After Football: How Electric.AI Founding Team Member, Bill Tyndall, Chased A Dream of Becoming James Bond And Later Honed His Craft As A Business Leader
James Bond was who Bill Tyndall wanted to be when he was in college. It wasn’t as much of a life long dream as much as it was the first thing that popped into his mind in the spring of 2012. A leg injury in the Spring football game at Cal placed his football future in jeopardy, so he let the image of Bond, foreign service, and international conflict resolution guide his next steps.
First it was a conversation with Cal’s head of career development. Then he focused his schoolwork on Government and Russian Studies with a background in Politics and Economics. An alumni connection resulted in advice to pursue a Secret Service internship before it was too late. 400 pages of documents filled out and a bunch of letters of recommendation later, Bill was accepted and started building toward a new future.
Working for the government ultimately led Bill to a six-month, post-graduation stay in Russia, a place he felt connected him to the James Bond dream. The dream didn’t die in Russia, but it changed. He saw what the Secret Service could offer him and Bill asked himself if that’s who he really wanted to be. If not football, and if not foreign service, then what?
If you talk to Bill now, he’ll say it was taking that time in Russia and a bunch of other leaps of faith that finally gave him direction. Today, he’s the Founding Executive & Strategic Growth Director for Electric.AI, a Series B software startup that provides real-time IT solutions for all small businesses. When he talks about cultivating relationships to engage small businesses and exploring various revenue options by building different distribution models, he doesn’t sound like someone who is unsure. He’s rooted in his career, the value he knows he can deliver to his clients, and Electric’s fast rise in just a few years.
We spoke with Bill about what it was like to navigate new career goals and how he’s built his career to resemble the game of football.
Was the secret service something that was on your radar before your injury?
I had an interest in government, but for much later on in my career. At that point, I pretty much just really wanted to be James Bond, that’s as far as my head went. This whole process was starting to unfold as my identity was changing because of my injury. I’m no longer the senior offensive lineman gearing up for a big season. That was a really trying time until I started figuring out there were other things I could wrap my identity around. And once I navigated through that, it was a really really cool feeling.
You end up spending six months in Russia after you graduated. In your mind, why did you feel like you had to go?
After my injury, I knew that the NFL was no longer in the cards for me. My leg was destroyed so I went to figure out what my identity was going to be and decide whether I wanted to go into the Foreign Service.
Where did that soul searching lead you?
I sat down and really thought about what I was trying to do and who I was going to be. I’m a competitive person. I always enjoy cultivating relationships and working in a team and that was the case with everybody I met in the process of working with the government. I soon realized that between budget cuts and a bunch of other things, the career I was setting out for was a five year waiting list to make $50K for the rest of my life. And halfway through my experience there, I got a bunch of emails from people saying they were leaving and going to work for IBM and other companies. So that also made me ask myself if this is the path that I want to go down.
Where did you go from there?
I was introduced to a colleague who now works for us here at Electric. She was doing recruiting at the time and I was chatting with her about my background in sports; she really helped guide me into the world of tech. That eventually led me back to San Francisco, where I joined inDinero, a software company that helps small businesses organize all their finances.
The company was growing quickly and within a few months, you were tasked with opening up inDinero’s New York office. What did you learn about yourself by saying yes to that opportunity?
I consulted my mentors first and I was told that even though there wasn’t a script, it was an amazing opportunity. Still, it was difficult. I didn’t have a team around me for three months and it was my first time really having to build something from scratch. I learned that it’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to the opportunities in front of us. Like in sports, we need to be able to read the field and make a decision.
Thinking back to being in Russia and taking time to think about who you wanted to be, how did the way you viewed yourself change as you took on new challenges?
Even when you find your first job, it’s not seamless to just start identifying yourself differently. You’re no longer built into the offensive linemen at Cal, which is a subcategory of who I was. In the workplace, you are built into subcategories like the account executives or the office manager or whatever else it may be. It’s difficult to create the new you. At least, I personally struggled with that transition early on.
