Brendan Lee, Co-Founder and CEO of Nodesmith

October 27, 2020

1. What were you doing before you quit your job?

Prior to quitting my job to work on Nodesmith, I was working at Tableau in Seattle on Tableau’s Developer Platform. I worked for a few years as a Product Manager, and also for a few years as an Engineer – but the whole time I was focused on building tooling and APIs for external developers.

2. When did you realize you wanted to quit your job?

I had known for my entire professional career that I was going to do a startup, it was more a question of timing. I am fortunate to be in a field where I have the privilege to try a startup and recover if it fails – that’s an incredible privilege that not everyone has, so I want to make sure to acknowledge that. Pursuing a startup had always been a dream of mine, so I knew I was going to quit my job prior to taking it 5 years earlier, I just didn’t know when that would be.

3. What initial hesitations did you have about quitting your job and how did you overcome them?

 I think my biggest hesitation revolved around the fact that I loved what I was currently doing at the time. I loved the team I worked with, the technology we were building, and the company I was at. It was scary to leave that behind for the unknown. What helped me overcome that was leaning into the knowledge that we grow most in uncomfortable situations, and I craved that growth.

4. Can you remember the day you put in your notice?  What was it like, what was going through your mind, how did your manager take it?

It was tough! It’s always hard to move on from something; I definitely felt like I was letting my team down in some capacity. But my manager was very supportive, and that made all the difference to me. While he was sad to see me leave, we worked through a good transition plan that wouldn’t leave the team in a bad spot, and he clearly prioritized me as a person rather than me as a resource. Tech companies that I really respect are ones that foster a culture where it’s not seen as a bad thing for an employee to leave to start their own company. Treating that as a positive can lead to that employee one day returning or perhaps even bringing their company back via an acquisition.

5. What are you doing now?

I worked on my startup (Nodesmith, a blockchain infrastructure as a service company) for about 2 years. We built a great product that I am proud of, raised some money, went through Techstars Seattle, and learned a lot along the way. But ultimately, we didn’t reach enough success or see enough traction to continue to raise larger amounts of capital and grow. We decided to sell the product and our IP to another company in the space and move on. That was an incredibly tough decision, but I believe it was the right decision and I’m quite happy with where I ended up. 

About a year ago, I joined a startup called Shelf Engine as the second engineer. While I remain a huge fan of decentralized technology, I believe Climate Change is a problem that we need drastically more people working on – so I felt compelled to work on what I view as a more pressing problem. At ShelfEngine, we’re working on reducing food waste through automation. I’m very thankful to remain a part of the Seattle Startup ecosystem.

6. Looking back on your experience of founding a company, what do you know that you wish you knew before? Are you happy with your decision?

There are lots of things I wish I had known when I first started Nodesmith, as there were countless mistakes I made along the way. Naturally, we did not see the amount of success I had hoped we would, and there were definitely things we could’ve done differently with hindsight. That being said, I am so thankful I made the decision to pursue a startup. I have never learned more during any period of my life, and I met some truly fantastic people along the way.

7. Any other advice you can share for others contemplating a similar path?

The main piece of advice I have is probably the most clichéd piece of startup advice out there – and that’s to talk to customers constantly and ensure you’re solving something that’s incredibly painful for them. Anyone in the startup world has heard that countless times, I probably would’ve rolled my eyes at that “advice” years ago. But that’s really the only thing that matters, and it’s not an easy feat. That didn’t become real for me until the last few years of living it and failing to build something that would be indispensable to customers.

That, and make sure you begin this journey with a co-founder who you can count on and spend tons of time with. I was quite fortunate to share this journey with an incredible co-founder, and that made all the difference in how positively I view the past few years.

Join Venture Out