A Year Ago, I Didn't Think I'd Be Here

A year ago, I was submitting the last papers and problem sets I needed to get my diploma. A year ago, I was training my manager to take over the restaurant. A year ago, I was beginning to say goodbye to one phase of my life, and preparing for an entirely new set of challenges. To put it simply: A year ago, I didn't think I'd be here. I didn't think I'd no longer own a restaurant. I didn't think I'd have a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign. I definitely didn't think I would be moving to Miami, or moving anywhere within 300 miles of my parents, to be specific (small disclaimer: I couldn't be more thrilled to get to spend more time with them).

I didn't think I'd be here because while I thrive off of self-imposed goals, I prefer to dream big and leave the details as a suggestion. You never know when the right opportunity - one that will position your life to hit those dreams - will pop up. Remaining flexible allows you to maximize those opportunities, and thus, to maximize your potential.

Why did I close the restaurant? Because I knew I had learned all of the lessons from my failure, and it was time to stop the leaking funds.

Why did I launch a Kickstarter? Because we saw an opportunity in the market. And I saw an opportunity to add value to a company, gain experience in a new industry, and hone my management skills.

Why am I moving to Miami? Because I saw an opportunity to gain field sales and project management experience in an autonomous environment (small disclaimer: I'm really going for the laundry help and dinners with mom & dad).

All of these choices are crucial to achieving my ultimate goals, but I could never have predicted them a year ago. When you leave a little flexibility in your life (albeit riskier), you leave a greater potential for success (higher return). Plus, it's exciting for me to never know what's around the corner. That isn't true for everyone, but I think that's what makes a great entrepreneur.

Getting Back on the Horse

Just as the downfall of my first business began to wrap up, I stumbled upon a new opportunity. Being that failure is really just a fancy word for experience, I took advantage of what I gained from my first venture (lessons learned, connections made, work ethic established) and began fleshing out a friend's idea for a business sock. I finally felt comfortable getting back on the horse. Chris is a passionate salesman with a busy job. He's on his feet all day dashing between work, business school, and family. He and his friends share the sentiment that the current offering of business socks simply don't meet the needs of business professionals. He was enthusiastic about rocking the boat within the industry, but he needed help. So he asked his brother Tim and I to launch the concept with him since we had run businesses before and brought other unique skills to the table.

For months we laid the groundwork: we contacted sock mills, spoke with retail and e-commerce professionals, crafted a brand identity, and studied sock materials and lingo. We vowed to be selling socks in 2014.

Two weeks ago, we launched a Kickstarter for GoodFoot to raise the funds for our first production run. It made sense for us to crowd-source the concept as a way to simultaneously validate the need and establish a presence. It has been a great learning experience in utilizing our networks, creating digital reach and virality, and building relationships with our consumers.

A month from now our campaign closes, and we hope to hit the ground running with our first production run shipping out in June! It's going to be a whirlwind for a few months, but I, for one, am ready to take on the challenges and the roller coaster that is entrepreneurship. I've missed it.

Increasing Productivity, Increasing Guilt?

Every employer and every company seeks to hire and retain the brightest, most productive employees. Presumably, highly productive employees are more valuable, generating more revenue in a shorter period of time. There are dozens and dozens of articles out there that cover tips and tricks for increasing productivity; there are hundreds of apps targeted at achieving the same goal. I'd like to talk about natural productivity though; those little things that you do for your body and your mind to make yourself the most centered and productive person you can be. Three of my go-to tricks that often get discussed are:

1. Fresh air: whether it's ten minutes to sit outside and soak up some sunlight, or a few laps around the block to get your blood flowing, a few minutes outside is bound to help you return to work recharged and refocused.

2. Naps: sometimes it's just inevitable. You've been up late working or traveled home late the night before. When you're truly exhausted, trying to get any work done is nearly impossible. It would be far more productive to take a quick 20 minute nap and actually get some work done for the rest of the day.

3. Breaks from the computer screen: the human brain just isn't meant to focus that long on a screen. Plus, it's terrible for your eyes. At just 22 years old, I've lost my 20/20 vision and had to get glasses for distant presentations. A quick break from staring at your screen can help protect your vision, prevent headaches, and help you complete tasks more efficiently.

Why is it, though, that doing any of these things inherently makes me feel guilty? Why is it socially unacceptable to take a much-needed nap, and why are we berated or asked what we are doing when we aren't click-clacking away on the keyboard?

