This past Friday wrapped up my first "class" of TechStars as a mentor. I wrote a post at the beginning of the summer about what I thought was in it for me as a mentor. I was seeking inspiration. I got much more. Looking back, I almost feel naive wondering if I'd find inspiration. How could you not be inspired by ten teams of highly motivated, extraordinarily talented people busting their asses for 3 months focusing on ideas they believe in?
As the summer progressed and I spent more time with the teams, there were two feelings that I tried to constantly be aware of: interest and excitement. As a mentor, I found it useful to think of my interaction with the teams the same way I'd think about test-driving a car. Interest is what gets you behind the wheel; excitement is what gets you to floor it. It was the latter that I knew I had to keep in check, which is something I've never really had to do at Threadless.
For me, excitement is what brings on the onslaught of brainstorming - new idea after new idea after new idea. I'm lucky to have a partner who is equally good at disseminating the good from the not-so-good as I am with filling a sheet with different paths to take.
Being a mentor is another story. If I want to spend all of my own time coming up with new ideas, tangents of those ideas, and tangents of those tangents, then so be it. However, I learned early on that when spending time with another company who is looking to you for either specific advice, or some guided brainstorming - a wild ride of new ideas is hardly constructive.
Going back to the car analogy, think about which feeling is more likely to instigate losing control and wrapping yourself around a telephone pole. This summer I better learned to harness and control my excitement. I know that it may sound strange, but it's true. In learning to do that, I can now see how unbridled excitement can actually derail focus. I found that keeping my excitement in check allowed me to better give the teams what they often needed - which was for me to keep my mouth shut and simply be present as they answered their own questions simply by asking them out loud.
There's nothing wrong with being excited. However, excitement is energy, and what you do with that energy is often times more important that the fact that it exists. Just because a car can go fast doesn't mean it always should, right?
I walk away from the 2009 class of TechStars having learned a lot about being an entrepreneur. In a lot of ways, I've learned more in these past three months than I've learned in the past seven years at Threadless. After all, it's a lot easier to take in the minutiae of the journey while riding shotgun than it is being behind the wheel.
Some call me a tattooed metal head with an eye for design and a nose for tomfoolery. I call myself a tireless design enthusiast, a champion of users, a designer of products and experiences, an advisor to startups, an avid consumer of food, movies,and tee shirts. A husband, and a maker of things.
You can just call me Jeffrey.