Leaders, what are you passionate about?

I am only deeply, strongly passionate about a few things. I love that I currently have the opportunity to pursue two of them and am laying the groundwork for the third.

At redPear I get to lead. I love the web and the empowerment that it gives to the individual but that’s the passion I want to expound upon. I’m passionate about creating a compelling culture and leading a fantastic, brilliant, creative mix of engineers, salespeople, project managers, socialites, musicians, sports nuts, gamers, ninjas, and salsa dancers. Ask me about leading such a diverse team and I’ll talk your ear off. I soak it up. I screw it up. I learn. I try to fix. I ask forgiveness. I do it again. I keep learning. Leading is one of my strongest passions and redPear is the vehicle for me to do that. It means less to me what we are doing, but more about how we are doing it together.

However, while redPear is the vehicle that fuels my passion to lead, the philosophy behind the new Vyllij, on the other hand, fuels a different passion completely. Within that organization I am equally surrounded by brilliant and creative individuals. I certainly get to lead here as well but the way it is done is quite different. Thus, it is my burning passion for what we are actually DOING (read: disrupting) with Vyllij that runs deep. Almost every waking available spare moment is spent thinking, organizing, initiating, and dreaming about the potential that Vyllij has to change the world. Yes, change the world. I dare you to get me talking about my passion for helping others to build a strong, healthy, organically-growing, mutually-supporting local network of humans. You will see the passion bleed from my heart and dance at the tip of my tongue.

As a leader, you MUST pursue that which drives you. The most debilitating thing for a leader is to have to lead a stale organization going in a direction that she is not passionate about. There’s no energy–no drive. You cannot manufacture passion. And if you think you can, don’t try! You’ll soon realize you’ve sold yourself out. You’ll look to your left, right and behind you and find that no one is following. Those people know better. They went and followed someone else who displayed true genuine passion, who raised her voice and shouted, “Follow me! I know where we’re going! We’re going to rock this place!”

So find it! Find that passion and then find where you can unleash yourself. Think you can’t? Think its too hard? Bullshit. I’ve found it and I’m not done yet. Others have found it and have changed the world for the better.

It’s time to get excited. Need help? Just ask those around you. Heck, ask me! Raise your voice! Let’s bleed our passion together.

At first glance this email that I received this morning appears relatively benign. In fact, it appears downright cheery. A group of my friends and family had just collectively wished me a happy birthday! Not only that, that nameless horde took the time to format the font, making it slightly larger, and centering the text in my inbox. Simple. Clean. Effective.

The only problem? I hated it. Upon reception, I furrowed my eyebrows in frustration, sighed, rolled my eyes, and then forwarded the email to several friends who would understand my annoyance. No one was surprised.

Allow me to break it down. Let me start with the text of the email and we’ll work into the email header from there.

There is a general assumption made in this email that I still attend said “Church” and still have friends and family at that Church. In fact, it is assumed that I have SOOO many friends and family there that they would all get together (at 7am even!) and co-write that email and send it to me.

The brutal reality, however, is that I have not been to that particular Church in SEVEN YEARS! I left there after my wife and I were kindly asked not to participate in a ministry for college-aged kids (we were college-aged) and asked to go to the young marrieds group instead. However, for a college-aged married couple, the young marrieds (who were on average 30 – gasp) were not so young and there was a cultural disconnect. This is a deeper hole than I will go into now (buy me a beer someday if you must know), but ultimately we moved on to a different church where senior-level staff was less concerned about shoving people into assumed pigeon-holes.

So, lo, imagine my surprise when I received a birthday email reminding me of all the great family and friends that I still had at said “Church.” They still loved me! Or did they? I looked closer. Wait a minute! There’s no way that someone or some group of people actually sent that. No signed name, it came from info@, and was sent out at 7am. I interned at that church. No one even thinks about sending an email that early.

So how’d this happen? Somewhere, some place, some person had found my old information, threw me into a database, added my name to a birthday campaign and out pops an email wishing me, Brandon Willey, a happy birthday. With the exception of a few people who still attend that Church and are friends with me on Facebook, there’s a very solid chance that not one person at that Church knows or cares that its my birthday today.

