The Entrepreneurial Mindset – Mikey Trafton

Mikey Trafton is the founder of Blue Fish Development GroupFire Ant Software, an original investor in the Alamo Drafthouse, and mentors several Capital Factory startups. When Mikey and I met in 2012, he told me a few stories that distilled his motivation for entrepreneurship down into radically discrete elements that are so simple for us to apply in our day-to-day lives there is zero excuse not to. Things like how we do our laundry, or the work environment that we want to have.

Mikey calls the result of these motivations, “local optimizations.” As an entrepreneur, when Mikey wants to adapt a tiny area of his life, he evaluates his circumstances, isolates the element that he wants to be different, and then makes a change to create a situation that will serve his interests.

These local optimizations have been major players in Mikey’s life that led him to start his first company.

Mikey’s story tells me that “entrepreneurial mindset” can be attained. You or I can train ourselves to think and behave like the successful entrepreneurs that have build companies and created products that are changing our world.

Mikey told me that he started Blue Fish because,

“…I wanted to have a cool place to go to work every day. If someone else had started Blue Fish, and I had started working there right out of college, I wouldn’t have ever needed to start my own company.”

As soon as I heard Mikey say that, I thought, that boils entrepreneurship down to it’s essentials.

He’s not after a revolution.

He’s not on a wild crusade.

He’s using zero buzzwords.

Mikey is just stating an honest desire to have a great place to do work that matters with people who “get it.” When Mikey looked around, he couldn’t find a place that he liked to work, so he went and created his own place. He didn’t have to become an entrepreneur. But he did need to work in a certain environment in order to maximize his life. And he was unwilling to compromise those values.

Mikey was describing the results of a lifetime of “local optimizations,” slight modifications to his environment throughout his life that have made him into the entrepreneur that he is today. The same willful qualities that he describes made him a “bratty kid” also made him a “successful entrepreneur.”

Me, I’m a selfish person. I heard Mikey say those two sentences, and I started scheming how I could get more access to his mind so I could hear him tell his story and hopefully apply it to my life and efforts.

The interview is the result of that conversation

Here are the highlights of what we talk about:

  • The founding ideas behind the Midnight Cowboy Speakeasy
  • Why Mikey wanted to become an Entrepreneur in the first place
  • Minority owner in a company is something Mikey wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy
  • Started Blue Fish Development Group to be “an optimizer of my local environment”
  • Discovering that “going the extra mile” for his clients is a keystone motivator leads Mikey to start Blue Fish
  • “I just wanted a cool place to work” is the only justification Mikey needed to start a company
  • Sought to create a “get it” culture. A place where he want to work, and a place where his employees want to work there as well
  • First contract was with Sun Micosystems turned his idea into a 6-Figure Company overnight
  • His first attempt as an entrepreneur is met with a crisis when he doesn’t hire for cultural fit
  • Your company is only great if the people who work there also think it’s great
  • How to hire really badass developers who normally work in “product” companies in a consulting company
  • Turning down business for the sake of the culture
  • Tweaking the business model to attract the right people
  • How being “incredibly selfish” motivates Mikey to seek ways to locally optimize his environment in an entrepreneurial manner
  • “As a child, being selfish made me a brat. As an adult, I guess it makes me an entrepreneur.”
  • Asking “how” questions, not “why” or “who” questions
  • “Don’t compromise your values” vs. “Being a selfish jerk…”
  • Why a high need for approval makes Mikey a perfect leader for his company
  • “I’m not afraid to go try something if I think it will improve my happiness”
  • Also, “I’m even less afraid to remove things if I think they are getting in the way of my happiness.”
  • “I’m one of those people who believe rich people should pay more taxes…and I’m rich, so that belief technically hurts my wallet…”
  • “One of the things that makes me happiest is when one of my rockstar employees comes into my office and tells me they’re leaving to start their own thing or to be a CTO…that’s freaking awesome”
  • Mikey’s rule on relationships: they must be built on a spirit of mutual giving
  • The more you give, the more you get, and the world is a better place
  • “The rantings of a selfish man”
  • Being opportunistic and creating opportunities for yourself
  • The belief that you actually *can* create the life you want
  • Forget the 5 year plan…How do I prioritize for right now, and let the rest work itself out?
  • Not everybody has to be an entrepreneur, not even me…and I’m fine with that
  • Knowing what matters to you and being able to prioritize accordingly
  • Know what you care about and then prune the tree
  • I’d rather make less money and have a great work environment
  • “There’s two kinds of people in the world…”
  • “Giving myself permission to live the life that I wanted to live…”
  • Define your goals correctly: “The goal to make $100MM…that’s a messed up goal.”
  • Realize the core values of how you want to live your life, and your opportunities will balloon
  • “If Bluefish had existed when I graduated college and I had gotten a job there, I never would have started my own company…”
  • Summary, “Get to watch DVD player all day, and you’ll be happy.”

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Austin Gunter

I’m Austin. I live in San Francisco, practice Tai Chi, have rheumatoid arthritis, listen to a lot of loud music, and host a lot of dinner parties. Want more? Start here.