10 Entrepreneurs Share How They Turned Their Hobbies Into Successful Careers

Here's how to turn that side hustle into a full-time vocation.

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10 Entrepreneurs Share How They Turned Their Hobbies Into Successful Careers
Image credit: via Authority Magazine
Contributor
Iconoclast
15+ min read
This story originally appeared on Authority Magazine

Would you want to work doing something you absolutely love? Many people who have hobbies and passions have found a way to turn that from a side hustle to a full time vocation. Recently, Authority Magazine ran an interview series called “How I Turned My Hobby Or Passion Into a Successful Business.” We interviewed founders who shared their story and the specific steps they have taken to turn their avocation to a vocation.

Here are 10 highlights from our interviews.

These interviews have been edited for lenghth and clarity. 

Related: 10 Women Wellness Entrepreneurs Share Strategies to Optimize Our Mental and Emotional Well-Being

Alexandra Stapleton-Smith (Creator of 'The Hedgehog Hollow' blog)

Alexandra Stapleton-Smith (Creator of 'The Hedgehog Hollow' blog)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

Alexandra Stapleton-Smith is the the creator of The Hedgehog Hollow crafting blog. Alexandra is a lifelong crafter and has turned her hobby into a growing and profitable business with customers all over the globe. She and her family moved to the US from the United Kingdom two years ago. The self-starter taught herself video production and website creation, which lead to the start of The Hedgehog Hollow. The first video the blog released published upside-down with low production value but was nevertheless well-received by the online crafting community. Alexandra’s new blog took of, as a result. The Hedgehog Hollow grew to 43,000 YouTube subscribers in two years. Alexandra’s blog is now an award-winning company and thriving in the social media community.

What was the catalyst for transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “a-ha” moment with us?

I was working for Jaguar as a Globalization Business Development Manager when my life had a dramatic change. My husband and I were actually going to move to India to help launch a new subdivision for Jaguar, but I became very ill. I was pregnant with my second daughter at the time and began having liver failure. I was forced to have a hysterectomy after she was born and was out of work indefinitely. My husband, who is an engineer, was offered a job in the United States for Goodyear, so we moved to Northeast Ohio.

I couldn’t work without a visa. I found myself reading tons of inspirational blogs out of boredom. I decided to take a stab at blogging and searched the internet for a how-to book with the best reviews. I bought a book titled Create Your Own Website Using WordPress In A Weekend by Alannah Moore. I built the crafting blog named The Hedgehog Hollow, and my husband, and I launched our first crafting video. The video had tremendous response and things took off from there.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Nothing happens overnight. You can’t track your success against others in the business. I would watch other companies grow to millions of subscribers while we were still in the thousands. I would find myself thinking, “What are we doing wrong? What am I doing wrong? I must be doing something wrong.” I had to stop and be glad we were growing from our hard work and be inspired by other’s success.
  2. Track your numbers from the very beginning. We were terrible at tracking our numbers in the beginning and it made it difficult to know our true growth from the start. We had to backtrack to realize how much we had actually grown. Knowing your growth can help motivate you when times get difficult.
  3. Good staff are hard to find and it’s not all about how much you pay them. We’ve overpaid the wrong people and some of the most expensive investments have been the worst. Use your gut with people you bring into your circle. Don’t get into any investments or commitments keeping you awake with anxiety and fear at night.
  4. You can’t be everything to everyone. I wanted to be a great blog for crafts, DIY, lifestyle, recipes, etc. I couldn’t tackle all of those categories on day one, so I decided to start with what I was best at and build up the others over time.
  5. You can’t do everything all at once. I had 20 different business ideas I wanted to incorporate like merchandise, additional subscriptions, products, etc. I had to find what was worth investing time and resources in first.

Mike Smith (Founder of The BAY and Skate for Change)

Mike Smith (Founder of The BAY and Skate for Change)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

What was the catalyst for transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “a-ha” moment with us?

I grew up in the Midwest, a small town kid who by all accounts was pretty average. I played sports, loved skateboard. I didn’t excel in school or college but used those seasons in my life to chase my passions and build relationships with people.

