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Chris Heivly is the Co-founder of MapQuest, a pioneering online mapping service that has refashioned how we experience navigation and geographic information systems. He has rich experience in entrepreneurship, including company-building experience, startup expertise, and venture capital investment as an early-stage investor.

Chris is a best-selling author of the Build the Fort series — a renowned guide for startup community builders. He is also a prolific blogger on his website —, a contributing writer for, and a sought-after public speaker on startups, startup communities, corporate innovation, and entrepreneurial ecosystem development.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [3:53] The importance of sharing startup ideas without fear
  • [8:34] Finding partners to collaborate with and utilizing existing assets
  • [11:16] Starting with a small scope and taking action to build momentum
  • [25:17] Chris Heivly recalls his experience at Google when there were only 35 people
  • [26:15] Chris talks about his work building entrepreneurial ecosystems in second-tier cities with TechStars
  • [28:32] How Birmingham, Alabama, surprised Chris with its supportive and collaborative community
  • [28:54] How are accelerators like TechStars, Y Combinator, and Generator helping startups grow in tier-two cities?

In this episode…

Launching and nurturing a successful entrepreneurial venture takes effort. Whether you are a seasoned entrepreneur or embarking on your entrepreneurial journey for the first time, building a thriving business requires constantly learning new ropes and evolving your processes.

Chris Heivly, a seasoned entrepreneur and renowned “startup whisperer,” emphasizes the importance of creativity in entrepreneurship. Fearless idea-sharing and unshackling from self-doubt are critical drivers of entrepreneurial success. In addition, finding valuable collaborators, nurturing connections, and building a supportive network is also an art that amplifies your chances of growth.

In this episode of Inspired Insider Podcast, Dr. Jeremy Weisz sits down with Chris Heivly, the Co-founder of MapQuest, to discuss his entrepreneurial journey and successful startup building. Chris delves into the five key lessons in his book Build the Fort. He emphasizes the importance of sharing ideas without fear, finding collaborators, utilizing existing assets, keeping the scope small, and taking the first action.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Special Mention(s):

Related episode(s):

Quotable Moments:

  • “If we could maybe channel that 10-year-old or 12-year-old version of ourselves, be a little bit more curious, have no fear…things might actually get off the ground and get in motion.”
  • “It’s amazing what happens after the first step. And a third step. And the next thing you know, you got a little confidence, a little momentum, and you never know what things are gonna happen after that.”
  • “Anybody can play a role and should play a role in building their startup community.”

Sponsor for this episode

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We’ll distribute each episode across more than 11 unique channels, including iTunes, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. We’ll also create copy for each episode and promote your show across social media.

Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90xAtariEinstein BagelsMattelRx BarsYPOEOLending TreeFreshdesk, and many more.

The relationships you form through podcasting run deep. Jeremy and John became business partners through podcasting. They have even gone on family vacations and attended weddings of guests who have been on the podcast.

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Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:01

You are listening to Inspired Insider with your host, Dr. Jeremy Weisz.

Jeremy Weisz 0:22
Dr. Jeremy Weisz here founder of inspired where I talk with inspirational entrepreneurs and leaders today is no different. I have Chris Heivly. And Chris is the co-founder of MapQuest, he wrote the book, built the fort, we’re going to talk about and start at the startup factory many more things. And Chris, before I formally introduce you, I always like to mention other episodes, people check out of the podcast in the spirit of helping startups. Um, you’ve talked to 1000s and 1000s, of founders and startups, and you still were saying you do eight to 10 a week, which is incredible.

In the spirit of helping startups, people can check out the episode I do with Uriah Dhoni. He’s the author of The Unstoppable startup, he was partnered with Jerusalem Venture Partners for 12 years. That’s a great episode to check out. I also had Troy Vossler, who co-founded Generator, which is an accelerator community in Wisconsin, and I know, you’re all about tier two cities, even tier three cities and you know, creating that startup community. So we’re going to talk more about your thoughts and cities people should check out and even maybe other, you know, accelerators people should check out because you obviously have the startup factory and help TechStars too. And before we get to it, this episode is brought to you by Rise25 at Rise25, we help businesses give to and connect their dream 100 relationships and how do we do that we actually help you run your podcast, we’re an easy button for a company to launch or on a podcast we do the strategy, we do the accountability and the full execution.

You know, Chris, we call ourselves the magic elves that work in the background and make it look easy for the host in the company. And you know, for me, you know, the number one thing in my life is relationships. I’m always looking for ways to give to my best relationships. And I have found no better way over the past decade to profile the people and companies I most admire on this planet and share with the world what they’re working on. Hopefully they learn something just like they will with Chris’s book. And so if you’ve thought about podcasting, you should if you have questions, you can go to rise 20 And just formally let me introduce Chris before we jump in, but Chris Heivly is the nation’s leading expert, one of the nation’s leading experts on launching startups and he’s dubbed the startup whisperer. he co founded MapQuest if you remember MapQuest you know I still, Chris, when I look at Google Maps, or any or Waze, I still say, hey, my tell my wife, can you pull it?

