Techstars METRO “Medici Effect”

A few years ago I read a book called The Medici Effect that discussed how innovation is brought about by combining multiple disciplines.

The base premise of the book is based on the Medici family from late 14th century Florence. The Medici family are most-often known as bankers, but they were also innovators in a variety of other verticals. The family had a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, a banker and a farmer, among others. What makes it compelling was that each of them were at the top of their field. They continuously made huge breakthroughs to push their respective disciplines into new domains.

With further investigation by historians the theory is that given such a wide range of expertise, combined with the fact that the family was very close (having frequent dinners and get-togethers), they were cross-pollinating each others’ disciplines creating a virtuous loop of innovation. Each of them had a T-shaped skill-set with deep domain knowledge in one area and a broad range of surface-level knowledge across many others.

It’s often said that “good artists borrow, great artists steal” and this cross-pollination (also known as associational thinking) is proven to be a cornerstone for innovation. An engineer with deep knowledge about engineering can often borrow ideas from medicine and law to solve difficult problems.

It’s this concept that makes me so excited about Techstars METRO.

I’ve recently accepted the role as managing director for Techstars METRO here in Berlin where we’re working hard to cross-pollinate innovation for the hospitality and food tech vertical.

First off, we’re taking two distinct T-shaped skill-sets.

  1. METRO is the world leading wholesale supplier for hotels and restaurants. They understand the needs of these customers better than any other organization on the planet.
  2. Techstars is the world’s leading startup accelerator. Their knowledge of how to accelerate startups to success is un-matched.

Bringing these two T-shaped skill-sets together provides us with an opportunity to innovate in this highly-underrepresented vertical like never before.

And this leads me to the 2nd cross-pollination opportunity: technological awareness.

Innovation is most rapidly brought to the verticals where the innovators have the most familiarity. This is precisely why we see so many project management apps – the people who innovate in this domain (software developers) need and understand project management. Today, innovation comes largely through technological advances and, occasionally, new ways of thinking about business models.

With Techstars METRO we want to bring these two groups together. By bringing deep domain knowledge around hospitality together with technological innovation, it’s an exciting time to own a hotel or restaurant.

Techstars METRO is looking for startups that can add value anywhere along the value chain for how hotels and restaurants do business. This could be a financial technology POS system, B2B SaaS solution, wearable tech, supply chain management, logistics or anything in-between.

If your startup makes the life of someone who runs a hotel or restaurant better, I want to talk to you. Applications close on August 3rd so start yours now.

Lastly, if you’d like to watch the launch of Techstars METRO featuring Olaf Koch, the CEO of METRO, check it out here:


How to find problems with profit potential – Part 1

This is the 4th installment of the NON-MBA series.

It used to be the safest option available…

Graduate college.

Get a good job.

Get promoted a couple of times.

Show up to work early and occasionally stay late for 30-40 years.

Retire and collect a pension.

Those days are gone. The world has changed.

Very few employees stay with a single company for more than a few years. It has nothing to do with the employees, it’s because everyone is being fired. Nearly every company in the world is hiring freelancers and contractors where they used to hire full-time employees. The number of temporary workers in the US has been increasing by nearly 10% year over year for the last several years.

Relying on your company or your boss to never replace you is becoming far riskier today than it was ten years ago. This is precisely why I’m urging everyone I know who isn’t already a freelancer, contractor, sole proprietor or entrepreneur to start taking the steps to becoming one.

Even if you’re in a full-time job right now, you’re an entrepreneur. You’re a business that’s staffing out its only employee – you.

Figure out how to grow that business.

[Read more…]

Take Productive Action First

This is the 3rd post in the NON-MBA blog series. You can see the full collection at The NON-MBA.

Once upon a time, there was a donkey named Fred.

Fred was having a rough summer. It was scorching hot, his owner hadn’t brought him food in several days and he could feel himself getting weaker.

Lying in the shade one day he knew that if he didn’t get up and try to find food and water, he wasn’t going to make it. He pulled himself up and walked out under the beating sun. As he got to the middle of the field, he looked one way and saw a huge water trough filled with fresh water. He looked the other way and saw a fresh pile of apples.

He thought to himself, “I’m so thirsty, I should get a drink first and then get the apples.” Then he thought, “No, the apples might go bad in the sun so I’ll get a couple of apples first and then I’ll wash it down with some water.” But then he thought, “Thirst is more dangerous than starvation, I’ll get water first.”

