With the kickoff of the Ledbury Launch Fund, much of our office conversation and content on our blog has focused around the spirit of entrepreneurship. The entrepreneur plays a pivotal role in our society – creating solutions for unsatisfied needs and pushing innovation forward.
To help us wrap our heads around what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur and the resources to do so, we reached out to our friend ACe Callwood. ACe is the co-founder of Coffitivity.com, a globally used tool to boost creativity through the ambient sounds of the coffee shop. Coffitivity was included on TIME Magazine’s list of the 50 Best Websites of 2013, and has received national recognition from Popular Science, Inc. Magazine and lifehacker. In addition to his role at Coffitivity, ACe is the Entrepreneurship Coordinator at Virginia Commonwealth University. Here, ACe shares his thoughts on entrepreneurship in the digital age.
When people ask me what I do, I tend to chuckle and shrug. Usually, I manage to mumble something about teaching at VCU and running a web company, which inevitably prompts the second question, “Do you enjoy what you do?” This question is easier to answer in my opinion. I love what I do because I think I can change the world. That of course, sounds lofty, but that’s the mentality that you have to have to be an entrepreneur. Frankly, it’s too hard otherwise.
Hear me out – I don’t necessarily mean “cure cancer” change the world. I mean “my website helps people do the work that they love” or “that guy felt more confident in the shirt I made and he just nailed his job interview” change the world. You have to have the mentality that what you do, whatever it is, is going to put someone in a better place because you did it THAT well.
By no means am I an expert entrepreneur – not even close. I have, however, done some stupid things and learned some hard lessons along the road, so here are a few thoughts and a list of tools that will give some pointers for surviving this crazy lifestyle.
Thoughts: Here’s my list of things I wish someone had told me before I got my face kicked in on my first startup. (Slight exaggeration.)
1. Entrepreneurship is a team sport. Sure, there’s something sexy about the “never talk to anyone, hack it together in your garage” breed of entrepreneurs we read about, but the truth is, this life is tough without a partner or a posse to watch your back. Entrepreneurship is competitive, but it isn’t a zero sum game. Find some people to help you win.
2. Surround yourself with smart people. Slightly different than above, you should find a mentor or advisor who has done some cool stuff similar to the things you want to do. Chances are, they’ve figured out some tricks and can share tips on how to not get your ass kicked too hard. Make sure the people you surround yourself with are at least 15 minutes ahead of you because 15 minutes is all it takes to see someone make a mistake and avoid making it yourself.
3. Make a decision. Not my own wisdom, but definite worth sharing. Your business won’t fail because you make a bad decision, it WILL fail if you didn’t make any decision. Tap that network of smart people you have around you to help you make the call, but pull the trigger on a decision and figure it out from there.
4. Never stop learning. It seems like such a simple piece, but a huge part of being in the startup game is acknowledging that there are things you don’t know. On the bright side, there are a fair amount of cool people out in the world who have figured a lot of the things we haven’t when it comes to launching your own gig. Don’t expect knowledge to be handed to you. Hit Google, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to try some weird things and make a few mistakes. Treat everything as a learning opportunity and the lessons you’ll net will be invaluable.
5. Be comfortable and be confident. Be yourself in your skin, clothes, in your business. For the longest time I thought I had to be this “business guy” to get things done. I’ve since found that the team and I connect with more people when we’re genuine as opposed to feeling obligated to talk fancy and play dress up. You’ll attract the right people by being transparent rather than dancing the dance.
Tools: Below, a short list of tools and links that I use for inspiration or to get work done.
1. Entrepreneur Magazine – It’s one of those publications that seems so obvious, but is SO under utilized by a fair amount of the entrepreneurs I talk to. The articles are pretty legit and checking in online is a great way to keep up with the latest news from both new and established founders. [link]
2. Moleskine – I wanted to throw a physical tool on the list because I’m a huge fan of going analog. As much as I love tapping away on my phone or tablet, you’ll never catch me without one of my Moleskine notebooks. I’m sure there’s science around using pen and paper and my Moleskine is the perfect place to write down my thoughts and sort them out the old school way. [link]
3. Slack – Slack is hands down the best team tool out there right now. At Coffitivity, we’ve tested tons of communication tools to help us work a little better, and Slack has blown every single one out of the water. Icing on the cake – it integrates with a fair amount of the tools most teams use already. [link]
4. Mattermark Daily Newsletter – A killer publication put on my radar by the Lumiary crew. Mattermark Daily is a solid curation of articles, musings, and blog posts from the movers and shakers who are building the future. [link]
5. Peter Theil via Blake Masters – If I ever meet Blake Masters, I’m going to buy him several beers. This guy was in Peter Theil’s Computer Science 183 course at Stanford, which was only semi cool until he transcribed all of his class notes into a massive blog post from the former CEO of PayPal. This blog covers everything from team to culture to financing to failure. Although it’s long, I highly recommend the read. [link]
6. FoundryTV via YouTube – I recommend that everyone hit up YouTube once or twice a week to listen to a podcast on something they want to learn about. I come across these videos just about every time I’m searching for some knowledge on various aspects of startups. Definitely a solid YouTube channel for founders. [link]
I’ll leave you with this: entrepreneurship is a pretty thrilling gig. The highs are high and the lows can be grueling and scary. Luckily, there are plenty of resources that I’ve thrown at you above that will help you get through. Above and beyond all, make sure to enjoy the journey.
Starting a new consumer goods business? Learn more about The Ledbury Launch Fund, which will award one deserving entrepreneur with $25,000 to help jumpstart their consumer goods business, as well as offer mentorship from Ledbury Co-Founders Paul Trible and Paul Watson.
Read our Meet Our Friends interview with ACe here.