Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Journey with Ryan

One of my mentors reached out to me and told me that these young guys were starting a new city club in Atlanta and I should get connected. I really had no idea what it was but I applied and went to their first event previewing their space, and lets just say, the Gathering Spot has exceeded expectations. In a little over a year they have taken Atlanta by storm. Co-founder Ryan Wilson was named 2017 Business Person of the Year in Atlanta and they recently announced they will be opening their second location in 2018. Needless to say, I’m glad I got the opportunity to speak with Ryan to hear about the ‘Journey’ to get to this point.

The Gathering Spot is a private club at its core where they host events, everything from lectures to discussions, coworking space and full restaurant and bar. All in 25,000 square feet in the heart of Atlanta. So, of course I was wondering where the guys got the money to start something so massive.

At 23 years old, Ryan and his co-founders approached a design firm with their concept. They were able to bring their vision to life, the design firm bought into their idea but now they had to find the money to make it all work. For such a large project, Ryan and his co-founders had to turn to local investors for help. At 24 years old, Ryan and his co-founders continued to share their vision to get their first ‘yes’ where they secured $1 million. As their vision grew and they wanted more to be in the initial launch of the club, they went back to raise more money, first $1.5 million to $2million, adding to a total of $3 million.

They wanted the club to be as good as it could be instead of settling based on the capital on hand. I loved that the guy didn’t let financial constraints hinder their vision and what they would ultimately launch to the world as the first Gathering Spot. So they continued to push. They set a target of the best possible version of your idea and raise to that goal. They were afraid that small versions of ideas tend to stay small and they didn’t want that to be their fate. They literally entered their entrepreneurial ‘Journey’ with no limits.

I always say, ‘To thine self be true.’ and Ryan did exactly that. After graduating law school at Georgetown, Ryan accepted a job at a law firm and he soon realized pretty early on that law wasn’t quite what he wanted to do. Very early on, Ryan’s father was their supporting him and his vision the whole way through. With the support of his father, Ryan didn’t get caught up in the time invested in law school and the money lost but he focused on the fact that you only get one life. And at 23, Ryan had nothing to lose, no experience but everything to gain. The biggest fear was looking back on his life and regretting not taking that chance and saying, “I should have tried that five years ago.”

$3 million dollars and a leap of faith later, The Gathering Spot has over 500 members and is continuously pushing for the next level.

Key takeaways:

  • Set the best possible target for your business, instead of settling based on capital
  • Learn as much about your industry and hire the best people for the areas you aren’t strong in
  • You only have one life- five years from now you don’t want to regret taking that chance

The Journey with Nick

I met Nick several months ago when he spoke at the Center for Civic Innovation in Atlanta and I knew I had to track him down. I didn’t have his email but after scouring through LinkedIn and using Mail Hunter (life hack) to get his contact me made our talk happen.

For years I saw King of Pops everywhere from on campus in Athens to the streets of Atlanta, so I figured they had to be doing something right and I wanted to know what was really making King of Pops POP.

King of Pops is a popsicle company, Nick and his brother started together almost seven years ago. It was a make lemonade out of lemons story, when his brother got laid off at AIG during the financial crisis, they around and started their own thing despite the less than ideal situation. With not much to start with, Nick and his brother decided to roll a cart towards a busy intersection in the city and started selling their pops. To beat the seasonality of their product and to retain their valued employees they have now expanded to a farm, supplying fresh food and ingredients, a distribution center, a Christmas tree business and a dog treats business…that’s what I call product diversification.

So, I had to ask, as a startup, how did Nick and his brother get King of Pops to be everywhere I was. Nick shared, with a budget of $5,000, enough to buy a push cart and a refrigerator, they got started. It was low barrier to entry and that’s exactly why they started with just pops. On the marketing front, seven years ago social media, was a lot easier to get in front of their fans and share their story. But truthfully it was the dedication and purpose in what they were doing that helped them grow and gain more opportunities. For the first two or so years they worked 7 days a week, 20 hours a day…hard work is the part you can never bypass along the ‘Journey’.

Nick said it best, “If you have a strong attachment to your vision and your purpose it helps make hard decisions easier” and it has led these two brothers to grow one push cart started with $5,000 into a company with 350 employees, selling over 1 million pops.

