Jamie Michael Hemmings had the pleasure of interviewing Shawn Springs. Shawn is the CEO of Windpact, an impact technology company leveraging its patented padding technology to improve impact performance in helmets and protective gear for sports, recreation and military. Shawn is a former college and professional football player, having played 13 seasons in the NFL — and was selected to the 1998 Pro Bowl.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Most people know me from playing 13 years in the NFL, and before that I played football at Ohio State. While I’m considered a retired professional athlete, I stay busy through my fascination for technology and how it continues to shape our society and future, so I’m always keeping up to date with the latest technology news. When I was drafted to the Seattle Seahawks in 1997, I was put in an atmosphere full of big businesses such as Starbucks and Amazon that were starting to incorporate technology, changing the game as we know it. Being around people who were always thinking about how technology could change the world and the future is what inspired me and what made me want to be a part of that industry and environment.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I was visiting Geekwire in Seattle about a year ago and someone asked me the story of Windpact and how it got started. People always seem surprised when a big football guy like me starts talking about the intricacies of technology and safety, and I always find it funny when I really get going on the granular details of it all — it always throws people for a loop!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think what makes us different is the community that we have supporting Windpact. Our network of medical professionals, advisors and those we interact with daily have come together in so many great ways to foster continued growth and development for Windpact. On the product side, our patented Crash Cloud technology is one of a kind. Our products in development will absorb energy as they compress and dissipate energy through release vents before rapidly re-inflating. We aren’t a helmet manufacturer, but instead we provide the inserts for the helmet manufacturers making the technology applicable across sports, recreation, military and more.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
We’ve got a ton of exciting new projects coming up in the future. We have 15 products in the pipeline that are expected to come out this year, and more specifically, what we’re working on in the realm of baseball is really special. We look forward to sharing more later this year!
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
As a CEO, it’s all about the team effort. It’s important to constantly motivate and share your vision with employees as that motivation and vision will translate directly into selling a product to businesses and consumers. Equally as important is to make sure team members feel valued and are recognized for their achievements. At Windpact, we are all on same page — we are trying to help others.
Also, don’t be in a rush to become a CEO. Take the necessary time beforehand to just listen and learn. Sometimes you think you have all the answers, but what you actually need to do is just listen. In the business world you are dealing with people from all walks of life all the time. Realize that you don’t know everything and that it’s important to spend time listening to people and their ideas instead of thinking you know everything or finding all the answers yourself.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
For me, that person would be Mike Millegan, one of my advisors. When I was playing in Seattle, Mike gave me a free cell phone in exchange for talking to his marketing team at Verizon. I was curious why a marketing team would want to hear from a football player, but Mike told me he wanted me to share my work ethic and passion for my job as a professional athlete with his team, as that was applicable for any field. He also mentioned this type of networking is key to expanding my vision and goals from a business sense. He’s always encouraged me to motivate people and stay motivated — he knows when to speed up the process or take a step back and re-evaluate. He’s the guy that I’ve looked up to for years and continue to look up to.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
So many people in our country idolize professional athletes. NFL players do a great job in taking part in charitable foundations, starting their own foundations and sponsoring homes to give back to the community, which is really important. With Windpact, I feel like I’m coming full circle as I still get to give back to the community, but just in a different way. Windpact is all about safety and making sure the community is equipped with the best products, and I’m confident that once we get these products out on the market, you’ll see people of all age groups, demographics and backgrounds wearing them.
I also hope to change the fact that young black men in tech don’t have any black men in tech to look up to. It’s so important to continue diversifying the tech industry, making sure black men in tech have role models and people who pave the way for them to be successful. As a black man, we don’t have too many role models looking to be disruptive and innovative, and that is something I strive to do through my work at Windpact. At Windpact, we want to disrupt the market while providing a necessary service to others, and ultimately that’s what this industry is all about.
Can you share the top five lessons that you have learned from your experience as a “Black Man In Tech”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Regardless of the color of your skin, you must be comfortable with yourself. It’s important to go through whatever inner soul searching and digging that it takes for you to be comfortable with yourself, as that will exude confidence.
2. You must be very dedicated. To borrow from a lesson, I learned throughout my sports career, deliberate practice is crucial. For example, if I am bad at catching the ball, all I will do is practice that to get better at it — so dedication, and more specifically deliberate practice, is key.
3. Everything in life requires passion. You have to be passionate about what you do and love what you’re working on so you can fully put your heart behind it. You know what they say — “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” and I truly believe that.
4. Get outside of your comfort zone and know that it’s okay to be uncomfortable. It’s important to be able to see the bigger picture and not be set in your own ways or mindset.
5. Always be willing to learn and stay curious. Ask yourself constantly, “Why is this like that?” or “How do we make this better?” I’m always curious about what things we can do to speed up the process in making the world a better, safer place.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
I once heard Jeff Bezos say, “aspire to be different,” and that has always stuck with me. The world is full of societal norms and stereotypes that we all encounter and see on a daily basis, so what’s the harm in being different? Different people, different views and different feelings are what make the world a better place.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
Elon Musk is someone I regularly dream about having a meal with. He’s so inspiring and I look up to him so much. He has such a strong and well-respected vision for the future of not only this country, but the world, and it’s amazing to see all that he has done so far and continues to do.
Originally published at medium.com