Tristan Pollock is a community-driven entrepreneur, semi-retired VC, mystery artist, children’s book author, and a multipotentialite on a lifetime of adventure. Pollock has spent the last decade building and selling two tech startups with a focus on empowering social entrepreneurship and making urban innovation more colorful. And he will most definitely pet your dog.
Our readers would love to know about an amazing entrepreneur like you. Please tell us in detail about yourself?
I’ve spent over 10 years building startups and helping others do the same. I want humans to follow their dreams, their passions, and their love. Starting businesses or creating physical or digital things are a few ways to do that. It all starts with a dream.
I also describe myself as a multipotentialite. Some might call me a generalist. I like to go wide on things and explore a lot of subjects and ideas. This leads me to create things in a variety of industries and roles. I’ve been a cashier, a tree seller, a copywriter, a marketer, a community builder, a venture capitalist, a startup founder, unemployed, freelance, and the list goes on. I’m very interested in a very full life experience.
My soul partner in life, Dany, likes to say, “You are ALWAYS on the adventure of your lifetime.” And it’s true. I always want humans to keep exploring, experiencing, and opening their minds to new ways of looking at things. More experiences equal more openness, whether that’s a music festival, a country, a culture, or Burning Man. Never stop exploring.
Give us some insights into your startup companies. What do they focus on?
I’ve built two startups. My first was called SocialEarth and was a media platform for social impact. We grew it to be one of the top resources for social entrepreneurs (a new identity at the time). Entrepreneurs at organizations like Ashoka, Skoll Foundation, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review were writing on the platform. After growing it for three years, we had built a community of millions of readers and hundreds of writers across 25 countries. We even had social entrepreneurs on the ground covering the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt.
After bootstrapping for three years, we sold the company to 3BL Media, who built a new type of PRWire for social impact that took into account all types of new media as well as traditional press releases.
That led me to my next startup, Storefront, a marketplace for retail space. This is how I ended up in San Francisco and Silicon Valley for six years. At the time, we were based in Minneapolis, Minnesota (I went to university at NDSU). After walking the streets to sign up retailers and commercial real estate landlords to the platform and squeaking out an MVP website, we got an interview at AngelPad in San Francisco. AngelPad is one of the top startup incubators and accelerators in the world. They are ranking in the Top 5 with Y Combinator, 500 Startups, and Techstars, so we were extremely excited. After multiple calls with Thomas Korte and Carine Magescas, a demo of our rough MVP, and some backchanneling, we were accepted a few days before the program started! Only 12 companies out of 2,000 got in.
We dropped everything and flew to San Francisco arriving on a delayed flight the night before. We showed up at the AngelPad doorstep early the next morning in the startup-notorious SOMA neighborhood. The door was locked. All the founders were lingering around. It was a wild and emotional ride. Not to mention we ended up living in a one-bedroom apartment with four startup founders and no furniture for the next three months.
Who would have guessed a couple of years later we would have raised almost $10 million in venture capital with investors like hip-hop mogul Nas and Gary V and been able to call Kanye West and Nike clients.
What are some of the major takeaways for anybody who is listening to your speeches for the first time?
Be your authentic self first and foremost. Be kind. Be open-minded. Do what you love. There are a lot of pressures in life and careers. Follow what feels right, what you care about, and what interests you. Don’t get sucked into doing something for the title, the ego, “because someone else told me to.” Do it because it gets you excited. Do it because you are excited about the people you are working with. Hire people because they get you excited. Journal and reflect on what you’ve done and where you are going. And if you can’t swim, join them.
What is the foremost difficult part of your artistic process? If you will tell your younger writing self anything, what wouldn’t it be?
Start with the goal of writing the absolute best thing out there. The best blog, the best book, the best white paper. Then write it like a lean startup. Start with tweets about the topic. Then blog posts. Then your first chapter. Step by step you will get things done.
What advice would you like to give to everyone who is reading your interview especially to Millenials?
Follow your dreams. Don’t know what they are? Follow what compels you. Do what you are interested in. There’s never a good time to make a big life change, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need. Dany, my partner, and I left San Francisco and took two years to digital nomad around the world. She was about to get a promotion at Lyft. We just got married. Things were going great, but we knew we wanted to take a one-way ticket trip and we just jumped right in.
What can we see coming from you shortly?
I’m interested in technical communities and recently joined the team at CTO.ai to help bring developer workflows into Slack. I’m leading the community building process there and getting back into my coding career. If you like automating things in simple and easy ways, come join our friendly developer and operations workflow community here.
I’m also highly involved in the intersection of technology and social impact. I believe with entrepreneurial thinking combined with the technology we can solve the world’s biggest problems. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a great example of that. Watch Inside Bill’s Brain on Netflix when you get a chance.
Let’s lean into compassion together and make the Earth a safer, healthy, more loving place every day with our actions.