More tech workers subvert unfit geek stereotype
Picture a technology whiz kid who starts an Internet marketing company in his college dorm room and becomes an overnight millionaire. He’s brilliant, but probably has an unhealthy pallor, sloppy looks, and a body misshaped by a diet of pizza and Red Bull.
Andrew Bachman looks nothing like that.
Bachman, who cofounded an online marketing firm while he was an undergrad at Babson College and is on his third start-up, is more jock than geek: Stylish in casual clothes, Bachman has the sculpted torso of someone who has been lifting weights for years, and seems to be always working out, even squeezing in a set of pushups at his desk.
Buff specimens such as Bachman are common on the Boston tech scene, subverting the stereotype of geek entrepreneurs as 90-pound weaklings or slovenly misfits. They are just as liable to spend a weekend at a marathon coding session as running an actual marathon.
“The people who were in their basement tinkering on computers before people even knew what computers were kind of fit that stereotypical model — the big fat guy with a beard who watches ‘Star Wars,’” the 30-year-old Bachman said. “But it’s changing.”
In the world of technology start-ups, it’s always crunch time, and the traits that enable athletes to thrive under pressure are the same characteristics that make successful entrepreneurs. Athletic and business pursuits both require drive and discipline, an ability to endure the long grind that typically precedes a payoff, and a competitive streak to beat out rivals.
“Athletes by their nature are competitive, and in the technology start-up space there’s a ton of competition,” said Noah Gordon, a former college baseball player who runs a start-up that is developing a mobile app for car diagnostics in Boston.
“We thrive in that type of environment. We’ve been playing on sports fields our entire lives, and now we’re just considering the field to be a different type of field — the field of play right now is in business.”
The assimilation of people such as Gordon is making the technology community everywhere more diverse. And because technology itself has become more accessible and easier to use, developers don’t have to be a traditional engineering type to invent new products that reflect their varied interests.
So you have recreational marathoner Jason Jacobs cofounding Boston’s RunKeeper, a popular mobile app that logs workouts, and former Marine Yinon Weiss starting RallyPoint, a professional networking website for military personnel, based in Boston.
“As more people have become computer literate, there is less of a barrier to becoming someone who can create technology,” said Aquil Abdullah, an engineer at the Boston big data start-up CargoMetrics and an Olympic rower in 2004. “Today you have people who may not be able to do something extremely technical, but they understand technology enough to articulate their idea so that someone who does have that skill set can run with it.”
The technology community is also remarkably social, making it easier for outsiders to join up, be welcomed, and stay hooked. On any given day in Greater Boston, there are multiple “meetups” — gatherings where ambitious entrepreneurs mingle with one another and with industry veterans and potential investors.
Even the weekend “hackathons,” those 48-hour crash courses in turning a tech idea into a business plan, are no longer reserved for the coding elite.
Hannah Connealy had zero programming experience when she attended her first hackathon, Boston Startup Weekend, over the summer. A fit former cross-country runner from Creighton University who works as a personal trainer in Cambridge, Connealy does have an entrepreneurial streak and brought her idea for building an app that creates nutritious trail mixes. She was able to recruit seasoned computer coders at the hackathon and delivered a strong business pitch to a panel of judges.
She won first place for her app, called Trailmixers. Soon after, Connealy was a regular on the tech meetup circuit — “it really sucks you in,” she said — and she’s been brainstorming new business ideas that merge fitness and tech ever since.
“No matter what the idea is, or whose idea it is, it almost certainly involves technology,” said Connealy. “For where we are in the world, there’s almost no way that it wouldn’t involve technology or wouldn’t be enhanced by technology.”
Some exercise enthusiasts are trying to wean their less-fit colleagues in the technology sector off poor diets and bad habits. Justin Mendelson, for one, has made it his mission to whip the tech world into shape through his new company, HackFit, which crosses the business boot camp aspect of a hackathon with, well, boot camp.
At most start-up challenges, a bunch of tech entrepreneurs gather on a Friday night, form teams around the best business ideas, then stay up until Sunday writing computer code, fueled by caffeine and junk food.
Mendelson, an avid runner who cofounded a business consulting firm, has developed a modified version that calls for participants to eat nutritious foods and make time for sleep and exercise, including yoga, rock climbing, and CrossFit.
He has tried to sell the fitness-oriented business ideas at traditional hackathons — i.e., the nerd kind — and found it tough sledding.
“I would just get people with blank stares, like, ‘Dude, I don’t care about walking down the street, let alone doing a triathlon,’ ” Mendelson said.
But he is also convinced HackFit is tapping into a real movement. His first event, held in September in Cambridge and Somerville, drew 160 people, and he is planning similar healthy hackathons in San Francisco and New York.
Bachman, who tips the scale at 205 pounds these days, is a prime example of the kind of physical transformation that is possible. He weighed just 103 pounds in high school, before deciding to hit the gym hard.
So you in the “Star Wars” costume, take heart: It’s never too late to muscle up.
In fact, Bachman sees a blending of the two types — nutrition and exercise, after all, are sciences, which should equally appeal to the brainy and the buff.
His latest venture, Game Plan Nutrition, makes protein shakes and other supplements and has built an online network of trainers who earn commissions by recommending the company’s products.
He has noticed other tech entrepreneurs, too, are either wading into the fitness industry or starting highly scientific diets and exercise regimens for their own edification.
“They’re totally taking the ‘Star Trek’ techie type of thing into the health and fitness space,” Bachman said.