The moment when everything clicked was when I realized you didn’t have to be the best at your passion or hobby to make it a business. I’ve never been the best at any of the things I do: skateboarding, music, digital art, content creation, none of them. What I realized was these are the industries I wanted to have an impact in. My "a-ha moment" was when I realized that if I focused my time on the impact I could have in those areas versus being the very best in those areas I could make something pretty special.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Focus on finding solutions not problems. The people who work for you are going to find things to complain about. Typically it’s going to be other people. I’m a big fan of challenging them to find the solution in it, not just tell me the problem. Don’t get me wrong, things don’t work, stuff happens it’s part of it. But focusing on what’s broken isn’t as important as trying to fix it.
  2. Get mentors and let them be honest with you. If you pay attention to the greats in anything they all point to someone else who gave them criticism, feedback or advice that was difficult to hear. How they responded to it was made everything different. Find an experienced, person who you value as a person and give them permission to be hard on you.
  3. Not everyone you hire at the start is gonna be there at the end. It’s not realistic, so learn to maximize the talent you have, when you have it, and learn to pass the baton to the next person. I underestimated how difficult transitioning some of my first staff would be; it was one of the most difficult steps in my career. 
  4. Focus on the right thing at the right time. Early on, you tend to focus on the right things at the wrong time. Ealy on, I found myself spending too much energy on things that were years down the road, since I wanted to “get there.” I wasted a lot of time trying to build things before the company was ready. 
  5. No one cares as much as you do. Therefore, they’re not willing to work as hard as you are. Ninety-nine percent of the people I’ve hired love what we do and believe in the work we do, but at the end of the day it’s a job to them, and they’re going to treat it that way. You can’t take it personally. 

Carla Lylesound (Founder of Carla Sue Greeting Cards and Gifts)

Carla Lylesound (Founder of Carla Sue Greeting Cards and Gifts)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

Carla Lyles is the founder of Carla Sue Greeting Cards and Gifts from Houston, Texas. Carla Sue crafts witty, sassy and beautiful greeting cards by hand, each with messages of empowerment and positivity. Her national business revolves around providing greeting cards for any occasion, with both lots of color and colorful language. 

What was the catalyst for transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “a-ha” moment with us?

I lived a very middle-class life here in Houston with my mom, dad and two sisters. My father died when I was very young, so I was raised by my mother. I was the quiet, creative nerd in the back of the class, always humming a song and doodling. My mom was a teacher most of my childhood and later became a principal. She always encouraged me to dive into the creative space, I’m guessing because I wasn’t the best student academically.

I was just so unhappy. I’ve always struggled with working for someone else. I had spent so many years bouncing from job to job searching for what felt “right.” About five years ago, I fell into a deep depression and was eventually diagnosed with major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Shortly after, I chose to begin working for myself full-time. 

Initially, I didn’t really take myself too seriously. I was mostly using my business as an outlet to help me heal through my depression. I make hand-crafted cards, so creating them was very therapeutic for me. I knew that I enjoyed creating things that made people smile and that was enough for me. But then the orders began to get larger and larger, and I thought, “Oh wait, I’m an actual business.” So I researched other cards companies and mirrored some of their business practices. I took some business courses and made a lot of friends with already established businesses to help me along my way. I’m still learning every day.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Business is a roller coaster. Business can be really great one second and falling apart the next. You can try to prevent things from falling apart as much as you can but sometimes it happens even with your best efforts. Make sure you are mentally prepared for the ride.
  2. Be prepared to sacrifice. It takes a lot of sacrifice with running a business. If you’re serious about growing your business you will have to miss out on a lot. One of the biggest sacrifices for me is being away from my family. Keep your eye on the prize and always remind yourself of why you are doing this in the first place.
  3. Always celebrate small victories. You’ll take a lot of losses in business. Be sure to celebrate the small victories. It’s your indication that you are one step closer to achieving your goal.
  4. Take care of yourself mentally. Running a business is exciting, but it is also stressful and scary. You will be alone often and that can be hard for some people. Make sure you have a tight support system, therapist or both. If you don’t have those things, be sure to exercise and take your vitamins. Your internal health and mental stability will determine your success.
  5. Express gratitude. Be sure to let the people that are helping you on this business journey that you appreciate them. Your team, your friends, your family anyone that has played a hand in helping your business grow. Let them know you value them as much as possible. It will make for a better work environment and make your team feel good about working for someone that values them. It’ll make you feel pretty good,too.

