Geek of the Week: Zachary Cohn is spreading the startup mindset

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Zachary Cohn is involved in the startup world in a variety of ways — working with startups, organizing meetups and helping established companies learn to think more like startups themselves. As Zac puts it, he “loves making things happen, organizing people and communities, and solving problems that matter.”

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Brent Spiner trying out Zac Cohn’s Google Glass.

He’s also an early adopter of technology, lending his Google Glass to none other than Brent Spiner — better known as Star Trek’s Data — during an event in Seattle in May.

He is currently a partner at LIFFFT, where he helps established companies move faster and think more like startups. Before LIFFFT, he was part of the core Startup Weekend team at their headquarters in Seattle.

When he’s not trying to change the world through entrepreneurship, he’s training parkour and doing backflips, making viral videos, and running the Seattle Customer Development Meetup and the Hacker News Seattle Meetup, which is holding its latest meetup tonight.

Meet our new Geek of the Week, and continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

What do you do, and why do you do it? I’m a Partner at LIFFFT.com (not the car sharing app). We help big companies think and act with the speed of startups.

I’m taking all my experience as a Startup Weekend facilitator and ex-employee, taking all the stuff I’d normally teach individual entrepreneurs, and instead teaching it to established companies.

I’m working on this with LIFFFT because every day, we hear about established companies getting disrupted by startups. That’s great if you’re a startup — but it sucks if you’re a big company.

zacpullquoteA lot of them want to move faster and think more innovatively, they just don’t know how. So by teaching them about customer development and lean, teaching them how to make lots of smaller bets, or helping them start or run innovation labs… we’re helping big companies figure out how to be innovative too.

We’re kind of the turncoats of the startup world… but I’m okay with that. :)

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? A lot of people think big companies can’t move fast, can’t think creatively, and can’t innovate. As companies get bigger, it’s certainly very easy for them to fall into those traps, but it’s not inevitable. There are a lot of companies, especially in the Seattle area, that are well known for being customer-experienced focused, for moving fast and trying creative new things. Companies like Starbucks, Nordstrom, or REI are setting the bar.

And for the companies that haven’t historically been focused on it — they’re not dumb. They see companies in every other industry, often including theirs, getting disrupted constantly. They see it coming— they’re just trying to figure out how to adapt.

Where do you find your inspiration? My inspiration comes from parkour. If you’ve been living under a rock, parkour is all about getting from Point A to Point B as fast and efficiently as you can. You can run, jump, climb, vault, crawl, or sometimes even flip through an obstacle course. I’ve been training parkour for over 7 years, and it gives me a way to play like we all did when we were kids.

But now I can do backflips.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? Animated gifs (pronounced g-as-in-give, not j-as-in-joke)

People get too much email, and often those emails have way too many words in them. Animated gifs are a great way to say a lot in a little amount of space. After all, they say a picture says a thousand words, so an average animated gif should say about 86,000 words.

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Inside the LIFFFT offices.

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? My home workspace and my office workspace are pretty similar.

There are Post-it Notes everywhere. I’m pretty sure we single handedly keep 3M in business.

There are whiteboards everywhere. At the office we covered the walls in whiteboard paint. At home, I use my windows.

Also, I believe strongly in standing desks. After using them for a bit, I can’t even spend even a few hours sitting without feeling like garbage. Even at home I built a standing desk out of a chest and a few Amazon Fresh crates I never ended up returning (sorry Amazon! It was an accident, I swear.).

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) In a startup, you might feel like you’re always working. You might even feel guilty for not working. The way to managing work/life balance is simple… Just go do what you need to do. And be transparent and encourage open communication about it.

If I’m at work and it’s 2:30pm, I feel like garbage, and I can’t stay awake or can’t break the Facebook -> Twitter -> Hacker News -> Facebook cycle… I’m just going to go take a nap for an hour. I can come back at 2pm feeling refreshed and ready to kick butt. Why feel guilty for taking an hour to nap if you’re not feeling productive, especially if that will help you be productive?

Alternatively, if I meet a cute girl and want to go out for coffee with her in the early afternoon… go do that.

Because when it comes down to it, you’re not working a 9-5. You’re working a Midnight to Midnight. If that coffee date turns into dinner, then we go see a movie and I end up getting home at 11pm… I’m probably going to hop on email and do a few more hours of work.

If you have a job that’s midnight-to-midnight, you need to take time for yourself. And you need to be okay with that. As a bonus, that time for yourself can be whenever you want. (The old joke: An entrepreneur can set their own hours — they can work any 20 hours of the day they want!)

Mac, Windows or Linux? OSX 10.6. Expose and Spaces forever!


Geek of the Week is a regular feature profiling the characters of the Pacific Northwest technology community. See the Geek of the Week archive for more.

Be a future Geek of the Week! Fill out and submit our online questionnaire.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? James Tiberius Kirk.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Time Machine. Because time machines and bow ties are cool…

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Give it back. Lets bootstrap this.

I once waited in line for … The Screen Savers guys (Leo Laporte and Patrick Norton) to sign my friend’s socks and the side panel of my computer tower.

Greatest Game in History Diplomacy (board game)

Best Gadget Ever: Google Glass

First Computer: I built it myself. My dad didn’t think it would work. It did.

Current Phone: Samsung Galaxy S3.

Favorite App: Lyft (despite the fact everyone confuses my company for theirs.)

Favorite Cause: Parkour Visions

Most important technology of 2012: DNA splicing

Most important technology of 2015: Combining animals to make better animals. Sharktopus, Catdog, Llamaardvark.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Focus on increasing the awesome in the world and decreasing the amount of suck. This is my moral compass. Feel free to use it as yours.

Site: www.zaccohn.comTwitter: @ZacharyCohnLinkedIn: Zachary Cohn

 

  • carrie

    “If I’m at work and it’s 2:30pm […] I’m just going to go take a nap for an hour. I can come back at 2pm feeling refreshed and ready to kick butt.” Teach me your time-travelling ways! :)

    • Pat p

      Nap == 23.5 hrs. All billed to megacorps pretending to be nimble.

  • guest

    And the successful startups this startup guru has led through the fire are…. ?

  • Red Russak

    Woohoo! Congrats on making “Geek of The Week” sir. You put your heart and soul into the local startup community and are a true geek to the max!! :)