How did the opportunity with Electric.AI come about?
Ryan Denedy, Electric’s CEO, and I started chatting in Spring of 2016. At the time, I was managing a team in San Francisco and New York and didn’t have much interest in moving companies. He came to me with the idea for Electric and at the time I couldn’t think of anything less “sexy” than IT. I instantly fell in love with the idea though and started moonlighting with him.
Once Electric got seed funding, how long did it take you to decide Electric was your next step?
When I heard that we had a term sheet from Bowery Capital, I was on my honeymoon. At that moment, I had a quick conversation with my wife and sent a message to Jessica (CEO of inDinero and dear friend of mine to this day) saying that I was putting in my notice to help build Electric.
How did joining Electric compare to the other leaps of faith that you took - moving to Russia and starting inDinero’s New York presence? And what did the first year of building Electric look like?
Year one of building a business is very similar to your first year transitioning from high school to college football. Although you’re playing the same sport, in many ways, it’s a whole new game and you’re learning new rules. You’re working new muscles in your brain, building processes from scratch, and perfecting technique that may be new to you (at least they were for me). It takes time, energy, and passion to persevere in the world of startups. Luckily, this challenge is what most athletes live for!
Would you say you’ve mastered your craft now?
I would say it took me three years. For the first three years of my professional career, it felt like I was really building up and figuring out what I wanted to do in the world of technology. The reality is, I was good at sales, but I didn’t love doing direct sales myself. I loved the idea of distribution and figuring out how to build and cultivate relationships, build teams, and identify alternative ways to make money for the business. I spent a lot of time looking at partnerships and distribution models, which is now what I focus all my time and energy on today. I do that for Electric, but I also mentor and advise companies within accelerators. I get introduced through a number of VCs to companies who are looking for help in building distribution models.
How does that skillset translate into your work now? What does a typical day look like?
Today, I spend most of my time engaging with our clients, prospects, and internal team to better understand how to relay our message to the world. I spend as much time as possible coaching our team while actively recruiting for our next generation of talent. All in all, I feel like I never left the field and I live each and every day with that same passion that I brought to football.
The company is 160+ employees and you’ve raised almost $40 million in funding. How have you grown as a leader?
I’ve learned that being a leader in the business world is not dissimilar to being a leader on the field. Of course, a few of your captains are going to be the best athletes on the team. But the leaders that people typically flock to are the ones that lead by example and always put the team first. Working as a unit is the only way to survive and cultivate new skills in the business world.
Thinking back on this journey of wanting to be James Bond, going to Russia, and now finding what your good at, were injuries the catalyst for setting you on this path?
Oh yeah. I mean I was actually blessed in my opinion. I’m always a big believer that everything happens for a reason. Things may suck in the moment, but if I never got injured, I wouldn’t have worked in the Secret Service and met a bunch a phenomenal people who helped guide me to where I am today. That’s a special thing.
In some way shape or form, athletes will have this identity crisis. Whether it’s while you’re still playing, two to three years after, or whether its much later. The reality is that it hits and I was fortunate to have that hard reality early. But whenever it happens, it’s a tough situation.
I know you’re asked to speak to current student-athletes now. Knowing what you know, how do those conversations go?
I have these chats for Cal and every once in a while I do it for people leaving the NFL. These talks are the same concept for someone leaving the NFL, it has just gone on longer. I’m super passionate about figuring out how to employ student-athletes. There is no major difference to me from being exhausted in the 4th quarter and having drive and ambition in the business world. I’m definitely not the smartest guy in this company by far. What’s helped me in my career is focusing on the inch in front of me, choosing to work on technique and working harder than everyone else to be great at what I’m doing. As long as you can figure out what you’re passionate after sports, you can really be and do anything that you want. That’s such a special thing. I’m all about getting that message out to people and letting them know it doesn't end with the sport that you played. You can actually hone a new craft even better than you did as an athlete. It’s all sports. I think about everything that I do on a daily basis with that mentality.