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Goodbyes & Hellos: Changes Coming Soon to the Fortitude Fund

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W e are so proud of the entrepreneurial DNA that is rich in our group of big and bold members. A key piece in creating this DNA is our very own Steve Franks. Many have described Steve as the “entrepreneurship guy/guru” in Northeast Indiana.

Today’s update is bittersweet for all of us at the Fortitude Fund as Steve will be stepping down as Program Director effective November 1st in an effort to expand his impact throughout Northeast Indiana’s entrepreneurial world. We are, however, overjoyed to announce Andie Hines-Lagemann as our new Regional Director of Entrepreneurship!

Andie, founder and Executive Director of Own Your Success,  is an entrepreneur through and through. After starting her marketing and corporate events firm in early 2014, she formed Own Your Success as a way to bring women entrepreneurs together to support one another and succeed together. She is extremely excited about this new development in her career, but don’t take our word for it. Hear from Andie herself!

Hello, Fortitude Fund community!

 

I’m Andie Hines-Lagemann, and I am an entrepreneur who is passionate about helping my fellow entrepreneurs succeed together. I am thrilled to be joining the Fortitude team as Regional Director of Entrepreneurship!

Steve Franks has had an indescribable impact on my own entrepreneurial journey and has done an absolutely amazing job making this community what it is today. I am honored to continue the work that Steve was doing by continuing to grow the Fortitude Fund community among entrepreneurs in our 11 county region.

With my event planning experience, I’m hoping to achieve this goal through thoughtful, relevant events, soft skills training and coaching, and connecting entrepreneurs with the resources and mentors that they need in order to succeed.

In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about the community, find a mentor, or just want to grab a quick cup of coffee, feel free to shoot me an email at andie@fortitudefund.com!

True change comes from asking tough questions.

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I n August of 2018, I sat outside the office of John Kruse, a Worldwide Auctioneers principal and the President of the Reppert School of Auctioneering. A week prior, the meeting had seemed like such a good idea. But as I heard the door creak open, and saw him appear from within to wave me into the memorabilia-filled office, the only thought running through my head was, “Really, Robert? You’re really going through with this?”

I had never met John before. To me, he was simply The Only Person In Auburn, Indiana Not Drinking Crossroads Kombucha. At least that was the nickname I’d given him after sources confirmed he still preferred the big national brand to the up-and-coming local one started by myself. And on that warm August morning, in my outlandish pursuit of difficult questions, I had driven up to Auburn to find out why.

Truth be told, I could have washed my hands of the matter entirely. I had left Crossroads Kombucha 2 1/2 months earlier, and whether or not he was a customer was out of my control and of no importance at that juncture. But there was still that nagging voice in the back of my head, whispering, “But perhaps you could learn a thing or two from the one naysayer; find a crack in the foundation no one else had ever mentioned.”

But there was still that nagging voice in the back of my head, whispering, "But perhaps you could learn a thing or two from the one naysayer; find a crack in the foundation no one else had ever mentioned."

It was the first of several difficult questions I’d pursue over the next few months. After leaving the first business I’d founded, and in the preparation/planning stage of my next, one of the most important tasks at hand was coming to grips with what went wrong, how I could grow, what I could change moving forward, and how to apply all I’d learn to become a better entrepreneur, leader, and person in general.

What followed was a rather enlightening Fall and Winter of 2018. I gave up my addiction to fiction novels in exchange for a collection of nonfiction books recommended by local, more experienced entrepreneurs on topics such as ego (Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holliday), hardships (The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holliday), failure (Failing Forward, John Maxwell), scaling back and saying no (Essentialism, Greg McKeown), and control (various Roman Stoic authors, such as Marcus Aurelius and Seneca). Thus began an uncompromising study of myself not as I wanted to be, but as I was- a flawed man who is prideful at times, lacking in strong leadership skills, with a penchant for taking on too many projects and not asking for help for fear of letting others down.

Ouch!

While it’s true that truth hurts, it’s also true that physical exercise is excruciating – especially in the early stages – because the muscles affected are literally torn and replaced with stronger, tougher ones. In the same sense, when bad habits exist within us, we have a choice to ignore the weaknesses and try to work around them, or find them, exercise them, destroy their hold on us, and replace each weakness with toughened, stronger traits that encourage growth rather than hinder it.

True change comes from asking tough questions. The first is always the hardest.

After a pleasant half hour of small talk in that Auburn, Indiana office, the dreaded moment came at last. I held my breath as Mr. Kruse asked, “So what brings you in today? How can I help?”

I laughed a nervous laugh, told myself to spit it out. My first difficult question, the one I was so afraid to ask for fear of exposing a weakness in the creation I still held dear. “So I was wondering….you were the only person who never jumped on the Crossroads bandwagon up here in Auburn….and I was wondering why. What could I have done differently to earn your business?”

