March 23, 2022

Episode #15: Don Wettrick – STARTedUP Foundation

Don Wettrick was born and raised in Indianapolis, IN and has three children- Ava, Anna, and Grant. He is also the founder of The STARTedUP Foundation, which hosts Innovate WithIN- Indiana’s innovation and entrepreneurship programming and competition. He is also the author of “Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level,” which aims to create innovation mindsets in our schools.

Don is known for his award-winning work as a middle school and high school teacher; educational and innovation consultant; and educational speaker. He also hosts a podcast, also titled STARTedUP, which has featured authors, entrepreneurs, and visionaries like Seth Godin, Tina Seelig, Gary Vee, and Adam Carolla. You can find more about the STARTedUP by visiting Or subscribe to the STARTedUP Podcast anywhere you listen to podcasts


hello this is Coach Tim Campsall and i’m your host for the self made as a myth make a difference together show where we’re talking with successful business owners to hear their stories of the journey to building their business and because we know that achieving success in business is not something we can do on our own we recognize the folks that have helped have helped us excel along the way i’m excited to have a fellow business owner from the local noblesville area with us today my guest has visited 49 of the 50 domestic states he is a proud of raising empathetic and kind children isn’t that awesome and he enjoys hanging out with his wife alicia i love that as your favorite uh please join me in welcoming don to the show today thank you before i get into that like and i know those were really cliche awful like oh my gosh so like sarcastic guy role first of all son of a teacher so most of those was because my parents would travel all summer because my mom’s a stay-at-home mom and dad’s teacher too i know that every parent says that but like my kids seriously conduct themselves so daggone well and like we do a lot of public things and things and they’re really awesome and three uh yeah my best friend uh alicia and i have been together since we’ve been 16. so sincerely those were genuine answers not just oh my kids are great stop i love it i i i love that that you even want to make sure that we all know that you know he just didn’t be upgraded on us yeah yeah he just gave the most cliche answers ever yeah my weaknesses are i care too much so don let’s start with having you uh introduce yourself um tell us a little bit of your personal story you know where were you born where you live a bit more about your family and your hobbies yeah so lifelong uh indianapolis resident um was uh went to perry meridian high school um like i said before my dad was a teacher which had a pretty profound impact on me um in a lot of ways a lot of the career disorder decisions i made were really um i guess deep down side i wanted to be a lot like my dad um was able to travel a lot because of that and that was a blessing um and then um gosh uh it was met in my high school sweetheart and uh we’ve been together ever since we’re not dating anymore we’re married um and uh you know just had a passion for education and and uh later on um you know an interest in innovation and entrepreneurship as well fantastic and how old are your kids oh let’s see ava just turned 21. uh anna will be 18 somewhat soon uh in june and uh grant is 12. fantastic awesome so don i’m sure there must be uh some funny stories that your family likes to tell about you is there one that you’d be willing to share with us