Michael Davidson (Founder of Black Infusions Vodka)

Michael Davidson (Founder of Black Infusions Vodka)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

Michael Davidson is the owner and CEO of Black Infusions, an artisanal spirits collection that includes black fig and gold apricot vodkas. The inspiration for Black Infusions stemmed from Davidson’s personal interest in wine-making and the desire to create a great-tasting spirit that pairs well with food, while staying true to his promise to create all-natural products that are free of artificial sugars and preservatives of any kind. Since its inception, Black Infusions has grown to national distribution across the United States. Davidson holds over 25 years of experience in launching, and investing in, small businesses.

What was the catalyst for transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “a-ha” moment with us?

I was born into a successful family business — for three generations, my family has owned and operated a hi-end garment and fabric cleaning company throughout Boston. From an early age, I knew the family business was not my calling, but spent the early part of my career working there while finding other outlets for my creativity in my spare time.

I started making wine at home as a hobby, some years making as much as 30 cases of Chardonnays and Cabernets. I was always drawn to the creative part of wine-making and the feeling of satisfaction in seeing something that I crafted with my own hands become a product that I would eventually share with friends and family. Eventually, the pull to start my own business from the ground up won me over; I traded in my steamer for a shaker, and Black Infusions was born.

I was always intrigued by how wine would traditionally be paired with so many different types of food at restaurants, but the same was not happening with spirits and cocktails.

This presented an opportunity to me — if wine could be paired with so many different cuisines and during every part of a meal, why were we not seeing the same with spirits? This became my biggest challenge and my greatest motivation — to change the way we drink spirits, and create new occasions to elevate the cocktail experience.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Starting a business takes a lot more capital than you’d think! Make sure you raise enough funds to avoid serious financial strain.
  2. There’s A LOT of administrative work. I can spend the entire day processing paperwork, paying bills and invoicing. Set aside time each week to tackle these tasks or they’ll pile up.
  3. Make sure you understand the distribution system of the business you’re getting into. The time to start learning about how your products are distributed is in the infancy of your business.
  4. Learn all you can about the Cost of Goods and Services (COGS), as this will dictate how your company becomes profitable. This is critical to you on your path to success.
  5. Surround yourself with a team of advisors early in your company’s development. This team will be invaluable in teaching you how to function in a new industry — the knowledge your advisors can share with you is more than you can ever learn in a book or course.

Chris Englert ('Head Motivator' for Eat Walk Learn)

Chris Englert ('Head Motivator' for Eat Walk Learn)
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Chris Englert, is the Head Motivator for Eat Walk Learn. Englert is the author and publisher behind some of Denver's top urban hiking and parks books. She has also the founder behind two blogs, leads walking tours and speaks at international nature and outdoor exploration functions. 

What was the catalyst for transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “a-ha” moment with us?

I knew my career in higher education publishing was coming to an end. It had been a good 20-year run but the industry was changing, and I sensed downsizing. Being an avid traveler throughout my life, I had started a travel blog a few years ago for my family and friends to read along. With my departure from corporate life looming, I was literally sitting on the couch in my living room looking at a trail map in Denver, where I had only recently moved. I asked the questions, “I wonder where these trails go?” and then the immediate question after (and a-ha moment) was, “Who else would want to know?” These two questions immediately got me digging into the internet to disover to two things: no local info about Denver trails, and several organizations who were interested in this information. I knew that I could provide these groups with what we both were looking for. 

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Listen to your gut. When I first flirted with the idea that I could make money by walking and hiking, people simply didn’t think it was possible. But I kept digging.
  2. Create a business out of your three favorite things. This is how I named my company. I love to eat, I love to walk, and I love to learn. The url for EatWalkLearn.com was already taken by some guy in Canada. He wanted $100 for the domain, and I thought that was ridiculous and told him so. He was completely offended and told me to take a hike. I was stuck and I had to realize what an ass I had been. So I wrote him again, apologizing for my rudeness, and told him my story. Thankfully, he relented and sold me the domain. It was the best humble pie I ever had to eat.
  3. Do a keyword search. When I first started my blog, I had no idea what keywords were. I renamed my blog based on my three words that were relevant to me to EatWalkLearn.com, but still hadn’t done any keyword search. It wasn’t until three years later that I hired someone to do some SEO analysis for me that I realized that a good part of my traffic was people looking for hiking in Denver. I spun off a second blog, DenverByFoot.com, which has niched into the heart of Denver. If I had looked at my SEO earlier, I could have saved myself a lot of heartache and wasted content.
  4. Get a media release. I have thousands of pictures filled with people that I can use at any time because I ask them to sign a media release whenever they walk with me. I do remain sensitive to them though, and I would never use a person’s image for paid advertising unless I had personally asked them directly. I want folks to trust that I’d never abuse the privilege of getting their permission.
  5. Pet your dog. Sometimes I’ll get so wrapped up in producing content, I’ll forget to do my own self-care. Luckily, my dog knows when it’s 3:00 and time to take me for a walk. These are the best times of the day.

