Climbing TekMountain: Laney High student gets ‘dream’ meeting, and philosophical discussion, with CEO

“What we need are young people to make good choices, to lead, to do the next thing, to not have a plan, to not be afraid.”

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Sam Weaver (left) and Brett Martin (right) meeting at the TekMountain offices. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON — TekMountain CEO Brett Martin relaxed in a chair, talking with Laney High School student Sam Weaver.

“We’re just talking about life,” Martin said. “Talking about the world.”

Martin had agreed to a sit down with Weaver to discuss business development of Weaver’s robotics team, the Wired Wizards. For Martin, who is also the CEO of CastleBranch, this was a casual and seemingly low-pressure talk. But for Weaver, the conversation – which was by turns business counseling, friendly banter and inspirational speech – was “like a scene from a movie,” one he had imagined for some time.

When Port City Daily interviewed Weaver in December of 2016, he said emphatically that he wanted a meeting with the tech-hub CEO.

“I’ve asked many times,” Weaver said, “trying to make an appointment. When his assistant emailed me, I was … well, Brett pretty much single-handedly built tech in this town. It’s kind of my dream.”

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Weaver told TekMountain CEO about the process of competing in FIRST Robotics. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

Weaver, now sitting across from Martin, told the CEO about his victories building and competing in the past and his struggles moving from a computer programmer to a full-fledged business leader. As a senior, Weaver is now a team captain, responsible not just for building and programming a robot for competitions, but for fundraising and – in essence – building a business around his team. It is an experience he hopes to translate into a future career. Like many students, Weaver sees the intersection of business and technology as the driving industry of the economy of the next decade.

“I know what you like,” Martin told Weaver. “You like to code and build robots. I don’t like to code and build robots. I like biz-dev [business development]. I like marketing and development.”

Martin was friendly but insistent as he peppered Weaver with questions. How many people had Weaver’s team called? Had he kept a call log? Had he gone back to past donors and, if not, why? Weaver answered the questions, but admitted his team had trouble raising funds.

“My team at CastleBranch, they’ll work on accounts for 13 months,” Martin told Weaver. “That’s 23-24 calls. That’s a lot of ‘no’ before we get around to a ‘yes.’”

“Here’s what I’m getting at,” Martin said. “Your robots are evolving. You code is built on iteration. You’re a good coder, and I’m sure you code better every year, a more elegant code every year. You build on iteration. Last year you built your robot out of wood. This year you built it out of metal. So, your marketing, your business development, it has to move in those same iterations.”

Weaver pointed out that the previous year’s team had mostly graduated, saying “We’ve pretty much had to start over.”

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Weaver and Martin got deep, discussing the history of civilization, including the role of writing, the printing press and computer communication. “We don’t have to wake up and relearn the lessons of our forefathers,” Martin said. “We have those lessons recorded.” Weaver added, “and now we can share those lessons, very very quickly.” (Photograph by Benjamin Schachtman)

Martin encouraged Weaver to take the long view, a strategy that had served the CEO well.

“So, they left you with nothing, don’t repeat that,” Martin said. “Document this year. Encapsulate it. That could be the greatest gift you could give your team. Those structures that let you – and those who come after you – build on past iterations. As a good leader, it would be great if you won this year. As a great leader it would be great – even greater – if your team wins five years from now. If they won twice.”

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Weaver listened as Martin told the story of a friend of climbed Mt. Everest; the story became a metaphor for Martin’s business philosophy: “It’s not about the best. The best climbers sometimes never leave base camp. The best climbers sometimes die on the way to the summit. It’s about who is the best at managing their oxygen. Who is the best at managing their resources, who has learned best from those who came before.” (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

After discussing Weaver’s current challenges with Wired Wizards, Weaver told Martin about his hopes for college.

“I want the tools and the knowledge to do great things,” Weaver said, “but I don’t have any specifics.”

Martin approved when Weaver said he had no specific plan yet, asking with a smile, “Did someone tell you that you needed to have a plan?”

As the conversation moved away from specifics and grew somewhat metaphorical, the two discussed entrepreneurial strategy in terms of martial arts movie.

“Entrepreneurs don’t need a plan, and being able to exist in the absence of a plan is very powerful. You’ve seen kung fu movies, right? Movies about ninjas, or karate movies,” Martin asked. “Those guys, they don’t have a plan, do they?”

Weaver, striking a martial-arts pose, said, “I will strike at a 45-degree angle to my left in three seconds … no, they don’t have a plan.”

“No,” Martin continued, “of course not. Some people will run into a fight, planning on chopping one guy and then they’ll get trounced and that will be the end of that. The ninja stands back and watches for what comes his way and then he reacts.”

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Weaver and Martin recreating Martin’s surprise donation to the Wired Wizards. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

As the conversation unfolded, Martin and Weaver discussed the history of the printing press, the current state of politics and the future of the tech industry. When their time was up, Martin caught Weaver off guard with a check – a donation to the Wired Wizards. However, the real value for Weaver was the lasting relationship with Martin, who promised, “we’ll find something TekMountain and you can do together.”

“You’ll have plenty of advertising,” Weaver told Martin, promising to adorn the Wired Wizard robot and team with TekMountain stickers.

“I appreciate that, I do, but that’s not what we need,” Martin said. “What we need are young people to make good choices, to lead, to do the next thing, to not have a plan, to not be afraid.”

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“Technology scares people. It scares old people, the old guard. It scares people out there in Landfall,” Martin said gesturing to the gated community. “They don’t know how to catch the next wave of it. You can’t let its unpredictability scare you. We can’t even imagine what’s coming next.” (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)