oh some of these stories i’ve asked that they not share anymore but uh no i i think the one that really stands out to me is that you know i um i got into a lot of trouble um and maybe one of the worst nights i’ve ever had um and and when i was young um i was a sophomore in high school and i was grounded for three months um but there was this girl in my class that i knew she was really really really a lot better looking than me and she would say no but i said i’d promised myself that i’d at least ask so i asked this girl out in the worst way possible i said listen i’m grounded until april i know you’re going to say no because this is stupid to even ask but when i get ungrounded you want to go out and get something to eat sometime she is my wife had i not gotten into an abundance of trouble and my parents would have grounded me for a long time i would have never asked out my wife because i’d have been i was well i was always scared but that uh so yes that is still my favorite story because my students uh and and to and on my own kids have known that story of your worst night can be your best night if you choose it to be that’s awesome i think that might be the best story i’ve heard so far i mean i could tell you more about it but it’s uh there’s some details in there like don what were you thinking that’s the reason i got grounded for three months but uh we’ll get together off offline yes yes i can i can elaborate on the story more than yeah yeah yeah so don tell us about how the business came about and you know at what point did you have the confidence that you could run your own business i i mean really the business i i still have this email saved um it just said you got to watch this and it was a it was a link to then dan pink’s ted talk which i think now is 11 years old um which i guess dates back at how long i’ve been doing this but uh essentially that ted talk was what motivates people and he even talked about what atlassian and most famously google had done and in the sense that they allowed people to pursue the things they were interested in um things they want to master feel they have autonomy and ultimately have purpose and i’m like why am i not doing this in school so i started but now there’s kind of a term for it some people use 20 time or genius hour um but i started something and it really started to catch on especially with c students i’ll say that or maybe a little lower and i it started to um i started getting a lot of requests of like could you help us out and um started an llc around it uh started to consult with other schools started work with other teachers and uh that that had a um a big turnout i guess and then that then allowed me to write a book which i’m still to this day surprised that um you know i thought my mom would buy a copy and that would be it but it did better which by the way my mother never bought a copy she expected a free copy but uh and then and then that then led to also the the non-profit we run now which is funny because you’re like well you don’t really run a business yeah it’s way harder than a business it’s it’s it’s incredibly difficult but luckily we have a great team but yeah i mean literally all of it started around with a an uncomfortableness of what we’re not doing in education that is not to say that all education is bad it’s not it’s just it’s time allocation and and really opportunity cost there are certain things that we do again and again and again and again even though we’ve proven mastery and yet the things that we could work on or should double down on we don’t which is why i think the sports is the best metaphor you know if lebron james were still in school and he’s already passed um basketball 101 and he’s spending all his time working on his golf swing that’s an incredibly huge opportunity cost right like if he passes golf and says look you’ve done the minimum you’re good you don’t need to take golf anymore great now you can really focus on what you’re good at which is basketball so i kind of saw that as a need in education and um decided to to run with it awesome so what’s the name of your book

pure genius creating a culture of innovation it’s um yeah it i don’t want to call it a memoir because it was a lot of this is what we did and this is what we learned in those first couple of years um book two should be done soon because it’s been seven years since i’ve and there’s been a lot of things in between but yeah you find amazon barnes and noble’s all that good stuff fantastic so tell us a little bit more about the the company and what do you guys do and what’s the name of it and all that fun stuff sure um so equally branded so um actually fun fun fact i wanted to uh buy the url startup and at the time they parked it for a lot of money so it was start to add up because education was in the middle of a startup get it nice so um i start started that uh and and really at the beginning it was consulting services for other schools um and then you know some you know workshops for teachers and things of this nature um along then came a former student of mine actually he was just about to graduate and he more or less said you’re stressing yourself out by going to one school at a time let’s digitize your content let’s work on some things and so he um he he helped me out quite a bit and and hunter’s been with me ever since so uh started and and then which then led to the the non-profit uh which you know all of our the idc appreciated all of our work and the job i did as a teacher and so we ended up launching um uh innovate within which is the state of indiana’s entrepreneurship competition um and then program and curriculum for the state fantastic and you do all this as a as well as your full-time teaching job correct so that was the ultimatum i was given i i i couldn’t uh do it all the um i i and actually i have a little bit of survival survivors guilt i had retired from teaching um in 2019 okay so in june of 2019 so what i missed the pandemic by six months or something like that or i don’t know i i you know i’ve always liked to live up to a challenge and some people like man you got out at a good time and i hate to say that that’s correct and at the same time i like i my heart hurts for a lot of teachers that are and students that are clearly you know not operating under optimal conditions right yeah so don share a story where someone pushed you or inspired you that you could do it and what’s the impact that they had on

