MESA mentors come with deep, real-world experience in the always-changing world of software and technology startups. Steve VanTassel, one of MESA’s newer mentors, is just one example of the willingness to give back and the depth of the expertise on the MESA bench.

Tell us a bit about your background, Steve.

I started my career in sales at IBM and was with them for 15 years. I was fortunate to manage a team of people focused on direct marketing and what was at the time, the very brand new internet retailing space. It was a tremendous experience working outside the traditional big corporate structure but with access to all the resources of the brand. I ended up in a global market management role that I loved, but the company wanted me to move to New York and that didn’t work for me. So, I left IBM in 1998 and joined Net Perceptions. I was employee number 35 and started as the director of product management, ending up as senior vice president. I was there for four years during which we had two public offerings and were growing at 35% compound quarterly.

After the dot-bomb crash, I worked for a few small technology companies in a COO role. My next stop was at Softbrands working on the part of the business that developed hotel property management and central reservation systems. We purchased a larger company that was based in L.A., and my position really needed to be based in L.A. And again, I wasn’t interested in leaving this area. Paul Bieganski, who had been CTO at Net Perceptions, reached out to me with a business plan. He was starting a wireless monitoring and data analysis firm from scratch – so in 2008, I left Softbrands to help start Packet Power and spent 15 years there as CEO.

When did you become a MESA mentor?

I’ve been with MESA for just a little over a year. Mike Thyken, another MESA mentor and someone I’ve known since IBM, told me about MESA and thought I’d be a good fit.

What drew you to become a mentor?

I had promised myself that when I turned 60 I would retire. Packet Power’s business was going great. I enjoyed my job, and I liked going to work – but it’s a big world out there and I felt it was time to do something else. I still find companies, especially small companies, fascinating. Mentoring with MESA allows me to look over a founder’s shoulder, see the issues they contend with, and offer some perspective and learnings. It’s very rewarding – both intellectually and personally. I’ve done a fair bit of mentoring – I was a mentor for the Minnesota Cup for about 11 years. I’m also involved with Social Venture Partners as well as another relatively new organization called Next Level Partners, as well as serving on a few boards. It’s been great to experience MESA’s mentoring model and work with Chad Eckes, the lead mentor and my partner.

Are there any highlights from your experience working with MESA mentees?

Chad and I are mentor partners who meet monthly with Brian Gezella from Learn Your Benefits. And Brian’s enthusiasm just reminds you of everything exciting and rewarding about building a small business. It’s Brian’s dedication, passion and desire to make his business better by finding new ways to deliver value to the market. It’s energizing and fulfilling to be able to contribute in some way to try to further that.

What’s the value that MESA delivers to emerging software businesses?

I feel lucky to be involved with MESA. I think MESA adds real value to a startup’s business, and it’s a true complement to our community that so many people are willing to take the time to bring their experience to bear to help benefit newer organizations. I’m looking forward to doing more with MESA. I think both what the organization is trying to do and the way it goes about it are right on target.

Are you interested in the MESA mission and joining our community of mentors? Contact us today!