Introducing Brad Smagala, Sotoventures Mid-West & Detroit Ambassador

Sotoventures Mid-West & Detroit Ambassador

Jorge: What is your professional background and how did you become fascinated by startup culture?

Brad: It’s been an interesting journey, to say the least.

I grew on a farm in southwest Michigan. It’s the type of environment that requires self-sufficiency. You have to learn how to solve problems by yourself on the fly. What I’ve found is that those are the skill set and mental makeup of someone who succeeds in startup culture.

I started my formal professional career selling orthopedic medical devices, implants and instrumentation. Exciting stuff, right?

It was my very first job out of college, and I was thrown to the wolves. I had never taken an anatomy class, let alone biology or kinesiology.

But I worked 90 hours a week out of South Bend, Indiana, covering a very large geographic patch. While I was, admittedly, making decent coin, that type of lifestyle will burn anyone out.

I had just gotten married to my one-and-only, who’s from the Detroit area, and we were expecting our first child. She had always wanted to live near her family once we started to expand ours, so I said, “I’ll quit my job, and find something in Detroit. You’re a nurse -- you can work anywhere!”

That’s when I was first introduced to and became fascinated with the startup culture. I landed at a company named, now known as SocialProof, that was started by two Harvard grads from metro Detroit. They had moved their show from Silicon Valley to the Rust Belt.

I thought:  How could a couple of guys who are so smart be so dumb?!

My impression of working at a startup is that it would be a cakewalk.

I was wrong.

Immediately, my eyes were opened at the pace these people worked and the passion they had for their cause. I used the word “cause” there for a reason. Now, not only was I part of a group of highly intelligent people that were working to build a great company, but this was one piece of a large collection of like-minded people working diligently to rebuild the great city of Detroit.

That’s a cause!!!

Unfortunately, during my time there, our product / market fit didn’t … well, it wasn’t fitting. (The company is since doing very well by the way -- not sure what that says about me!)

The founders were forced to pivot and my job selling for them was marginalized. However, the leaders of SocialProof had made such an impact on me, and apparently me on them, that they felt compelled to introduce me to another Detroit Venture Partners portfolio company, LevelEleven.

I started there the day after I was laid off.

LevelEleven has been one of the biggest blessings of my life. Not only am I getting to take part in building Detroit’s next iconic company, but we’re doing it in the heart of downtown.

I firmly believe that 50 years from now when people ask, “What turned Detroit around?” LevelEleven is going to what rolls off of their tongues. Those tongues will be twisted for sure, but LevelEleven none the less.

When you work for a startup -- especially in sales -- you have to be highly adept to change. You have to use creativity to make yourself stand out and to come with compelling ideas.

You can’t just go through the motions at a startup. You always have to be on your “A” game. Since your prospect has probably never heard of the company and could care less about hearing your value prop, you have find creative ways to bring significant value immediately.

You’re constantly under-promising and over-delivering.

I love that.

I love that startups are the proving grounds for ingenuity and guts. I love that the typical 9-5 drone can’t handle the pressure. It’s not for everybody; only the bold. And let’s be honest, if we aren’t striving to achieve bold things, what are we doing here??

So to conclude my very long answer to your very short question, I’m fascinated by the startup culture because of the type of people that excel in this environment.

Yes, we start early. Yes, we work late. Yes, I rock Eminem and Bob Seger to 11 flying down The Lodge at 6 a.m. with bloodshot eyes at 80 mph and foot of snow on the ground. (Recently though I’ve been on that broadway soundtrack of Hamilton. That shit’s fire. Many parallels to Detroit -- Can I get a “Lafayette!!”)

But we never complain. This is Detroit. We’re tougher than you, and we know it.
Ready or not, here we come.