With A Little Help From My Mentors

Meet Sam Cummings.
Tech Startup Aficionado. Community Leader. Life-Long Apprentice. 

"The natural proximity of a startup business increases exposure to great mentors in a meaningful way." - Sam Cummings

"The natural proximity of a startup business increases exposure to great mentors in a meaningful way." - Sam Cummings

Where are you from?
A long time resident of the 6th and 7th Ward, I grew up in Lafayette Park off Rutger and in Soulard near the intersection of Russell and Broadway.

Which university did you attend and what did you study?
I attended John Cook School of Business at SLU and graduated with a degree in Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Management.

How did you get connected to the STL startup community? How did you land your first startup job?
I got into the Tech industry after I was hired as Manager of Technical Solutions at TopOPPS, a Sales Management Software Company. I got noticed by TopOPPS after I was a contestant at GlobalHack I.

I found out about the Globalhack event a few days before on Twitter. Showed up with two friends and put together a team called “the remainders”. We were the people no one else wanted on their team. We ended up making it to the finals. Although we did not win, I gave such a great pitch for my team that I was the first person hired to TopOPPS from GlobalHack and 4th person in the company. Prior to GlobalHack, I ran for State Representative in 2012 for the 78th District (downtown St. Louis). While working for the premier tech startup company(TopOpps) downtown in 2015, I ran for alderman of the 7th ward. Now I work at Gainsight™ which ranked No. 48 on the 2015 Inc #500.

How has your career evolved working at startups?
Working at a startup allowed me to turn my passion for entrepreneurship into a career. I know what success looks like for me 5 years from now. Every day between now and then I am putting in the work to make that success true. If you are driven and want to learn about many business roles and find the niche for you, the startup world exposes you to so many aspects of business, it’s hard to compare to traditional roles.

Did you have a long-term goal in mind with your career or did you choose jobs based on interest, skills you wanted to develop?
I personally had a long term arc more than a specific end-end goal in mind. I always knew I wanted to be an explorer of knowledge and a person who profoundly impacted the human experience via scholarly works. So I pursued my arc and the short and mid term goals became short and mid term accomplishments which, in turn clarified new goals and aspirations along my arc. Like many have said before, it’s not about the destination, it's about the journey.

What do you like about startup culture?
I have had a very fortunate path working in the local startup/tech community and getting exposed to some great mentors. The access to mentorship from prolific individuals is unique to the startup culture. I can best explain it by explaining my story but what is powerful about the startup culture is each person who gets into the startup industry just like me can craft their own story.

As a true student of the STL Tech/Startup science, I got exposed to people  who had elements of what I saw in myself;  but maxed out like having cheat codes in a video game. Mentors such as Gabe Lozano at Lockerdome,  Andrew Winship at Juristat, and Jim Eberlin at TopOpps and Nick Mehta at Gainsight. These are the people that I draw inspiration from in the tech/startup community. They show through their actions and how they treat people, what type of person it is possible to be.

Each mentor became an example of traits I could emulate. It’s hard to get that in abundance in other business cultures. The natural proximity of a startup business increases exposure to great mentors in a meaningful way.

Gabe has the most compelling work ethic I have ever seen. His perseverance is infectious. When you’re around the guy, stuff gets done and done right.

Andrew is the kind of guy that can cram the night right before the test and still score better than you after studying for a week. He’s extremely sharp but also puts the effort into being great while making it look easy. Like Gabe, his work ethic is insane.

Equally motivating and inspirational as Gabe and Andrew but in a totally different way is Jim. Jim Eberlin is the most good-willed person I have met in the industry and easily top three.(1. Oprah, 2.Pharell 3. Jim Eberlin) in life. Side Note: I never met Oprah or Pharell.

Jim brings the best out of people by believing in them in a way that makes them believe in themselves like none other. Gabe and Andrew inspired me through their actions and leading by example whereas Jim taught me how to teach people to maximize their potential through self-motivation. If Jim’s got your back, you don’t need backup.

After working at TopOpps I got to work at Gainsight which gave me the opportunity to learn from Nick Mehta. Like Jim, Nick embodies the concept of success for all. Nick is an Indian version of me. He loves particle physics. I love particle physics. He’s a huge Steelers fan. I’m a huge Ravens fan. Even though if he knew I was a Baltimore Ravens fan he would instantly stop mentoring me over the rivalry lol; He also caught the AFC North bug just like me.

I say all of that to say Nick is the most positive person I have ever met in an executive position. Nick has mastered the art of operating in hyper speed but living in the moment. It is crazy how personable and down to earth yet sophisticated and goal oriented he is. His schedule is ridiculous but he still makes every moment you spend with him feel genuine. It’s like he is moving so fast and efficiently that time moves slower for everyone else. He speaks so fast but comprehensively that you begin to think faster just talking with him. Nick fully understands the Golden Rule and his energy is infectious.

What are you currently working on?
I am currently writing my first book: The Data Science of Customer Success. It will talk about how companies of all sizes can extract knowledge and insight from data, and the future of Artificial Intelligence in Business Information Systems.