Key Takeaways:

  • Whatever life throws at you, make lemonade out of lemons
  • Consider businesses with low barriers to entry
  • Product diversity is key especially in seasonal businesses
  • There is no way around the hard work, you have to put the time in
  • Allow your vision and purpose guide your business decisions

The Journey with Britt

I met Britt almost two years ago when she first had the idea for Whitby and all she had were sketches to show. It was an instant connection with me starting Bené, a luxury collection of scarves committed to girl’s education and Britt’s idea to start a socially conscious luxury handbag line that supports girls education in Haiti, Peru Iraq and Thailand to help prevent them from being sold in sex trafficking. Whitby’s tagline is ‘Carry Justice.’ The idea is that women who have never had to experience tragedies such as modern slavery, human trafficking, or child marriage, can carry the weight for these girls and boys, so they never have to.

To get Whitby started, Britt self-invested almost $35,000 to bring her first collection of bags to life. There are definitely pros and cons of being self-invested, like most small businesses are. Of course there is a lot of pressure that if you don’t succeed you bare all of the loss but it’s a true testament of your belief in self and what you are building. Yes, there is a lot more skin in the game but it forces you to bootstrap your way through and be more mindful of when and how you spend your money.

After months of working through her business plan, Britt was ready to launch. Regardless of the time in planning and preparation you do, unfortunately, losing is a part of the ‘Journey’. Mistakes are inevitable, Britt admits that she has made almost $25,000 worth of mistakes. Is it a tough pill to swallow? Yes…Does it make you question if you are fit to do this? For sure, but that’s the cost of doing business. One thing I wish I would have done before starting Bené to help minimize my risks and failures was to gain as much experience as I could and surround myself with mentors in my industry who could provide some guidance along the way. It’s impossible for you to know everything but the most important part is that you don’t keep making the same mistake, you just have to learn and get smarter.

We’ve all been told to, ‘go big or go home’ but I had to go agree wit Britt and say, ‘go the smallest you can go’. Make one and figure out if people are going to like it first, if the pricing strategy works before you have inventory stacked to the ceiling…I’ve been there and I know that starting small allows you to be agile enough to recalibrate if needed, fail fast and move forward.

Just a couple of lessons on how to handle the inevitable losses along the ‘Journey’.

Key takeaways:

  • Learn from your mistakes
  • Don’t go big or go home
  • Pick yourself back up
  • Push through the “No’s”

Learn more at
Follow on Facebook and Instagram @TheJourneywithBlue

Learn more about Whitby and the girls they support

The Journey with Rennie

If anyone knows anything about the University of Georgia, you know that the SEC is a big deal and we take football very seriously. When I met Rennie he was the linebacker for UGA and he was becoming a household name, being featured on billboards and regular appearances on ESPN. But of course Rennie’s ‘Journey’ didn’t start there. Born to Liberian immigrants, Rennie knew he had the responsibility to fulfill the dream his parents had sacrificed so much for. So when the opportunity to enter the draft came, he decided to take it. Rennie had prepared for this moment his entire life. And he started the process of going into the draft. After months of training and critique, Rennie was picked up as a third round pick for the Tennessee Titans. The “Liberian Dream” Rennie had always envisioned for his family, was now becoming a reality, until the unpredictable happened.

Once the NFL lockout occurred, things changed and unfortunately, it wasn’t in Rennie’s favor. Despite his performance, in the eyes of the coaches, he ended up not being good enough and was cut from the team. With no team, no job and no football, Rennie found himself in a place of uncertainty, in ‘No Man’s Land’. At that moment, Rennie started to question, how he could take advantage of this time. Which lead him to a point of self assessment and self inventory of his gifts and talents and what value he had to give others.

During this time of reflection, he realized that he was not the first and definitely not the last athlete to be in this position, in “No Man’s Land”. Whether coming out of college with a degree and can’t find a job or going through a divorce or even like his father, who owned a business for over 20 years and lost it, they too were in a ‘No Man’s Land’ and that inspired him to write. He started to vent about everything that he had experienced and he knew that if he had experienced and he knew that if he could talk about the adversity and uncertainty of life, someone else would be able to relate to it, which started him on the path to be an author.