The first muscle tore, soon to be replaced by stronger, denser fiber. Even still, I winced as the words came out.

He laughed and leaned forward just an inch or so, his smile hinting that big questions sometimes lead to very small answers. “Your kombucha was great. I’m just a creature of habit, and switching brands was a hard habit to break.”

I laughed and eased up quite a bit. That wasn’t so bad, after all.

Article written by Robert Johnson, Fortitude Founder and Owner of Bukál Beverage Co.

Announcing Coffee Circuit 11!

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Once a month, Fortitude Fund Program Manager Steve Franks will be making a complete “coffee circuit” throughout all 11 counties of Northeast Indiana region.  He’ll be at a local coffee shop to talk with…

  • Existing Fortitude Fund Community members from that county who want to connect with their peers.
  • Early stage entrepreneurs who want to learn about the Fortitude Fund, its Community, and the potential for a $1,000 business grant.
  • Young entrepreneurs as young as high school age who want to explore starting an entrepreneurial project, a side gig or maybe even a part-time business.
  • Potential entrepreneurs curious about starting their dream business.
  • Business leaders from the county who want to give back to their community’s emerging entrepreneurs.

No appointments or RSVPs necessary – just come and hang out.  You don’t have to love coffee, but you do have to love entrepreneurship!

Here’s March’s schedule.

Tuesday, March 19 12:30 – 2:00 DeKalb Auburn Jeremiah’s
Wednesday, March 20 9:00 – 11:00 Adams Decatur The Java Bean
Thursday, March 21  9:00 – 11:00
LaGrange LaGrange Huckleberries
Thursday, March 21
11:30 – 1:00
Steuben Angola Five Lakes Coffee

Sustainable Thinkers: Tommy Cutter’s Entrepreneur Story

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B eing sustainable can seem like a daunting task. The truth is, it doesn’t have to be as complicated as some make it out to be. Taking small steps like being purposeful about your buying decisions go a long way. Sustainable Thinkers was created to take the guesswork out of those decisions by offering practical sustainable alternatives to everyday products.

Sustainable Thinkers was created to take the guesswork out of those decisions by offering practical sustainable alternatives to everyday products.

As a startup, we knew those initial decisions on how and where to spend money would be crucial. We spent months planning and researching which products would offer the most value and practicality for those interested in living more sustainably. The Fortitude Fund was a huge help in getting going prior to launch. We were able to launch our first ad campaigns on Instagram, Google, and Facebook, which has been essential for generating sales and exposure.

In addition to figuring out how to spend money, we’ve spent time figuring out how to not spend money. We’ve had friends take time out of their busy schedules to complete surveys, test website user experience, offer advice, do interviews and even produce a brand video. We can’t understate how important this has been to both validate our idea and bring life and enthusiasm to this endeavor.

In just a few short months, we’ve learned that like many other niche businesses, customers can be very passionate about the meaning behind the products. We hope this passion spreads and makes sustainable products more commonplace. If you’re interested in taking the first step towards sustainably, visit sustainablethinkers.com

Article written by Tommy Cutter, Founder of Sustainable Thinkers

Applying an Engineering Mind to Creating a Business and the Importance of Having a Founding Team

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E  ngineers are smart, hard-working, and often think outside the box. However, when it comes to getting out of the mousetrap and starting their own business, engineers often focus on designing a great product with bells and whistles that make it innovative. Many of them, like myself, start out alone. When you’re focused on the product, or when you’re doing everything yourself, the process gets difficult. In this post I will talk about how to approach business as a designer/engineer, what kind of people need to be involved, and what to focus on when developing your product.

In starting a business, the first step is reaching out. Whether you have an idea, a skill, or even just a desire to be your own boss, chances are you don’t have the necessary guidance.

In starting a business, the first step is reaching out. Whether you have an idea, a skill, or even just a desire to be your own boss, chances are you don’t have the necessary guidance. For engineers and designers, the guidance is extremely necessary. Often, we get caught up in trying to make the perfect product that we forget the importance of how it makes money! To get on track, you need the right resources to pave the road ahead. These can be books, articles, people, etc. that have the experience you need. Many people try to be nice, others can be jerks, so find someone in between that can give compliments on your achievements and progress yet still call you out on your BS. Check out your local chamber of commerce, economic development committee, and work connections. Many larger cities have a “Launch” or “Start” company that helps entrepreneurs get started. Also, a great book for building a business that sells product is Disciplined Entrepreneurship by Bill Aulet. It lays out the process step by step to get you to seed investments.

