Through Startup Grind, Kyle Shields is Promoting Utah Entrepreneurs

We’re just trying to create a place where people can come and make friends.

As a kid living in Buena Park, California, Kyle Shields wasn’t sure what he wanted to be when he grew up. He just knew he didn’t want to be a businessman.

“I was kind of anti-business,” said Shields. “I don’t know. I guess you meet some business people and they kind of rub you the wrong way and you’re like, I don’t want to be that guy.”

Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re not anti-business when you’re 20, you have no heart. If you’re not running Startup Grind’s Utah Chapter while pursuing a Master’s in Accounting at Brigham Young University by the time you’re in your mid-20s, you have no brain.”

Maybe Churchill said that, maybe he didn’t. We’ll never know for sure. What we do know is Shields moved to Utah to attend BYU, randomly fell in love with accounting, and has been the Chapter Director of Startup Grind Utah since the global startup community first landed in the Beehive State more than a year ago.

After his first year of taking nothing but accounting classes at BYU, Shields took the summer off and went to work for a friend who had just founded a startup.

“I guess it was cool that summer because I’d be like, hey, I’m not coming to work today, I’m going to go rock climbing instead, and nobody cared because there was just three of us,” said Shields.

That same summer Shields took a road trip to San Francisco with a couple of friends and ended up meeting the founder of Startup Grind, Derek Anderson, at an event featuring Stripe founder Patrick Collison.

“That was when I really fell in love with the startup scene,” said Shields.

It was Collison’s intensity and confidence that stood out to Shields.

“He was just so inspiring,” said Shields. “He was just so passionate about his ideas. He was convinced he was going to change the world, and he’s just a coder who, you know, built some cool products and I was just immediately hooked.”

After bringing Startup Grind to Utah, Shields said the first few meetups were pretty shaky in terms of attendance, but that all changed when the author of the book Nail It Then Scale It, Paul Ahlstrom, reached out and asked if he could come speak at the next event.

“When we had Paul that was a huge turning point for us,” said Shields.

To prepare for the interview, Shields read Ahlstrom’s entire book in less than a day.

“I didn’t know who he was when he first reached out,” said Shields.

What makes Shields such a great host is his humility and the amount of research and preparation he puts into each interview. He makes sure the event is about the guest, and he wants everyone to walk away from the experience having learned something new.

Shields believes the Ahlstrom event was a game-changer for Startup Grind Utah.

“He was amazing. Tons of people showed up. He handed out free copies of his book. He just has so much goodwill for entrepreneurs and startups in general. And so for us it’s been great because he’s excited about our events and he’s helped us get awesome speakers. He’s really helped us grow our network,” said Shields.

While he’s managed to get some great guests to come share their experiences with like-minded entrepreneurs, Shields is also concerned about creating an atmosphere where people can come and make new friends, learn something new, and walk away feeling inspired.

With the odds of failure being so astronomically high, entrepreneurs need to have a healthy ego and a tenacious competitive drive in order to get themselves to believe they’re going to succeed where millions have failed. But those same necessary traits often make it challenging to create the type of atmosphere Shields has managed to develop for Startup Grind Utah.

“I think people need to be a little bit more giving. It’s kind of cliquey. I almost feel like it’s high school sometimes. It’s like I can’t get this speaker because these people don’t like them. It’s tough. I’m like, why do we care about that? Let’s all just be happy for somebody’s success. Who cares if we’re not their biggest fan. I think it’s okay to say, wow, that guy is successful, and just cheer him on,” said Shields.

Before launching Startup Grind in Utah, Shields didn’t know very many people within the state’s startup ecosystem. Now he’s one of the most connected people in the community. He believes in the power of those connections, which is why he’s so passionate about creating a friendly environment for entrepreneurs to come to create new contacts and build lasting friendships.

“I feel like the more connected you are the better. A great example of this is the YouTubers in Utah. Devin Graham was one of our speakers, super inspiring, and something that impressed me was he has worked with pretty much every single YouTuber in the state. They all do different things, but they all help each other out and there’s no, ‘I don’t like him so I’m not going to work with him’ mentality. From music to everything, and that’s one thing he said is, ‘Help everybody out.’ He’s like, ‘We team up with everybody because we know it’s going to come back to help us.’ They do these meetings where they all meet at somebody’s house a couple of times a year, and there’s like 60 people who all have very successful YouTube channels here in Utah and they’re all there just to help,” said Shields.

Shields hopes Startup Grind is helping to promote a spirit of cooperation and unity within Utah’s startup community.

“We’re just trying to create a place where people can come and make friends. Our mission is just to change the world to help people realize that they don’t have to come to Silicon Valley to make an awesome business. Wherever you are, you can do it,” said Shields.

As for his own future, Shields, who graduates in May, recently accepted a position at a prestigious accounting firm in Orange County, California. Don’t let that fool you, though. He’s still an entrepreneur at heart.

“Something that I’m very passionate about is higher education. I think there’s room for a lot of changes in that space. I think there’s room for improvement in all education, but higher education is something I’ve been involved with personally, most recently. When me and my friends get together, who are all kind of entrepreneurially minded, most often the conversation goes there and how can we fix it. So it won’t surprise me if we end up doing something there,” said Shields.

Published 3/18/2015

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