SPRINT ACCELERATOR

  • THANK YOU SPRINT!

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Kansas City, Leadership, Life Lessons, Sprint Accelerator

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    [this thank you note is too long for a card but humor me…]

    On August 1st, 2014 I took the stage of the Sprint Accelerator to address a group of employees.  This platform and the surrounding space has witnessed countless presentations, endless nights of hard work, hilarious conversations, serious meetings, open brainstorms, raucous dance parties (there’s a video but I can’t find it…) and uncontrollable tears streaming from my face.  Right now, I was getting up to announce the winners of what would be my final #HackFriday as a Sprint employee and one of my last events in a building that had my fingerprints all over it.  I manufactured a little extra enthusiasm to counteract the swelling of my throat and cracking of my voice…

    The memories of the preceding 11 years run through my head and the overwhelming emotion of how lucky I am to have been afforded the opportunities/risks to get me where I am right at that very moment hit me all at once.  I often joke that I bleed Sprint Yellow and honestly, if you would have cut me that afternoon, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

    —————————

    In 2002 I started an informal relationship with a cute bartender at the Old Chicago in Lincoln’s Haymarket District.  I wasn’t some patron throwing down large tips in exchange for friendly conversation.  No, I was washing glasses and hoping to win a spot as her sidekick on the lucrative Wednesday night shift and maybe a small place in her heart.  I accomplished the former pretty quickly which accelerated the latter…soon we were officially dating and I was hitting the streets looking for a new job (restaurants were full of enough drama, our relationship would be much stronger outside of the walls of that building).

    I looked at my options…  I considered other establishments in town, a number of my friends and co-workers were willing to vouch for me at any one of the “O Street” bars, but I was a junior in college and it was time to set an eye toward my career.  I was currently in the J-School working on my advertising degree and loved it.  A quick check on available advertising jobs turned up a bunch of unpaid internships.  I kept looking.  Around that time I went to the mailbox, to find the first bill from my cellphone provider, Sprint.  The job hunt had my sensitivity to cash flow on red alert and there were some charges that seemed incorrect.  I marched into the local store to figure out the error.

    I unloaded on the poor sales rep who greeted me and we eventually got to the bottom of the mess…someone forgot to inform me of the state/federal fees on top of my monthly charge.  The rep was sorry about the miscommunication but I could sense he wasn’t truly empathetic to my situation, so I asked him what he paid for his phone.  He replied that sales reps get a free employee plan and I asked to speak to his manager immediately.

    After some negotiation, I walked out of the store with a job application in my hand and a couple weeks later I proudly donned a bright red polo shirt with the Sprint logo.

    —————————

    I never saw a long-term relationship with Sprint and when Stacey was accepted into law school I felt the same way about Kansas City.  I figured that she would finish up her degree and then we would be back to Omaha where all of our friends/family lived….I was wrong.

    Over the last decade I have had a lot of fun setting and achieving goals that were important to my bosses while finding ways to start things that were important to me in my free time.  Connecting with people in our community, sending millions of handwritten notes to customers, bringing diverse groups of Sprint employees together for #HackFriday’s and starting the Sprint Accelerator.

    A mere 15 months from the conception of the Sprint Accelerator and only 60 days after wrapping up our first class with Techstars, I’m leaving behind some really amazing people and [up to this point] the best role in my professional career.   We are nowhere near flying the “Mission Accomplished” banner but I’m confident that awesome peers like Tina, Doug and Monica will continue to grow the Sprint Accelerator into another remarkable chapter in the 115 year history of our company.

    Throughout my journey at Sprint, I’ve had nearly a dozen bosses; people who provided amazing guidance and even better lessons of what not to do.  From the get go, my relationship with Kevin McGinnis was different.  We didn’t get along for quite some time but the gravity of our disruptive personalities eventually brought us closer and closer together.  A bond was formed between the two of us after an internal hack-a-thon and I came to appreciate the vision and passion he has for KC.  As the oldest of 4 boys, I was secretly jealous of my friends who had older siblings.  Kevin has been, and always will be, more of an older brother than a boss and more of a visionary leader than anyone else I’ve ever dealt with directly during my career at Sprint.

    There are hundreds of other people who have impacted me along the way (too many to name here), none have had the same effect on the direction of my life.  Kevin showed me the importance of developing community inside and around the company walls and ironically, he’s partially to blame for the opportunity that has led to this new path in my career.  I’ll continue to lean on him for guidance and I’m nothing but appreciative for where he’s steered me so far [THANK YOU].

    —————————

    Another friend and executive at Sprint sent me a note this week after he heard the news that I was leaving:

    You have inspired or frightened many people. Both are good as it made them stop and think. Your presence will be missed.”