you man there’s so many and and i hate to go back to um stories of my dad um but i’ll i’ll give i’ll give a you’re not living up to and then i’ll give an encouraging one so i’ll bookend this um i remember it was my sophomore year of high school and um you know my dad is a big fan of so he was an industrial arts teacher back in when industrial arts were offered and then later became a guidance counselor um but we were talking about what options i had as a sophomore in high school and all the options he brought to me had nothing to do with college and i remember him saying i’m like dad you know i thought you’re going to pick up some stuff from you know iu purdue or whatever and i thought there might have been a tear in his eye and he goes it pains me to say this but you’re not going to go to college son and i was like and the thing is like my sister was perfect and i loved kathy but she didn’t mess up ever she had perfect grades and i could tell the sense of um disappointment on his on his you know on his voice and on his face so that was something that got my butt in gear for sure um and i appreciated that he said those things and then i think the other one um was just my wife um you know i i was trying all these new things in class and and my students were starting to do extraordinary things and she was kind of like you know you should write these things down and you know possibly write a book and and honestly the book propelled everything um you know like technically i wrote a book before i had a company i was just kind of independently going to conferences and speaking the book drove everything and so my wife’s saying i really think you’re onto something you should do this um was was really one of those catalysts that’s awesome so kathy didn’t get grounded for three months ever ever matter of fact one time she got a speeding ticket and she like didn’t tell my parents and she sat on that secret for like a couple of hours and she went i hope she listens to this and she we’re at the dinner table and she starts crying she’s like i can’t take anymore dad i got a speeding ticket today and my dad’s like okay it’s yours to pay but like don’t speed right that was how again man my sister is wonderful i love her to death but yeah like it made the second born youngest thing a little bit tougher if you had her on the show she’d be like wait i had to blaze that trail for you right yeah fair enough right so don what’s the biggest learning that you’ve had as a business owner no okay so i’m going to answer this in the in the in the form of a non-profit because honestly it’s been that’s been harder um but uh and i know this is probably a cliche answer that a lot of people have told you um but getting over the fact that i’m not a ceo but i am now i’m just a teacher and that and i say that with some sensitivity because teachers are freaking amazing and they’re smart but knowing how to run a business is something that i did not know how to do and quite frankly still don’t really i advise i get a lot of advice i’ve got a great team um i have now a board that that allows me to like come up with like what i’m not doing well and all that good stuff and so if it weren’t for those things i don’t know what i would do um so it’s that is the the hardest thing i had to overcome is that imposter syndrome is what people are calling it yeah that the thing i talk to people about is so it’s not cliche at all because i think it’s the number one challenge for business owners so we put it into the the terminology of the school system teaches us how to be employees right yes yes yes and for those of us who decide we want to go out on our own we have this incredibly overwhelming reality of oh i don’t know how to be a business owner and so one of the things we talk about is business owners have to go through a re-education of learning how to become a business owner right because you know no fault of the of the of the school system but it’s just not the way it was originally designed is in terms of setting people up to be employees not business owners yeah yes well and then a a complete you should be mortified if you’re messing up or failing you know this a to f mentality and like listen as far as like business development and savviness at the beginning i’m i’m earning straight f’s like that but like luckily this didn’t go on my permanent record right i mean i had time to to adjust or or just ask out loud of like what am i doing wrong and then quite frankly and i’m gonna i’m gonna pay homage to people that may at times um you know say these things in a in a cliche way but like having some empathy and then being radically transparent was important of like i relied on some of my linkedin friends to go because i’d ask some questions like i have no idea what i’m doing on this and i’d have people reach out and go all right let me let me spend a little time with you and so and i still like man a lot to learn here um matter of fact we’re gonna go through a new growing phase that we’ve been asked to grow and it’s still insanely difficult to sift through that’s awesome isn’t it interesting that we all learned how to walk by failing right by falling down yet that was completely acceptable and then when we become adults for some reason it’s like frowned upon right we have to hide it from everyone it’s crazy right yeah yeah well and and then why aren’t we taking that same approach in school you know like nobody and i mean nobody achieves on their first go round and um we have to take the same look at it and and then quite frankly also ask ourselves if you do take something on the first try and you get an a on it was it a challenge oh yeah or are you going through the motions yeah so don that’s a great segue tell us a little bit more about what you do um through your business and non-profit and how are you helping others so i would like to think that we’re at at minimum changing mindsets um you know we we have we had 2300 students last year go through the process where we have curriculum starts them off with as simple as see a problem as an opportunity um a lot of teachers were using it it was completely free and we were giving examples of you know what are some problems in your neighborhood community school um if you listen to those problems are you seeing it as an opportunity and what could you do could you form a team what skill sets do you have um what would be an mvp of it and instead of coming up with a 10 billion dollar app idea what would be a five dollar solution that might be able to gain some insights and grow um and then from there like we had to sift through a lot of different pitches but we always ask are you solving a problem uh and is it validated and so even get kids to know about market validation or asking you know opinions or surveys so under round two those top ten per regions we have nine in our state once you do that then we um set up those students with a host of of mentors mentorships and wrap around services um and then uh every region we had was sponsored by university so all of our regional pitch competitions are on college campuses um and then from there on out uh we we went ahead and um had that regional competition and we would then uh a name obviously a top winner in the state and then take those students on a trip this year it’s going to be the tampa bay florida have students meet incredible people and at every single step of the way we kept asking them you know did you validate it are you meeting with people in a day and time what we’re talking about it’s not what you know it’s who you know fine like what do you who do you know um and are you getting you know that mentorship and uh ultimately we’re a lot of these students are scaling real businesses uh last year’s these students had sales in all 50 states and europe that is awesome and they did fishing and they made fishing uh lures by the way oh wow their problem they were so imagine we had some people that were like trying to work with burn victims and we had some people that were working within hiring practices they were they were their problem was most soft plastic baits don’t come in the right color combinations for southern indiana okay and they did but i love that because you don’t like so many pitch competitions you have to be solving world hunger or the climate crisis and in like in reality at age 16 or 17 or whatever it’s just it’s it’s you know you’re a ways away yeah starting off with a simple idea we just loved it and and and i wasn’t a judge i didn’t have any say in the matter but i liked the fact that they were solving a problem that was important to them yeah that’s awesome so don we know that business success happens and or doesn’t happen in isolation right and so tell us what’s one of the biggest challenges that you’ve had throughout the years and who’s a fellow business owner that came alongside you and helped you get through that