After you’ve made connections, the first thing is to take your idea, skill, etc. and list out all the potential applications. Then pick out one of those that will be the easiest to launch into; this is your “Beachhead” Market. This market normally costs less to enter, doesn’t have strong competition, and has customers that can pay for your product or service. A large amount of research on the market is required at this stage; figure out what makes the customer tick and apply it to the product or service. Keep this info handy, you’ll need it later.

Once you’ve managed that, it will be time to map out your business.  This is the fun part!  You get to draw diagrams, mess with spreadsheets, and contemplate “what if” scenarios.  The design part of building the business requires critical thinking, which your business connections can help you think through.  They’ll ask things like, “How do you plan to sell product?”, “What are critical points in making your product?”, “How fast can you provide your service?”, or even, “What are the important values and goals of your business?”.  From my experience, sketching out a diagram of the company makes it clearer to understand sales processes, cash flow, even taxes (gasp!).  I can’t answer every question here, but I’ll wrap up with this: be creative, be confident, do your research, make connections, and shift your focus to meeting people’s needs.  All of this is required to be successful.

One person running a business is tough. One person running a large operation is near impossible. It takes a team of people with different skill sets to be successful…and to have fun doing so.

  • Technical Co-Founder

  • Marketing/Sales

  • Other Specialty

Technical Co-Founder

This person is often the one who has the skills in the technical field that you need. Often, the field is software or circuitry; such is my case. This person can also have similar skills to yours, just more focused. The ideas here is to have someone on board who is solely focused on the technical aspects of the product, which allows you to keep the focus on the building the business.

Marketing/Sales

As a technical minded person, I’ve never dealt with how to sell the product I designed.  Therefore, I need someone on my team whose priority is to focus on selling the product and using different marketing avenues to get our name out there.  When you’re ready to launch, or even if you need someone who knows business, look for someone with marketing or sales experience.  You also need someone who has the personal drive to succeed.  A person with no experience or drive to be successful will only hold you back and cause your business to crumble.

Other Specialty

Sometimes you need more than just someone with skills in the technical fields and marketing/sales. It often helps to have someone with a background in finances, such as a CPA. In manufacturing a product, you’ll need someone to manage labor. Although these additions often come later in the process, it is good to start making these connections early on. The better relationship with those you work with, the better the flow of the business.

In designing a product, engineers and designers often come up with ideas of things that would be useful or interesting. I tend to get carried away in what could be added to an original product to make it better or more suitable to the end user. This can be good, but it leads focus away from the main requirements that the product needs to fulfill.

First, take information from researching the market to determine what your product/service needs to do. Sometimes the need is just innovation on an existing product/service to increase its effectiveness. Other times there is a need that a current product/service doesn’t meet. The overall objective is to get something to market; if you spend too much time on bells and whistles, you suspend your time to revenue! So, the next step is to find what the minimum requirement is to meet the needs of the customer.

Your goal is to get to market as soon as possible. If you develop a product, look at developing the minimum viable product (mvp). If you’re offering a service, keep focused on doing one or two things well to start.

The next major steps are showing the idea to potential customers; a physical thing to show is better (prototype, brochure, service example). Be sure to mention the main capabilities and keep the focus on the functions that meet the customer needs. You don’t want to get distracted on other things that the potential customer may or may not need. Also, ask for advice. Your customers will be your future salespeople (consumers talk about products all the time). Developing a good relationship with a potential customer now will lead to an increased chance of selling to him/her later.

The last step before taking the big step toward fundraising or launching your service is to gain market traction. Show the final proposed design to several people. See if any of them are willing to buy a product like yours! If so, you know you’ve got something good. If not, you may need to make changes to your product, your sales strategy, and sometimes your entire launch market.

In using your engineering/designer mind to build a business, it’s important not to get caught up in the things that you think are important. Focus on your customer; they are the ones that will make your business successful. Although you may have the skills necessary to do everything on your own, it wouldn’t be wise to do so. I’ve accomplished a lot on my own, but now I’m at the point where I literally can’t; I need to grow the business internally to get things going. Lastly, when starting out, keep things simple. Focus on the minimum requirements for customer satisfaction. It will save you time and money that you can put toward scaling up and planning for the future. Always remember that your job is to grow the business, but more importantly to have fun doing so!

Article written by Kyle Craig, Fortitude Founder and Founder of Apollo Dynamics

Turning a long-time passion into a small business: My experience, my fears, my wins, and lessons learned along the way.

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I started Lunar Infusions one year ago. This first year has been somewhat like riding a rollercoaster, an exhilarating journey of high and low points. The lows have come in the form of obstacles between me and my goals, the highs are the breakthroughs in getting to the next step.