He went back and forth, not able to decide until eventually – he died from a combination of starvation and thirst.

The End.

Action is the real measure of intelligence.” – Napolean Hill

From the outside it’s easy for us to see,”If only Fred would have made a timely decision on one or the other, he would have been fine. Picking the apples or the water would have given him the strength to get to the other.”

A lot of people who want to build a business are in a similar position to Fred but, just like Fred, they can’t seem to see it for themselves.

When I first started outlining the things that would have been most helpful for me before I got my MBA, I realized that a lot of them had nothing to do with business knowledge. A lot of what was holding me back was my mindset.

A lot of the progress I’ve made in business resulted from changes in the way that I think about things, not the things that I know.

Therefore, among the various purely business-related posts in the NON-MBA series, I’m also going to include some posts about destructive thought patterns I experienced and how I eventually overcame them.

[Read more…]

Learn to sell like a human

This is the 2nd post in the NON-MBA blog series. You can see the full collection at The NON-MBA.

If you haven’t seen Jon Favreau’s new film “Chef” yet, I highly encourage you to do so.

He plays a chef from Los Angeles and at one point he’s teaching his 10 year old son how to make Cuban sandwiches that they’re giving away to people on the street.

He goes into detail about how it’s important to wait until the cheese is ever-so-slightly melted and that the bread is golden brown. If it’s undercooked then the cheese won’t be melted correctly. If it’s overcooked then the bread will be burned.

It needs to be just right.

After he’s done explaining this, he goes back to doing other things while glancing over every so often to make sure his son is doing it correctly. At one point, the chef looks down and sees that one of the sandwiches is burned.

He quickly says to his son,”Oh. That one’s burned – just throw it away and make a new one.”

His son replies,”But why? They’re not paying for them.”

He immediately stops what he’s doing and tells his son to follow him outside. He explains to his son that he cares about the food that he creates. That through food, he’s able to touch people’s lives. That it’s not about whether or not the person paid $100 or if they paid nothing at all, he refuses to serve anything other than his best.

He refused to sell a product that he didn’t care about.

You need to believe in your product. Quality needs to be placed above all else. Lots of people can sell products that they don’t truly believe in (or to people don’t really need them), but this is a short-term strategy that’s doomed to fail.

[Read more…]

The NON-MBA: a new MBA curriculum

In 2010 I decided to get an MBA. I was transitioning out of the Army and I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur.

There were a variety of reasons I wanted an MBA (most that stemmed from my own insecurity): I would be the first person in my family to get a graduate degree, it would allow me to build a network easily, etc.

But the primary reason was that I knew that I wanted to build businesses.

I loved the idea of building a business from scratch – creating something that provides value to the world. Through a little skill and a lot of luck, I’m able to say that I’ve built such a business. But the MBA wasn’t the reason. I’m fortunate that I’m not saddled with tens of thousands of student loan debt because I was able to use the GI Bill, but it was still largely a waste of time.

I’m not blaming MBA programs (well, not entirely at least), but they’re a waste of time and money if your primary ambition is to build a business from scratch. If your primary goal is to get a job in finance or management consulting then yes, getting an MBA opens a few of those doors. (That being said, I seriously urge you to reconsider if either of those paths are your primary objective.)

The problem is that MBA programs focus largely on theory that’s difficult to relate to if you haven’t actually experienced it yet. It’s sort of like if I was to try and teach you to be a chef of your own restaurant by teaching you cooking theory 95% of the time and actually letting you cook 5% of the time.

[Read more…]

The #1 Reason My First Startup Failed


Well, to be more specific, my thought patterns. There are a variety of destructive psychological mistakes that continuously cause entrepreneurs to make poor decisions. These patterns are very well documented and talked about, but they continue to haunt entrepreneurs on a daily basis.

Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny. – Ancient Maxim

It’s actually quite impressive how good human beings are at convincing ourselves of things that aren’t true. The primary one that killed my first startup is confirmation bias.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool. – Richard Feynman

Simply put, confirmation bias is your brain tricking you into somehow thinking that you’re special and that reality doesn’t apply to you. For example, some studies have shown that 21% of young people, when asked if they’d be rich when they were older responded with,”Yes, I’m going to win the lottery.”