um i’ll start with jt mccormick uh jt as a friend was on her board um he actually jt story in and of itself uh i don’t want to steal his thunder but um has basic i think a ged equivalency uh but uh went on to scale and grow actually was just austin’s ceo of the year i’m really proud of him um but learning um how to grow and scale of what we’re doing uh but then also knowing the difference between um having a family and having a team uh and actually this was also a book i just read not too long ago i think by reed hoffman um you know the indianapolis colts let go of peyton manning they loved him like a family member i’m sure of it but at the end of the day the indianapolis colts are not a family they’re a team right and so when the indianapolis colts said uh we need a guy that can be able to complete passes and and and survive and not have you know be injured uh the high likelihood of being injured and they let go i i think the the same kind of approach is that um i had to learn how to uh attract uh and recruit people to be a team right and i am uh way too teachery where everybody is special and i i love everyone and that’s and and luckily like we’ve not ran into like issues of having to let a lot of people go it’s just that it’s that recruitment process of don’t throw around the world where we’re a family families don’t get fired well actually they probably do but i mean like set the expectation as you’re you’re you’re forming a team and you’ve been brought in to complete this many passes and not throw too many interceptions we will tolerate some you know interceptions but here’s your expectations yeah fantastic well i’ve worked with some clients who were uh family and it they’ve had to fire each other and that didn’t go over so well so i like your analogy yeah so yeah if you had to pick three people um throughout your your business journey that you’re most grateful for uh being there to help you with the the growth you’ve achieved who are those three people and and how have they been helpful to you um i’m gonna shamelessly name drop because some of the success we had was because of the name drops uh when i told you i watched that ted talk from daniel pink um back 10 years ago i didn’t know that he was a you know pretty big deal and i thought hey i like this guy’s ted talk i’m gonna give him a call and see if he’ll help me start this class and he did um and so his endorsement went a long way uh it just it really made a lot of things happen um so much so that like we started doing a podcast and some of the guests i got quite frankly were because oh i heard you did an interview with dan or tim ferriss or some people like that so dan is the guy that kicked off a lot of it secondly also kind of a name drop is is um uh well i yeah it’s um oh my gosh my brain i was just about ready to say jeff hoffman um i i think that he should be a household name he was one of the co-founders of he has helped other people all over the world set up businesses the guy is a selfless he’s a selfless and he poured in a lot of time to my students and myself so jeff hoffman would come right in there i i’ll have i’ll have a top four because i can’t forget the fourth but third would be tina selig she was a professor at stanford same thing right around the dan pink era i reached out to two people dan was in one and then this lady tina select at the stanford um uh entrepreneur adventures program in d-school was another she had her books are astounding uh what i wish i knew when i was 20 in ingenious are two books that i would recommend to anybody and everybody and then lastly is hunter um hunter was my former student and he was the one that said let’s do this together let’s figure it out together and uh it was a really unique experience to be a teacher and have at the time a 19 or 20 year old um in in the helm and like trying to figure this all out that’s awesome so as you changing gears here a little bit as you think to the next three to five years uh don what do you think are the biggest challenges that are you’re going to face to reaching your goals and who are the types of people you’re going to need in your business to help you overcome those challenges yeah like without a doubt it’s it’s building and scaling what we already have we’re getting some requests for it already um but you know scaling it to the the level i think we’re gonna get is gonna take some advice that’s going to take some people that have maybe had some successful exits um i’ve got a really really good friend right now in in florida um who has been with two ed tech companies and he’s been valuable in the sense of understanding how to you know grow and scale something under quality conditions and not just look for a cheap exit right to have integrity to grow something that you’re proud of um and really i have zero zero aspirations of exiting like i want to do this for the rest of my life or until i’m too senile and i can’t remember people’s names like i did five minutes ago

