Tips From The Top: One On One With Hansel Lynn

I spoke to Hansel Lynn, CEO of theCoderSchool, about his journey and best advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Hansel: I live in Silicon Valley, but root against the Warriors – team’s too stacked.  I’m an endurance athlete but love White Castle, my COO and I beeline there when we travel.  I’m fortunate to be fairly well off, but love being cheap – $45 dinner budget for my family of five to eat out (with two teenagers!).  I can’t sing for the life of me, but was the lead singer in a punk-pop rock band – it’s all about the marketing (and playing easy songs).

Adam: ​How did you get here? ​What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Hansel: Growing up, I was painfully introverted through high school and beyond.  Yet here I am in a position where I pitch strong communications skills as a requirement for our franchisees.  When I was young, another kid would ask me something and I would literally turn away and pretend I didn’t hear it – I was too scared to respond.  Growing up in a single-parent household, I often looked to my older brother, who happened to be one of the most charismatic people I know (still is), and who is now also a CEO.  I became very aware and introspective about my speaking or lack thereof, and how I was really so opposite of my sibling. Through my introspection, with my brother as guide, I’ve worked hard through the years to become the high-energy communicator I am today.  My habit of looking inwards has stuck with me since, helping me to constantly analyze myself, to self-recognize things I should improve, and most of all, to help me grow as a person. Not to mention I’m still super-close with my brother!

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Hansel: Be forward thinking, always treat your team well, and stay focused on the long game of personal (not just company) reputation.  Every leader is different of course, but one common base for taking skills to the next level is blocking out time to be introspective. If your schedule is always full or you’re always heads down or fighting fires, you won’t have time to “just zen” and will miss your opportunity to strategize.  For me, I go on long runs in the mountain trails for hours and come back with great ideas. Find your zen time and really strategize about what your company, and perhaps more importantly, you yourself, need to improve.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Hansel: 1) Sing like the audience is drunk.  Something from my rock band days – do what you do, and don’t be embarrassed.   Embarrassment is a strange emotion, it limits many of us from growing, making you hold back for fear of looking stupid. Ever have a great idea but didn’t bring it up because you weren’t sure about it?  Ever been in a conversation where someone talks about the “quantum financials of the ABC” and everyone is nodding along, but no one knows what it is? As the old saying goes, dance like no one is watching and sing like the audience is drunk.  In most cases, for my band, they indeed were – and boy did that make things more fun.

2) “It doesn’t get any easier, you just go faster.” – Greg Lemond, America’s greatest cyclist.  In cycling, you might feel you’ll be in great shape after climbing a mountain pass.  You might even think the next time, it’ll be easier because you’ll be in better shape. In reality, the next time you’ll spend the same hard effort – but just go faster.  Business is a lot like cycling in that way. “Things will be easier when we hire her”, or “Everyone can relax when we get that funding”. After every milestone, there’s always another milestone, and it’ll be just as hard – and rewarding – to reach.  And it won’t get easier – you’ll just go faster.

3) Life is like a box of chocolates – so eat ’em all.  Sometimes you just gotta forget about counting calories and just enjoy that sugar rush.  Business translation: don’t always chase the money, remember to make the experience count too.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Hansel: Do what makes you uncomfortable.  When you start a business, you’re often forced to play every role – rainmaker, coder, designer, and everything in between.  But no matter how passionate you are, you’ll still naturally gravitate to the work that you’re most comfortable with – and neglect the work you aren’t. Coders try to automate but don’t forge relationships.  Sales people work the network, but neglect to document processes. As an uncomfortable introvert, I forced myself to bring up the energy to talk to parents and kids when I started this after-school business, and now it’s a part of who I am.  If you’re doing something that’s uncomfortable, chances are you’re learning things about your business and yourself you didn’t know existed. The things you’re comfortable with? They somehow auto-magically just get done.

Adam: ​What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Hansel: Do what’s right.  Don’t squeeze your customer/vendor/staff to get a couple bucks, instead give them a couple bucks.  It’s a bit counter-intuitive in the business world of money-money-money, but negotiating the heck out of something to get a few dollars isn’t always the right answer.  Focus instead on a good relationship, a good experience – even at the expense of your own resources or bank account. As Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

Adam: ​What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Hansel: Back when my body could handle it, I was an ultra-marathoner, and now I’m “just” an Ironman triathlete.  Endurance sports require a lot of training time, but they teach you in a quantifiable way that hard work pays off.  To finish an Ironman triathlon takes countless hours training in the water, on the bike, and on the trails, but crossing that finish line after all that work is amazing validation and an emotional reward.  I’ve had many people ask me “How do you run so many miles?” The cheesy truth is, it’s one step at a time. The body and the mind are amazingly adaptable things. Swim thirty minutes, and your body gets you ready to swim forty.  Bike one hundred miles and your mind gets you prepped for one hundred and twelve. Run one hundred miles, well, then both your mind and body go into survival mode!  I’ve learned that the same goes in life – hit a milestone, and your mind and body adapt to help you get to the next level.  Beyond that, there’s a certain can-do mentality that I’ve earned from finishing punishing races. After all, if I can run 100 miles with 18,000 feet of elevation gain – I feel like I can push through anything.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Hansel: To the parents out there – get your kids to code.  Learn online, find a coding school, or come to us. Just do it.  There’s way too much technology coming in the future for our next generation not to have a basic understanding of it.  Think about the iPhone, it was first released only a short twelve years ago, and now everyone has a smartphone. What will the world be like twelve years from now, when your son or daughter is say, twenty two years old and ready for his or her first job?  I don’t know, but you can bet software and technology will be a big driver. Doctor, lawyer, plumber or artist, I promise you learning to code will help in any career – so go for it.

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