Let me preface by saying I did not go to business school, did not grow up in an entrepreneur family, and I basically had no idea what I was doing when I started Lunar Infusions. I did, however, have over four years of experience brewing kombucha

Let me preface by saying I did not go to business school, did not grow up in an entrepreneur family, and I basically had no idea what I was doing when I started Lunar Infusions. I did, however, have over four years of experience brewing kombucha (a healthy, carbonated probiotic tea beverage). I brewed my first batch in 2013 while I was living in Arcata, CA. It was then that I became obsessed with fermentation. Changing something ordinary into a magical superfood was thrilling, and it was clear I had a knack for it.

It didn’t take long before I began taking my elixirs everywhere I went and sharing them with whoever stopped by my place. I was so happy to share and I did not expect what would happen next; Even though you could buy all kinds of kombucha from all kinds of stores in this little hippy town, people loved my small batch kombucha and wanted to buy it from me. So, I began selling it from my little studio apartment. Soon my walls were lined with jars of kombucha. If you have seen it brewing before, you know the SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) floats around the tea liquid, looking like some kind of science experiment. I have actually always found it beautiful. I was busting at the seams, and it was getting a little challenging to keep up with the demand!

I dreamed of making this a legitimate business but I was so scared. Starting a real business seemed overwhelming and I had no idea where to start. I thought about it constantly though. Every time I saw a new brand of kombucha pop up on the store shelves, I would panic a little, thinking that my window of opportunity to start would not last forever.

Then, my life took a turn when I was visiting family here in Indiana 2.5 years ago. I began feeling like I should be closer to family, and out of nowhere, I met the man of my dreams. I seriously was not expecting that! Okay Universe, I thought, I hear you! So, I found myself moving back to Indiana in January 2017. I got a couple of jobs and started brewing my kombucha. I loathed the jobs but the kombucha brought me so much joy. Again, I started sharing it, hoping people would love it here too. They did, and I started selling, again from my tiny apartment. It took me almost a year to feel confident making it an official business. Thankfully I also had the support of my fiancé. It truly helps to have people close to you who believe in you! I was excited and nervous, but I knew one thing was for sure, I did not want to work for someone else much longer.

It took me almost a year to feel confident making it an official business. Thankfully I also had the support of my fiancé. It truly helps to have people close to you who believe in you!

With no formal business training or experience and only a few thousand dollars and some credit cards, I knew that I wasn’t going to start big. My theory was to start slow and grow organically. I googled how to start a business and did the bare minimum of registering a name and filing with the state. Now I needed a place to sell it. How scary! Was I just supposed to walk in and ask a business owner to carry it? The fear of rejection was always on my mind. But one day during a class at Fusion Yoga, I felt inspired and asked the owner, Celeste Sexton, if I could do a tasting at her studio. To my surprise, she not only agreed but was super excited to maybe even put my kombucha in the studio! I was ecstatic. That one step forward gave me so much confidence. I decided to go for it.

Once the ball started rolling, my creative mind went to all of the other possibilities with my business.

I did, however, need to get it cleared with the health department which meant: It had to be brewed at a commercial facility, I had to get the proper permits, insurance, and inspections before I could sell. I might as well have been asked to climb Mount Everest because it all seemed so foreign and out of my realm of experience. But I was determined. So, thanks to google, I found a local shared commercial kitchen, The Cookspring Kitchen at The Summit. Finding them was like finding a hidden treasure. They have a great program for budding culinary entrepreneurs, and their kitchen manager, Troy Tiernon, was and has always been a great resource for helping navigate those waters. Then I called the health department, asked them what I needed to do, and then I did it, one step at a time. Getting my Indiana wholesale distributor license was surreal! I was a legitimate business.

One of his nuggets of wisdom was, to get out there, and get it into as many people's mouths as possible. I figured the Fort Wayne Farmers Market would be a great place to start.

Soon after this, I asked my uncle, Scott Howard, a marketing guy, what he thought about in terms of marketing my product. One of his nuggets of wisdom was, to get out there, and get it into as many people’s mouths as possible. I figured the Fort Wayne Farmers Market would be a great place to start. Again, I was nervous about asking for fear of being rejected or unprepared. I had zero experience being a vendor for anything, and I was a brand-new business so I wasn’t sure if they would give me a chance. Almost exactly a year ago, on January 13, 2018, I worked my first farmer’s market. My product was well received and I sold out the first few weeks! I was on cloud nine.

Once the ball started rolling, my creative mind went to all of the other possibilities with my business. I knew the next step was to get my product in stores and on draft. With a lot of research, a branding makeover, a trailer outfitted with a draft system (built by my fiancé) and hard work, lunar infusions entered the retail market. The first place to give me a try was the Three Rivers Distillery. They started using my product to make mimosas and kombucha cocktail which are a very trendy thing in big cities, but not yet in Fort Wayne. I am so grateful to the president, Marla Schneider for giving me a shot and starting the trend here in Fort Wayne. I am proud to say that they still carry my kombucha, and you can get a draft glass if you want an alternative to alcohol, or if you spice things up you can get a delicious kombucha cocktail. Soon after, I approached the River Coffee House, Conjure Coffee, The Three Rivers Co-op and Deli, and The Fresh Food Hub. Needless to say, after each new retail location, I was beaming. My business was working!

