Re-Wire Sep 2016

Leading lessons from the guy who showed how you get there from here 


I just interviewed MapQuest co-founder Chris Heivly. He shared his entrepreneurial story — a compass of sorts for getting all kinds of leaders to higher ground, and their ventures off the ground. LJN

Chris Heivly is one of the nation’s leading experts in how to turn startups into multimillion-dollar companies and has been dubbed the “Startup Whisperer.” For over 30 years, Heivly has worked at the highest levels for some of the world’s most recognized brands, including MapQuest, Rand McNally, and Accenture. He has also personally directed over $75 million in investment capital on behalf of these and other companies. Heivly currently serves as one of two managing directors of The Startup Factory, the largest seed investment firm in the Southeastern U.S.

LJN:  Chris, what were your critical blind spots that you needed to see, to get where you wanted to go? And how did they become apparent to you?

CH:  One was how fear gets in the way of how to be successful. For example, whenever I left one of my executive jobs, I would start two paths: one was a job search and the other was to work on a startup idea. In essence, I was combating my fear of starting something with a safety net. That is no way to do a startup. You have to jump and be all in.

The second blind spot was that selling is more important than making. I can spend hours modeling out a business in Excel. So what. “No business plan survives the first contact with a customer,” says Steve Blank. So get out and start interacting with customers!

The typical number of failures should and did lead me to examine myself and what I did wrong.


LJN:  Tell me about a high-stakes idea that you were really afraid to “sell”. How were you holding yourself back or getting in your own way?

CH:  After MapQuest, I had an idea of rolling up a number of regional map publishers and developed a plan to do so. But I needed to raise money and so I sat there reworking the plan without talking to anyone. Finally, I called my mentor and he asked me who I had called to ask for money.

I had no answer. I was afraid — plain and simple. I was afraid of looking stupid. I imagined some guy on the other end of the phone rolling his eyes. I was afraid of asking them for money, because it can feel unnatural and uncomfortable.

My mentor suggested I start with friends (who would gladly take the call and listen). This warms you up and gets your talk track down.


LJN:  So even after your success with MapQuest, fear and uncertainty could still hold you back sometimes. What finally prompted a breakthrough, to move you forward on that next idea?

CH:  I looked at myself in the mirror and told myself to man-up. This is what being an entrepreneur is like. I had to throw away the fear and just make the calls. The next thing I knew, I was possessed with making calls. I think I made 75 within a three-week period. I learned that people WANT to hear your story and your thoughts (especially investors).


LJN:  Did you ever get to a better place by reversing your well-worn mental routes or re-engineering your physical habits?

CH:  When deciding to write a book (my first, Build The Fort), I knew I needed to take a completely different approach to time management. The first thing was to re-engineer my physical self. I wanted my body to be ready to handle the additional load.

A year previous, I had decided to never set an alarm (unless I had a flight or something), in order to give my body whatever amount of sleep it needed. But I also wanted to wake up early and write in the morning. I also knew that I was adding a new job (writing) and that the added stress needed an outlet. So I completely changed what time I went to bed, how I fit in a workout, and how to manage my calendar.


LJN:  What most knocks you off balance now, and how do you regain it?

CH:  Haters and naysayers. I still am impacted by those that don’t get me or what I am trying to do. When they gang up in a given time period, I get in a funk. When I feel it, I let it come — I don’t fight it. It washes out in a day or three.


LJN:  How do you find your courage?

CH:  Courage comes from confidence and confidence comes from creating personal momentum. I create momentum by socializing my business activities with a lot of people. It’s like a stage performer who gets their energy from an audience.


LJN:  One of my key functions as a coach is helping clients live by choice vs. accident, by holding themselves accountable to their own goals and commitments. Who or what holds you accountable?

CH:  It turns out that when you socialize your idea with others a couple things happen. First, you get great feedback, which helps you with that idea. It also creates this sense that this is real and not in your head anymore. That feeling (that this is real) then morphs into a sense that they people will subtly hold you accountable. They do this by asking you how is it going or did you talk to that guy yet.


LJN:  How do you still need to evolve, in order to be, do, have, accomplish, or experience what matters most to you?

CH:  OMG — I have learned and evolved so much over the past four to five years and I am in my 50s. I wrote a book. I created a speaking business / angle that helps me market myself and The Startup Factory better...

... and there is still so much more I want to accomplish. I work on community development activities (helped bring a festival to town), and I have dreams or ideas such as training kid entrepreneurs and creating a place where non-educated but interested people can learn to code or do marketing.


LJ:  Of the key character strengths that someone needs to start any new venture, which seem the most elusive?

CH:  Self-awareness is by far #1. The journey is really hard and you will be placed in many uncomfortable situations. Knowing who you are and what you are good at and what you are bad at, and how to compensate for that (i.e., with a good team), creates a better outcome. It is why it may be easier when you are older and less concerned about what others think of you.

The problem is that those who stick their neck out with an idea are the leaders, and leadership is viewed through a media lens that says “strength”, “all knowing”, “charismatic” and a bunch of other features. How the heck can someone be all of those?


LJN:  Most of these traits sound like essentials for good decision-making. How can someone pivot onto the right path toward cultivating traits that get desired results?

CH:  Having your ego grounded and being self-aware can go a long way to making better decisions.


LJN:  What are the main reasons you see that people on a mission get disoriented and lose their way?

CH:  Founders / executives get caught up in a definition of who they think they should be. So they begin to drift away from who their true self is. The internal battle of that can be downright exhausting.


LJN:  So what are the first steps they should take to get back on track, to make real progress toward achieving their goals, or in living their purpose?

CH:  I think the more that someone can share their truth with others in a very transparent way, that they can gain some awesome self-awareness. Eventually the garbage we thought was important fades away and we have the ability to live in the moment — the business moment.


LJN:  How does business really need to innovate now?

CH:  "Curiosity" is one of my current favorite words. In many ways, innovation comes from a culture of curiosity. In the right culture, your employees, customers, investors, vendors, and partners can all ask questions. That opens the door to innovation. Once opened, you then need some senior executive support to actually act on some of those ideas.

LJN:  I like curiosity, too, and where it can lead us. Thanks for yours, Chris.


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