Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Startup-People of Seattle: Brian McIlwain (CTO)

The blog-series “Startup People of Seattle” introduces some of the key personas in the ecosystem to learn more about what they are doing, to share their thoughts and ideas, and to promote networking. 

In our sixth interview, meet Brian McIlwain:
“Everything is available for free online, i.e. on YouTube. I usually start there when trying to learn about anything.”
Brian McIlwain angel invests in early-stage companies by providing CTO and software consulting services for an affordable dollar rate and accepting the rest in equity.

Q: Could you please shortly introduce yourself?
A: I have a tech background, but I am also into finance and business. I have been a software consultant for half a decade working with small companies and Fortune 500 companies. I love the fast environment startups operate in. Right now, I am actively working as CTO for two startups. Additionally, I am in an advising role for some more startups. The asset that I can provide as an advisor is that I can maintain the roadmap for the technical execution. This is much less time intensive then actually executing on the roadmap, but it is very important for startups to get this right. 
Q: What makes a startup interesting to you?
A: Both the companies that I am involved with as CTO have a very similar founding story. In both cases the founder someday realized that their jobs could be eliminated by an app. I like those kinds of entrepreneurs, because they are familiar with the problem that they are trying to solve and the market that they operate in.
Q: On LinkedIn you say you “angel invest”. Could you tell me more about that?
A: I do angel investing even though I am not accredited. Instead of investing my money, I invest my time, meaning that I will work for startups for a discounted rate plus equity.
Q: How would you go about learning more about startups?
A: Everything is available for free online, i.e. on YouTube. I usually start there when trying to learn about anything. There are book summary videos for example that I like to watch, or even authors talking about the key ideas described in their books. Learning about a topic through YouTube usually provides me with a good overview. If there are certain aspects that I want to learn more about, books can be a good resource.
Some of the YouTube-channels I follow are: 
  • “Productivity Game”
  • “startupschool”
  • “The Minority Mindset”
Some of the books I’d recommend reading are:
  • “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel
  • “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert T. Kiyosaki
  • “How to win friends & influence people” by Dale Carnegie
  • “To Sell is Human” by Daniel H. Pink
  • “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill
  • “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker
The resources I mentioned are not all specific to startups, but I think they are worth looking at. What these resources have in common is that their core message is contradictory to what common wisdoms dictates is right. One core concept that I have learned is that in areas of finance and business the majority's way will almost never be ideal. This is because otherwise, supply and demand would rebalance the profit margins to make the average person's performance, well, average. Therefore, if you wish to perform better than average you must do at least some things that the majority thinks will never work or at least would be unwilling to try. Then, you have to prove that your contrarian belief is indeed correct or more profitable than the common wisdom, usually by winning in the market.
Aside from the resources I mentioned, I think mentors can add a lot to one’s personal growth. I have been lucky to have had great mentors, for example Bryan Starbuck, a serial CTO. 
I also enjoy going to meetups, like the Open Coffee that John Sechrest hosts every Tuesday morning at Galvanize. This is a great opportunity to share some thoughts and discuss topics. Aside from that, meetups are a great for networking.
Q: What are some examples for interesting organizations in Seattle’s startup ecosystem in your opinion?
A: There is a new angel investing group called Gaudium Capital. They focus on fintech, blockchain and AI. What makes them stand out I think, is that they are very well connected and that they provide highly capital-intensive resources for very cheap. The founder of Guardian Capital is Alvaro Jimenez.

My key take-away from this interview:
  • Today, education does not have to be expensive anymore. There is an unlimited amount of resources available online. YouTube can be a good starting point that allows to get a good overview. Once I know what aspect I want to learn more about, it makes sense to invest time in reading a book.

In the interview Brian mentioned some resources and organizations he finds helpful, find out more about them here:

About Seattle Angel:
A strong ecosystem creates an environment that allows startups to thrive. Seattle Angel’s goal is to strengthen Seattle’s startup ecosystem by increasing the access to funding for entrepreneurs to push their ideas further.

Seattle Angel Conference:
SAC round XVI is about to start. Are you an entrepreneur looking to get about $200k in angel funding? Are you curious to learn more about pitching, to polish all the documents needed for investments and to receive great feedback? Or are you an accredited business angel who wants to learn more about angel investing and due diligence? In any of these cases you should consider reaching out to us. You can find more information here: https://www.seattleangelconference.com/
For any questions please reach out to: sechrest@gmail.com

About the author: Sven Goepfrich


Sven Goepfrich is currently finishing his MBA in Syracuse. His studies focus on technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. At his school, he is working for the department of finance. Sven was actively interning with the Seattle Angel Conference in summer 2019. He is currently looking for full-time career opportunities in this field.

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