I love that life too Rennie to the ‘No Man’s Land’ but he decided not to stay there. Football has not only developed him into a great athlete but it has taught him invaluable lessons that have prepared him for this entrepreneurial ‘Journey’. The ability to get back up is imperative whether you’re on the football field or running a startup. The sport taught him how to keep fighting when mentally things don’t seem to make sense. When others crush and falter, that’s when you rise to your greatness. And the same toughness is needed.

Rennie tries to be mindful of what he sees for himself 5-10 years down the road and if his habits and actions are lining up with that. As entrepreneurs, we’re always looking at the next thing but it’s important to remember that you’re inspiring and influencing others in the moment. I’m thankful

Rennie was able to share that advice with me.

So…go ahead WATCH and be encouraged along your ‘Journey’.

The Journey with Daniel

*Please excuse the audio quality

I’m literally adding Daniel to my top favorite people. After a random meeting at Starbucks, I knew a couple of minutes into the conversation that I had to get Daniel on the show to share his story.

We all know that the music industry is so saturated with everyone wanting to be an artist or producer and the truth is, most people don’t make it in the door. But Daniel’s story was different…he started off DJing at 15 years old in a small town in Georgia and is now one of the hottest producers in Atlanta that has worked with everyone from Young Jeezy, Rihanna to Amy Winehouse. Daniel’s story definitely wasn’t easy but I think the hustle and heart is what set him apart from the rest.

As a creative mind, Daniel knew he wanted to take rap music to another level. Before EDM became what it is today, Daniel wanted to borrow production from the dance world and merge it with rap music. Daniel figured the best way to make this happen was to take advantage of the opportunity he had to work under a producer. Working side by side with such music game changers allowed him to learn first hand and take notes on the industry. When he got the opportunity to DJ at an Atlanta night spot, he finally got the chance to mix Atlanta trap music and electronic music throughout the night and set the blueprint for a whole new movement and he started to make a name for himself.

Daniel literally created a business around his raw talent by taking everything he learned and adapting it to his own work. There are so many people that are trying to break into the industry, Daniel says it was his perseverance that set him apart but truthfully, I think there was much more than that. When he first moved to Atlanta, he went door-to-door to different studios and met with engineers or studio managers to find work. Instead of waiting around for an internship, Daniel took matters into his own hands. Everyday he would camp out from 9 to 5 at Atlanta Pro Audio, as if he literally worked there. He figured, producers and artists needed equipment and he soon became the guy they would come to for help, which opened doors to just the break he needed.

In what seemed to be an impossible situation, Daniel found a way to think outside the norms to get in from of the producers and artists he wanted to work with. To me that’s not only perseverance but grit and ingenuity and hustle and heart. This is a true testament that when you’re desperate you start thinking outside of the box.

If you ever had a business for a day, you know that it can be a liberating but equally draining experience. Lastly, Daniel and I discussed the importance of taking care of your mind, body, and soul as an entrepreneur. Now four years sober, Daniel once suffered from a drug and alcohol addiction, which he claims “boxed in” his life both figuratively and literally. He explains how being in the studio environment it is easy to get caught up in that bubble. He’s hit a number of different bottoms in his life in addiction and in his sobriety he has certainly come out on top. Most of us are not in the studio everyday working with the biggest names in the industry but we all face issues and deal with them differently. So, it may not be drugs but it can be struggles with getting sleep, anxiety or mental health. If we are not the best versions of ourselves, we can never be the best version for our businesses.

Key takeaways:

  • Keep learning and always take notes.
  • Hustle and Heart will set you apart.
  • Take care of mind, body and soul

The Journey with Altricia

Altricia is the true definition of a girl boss..fearless, empowering others and not taking no for an answer. I had the pleasure of meeting Altricia a couple of years ago at a conference in Atlanta and I absolutely loved her energy and we’ve been encouraging each other along the ‘Journey’ ever since.

As a teenage mother, Altricia wasn’t the most confident on spring break and vacations with friends after the birth of her son. Unlike most 20 year old girls, she wasn’t the most comfortable in a two piece. As she was preparing for a girls’ trip, this time around, Altricia was determined to find a two piece that would work for her body and cover her “abdominal imperfections”. After not finding anything that worked, Altricia took matters into her own hands. A couple of sketches and alterations later, Altricia brought her ideal swimsuit to life and she was ready for her trip. After posting her swimsuit pictures on social media, Altricia soon realized there were other women that loved her high waisted swimsuit, from that she knew she had a business and Allusions by A.Lekay was born.

