Creative Entrepreneur Interview Series: Profiling Clay Hebert of Spindows

clay hebertAfter a decade at Accenture, Clay left corporate America and got his MBA from Seth Godin. He is now the founder and CEO of Spindows.com, the world’s first enterprise discovery platform. One of the world’s leading crowdfunding experts, Clay has helped 33 entrepreneurs raise over $2.8 million (and counting) on popular crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. A popular speaker, advisor and mentor to startups, Clay engages audiences around the globe on innovation, creativity, crowdfunding, marketing, entrepreneurship and the future. His work and writing has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Forbes, Lifehacker, Entrepreneur and Fast Company.

1. So tell us a little bit about yourself – who is Clay Hebert?

My first career was a decade as a Big 4 management consultant at the largest consulting firm in the world. Despite the word “innovation” being one of two words in the company’s tagline, the company was more interested in standard and repeatable processes and interchangeable people.

I was a Mac soul stuck in a very PC company.

In 2009, I left corporate America and was lucky enough to study for six months with Seth Godin. It changed my life. After the six month program, I started a marketing and innovation consultancy that helped big companies understand how to market and innovate using the web.

I loved the strategy and marketing and working with smart clients, but after a few years, I realized I didn’t want to scale a marketing agency.

I didn’t like the idea of having to hire new employees for every new client. I wanted a better way to scale.

2.  What led you to what you’re doing today?

I knew I would rather scale servers than humans, and I believe that software is eating the world, so I started thinking about problems that could be addressed by technology.

Then it hit me like a brick.

After a decade at the largest consulting firm in the world (they employ over 260,000 people), I only knew about 100 people. And I was one of the more extroverted of my colleagues.

That baffled me. How is it possible that at this massive organization filled with very smart people, I only managed to meet 100 in 10 years? That’s less than one new connection per month for the 120 months I worked there.

That was insane to me. Surely the organization was filled with other interesting people that could become colleagues, business partners and friends.

The problem is that people discovery in large enterprises is very broken. Existing intranets and tools like Sharepoint don’t allow you to quickly and easily find other interesting and relevant people.

So I’m building Spindows, a startup that addresses that specific problem. You search for people based on two dimensions. There are work tags, which represent skills and personal tags which represent interests. Spindows helps you discover and connect with relevant people inside your organization.

Also, over the last couple years, I’ve become an expert in crowdfunding. I’ve helped 33 entrepreneurs raise over $2.8 million on crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. With the rise in popularity of crowdfunding, I get loads of inbound inquiries to help with crowdfunding projects, but I’m busy building Spindows, so I decided to build a robust online course to teach people what I’ve learned at a tiny fraction of my consulting rate.

3.  What makes your work so important?

We’re not in an industrial economy anymore, we’re in a connection economy. Spindows, if it succeeds, will be a connection machine, allowing people to find and connect with relevant people in their organizations.

On the crowdfunding side, it’s been amazing to help people ignore the gatekeepers, pick themselves, start new businesses and realize their dreams.

4.  What’s the most difficult hurdle in business you’ve ever had to deal with and how did you deal with it?

Personally, the biggest hurdle for me was undoing my worldview that “success” was a standard path…..a college degree, then a job in corporate America, then you stay for 30 years and get a Rolex and a pension. My friend Suli calls this the American’t Dream.

It was what our grandparents and parents were taught and I was a few years into believing it myself.

It took a lot of reading and learning from Seth Godin and others to fully understand the implications of this new economy, but once I did, I realized possibilities were endless.

5.  If you could travel back in time, Terminator-style, what one piece of advice would you give your younger self to help you along your journey?

I would have told myself that the gatekeepers are all gone. The few that remain have lost their power. YOU are the last gatekeeper. Don’t wait for permission. Pick yourself and carve your own path.

And start building your platform.

6.  Favorite: book, movie, band, and past-time

Book: It’s always tough to pick one all-time favorite. I usually read non-fiction / business, but I recently read Lexicon by Max Berry. It’s amazing fiction. A thrilling story that vividly illustrates the very real power of words. Highly recommend it.

Movie: Instead of a popular favorite, I’ll go with “favorite underrated” movie. I really like 25th Hour. It’s a Spike Lee joint, one of his best but flew under the radar. Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper and Rosario Dawson are all amazing. A great story of choices, friendship, second chances and redemption, all with a gritty New York City backdrop.

Band: I’m never the guy who is the first to hear or find out about new bands. I have friends who do that and I usually just follow their recommendations. I like a lot of what used to be called underground hip-hop, but now it’s not so underground. I grew up around Minneapolis and listened to a lot of Atmosphere and would go to the Rhymesayers shows.

Seeing the rise of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis over the last couple years has been amazing. They hustled and built their tribe one fan at a time. It’s a little weird to hear them in Miller ads now, but I don’t begrudge them any success. They turned down major label deals to do it their way.

My friend Willie turned me onto J.Cole and my friend Alex recently turned me onto a group called Moderat.

Past time: I love reading. When I lived in San Diego, I picked up surfing a bit, but living in New York, I don’t get the chance to as much as I’d like.

I’m writing more and working on the first of my three book ideas.

7.  Any final words of wisdom?

Pick yourself. You are the last gatekeeper. [click to tweet]