OwlSpark | Rice University Startup Accelerator | PeopleWise: Leland Putterman
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PeopleWise: Leland Putterman

With a deep background in sales and marketing, Leland Putterman dove into the entrepreneurship community almost inadvertently. After spending years at IBM, he transitioned to a smaller company, Oracle. He later invested in a startup called ACORN, who then asked him to join them in building another startup. In 2012, he co-founded Trivie, a trivia-based corporate training app, and holds board positions within several startup companies.

What was your key driving force in starting Trivie?

It actually started off a consumer trivia game that they can play with their friends. However, after some market research, I found that we could reach a much larger market if we pivoted to creating this for companies. I saw that people have a tendency to easily forget things we learn. It happens to students, children, adults. Recognizing this problem, I used techniques neuroscientists would use for enhanced memory and implemented them into the app for corporate training.

What was the most important thing you learned building your startup?

Relative to Trivie, I found that you have to be open to pivoting. Many times, you have an idea, but as you do research, you find that it’s not what you thought. It could be that getting into the market is harder, there are government obstacles or whatever else. Pivoting is not always bad; in fact, many companies pivot before they land on their final product.

What motivates you?

Most people would be lying if they said they weren’t motivated by money. It’s not all that I’m motivated by, but it’s on the list. I’m also motivated by helping people. Not only is it a really rewarding thing to solve someone’s problem that they didn’t know they were having, but I am also inspired by guiding other startups, hence why I got into mentoring. I love seeing interesting ideas and finding ways to share my knowledge. Winning is another one—I’m a salesperson; it’s my background.

What are your passions outside of your business?

I play tennis. I have been playing since I was a kid. I love reading—I actually minored in English when I was in college. I wasn’t allowed to double major, so I took 7 or 8 classes in English, including a creative writing class. I have too many favorite books but definitely love science fiction. I also spend time with friends.

What advice do you have for the OwlSpark teams?

It’s similar to what I said before, but really build a passion around why you’re doing what you’re doing. Become an expert in your space and the extent that you do this determines your next steps. The other thing is to be ready to not only pivot but also “punt.” When you “punt,” you are completely throwing your idea out, but hey, if no one wants what you have, you have to punt.