by Jessica A. Mitsch

Seeing the world through the lens of possibility

Mar 13, 2017

Lessons the tech industry can learn from entrepreneurs

I’m an avid listener of podcasts, and one of my favorite is “How I Built This” on NPR. On the show, entrepreneurs are interviewed about the ideas and creations they’ve brought to life. Several entrepreneurs in the tech space have been interviewed, including the people behind Warby Parker and Airbnb, as well as Angie’s List and Instagram.  

I’ve had the great privilege to work among and spend time with a great many entrepreneurs in my role at The Iron Yard. Just last week, I had a conversation with a coworker about what makes an entrepreneur great, and ultimately, it led me to reexamine how we define who is an entrepreneur.

The way I see it, the textbook definition of entrepreneur — “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise” — is far too narrow. I prefer to broaden the definition of entrepreneur to “a person who sees the world through the lens of what’s possible.”

What can we learn from the entrepreneurial mindset?

I’m constantly awestruck by the entrepreneurial community. It’s a bunch of people who look at a problem as something positive: an opportunity to build a solution. Entrepreneurs tend to match that solution-oriented mindset with instinctual persistence, and the combined ethos has led to the creation of every innovative business in our world today.

Taking a snapshot of the past 15 years alone, we’ve seen the rise of technology and companies that have completely changed the way we interact with each other. We communicate over smart devices that were born in the 2000s — the iPhone, for example, was first announced in 2007. We use social software like Facebook (founded in 2004), Twitter (founded in 2006) and WhatsApp (founded in 2009). Technology has even changed the way we get from point A to point B with mapping services on our smartphones and ride share companies like Waze (founded in 2008) and Lyft (founded in 2012). All of this has happened through entrepreneurship, and it’s happening at a quicker rate than ever before.

I think we can all learn a thing or two from the entrepreneurial mindset as we approach our daily jobs. How would our days change if we looked at each problem through the lens of what’s possible?

I sat down with Chris Heivly, the co-founder of MapQuest, to learn more about his entrepreneurial journey and how the rest of us can apply an entrepreneurial mindset to our daily lives:

Jessica Mitsch: How do you think MapQuest changed the way we view getting from point A to B?

Chris Heivly: I know it completely changed the way you and I as consumers use the idea of “where” in our daily lives. Maps answer a couple questions, including “where is it?” “how do I get there?” and “what is the closest or what is near to me?” Twenty-five years ago, a few people would use paper maps. In 1990 (give or take), AAA and the other auto clubs generated 15 million TripTiks (what we now know as directions) per year. I would guess that we generate that many an hour today.

JM: When you helped start MapQuest, what did you know about the problem you were trying to solve? What didn’t you know?

CH: I was/am a geographer/cartographer by training (BS and MA) and had spent years combining mapping with computers. Where most of my peers went the GIS route, I applied mapping technology to consumers. What I didn’t know was much about business especially customers (selling and marketing).

JM: Were you afraid by what you didn’t know or did it excite you?

CH: Excite me, definitely. I am by nature curious and love the challenge of something new. Scare was never an issue as I thought deep in my heart that we knew things about the need and the applied technology that no one else knew. That provided us with a lot of power.

JM: Outside of MapQuest, you actively work to support and guide entrepreneurs. When you think of the people who are taking risks, starting businesses and finding interesting problems to solve, how would you describe their attitude?

CH: I am somewhat biased today as these are the only people I hang around with on a daily basis, but it seems to me that more people appear to be interested in either starting their own company or working for a smaller (startup) company. The attitude seems to be about mission (I need to be inspired) and control (I want to decide what tasks I work on). In big companies both of those get watered down.

JM: What do you think we can learn from the way entrepreneurs think about life and business?

CH: I would go back to the mission aspect and think that each one of us has an inordinate amount of control in what we do and what inspires us. I do think that there is a large world of opportunity and it is up to you to decide how you want to spend your time. I think the eave of entrepreneurship teaches or makes us aware that anything is possible both as a business but more importantly for ourselves. I firmly believe that you can be entrepreneurial inside a large organization too.