We love this alumni story of innovation and passion crashing together into a pretty cool career. Don Woods (’00 BSEE) is a Senior Product Manager with TuneIn, a San Francisco-based tech company providing listeners access to the music and content that is most important to them (fittingly, we are logged in and listening to Live 105 (KITS), broadcast from the Bay Area, as we write this). A self-described “occasional” blogger of tech, hip-hop, and product management (check out Flinteresting.com), Don sat down with Jessica Henry near his SoMa offices to talk about scrums and sprints, what it takes to work in a startup environment, and what he’s currently tuning into…
Tell us about yourself…
Currently, I’m the web product manager at TuneIn. I live and work in San Francisco, and I was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. I’ve been working at startups for about four years. I’m a Michigan engineer and Chicago Booth MBA grad. Occasionally, I blog about tech, hip-hop, and product management. Over the past year and a half, my fiancée has tricked me into running half-marathons, but I’m so glad that she did. Finally, I’m prone to reference Dave Chappelle’s stand-up and TV show.
What did your day look like yesterday?
I woke around 6AM and caught up on some reading, listened to KQED (local NPR station), and answered a few work emails. I made it into the office around 9:30, and after getting my caffeine fix, I spent some time looking at our analytics. Next, I checked in with my QA lead regarding test results of the latest TuneIn.com build. At 11:15AM, the web team had our daily scrum where we discussed accomplishments from the previous day, plans for the current day, and any obstacles. After lunch, I worked on specifications for a new feature, with a break to meet with the web engineering leader to plan the upcoming development sprint. Around 5PM, I went for a run along Embarcadero (one of my favorite places to run in SF). Then I went back to the office, handled a few emails and Slack messages, then headed home at 7PM for some wedding planning with my future wife over dinner.
What is your definition of “entrepreneur?”
An entrepreneur is simply a person who starts and builds a business or non-profit organization. It could be someone bootstrapping, funded by friends and family, or VC-backed. My definition includes someone working on a side project or someone going all in from day one. It can be a person working alone in a basement, with a group in a shared space, or with employees in a shiny office. The company can be built around a mobile app, a neighborhood restaurant, or an education program for underprivileged kids. Entrepreneurship comes in many flavors.
What’s the best – and worst – advice you have ever received?
My parents and grandparents always stressed the importance of education as a means to open doors. I can’t recall a succinct piece of advice associated with that, but there’s a bundle of advice that comes to mind related to education and opportunity.
As for the worst advice, I’ve heard many people say that you must have a connection to a startup to get a job there. It’s a version of the old “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” bit. While that may be the case at some places, it’s not at TuneIn. I didn’t have any connections to TuneIn when I applied; I just happened to be a great fit with the right experience. One shouldn’t be discouraged from going after an opportunity just because they don’t know the “right” people. Sometimes (most of the time?) it really is about what you know.
What is your go-to read/listen/watch?
I don’t watch a lot of current TV, but I use Netflix to catch up on past seasons. Sherlock is a current favorite.
I read non-fiction almost exclusively. I lean towards nerdy stuff like Nate Silver’s “The Signal and the Noise” and “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. That said, I am somewhat of a comic book fan (mostly Batman books). Favorites included “Batman: Year One” and “The Long Halloween.”
As for listening, I’m a huge hip-hop fan, but I listen to a bit of everything. D’Angelo’s “Black Messiah,” Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” and “Mr. Wonderful” by Action Bronson are all in heavy rotation. Also, I listen to a ton of podcasts including Planet Money, The Tim Ferriss Show, StartUp, Reply All, Stuff You Should Know, and Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period (yes…that’s really the title).
What do you look for in candidates for your team?
Priorities can shift constantly at a startup. Culture can change. There can be a lot of uncertainty in general. I look for people that not only tolerate, but embrace those challenges. Also, most startups are lacking processes. If you’re not a self-starter, you won’t last long.
How can we learn more about TuneIn?
The best way to learn about TuneIn is to check out the website and/or mobile apps and listen to some great content! You can listen on TuneIn.com and download the mobile apps here. My recommendations: Javotti Radio (hip-hop/soul station founded by hip-hop legend Talib Kweli), NPR News, and Michigan IMG Sports Network (UM sports! Go Blue!).
To learn more about Don, you can follow him on Twitter at @aguycalleddon.