Jake Kalick, Founder of Made In

Jake Kalick, Founder of Made In
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

Jake Kalick grew up within a family business focused on hospitality design and supply company. Eventually, Jake went to attend the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. After graduation, he went on secure a job at Avero, a restaurant analytics and consulting firm, where he built relationships with restaurant and hotel group leaders such as Stephen Starr, Lettuce Entertain You Groupm, and Kimpton Hotels. Afterwards, Jake began managing (and still manages) his family's business. One day, Jake received an unexpected call from his longtime friend Chip Malt to be the business mind behind his new cookware endeavor, Made In. Jake accepted, aiming to use his culinary engineering, design and hospitality experience to help the company meet sucess.

What was the catalyst for transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “a-ha” moment with us?

My childhood was entirely rooted in the kitchen. My grandfather started a kitchen design and supply company in 1929. Growing up in Boston, my dad ran the business and he would take me into the office regularly. On school vacations, I would work in the warehouse. We spent my childhood eating out at all of the restaurants he worked with and all of my parents’ closest friends were restaurateurs. I’d say I learned the business-side of the cookware world from him. My love of food and cooking, however, came from my mom. One of the perks of the family business was having a very cool kitchen at home — we had things like a pizza oven and an antique soda fountain in our kitchen. My first restaurant job was at 14 and since then I’ve never not worked in the restaurant/hospitality business. It’s all I’ve ever known.

After college I moved to New York and worked for a firm that consulted for restaurants and hotels. I remember being 22 and following chefs, restaurants and hotels like a lot of other people would follow professional athletes or sports team. I couldn’t learn enough about them. I studied every high-profile restaurant opening around the country, and knew the teams behind them. I realized it was not only what I nerded out on, but it was also a huge competitive advantage. We took so much of that passion, and relationships, in developing Made In.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. From a fundraising perspective, get some practice pitches under your belt before you get in front of the ones that matter. We approached some of the biggest and best consumer venture funds and influential angel investors when we didn’t even have a name or brand and a pretty half-baked pitch deck. It probably would have been useful to practice our pitch on some investors we wouldn’t have been as upset to lose. Just to get the experience and refinement.
  2. You can’t say yes to everything. As a new brand/business you feel like you have to take every phone call and pursue every partnership that gets presented to you. That said, a lot of these can be a giant distraction that deplete your sources and muddle what's important to your brand. Go with your gut. If you feel like an opportunity doesn’t make sense at the moment, respectfully punt the opportunity.
  3. Hire six months ahead of where you’re actually at. Especially if you’re scaling rapidly, if you wait until it’s crystal clear you need to hire for a role you’ll probably be too late and will feel some pain. It takes a couple months to find the right person and get them in place so if you wait for that part of the business to “break” before hiring for it, it will be a tough couple months and you probably could have prevented the “break” to begin with. We waited until our production totally got out of hand and we sold out of product over holiday before we started interviewing for a head of supply chain. If we had gotten out in front of that, we could have avoided that situation altogether.
  4. If someone helps you, give them free stuff. This is a no-brainer but something I’ve seen other people starting brands not do it. People love free stuff. As you are getting your business started a lot of people will jump on a call with you or volunteer a valuable introduction. It’s very easy to send them some free stuff, in our case a pan or knife, as a thank you. It goes a long way and definitely keeps the door open if you need to go back and ask for something again, they feel appreciated and like they owe you one. The worst thing you can do is ask someone for their time/expertise and they walk away saying “why did I waste my time on this.” Make a connection with the person and make sure they know it was worthwhile for you.
  5. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) is the new retail. This is a pretty particular to the world play in — digitally native brands — but I think there’s some truth to it and we would have avoided a lot of downfalls if we had known it. The direct-to-consumer story of “half the price of classic retail” doesn’t hold as much weight anymore now that brands are piling into these categories. While we were the first digital DTC cookware brand, I think we overvalued the DTC-price story and led too often with it. What we’ve learned is most important in our messaging is how high quality and chef-endorsed our products are. In the DTC world quality and authenticity is still paramount to “retail quality, half the price.”