Nevertheless, that email came spewing out of whatever campaign manager software they paid way too much money for and was sent to me. The perfect marketing tool. Mission accomplished. That is, of course, the ultimate goal of automated email marketing right? Let the robots do the work. It takes too much time, too much attention, too much care to actual know your clients, consituents, or congregation.

F that. Get to know who you do business with. Get to know the people you work with. Get to know the people you church with. And if you don’t have the time? That’s fine. But please, for your own sake, DON’T send out fake, hypocritical, bogus automated emails.

The last thing I am going to do is go running back into their superficially loving arms. In fact, I’ll run the other way. Their well-crafted, well-timed birthday wish caused the opposite of their intended effect.

That, my friends and family, is why automated emails suck.

I love Vespas. I once, until recently, had a beautiful, sleek, silver LX 150.

I would take her out to late night mixers or to the movies. I would relish the smell of Palo Verdes and raw desert air while riding through Papago along Galvin Parkway. However, we spent most of our time together riding from one meeting to another during redPear working hours. I had recently crossed the 6,000 mile mark. I was proud of my little girl and looked forward to crossing the 10,000 mark together.

I looked forward, that is, until I slammed her face-first into a ’96 Buick at 40 miles per hour.


I was looking forward. The driver of the ’96 Buick, on the other hand, was not. Further Back.

I approached the Mill and Southern intersection riding Eastbound on Southern towards Mill Avenue at slightly below 50mph. It was not above 50mph because, alas, there are cameras at that intersection and foolish I am not. I had a clear green light, there were no cars in front or to the rear of me. I was alone. I was happy. I was on-time for my meeting. I was


Enter Unaware Dude in Golden ’96 Buick–from the Circle K driveway–imminently blocking the right two lanes. I swerved left and began braking. Hard. He continued into the left lane. Saw me, eyes widened, and froze up. I was out of time, out of room, but, unfortunately, not out of momentum.

Back tire began sliding, mind numbing, muscles tightening. Collision. With Idiot’s front driver’s side wheel column and fender. Crumpling, spinning, flying, landing, standing, stars flitting, yelling, sitting, standing, limping, sitting. Curb.

I looked out to the street, saw my phone, ask someone to grab it. A police officer ran across the street. Witnesses, good Samaritan’s, bystanders stopped traffic, checked on me, kept Numbnuts in his car and on the scene, called 911, and gathered flailed items: computer bag, broken computer, iPod, camera, remaining keychain, destroyed helmet.

Paramedics came, sirens blazing. Cops came, sirens blazing. Ambulance came, sirens blazing. I made phone calls: to Tim Trainor, to my appointment that I had stood up at Steve’s Espresso so inconveniently, to my wife.

I passed the first inspection. I was ordered to the ER. I declined backboard and neckbrace transportation via ambulance. I chose a leisurely ride with Krystofer instead.

Johnny-on-the-spot was cited. The Emergency Room was too long. Three X-rays and a Cat-scan later and I walked away with a neck sprain, bruises on my arm and leg, a bruised wrist, and a very miserable back, and three days of work missed. The worst? No kid-wrestling for a while. Or ever. High-five to Buick Guy.

And the Vespa?


Ignite Phoenix
This post is obviously a little late but here nonetheless. I am amped to be presenting tonight at Ignite Phoenix ASU at the ASU Education Lecture Hall. I’m surrounded by phenomenal presenters and honored to be among them. I will be presenting on creating a collaborative incubation culture in Phoenix. Don’t know what that is? Then you need to RSVP (or just show up) for the event tonight at the ASU Main Campus.

Here’s the title and description of my 5-minute Ignite talk:

Archipelago: we are islands, together.

Biography: Brandon is an ASU alum, father, musician, and entrepreneur. He has a passion for connecting people and making Phoenix awesome.

Description: The very gifts and strengths that make for a good entrepreneur, can make us lone wolves. While you need to be confident and self-reliant, you cannot make it on your own. Let’s talk about bringing entrepreneurs together, young, old, new, experienced, successful, and struggling. We can make each other better, and by extension, make Phoenix better.