and honestly with each given day like i’m getting scared like i actually talked to some of my friends like we not too long ago had like our was our 25th anniversary or something like that and we’re creeping up on 50. and i asked them like does anybody else here like forget why you walked into a room like everybody universally like oh all the time because i’m telling you it’s starting to scare the it’s starting to scare me because i have so many decisions to make i have so many things on my mind that i’m forgetting people’s names that i’ve known for years and it’s starting to just freak me out yes yeah but there’s only so much uh information we can store in the in our head at a time right so yeah absolutely and i i think that’s that’s the challenge of all this is that um you know again i told you about that imposter syndrome well then that other that other voice in your head of like am i am i too old for this is starting to

well i can certainly assure you that you’re not too old for this because i’m a little bit older than you and so if i said you were too old then that would make mean that i am and that would just be wrong

so um jim rohn one of my favorite authors says you that we become the average of the five people that we spend the most time with so don as you think about that um is that something that is exciting something that makes you nervous what’s your bill this is among my favorite things to to to plead especially with young people um you know i i in the beginning this class was called innovation and open source learning the innovation part came at the beginning of the year where i was teaching you how to think for yourself how to backward design how to set metrics how to hold yourself to those metrics the open source learning part was probably more paramount um in the sense that and actually tim ferriss wrote about this in a four-hour workweek challenge yourself with the people you want to reach out to and you really want to hear from not for the can i pick your brain bs right but for the i could learn a lot from you like how can i connect with you how can i and and so learning from people and surrounding yourself with the best is the single greatest thing you can do um matter of fact i remember my i loved my my kids were here they’d roll their eyes because they’ve heard the story so many times but my junior year in college i learned of an internship read about it thought it was too good to be true um shout out to the old good old days of indiana business modernization and technology corporation ibm t i call up and this is i am that old that they’re really this they’re they didn’t have an email yet and i said um hey i read about your internship yeah it’s filled thank you and i said that’s okay um i’m still intrigued by what you guys do indiana business modernization and technology corporation i would love to spend a day with you guys

