HOBBIES: Home Automation, Burning Man. FAVORITE DISH: Butter Chicken. A SOURCE OF INSPIRATION: Dr. Martin Luther King and Good Science Fiction. PEOPLE OFTEN DESCRIBE ME AS: Someone to go to for trusted advice.
Making mentorship a daily practice & platform
GROWTH THROUGH MENTORSHIP. John Barnhill has always been interested in connecting people, ideas, and capital. “Within my life, there has been a sort of continuum that’s relevant within my personal and professional experiences as an entrepreneur. At the youngest age, I was that guy that didn’t just babysit or cut grass—no. I was collecting the babysitters and grass cutters as a group and marketing them to our neighbors, taking my share, and handling the scheduling and oversight—at thirteen years old, and doing this for several years,” he laughs.
John’s early interests extended beyond neighborhood business opportunities; he also had a passion for technology. “I love computers and computer science. I’ve always been sort of a computer geek and loved the space. So when it was time for college, I absolutely picked Computer Science.”
His passions quickly translated to professional success: “After forming my first really successful start-up in internet technology, I was offering consulting services to budding companies like CraigsList and others, well before they became a household name, helping them with the early infrastructure and technology support.”
John has continued to offer his expertise through consultancy with his work at Barnhill Capital, and more recently, he co-founded Anchor Coworking, a collaborative co-working space in San Francisco that hosts a vibrant community of individuals, start-ups, and established companies. John sees the space as more than just 20,000 square feet of office space, but also a place to offer advice, mentorship, and resources: “For me it’s all merged—this space, these individuals, and companies. Anchor offers a position of practicality for networking, cultivating all kinds of different types of investments, and allowing businesses and entrepreneurs the space to figure themselves out.”
MANAGING CHALLENGES AND MANAGING CHANGE. John grew up as a gay, black man from an upper middle class family in Cleveland, Ohio, and recognizes his upbringing offered him advantages: “My dad was a professional basketball player and coach at the Los Angeles Lakers."
“My parents were able to raise their children in a way where skin color wasn’t the same issue it can sometimes be seen or experienced. There have been a few instances where police have stopped me for no reason, but nothing like the conflicts we’re often seeing today.” John also credits his mother for instilling confidence in him, explaining that “my mom said to me at an early age, ‘you will have every tool you need to be successful in this world’ because she knew my skills, my passions. And that gave me a sense of knowingness and validation. And still to this day, it’s one of the things that I try to instill in the people I’m mentoring, this lesson from my mom.”
“People have to be good at something to make it work, but that doesn’t mean they have to be good instantaneously. That takes time, work, mentorship. And this requires understanding the boundaries of the thing, how to take steps forward. Or sometimes when to quit. And I love that part, not the quitting, but the exploration, the ramping up, the drawing back sometimes. The edits. Because it’s also about motivation. And I like to invest in thoughtful motivations.”
John explains that people are often filled with fears, anxieties, or prejudices that prohibit them from growth or success. Therefore, he sees his work as often helping to dissolve those feelings through his mentorship, his connections, his advice and experiences. “If you’re a smart person, pursuing a smart start-up, you’re going to have challenges. But some of those challenges shouldn’t be things you can’t control, and that’s where I can offer insight and hope.”