Why this CEO favors the struggles and perks of self-reliance in building his Seattle startup

Join It CEO Mitch Colleran, left, traveling in Spain with his partner, Jake. They in Valencia at the City of Arts & Sciences. (Photo courtesy of Mitch Colleran)

While the path can be tougher and slower, Join It CEO Mitch Colleran leans toward going his own way, ducking the help of better known organizations and institutions.

When he launched his Seattle-based startup four years ago, Colleran didn’t have the coding skills he needed to write an app. He was confident that his idea for a company was a good one — he was building a cloud-based platform that allowed organizations to manage their memberships and synchronize their databases with other tools such as SurveyMonkey, MailChimp, Slack and Eventbrite.

Colleran had previously worked at Eventbrite for more than six years, leaving a role as product manager. In his interactions with customers in the nonprofit space, many wanted a tool to help them integrate different platforms to manage subscribers, but the only options available were costly packages from big companies that provided additional services they didn’t want.

Rather than return to school or raise money to hire someone else, a self-reliant Colleran started creating the app himself, breaking the task into discrete steps, posting questions to other engineers on Quora and Googling when he got stuck.

“It took me a good year to teach myself and have something that was a usable product,” he said. “It’s a harder way to start.”

Colleran, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Washington, opted to bootstrap the project rather than follow the path to venture capital.

Colleran picking up a Christmas tree in Paris, his temporary home-away-from-home while he participates in the French government’s Station F Founders Program for entrepreneurs. (Photo courtesy of Colleran)

“With VC, you are asking someone else whether you can be in business, because you have to pitch them and get their money,” Colleran said. “If you chose to bootstrap, you are the master of your own destiny.”

Colleran has two employees and Join It has 1,000 customers worldwide. He’s currently participating in the French government-funded Station F Founders Program that supports entrepreneurs.

Colleran, who is gay, is also active with Start Out, an LGBTQ entrepreneurial program that he became involved with after graduation. He’s engaged with the community, offering product advice and helping with problems posed by other entrepreneurs.

As a gay startup founder, “it’s important to be visible, whether it’s as silly as including a rainbow in my Twitter profile,” Colleran said. “The visibility of seeing a gay man do what you want to do is affirming [if you’re LGBTQ]. I try to be aware of my visibility and try not to shy away from the fact that other people might be watching.”

We caught up with Colleran for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: Seattle and Paris (as a participant the Station F Founders Program, I have a resident visa that allows me to travel to France)

Computer types: Apple MacBook

Mobile devices: Apple iPhone 11 XS Pro

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: Any services/apps that make it easier to be a creator writing code for my app — so for me, that’s Stripe and MeteorJS/Node.

Parisians, unsurprisingly, create the coolest startup spaces, which Colleran gets to enjoy as a participant in Station F, a Paris-based program supporting international entrepreneurs. (Photo courtesy of Colleran)

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? I’m one of those weirdos that needs constant motion over having a comfortable routine. Pre-COVID that meant in the morning, I might work from my kitchen counter, then a coffee shop, and then use a desk at WeWork.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Take a deep breath and a step back from time to time, the work will still be there when you’re ready for it.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? Twitter @Colleran! I’ve learned so much by following other SaaS founders on Twitter, there’s so much good information being shared by the community.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? I try to keep it under 100, but I’m not an inbox zero person.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? Because I’m on a creator schedule, I like to keep at least three days completely open for coding. On the other days, I probably have 10 meetings.

How do you run meetings? Casually and as a human. I don’t have a strict structure to running meetings, but I always try to connect with the other folks in the meeting (outside of just the stated objective for the meeting).

Everyday work uniform? Jeans and a t-shirt

How do you make time for family? I don’t have any kids, so I feel like I’m playing the game on easy mode in this respect.

Mitch Colleran, CEO and founder of Join It. (Join It Photo)

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? Going to the beach, going swimming or being on the water — basically, anywhere that I can’t bring my phone.

What are you listening to? French singer/songwriter Christine and the Queens

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? Twitter

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? A textbook on software testing.

Night owl or early riser? Generally I try to make it to bed by 11 p.m. and wake up naturally around 7 a.m.

Where do you get your best ideas? Talking to our customers.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? I love learning more about the working style of our community builders. We have so many worthy organizations on our platform — from local library branches, to NAACP chapters, to LGBT organizations — and I love hearing about how they make their impact.

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