Can you leave MapQuest? Can you pull up a map, I still use the term MapQuest synonymous with any mapping system, which was sold to AOL for $1.2 billion. He’s an angel investor who ran a corporate venture fund to micro venture funds directed over $75 million and is recently Senior VP of innovation with TechStars. I mentioned, started the startup factory, and also wrote the book, Build the Fort, the Startup, Community Builders, and the Field Guide for founders, investors and economic development leaders to better accelerate their ecosystem. So Chris, thanks for joining me.

Chris Heivly 3:22

Thanks for having me. I can’t wait to tell some stories.

Jeremy Weisz 3:26

So just let’s start with the there’s so many stories behind why geography major why did you start MapQuest? How do you start the startup factory and you? I know you do like a tour of looking at companies to invest in but I want to start with the book, build the fort, you know, and the startup community builders guy Field Guide, why’d you write the book?

Chris Heivly 3:53

It’s actually pretty simple. I could start one company and have that impact, I can invest in a handful and have that impact. But if I can help a community that helps 100 entrepreneurs, that’s a big impact. And I’ve been doing that for about seven or eight years as a consultant to help communities create the conditions where more startups can, you know, launch and survive. And my goal is if I can kind of help create 1000 new entrepreneurs a year then that feels like a great way to do so. And the way to share that is through a book. And that’s why I wrote it. Plus, I like the process of writing. That’s,

Jeremy Weisz 4:33

you know, we were talking before we hit record about, we overcomplicate things. I love to hear some of the big mistakes you have found, after talking to 1000s of entrepreneurs after your own endeavors. What are the big mistakes founders make with our companies?

Chris Heivly 4:50

Yeah, I mean, the whole idea of building the Ford it’s a metaphor for when we’re 10 and 12 years old when we’re out there building outside or inside forts, right blanket chairs upside down on the couch, brooms. Stick holding the blanket up or, you know, for me kind of borrowing wood from the local, you know, house that’s being built, you know, getting that into the woods and building something. You know, I just started thinking about a number of years ago, it became a metaphor that I, another friend of mine who is a developer, he and I would use when we’re riffing on new ideas. And the first thing is, okay, where we’re going to steal the wood. Let’s kind of get back on the stealing part, and maybe back away from that per second.

But the idea is, as adults, you know, Jeremy, like, let’s give an example. So you and I like the channel, your 10 years old. It’s a summer day. I knock on your door, and I say, Hey, you want to build a fort? And you say, do it. Right. It took me about a nanosecond to say yes. Now let me do the adult version. Hey, Jeremy, I got this idea. I don’t know if it’s any good, right? But you know, what do you think about building a Ford? I’m not sure where we put it, or where we’re going to get the wood or right. Like, that’s the adult version like our dontoh brains kick in and all these responsibilities, we have started to cloud. And I just think if we could maybe channel that 10 year old or 12 year old version of ourselves, be a little bit more curious, have no fear. You know, and there’s five lessons and build a fort and just kind of keep it really simple. Get out and find some friends to do things with. I think we take that into our startup idea which everyone has one in their brain rattling around, I just think things might actually get off the ground and get in motion. Talk about the five lessons for a second. Yeah, so they’re really simple, right? Lesson one is to share the idea without any fear or inhibition. The last part, the fear and inhibitions, the hard part.

And I don’t mean, share it, share it with three people, I mean, Go share it with 15 people, right? Get out there and just ask, and the feedback you’re gonna get is going to amazingly help you refine, and explain it better, and maybe even put it on a little bit of a path. Second thing is find some people to do it with, while you’re explaining it to people, a number of them are gonna go, wow, I’d like to help you do that. Right, they’ll become your future partners, right. Third is to find the assets you need that are closest to you. You know, the equivalent today would be in building a fort with, you know, don’t go to ask your parents for $1,000 for all the wood from Home Depot and the nails and the fork kit design, right? Like just finding the stuff that’s laying around closest to you. Again, metaphorically think about that in terms of your startup, you’ll have some assets that are there. When you take too long to find what you think are the right things, you never think that that’s a barrier, okay? To keep the scope really small, right? When you’re building the floor, we didn’t worry about whether it had a bathroom or a kitchen or whether the roof leaked. We tried our best, right? And maybe you would iterate and evolve to something better over time.

But you know, think about your 10 or 12 year old self, if you didn’t have a four by the end of two or three days, right? You are out right? It has to be simple. And then five, just go do it. Don’t ask permission, don’t look for validation per se. Just take that first step, that action. It’s amazing what happens after the first step. And a third step. And the next thing you know, you got a little confidence, a little momentum, and you never know what things are gonna happen after that.

Jeremy Weisz 8:34

I love number four, I think I feel like I have fallen in this trap. I’ve seen other people fall in this trap of starting to build something and realize, oh, this would be cool. This would be cool. And before you know it, it’s overcomplicated in that the scope is bigger than you started out with. Can you think of any companies you’ve talked to where you gave them advice that you saw them going that direction? Were they not keeping the scope small, especially in the beginning?