Justin Weissberg (Co-founder of Kast)

Justin Weissberg (Co-founder of Kast)
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Justin Weissberg the co-founder and president of Kast, the online hangout platform for friends that want to play together, watch together and be together in the digital space. Justin competed at the highest pro level on video game titles like Call of Duty 4 and Gears of War, before creating Kast. Between 2011-2013, Justin got involved in the esports gambling scene during the global launch of Valve’s Dota 2. His time as a professional gamer has given him first-hand experience with gaming communities, streamers and the handful of leading third-party applications that currently ties the gaming scene together. Kast currently has a team of 21 people with offices in both San Diego, California, and Helsinki, Finland.

What was the catalyst for transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “a-ha” moment with us?

Growing up in Southern California, I took part in athletics and sports at my school. I loved being physically active, but what I loved even more was video games because they provided me with an escape from reality. During that time, I found that playing on my PC and Xbox was the only place where bullies in middle school and high school would be nice to me because I could help them win games.

It was also during high school that I started getting into popular titles such as World of Warcraft and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 4, and not only was I good at them, but it helped me make friends and connect with like-minded people across the world. It’s here where I made friends that I still have today, 15 years later.

I was very lucky to be surrounded by a lot of successful people in my life, including mentors that turned their passions into very successful businesses and either exited via private transaction or IPOs. Watching them start a new business due to the lack of innovation and drive within the companies that they previously worked for, sparked the inspiration for me to do the same thing: Create a business or concept that solved an important problem.

During my time on the early esports scene, I saw that there was a world of people who wanted to be connected with gaming competitively, but they were very limited by the tools available at the time, which included Skype, Ventrilo and TeamSpeak. This then got me thinking about how vital it was, specifically for esports teams, to not only be able to hear what their friends were saying, but to see game play in real-time. My “a-ha” moment for this concept came during an esports tournament setting where my money and reputation was predominantly online.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. How to fundraise. Fundraising is a vital cog in the wheel of most startups. But it is an art and a skill, and I wish that I had a mentor that had taught me early on and helped me save time instead of going through trial and error. 
  2. How to build the right team for your business. Having a strong team of passionate individuals is something that I have mentioned frequently throughout, but I have to stress that without the right team behind you, nothing is going to happen. Sometimes when things are moving fast within the business, it is your job as the owner to bring in people that can get the work done. Figure out who you can train to fill a specific role and give them what they need to get going.
  3. Working with and managing people. We as humans are wired to be hands-on. Empowering your team is the most important thing that you can do as a leader and that is something that most people fail at daily. Kast Co-founder and CEO, Mark Ollila, is a great partner and mentor. He pushes everyone to do the best work that they can and empowers them to get jobs done. He taught me that if leaders have to micromanage, then the business is not executing at its full potential. He has helped build Kast in such a way that we can operate by empowering people, not by micromanaging.
  4. Time management. Time management is a skill that most people have yet to master. As an entrepreneur and business owner, it is my job to choose what we invest our time into and doing what we think we can get done best.

K.J. Kruk (Author and Illustrator)

K.J. Kruk (Author and Illustrator)
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K.J. Kruk is the author and illustrator of the acclaimed middle-grade novel Leo Gray and the Lunar Eclipse. Kruk is also the creator of The Online Lunar Academy, a free educational resource for teachers, parents and librarians to pair with book, and is the principal grantor of The Super Stellar Dream Scholarship, an international scholarship which offers young minds pursuing innovative, altruistic goals in the Arts and STEM the opportunity to bring their dreams to fruition. 

What was the catalyst for transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “a-ha” moment with us?

I grew up the eldest of three in suburban Minnesota. I was, rather embarrassingly, known as something of a child prodigy growing up. I had skills in drawing and painting and writing that baffled not only my peers but adults, so, at the age of 15, I began attending a boarding school for the arts. It was at boarding school that I was finally able to start thinking about my creative talents more seriously.

When I got the idea for the book, I was running a successful real estate and hospitality business in Hawaii when the story idea fell into my head. I immediately started writing it out, but I didn’t think of my writing as anything more than a simple pastime or, more honestly, an attempt to get back in-touch with my artistic self.