What do you want to learn next?
I want to go to events hosted by organizations like BDPA(Black Data Processors Association, IEE(Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and Tedx to learn about machine learning and build relationships with other data scientists pushing the frontier of business information systems. I would like to also learn how to find more business use cases to apply data science on locally in STL.

You ran for 7th ward Alderman in 2015, what was the impetus for your decision to run and how was that experience?
When I ran for State Representative in 2012. Two of my major issues were Urban Farming and investment in Startup/Tech community which were ahead of the time for the current political climate and discourse. By the time 2015 came around, I had been living and working in the heart of the community, I advocated for building. I had interest in running to further define my vision for Saint Louis in the form of an economic development plan I released that Feb of 2015 before the election.

What really drove me to run was when I saw the two other candidates who would not have the political disposition or ideas to bring an innovative economic development and social justice conversation to the table. One had long term political career aspirations and raised +100K for an alderman race from corporate interest. With dollars equalling interests in politics like in any other industry, that money came with obligations that would limit the room for Urban Farming and Startup/Tech investment to be on the agenda in downtown STL and broader 7th ward.  The other candidate was strong on progressive social justice issues; But lacked the economic and business experience to be a voice for economic development or bring sound economic growth. Both were good people but ill equipped for one reason or another to bring the issues I believed in to the table.

One of my major goals was to bring political awareness to the startup community downtown and make it a political priority. By writing my economic development plan, I was able to paint the picture of the startup community becoming an economic engine in the 7th ward and Missouri as a whole. To that aim running for alderman was wildly successful. Plus going door to door and meeting real people is a very powerful experience. Since running both campaigns, nothing has had a bigger impact on who I am today than meeting people door to door.

What advice would you give someone who is considering their next career move and is interested startups?
DO IT! But for the right reasons. Get in for the long term. As get rich quick ideas usually do not pan out.

Anything else we should know about you?
I released an Economic Development plan early 2015 while running for alderman in the 7th Ward. I am finalizing talks on dropping a 2.0 of the Economic Development plan either before or after the release of the Data Science of Customer Success book. If you would like to learn more,  follow up with me. You can reach me on my website SJCummings.com and on twitter @SamuelJ314.

Culture Is Real, And It Matters

"Culture becomes an iterative process where you keep looking back at what you did, and then you make changes when you see things you don't like. One of the unique beautiful gifts that new employees and new eyes can give you [your company], is that they see things much closer to how they really are than the people that have been steeped into culture for a long time and have sort of just accepted all of the illusions and delusions that build up over time. When you get someone with fresh eyes in, they can see what's working and what's not. Culture is real, and it matters. And you can't just program it up front, it has to run, it has to be actually lived to be real."
- David Heinemeir Hansson, creator of Ruby on Rails, co-founder and CTO at Basecamp

Hear from Jed Ramsey, Sales Development Rep. at TopOpps on his experience as a startup employee and his take on startup culture.

Where are you from? I'm originally from Topeka, KS, but moved to St. Louis after living in Columbia, MO for the past 5 years.

University? College of the Ozarks, in Point Lookout, MO

How did you get connected to the startup community, and specifically, your job at TopOpps?
Startups have always intrigued me. I specifically got connected when a contact at TRex pointed me to the PluggedIN HQ site. I asked around about TopOPPS specifically, and heard a lot of very positive things.

When did you start working at TopOpps and how has your role evolved? 
I started in August '16. My role hasn't necessarily changed, since I'm still fairly new. However, I've evolved professionally and can already see a dramatic improvement in my sales abilities as I've gone through training.

What do you like about startup culture? 
I like the fact that you're building something together, and everyone takes ownership in it. As you see the milestones, the accomplishments, everyone takes pride. The camaraderie is quite amazing.

What are you currently working on? 
In general, we're a CRM plugin that tells sales teams how to best use their sales data. We recently added on a tool that's very "sales rep-centric", and are adding some finishing touches.  So far we've received great feedback from our market.

What’s next on your list to learn? 
Personally, I'm trying to find those little, subtle changes that are going to take my skills to the next level. For me, it might mean developing stronger email communication to supplement my verbal sales skills.  I'm always looking to those have been quite successful in my role, and the next position up, for what made them achieve the things they have.

What’s your favorite part of your job? What do you like about working downtown St. Louis? 
My favorite thing is the people I work with, and the camaraderie as we take joint ownership in seeing TopOPPS succeed. And working downtown, my coworker friends and I will take advantage to walk to Friday lunch at one of the many great food places.

What feedback or advice would you give to a jobseeker who is considering working for a startup? 
I think taking time to talk to people and develop relationships, and find out what they're doing really helps. Go to events, such as Sales Hacker, or Hackathon, that foster startups and serve as great places to meet like-minded people. PluggedInSTL is a great resource, with frequent job postings. Read sales books, or taking free coding courses online--sales and coding skills will always be in demand.

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