I might be making this sound too easy. There have been more obstacles and setbacks throughout this journey than I can write about. But let me tell you about one of the most embarrassing and expensive learning lessons so far. Packaging. I had no idea this would be so difficult to figure out. I mean, you just put your product in a bottle and sell it, right? Ha. I will spare you the technical details of finding a suitable bottle at an affordable price and not in increments of 200,000… harder than you think! And Labels. Once I got the design figured out, I had no idea where to get them printed. The minimum order for a professional printer was in the thousands and I thought, what if I go through a few hundred and need to change something on the label? My answer was to buy an at-home label printer capable of printing quality labels on demand. Boy were those expensive! I got the cheapest professional one I could find. At $1225 I got a printer and soon found that the labels and ink for the thing were a small fortune in themselves. But at that point, there was no turning back. I figured I would use it momentarily and find a way to get the cost down later. Meanwhile, I had hundreds of bottles on store shelves when something odd started happening. With the humid summer air hitting the bottles as cooler doors opened, the labels began coming off of the bottles and then sticking to other labels on bottles next to it. It became a nightmare. Oh yeah, and the ink was rubbing off onto people’s hands. I thought my business was done for, and I was mortified. And worse, I had no idea how to fix the problem! Luckily, hundreds of failing labels later, I ended up finding a local company and an online company who could print quality, PERMANENT, and waterproof labels, and soon the problem was solved. The mistake only cost me a couple thousand dollars and a lot of stress and embarrassment. Hey, Hindsight is always 20/20.

Here are some of the key lessons I have learned so far:

1. You can over-think starting a small business.

If you have no idea what you are doing in the first place, thinking about it for years is not the best use of time. I wish I would have just put myself out there sooner so I could be ahead of where I am now.

2. Don’t let the fear of rejection stop you from asking for what you want.

Many of the places I have approached about selling my kombucha have said no. And so what?! So many have said yes! And every time I get my product into a new place I feel like a superstar. If you never ask, you will NEVER get what you want.

3. Starting a new business, or having any big goal for that matter, can seem overwhelming.

The key is focusing on one step at a time. It is the little things you do every day, that adds up over the course of a year, or over many years, that make it happen.

4. We live in a time where there are unlimited resources.

Not knowing what you are doing is not an excuse. Google it, ask people for advice, network and utilize the Fortitude Fund (If you are in Northeast Indiana)! Some other sources of information and inspirations have been entrepreneur and business podcasts, books, and audiobooks.

5. Starting a business with something you’re passionate about might become more about a business than your actual passion.

I love brewing kombucha, but a year later, I only spend a small percentage of my time actually brewing kombucha. All of the sudden, I am also a bookkeeper, production manager, sales rep, distributor, marketing manager, researcher, etc. If you are starting on a small budget, it can be hard to hire people to fill these roles. This works for me personally because I like challenge, change, and tend to get burnt out doing the same thing for too long. I picture this being the same in other industries as well. For example, if you are passionate about baking and open a bakery, you might not end up spending that much time actually baking!

Overall, this rollercoaster of entrepreneurship has been fun and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Of course, it has been scary at times too. But learning to relax through the stress and keep going has been worth it! I am so excited to see what the next year has in store. I hope sharing my experience was at least entertaining, and hopefully inspiring to someone out there with dreams of starting their own business.

Article written by Sarah Trombley Founder/Owner Lunar Infusions, LLC lunarinfusions.com

Q & A with Karly Wolfcale

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“I have fallen in love with business and entrepreneurship, so no matter what I decide to do when I am older, I am sure it will have something to do with this new passion.”

What is it like running a business while balancing school?

Running a business while balancing school can be super challenging. Trying to balance the SAT and meetings can get very overwhelming, very quickly. I have had to learn how to manage my time wisely a lot quicker than most of my classmates have. It is challenging working with people that have more normal business hours when I don’t get home until 9:00 at night, therefore my workday starts pretty late. However, the time management skills and people skills that I am learning early on in my career will serve me well for my future, which makes it extremely worthwhile.

What do your family and friends think about you running a business?

I would not have started a business and received all of these amazing opportunities, such as the Fortitude Fund, without my parents. My dad has always been there to discuss business issues I am facing and has kept me motivated throughout the process, especially when I get discouraged. My family helps keep the flame inside me alive. On another note a lot of my friends have heard a lot about my business because I will enthusiastically tell anyone who will listen to me, but many of them are truly not sure what I’m actually up to.

Does this affect future plans such as college, career, etc?

