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Michel Feaster
Michel Feaster, co-founder and CEO of Usermind in Seattle. (Usermind Photo)

Michel Feaster likes to build software and teams, and as the co-founder and CEO of the Seattle-based startup Usermind, she’s getting to do both.

With more than 20 years experience in enterprise IT, Feaster helped start Usermind in 2013. The software as a service links together various applications and data sources needed to help customers perform a task or reach a particular destination online.

Feaster was previously the VP of products at Apptio, where she helped grow the company from 30 to almost 400 employees. She also managed product teams at Opsware — and led the acquisition of that company by HP Software for $1.6 billion — and she has held product and engineering roles at Mercury Interactive and Compuware.

On top of all of that, she’s GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week.

Last week, Usermind made a major partnership announcement with Harte Hanks, a global marketing firm out of San Antonio, Texas. Usermind’s Customer Engagement Hub will be integrated into martech stacks of Harte Hanks clients. The objective is for businesses such as Cisco, IBM, Tableau and Slack, to be able to deliver better customer experiences and improved sales performance.

“We expect this partnership will increase both customers and revenue,” Feaster said. “This is a sales partnership, and we will go to market together, rather than licensing our technology. Harte Hanks will introduce our game-changing technology to their existing customer base and in future engagements. In turn, Harte Hanks is now a Usermind preferred provider for services and expertise as our clients go through their digital transformation.”

Building teams, once again.

Learn about this week’s Geek of the Week, Michel Feaster:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I like to build things. I enjoy building software products and I like building high-performing teams. I feel like there is tremendous integrity and authenticity in building software that makes my customers’ lives better. And there’s huge value in building an environment and team where my employees’ lives become better. I find meaning in building products and teams, and it’s why I decided to found my own company, where I can do both.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is undergoing a huge transformation alongside the major shifts in customer experience. Every company is becoming a software company, and every company is now seeking direct, ongoing, and subscription-based relationships with their customers. There aren’t infinite new customers in the world, so every business is becoming hyper-focused on retention. What’s the surprise in this? CRM software is more critical than ever for business success, but in it’s current form, it’s limiting. It’s not able to act with context about who each customer is and their relationship with a company. We’re building Usermind to change this.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “My inspiration comes from people. This includes current people in my life like my mentors Ben Horowitz and Yuval Scarlat. It also includes people of the past. I read a lot of biographies of past leaders because it helps make more sense of the present and it explains how people became the leaders they are today. The ‘becoming’ part is the inspiring part to me. Life is really a journey of ‘becoming.’ I’m inspired to understand what I can learn from other people that I can apply to my life and my business.

“In fact, when I decided I wanted to found a company, I spent three months interviewing more than 200 people in my network about their current challenges, experiences and needs at work. It’s how I honed in on the market need for Usermind.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “My phone because it equates to connectivity.”

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “My desk space is pretty empty because I’m usually not at it. The vast majority of my time is spent working and talking with people — our employees, customers, prospects, investors, candidates we want to hire. My desk is in theory a picture of my workspace, but the work I do doesn’t lend itself to happen there.”

Michel Feaster desk
Michel Feaster’s rarely used desk at Usermind. (Usermind Photo)

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Get a therapist. Also, unplug on the weekends (or whenever your off time is). Giving myself that mental space allows me to be my fullest self when I’m plugged in.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Mac.”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “I spend so much of my life in planes so this one is easy: Transporter.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “found Usermind, all over again.”

Your role models: “Ben Horowitz — He’s not only an incredible strategist and thinker, but he’s also an incredible man and husband. He’s a complete person and a great mentor. That’s what I look up to in people.

“General Scipio Africanus — He’s one of the greatest generals in history. He defeated Hannibal. He was an incredible military thinker who won as a strategist and tactician. Some generals would just benefit from technology or a market shift happening, but Scipio was an incredible strategist.

“My grandfather — He was a priest, and he told me, ‘Character is what you do every day.’ When he died, they named the church after him, hundreds came to his funeral. He left an impact on the people around him, I’d like to be like that.”

Greatest game in history: “I’m an avid sports fan and love to box in my spare time.”

First computer: “Atari.”

Current phone: “iPhone 7.”

Favorite app: “Pandora. It curates and helps me discover new, interesting music for when I’m running, traveling and more.”

Favorite cause: “I’m very passionate about helping veterans transition into tech. I think it’s important to help people who have provided so much service to our country. And often with veterans, they don’t know the lingo or how to get into tech, but they have the right work ethic and characteristics to succeed. I’m also very passionate about helping women and LGBTQ people be successful as well.”

Most important technology of 2016: “I think the most important developments in technology are major shifts, as opposed to a single product or invention. Everything in business is becoming subscription-based, APIs are ubiquitous in business. These are incredibly important shifts, but can’t be identified as a single product in a single year.”

Most important technology of 2018: “See above :)”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Live a life with meaning. Figure out what creates meaning in your life and pursue it.”

Website: Usermind

Twitter: @michelfeaster

LinkedIn: Michel Feaster

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