David J Bland: Leading in a Startup is Like Leading a Group of Volunteers

By EverwiseSeptember 23, 2015

Why I Give My Time explores how and why people dedicate themselves to the growth of others.

David J Bland is a principal at Neo, an agency that provides design and innovation consulting to startups and the enterprise. He lives in San Francisco and calls himself a Mentor Capitalist. We recently sat down with David to find out more about his story.

Why do you give your time?

I love startups. Most of my career has been at startups.

I joined my first startup in 1999 and helped grow the business until we were acquired in 2006. It completely shaped my career, and how I approach problems, and collaboration. We didn’t have a shared language or understanding of what we went through back then, and now I feel we have that with books like Lean Startup and Lean UX. I can share what I’ve learned with others and help them get unstuck.

David J Bland headshot

You recently tweeted about staying at your first startup for eight years to build and help scale. What are the learnings from your first startup that you still use today?

There are so many learnings. I was introduced to agile software development as a visual designer including how to break down my designs and how to code them in HTML and CSS.

I learned that leading in a startup is a lot like leading a group of volunteers. People are super talented and don’t have to work with you, so it’s important to explain the “why” of the work and the outcome you are all trying to achieve together. I’d advise everyone to join a startup as their first career, instead of being dropped into a corporation where the path is already blazed for you.

Why do you call yourself a Mentor Capitalist?

I think it captures what I do a bit more accurately than advisor. Mentor Capitalist has a nice ring to it and helps differentiate me. When I advise startups, they’ve often been in contact with a broken form of startup advising. Advisors take way too much equity for doing way too little work. I also work with corporations, but startups will always have a special place in my heart.

Who has had the biggest influence on your life and why?

My father has impacted my life the most, even in his absence. He died when I was a teenager, in part because he worked in the coal mines of West Virginia. I evaluated the world around me, and I decided that I’d need to help create something new to avoid a similar fate. It saddens me that he had a background in graphic design and even counter intelligence, and yet ended up dying young mostly because of his career choice.

Even though I’m currently in the San Francisco Bay Area, I hope to some day come back to West Virginia with what I’ve learned and create opportunities for others in similar situations.

If you know someone who you think should be featured please tweet Kristen on Twitter at @kmarano.



About the Author

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