Journeyman Matt Thomas loves people, passion and a good story. After starting his first business in college, Matt withdrew from law school to pursue a career in tech entrepreneurship. Since then, he has sold out the Georgia Theatre, managed one of the fastest growing software-as-a-service products in the southeast, and now works with Roadie, a peer-to-peer shipping community focused on changing the way packages find their way to people. Explore his experience in the startup world and how finding his way could help you find yours:
1. What's your story? What makes you unique?
I’ll save the full story for those who ask, and I’ll share some of the spark notes. I moved around a lot growing up, which led me to reinvent myself with every new environment I encountered. Changing with a world that perpetually changes proved vital to staying relevant and effective. Through this discovery, I developed empathy and the understanding that while people are different, we share common wants and needs that unify us all. This realization solidified my life’s mission of connecting with people and helping others to achieve their dreams. I chose to pursue this mission through technology, networking and innovation in the fast-paced and chaotic world of tech entrepreneurship.
2. What motivates you?
Stories motivate me most. I grew up on a healthy diet of Aesop’s fables, various mythologies and my family’s tales. I found strength, confidence and learning in these stories, which inspired me to start story-telling myself. My favorite ones include overcoming adversity, personal growth and fighting for something larger than oneself, which is one of the reasons why I love working with Brawl For A Cause so much.
3. Who is a hero of yours?
I look up to Brandon Stanton, founder of Humans of New York, a lot. He walks around New York and asks people great questions while taking a candid portrait of each person. He showcases their humanity in a simple and powerful way while staying true to himself and his mission. He isn’t motivated by money or fame. Rather, he displaced himself from a profession that could have given him both to pursue something in which he found beauty and his own identity. I had the chance to meet him after he spoke at SXSW one week after I withdrew from law school. Turns out he grew up less than a mile from me in Marietta, Ga, also majored in history at UGA, and shared similar philosophical views that I still hold dear. For these reasons, he is one of my few heroes (though my mother more than deserves a mention here for being the most persistent, loving and selfless person in my life).
4. What's your future plan? Your goals?
Perhaps this is cliché, but I want to change the world. I’m currently learning from a CEO and leadership team trying to do just that with Roadie, which has the potential to fundamentally change the way how items find their way to people. Changing the world on that magnitude would be a dream, but it doesn’t have to be that profound. I want to change the world for my family, my friends and complete strangers through telling a story, lending a hand or creating something that helps others. Admittedly, changing the world is a subjective goal since each of us is already changing the world by simply living, interacting with others or even taking a breath, but I want to change it for as many people as I can, as positively as I can.
5. If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?
Get to know yourself. Before you can really love someone, you must love yourself. Before you can love yourself, you must know yourself. We live in a noisy world full of distractions. A constant feed of texts, tweets, snaps, statuses, and solicitations distract us from ourselves. Making major decisions about the school you attend, the first job you take, or the first person you date seriously is scary. It becomes more manageable when you know who you are, where your priorities stand and what kind of person you want to be. Spend time journaling, meditating, and surrounding yourself with people that you respect and want to emulate. Do little things that you enjoy and don’t be afraid to be the rawest version of yourself around others. Those who mind don’t matter; those who matter won’t mind, and you’ll be a better version of you as a result.
6. What is something you feel strongly about (a cause, belief, etc.)?
I’ve mentioned a few things I feel strongly about already. Brawl for a Cause empowers anyone to raise funds and awareness for a cause close to their heart. HONY captures the humanity of a person in a moment and candid quote. Roadie uses technology, existing infrastructure and human patterns to keep unnecessary vehicles off the road and to get stuff where it needs to go. Stories change the world, and you must know yourself before you can become someone.
For me, all of these things solidified their importance in my life through journaling. Writing proves cathartic and meditative for me. Journaling helps you remember the little details of your highest highs, most intimate moments and your darkest regrets. It can help you view your thoughts more objectively after time has passed and avoid making the same mistakes again and again while enabling you to relive your best memories. To this day, I can tell you what my girlfriend was wearing on our first date, how I dug my way out of my first bout of depression, and every detail of why I decided to leave SalesLoft for Roadie, all thanks to my leatherbound brain.
7. What's one of the coolest things you've ever done?
One of the things I looked forward to most when coming to UGA was the music and entertainment scene. Countless bars, venues and other social outlets are at your fingertips in Athens, and the Georgia Theatre stands out among them as something unique and iconic in the downtown scene. When I signed up for my orientation session, I chose a weekend with a Perpetual Groove show so that I could experience my favorite band at my soon-to-be favorite venue. On the morning of the show, the building burned to the ground, and I thought I would never again have the chance to experience P-Groove behind that brilliant, blinking marquee.
Alas, the rebuilding process began, and I filled my time patronizing various other social classrooms before the Theatre reopened in the fall of 2011, my junior year. Getting my first Bulldawg Brawl hosted by GATH took weeks of persistence before Wilmot and Scott finally decided to take a chance on a planner/promoter with little money and even less experience. In my first event on 1/21/12, the Brawl sold over 800 tickets and landed the front page, cover story of the Athens Banner Herald and I made the largest contribution by a student in UGA HEROs history. In our fourth event, the Brawl sold out the Theatre, moving over 1,000 tickets and a packed house for a smooth Yacht Rock Revue show following the boxing that night. I concluded my journey at UGA with a key to the Georgia Theatre on my keychain, the medal that Theatre leadership gives acts that sell out the venue around my neck, and a VIP pass to Perpetual Groove’s last show just a month before graduation. The Theatre will always hold a special place in my heart because of the growth, experience and fun gleaned from my time working and playing with the venue that endured the flames, rose from the ashes and changed my life.
8. How did you get to where you are now in your career?
I am far from my vision of success, but I am on my way. Two things come to mind with this prompt: 1) You must first have an idea of what success looks like, and 2) You must work to forge that dream into reality. Before you can define success, you must know yourself and your skill set. You must map out areas for improvement and opportunities that would be ideal for your development. Then, you set pride, apathy and lethargy aside and work your ass off. There is no substitute for hard work and making the most out of an opportunity. Leadership will recognize your effort, more opportunities will follow and before you know it, another step towards your success will be complete. Just know that success is iterative, meaning the there are small advances towards a goal, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Expect nothing to be handed to you; expect to earn responsibility and respect and expect challenges every step of the way.
9. Anything we haven't asked that you'd like to talk about.
If you’re reading this, you’re likely towards the beginning of your career. You probably miss college (or will soon come to know that nostalgia). You may be experiencing a quarter-life crisis. If you’re like me, you may be thinking about engagement with the love of your life, where you’ll be after 10 years with the company you’re applying to, or what decisions you make today could be regretful on your deathbed. Stop.
Be present. Enjoy this phase of life and stop trying to rush through it. Significant others are significant until they’re not. Jobs lead to the next one, and there is a long, meandering journey between you and your deathbed. You will experience glorious victory, crushing defeats, love and heartbreak. These are universal. We do not have control over the vast majority of our lives. Worrying about what we cannot control imposes on what we can and hinders our ability to make the most of the cards we have been dealt. Live in the moment, surround yourself with people who do the same, and build the life you wish to live.