With no formal education in fashion, Allusions by A.Lekay allowed Altricia to merge her love for fashion and her passion to help others. Altricia has been fortunate to share her story and encourage other teenage mothers. She admits that being a teenage is definitlely not good but it’s not the end of the world. She wants young mothers to know that now more than ever, that as a mother she has to remember why she has to keep moving forward, be resilient and bounce back because it’s no longer about her but it’s about her child. We all go through different circumstances in life but that doesn’t have to dictate where you are going.

I feel like every time I go on Instagram, I’m just more amazed by the features and platforms Altricia has been able to tell her story on. If you take a look at Altrichia’s portfolio you will soon realize she is a PR powerhouse. Her swimsuits have been worn by Nikki Minaj on the cover of Cosmopolitan, she has been on The Steve Harvey Show, The Real and so much more. Altricia acknowledges, “Yeah, I’ve had milestones but I’m on to the next…I’m not stopping there.” And even though Altricia shares the hustle, blood, sweat and tears it takes to make this happen, I don’t doubt bigger and better is yet to come for her.

So remember, everything is a process and if you really believe in what you’re doing, then trust your ‘Journey’.

Key takeaways:

  • Whatever your life circumstances, that doesn’t have to determine where you’re going.
  • Be Resilient, Move Forward and Bounce Back.
  • Remember everything is a process and trust your ‘Journey’

The Journey with Zach

Zach Hogue is founder of Ambos, a company that works with artisans in Guatemala to produce handmade goods. It is a business he has been running for the past two years or so and is now closing. They say most first time businesses don’t succeed, but no one is telling that story or seeing what it looks like from the entrepreneur’s perspective. Therefore, I knew I had to talk to Zach and have him come on the show. During his interview, we talked about his entrepreneurial journey and the lessons he’s learned throughout it all.

The first lesson Zach learned was to become an expert in what you do. Network, learn about the business, go to industry events, meet new people. Zach believes it’s important to build a network for support, as well. That way you have people you can turn to for help when you start launching your business. The second important lesson he learned was to keep your day job. He advises you keep a consistent source of income and admits that giving that up a little early in his ‘Journey’ is something that hurt him. You want to make your business force you out of your day job. We also talked about the sacrifices you have to make for your business. For example, living at home with your parents or working odd jobs. Although Zach didn’t want to miss the opportunity to live with friends and therefore moved out of his parent’s house, he acknowledges that these are the kinds of real decisions you have to make along your ‘Journey’ and it’s important to know what works for you. Zach’s final lesson is to have a bona fide go-to market strategy. Your product and your story may be amazing, and with a good looking website and some promotion on social media, you may think people will just naturally be drawn to your business. But that’s not the way the cookie crumbles for most people. So how do you know when your market strategy is bona fide? Zach brings back that idea of having a strong network. Have a plan and submit it to other people. Ask around and then decide whether or not its bona fide.

Finally, Zach and I discussed the idea that your business does not define you. You’re going to have all kinds of influences in life but you don’t want to be based on things that come and go. You want something more permanent than that, and Zach believes having that is important for overall success.

Key takeaways:

  • Keep building your network.
  • Ask for help.
  • Keep your day job.
  • Have a bona fide market strategy.
  • Know the kinds of sacrifices you’ll need to make.

The Journey with Lauren

I met Lauren about a year ago when Sasha and I were doing a pop-up shop. Lauren spotted us across the store and literally came hobbling over with her boot excited to meet other entrepreneurs with a similar mission in the city. We exchanged information and now our quarterly coffee dates are a must.

After working a consulting job for a few years after college, Lauren started THROW part-time, a give back pillow company, for every 10 pillows sold, they give a bed to a child in need. Miserable at her job and knowing that her part-time business really needed some full-time attention, Lauren took the leap. I know…leaving a salary and security isn’t easy but like Lauren said, “You have to get made enough at what your life is becoming, when you get to that point, you’ll know it” and she refused to just live, work and die. And just 6 months later, Lauren was able to turn her part-time project into a profitable full-time business.