    I pride myself on the reputation I’ve built as a corporate revolutionary.  For a company sitting in 3rd place, there were a number of people who felt unnecessarily comfortable collecting a paycheck and I found it my duty to make them feel uneasy.  Watching Marcelo Claure yesterday during his very first Town Hall with the employee base was heart warming.  Sprint’s roots can be traced back to an entrepreneur who challenged a gigantic monopoly from the center of the country.  As a founder himself, Claure understands the cultural values required to do the same thing all over again and I have confidence that Sprint is in great hands with him at the helm.

    Thank you Sprint.  Thank you for everything….the last decade has been a learning experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.  I look forward to taking everything you’ve taught me into making KC a more attractive place to live, work and play.

    Your #1 fan and now loyal customer,

    Erik

  • A LOT CAN HAPPEN IN 14 MONTHS…WHAT WILL YOU DO?

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Kansas City, Life Lessons, Sprint Accelerator

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    I woke up unaided this morning at 6am (that’s unusual for me…I generally battle my alarm clock starting at 6:30 and it finally wins by around 7).  Today is Demo Day for the first ever Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator powered by Techstars class.  It has been a thrilling 90 days and I’ve learned so much, worked with amazing people and will dearly miss every single one of them…but that’s a topic for another day.

    What got me out of bed this morning was reflecting on what got us to this point.  It was fun for me to look back on this post from April 4th, recapping a 10 day journey that would forever change my career and my life.  On the flight home from Portland, I wrote two blog posts and put together a pitch deck that became the foundation for what would eventually become the Sprint Accelerator.  Kevin McGinnis (who is now my boss) was the first recipient of this presentation and eventually would refine this pitch and get it pushed through the executive ranks of Sprint, all the way up to our CEO Dan Hesse.

    It wasn’t just that…  A switch had been flipped on that trip.  I wasn’t interested in sitting at a desk any more and my day job that was truly amazing at one point in life seemed dull.  I did enough to not get fired during the week but nights and weekends were mine.  In that time I attended Startup Weekend and joined in on two other hack-a-thons.  I took a cross-country trip from San Francisco back home to KC with new friends, filming a documentary on technology along the way.  I was asked to speak multiple times with internal teams on innovation and I eventually launched HackFriday, bringing the magic of rapid prototyping/customer validation inside the walls of our corporation.

    I don’t know what’s to come but there’s one person who continues to stand by me through what I’ve referred to as my early life crisis.  My wife Stacey has been supportive through my ups and downs.  Working outside of the lines has moments of mania and depression….she’s dealt with me through both.  Milestones like this allow you to reflect on the things you’re truly grateful for…she’s #1 on the list.

    The last 14 months have been a hustle but today is a day to sit back and smile as the first batch of companies through this program will take the stage this evening at the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts.  I couldn’t be more proud of them.

    They will make a HUGE impact on the world but they’ve already made a bigger impact on me personally.  I grew up around entrepreneurs and I started my life as an entrepreneur…I’ve finally discovered in the last year what was missing from my career and I’m grateful to everyone who’s been a part of that.  For those of you sitting out there who also feel like something is missing…get out there and make something happen.  You won’t regret it.

    P.S.  If you haven’t signed up for tickets to Demo Day yet….make it quick!  We’re very close to selling out and I want to see a packed house tonight!!:  RSVP HERE

  • RSVP NOW FOR THE SPRINT MHEALTH ACCELERATOR DEMO DAY!

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Innovation, Kansas City, Mobile Tech, Sprint Accelerator

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    70 days ago, we welcomed 10 companies to Kansas City.  As a group, there were 43 of them and they came from all over the World (Chicago, Salt Lake City, Boston, Baltimore, New York, Atlanta, LA, San Francisco and Seattle.  Italy, Australia, Bulgaria, Belarus, Spain and Argentina).

    I’ve been surrounded by remarkable people…a physician who put her medical residency at a Boston Hospital on hold, a former attorney who left his job on Wall Street, a founder who turned down a Fulbright Scholarship to med school, a mobile developer who starred on “The Amazing Race”…twice, former Google, Intel, Microsoft engineers, and more accomplishments than I have time to list here.

    Each company formed around a problem they had personally encountered related to healthcare.  Relatives struggling with diabetes, a grandparent who had suffered a traumatic fall, a parent sifting through mounds of paperwork through treatment of a chronic illness and a desire to better understand how a beloved pet was feeling just to name a few.

    They came in various stages, some with just 3D drawings or prototypes, others with customers and growing monthly revenues. During their time in KC, they all had a mission to accelerate the growth of their startup companies, cramming about a year’s worth of work into 3 months with access to experts in health, tech, business and each-other in the collaborative Sprint Accelerator facility.

    According to the “you’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” rule, my average has shot through the roof.  I feel like a pretty lucky guy.

