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Seattle Startup Week | Russell Benaroya talks night runs and how to ease the loneliness of entrepreneurship

russell-presentingLast week, thinkspace and Seattle Startup Week, with help from Russell Benaroya (co-founder and CEO of EveryMove) and Andy Liu (angel investor and CEO of BuddyTV), took over the incredible space that Graham & Dunn occupies on the Seattle downtown waterfront. For twenty three minutes, we had the opportunity to bounce around inside Russell’s mind.

Russell opened his presentation with a wonderfully vivid and intensely personal description of the 75 mile journey that he took on the Pacific Crest Trail, from Steven’s Pass to Snoqualmie Pass, called Section J. According to the Washington Trails Association, Section J “is not for the beginning backpacker. There is considerable elevation gain and loss—about 16,000 feet! Some places are impassable until well into August when the snow melts out.”

Russell did it in 24 hours. Yes, 75 miles of rough terrain in just 24 hours. Bearing in mind that this was a Herculean task, it was not surprising, then, when Russell said:

“We ran through the night, entirely self supported, and when I finished that run, I was…Broken.”

This story of course came full circle when Russell explained how this run, this fantastic personal accomplishment, translated into so many areas of his life, specifically entrepreneurship:

“This is the road of entrepreneurship, right? This very lonely road, in many ways, where we are.. Where it’s broken on so many levels, and it’s so painful, and it’s so emotional, but at the same time, we’re so alive, right? We’re stretching ourselves to do more than we thought possible and it’s emotional. And this rollercoaster of emotion is something that we can’t do alone.”

There’s a reason why shared offices and coworking spaces and organizations like the Entrepreneurs’ Organization exist—and not just exist, but thrive. Sure, you can start a business out of your basement, or your spare bedroom, or Starbucks. But the benefit of surrounding yourself with a support system, with like-minded people? Invaluable. Entrepreneurship may be a lonely road, but that doesn’t mean we actually have to walk it alone.

Like Russell said, “We’re all in this together.”

For those who were unable to attend the event, watch the full video here:

Check out our recaps of our other Startup Week events:

Kicking off with Aviel Ginzburg of Simply Measured
Matt Heinz explains why you have to fail in order to succeed
Angel investor Andy Liu illustrates the importance of building rhythms

 

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Seattle Startup Week | Matt Heinz explains why you have to fail in order to succeed

matt-and-audienceThe dust surrounding Seattle Startup Week is settling, but on Wednesday morning, in the midst of the hustle and bustle, we hosted a Startup Week event in our Redmond location. Matt Heinz, president of Heinz Marketing, joined us for breakfast and told us how we could scale our sales and marketing without breaking the bank. One of the ways to do this is to assess what you’re doing on a regular basis. Regular as in weekly, or—better yet—daily. Another way is to fire a lot of bullets. As Matt said, “You will not get it right right away.” Because what works for one company may not work for you.

Matt explained:

“Even if you do the math of what you need to achieve, even if you define your customer in a really crisp way, you will still fail a lot. If you’re doing it right. The path to innovation and success is paved with failure.”

Matt described the following scenario: A company thinks they have a great idea and they just go for it, guns blazing. But what if it doesn’t work? Or what if parts of it don’t work? You have an entire program or organization built around something that’s broken. They just built a cannon that doesn’t fire. They just wasted a lot of resources.

“What if you fired a couple of bullets instead? That’s faster, easier, cheaper. Some of those bullets will hit the mark, some of them won’t. But if it hits the mark, and you validate it a couple more times? Put down the gun and pick up a cannon.”

“We all need cannons in our business,” Matt explains, “But we can’t figure out which cannon to build until you do some testing and actually validate that.”