Lauren shares how her community and how her ‘why’ are what help keep her focused and mentally sane through it all. Yes, we know, entrepreneurship is not easy and you’re in for a rollercoaster of emotions and even if you are a solopreneur you can’t do it alone. So our advice to you is:

Join a Community: Whether it’s a co-working space like WeWork or meet up with other entrepreneurs to talk, share resources and of course, tell each other the stories that no else would understand.

Remember Your ‘Why’: “If your ‘why’ is not personally connected to you…you in no way will survive”. And check out the TedTalk, “Start with Why’ by Simon Sineck, it’s a must Watch.

I want to hear about what keeps you sane through this emotionally and mentally sane through your ‘Journey’, so share with me below.

Key takeaways:

  • You can plan ahead but you can’t overplan
  • There’s no such thing as a “big break” in entrepreneurship
  • It’s important to have a community for support
  • Always remember why you’re doing what you’re doing
  • Be persistent

The Journey with Spendefy

I love the Spendefy bruh-mance here. This was my first time interviewing co-founders and I loved being in between these two.

In 2016, co-founders, Antwon and Eldredge, teamed up to launch Spendefy, a tech company that connects black owned businesses to conscious consumers.The idea behind Spendefy developed when Antwon and Eldredge were discussing the lack of economic structure in the black community. Spendefy hosts thousands of black businesses on its platform and makes it easy for consumers to find black businesses near them.

Holding nothing back, the pair strike a nice balance and figure out how to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They give me an inside look at the importance of finding a co-founder and how they make it work with two totally different personalities.

I had to ask, what were some of their pros and cons of a partnership, here is a little bit of what they had to say:

PRO: You can not do it all by yourself…a partner will help carry the workload and identify the blind spots you may miss

PRO: You have someone with you when you jump and someone that gets the ‘Journey’

And yeah there are CONS but I think Eldrege said it best, “All the cons can be avoided through one words and that’s, COMMUNICATION.”

I always say, a partnership is like a marriage, it’s not a 9-5 type of situation, you have to trust the person’s work ethic, decision making when it comes to business and personally…so choose wisely.

And hopefully you will have the mutual respect for one another like Antwon and Eldredge. If you have a co-founder story, good, bad or ugly, share it with me below

So…go ahead WATCH and be encouraged along your ‘Journey’.

Key takeaways:

  • Check in with your partner personally
  • Know how to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Find a partner who’s equally committed
  • It’s okay – and healthy – to disagree
  • Communication is key

The Journey with Garrett

I didn’t think I would get a chance to speak with Garrett since he’s literally in a different country every week but I caught him in between travels and in typical Garrett fashion, he came with a burst of energy and no shortage of amazing stories.

Garrett Gravesen – recent Harvard Business School grad and Founder of H.E.R.O. for Children, Global Lead, and ADDO. Garrett’s journey began with 10 seconds of courage. He believes life is made up of moments, and in those moments, you have 10 seconds to choose courage over comfort in order to get where you want to go. As a student at the University of Georgia, Garrett was interested in politics but soon realized it wasn’t the path for him. With the decision to pursue business instead, Garrett flew one summer to Hong Kong and talked his way into getting an internship at Merrill Lynch. After working all summer, Garrett received a job offer at the end of his internship. In 10 seconds of insane courage, however, Garrett knew this wasn’t the life for him and he quit. Saying goodbye to a career in investment banking, Garrett opened a new door to traveling in Africa. Taking a year off of school, Garrett went to Kenya and volunteered in an HIV/AIDS orphanage where he was inspired by the children he met. After returning home, Garrett committed himself to the cause of HIV/AIDS and wanted to give back to the community. He started H.E.R.O. for Children to help kids in the U.S. suffering from HIV/AIDS improve their quality of life.

Being the socialite that he is, Garrett is at every party and event but what people don’t see behind the travels and entourage are the sacrifices of moving back home after graduation and literally paying himself $500 a month for three years, while growing each of his business to over a $1Million in revenue and donations.

So for the young entrepreneur that’s still working out of your parent’s kitchen or driving that ‘95 Honda (praying it will get you to your next meeting), even if it seems that no one understands, just know that you’re not alone…and as always, I would love to hear your story of the sacrifices you’ve made below.

So…go ahead WATCH and be encouraged along your ‘Journey’.

Key takeaways

  • Choose courage over comfort
  • Have the courage to keep going and the success will come
  • Choose 10 seconds of courage and your future self will thank you