Lighthouses and North Stars: Lunch with TA McCann

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Alan Van Toai is the awesome founder behind SimpleCrew, the mobile app for street teams. He is currently in Chile enjoying his once in a lifetime opportunity with Start-Up Chile. You should follow his adventures on Twitter, or maybe on his blog.

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Here’s an amazing example of the serendipity that is possibly in the amazing program and community that is Start-Up Chile.

On Saturday afternoon – still high from Friday’s talk from Evernote Founder/CEO Phil Libin – I received a phone call from Dani Lee, one of the lovely Start-Up Chile staffers. Earlier that morning, she’d picked up T.A. McCann – the Seattle-based entrepreneur, advisor, and investor – who’s in town for SUP’s Demo Day and a week of coaching and mentoring.
Dani was looking for entrepreneurs to join her, Maite (the SUP press director), and TA for lunch in our neighborhood. 30 minutes later, we met them at a nearby restaurant, and were treated to one of the more unique mentoring experiences we’ve appreciated in our time.
What we figured was going to be a nice lunch conversation turned into an evening of deep conversation, touching on business, strategy, philosophies, culture, and life.
Like the Phil talk, there were many takeaways – one in particular I’d like to share here, a concept TA called “Lighthouses”.
Lighthouses, we discussed, are role models and thought leaders. People or companies that you respect and admire who you can look to as you make critical decisions in business and in life.
It’s a concept I remember thinking about when reading the Steve Jobs bio for the first time. When discussing the thought behind Apple’s inspirational “Think Different” advertising campaign, Steve Jobs offered:
“One way to remember who you are is to remember who your heroes are.”
Like most things Steve’s quoted for, there’s lots of depth to that. This one in particular really affects how I perceived the role models and heroes I choose. With this question, we’re able to define who we choose to follow in different aspects of life and business.
On a business-level, TA shared with us his thoughts on the benefits of looking up to Lighthouses as reference points. With anything from small strategic decisions to larger philosophical questions, having Lighthouses as role models offers a clear data points to reference.
For SimpleCrew in particular, we look to 37Signals, Mixpanel, Instagram, and others as reference points as we navigate the early stages of our business. Having them as our North Stars is immensely valuable, and continues to have real, lasting impact on the development of our young company.
It was great to hear that we shared with TA this pattern when designing – from headlines to page layouts, or call-to-action buttons and pricing pages. When we set out to create new designs, we look first to our Lighthouses, taking inventory of those that we admire, and building with those as reference.
TA embraced this practice, to the point that it made the basis for his new company, RivalIQ – a competitive marketing analysis tool. As he explained, he used to go site-to-site exploring the pages of his Lighthouses, manually gathering inspiration from which he would then design his own layouts and strategy.
RivalIQ automates this process, expands it to include social channels, and points it to analyze competitive services, creating a powerful tool for online marketers.
We didn’t need to meet TA to appreciate what Start-Up Chile offers. Between the grant money, the community, the SUP staff, and the support, we already had plenty to love. But this little serendipitous occasion was just one more of the many things that has made us reflect on how lucky we are to be here, taking part in this unique and special program.
Thanks Start-Up Chile, and thanks TA. We’re lucky to be here, and are proud to be among the entrepreneurs in your tribe.