If there’s a minuscule chance of winning the lottery, how can 21% of the people feel like it’s going to be them? It’s unrealistic.

Confirmation bias manifests itself commonly in entrepreneurship when founders are determining the viability of a new idea. The startup world has changed significantly with the advent of the lean startup movement where entrepreneurs are now developing hypotheses and testing them, but the experiments are often flawed.

Everyone wants to feel like their different – that they’re special. Entrepreneurs want to think that their idea is revolutionary and guarantees success because it was their idea.

[Read more…]

Why Your Lifestyle Design “Muse” Didn’t Work

I read the The 4-Hour Workweek at a major turning point in my life. I had just left the Army and Stephanie and I were taking a road trip from Alaska to Michigan where I was going to start my MBA program.

I still remember how excited I was. My last few years in the Army were particularly difficult and I was elated that it was over. I had wanted to throw myself into entrepreneurship for years and the time had finally come.

A few weeks before leaving, a friend of mine insisted that I read the Four Hour Workweek. The title sounded incredibly spammy, but I bought it anyway. I started reading the book as Stephanie so kindly offered to take the first driving shift on the second morning of our road trip.

(A beautiful lake that we stopped at to get out and stretch our legs. If I remember correctly, this was about a half-day before getting to Muncho lake in Canada.)

The next few hours flew by and before I knew it, I had consumed the entire book.

I was in love.

I felt like I had just read something that had been written personally for me. After years of living a life where nearly every aspect of my existence was dictated by the Army, I was incredibly susceptible to the concept of complete financial, geographic and time freedom. It was refreshing to see the way the book challenged deep-seated assumptions about the choices we have in how we live.

As an entrepreneur at heart, the part of the book that really spoke to me was about “Engineering a Muse” which is how I was supposed to fund this new and exciting lifestyle. For the next couple of years, getting my MBA and finding a profitable muse were my main goals in life.

[Read more…]

12 Elements of a Great Story

It’s a bit cliche to say that communication is important, but just like being able to sell, being able to tell a great story is an important skill for any entrepreneur. A friend recently recommended Storytelling in Organizations as a general storytelling overview.

The book starts off by demonstrating the importance of being able to tell a good story. Up to 28% of the United States GNP can be attributed to persuasion (think marketing, PR, consulting, financial services, etc.) and storytelling is a key form of persuasion.

“When we dream alone, it’s just a dream. But when we dream together, it is the beginning of a new reality.” – Brazilian proverb

The book lagged a bit longer than I would have liked discussing storytelling as means of communication. They discuss how people are better able to retain knowledge when gained through a story rather than through a list of bullet-points. They discuss how stories are best told orally in-person because of how much information is communicated non-verbally. Basically: a lot of this is common sense.

I did enjoy their discussion of how to use stories for better defining and communicating a company’s (or product’s) value through storyboarding. This is something that Airbnb has done exceptionally well.

To get to the actual nitty-gritty, these are the book’s main storytelling recommendations. Great stories…:

  1. start with what the audience cares about. (This isn’t always going to be the chronological beginning)
  2. should have punch. How do you give it punch? Make sure it has each of these six ingredients: wit, succinctness, emotional power, it’s funny, it’s clever, it’s moving.
  3. are told by someone who is clear with why they’re telling this story. What response are you trying to elicit?
  4. are told when the audience has everything they need to understand the story. (i.e. Don’t start using acronyms unless you’re 100% confident that the audience knows what they mean.)
  5. tell the story “from the perspective of a single protagonist.” Ideally first-person.
  6. should include some strangeness. Something that’s plausible – but strange.
  7. should have happened as recently as possible.
  8. should “embody the change idea as fully as possible.”
  9. should be expressed with feeling and passion.
  10. should answer the question, “So What?”
  11. should be practiced. Practice alone. Practice with friends. Practice with colleagues. Practice. Practice. Practice.
  12. manage the audience’s inner voice. Everyone has two voices. One that you use to communicate externally and one that you use to communicate to yourself internally (I’ve talked about this second voice before).

“My objective is to create a space for the little voice in the head to tell a new story, that is, to generate a new narrative based on the listener’s context and drawing on the listener’s intelligence.” – Storytelling in Organizations

All in all, the book had some good parts and some bad parts. If you refer back to these 12 points, you can save yourself the couple of hours reading the book.