Take Five is an ongoing RBTC question and answer series where we glean insights from local CEOs and technology leaders.
We recently talked with Alexander Obenauer, co-founder and CEO of Mindsense.
RBTC: What are some of the regional resources that have contributed to your success?
Alexander: The biggest one is mentorship. I have received incredible help and support from many mentors in the area – most that are too busy to spend any time with me but yet still find a way every time I ask. I’m incredibly grateful for a lot of different people that have mentored me over the years. They have shown me new perspectives, opened me up to new resources, and shared with me their experiences. Their advice has been regularly pivotal for Mindsense.
Most of my mentors I originally met through the RBTC. The RBTC itself is another big one. Without the RBTC, we are siloed as a young software company in a rural area. Before we joined the RBTC, we were always very aware of how, as an up-and-coming consumer apps developer, we were a bit disconnected from the rest of our world. Most companies like ours exist solely in major tech hubs. But when we joined the RBTC, that all changed. We were able to find and learn with others that work on similar things or face similar problems. We no longer feel alone, as a team or as individuals, but rather a part of a large, vibrant, innovative community.
RBTC: What makes the Roanoke-Blacksburg region such a good fit for your company?
Alexander: It’s all in the culture. This region has a big advantage for me over traditional tech hubs because the people here are authentic, supportive, and innovative. This is why companies in Silicon Valley are starting to look at our region as a possible solution to their employee retention problem. People here understand the importance of human relationships, and ones that are authentic and non-transactional.
RBTC: If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow entrepreneur, what would it be?
Alexander: I always try to avoid giving advice, because my experiences are limited, so I doubt I can devise any universal truths from only my perspective. But I know one thing that often sets our company apart is our focus on people. We center ourselves around, and think through every detail for, the people that use our software, our team members, and our community members, in that order. Everything we design is user-centered, and I don’t mean that lightly; that’s what makes our software so much better than the competition. We always ensure we’re improving the lives of our team members, when it comes to little things like how we handle vacation time (it’s unlimited) to big things like making sure we foster an environment that, as our lead software developer Jeb Schiefer recently put it, gets people excited to come to work in the morning and fulfilled when they leave work in the evening. Finally, we don’t want Mindsense to be just a name on a building; we want to be an active part of our community. We ensure that in many ways we, as individuals and as a team, give back and take an active role in our local community.
RBTC: What is one lesson you have learned over time that has made an impact on your business’ day-to-day operations?
Alexander: To trust my gut. We’ve taken a lot of advice from some of the top companies in our industry, but when that advice goes against our intuitions, we almost always regret taking it. This is something that I’m still learning; I’m still trying to figure out where the line is in the sand.
RBTC: How would you like to see the Roanoke-Blacksburg region develop over the next 5 years?
Alexander: Over the next 5 years I would love to see the Roanoke-Blacksburg region earn a much brighter spotlight nationally as an authentic, innovative tech hub. I would love to see its talent pool increase dramatically, and become a region that many seek to live and work in. But at the same time, I hope that it continues to express the values that, for me at least, make it a very unique and attractive place in which to live and grow a company.