This has impacted my entire future plans! In my earlier teen years, I was convinced I was going to be a Veterinarian. Because of these opportunities, my vet school plan has gone completely out of the window. I have fallen in love with business and entrepreneurship, so no matter what I decide to do when I am older, I am sure it will have something to do with this new passion.

Why should students just "jump in" and not wait to start their own business?

Students should just “jump in” and start their own business because…why not? Why wait until tomorrow when you know you can accomplish something today! Don’t think you are required to have college or business school completed before you can start your own business. I was worried because I knew I didn’t know every aspect of business, however I found out that there is no written guide to entrepreneurship when you are passionate about something. Every single person’s experience is different, so, yes, having a degree in business would be extremely helpful but it shouldn’t stop you. Not to mention the amazing people in the community that have had my back through everything. School can’t teach you how to have a passion for an idea or motivate you to change the world, this is something you have to find in yourself. I have talked to a lot of people my age with revolutionary ideas but are too afraid to start something. There are a million reasons not to do something and if you don’t start something now, when are you going to?

“School can’t teach you how to have a passion for an idea or motivate you to change the world, this is something you have to find in yourself.”

Credits of the app creation: Benjamin Steyer, Nicholas Hawn, David Bell, and Andrew Luttenbacher

Losses are lessons every time.

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During my junior year at Indiana Tech, I received an internship from a small sports agency down in Dallas, TX called Mack Sports Group, which is now Proverbs Management. I learned a lot while I was there recruiting athletes, managing pro camps, speaking with professional coaches, etc. I was with the company for about two years, and I heard this voice in my head say, “It’s time to bring it home and make a difference.”

For every yes, there’s 30-40 no’s from an athlete. In order to win, I had to get comfortable with losing.

I had questions and doubts, even cried, because I felt unworthy for this calling or purpose God had called me to do. As I cried my senior year at Indiana Tech, I heard the voice again saying, “No need to cry or worry or doubt yourself. I chose you for this because I know you’re more than qualified and strong enough to handle what will be thrown at you.” Since then I’ve started my own agency Capture Sports Agency here in Fort Wayne. I’ve definitely had my ups and downs for sure, but what successful business person doesn’t?

I’ve attended Agent School, Pro Scout School, Sports Business School, and more to gain more knowledge and understanding of the business and the industry. I’m certified in the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball League), FIBA (Federal International Basketball Association), and the WKBL (Women’s Korean Basketball League). I’m studying for my NBA license now. The hardest part about my job as a sports agent is recruiting an athlete for months or even a year and being told he/she is going with another agent. I lose more than I win, but those losses are lessons every time.

For every yes, there’s 30-40 no’s from an athlete. In order to win, I had to get comfortable with losing. I will lose over and over before I come up with the big win, but that’s just God shaping and molding me for this business. I thank God and appreciate every single loss because it makes me appreciate the few wins along the way.

My winning season is coming around the corner, and I’m ready for it. Everyone thinks this job is so easy and that things should happen in a snap of a finger, and it’s not even close. This business is not for just anyone, otherwise, everyone would be doing it. In this business, in order to be successful, you have to get comfortable with LOSING! That definitely doesn’t stop my grind, passion, motivation, hunger, grit, perseverance, or push to keep going until I’ve fulfilled what God has called me to do.

Article written by Chauntiel Smith, Fortitude Founder and founder of Capture Sports Agency

Why conform when you can transform?

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This past January 2018, I spent three months in Denver and Birmingham working for my previous company. I lived the traveling life, filled with long days and short nights, hotel food paired with late night calls and texts with friends and loved ones where too often I dozed off after exhaustion during the call. This had been my work life for the past fifteen years, coupled with a lifetime as a touring musician traveling the world.

I spent nine hours driving home all night from Alabama on Easter Sunday in April of this year, and the following Monday, turned in my notice to leave my corporate job permanently. The next day I penned this hashtag with one extremely vivid theme: #makingadifferencein2018. Like catching lightning in a jar, I had now caught the entrepreneur fever and was ready to drink the shine! Goodbye paycheck, so long conference calls, adieu to hotel rewards “perks”, ciao to canceled and delayed flights. Hello to home, so nice to meet you finally!

“If you’re not making a difference in people’s lives, you shouldn’t be in business, it’s that simple…” ~Richard Branson

This past year, my partner and I have been refining our business plan that started as a dream several years ago. We’ve morphed from what was to what will be by combining both of our lifelong passions. We’ve sought guidance, feedback, funding and a home all while pitching our idea to many in the entrepreneur/startup community, as well as potential investors. What was a dream is slowly becoming reality, and I emphasize the verb with careful superlative caution.

