Who’s Your Guru? My Startup, a 3-Hour Skype & the True Life Making of a Myth

The connection flickers, and the black Skype screen finally splits open to reveal a hulking figure standing over his computer in a non-descript kitchen. “Welcome to Speakertext headquarters…” Matt Mireles’ voice has the same light, aw-shucks timbre from his web startup demo, which makes an odd contrast with both the (virtual) physical presence in front of me and his profanity-sprinkled tweets and blog entries. He is walking around the kitchen, trying to get some coffee going, and indeed cursing and dude-ing his merry way. I can see that he’s decked out in a stretched-out t-shirt and what look like pajama bottoms, and is sporting…is it?..yes, that’s right: an old-fashioned John Riggins/Travis Bickle Mohawk. Daaang

Still, as well as I can determine from 4,000 miles away, Mireles is decidedly not a homicidal cabbie. But don’t let his nice-guy voice fool you either. You could even say he’s got the right mix of amiability, the old Redskin fullback’s determination and just enough of that taxi driver madness. He’s also got a plan. And he does his homework. Dude.

Mireles had stumbled upon a previous entry from this blog and sent me a slap-down comment, which got me reading his blog…and the rest, as they say, is biztory. He was not the first perfect stranger with more success/experience than me to be generous with his time, though the THREE-hour skype is up there with the most generous. The specific advice he gave me on my project was also bold and potentially game-changing. But he’s getting special attention here for another reason…and in some way, it starts with that particular hairstyle he chose. Or that chose him…

I actually only got a brief look because we cut the skype video after losing our connection twice. Still, throughout the morning (his NYC time zone) call, I imagined him there, still on his feet, at or near his laptop, pacing, jabbing the air, running his hands through that Augusta-fairway band of locks as he unfurled his unlikely bio and parried my attempts to stick to my guns on point X or Y of my core product and business model.

From the get-go, he apologized for his thoughts wandering a bit, which he blamed on a minor hangover: “Last night was poker night.” This is how hard-living workaholic entrepreneurs work off their Friday night booze: telling their stories, loading up strangers full of advice and inspiration and “this is what happened to me” tales. In another world/century, it would be the 41-year-old veteran journalist giving the once and future aspiring 29-year-old reporter counsel. But things, as Bob says, have changed. Born from his own aborted journalism ambitions, Speakertext is truly one of those “Of Course. That!” ideas. It’s so big and simple – and timely – that it’s just a question of working out the bugs, and watching where the crowd will take it. But even getting the beta version up has been a life-changing experience for him. As ever, it’s about the execution…and some 12 months ahead of me, he was eager to share….

But listening to Mireles, he stands out as much for the How as the What he is saying. It’s the way he barks out ideas, trusts his gut, makes you laugh that, with a splash of nuts-and-bolts success, could make him the next New Media Guru. And why not him? Or her? That, of course, is the driving ethos of the internet itself.

But Mireles is still not there, and he knows it – constantly blurting out: What the fuck do I know; and manically citing his gurus and firing off relevant links via skype chat. Ultimately, though, that ‘ stop him. He has something to say that goes beyond any single idea or project that is some kind of elementary equation of ability to absorb information plus charisma plus a nose for how people behave. And, oh yeah, balls.

I’m sure there was a logical arc to our three hours on skype, but hell if I can remember. What I’m left with is the specific advice he gave me on my project that I’m researching now…and a series of kernels, curse words, links, World War II metaphors that are not project-specific.

Here’s just a portion, not necessarily in chronological order…and he will be the first to admit that he is just aggregating from the wisdom of others. But, always like Bob, he makes it his own.

…make it a wiki…then you become another time suck – and that’s what you want to be!

…what you need is a tech co-founder.  If you make this a tech play, you’ll have an easier time finding talent and raising capital.

…don’t produce content.  be a platform.

…who’s your earliest early adopter?

…have you read Crossing the Chasm

…think like you think in war: military insurgencies are just violent political entrepreneurs.

…at  a certain point switch from prep and prep to having to put something on the line.

….…check out Joe Liemandt

…i dont know if you can do this from France.

…Whats the lightest weight, most easily scalable.

…Build the platform, foster the community.

…you know 500 hats? check it out.

….being an entrepreneur is pivoting, iterating.

…you’re in WW II, You see the map. You got your forces …how do we get there? What’s the beach head?

…you really think you’re gonna stay in France?

–who’s your early adopter? who’s gonna have a hard on for your product? who’s gonna spam their friends?

…you gotta fucking read, Crossing the Chasm.

… read everything Fred Wilson writes

…you know Chris Dixon? Follow him. Paul Graham? Him too.

…be light

…be scalable

…be like water going down a hill…

One fundamental difference we acknowledged is a question of geography and family…that is, mobility. He’s 29, single and totally committed to his project. I’m 41, married with two kids, and totally committed to my project. That is not the same thing. And the execution may in fact be very different. I explained that my wife’s good job here in Paris is actually making it possible for me to throw myself into this ever more every day. I couldnt make him understand that putting my family’s well-being on the line (ie, moving us to Silicon Valley or NYC without a fixed income) is a non-starter for me. He thinks that’s somehow a kind of existential deal breaker. I told him to read Malcolm Gladwell article about how some of the most legendarily bold entrepreneurs are actually calculated risk takers.  “Dude, you gotta get your ass to the States,” he shot back. “You gotta land at friggin’ Normandy.” Later, he put it this way: “As much as anything, doing this is about  getting amped about a myth…” That, I can’t argue with. And so, make room for the next great new media legend of Matt Mireles to catch flight.  And fuck it dude: why not mine too…

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