I'm trying to train myself to accept that these behaviors are allowed, and that they should actually be encouraged. There is a larger culture shift that has needed to occur ever since we developed this 24-hour workday mentality. It's not healthy, and at the end of the day, happy and healthy employees are the productive ones who generate the most return. All employers should take a cue from Google, and understand that "happier workers use their time more effectively."

Lessons from Childhood Entrepreneurship

As a kid, I explored a wide variety of business ventures out of my back driveway. There wasn't an underlying theme between my ideas, besides that they were all meant to turn a profit, but they were all executed in my little "pop-up shop" situated on a busy road.

My very first experience with sales and commercialization was, like many other children's, a lemonade stand. When I finally deemed that too juvenile (at the ripe age of 9) I made my foray into crafts. I dabbled a bit with broader services (car washing, snow shoveling, cleaning, etc.) but I found it tougher to reach consumers and build up demand from my market (my neighborhood).

I look back at all my various attempts at business in the driveway - lemonade, crafts, bamboo (yes, I really did take spare bamboo from the backyard and attempt to sell it), yardsale - and I wonder what factors made some of them successful, and others not. What lessons from childhood entrepreneurship can we draw to apply to new ideas today?

Lemonade: The business model is clear and the success was apparent. With lemonade, timing and location worked in tandem to bring about the ideal consumers. Being situated directly across from a popular neighborhood brunch spot known for boozy Sundays, and operating on high-temperature, brunch-day mornings was crucial. Plus I was cute as heck! In businesses, you have to work your assets.

Crafts: With this business, I had no competitive advantage. I was a horrible artist! My only real chance at success was to be in the right place at the right time looking like the cutest 9-year-old in the world.

Bamboo: The decision to sell bamboo was spur of the moment, because it occurred to me when my Dad happened to be trimming bamboo in the backyard. Therefore, I didn't have time to advertise in order to attract customers. Plus, I set the bamboo up right away, which might not have been the ideal time for foot/car traffic.

Yardsale: The sale was my first opportunity to properly launch a business. My Mom let me keep the earnings if I did the legwork to set up the sale. I advertised in the local classifieds, priced out all the items, and laid them out in a visually appealing way. I made a sign that said "Kollege Fund" and waved it at cars driving by...a minor attempt at guerrilla marketing! The profits were decent, although I did have killer margins on my side.

So why were some of these businesses successful? Between location, assets, timing, and advertising, which variable was most important? And, how many of these factors did my businesses need to include in order to see success? Let's take a look at the facts:

My most successful ventures were Lemonade Stands and the Yardsale, which each have three factors to their advantage. My crafts business was mildly successful, with two factors. And Bamboo was a massive failure, only employing one of these variables. By this logic, businesses that can execute on three or more of these variables will have the best chance at guaranteed success. This might not be scientific, but there are still many lessons from childhood entrepreneurship that we can apply to business today.

Entrepreneurship and Endurance Sports

When I was 15, I tore out a beginner’s triathlon training guide from one of my mom’s fitness magazines, signed up for a race in Luray, VA, bought a bike, and jumped in the pool. It was the summer before my junior year of high school, and my friends had all left for the summer to study marine biology in Florida. I was lonely, bored, and didn’t really like my job as a research assistant in a lab. I still didn’t really know what entrepreneurship was, although I had dabbled in child-level businesses for a few years. For one reason or another, though, I was drawn to the idea of accomplishing a race that required such diverse skills and such a high level of commitment and intensity. It was a challenge I couldn’t pass up. My first race was incredibly satisfying – I took 1st in my age group and felt very accomplished when I crossed the finish line. The feeling was addictive. Over the next few years I continued to keep up my training and to compete about once a year.

During my senior year of college, I competed in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, which occurs in conjunction with a conference for regional entrepreneurs. I had the opportunity to attend several seminars and lectures given by successful entrepreneurs. I got to hear their stories, listen to their advice, and absorb their management style. Through their talks, they would always share a portion of their personal journey that accompanied their professional success. It was shocking to me how many of these successful, busy entrepreneurs were also Ironmen, or some type of endurance athlete.

But it was through this experience that I realized that at our core, all entrepreneurs are the same type of people operating on the same values; that we prime ourselves to be these durable, enduring beings – not for the sake of vanity but for the sake of success. To some degree, I believe that we all believe the fitter we are, the more productive we are. And the stronger we are, the more confident we become in our ability to lead, and the closer to success our team becomes with us to look up to.