The Traverse City Young Professionals (TCYP) is wrapping up its 2023 Morning Meetup Speaker Series this month! On November 16 at 8 a.m. ET, Eric Roberts, executive director of 20Fathoms, will share lessons from his 30 years of experience in technology and operations and give insights into working with startups to achieve excellence and knock down barriers so they can grow and thrive.
In anticipation of the Morning Meetup, we sat down with Roberts to discuss his background and career, his leadership style and how he’s guiding 20Fathoms on its mission to help grow and scale startups in the Grand Traverse Region.
Tell us about how you got your start in the technology and operations field.
Roberts: I knew very early on I wanted to be an engineer—I was always taking things apart as a child and was curious about how they worked. Once I began my career, I found my real passion was on the technology management and leadership side, which was a natural transition for me.
Tell us about your role as executive director of 20Fathams and how you’re leading the organization in its mission to accelerate the growth of tech startups, entrepreneurs and scalable businesses in the Grand Traverse Region.
Roberts: My role at 20Fathoms is largely focused on two main areas. The first is servicing our startup founders/businesses and ensuring they have the support resources needed to “get their shot” at startup success. The second is ensuring 20Fathoms’ viability and long-term success—from strategy development and funding to day-to-day operations and keeping things running.
Having worked in your field for about 30 years, what are some lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Roberts: There are way too many to include here, but I’ll share a few primary lessons. Firstly, leadership is far more about influence than position/power. I’ve met very few highly successful people who don’t work extremely hard. Secondly, the thing that seems like the biggest obstacle today will look like a very minor speed bump two weeks from now. Lastly, never react and take action within 24 hours of “receiving the news,” good or bad!
How would you describe your leadership style?
Roberts: I’d say my style is to establish a culture of urgency and fast pace; to ensure interim milestones are treated as importantly as the final goal; and to set an extremely high bar of expectations.
What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities that startups face in the world today?
Roberts: Startups most often tell us it’s funding; however, a close second is finding resources that can help them learn or do the things they aren’t so good at.
What do you hope YPs take away from your presentation at the upcoming Morning Meetup?
Roberts: My hope is that everyone, regardless of the stage of their career, truly believes they can have a successful, lucrative career without leaving our region.
Interested in learning more? Join us at TCYP’s November Morning Meetup held on November 16 at 8 a.m. at Traverse Connect in Downtown Traverse City.