Fast Frontiers Podcast: Year in Review


As we celebrate this past year of evolution and all that we have accomplished here at Refinery Ventures, we wanted to delve a bit deeper into our podcast, Fast Frontiers.

It was a challenging, and it was also rewarding. To say that we are proud of our podcast and all of the fantastic information, discussions, and connections that it brought about would be an understatement.

Since starting the podcast, we have had the privilege of hosting some of the most prominent and knowledgeable entrepreneurs and founders, all of whom have shared insights, advice, and much more. It’s incredible to think that during the span of only one year, Fast Frontiers has produced and brought you three seasons of 39 episodes and has received thousands of listens.

While you can head to our website and hear each of these podcast episodes in full (a perfect listen for your commute, running errands, or anywhere really), we wanted to present you with the most downloaded episodes from all three seasons.

Each episode has presented some remarkable and relevant themes and lessons for our time, from innovation to opportunity, and including finding the perfect timing, overcoming adversity, and more.

Season 1 Episode 8 – Bob Meese

We started strong in season one of our podcast, tackling some of the most pertinent topics facing listeners today—all of which aligned with our core themes of innovation and embodying the spirit of the pioneer in our ever-evolving industry.

That being said, Fast Frontiers especially loves to showcase the innovation occurring in states that are traditionally thought of as “flyover” states. Our episode featuring Bob Meese, Chief Revenue Officer at Duolingo, fell into this niche perfectly.

In this episode, Bob shared why he chose to come back to his home city of Pittsburgh to lead revenue growth at Philadephia-based company Duolingo and discussed his previous hypergrowth experience as head of game development at Google Play. Bob offered his expert, insider advice on how to scale a hypergrowth company outside the coasts.

It’s just this type of encouragement, and real examples of brands actively bringing growth and opportunity to Pittsburgh that we want to see—and celebrate—more of in the future here at Fast Frontiers.

Season 2 Episode 3 – Steve Walchek

Our episode with Steve Walchek, Chief Innovation Officer at FIS, was one of the shining stars of our sophomore season of Fast Frontiers. In this episode, Steve took us on his impressive journey from his early work experience at Amazon (the world’s biggest startup) to his current role at FIS.

Steve shared many lessons learned during his time at Amazon, including experiencing growth at scale firsthand. One takeaway that Steve said stuck with him from this time was how impressed he was that Amazon—even after all its growth—never lost the hunger to continue to innovate in their team culture.

Also, on the subject of growth, Steve offered the wisdom that growth is not ever a smooth curve but can be turbulent and feel out of control. In case you were wondering, he also says this is okay and normal. So expect it, brace yourself for it, and adjust—and evolve as you grow.

One final—and perhaps surprising to many listeners—insight that Steve shared is that tenacity and luck can be as important in startups as other integral ingredients.

Season 2 Ep 2 – Victor Gutwein

Also, a highlight of season two was our time spent with Victor Gutwein, Founder and Managing Partner at M25 in Chicago, Illinois. We were especially inspired by Victor’s motivation for creating M25, which was really to address the blaring gap seen today in the Midwest landscape regarding access to capital, particularly pre-seed, seed, and later seed stages.

Victor not only inspired us with all he was doing in Illinois—explaining how M25 is fostering community with Midwest founders, with their summit conferences, with their for boomerang talent, and with Club 25—but he also shared some advice.

Among this advice was that timing is everything. Victor explained how investors need to find the right startup at the right valuation at the right time. He also mentioned that having the right people and team in place is vital, as it could mean the difference between failing and success.

Victor left us with the wisdom that looking at the big picture is critical, both in life and investing. He advised us to look at the direction and signals of direction because right now might not be the most important piece of the ultimate puzzle.

Wendy Lea – Season 2 Episode 1

Wendy Lea, digital innovation strategist, ecosystem development guru, and current CEO of Energize Colorado, also joined us for what would become one of our most popular podcast episodes. Wendy had so many lessons to share with us, all stemming from her wealth of unique experiences—most of which were formed by her intention and direction in life to be independent, self-reliant, and self-directed.

A favorite piece of wisdom that Wendy shared was how giving up how you were taught to do something—while it can be painful—the discomfort that it brings is how we learn. For instance, she said that something that’s not talked about nearly enough is that growth can be based on failure, embarrassment, humiliation (talk about pain).

According to Wendy, sometimes investing time and money into things that don’t go well can teach us valuable lessons that will serve us well in the future. The big takeaway? Even amid the pain, discomfort, and embarrassment that growth may produce, sticking to our guns and staying in the game will help us reach our highest potential in the end.

Ethan Batraksi – Season 3 Episode 3

You could say that Ethan Batraski, Partner at Venrock in Palo Alto, California, was the star this season, as we dove into his investments in and the Space Frontier, including the reasons why he chose those to back in particular.

Ethan impressed us with his insights, revealing the lessons he learned in his early startups before discussing what it means to be a problem-focused product leader. We even broached the subject of the ins and outs of investing outside Silicon Valley, which you know is right up Fast Frontiers’ alley.

Ethan even sat with us and looked toward the future, musing on the new frontiers that space technologies may see, including how communication will change and new cases will start to emerge that we’re not even thinking about today. It’s all so exciting (and pretty out of this world).

As you can see, we have learned a lot from our guests this past year, and we are looking forward to gleaning much more knowledge from more episodes as we head into Season 4, which drops so very soon! September 29 is the day, and we’re looking forward to learning alongside you listeners out there.