Taking MonkeyBars Beyond The Playground

Interview with Young Entrepreneur Taylor Harvey

Taylor Harvey is an entrepreneur and CEO alum who is revolutionizing access to innovation. As co-founder of MonkeyBars, Taylor has gone from an entrepreneurial CEO member to a full-time entrepreneur who is helping companies take advantage of the creative minds in the Chicago tech scene. In an interview with Taylor, he shared how he’s gone from a student to a startup founder making an impact. MonkeyBars means more than just fun for kids on the playground, it now means fun for tech loving adults!

General Information

Co-Founder Name: Taylor Harvey
Company: MonkeyBars
Co. Description: MonkeyBars creates innovation and growth process consulting for small to mid-size companies through the use of evolved hackathons.
Number of Employees: 4
Year Founded: 2012
Twitter Handle: @MonkeyBars_Chi


Katie Sowa: How did you come up with the idea for MonkeyBars?
Taylor Harvey: We were all just sitting in a room after one of our hackathons talking about where we wanted to go with this concept. Playful, fun and community oriented is what we were going for and the concept of a playground kept popping up so we started rattling off playground equipment and MonkeyBars just stuck.

Katie: At what point did you realize that MonkeyBars was more than just a good idea, but that it could be a successful business?
Taylor: Once we saw that someone got hired from an event and our mentors were saying that we had something really interested, I think we all felt this had a shot. However, there was a lot of debate about where to take it once we decided it should be a business and we ended up losing a co-founder in the process.

Katie: Being that MonkeyBars is a Chicago-based company, how would you describe the tech scene in Chicago? What is the best way to get active in the tech community?
Taylor: Chicago’s tech scene has a lot of problems and I think that is what makes it such a great place to be. You hear at CEO over and over that entrepreneurs should go to were the need is. I think so many people have seen that need and have been mobilizing over the past few years to create some really interesting solutions. The opportunity is what makes Chicago so attractive right now and we have so many new startups every day and events that support creative people who want to build things.

A good way to get active is to have an idea and pitch it at events, competitions and gatherings. People are really supportive in this community and it’s a great way to meet mentors, collaborators and to learn about the opportunities the scene has to offer.

Katie: What has been most important to building the brand of MonkeyBars?
Taylor: Focusing on the participants at our events. We have people coming back to our events over and over because we do our best to facilitate their creative process. We are paid by companies but our participants know that they are the most important to us because we center our entire process around them.

Katie: Based on all of the hackathons you’ve been involved with, what 3 pieces of advice would you give to participants looking to have a successful experience?

  1. Don’t psyche yourself out by asking yourself “what if…I don’t find a team mate…people think my idea is stupid…I’m not talented enough”. The best stories I’ve heard and the happiest participants are the ones that came despite a fear they had.
  2. Work on a project you will be happy about making even if you don’t win. You can’t have a bad time if you enjoyed what you were working on. The prize is great but you probably will find the most value in the skills you learn and the connections you make.
  3. Don’t give up! I’ve seen teams walk out when they ran into problems within the first 5 hours or so and it’s frustrating because I’ve seen team switch ideas half way through because something wasn’t working and win the top prize. Or have a crazy breakthrough at 4am and win top prize.

Katie: Whether in a hackathon, business development event, or from your personal experience, how important is having the right team? Any tips for finding the right team members?
Taylor: Oh man…team is everything. I was a part of an amazingly talented team at a hackathon that had easily the most developed and unique idea but it broke down half way because of mismatched priorities. I’ve had a team within MonkeyBars that was too heavy on the business side and it was choking the company because of limited resources. I’ve also been on a team where I wasn’t feeling inspired.

We become entrepreneurs to love what we do and if you don’t have an inspiring team, or a team that isn’t on the same page or an imbalanced team, it just won’t work. Startups are too fragile to withstand poor team dynamics. At the end of the day, all companies are groups of people.

Tips: Be honest with yourself about your team dynamic. Resolve issues early and often. Find people that you connect with on a fundamental level personally; your startup will change over time and so will your team. Fundamental differences can make your team grow a part.

This is all easier said than done and sometimes you just have to make the mistake to learn. I know I do. Every time.

Katie: You were a CEO member at IIT. How did being involved with the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) affect your entrepreneurial journey?
Taylor: For starters, I thought I would be a psychologist or a teacher before I learned about CEO. CEO showed me that I could make a living following my dreams and I owe everything I’m doing now to that realization. I’ve met my most important mentors through CEO. Even founding 2 CEO chapters has been a conduit to help me learn team dynamics among other valuable skills. I think one of the most important things is just being around people that think entrepreneurially. I wish I could spend more time surrounded exclusively by entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs.

Katie: How did you go from the transition of being a student to a full-time entrepreneur? What continues to drive you to be an entrepreneur
Taylor: I made a decision one day with my friend to just do it. The scariest thing is jumping, but after that, we just kept pushing. The hardest thing is to keep going after you lose the initial rush of starting something and you run into lots of discouragement. Startups are EXACTLY like romantic relationships. If no one has done it by the time I’m rich and old, I’m making an artsy movie about this.

What drives me is that I know I can’t live any other way. Entrepreneurship is in my veins and it’s either sink or swim. I prefer not to drown.

Katie: What do you contribute as being most valuable to your success?
Taylor: Hard question. I come from a rough background with a wealth of social capital gained over the years to supplement me. For that reason alone, I have to say my mentors. The number of successful people that want to see me succeed is the most valuable thing I have. They have refused to let me give up, offered to pay for a 40k/year tuition, offered jobs, given me business leads, shared their painful pasts and put their reputations on the line for me.

However talented I think I might be, I am just another guy in the crowd without the support of my mentors.

Take Taylor’s advice and get several mentors to help you on your path to success. On your journey, be honest with yourself and your goals, as Taylor said, “It’s ok to want the world and it’s ok to want very little, but all desires have a cost. Know how much you’re willing to pay for them.” And then go after your dreams.