Those who've been through The Startup Factory
accelerator know Chris Heivly
as the ultimate storyteller.
Starting this week, others can get in on his tales when they pick up his first book "Build the Fort,"
where he details the characters, discussions, materials and helpers that came together when he and some friends built the ultimate fort at age 10.
And somehow, he ties it all back to startups.
He's peppered in anecdotes from his years building MapQuest with a team of co-founders as well as the mentoring and coaching he's done over the last four years at The Startup Factory in Durham. The book is really aimed toward people who have an idea, and want to start a company but need a little push to make it happen. Heivly told me even small business entrepreneurs could find value in his ideas and stories.
To hear a little bit more about the making of this book and what's next for Heivly, check out the Q&A below, and a book excerpt below that.
When/how did you get started?
It’s always been a Bucket list item to write a book. My dad read 4-5 books a week for 35 years of his life. I shared with him a love of reading, so I always thought writing a book would be pretty cool. Building a Fort came from my Mapquest days. A guy that lives in town now who wrote all the original Mapquest software—we have worked on three companies now— and I referred to the time when you sit down and work on the idea as building a fort. We always laughed and said where are we going to go to steal or borrow the wood.
Late in 13 and early in 14 as I was working harder to get speeches, I knew that a book would be a great way to keep continuing this brand I was building around speaking and building the blog. I got asked to do a TED talk in April 2014 over at Duke and TED talks have a certain tone and feeling so I couldn’t do my standard talk track. I needed to do something more TED like. I remembered the Build the Fort and started unpacking and having fun with that. I started in February to prepare for TED talk and spent two months and at the end of the TED talk the response was really positive and I thought ding, there was my book.
You have a lot on your plate with TSF, Big Top career fairs, Inc columns and now bootcamps, how did you get it done?
The hardest part was keeping the rhythm.
In 2014, in July, we were selecting for our Fall class. That is one of the busiest times we have at TSF and I think I wrote twice in all of July. I lost all that rhythm and it took me most of August to get it back.
I knew from doing some research about how many pages you need to write for business book and how many words and I was off by an order of magnitude (though he ended up writing 85,000 when he needed 40,000). I knew I had a lot more to write and I was losing some energy so I did what I tell people to do in the book, I socialized what was happening and someone said, you need to steal away for a week. A friend lent me his beach house for the week of Thanksgiving and I wrote six hours a day for six days straight. Some huge epiphany moments came at that time with no TSF, no Big Top. Just Patty and I in a beach house.
Why the focus on the very early idea stages of starting a company?
No one writes about that part—the months leading up to the decision to leap and then the first three months after. That was one of the epiphanies at the beach, the super hyper focus on that six-month period. The unknown is too scary—it prevents most people from leaping—so if I can share with you some knowns and ways to combat those fears, then maybe you will take a chance. And maybe you won’t.
So what now? More books? Speaking engagements?
I used hybrid publisher, which means I'm doing the majority of the marketing. The same amount of time writing has been transferred to coming up with marketing, which is kind of fun because I get to exercise some muscles I like to have anyway—email marketing, event marketing. I have a number of speeches lined up and people buying books in lieu of fees. Independent Youth, a youth entrepreneurship group that brought me to St. Louis a year ago has seven cities they're doing seminars in this year. I've committed to keynoting four of them and may add a fifth.
And we talked about getting started on a second book in September but this is taking longer. I'm anxious to start writing again. I've ramped up my Inc. writing to twice a week to keep those muscles going. This time, we will write a book proposal and try to find a publisher. They are very confident we'll find a major publisher especially if we can sell a couple thousand of these on our own.
For a peek inside Build the Fort, here's an excerpt:
The fort-building story is a simple parable that is rich with lessons to apply to your own startup journey. Startups are hard. I trust that we all know that by now. We know most startups will fail at some point, most probably within 12-18 months of the decision to launch. Intellectually there is a healthy portion of our brains that have read, heard, and processed those facts.
Yet by definition we entrepreneurs are optimistic about our ideas. In another side of our brain, we have ruminated, poked-n-pulled, and massaged this idea for a very long time. We have completed some amount of online research on customers or partners or vendors. We have made visits both virtual and physical to entities that will be important for our idea to take hold. And we have fulfilled the dream by creating a name, logo and a brand for our brilliant idea.
Like any good movie thriller pitting good versus evil, these two sides of our brain create an obvious natural internal tension. This tension is at the core of your decision to make the proverbial leap.
For some, this tension prevents many would-be entrepreneurs from making the launch decision. For those that make the leap, some get bogged down by creating too much complexity early-on and basically never get out of the starting gates.
So, how does one then manage that tension?
I have used the idea of fort building for many years. By definition, the parable is designed so that each one of you can easily consume and react to the messages within the story. And, as my business partner likes to say, “my story has the added benefit of being true”.
All of the characters in my fort-building parable are real people. I built lots of forts with these guys as a kid. As an adult, I have not stopped building forts – I have only found new fort-builders on my journey.
There are five basic areas of fort building that are closely aligned with creating a startup company.
Jimmy, Danny, Timmy and me, and now you will learn to:
- Socialize the Idea Without Fear or Inhibition
- Partner with Skilled and Trustworthy People
- Gather the Assets Closest to You
- Create a Short-Term Collective Purpose
- Build the Fort