Check out Matt’s SlideShare deck from Wednesday’s presentation:

And for those who were unable to attend the event, you can see the full video here:

Check out our recaps of our other Startup Week events:

Kicking off with Aviel Ginzburg of Simply Measured
Russell Benaroya talks night runs and how to ease the loneliness of entrepreneurship
Angel investor Andy Liu illustrates the importance of building rhythms

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Seattle Startup Week | Kicking off with Aviel Ginzburg of Simply Measured

aviel-ginzburg-what-is-a-high-growth-startupYesterday, we spent the afternoon kicking off Seattle Startup Week with Aviel Ginzburg of Simply Measured, which recently raised $20M in venture capital funding. Aviel joined us in our Fremont location to talk about what a high growth startup really means. During his presentation, he mentioned Simply Measured’s first incarnation, Untitled Startup, Inc., which, as Aviel described it, was pretty much two guys with $150K in funding from Founders’ Co-Op “throwing ideas at the wall.”

Which begged the question:

“Why would they put money into you when you didn’t even have an idea or specific plan?”

Aviel smiled and quickly responded, “That is a phenomenal question. You should ask Andy Sack that question.”

But then he explained what investors are really investing in: people. Aviel had a proven track record as a software engineer at Appature, and, during a Startup Weekend, he and Simply Measured co-founder Damon Cortesi built an application called TweetSum. This app utilized something called the DBI, which, no joke, stood for Douche Bag Index. (Now, keep in mind that this was before social media analytics like Klout existed.) The DBI would score your followers from 1-100, letting you know how big of a douchebag they were. The catch?  The only way to see your own score was to tweet it. TweetSum ended up trending on Twitter for four straight days, and Aviel and Damon ended up being approached by Madrona Venture Group.

So why did a company without an idea or a specific plan get funded? According to Aviel:

“We had this track record of being people who could execute and who had interesting ideas…For an investor, it’s like, these guys are going to do something. I want a piece of this.”

For those who were unable to attend the event, watch the full video here:

Seattle Startup Week is in full swing! Join us for one of our upcoming events. Each will focus on scaling up and will feature a speaker sponsored by the Entrepreneurs’ Organization:

Wednesday, October 22 @ 8am | Scaling Sales & Marketing on a Shoestring Budget with Matt Heinz
Thursday, October 23 @ 1pm | Everything I Screwed Up While Scaling up with Andy Liu + Russell Benaroya
Friday, October 24 @ 1pm | Random Acts of Cupcakes with Jody Hall

Seattle Startup Week may be over, but we’re still basking in the event afterglow. Check out these recaps of our other events:

Matt Heinz explains why you have to fail in order to succeed
Russell Benaroya talks night runs and how to ease the loneliness of entrepreneurship
Angel investor Andy Liu illustrates the importance of building rhythms

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Seattle Startup Week | Scaling, and funding, and cupcakes! Oh my!

startup-week-seattle-header-wide We are excited to be sponsors for Seattle Startup Week!  With over 40 events hosted over five days, this is a celebration of entrepreneurship in Seattle.  thinkspace is hosting the “Scale Up” track, which will feature four events with EO-sponsored speakers, each with a focus on scaling up.  Check out our events below, and see the full line up of Seattle Startup Week events here.

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Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) is the only global network exclusively for entrepreneurs.  EO helps leading entrepreneurs learn and grow through peer-to-peer learning, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and connections to experts.  EO also has an Accelerator program.  The EO Accelerator program is the catalyst that enables first-stage entrepreneurs to catapult your business to the next level.  Our mission is to empower you with the tools you need to grow your business to more than US$1 million in sales and provide you with the skills to make yourself a better entrepreneur and leader.

 

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What is a High Growth Startup?

Monday, October 20th 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm // thinkspace Seattle

[Who] Aviel Ginzburg, co-founder of Simply Measured

[What] What a high growth startup really means.  The mentality, the expectations, the challenges and the fundraising.

[Why you should go] When it comes to raising venture funding, Aviel is a pro.  His company recently raised $20M in VC funding.

Refreshments provided.

Register for “What is a High Growth Startup?” here:

Scaling Sales & Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

Wednesday, October 22nd 8:00 am – 9:30 am // thinkspace Redmond

[Who] Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing

[What] A fast-paced, action-oriented framework for building, managing and executing a scalable, predictable sales and marketing engine without breaking the bank.

[Why you should go] Matt brings more than 15 years of marketing, business development and sales experience from a variety of organizations, vertical industries and company sizes.

