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T.A. McCann - Founder and CEO of Gist

T.A. McCann, Founder and CEO of Gist, talks about his entrepreneurial journey, including how he joined the America’s Cup sailing team. T.A. discusses how entrepreneurs need to show initiative and chart their own course, advising other founders to always ask questions and make progress.  Created by Kauffman Foundation.

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Video transcript

- I'm T.A McCann, I was the founder and CEO of Gist. Well I've actually been sort of an entrepreneur since I was a kid. I think I started my first business when I was 11. First was grass cutting and yardwork and then it was boat maintenance and then it moved to one thing to another. And I'd always been really good at math and physics and I'd asked a bunch of mentors, like, what should I do with that? And they said well you should go to Purdue and you should get into engineering and then you can figure it out from there. I think college is a lot of figuring that out. What is my own way, what of this do I enjoy the most? And so for me, what I enjoyed the most, was the ability to combine a lot of different technologies and to do that where I was interacting with people. My first couple of jobs were really around robotic systems and building that but with a real focus on the customer and being in the field. When I was young and I wanted to do this round the world sailing race, I literally wrote a letter to somebody saying hey I'm really thinking I'd like to do this round the world race, I don't know where to start. And I gave my skills and I gave my impetus and these guys got back to me and one thing led to another and I joined an America's Cup team and we won the America's Cup and then I sailed around the world and I did another America's Cup. So I think a lot of it was charting your own course, taking intuitive and asking for help. It takes a bit of courage but at the same time I think creating a set of relationships and having some sense of where that you wanna go is the key. It's like in sales, I mean you always have to ask for the order. The order doesn't come to you and so that courage and that ability to ask, I think, is a pretty critical factor for any entrepreneur. You have to ask people to come and work for you, you have to ask people to believe in your idea, you have to ask them to help you to get to whatever goal you're going after and so developing that at an early age and continuing to refine it is a pretty critical skill. The two things I'll give advice on is one, pick something that you really like. If you pick a content area that you really like it barely feels like work and you're always around people who also care about the same things that you care about. So pick a content area, robotics or it's engineering or it's arranging flowers, it doesn't matter. But pick something that you really, really enjoy talking about. Number two is really focus on your discipline because discipline is what keeps you going when you run into all the roadblocks which are going to be there. I was talking with some guys the other day about building a product and I said the most important thing you can do about building a product is make progress. You just have to keep making progress and there will be stumbling blocks and there will be pitfalls but you have to make progress. The discipline of learning and executing and that I think is such a critical factor and when you find a tenacious entrepreneur they just won't quit and that won't quit part of it, I think, really starts to separate people.