It is very rare you meet someone, especially at a bar, who then turns out to have a monumental impact on your life. I am not just talking about great advice from a mentor or someone lending a hand when you are in need, I am talking about someone who then goes on to be the key driver in your career for the next +6 years and helps lay the foundation to you being a successful young professional in the world.
Enter Dave Schappell. For those who don’t know Dave he has been integral in the growth of technology on the west coast. From ’98-’04 he led product teams at Amazon that launched products for our marketplace and this crazy thing called AWS which turned into a $10BIL business for Amazon.com. He then went on to become a VP at Unitus which attacked the problem of global poverty through micro-finance and then a VP at Jib Jab where he helped people laugh everyday by scaling their products. After that, he founded TeachStreet.com (sold to Amazon.com), has been an active angel investor (Twilio, General Assembly, etc.), mentor (500 Startups, TechStars, etc.) and advisor to many.
I met Dave back in 2010 after leaving the 2 non-profits I had cofounded back in Hawaii. I had come back to Seattle as a recent grad and was working on a small startup project called OnCompare. In fact, he actually hosted our “launch party” at a weekly startup event he used to host at Auto Battery (RIP 😦 ) here in Seattle. We worked on the project for a couple months but ultimately saw the fate that almost all startups see, a quick death. As I was figuring out what to do next, I caught up with Dave at Wheelhouse Coffee in Seattle and this ultimately led to a job working with him and the amazing team he had constructed at TeachStreet.com.
Lesson #1 from Dave, Don’t be Afraid to Take Risks. The last thing you want to do when you’re running a small startup is add unnecessary expenses when you have limited resources. Dave took a risk on this unproven kid to work at his startup and to this day, I sometimes still wonder why? Would I have done the same if I were in his situation? At that time Dave knew every single person in Seattle and he could have made that job for anyone but for some reason he wanted to give me that chance. He made me feel worthy, confident and motivated to show him that he didn’t make a wrong decision by bringing me on board. This was my springboard.
I worked for Dave for about a year and got to see first hand the type of worker he truly is. When it seemed like there were too many things to do, I got to see how a true leader just “gets shit done”. What I thought was the most incredible thing about Dave was how he genuinely cared for people. The 2nd major thing I learned from Dave was, Do Good by Others, First. Towards the end of 2011 we hit some tough times and there were some conversations about potential acquisitions for the company. In this stressful and chaotic time, founders could easily forget about their team to maximize results for themselves. Dave however had the team and his investors in his mind first. He wanted to make sure he did good by everyone who was a part of this journey before himself. If that meant turning down an offer that didn’t offer his entire team jobs, he had no fear of saying no deal to that. Dave finally negotiated a deal w/ Amazon.com which was a good outcome for his investors and was able to get offers for everyone left on the team at AmazonLocal. Before the acquisition to Amazon.com, I had decided to exit the company and pursue an opportunity traveling for 6 months, every week in a different city around the world, helping design startup ecosystems but I remember all of the tough conversations Dave had and always respected how he wanted to do good by others, first.
Dave was also the person who introduced me to Startup Weekend. He volunteered to organize the first Startup Weekend EDU event in Seattle and let me run with the event. We were able to build one of the most high profiled events around the world getting people like Vinod Khosla, Mitch Kapor and Michael Arrington to attend this crazy weekend event. We definitely broke a lot of the Startup Weekend rules with this one but our goal was to make an epic event, so we didn’t care. This is the event that gave me the startup bug. The opportunity that I mentioned above was actually funded by Startup Weekend and then the company decided to bring me on board to lead some new initiatives for the organization. If it wasn’t for Dave, I wouldn’t have had the remarkable experience of supporting entrepreneurs all around the globe through Startup Weekend (now acquired by TechStars).
I went on to work for Startup Weekend for the next couple of years where we stayed in touch sporadically via email whenever I would seek his advice. Despite the tremendous amount of other people Dave helps, he never hesitated to respond and share some wisdom in a time of need for myself. Then after catching up with a former TeachStreet.com colleague over coffee at Uptown Espresso near the Amazon.com campus, the idea of coming into Amazon.com became a bit more interesting. With the help of Dave’s strong recommendation, I entered into a business development role at Amazon helping startups and indie developers launch on Amazon’s new smart devices (e.g. Fire Tablets, Fire TV, Fire Phone, Echo, etc.). I got to do business development at a nationwide size of scale with TeachStreet.com and now I had the opportunity to work at the scale of Amazon.com which had hundred of millions of customers worldwide. There were many lessons learned here but one of the things that has always stuck with me was about a month after I got the role. Dave sent me the following email…
“On Tuesday, April 1, 2014, Dave Schappell <dave@…com> wrote:
life feedback. remember to be as fast (or faster) with thank yous/updates as you are with requests for help. in my experience, you’ve been great at the latter, but not so great with the former. so for relationships you have where you’ve asked for help, reach out to those folks and thank them, and update them on how things have turned out, and what you’re up to (when you don’t need anything).
After a couple more years on our Appstore team, I again sought the advice of Dave about career development at Amazon.com. We discussed ideas of where I could grow and take new leadership roles within such a large company. At this time Dave was a Director at AWS under the Startup business development team. I’m sure you can guess what happened next but if not, I am currently doing BD for the AWS Startup team where we manage relationships with VC’s and accelerators worldwide helping their portfolio startups scale w/ AWS and all things Amazon. The team I am on is stacked where the collective of my peers have founded over 60 startups that have raised hundreds of millions in venture capital. Dave once again helped me find a new role that would stretch my skill set and allow me to learn from some of Amazon’s top leaders.
Dave, there is not another person in my life who has had the impact on my career that you have had. You have been there every step of the way. You took a chance on me when not many others would. You guided me to not only be successful in business but a successful human being. I am not sure there is much I can do that can actually repay you for all you have done for me, but know that I will always be thankful to you for being the mentor you have been to me. I will continue to push forward and prove that your investment in me was far worth it. I hope somewhere down the road that I can have the same amount of impact on someone else that you have had on me. Congratulations on your retirement, Dave! I think it is easy to say that you more than deserve this moment. Enjoy your travels and let me know when you get the itch back to startup your next venture, i’ll be there in a heartbeat.
P.S. If you’re ever back in Seattle and the hawks are in town, my treat 🙂