Refreshments provided.

Register for “Scaling Sales & Marketing on a Shoestring Budget” here:

Everything I Screwed Up While Scaling Up

Thursday, October 23rd 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm // Graham & Dunn

[Who] Andy Liu, angel investor, CEO of BuddyTV + Russell Benaroya, co-founder & CEO of EveryMove

[What] Both Andy and Russell have built and sold companies.  They will share how they screwed up along the way but still managed to succeed.

[Why you should go] Andy is an entrepreneur and angel investor who has invested in over 40 startups.  A former private equity investor and investment banker, Russell also appeared on Puget Sound Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 list and is on a mission to improve the health of 10 million people in 10 years.

Refreshments provided.

Register for “Everything I Screwed Up While Scaling Up” here:

Random Acts of Cupcakes

Friday, October 24th 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm // thinkspace Redmond

[Who] Jody Hall, founder of Cupcake Royale

[What] It’s not about the cupcakes. How to build a foundational culture of trust, collaboration and fun for a sustainable business.

[Why you should go] Not only is Seattle’s first cupcake bakery and café celebrating 11 years in business and soon-to-be seven locations, Jody was also former marketing lead for Starbucks, helping scale the company’s growth in early years.  (If that doesn’t convince you, come for the cupcakes.)

Cupcakes provided.

Register for “Random Acts of Cupcakes” here:

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Emerge from Corporate to Startup: Approaching Sales With Empathy

e2s-panelist-cracking-upFive years ago when taking an HR survey, PR and marketing executive Shauna Causey discovered that she was in the 100th percentile for empathy.  And it freaked her out.  But five years later, Shauna, along with Don Gerould of Cogent Equity, Sandeep Phadke of Airlift, and senior technology exec Brad Carpenter, was a panelist at thinkspace’s Emerge from Corporate to Startup event, and she had this to say:

“What I can do a good job of is putting myself in the customer view.  I just am obsessed with what the customer wants.”

Later in the evening, the panel was asked, “How important are sales skills for a startup founder?”  Sales are key for any startup founder.  Event moderator and CEO & founder of thinkspace Peter Chee made the point:

“My personal feeling is that if you are adverse to sales and you don’t want to do sales, you probably shouldn’t be a startup founder.”

I think it’s safe to say that a lot of us are adverse to sales in the traditional sense.  It conjures up images of used cars salesmen and pushy telemarketers.   Shauna touched on that point, but also circled back to her customer-centric viewpoint from earlier in the e2s-audience-emotionnight.

“I feel like ‘sales’ is sort of a bad word to me, because I don’t ever want to be ‘salesy.’  But simplifying what the customer needs, and the communication side, I think is so valuable.”

So, as a startup founder, how can you reconcile this idea that “sales” is a bad word with the fact that it’s a huge part of what it takes to make your startup successful?   Maybe we can start by reinterpreting the act of selling itself. What happens if we approach our sales from a place of empathy?  See things from our customer’s viewpoint? Relate to them and really figure out what they need?  You can create a symbiotic relationship, where you are not coming from a place of asking for something, you are offering something that can really help your customers.  You are creating connections.  You are creating true value.  And, as Don Gerould responded to Shauna:

“That’s exactly what a good salesperson does, by the way.  If you’re something other than that, and you think you’re good at sales, then you’re not very self aware.”

Video clip from the event:

Handouts from the event:
1) Questions to ask before you quit your job and join a startup.
2) Recruiting Services provided by thinkspace.

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Questions To Ask Before Quitting Your Job To Work At A Startup

corporate-to-startupTwice in my career I have left corporate jobs for startups. The first time I left was because I wanted to be in an innovative work environment where we would be inventing and creating technology that never existed. I tasted what it was like to work in a fast moving amazing technology company. I felt alive and the energy from my team was amazing. Before joining the startup here are the questions I asked myself:

Questions I Asked:

  • How much money was being raised through venture capital?
  • What was the burn rate?
  • How much equity would I be getting? How many total shares were there?
  • Do I believe in the CEO’s vision for where the company is going?

