“The people who influence you are the people who believe in you.” -Henry Drummond
My professional story would not be complete without the people who shaped it. This is a references page of sorts — these people know me better than anyone. They are the ones who have most influenced my career. I know it is a bit unorthodox to profile one’s references, but understanding who they are and how they influenced me, will tell you more about who I am than their names and titles alone can convey.
To read what my supervisors and colleagues have said about me in terms of formal references, please visit my Linkedin page https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikeodonnell.
Executive Director, Pi Kappa Phi National Fraternity
I’ve known Durward Owen for 34 years. He was my first boss and mentor. Just about everything I know about being a professional, I learned from him. He was the Executive Director of the national fraternity for almost 50 years, one of the longest serving leaders of any national fraternity. He helped to pioneer the modern collegiate fraternal experience, influencing the lives of tens of thousands of students. The work habits I formed in my first job stayed with me for a lifetime. I am blessed to have had the best training and role model a professional could ask for.
Founder/CEO, Center for Innovation and Business Development, University of North Dakota
I’ve known Bruce Gjovig for 30 years. He was my second boss and mentor. He picked up where Durward left off, molding me from a task-oriented professional into a big thinker and problem-solver. He encouraged me to take calculated risks and infected me with an entrepreneurial spirit. He built one of the first and longest operating university-based innovation centers and entrepreneur incubators in the country. He is a testament to the fact that entrepreneurship can flourish anywhere, in anyone. I am blessed that he instilled it in me at the outset of my career.
Fraternity Brother, Friend, Business Partner
I’ve known Gary Leonard longer than anyone in my professional network, more than 36 years. We were fraternity brothers at the University of Florida. We both served as President of the chapter and went to work for Durward Owen at the national office. We subsequently became business partners in Ask-Me Multimedia, the first company i founded. I did not have a clue what I was doing in my first role as founder/CEO. Having received his MBA from UNC Chapel-Hill, Gary brought the financial discipline I did not have. Largely because of him, the company survived many obstacles, including the tragic and untimely death of our other partner and chief technology officer, and we were able to negotiate an acquisition by a publicly-traded company. I’ve had downright bad business partners in my career. I am blessed to know what a truly great friend and business partner is.
Founder/CEO, Design Intelligence | Group Program Manager, Microsoft
I’ve known Keith Brintzenhofe for 18 years. He was my third boss and mentor. I only worked for him a short while, but I probably learned more about how to run a company in that short period by watching him, than I had from running my own company for 10 years. His calm and reassuring demeanor under the most intense, pressure-filled situations, was an inspiration and would serve me well in the future. With every paycheck, there was a personal, hand-written note from Keith, thanking me for my hard work and contributions. He wrote one to every employee twice a month. It was Keith who immediately saw the vision for iCopyright when few others did. He sponsored me to work on it while at Design Intelligence, even though the company could ill-afford the distraction or resources, and then he unselfishly worked to help me spin it out as its own company. He blessed me with the lesson that true entrepreneurs create other entrepreneurs.
Chairman, iCopyright | Managing Director, Societe Generale
I’ve known Dan Sauerhaft for 17 years. He was the first investor in iCopyright and remains today the most stalwart investor, mentor and champion that any startup could be fortunate enough to have in its corner. When the company first raised venture capital, the VC’s marginalized Dan’s input as an angel investor and bragged that the company would not need him or any other investor ever again — they planned to “swing for the fences” and back the company until it would have its big exit. As soon as the dotcom bubble burst and things got tough, the VCs pulled out. Dan stepped up and back in, helping to fund and lead the company for the next 15 years. The tougher things got, the more helpful and committed he became (probably to a fault). He taught me by example the meaning of “stay the course,” never panic and never crumble if you believe in the mission and the team. He blessed me with the lesson that any great entrepreneurial endeavor has no timeline and no fast track. It’s a marathon not a sprint, and the track has no lines, just curves.
Founder, Ideograph | Senior Developer and Architect, iCopyright
I’ve known Jon Peterson for 17 years. He was one of my first hires at iCopyright. In addition to being a super talented developer, he is one of the most genuine guys I have ever known. Jon and I re-invented iCopyright at least three times over a 10 year period, creating innovative new digital content services and pushing the envelope in product development release schedules. We did the work our competitors required 3x the time and talent to copy. He made me believe that two guys working in a basement could change an industry, if not the world. Other developers loved to work for him and many of them went on to lucrative careers after benefiting from his tutelage. He blessed me with the lesson that if you plan to ride into battle against the biggest, baddest tech Titans, you need talent and character like him by your side.
I’ve known Mason Jackson and Jack Moss for two years. Mason hired me to run Startup Quest in South Florida and had the wisdom to pair me with Jack. Their relationship goes back more than 30 years, where they worked together on pioneering workforce development programs in Broward County. They taught me the challenges of navigating federal grants and the limitations of state-funded programs; that entrepreneurship flourishes in places you least expect it to exist. They blessed me with the lesson that every person who wants to work or start a company should have the training and opportunity to do so. Entrepreneurship is not the exclusive purview of the young, the educated or the technologically savvy. It’s open to anyone who has a dream and the guts to pursue it.
Leaders | Role Models
Like most professionals, my career has been influenced by the examples and writings of accomplished people. Silicon Valley luminaries Guy Kawasaki and Adeo Ressi have touched me more than most. Guy’s Garage.com was an investor in iCopyright. He coached me in the early days of funding iCopyright and made valuable introductions. I’ve read all of his books and attended a number of his talks. I worked with Adeo when I attended The Founder Institute in Seattle and subsequently tried to start a chapter in Tampa (and most recently in Fort Lauderdale-Boca). Being in the tech industry and living on the west coast, it was impossible not to be influenced by Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Peter Theil. I’ve also culled valuable lessons from Richard Branson, Mark Cuban, James Altucher, Paul Graham and Steve Blank. I also love the writings of Kahlil Gibran, Viktor Frankl, Malcolm Gladwell, Robert Greene, and many other marvelous “teachers” too numerous to mention.