I was asked to pen an article that would inspire other entrepreneurs, possibly sharing the innovation our brand brings to the events industry. Rather than self-promote our business plan, pitch deck, presentation or whatever we choose to call it this week, I am choosing to become gut-level and go against the grain by sharing how I’ve gone all in to make this dream a reality.

Although the excitement of our venture keeps me up at night, takes command of conversations in coffee shops, restaurants and networking functions, I’d rather share the pain, hurt, and road hazards, coupled with hope brought on by my own personal faith that you aren’t just beginning to make a difference in people’s lives by starting your own business. You’ve been doing it all along. Now it’s time to wake up and make a difference in your own life.

So Long Travel, Hello Entrepreneurship

In just one year, I’ve sold my house and moved into a small studio in the town we look to launch our first location. I sold almost all of my furnishings, pawned my touring drum set, liquidated what little I had in savings and retirement, and now I’m selling my car to get something more affordable. I’ve driven for Uber, taken on a handful of consulting opportunities (one that cost me dearly and still amazes me!), helped a local deli owner cater events (who has become a cool friend), and lastly, been the driving force of a new restaurant desperately looking to establish a forward-thinking culture (both on the floor and on social media). I’m constantly setting up meetings in coffee shops, where we all know refills are free and I’m not afraid to ask for the handout of the muffin or sandwich that is being tossed at the end of the day. I am that guy that has given up everything to see this dream take flight.

I’ve been blessed to travel all my life. So often, these “blessings” come with a personal price. I’ve been to every state, Mexico, Canada, Europe. Anyone that knows me past one cup of coffee or glass of wine knows I have a story or an experience from all these travels. But the experiences I received came with a personal debt. Two divorces, countless holidays on the road, and far too many relationship could-have-beens.

To go all in, I’ve chosen to give up most all personal travel this past year. Travel has become walking two or three blocks in my town to have a conversation about growth plans for the community or a business pitch. Although I’ve performed as a musician on stages all over the country and Europe, I’ve chosen to turn down every gig opportunity given to me this year. I’ve scaled back culinary and live music outings to something I can count on one hand. In short, I’ve completely scaled back the same passions I look to add to our combined venture. In an odd way of sorts, I’ve felt like I’m cheating on a loved one.

Perplexing Passion…

This journey from comfort and conformity has quickly turned into a daily sort of perplexing passion, yet what we look to gain far outweighs what has been given up. The hope of waking up every morning and living out this dream is stronger than ever after nearly a year. Like a candle, this wick runs deep. This past year, I was recognized for a grant from the Fortitude Fund, interviewed for TV, radio, social media and multiple news articles. We held multiple focus groups testing and refining our eventual brand with packed houses each night! I had a handful of speaking engagements, including two city council meetings. I was the kite flying effortlessly all year with so much attention paid to this dream. Thankfully, I had a trusted loved one holding on down below! What has been a struggle more than anything financial (although that weighs heavy daily…) are the confusing and misrepresented relationships (both personal and professional). The many emails that are never returned, the promised follow up from local groups, the friends and family that showed support when my paycheck had a few extra zeroes attached that are now near silent, and finally, the handfuls of close relationships that awkwardly have chosen to remove themselves.

Compare and contrast this vision: Little Johnny grows up playing on Grandma’s ole upright piano banging out an array of fist-pumping chromatic chords of chopsticks that instantly make dogs howl from two houses down. These mashed up melodies were never brought to light with honesty as Johnny’s elder refused to stifle the sensation of his nightly performances. After the final bow, and the clapping from the “crowd”, a distant sigh of relief from anyone around, be it two legs or four! It would be many years later when Johnny would meet a true professional with balls, and next thing you know, Johnny is now learning paradiddles, rhythm, and meter and kissed the keys goodbye. Yes, I was Little Johnny and this story makes sense for a five-year-old. Yet as hungry entrepreneurs, we’ve run into a handful of elders in the entrepreneur community that finds their transparency stops once the show is over.

Finding true, honest, gut-level, and transparent supporters is the key and should be kept to a minimum! Like any long-term relationship or marriage, there must be true honesty at all costs. Hand claps, fist bumps, toasts, and hugs are temporary feel-goods and completely lose their sincerity and value when you’re faced with challenging decisions that could lead you down the wrong path. When a potential consumer, investor, or networking partner says they like your idea, drill them with the open-ended questions. Refuse to let them get away without giving you their true honesty. I’ve made this comparison in my professional life for years: compare the marriages around you now that are satisfied versus loyal. I’ll take loyalty hands down all the time. Build your dream on loyalty!