In hindsight where these good questions?

  • We raised $21M.
  • We burned through that money in less than 12 months. You’d think $21M would last a long time. It doesn’t when you’re hiring like crazy. I was one of the first few hires and we ended up hiring 90 people at our peak. Hiring and growing can mask how a company is really doing. From the outside it looks like you’re successful. The burn rate was out of control.
  • I got a ton of stock options. Worthless if the company doesn’t survive. The initial job offer had two options A) Higher pay, lower stock options. B) Lower pay, high stock options. I counter offered and asked for option C) Higher pay, higher stock options. If you think you’re worth it, ask for it.
  • I met and believed in the founder and CEO, I drank the Kool-Aid. I was in the inner circle.

Today I would ask a different set of questions:

  • Would I personally invest in this startup?

Joining a startup is akin to investing in a startup. You’re about to put a ton of your time into building up this startup. You’re investing more than what an investor is putting in. This question leads to more questions such as market potential, addressable market size, competitive landscape, founders’ backgrounds, customer validation, etc. If I wasn’t ready to invest money into the startup, I would’t want to go work there.

  • What are the credentials of the founding team?

If I don’t believe in the people that started the company, there’s no way I would go work for them. This is actually more important to me than what the startup actually does. Startup will shift direction and for lack of a better word, pivot. There are people that I would work for where I don’t care what the idea is, I would just join them because I believe in them.

  • What are the core values of the company? Do my core values align with those of the founders?

This question is more important to me than ever. If we don’t align here there’s no way I could go work for that startup. Startup pressure is so intense and when the founders are facing the darkest moment only their core values will stand the test. Who are they when they hit the wall. Is that something you want to be associated with. Is that something that you will be proud of their decision making. If not, don’t even bother working for them.

  • What kind of work culture do I want to work in?

You will be spending most of your day with the people in this startup. What’s the culture like? I want to enjoy working with the people I’m around all day long and the work environment. I personally want to work with people that have a goal crushing attitude, love to serve their coworkers and customers, and are always learning. We all have a choice in what type of work culture we want to be in.

  • Will this be a demanding, learning environment?

If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. I want to work really hard, that the only thing I know how to do. I also know that I have a ton more to learn. If I’m not in an environment where I’m always learning, I don’t want to be there.

What are some questions that you would ask?

If you’re looking to make the jump from corporate to startup and have questions like these, you should attend our event “Emerge from Corporate to Startup” on August 14, 2014 at 6pm.

 

Agenda:

6:00 – 6:30pm – Networking (Meet some startups who are hiring!) / Pizza and Drinks
6:30 – 7:10pm – Session 1: Emerging as a startup founder or co-founder / QA
7:15 – 8:00pm – Session 2: Emerging as an early stage startup employee / QA

Brad Carpenter  @bradcarpenter

Brad worked for Microsoft for over 20 years — he was a GM worked on Surface v 1.0 as well as managed the Keyboard Mouse Device Division. Brad has also been involved with multiple startups as CEO. He is also an angel investor and part of the Seattle Angel Conference board.

Don Gerould @dgerould

Don’s corporate life was spent at Citysearch and as a Senior Manager with Sales Operations at Amazon. Don’s last company was the Surf City Marathon. Don started his current company Cogent Equity more than 12 years ago and provides services including exit strategy planning and capital fundraising.

Sandeep Phadke @viaairlift

Sandeep was responsible for the Kindle rending engine at Amazon. Sandeep also worked for many years at Microsoft. Sandeep quit working for big corporate companies for life changing personal reasons. He is on his first pivot and now joining forces with another Seattle startup!

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Shauna Causey @shaunacausey

Shauna started her career in Marketing and PR working for the Seattle Mariners, Q13, Comcast, Nordstrom and has worked at a handful of startups like Ants Eye View (acquired by Price Water Coopers), Decide.com (acquired by Ebay), and UP Global (aka Startup Weekend). Mentor and advisor for startups.