And here’s the full lineup:

  • Live together, die alone: Island survival for non-profits – John Mather
  • The burgeoning Phoenix Design scene, and how you can be involved – Mark Dudlik & Andrew Coppola
  • Archipelago: we are islands, together – Brandon Willey
  • How TED Built Their Community of TED Addicts – Tomas Carrillo
  • Prison 101: Interns Behind the Wire – Sue Ellen Allen
  • Design Bridges the Gap Between Universities and Communities – John Takamura
  • Trust NASA To Get Us Out Of Here? Or The Cultural Impetus For Sustainability – Andrew Latimer
  • Guerrilla Marketing: Reaching Out to Homeless Youth – Tim Huffman
  • Improvisation as a collaborative tool – Nina Miller
  • Poverty. What it looks like and what I can do? – Brian McCollow

I’m excited about sitting on the Judging Panel for the World Entrepreneurship Day Elevator Pitch Competition. Later that afternoon, as a part of the event, I will be speaking at a session on “Leveraging Your Network and Your Current Resources to Make Your Passion Happen.”

With experience in several start-ups, Brandon has been able to transform his ideas into reality – without waiting for a golden ticket. In this session, he’ll talk about what it takes to make ideas happen sooner rather than later, using what you already have. Learn from his expertise to accelerate the impact of your idea!

So it also looks like I will be sitting on a panel of startup entrepreneurs that evening during the culminating event for World Entrepreneurship Day at Tempe Center for the Arts. Here’s a link (http://wedasu.eventbrite.com/) to more information and registration. There is no cost to attend and would be a great event for anyone interested in entrepreneurship in Phoenix.

Another Update:
Here are a few links about the event:
ASU’s World Entrepreneurship Day Site
ASU News Article
GetOut article

I’m excited to be speaking at one session and two panels at LaidOffCamp Phoenix this Saturday. Get the full agenda here (pdf).

  • Getting a Job with a Small Business (panel) 9:30am
  • Starting Your Own Biz (panel) 10:20 & 11:10am
  • Leveraging LinkedIn 12:50pm

Laid Off Camp Phoenix is an extension of a national effort to help people find work — full-time work, freelance work, volunteer work, or whatever’s next for them.  Like other Laid Off Camp events, is a locally-based, community-supported effort to offer resources and reassurance to job seekers.

On Saturday I had the privilege to present on Mobile Apps that your business shouldn’t be without. All in all I think that, while much of it was review for many in attendance, as to the dissemination of ideas it was a success in that each person left with at least one new tidbit of information.

As for how I felt after presenting? Well, besides it being an unrehearsed and fairly disjointed presentation, I felt dirty. Despite my intentions, I felt like the entire presentation had the external appearance of leading the attendees down a path that ended with hiring redPear to build them a micro mobile app. I regrettably felt like I had done the redPear brand a disservice by delivering a message that, in my opinion, felt so self-serving. Even though I bundled redPear in the same sentence and “pitch” with great companies like Magical Panda and Held, I felt like some of the attendees were thinking, “Oh, I get it now, the whole reason he’s teaching us this is so that we’ll do work with his company.”

F*$% that. That’s the last reason I would spend a Saturday away from my family teaching about such a dry topic as Mobile Apps. My reason for sharing the information that I did was that I have a small passion (not my largest by any means) for helping to move small businesses to the cloud. And one of the main tools for accessing that cloud-placed data is via a mobile phone. You really can’t talk about the Cloud without talking about the Mobile tools used to access the data you place there.

So, where does this line of thought lead me? I’m pretty sure that we’re going to review the presentations and speaking opportunities that redPear chooses to engage in to make sure that we don’t come out looking self-serving. We aren’t and for us everything we do “publicly” is always with the intention of supporting the greater Phoenix community with no hope for a direct reward. As for me? I’m going to stay away from teaching/speaking about topics that result in a “pitch” at the end and just focus on teaching about the things that I am both passionate about and that have no direct correlation to a service that redPear provides. A talk about “The Benefits of the Cloud?” Sure. “How you can hire a development firm to build your business a mobile Cloud app?” Hell no.

Here’s the slide deck. There are some good nuggets in there if you dig deep.

Update: And here’s the actual video of the presentation posted at CenPhoCamp.com.

I’ve been giving this some significant thought recently as redPear has been growing significantly and I’ve been intentionally transitioning to a more visionary and executive leadership role.

A Hypothesis: A leader’s core role in any organization should be to establish the vision, to unite the team around that vision, and then to support the team in accomplishing the vision.