Seek This Pain Out

Have a solid partner that you trust to be faithfully honest with you even when you’re feeling the glory of perceived support. Even if you’re on your own, I highly recommend someone who balances you out, even an equity partner. Be wary of tunnel vision and self-promotion of the masses. Ask what, why, and how from your true supporters. Challenge yourself to get more than just market research, or the allure of the latest group of potential consumers who can’t wait to buy your product or service. Like a new app on our smartphones, these relationships will replace themselves with somebody else if they are not true supporters. Don’t be afraid to challenge the entrepreneur community to expose their own pain and hurt past a weekly/monthly support group. There are many out there that do and are willing to share, but I’ve found you need to seek this pain out.

In my personal experience, those who have gone all in have scars that can help a startup guide their way through the a”maze”ing minefield. There will most definitely be personal attrition along the way, but a true sense of support will extend no matter what the circumstances may be, and the removal of some will be better going forward. Many of the close family and friends I had when I held a big corporate paycheck have completely gone silent. I was prepared for this, and my belief is anyone who has truly been successful in following their own dream will share this same story. Just be prepared for the ones you never thought would walk away. It will hurt!

Keep a daily journal of every meeting and conversation you have with those you are choosing to share your dream with at such an early stage. (I’m personally terrible with this as I’m concentrating on pitching the dream. My partner is dead-on with this and truly shines during our recap sessions.) These notable notes may be your lifeblood, and like a transfusion, could be the jumpstart on the next leg of your plan.

Have a solid partner that you trust to be faithfully honest with you even when you’re feeling the glory of perceived support

Lastly, keep your “why” firmly out front, rock solid and bulletproof! As you grow in your venture, your support groups are strategically bragging your “why” for you. Like a songwriter hearing a crowd of thousands sing his song back to him, it’s the most amazing part of the dream! Look at every aspect of your business plan, pitch deck, presentation or coffee conversation, and ask yourself, “Does this venture continue to answer the ‘why?’” This shouldn’t stop once the doors open, either. You must be financially sound, profitable, and prove that you can scale, yet my belief and experience has shown if you put people before profit, all of the above comes naturally. Your venture’s culture is the modern-day sustainability when it comes to people!

Less Certainly is More

Finally, I have surrounded myself with a “less is more” group of transparent supporters. My many years of corporate leadership gave me a sense of false confidence as if there was a hammer waiting somewhere if a vendor or client relationship went south. I now look to my business partner and a select group as a tool to keep me balanced and on track. My “why” goes back to Richard Branson’s quote, and I get up daily with the commitment that our venture will make a difference in people’s lives. That is the most transparent reason why I went all in and chose to go down this road. It was not for money, fame, or fortune. It is because my passion and drive in life has and always will be about seeing that child smile, that awkward teenage couple out on their first date that could use a lift, that weekly book club that just lost a woman to breast cancer, that only child with dreams far past the surrounding cornfields, and so many more.

This venture will make a difference not only in one person’s life but will help propel a community in a forward-thinking direction. The life of a founder is not easy. Yet we stay focused and are not afraid to keep communication open and honest with the few that honestly support our dream! They will be your first marketing team!

It only makes sense that this journey to making a difference in people’s lives started with making a difference in me first.

Why conform when you can transform?

Article written by TK Kelly, Fortitude Founder and Co-Founder Lucky Dog Books and Bistro

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#RealTalk: The Truth About Competition

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L et’s talk about the C-Word. Competition, that is! Think for a moment about your relationship with your competition. Is it one rooted in fear? If so, I challenge you to rethink your approach. With very few exceptions, most small businesses can benefit from amiable relations with other companies who are fighting for the same piece of the pie.

most small businesses can benefit from amiable relations with other companies who are fighting for the same piece of the pie.

Allow me to explain. Depending on the industry, you may find that working with someone you perceive as a credible threat might actually help you. He or she (or they, in the case of larger entities) can serve as a reality check—challenging perceptions or ways of doing things that no longer serve you. It’s easy to get stuck in our own silos and sometimes it takes an outside perspective to give us an extra incentive to innovate and grow.

That said, I think all small business owners should check in regularly with themselves (or team members) and ask questions like:

  • What is something a competitor does better than you?

  • How might you learn from their strengths or advantages?

  • What is something you do better than they do?

  • And finally, this calls for some soul-searching. Who has the bigger market share? You or them?  What can you do to either maintain your position or grow?

Once you’re honest with yourself, you can set goals in the form of solid deliverables that specifically correspond to your business.

What about if your competitor seeks you out for advice? How flattering! Welcome it with open arms! You never know when you’ll need them to return the favor. Helping someone else develop can position you as a leader in your industry (and an all-around good person) and may allow them to succeed. And our business community is stronger when everyone succeeds. Going back to the pie metaphor, there are enough slices for everyone!

So, I challenge you this week to invite your competition to coffee. Show up with no agenda other than to learn and grow. I assure you you’ll leave more enlightened than you did before.

Article written by Lauren Caggiano, Fortitude Founder and President of WriteOn!