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The Power of Positive Constraints

lee-lefever-autographIn his CreativeMornings presentation in Seattle this morning, Lee LeFever, founder of Common Craft and author of The Art of Explanation, broached the subject of constraints.   Constraints generally have a negative connotation.  For champions of free thinking and unbridled creativity, constraints appear to be the things holding you back, the things keeping your imagination in check.  But constraints can also be incredibly liberating.  In the context of Lee LeFever’s presentation, this set of constraints helped to shape the direction of his company and its product.  But what if we apply this same process to our day-to-day lives?

It is okay to make your happiness a priority.  And sometimes, this means saying, “No.”  A set of constraints can be a set of rules to live by.  It can be a set of goals and values.  Defining what will make you happy allows you to say, “No” to the things that will diminish that happiness.  It’s not about holding yourself back, it’s about having a set of guidelines to create accountability, a set of guidelines that will directly contribute to your happiness.  Happiness is made up of a series of choices, of thousands of micro decisions over time.  In creating positive constraints, you can create freedom.  You develop the power to say, “No.”  You optimize for happiness.

What Would I Tell Young Me?

At the EO Accelerator Mixer earlier this week we were fortunate to have Michael Brown, CEO of Affirma, speak to a room full of leading entrepreneurs and share what advice he would tell his younger self. Michael is a seasoned entrepreneur and his company is a PSBJ Fastest Growing Company winner for the last four consecutive years, INC 5000 fastest growing company, and Best Place to Work for three years. Michael has bootstrapped his company to over 110+ employees. Here’s what he would tell himself:

“Young me, bad advice has ramifications only to you, your family and your team.  Find advisors that have successfully been where you are going and get right sized advice.” – Old me

“Young me, Don’t Party with Employees” - Old me

“Young me, a niche service focus can keep you small.” - Old me

“6 months ago me, Business is Personal, Don’t Hire Your Neighbors, BBQs will get weird” - Old me

“Young me, people make perfect sense if you understand the emotions driving their decisions” - Old me

“Young me, bad advice has ramifications only to you, your family and your team. Find advisors that have successfully been where you are going and get right sized advice.” – Old me

“Young me, shamelessly plug your solutions and services” - Old me

What are some of the things that you would tell your younger entrepreneurial self? If you are interested in joining the EO Accelerator check out the following information:

Apply for the EO Accelerator: Email me or fill out this form.

Requirements:

  • Company that can scale and grow to $1M and beyond (see the infographic)
  • $250K in revenue or $250K in funding
  • Founder of CEO

Program starts: July 2014 thru June 2015 Time commitment: Once a month for 3 hours you will participate in Forum with same stage entrepreneurs. One day per quarter you will participate in Quarterly Learning Day which focuses on: Strategy (building your $1M plan); Financing and Funding; People and Culture, Sales and Marketing. Access to EO Mentors (ad hoc, connect with experienced entrepreneurs when you need them!).

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There Are No LEGO Instructions For Your Startup

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Emmett: What do I do? I don’t have my instructions!

I just saw LEGO The Movie. This movie successfully transported me back to my childhood but it also tossed me about in the now and future. It had a modern day nostalgic feel to it. For me, it did a great job showing life in a big company as well as in a startup. The big company was laughable. You know, lack of creativity and innovation. It was all about instructions, process and procedures. It’s a place where there are no original thoughts. In contrast, there’s Cloud Cuckoo Land a wonderful playground where anything you can imagine can exist. There are no rules, you can build whatever you want, you can do whatever you want. It’s just like a startup!

All of this reminded me about a book I recently finished called The Startup Owners Manual by Steve Blank. One concept that he focused on was “A Startup is Not a Smaller Version of a Large Company“.

In the past, I’ve questioned myself and my leadership abilities while running my company because of employees that have pressed to want organizational structure that resembles a large company. I believe that they thought that we were unorganized and chaotic. After having thought about this for a while, I think their expectation is that we would look more like a small version of a large company.

Big Company Employees Make Terrible Startup Employees

Employees who have only worked in big companies just don’t know any better. This is why most big company employees make terrible startup employees.