in what area well um in kind of the modernization slash public relations slash media relations realm all right i’ll transfer you to you know to bob uh bob picks up we don’t have an internship i understand i still think what you guys sounds remarkable i just want to see it for myself may i come and visit you i don’t know i’ll buy you lunch sir oh now a 20 year old is offering to buy you lunch and he’s like you know what come on down i say all that halfway through we’re i’ve been shouting him asking a bunch of questions by the time he lunch rolls around he’s like you’re not buying me lunch um but i really am impressed you want to come back and i said yeah actually there’s a lot more i want to see and ask a year and a half later i’m selling suits at a department store while waiting for some other job applications to to come in bob ferrier calls and he says where are you at and i’m like hey he goes do you remember me i said yeah he says why haven’t you shown up and i said i didn’t know there was an offering he goes well yeah we’ve been waiting on you to follow up i figured if you wanted to spend a couple by the way i’d end up like coming back three times and so he says yeah when do you want to start he says don i i could hire somebody i don’t know or i could put my trust in a guy that on three different occasions came here to learn more wow i would recommend that to any 16 year old 15 year old whatever right now to identify your dream job you don’t have to stay there forever and say may i shadow may i work for free may i learn from you that’s going to you’re at the head there is no resume for that you’re at the top you’re at the top of the spot yes love it what what a great um a piece of advice for folks who are you know aspiring to get out and learn and and figure out what they want to be when they grow up is just just go and offer someone lunch wow so don last question here if something catastrophic was to happen in the business today who’s the first person you’d call and what would that conversation be

um my board because i have an obligation to by law so it would be my board and uh i think my first line would be so you’ll never believe what i got myself into to hopefully soften the blow i don’t know um yeah it’d be my board on the on the for-profit side um it would be hunter of like yeah so i just did our financials and here’s the thing um so yeah yeah those would be the first two people awesome so don it sounds like you’ve been blessed with some incredible people uh that have come alongside of you in your journey if they were all here on the show today what would you like to say to them oh a heartfelt i would uh i’d be a very still passionate educator that had would have been preaching things but would not have been practicing them and uh because of the mentors i’ve surrounded myself with for their relentless you should do this go do it um i i wouldn’t be where i’m at so big hearty thank you and i i really it’s one thing i really appreciate about your show is that yeah it bugs me and i’m like well i’m a self-made man no you’re not you’re not i mean like and even if you had the worst parents in the world they allowed actually jt mccormick who i i was telling you about one of my my favorite mentors um his childhood is the stuff of a bad movie like it’s horrible but he takes away of like that made me who i am so it’s disrespecting your teachers it’s disrespecting your parents good or bad um you aren’t here by yourself you are here due to a lot of circumstances that i i have no doubt took a lot of hard work but there’s a lot of lessons along the way um and i think that’s the other thing we’re trying to teach to our students is that we want you to be successful just don’t be a jerk about it right yeah there’s enough enough of those people in the world right we don’t need to be creating it more well and ultimately it’s bad for business the guy that’s the jerk you like i can think of a handful of celebrities we just want to go away and as soon as they have one bad movie or one bad album you are wishing them to go away meanwhile they’re really kind nice i mean you know how many bad movies tom hanks has had i’m being dead serious he’s had some bad ones everybody loves tom hanks because he’s a nice person it it actually it’s good business sense to be a good person i mean it’s good just because it’s good but you know acknowledging that you have had help and you have had you know is just good for you humility goes a long way yeah i read uh an article on this topic the other day that that the more humble we can that we are about the fact that others have helped us it actually um puts us in a position to be able to accelerate our business because now we’re you know where we then program ourselves to be looking for more and more help yes yeah and and that uh builds so much trust uh among the people you’re working with as well uh or even the people that you’re that they’re helping you and they feel better about helping you if you acknowledge it shocker right yeah right the whole idea of you know creating a culture where people want to be a part of as opposed to have to be a part of and then they end up doing more and working harder because they enjoy what they’re doing and they enjoy you know being part of that that overall culture and the difference that the company is making and and in that world as you’ve already you mentioned earlier is we tend to you know be more forgiving of mistakes that happen when the big picture is this is a great place to work yeah absolutely absolutely it goes a long way so don um thank you so much for uh being on the show today sharing your insights um recognizing the folks who have uh helped you along the way i appreciate to appreciate your uh your time today i appreciate being on your show thank you so much yeah you’re welcome so to everyone who tuned in thanks for listening to self-made as a myth with your host coach tim camsell please help us to spread this movement by liking the show and posting it on your show your social media and to join us go to be mad together dot com alright folks that’s a wrap make sure to pay it forward and we’ll see you all next time take care