Building a strong core team and culture matters as much as, if not more than, the business or concept.
Brian is truly immersed in Florida’s entrepreneurial and innovation communities as President and Co-founder of Synapse Florida, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit creating the nexus for entrepreneurs, investors, and businesses to connect with the resources they need to accelerate success and drive Florida’s economic growth. Through Synapse, Brian is increasing the visibility of Florida’s innovation communities across the entire industrial, commercial, municipal, and educational spectrum to attract and retain talent and build thriving businesses for generations to come.
Brian’s early passion for technology drove him to earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from The University of Michigan and the University of Florida, respectively, officially making Brian a rocket scientist. He worked on amazing technology projects from handheld encryption devices to fighter jets to cutting-edge satellites.
After receiving his MBA from the University of South Florida, he joined Nielsen as an executive, quickly rising through the ranks. His accomplishments include driving a $25M international software development project and helping to integrate a $1B acquisition.
Brian’s entrepreneurial endeavors began as founder of RhiKNOW, a mobile application for a personalized recommendation engine. As CEO of RhiKNOW, he saw a massive gap in the ability of people with ideas to turn them into a reality while overcoming fears of technology and money. To overcome the challenge, Brian launched Popkorn Apps, a mobile application development company and mini-incubator to help entrepreneurs turn their visions into reality. As CEO of PopKorn Apps, he saw the connectivity issues of the innovation communities within Florida which later inspired the founding of Synapse.
Brian, a Tampa Bay native, is the President of the USF Executive MBA Alumni Advisory Council and supports many local missions and companies as an advisor or partner. He is a Six-Sigma Black Belt, Lean Expert, and Certified Scrum Product Owner. Brian is a 2018 recipient of the prestigious Tampa Bay Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Business Up and Comers of Tampa Bay. He is also nationally recognized in The Business Journals’ Influencers: Rising Stars as one of the top 100 business executives across the country who are having a positive impact relatively early in their careers on their companies and their communities, and who could be shaping how business gets done for years to come.
Where did the idea for Synapse come from?
The idea for Synapse came from a number of hard-working people, such as Marc Blumenthal, Andy Hafer, Jeff Vinik, Ned Pope, Wes Lehman, Rebecca White, and more who all realized that Florida needs one innovation community to really make it thrive to its fullest potential. Back in the 2016 timeframe, the state was stagnant. On the surface, it appeared that there was not enough money, not enough talent, and not enough customers to have a thriving innovation ecosystem. As it turned out, Florida is just very spread out geographically making it very difficult for connections to take place. A group of us that set out to create this community wanted to be enablers, helping those who are looking to innovate to have access to the best resources this state has to offer. We have some of the greatest resources of any innovation ecosystem, and the lines of communication needed to be opened and cleared up. This pointed us in the direction to create this nonprofit and really help organize and connect all of the great resources this state has to offer.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I am not sure I have a typical day. I love spending time with the team. We really have amassed a great, creative, hard-working group of individuals. Everybody contributes on major levels. I also love spending time with people in the community. I love to hear how different members of the community need help and how we can support, how we can guide them to success. I also enjoy balance and spending time with my family.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I bring ideas to life by taking action. I believe in the lean startup model, taking calculated small risks and tweaking to find what can work. However, inaction is the only true form of failure. Many times, trying and failing gets you in the same place as the status quo. So why not try? You never know where you will end up.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I love smart-home technology. I am a bit of a gadget nerd. I have helped set up my house so a lot can be voice-activated. It just makes life a little bit easier. Besides, my kids love Alexa! But when you think about the future and where it is going, living like the Jetsons is not that far off!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
My one habit is that I stay ahead and don’t let myself drown. I am the first one to show up every morning so I can clear out my emails and not fall behind. It is so much easier to stay ahead once you get there. Coming up for air makes life that much more difficult. People often say I am one of the most efficient humans they know. I like to keep it that way and staying ahead is a big trick to that. I also have a work ethic that is hard to match. Nobody will outhustle me, ever. Like Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh says, I “attack each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to not be afraid to try. For a long time, I had ideas but was afraid, thinking I was not capable of leading a business or a team. However, the more I tried, the more I learned and built a skillset.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
You can learn more from people who treat you poorly than positive role models. You can learn about what not to do, what you dislike, and do the exact opposite. Culture in an office matters more than just an idea. It keeps people motivated to do more and more.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I check in with my team over and over. I make sure they are doing well. I am only one person and can only accomplish so much. If I was not a part of an amazing team, we would be nowhere. I am so fortunate to have been able to build such a strong foundation for myself and our organization.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We always think about how we can “light it up” or push the envelope. How can we do things differently, better, bigger? We spend a lot of time as a team brainstorming for the future. We also encourage team members to expand their horizons to be able to level-up the organization.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My first business was a colossal failure and I loved every second of it. It was the first mobile app that I had launched. The idea was good. The name was good. The UX was awful and I was a one-man team. I overcame it by learning from my mistakes, taking those lessons with me into the rest of my life, and by also pivoting it to a successful mobile application development business.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
There should be a way to do a global pass for conferences. Similar to subscription services, if there were a conference pass – I think many would use it. It would definitely hit the B2B market strongly.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Personally – the best $100 I recently spent was a nice dinner with me and my wife where I could relax and unwind and not think about work. Professionally – the best $100 I spent was any $100 that had a positive ROI. I am very value-driven. Any amount of money can be spent so long as equal or greater value is returned.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I use Slack and Trello often. Trello keeps my own personal KANBAN board or to-do list. Slack is a great communication tool. All of it then runs through my phone. If I have my phone, I can work anywhere in the world.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I can only pick one? I’d have to either go with “The Lean Startup” or “Crucial Conversations.” The first one is pretty obvious. The second one is one that often goes overlooked. Way too often conversations get out of hand when stakes are high. It is a great way to create drama and failure.
What is your favorite quote?
“It is kind of fun to do the impossible.” ~Walt Disney
- Florida is a thriving innovation ecosystem thanks to organizations like Synapse and many great leaders.
- Building a strong core team and culture matters as much as, if not more than, the business or concept.
- As cliché as it is, do not be afraid to fail. Take those small risks. They add up to success.
- Falling behind is the easiest way to lose efficiency.