. And then hit us up on Twitter. I’m just at Hunckler Hu NCKLE are on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, you can pretty much find me just by Googling my name. And of course, at verge HQ on all of the main handles. So again, Powderkeg presented by verge, this community of tech entrepreneurs, investors and top talent, growing high growth tech companies outside of Silicon Valley. And this community is growing. And I want to say just thank you one more time for being a part of this community. We have so many other great episodes that we’ve released here in this early launch of the powder keg podcast. We’ve got interviews with people like Jeremy Roche, CEO of financial force, Chris Hively, co founder of Mapquest and Cooper Harris, the CEO of klikly, all entrepreneurs, some investors as well. So make sure you check out the catalogue there, and we’ll be coming out with these every week. So make sure you’re checking back and subscribing on iTunes, Stitcher, wherever you like to find us. Thank you again and we’ll see you next time on The Powderkeg podcast.