OwlSpark | Rice University Startup Accelerator | PeopleWise: John Reale
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PeopleWise: John Reale

John Reale has a background in finance, but his experience extends far beyond that. Using his expertise in business, consulting and startups, John currently serves as Managing Director for Arete Ventures, where he works with entrepreneurs and early-stage tech startups to accelerate time to market, focusing on customer development, industry-validated milestones, and positioning companies for outside investment. John also serves as a mentor to several OwlSpark teams and alumni, including Open Factory and Big Delta Systems.

Early on, John tells us that he had “the bug.” It started with delivering newspapers, but even as a kid, he knew how to scale his business. He would offer his customers more, “I would clean their pools. I had a service to upsell.” His entrepreneurial spirit led him to Babson College in Massachusetts, where he spent two semesters formulating a product and executing a business plan. His theoretical business became a reality.

However, John put entrepreneurship on the backburner so he could explore other career options. “I lived in New York, so it was either play for the Yankees, which never happened, or have a life on Wall Street,” so John took a job in investment banking. It wasn’t long before “the bug” returned.

One day, one of the partners just pulls me aside and says we’re leaving, we’re gonna start a new company, we want you to come. And he (the partner) was like we don’t know all the stuff, but we got a lot to do and we’ve got to build a company. ‘Alright. I’m in. Let’s do it.’ We wound up leaving. We all resigned on the same day, we took an elevator. We were in the Chase Tower, I think we were on the 37th floor, we went up three floors up to the 40th or vice versa, I don’t remember exactly. We set up offices with tables, just droptop cardboard type tables and stuff and just got to work. And we were like okay, what do we have to do today?

John stuck with investment banking for a while, but realized it wasn’t his calling. “The thing I really enjoyed the most, was figuring out these problems and making it actionable, getting people around a cause and doing stuff,” he said, “I want to go and get my hands dirty and build stuff.”

One of his favorite aspects of a startup is the team dynamics — the mutual respect, collaboration, and watching people learn. John went on to say that “most lessons are learned through lack of success,” but that when people do reach their best, when their team dynamic clicks, and they’re flawlessly executing a business model, “it’s like watching Lionel Messi, it’s a joy to watch.”

John believes team dynamics isn’t the only factor in the equation of success — he emphasized that customers are equally as important, advising never to move forward without the approval of a customer. Once this need has been authenticated, keep listening to the customers.

Go validate your thesis, but go talk to them and listen, and listen, and listen. It’s not all about the technology. There’s so much technology out there that’s amazing and interesting, but it’s sitting on the shelf, because it’s really about figuring out customer problems, and then going back to figure out how to do it.

As John continues to mentor, he hopes all teams can find their niche and realize the best in themselves through the success in their companies — all they really need to get going on this path is “the bug.”