Each week from now through December, we’ll pose several short questions to a member of the Dent family and share their answers with you. This week’s featured Denter is Dan Shapiro. Dan is (most recently) CEO and founder of Robot Turtles.
Say it in a sentence: Whether you’ve met your biggest goal or it’s still ahead of you, how would you like to be known for having dented the universe?
It’s a cliche, but I’d rather be known for my passionate, smart, kind, and happy kids than anything I’ve done.
What would I know about you after we’d worked together for a year?
I have a terrible habit: I don’t worry about the same things as you.
This seems insane on its face. You come to me and tell me that the most important thing right now is Problem X. The solution is three months late, the team is working overtime, we need to hire two more developers yesterday. I’m going to listen, nod, and ask how I can help. Then I’m going to ask you about problems F, Q, and Ö (yeah, that’s an umlaut). Why am I concerned with everything except Problem X?
Because you’ve got that, of course. You’re clearly more concerned about it than anyone, and I trust your capabilities, and you’re obviously focused on it. So I want to help however I can… then be sure that everything else is covered, because while you’re taking care of the top priority, someone’s got to keep an eye on the rest of the pack.
What fault in others do you have the most patience for?
I love collecting data. I’ve forced myself to move past “Let’s just try one more thing before we decide…”, but when I see it in others, I have buckets of sympathy. I’ll let people experiment happily for a long time (probably too long) before I gently intercede and ask for progress.
If your 18 year-old self could see you now, what would surprise him most?
I thought I was going to be a physicist, then a patent attorney, then a politician. I’m 0/3.
Who else is doing interesting, universe-denting work right now?
Kristin Hamilton at joinkoru.com is reinventing the college degree. That’s pretty amazing.
If failing is a key to success, what was one of your most substantive failures and what did you learn from it?
My first attempt at a startup – 2000 – was a dismal disaster. We went out to launch a massively multiplayer online game. I say “launch”, but we really had a 40-page specification and nothing else. My cofounder and I had no idea what we were doing. We couldn’t get meetings with anyone, and this was the height of the bubble! After months of flailing around, we somehow convinced the Navy to put together a million dollar funding round for us to develop this. The administration changed and so did our sponsor at the Navy. The project went nowhere.
The list of what I learned is long, but it includes:
- Make progress at all times, no matter what else is happening
- Deals fall through; when you’re not working on a deal, work on the backup
- Don’t bet on politics.
What question would you like to ask next week’s featured Denter?
What were you proudest about this week?
Dan Shapiro is the CEO and primary turtle wrangler at Robot Turtles, LLC, a company created when he accidentally launched the bestselling boardgame in Kickstarter history. Dan spent the last two years leading a Google subsidiary that operates comparison shopping products. Shapiro landed at Google when they bought his previous company, Sparkbuy Inc, where he was founder and CEO. Sparkbuy was a comparison shopping website that offered a happy fun face on top of scary good data.
Before Sparkbuy, Shapiro was founder and CEO of Ontela, a pioneering mobile imaging company, where he was named CEO of the Year by MobileBeat. Ontela was frequently recognized including the Dow Jones Top 10 in Wireless list, the CTIA award for Best Social Networking Application, and Breakthrough Startup of the Year by the WTIA. Ontela is now a part of Photobucket Inc.
Prior to founding Ontela, Shapiro managed development of the RealArcade service at RealNetworks, enabling thousands of end-users to play classic games such as Monopoly, Scrabble and Rollercoaster Tycoon on their desktops. He arrived at RealNetworks by way of Wildseed, where he managed software development for the Identity Cellular Phone. Shapiro started his career at Microsoft working on Windows 98, Windows 2000, and Windows XP.
Shapiro’s articles have been published in the Washington Post, Wireless Week, and the Seattle PI, and he is a frequent speaker at conferences and events. He serves on the board of the nonprofit Washington Technology Industry Association. He is a mentor for the Founder’s Institute, 500 Startups, and Techstars. He has been awarded eleven US patents, and received his B.S. in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College.
Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.