    ———————–

    I’m looking forward to sharing these companies with the world…  On June 12th, the 10 CEO’s will stand on stage to talk about their business and the progress they’ve made over the 90 day program.  This is your opportunity to get a sneak peek into what progress looks like in a changing healthcare industry.  The event is free and open to the public…all you need to do is RSVP now.

    In addition to you, we’re looking for interested investors, media, business leaders, government officials, healthcare workers, university students/faculty, entrepreneurs and community members here in KC who want to learn more about the 10 companies.  With 1,700 seats available in the Kauffman Performing Arts Center, we will nearly triple the audience size of an average Techstars Demo Day, truly showing off our supportive Kansas City community.

    Sold?  Go RSVP for the show!!

    After that, share the link with your friends, post it to your social sites and bring the rest of KC out for an evening that will be one to remember.

  • MAKE SURE YOUR PRIORITIES MATCH YOUR PITCH

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Leadership, Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance, Sprint Accelerator, Uncategorized

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    David Mandell

    I first met David Mandell while in NYC during the whirlwind recruiting tour for the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator.  We had a relatively short conversation before jumping on stage for a panel discussion.  David’s balanced personality as a warm/friendly listener and honest/straightforward communicator is remarkable, something that serves him well as an entrepreneurial leader.  When I saw him walk into the Sprint Accelerator this afternoon, I knew our teams were in for a treat.

    Shortly after the mentoring sessions concluded for the day, David jumped up on stage to give his story as a Techstars Alum.  He covered a number of topics but I was excited to hear him address the topic of focus.  Startups (and for that matter, just about any early stage product/idea) often fail not because of a lack of talent or customer demand but because they can’t stay focused on basic marketing strategy.

    Brand and marketing (not to be confused with advertising) are often overlooked or considered way too late in the game.  David shared a fairly simple template can keep your team focused and executing on the right things for your business:

    For [fill in the target audience here] 
    Who [fill in the pain point your target audience is feeling] 
    My company [fill in what your company does] 
    As opposed to [know your competitors…not just direct competitors but substitutes as well] 
    We [tell the world how you’re better, different, worth paying attention to] 

     

    When read out-loud, this marketing template should sound a lot like a pitch…and it did when David filled in the blanks with details from his company Pivotdesk.  As you dig into that statement, it clearly states the vision of the company including who to target, the problem you’re solving, who you’re competing against and how you continue to differentiate.

    Put simply…with limited resources, focus is critical.  Make sure the priorities of your company match your pitch.

  • DO MORE FASTER: ACTION IS CONTAGIOUS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Kansas City, Life Lessons, Mobile Tech, Sprint Accelerator

    1 Comment

    Hello again internet…it’s been a while.

    Kevin McGinnis brought it to my attention last week that I hadn’t posted anything since October 22nd.  My last post may have read somewhat like a George Bush “Mission Accomplished” banner but I’m far from done here; I simply didn’t realize how much time had passed.

    (To be fair…I have been writing a little bit, but it’s been on the Sprint Accelerator blog HERE)

    I’m writing this post from the comfort of my couch after the very first public event at the Sprint Accelerator.  My feet hurt, my voice is fading in and out from talking too much and I feel fantastic.  Tonight was a gigantic milestone in a journey that started 9 months ago with a serendipitous trip to Portland.

    *Wayne’s World Flashback – do do do, do do do, do do do*

    I stood inside of the Nike+ Accelerator on that evening in April, sipping on a Bridgeport IPA, reflecting on a long day of “speed dating” with entrepreneurs.  As I looked around the room of Techstars teams, a speaker from Big KC came to mind who had quoted Jim Rohn (“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”).  The creativity and hustle that filled the room was palpable, these people had already affected me.

    I’m not going to bore you with the entire story of how the last 9 months unfolded, because it’s probably better told over a cold beer.  My big takeaway in working closely with Techstars, the KC entrepreneurial community and my peers?  The word “accelerate” is contagious.

    Over the last 9 months, I watched our executives, our corporate real estate team, lawyers, architects, contractors and co-workers move quickly, sometimes in a way that was un-natural or outside of their “process,” to pull off everything leading up to tonight’s milestone.  Much like this blog, the Sprint Accelerator isn’t anywhere close to flying a “Mission Accomplished” banner but we’ve established some good momentum, building a culture that will infect everyone who comes into contact with us.

    Remember…you are one of the 5 people that someone else spends a lot of time with.  Set a great example and make them catch up to you.  Stop talking about your great idea, do something about it.  Quit waiting for initiative, take it.  Don’t plan on learning something from inaction…give it a shot, take good notes and try again as a more enlightened individual.  Hustle.

    Or as Techstars likes to say:  “Do More Faster”