“Entrepreneurs who have run a startup know that startups are not small versions of big companies. Rather they are different in every possible way – from goals, to measurements, from employees to culture.” – Steve Blank

Everything in a startup is about launching, shipping, iterating as fast as you can before you run out of runway and money. Figuring out whether or not you have a minimum viable product MVP and whether or not you have Product Market Fit is so critical. If you can’t figure that part out there’s no reason to keep on pressing and investing in it.

Employees Might Feel Like They Are Getting Whiplash

When things are constantly changing direction, employees might feel like they are getting whiplash. Given this is startup culture, you might want to make sure you are hiring new employees for your company that can withstand this kind of fast pace work environment. Hire for these traits and characteristics:

  • Focus on outcomes, not process. You only create process when you are successfully getting specific outcomes, otherwise, you’re just creating speed bumps. For me it’s all about results. Once you get those results, rise, repeat.
  • Flexible, able to multitask, and change directions on dime. You’re going to pivot, what you started with is very rarely what you’re going to end up with. Enjoy the journey and embrace change.
  • Smart and curious. You need people that can figure things out and love to learn. You need smart people that are intellectually curious that don’t just check things off a list for the sake of getting on to the next task. There are no LEGO instructions for your startup.
  • Ideally, the best kind of person to work in a startup is one that has experience in a big company and has also run through a cycle in a startup too. With big company experience they know what it’s like to be a tiny little cog in a giant machine and follow the exact instructions. They will understand that as the company moves from startup to small company that additional systems and procedures will be necessary in order to scale. With experience in a startup they will appreciate the flexibility, have the skills to create, thrive without instruction, and not become “The Piece of Resistance“. When a person has both sets of experience they are able to grow with you and the company at it goes through its various stages.

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“Why Not Me?” – Russell Wilson

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Why Not Us?

“I had a feeling we were going anyway.” – How’s that for unwavering belief coming from Russell Wilson when asked about making it to the Super Bowl. His father used to say to him, “Why not you” and he has translated that to “Why not us”. At 5’11” he’s the shortest quarterback. When it came to getting drafted in the NFL he was overlooked by so many teams because of his height except the Seahawks. He’s constantly had to prove all the doubters that he was capable of being a successful NFL quarterback. As an entrepreneur, is that any different as we set out on our journey to launch our startup? Don’t we all have that feeling and belief of “Why not me”? There’s always going to be investors that think you can’t do it, you can’t pull it off. The way I see it, for every Goliath comes a David.

“You have to have amnesia at this position”

As an entrepreneur, you have have to have amnesia too. “No matter how good things are going or how bad things are going, no matter what the circumstances are you just have to play one play at time”. As an entrepreneur we go up and down, many times within the same day. As a leader, you have to forget about some of the big mistakes that happen. After watching the Wilson interview when asked about his first play of fumbling the ball in the NFC Championship game, he said he didn’t even remember it until the press conference after the game. Amazing, the thing to learn there is focus and realizing that the mistake isn’t forever, it’s gone after the next play.

The Separation is in the Preparation

The work ethic that Russell Wilson has borders on maniacal. The no-nonsense approach that extends to every practice, every meeting, every study session. “You have to be a self-motivator in this world,” says Wilson. “That’s the number one thing that I am. I will always be the first one in and the last one to leave because I love the game”. You would never hear Russell Wilson make excuses and say “Sorry, I can’t do that — I have a life”. You think he runs around talking about “work life balance”?! That said, I bet he makes time for what is important to him. If I had to guess what that would be: It’s his faith, family, and winning the Super Bowl.

What I Admire About Russell Wilson

He’s not a tall guy for NFL quarterback standards. He’s humble. He expresses gratitude. His work ethic is unmatched. He knows he has to work harder than everyone else and he knows it’s going to pay off. His faith. You listen to him and he’s completely transparent about his faith and he’s a strong witness for Christ. Being in the spotlight and public eye he’s not afraid to talk about his faith as can be read in this article “Seattle Seahawks: Jesus more important than the Super Bowl“. That said, his goal is still to win the Super Bowl. He’s a leader. #GoHawks

You can view his interview after the NFC Championship game on the Seahawks Website.