Deconstructing a CEO

John is a serial entrepreneur who has been building tech companies focused on solutions for retailers and consumer product companies since the early 2000’s. I first met John when his company, Bawte, was a member of the 2014 Boulder TechStars Class (learn more at About a month into the program, John talked to me about how the program had changed not only his business, but his views on what it meant to lead a team as CEO. John lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with his  wife and two daughters and you can follow him on Twitter @Jackovin.

On July 14th I found myself in my Jeep set to make the 10 hour trip to Boulder, CO. My company, Bawte, had been accepted into the 2014 Techstars program. Other than leaving my home and my family, I really had few concerns. I had been a CEO for over 10 years…been starting tech companies since the early 2000’s. I had already been through a lot.

Now, no one has every experience under their belt, but I had been through rapid growth, lawsuits, failures, big wins, an exit and so much more. I was looking forward to the relationships, mentors, connectivity and taking what we had already accomplished and rapidly accelerating our company. I collectively call that the “good stuff”. I had no pretense that Techstars would be difficult. After all, what could they do to me that I hadn’t experienced at least a flavor of in the past.

Then mentor madness hit. Think of it as pitching your business to very opinionated, very qualified individuals. Pitching your business 50 times over a 4 week period. These sessions last 30 minutes and for each one you start from scratch.

When we pitched, sometimes we heard, “That’s a great idea!” That, however, was very much an edge case. Most of the time, my message was garbage. My delivery was weak. They asked questions. They didn’t understand. When they did finally understand, many questioned why people would use our product. Some offered suggestions. Some didn’t. Most suggestions differed greatly.

My mind swirled. I wasn’t sure if I was coming or going. I started to question the fundamental underpinnings of why I started Bawte. I started to question myself. Am I CEO material? Maybe I should head back to Des Moines and just get a “normal” job. That would be easier.

Questioning the business was one thing, questioning myself was another. I have always been an extremely confident person. And while I have been wrong in the past, I have always had a solid base for every decision I have made. Now I just didn’t know. For a period of a few days, my confidence was gone.

I made certain that no one saw it but me. But someone did see it. I walked into Nicole’s office, the managing director for Techstars Boulder, for our weekly one on one meeting. She could read it on my face. “I have seen that look before.” Nicole said.

I knew exactly what she was talking about. At that point, I could barely talk. I knew if I tried, I’d bust out crying. So I just nodded. She then asked me something that ultimately set me straight. “Why did you start Bawte?”

The answer, for purposes of this post, really didn’t matter. The question mattered. We started Bawte to solve a real problem. I left that meeting feeling centered, more confident. Keep solving the problem. Everything we do needs to help us solve this problem. So that is what we did during the remainder of Techstars.

In a nutshell, this is what Techstars does. They deconstruct assumptions. They remove over-confidence. They then enable you to build upon your core knowledge and truths to shape your direction as a company and CEO. For that, I will always be grateful. Sometimes you need to tear things down to be able to build them up better and stronger.