Given I hadn’t gone to school to study grammar or poetry in preparation of becoming an author, the idea to publish didn’t exist in my mind. It wasn't until I finished the last chapter of my novel that I realized I had a full-length children's book! Then, when I thought back to who I was as a child, I knew my younger self would have thrown herself into a fit of tears if she ever found out she grew up to be a landlord! Even more so, when I thought about how the story would have stirred a passion in her for reading, I started to feel I owed it to all the other book-loving kids out there to get my book published. So I gave up my realty business and started bombarding literary agents the next day. 

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Recognize talent. Wherever you are in your business venture, you’re there because you have some sort of talent. Whether it’s a sense of knowing what people want, product innovation or a natural boldness live out your dreams, you’re where you are today because you’ve got talent. The sooner you can recognize that, the sooner the world will come knocking at your door begging for a piece of it!
  2. Own your time. Be it meetings, interviews, last-second undertakings or even a product launch date, you have to be realistic with what you can take on. That may seem simple enough, but you need to get comfortable with saying, “no,” or “let me think about it”, or “try me again later” to be able to commit to the projects of true importance to you.
  3. Embrace your inner commander. That’s not to be confused with “embrace your inner dictator.” Point is, you have to analyze each business decision you make as if it were your last move on an imaginary, but also very real, battlefield. Running a business isn’t a free-for-all; it is a strategic game of war. No business coach or fancy sales book can tell you what’s the best next move for your company. You, alone, have to research your territory, know what you’re fighting for, and always be 10 steps ahead of your competitors if you’re hoping to win your battle.
  4. Think like a scientist. Act like an artist. The world of marketing and consumer relations is ever-changing. No matter what you’re selling or trying to promote, don’t fall into the deadly trap of doing what everyone else is, or get stuck running like a hamster within a complacent routine. Question everything your business is and isn’t doing, daily. Question what your competitors are doing and then offer something different. You don’t have to provide constant inspiration, but you should, at least, aim to inspire and provoke curiosity in everything you put out.
  5. Shine bright. Whatever product or service or art you’re offering, remember you are unique and there is no one else in the world exactly like you. Think about what qualities others see in you and let those traits put a spotlight on your company. Your business should be an extension of you, and not just something you do for a living. If you want your business to stand out above the rest, you have to put in that extra pinch of personality and offer something that’s genuinely meaningful (and hopefully innovative) to your market.

Katie Blomquist, Founder and Executive Director of Going Places

Katie Blomquist, Founder and Executive Director of Going Places
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Katie Blomquist grew up in Los Angeles, California, studied sociology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and then began a five-year career in marketing in Chicago before realizing she felt a desire to find a career aimed at making a difference in people’s lives. In 2016, Katie began a GoFundMe raising over $80,000 and bought all 650 students in her school a new bike, lock and helmet. Due to the tremendous success of the fundraising campaign, Katie made the difficult decision to leave teaching and work on a larger scale by founding Going Places, through which she now makes a more direct imapct on the lives of children. Katie is also behind Katie Blomquist, LLC, through which she is a professional speaker and seminar and intensive workshops.

What was the catalyst for transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “a-ha” moment with us?

I was inspired to start a GoFundMe campaign in the spring of 2016 when a little boy from my first grade class and I were out for his birthday and he asked for a new bike. It shocked me he didn’t have one. Being a teacher, I could not afford to buy him one, but it got me thinking about how many other kids in my class and school didn’t have a bike either. It was something that I couldn’t get off my mind and it really bothered my knowing so many kids were growing up without the memory of joy that owning a bike brings.

As a society, most of us have these memories of specific childhood joys like riding a bike that I feel we take for granted and just assume everyone shares. Knowing that 95 percent of the kids who attended my school lived below the poverty line, I didn’t want to leave anyone out so I decided to get all 650 students in my school a brand new, custom bike. That’s when I started a GoFundMe campaign. Little did I know how fast this would take off. It went viral, and major, national news stations wrote stories on it. 

