Staff Spotlight: Q&A With Keaton Swett

By MBO Partners | June 10, 2021

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Staff Spotlight

For more than 25 years, MBO has led the charge to keep the independent economy moving forward. And now we are thrilled to give you an exclusive look at the individuals who have made our company what it is today. We are happy to launch new series which highlights the team that power our platform, many of whom you’ve met, and others that we hope you’ll enjoy getting to know! Please enjoy our featured series: the Staff Spotlight.

This month we spoke to Keaton Swett, our Vice President of Product and founder of MBO’s open innovation platform Mindsumo about his business success and how he strives to be a leader in and out of his work life. Read our exclusive interview with Keaton below to learn more about our passionate and hardworking team who make MBO what it is today.

Hardly anyone enjoys a career that’s a straight road to success. Instead, most of us have had to go through winding roads of ups and down to get to the position we are in today. Along these roads, individuals learn valuable lessons which shape not only their work life but also their personal mindset. These lessons help them grow in prime strengths. And when looking at MBO’s leadership team, we had to look no further than Vice President of Product, Keaton Swett to find a unique and inspirational tale of how his professional career shaped him into the leader he is today.

Prior to joining MBO, Keaton was co-founder and CEO of MindSumo, a crowdsourcing and open innovation platform where creative problem solvers work on real-world challenges from the world’s top brands. Over the course of his time at MindSumo, Keaton helped grow MindSumo’s user base from a few dozen Stanford students to over 700,000 Millennial & Gen Z users from all over the world. He also led business development efforts that resulted in partnerships and client relationships with over 100 of the Fortune 500.

Just some of the starting Mindsumo Team

What accomplishments shaped your career?

Soon after graduating from college, I moved to the Bay Area to chase the entrepreneur’s dream by founding a tech startup with one of my best friends. We had ABSOLUTELY no idea what we were doing, but we were young, hungry, and naïve enough to think we could succeed in this goal. It took very little time for us to realize that in order to make our dream a reality, we’d need some serious mentorship and connection to a broader community to best position ourselves for success.

My co-founders had recently graduated from Stanford (we were living in Palo Alto) and we began researching the StartX startup accelerator program. This impressive organization liked to boast that StartX acceptance rates were even lower than those of Stanford University itself, but we knew that admittance to StartX would dramatically increase our chances of making it in the startup world. I’ll spare you the details of how much we prepped, practiced, and refined our pitch, but after much anxiety we were admitted to StartX! This kickstarted the founding of MindSumo, and directly led to our ability to secure funding to get our new company up and running.

His words of wisdom for future entrepreneurs:

Don’t be afraid to ask for help/advice from people who know more than you. It’s hard enough being an entrepreneur, so don’t try and do it all alone. The more you can surround yourself with smart, experienced, and helpful fellow entrepreneurs, the better off you’re going to be.

Being a founder is hard. He shared a bit about his challenges as well {we love that he’s humble}.

Keaton moved from North Carolina to New Hampshire during the pandemic to be closer to family. He’s also raising three kids under 5. That’s a big job!

When starting MindSumo, (or any company for that matter) I think a huge obstacle is convincing users and clients that it’s worth using what you have created. An important lesson I learned in taking MindSumo from nothing to a platform with hundreds of thousands of users is that you need to listen to your clients and users in order to make something they will truly value. People like to point to Steve Jobs as an example of someone who didn’t rely on user feedback when designing products while still having wild success. Ok, Steve Jobs is also one in a million. For the rest of us, our users/clients/customers are the greatest resource we have to make sure what we’re creating is something worth using. 

Behind every good founder is a great mentor – Keaton shared some helpful advice he’s received.

I had a good friend whose father was an Army Ranger. He told us about the idea of a “spotlight” ranger who did everything right when the attention or the “spotlight” was shining on him, but then behind the scenes, his conduct fell short of the standards and expectations required to be a member of the rangers. His advice was to resist the urge to only be a “spotlight ranger” and try to make your conduct, attitude, and character consistent – regardless of whether anyone else was watching you.

Next we went deep – talking leadership, goals, and future plans.

