By: Bianca Buliga, Content Curator
In just an hour and a half, John B. Johnson and I went from complete strangers to an impassioned force to be reckoned with. We had exchanged brief emails throughout the past week, setting aside a time slot in each of our tumultuous schedules to sit down together, pick at each other’s inspirations, and engage in collaborative and thought-provoking dialogue. It would be inaccurate to call this conversation an interview because that implies a monologue – instead, this was a powerful analysis of identity, community, and social change.
Why am I writing about this? Because John is SEED SPOT Phoenix’s new Operations Manager, concluding a highly competitive search for our Phoenix office’s gatekeeper, venture supporter, logistics magician, and multitasking extraordinaire. Charged with holding down the fort, John’s smiling face is the first you’ll see walking into our seventh-floor home base. Clad in SEED SPOT gear, John greeted me warmly and exhibited uninhibited openness, honesty, and friendliness throughout our chat.
The youngest of four siblings to a single mother, John was born and raised in inner-city Cleveland, Ohio. After a childhood filled with exploring the great outdoors and nurturing his love for math, John graduated from Kent State University with an MBA and Masters in Architecture. And as it turns out, this September was a VERY exciting month for him – he married his college sweetheart, honeymooned in the Dominican Republic, and received notice that he was SEED SPOT Phoenix’s chosen one.
Bianca: First off, is it cool if I call you Johnny B?
John: Haha, I had a coach call me that back in the day, but it’s been a while… Maybe not.
Bianca: Fine. But thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me today and many congratulations on your new role as SEED SPOT Phoenix’s Operations Manager! Can you tell me how you first got involved with SEED SPOT?
John: I was working at Architekton, an architectural firm out in Tempe, and eventually realized that I didn’t want to be an architect anymore. A friend of mine convinced me to develop an architectural project that transformed into a mobile app called Feel Free. Essentially, when you’d walk into a space you’d automatically be checked in and have access to a list of people currently in that space. We started recruiting team members, and met someone involved with making one of SEED SPOT’s first videos. So we went to a Demo Day, applied to a full-time program, interviewed with Courtney, and actually graduated as part of cohort four in fall of 2014.
Bianca: So how did you transition from being a SEED SPOT alumnus to actually working for SEED SPOT?
John: After a year and a half of building the Feel Free brand, hosting community events, and accumulating over 1,000 users, my partner and I decided to go separate ways. But it was such a valuable learning experience – I learned how to take an idea and build it into a movement. I feel like every entrepreneur can relate to the persistence, work ethic, and fearlessness necessary to truly inspire people.
Bianca: You have an MBA and Masters of Architecture from Kent State University. How do you hope to apply your unique skills and expertise to maximize SEED SPOT’s impact?
John: I’d say that my Masters of Architecture allows me to be a visionary and strategize for the future, but my MBA pushes me to think critically in an operations-minded way. My diverse background pushes me to think big, but operate lean. Spaces need to be conducive to collaboration and innovation, and I hope that as gatekeeper, I can help propel SEED SPOT towards expansive community outreach while maintaining a business savvy perspective.
Bianca: What’s the most impressive architectural feat you’ve ever witnessed?
John: When I was in grad school, my professor took us to the United Arab Emirates to present our senior thesis project to the American University of Sharjah. We were there five days and traveled all over, and got to see the most out-of-this-world skyscrapers and malls all built for royalty. We also got to see Masdar City, the first carbon neutral city to ever be built. Look it up, it’s incredible. My buddy and I extended our trip and went to the Netherlands too, which was so different. Built around bikes and innovative sustainability. We went from urban sprawl to reclaimed land – so cool to see the dichotomy.
Bianca: Who would you say has been the most influential mentor in your personal and professional development?
John: Gah, can it only be one? Such a sticky topic. I’d have to say my brother, who is my guardian angel from afar. He’s been in prison since I was 11 years old, but every time I visit him or receive a letter from him, he inspires me to continue working hard and making a difference. He motivates me to live my life to my fullest potential because he wasn’t able to. He doesn’t even realize how much he impacts me. He’s been in prison since he was 17, but he’s transformed into this man that I respect tremendously. My sister is a close second because she raised me and gave me all the opportunities I need to succeed.
Bianca: What are a few interesting things about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume alone?
John: So I played rugby for 10 years, but I had to retire recently because my wife didn’t want my face to be messed up. But we’ll see – I might get back into it. I’m pretty good at it. I also do hot yoga three times a week. I love yoga. And lastly, I studied abroad in Florence, Italy for four months.
Bianca: Any TV shows you’ve been binge-watching lately?
John: Oh man, you have to watch Cleveland Hustles! It’s produced by Lebron James, and it’s all about small businesses that need investments. The producers put the entrepreneurs in Gordon Square which is where I grew up. It was such a terrible neighborhood back then, but this show is doing a lot to renovate the area.
Bianca: You might have seen this trending on Facebook – if you had to choose three fictional characters that represent you, who would they be and why?
John: We might have to come back to this. Wait, Baloo from the Jungle Book. You know, bare necessities? Then who’s somebody wise… Oh I know. Gandalf the Grey from Lord of the Rings. And we have to add a superhero in there. What’s his name…? Ironman.
Bianca: What is your favorite dessert?
John: Oatmeal raisin cookies! Is that a dessert?
Bianca (slightly judging him): Ehhh. What are your biggest pet peeves?
John: Cigarette smoke, tardiness, and people that have trouble being present in conversations. Eye contact is very important to me – I feel it shows authenticity.
Bianca: Who would win in a battle between a ninja and a pirate?
John: A ninja 100% because pirates are inflexible and dirty and probably not in shape. That’s what I think about pirates. Ninjas are the complete opposite in all those categories.
Bianca: To end things on a more serious note – on your LinkedIn you have the following quote: “If you’re not living life on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” What does this mean to you?
John: That’s my favorite quote in so many ways. I heard that quote from a speaker when I was in architecture school. Essentially, if you’re not constantly challenging yourself or pushing your comfort zone, you’re taking too much space in the world. We were meant to constantly grow as human beings and when we’re not growing or being challenged, it’s not healthy for you or anyone around you. I’ve lived life on the edge since I can remember. Even my wife says all I do is challenge her constantly. It was one of my wedding vows actually – “I promise to always make sure you’re out of your comfort zone.”
Cuties. By the end of our conversation, John and I were already brainstorming new ideas to maximize SEED SPOT’s local and national impact. With his unwavering energy, positivity, and creativity, John will undoubtedly help take SEED SPOT Phoenix to the next level. Join us in welcoming John to the SEED SPOT family!
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