It was during a phone interview I was asked, “So what’s next?” to which I replied, “What do you mean? I did it. It’s done…” and they said, “Oh no, you can’t be done! You have something very rare — a national following! If you were able to raise over $80,000 in three months with no tax ID, imagine what you could do with a tax id!” That was it. I knew right then I could do so much more. So I founded Going Places so that I could further this work on a much larger level, spreading joy to hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged kids.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Even with a nonprofit, there are going to be “haters” when you are successful. I was shocked that as I was on the news more and Going Places was doing well and getting attention, how many friends I lost. This nonprofit is not about me — it's about helping kids, and without attention on the nonprofit, it makes it really hard to raise money. I just learned to focus on the people in my life who support me, the company and all our efforts.
  2. Even though this is a nonprofit, it’s still a business and people might still lose their temper and scream at you in meetings just like in the corporate world. Naively, I thought I had some magical barrier around me since I’m not benefiting from the nonprofit and therefore, people would “be nicer.” Nope! “Hot heads” don’t care where the money is going and don’t change the way they behave, speak, or communicate.
  3. It was easier to raise money before I had a 501(c)3. The public viewed my initial GoFundMe campaign as a “teacher doing a nice thing” and now it’s viewed as “a business” which is frustrating because the only difference now is your donations are tax-deductible and I’m able to put full-time effort into the mission.
  4. Don’t get your hopes up every time something exciting might happen. Lots and lots of people have great intentions but the follow-through isn’t always there. I’ve had countless meetings where I left feeling like something massive was about to happen as a result of the meeting but sometimes it just doesn’t. That’s not to say this is the case every time. Simply, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, otherwise, you’ll find yourself disappointed a lot.
  5. Make sure you raise the money you need to raise and don’t depend on a promised donation. I made this mistake once and we almost missed the required payment for the bikes. This means we wouldn’t have been able to give the bikes promised, since the donation was extremely late. Looking back, I should have pretended like the donation wasn’t happening, raised what we needed, and then when the donation came in, treated it as a bonus.

Dr. Glen Miller (Founder and CTO of Vera Roasting Company)

Dr. Glen Miller (Founder and CTO of Vera Roasting Company)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

Dr. Glen Miller is the Founder, CTO and chair of Vera Roasting Company, makers of the first and only coffee infused with resveratrol, the beneficial antioxidant found naturally in red wine. He is also a professor of organic chemistry and chair of the chemistry department at the University of New Hampshire. At Vera Roasting Company, he developed a process to infuse resveratrol and other nutraceuticals into roasted coffee beans. The process and composition of matter consisting of coffee, resveratrol and other nutraceuticals was awarded a US Patent in 2017.

What was the catalyst for transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “a-ha” moment with us?

I’m an organic chemist and have been for many years. Over this time, I’ve studied many interesting organic compounds, including all-natural compounds that exhibit interesting physical and chemical properties. For years, I was keenly aware of resveratrol, the beneficial antioxidant found in red wine that gives red wine it’s heart healthy reputation. As an organic chemist, I understood at the molecular level how resveratrol was capable of quenching nasty free radicals that can be associated with the early onset of disease. It is indeed a remarkable antioxidant. I also understood that our bodies do not produce resveratrol. So, the only way we can benefit from resveratrol is to make it a regular, daily part of our diet. Few foods contain resveratrol at a significant concentration, red wine being the exception. Like most Americans, I do not drink red wine on a daily basis, so I was not deriving the benefits of resveratrol. Resveratrol supplements in pill form are largely ineffective due to a lack of solubility.

These facts were lingering in the back of my mind when I was showering one morning until it hit me! Coffee could be the perfect vehicle for resveratrol. A little research bolstered the idea. Eighty-two percent of all US adults drink coffee and the average coffee drinker consumes 3.1 cups per day. Some “kitchen research” revealed to me that I could, in fact, take a page out of red wine’s playbook to infuse resveratrol into coffee beans and make resveratrol soluble (and therefore bioavailable) in coffee. That part is proprietary knowledge, but it ultimately led to Vera Roasting Company, a US Patent and our signature coffee infused with resveratrol.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Traditional advertising is all but dead. This would have saved us time and money!
  2. Packaging is every bit as important as the quality of a product. 
  3. Big retail is expensive. Between distributors, listing fees, buy-backs and the like, retail can be prohibitively expensive for a start-up.
  4. Know your customers. Learning as much about your customers, like why they buy and why they don’t, is critical.
  5. Don’t be afraid to re-brand if needed. Most start-ups begin with a product, not a brand. As one adds more products, customers can get confused. The brand needs to hold it all together. If it doesn’t, re-brand to get it right.

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