Keaton’s Keys to Leadership:

I’m a big believer in the “servant leader” model, a leader with the primary goal of providing service to their people.

He also shared some of the areas of his own leadership that he’s most proud of … and those where he admits to having a bit more work to do.

Strengths:

  • Teaching – this helps me effectively communicate with and teach those I manage to help them do their jobs better. I also really enjoy the satisfaction of teaching something to someone and seeing them excel from the knowledge/skill that was gained
  • Perseverance – I’m willing to work hard to accomplish a goal, even if it’s a long road to get there. I don’t quit when obstacles appear, and that has taught me to always look for another angle to solve a problem

Weaknesses:

  • Letting go of control – Sometimes, I can struggle to trust others to do a job that I think I can do better. I’ve had to learn to let go of control and give other people the opportunity to grow even if it would be easier to do something myself
  • Impatience – When I have an idea that I think is good, I want to act on it quickly. I can get frustrated when others want to spend more time analyzing or scoping out an idea instead of getting to work right away. I’ve learned that you need a balance of being able to move quickly, but not at the expense of fully thinking through an idea before diving in head first.
Keaton and crew love outdoor adventures in their new home state.

Keaton took a big jump as he went from a founder to a member of a larger company during the MBO acquistion. We asked what helped him make that leap.

The successes, lessons, and failures I experienced over this decade have prepared me for this new chapter where MindSumo is now a part of the MBO ecosystem.

Helping people work the way they want has meaning and a tremendous impact on the lives of people all over the world.

During our interview, Keaton kept mentioning his team and why gauging the minds of multiple and diverse people always matters. So we needed to know why, and his answer fell upon the core of MBO’s vision and culture. For him:

The idea of empowering people to do the work they love the way they want is incredibly meaningful to me. It’s obvious the historic idea of “work” or a “job” is rapidly changing, and more people are leaning into the world of independent/freelance work. I think MBO’s vision of making that transition seamless and successful for independents is very powerful, and definitely something I support wholeheartedly.

Keaton’s crowdsourcers: Gabriel, Luther and Sonny.

Because every good founder has a personal story, we dove deep on his life outside of the 9-5.

Keaton does carbs – he calls himself an amateur, but this looks pretty pro to us.

First and foremost, I love spending time with my incredible wife Stephanie & my three boys Gabriel, Luther, and Sonny. Other favorite things to do include:

  • Skiing/snowboarding
  • Being in the great outdoors (hiking, camping, fishing, etc.)
  • Cooking, baking, and EATING (sourdough bread baking is one of my hidden talents)
  • Reading – I highly recommend my current book “Killers of the Flower Moon” which is a non-fiction about the early days of the FBI as seen through the investigation of the murders of Osage Native Americans.
  • Playing music (piano and guitar are my main instruments)

He also shared his goals. The work of a founder is never done, and it seems that Keaton has some lofty future plans:

Outside of the professional sphere, I have a long list of additional goals and hopes for myself:

  • Use my recently purchased Epic Pass to carve the slopes of NH as much as possible this coming winter
  • Find more ways to serve and be more active in my community
  • Develop more patience in my interactions with my 3 sons
  • Start hiking all of NH’s 4,000 ft peaks
  • Focus each month on developing a new trait/attribute where I feel I’m lacking (ex. Empathy, discipline, productivity, kindness, etc.)
Thanks for sharing your life with us, Keaton!

After learning Keaton’s dedication to challenging himself in both physical and mental goals we ended by asking him to share his personal top tips for those with future entrepreneurial aspirations:

Every month, I create a new list of personal goals that I tape to my bathroom mirror. These goals can be professional, personal, physical, spiritual, etc. I spend my month striving to accomplish them, and at the end of the month I hold myself accountable by reviewing each goal to assess whether I was successful. I believe progress and personal responsibility are incredibly important for all of us, and this monthly exercise helps keep me focused on both of those things.

Eager to learn more about or submit a member of the MBO team for a future spotlight? Drop us a line and share your suggested submission. We’ll continue this series throughout 2021 and beyond.

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