My Digital Butler: The Alfred App

The Alfred App

(Sorry Window’s losers err, excuse me, users, this is a Mac tool only)

I was recently asked what my favorite app was for Mac OS X and after some deliberating, I decided on:

When I sit down at my computer to begin my workday, I eliminate all distractions (except for my cup of coffee), and switch my mind to ‘productivity mode’. When running a business or acting as a consultant, every minute is precious, as tight deadlines are common. Enter: The Alfred App, my conspicuous digital butler. Whenever I need to quickly crunch numbers or find a lost file, Alfred is at my beck and call. More powerful than the Mac OSX spotlight but still simple enough to eliminate a learning curve, this powerful tool saves me (and my clients) time on a daily basis. I am surprised more people don’t know about this powerful application, so I thought I would share!

Creating An Entrepreneur’s Résumé: The Resources You Need

How to Create an Awesome Resume

by Nick Waterhouse

Experience is good. And so is money. These two things are the reasons why I find myself back in America doing the one thing I hate most in this world: job hunting. I’ve had a great 5 years of working for myself, living by the beach in Los Angeles and traveling all over the place. At some point during this period of blissful self-support, I convinced myself that a return to the job sector was necessary to further my understanding of certain industries of interest. While the jury is still out on whether this is a good decision, I’m not going to lie and say the prospect of working with a great company (and potentially doubling my income) doesn’t excite me… at least a little bit. I am still running my e-commerce company and am still helping small businesses market themselves, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. But at some point, it’s necessary to take a leap – to make a sacrifice – in order to grow. That is where I find myself now: sacrificing a bit of freedom (and sleep) to invest my time and energy into working for an organization that will help me network, learn and grow.

Sounds great, right? Sure, having an awesome job will be a positive thing, but finding that job is a whole other story. Before I began the hunt, it was time to “update” my résumé. Unfortunately, my most recent résumé was about 5 years old and didn’t include the majority of my relevant work experience. It was time to hit the drawing board. I researched how to sell my experience as an entrepreneur, how to make my résumé stand out and found tools that helped make this whole process a walk in the park.

Below you will find the best articles and resources from around the web that helped me put together a great résumé.

Résumé Templates

I wouldn’t recommend using a super colorful and crazy template (unless you are a graphic designer) but showcasing your creativity and making yourself stand out amongst the crowd is never a bad thing. Just be careful when choosing as a lot of these templates are .ai files and if you are not comfortable with Adobe Illustrator, you’ll spend more time on formatting than you would like.

The 41 Best Resume Templates Ever

27 Beautiful Resume Designs You’ll Want to Steal 

279 Free Resume Templates – For those of you that want to keep it relatively simple using Microsoft Word

 

Staying Competitive in 2015

5 Ways to Spruce Up your Resume for 2015

Top 7 Resume Trends for 2015

6 Secrets of Great Resumes, Backed by Psychology 

 

Entrepreneur Specific 

A (decent) Former Entrepreneur Sample Resume

How to Write a Personal Summary  

7 Examples of Entrepreneur’s Resumes

 

Writing a Personal Bio 

Bio vs. Resume

Writing a Bio Like a Pro

Boring Resume Objective vs. Branding Statement

 

General Résumé Hacks

Get Your Resume Past the Robots 

45 Quick Changes that Help Your Resume Get Noticed

185 Powerful Verbs that will Make your Resume Awesome

5 Marketing Secrets that will Help your Resume Get Noticed

 


 

These are my favorite résumé articles out of the hundreds I read. I hope this list saved you time and energy and that you were able to gather some useful information. When researching for any project, I use Evernote to save awesome articles and websites. Evernote is an amazing tool that I highly recommend using to stay organized and share media between devices. If you have any more résumé tips or tricks, please don’t hesitate to post them in the comments below. If you want to check out my résumé, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

 

An Interview with a Freelancer: Aaron Null – Owner of Vervor Design

Vervor Design

For Part 2 of the ‘Interview with an Entrepreneur’ series, I talked to Aaron Null, Owner of Vervor Design. Vervor is a one-man graphic design operation there “to meet your design needs with personal attention”. From website design to product packaging, Aaron has continued to develop his style and workflow over the past 6 years of working as a freelance graphic designer. I have worked with Aaron on more than one occasion and was always impressed with his work ethic and ability to bring something unique to the table.

Vervor continues to thrive and take on new clients, even as the design market becomes evermore saturated by cheap foreign labor. I sat down with Aaron to discuss what life is like as a freelance artist – the challenges and benefits – as well as what it takes to create and maintain a flourishing operation.

With tips for new freelancers, awesome productivity suggestions and great insight on life in general, this interview has something for everyone.


BWB: First off, thank you for taking the time to do this. I know the freelance life can be a bit hectic and I know your time is valuable. To introduce what you do to our readers, can you give me a brief idea of what kind of design work you offer?

Aaron: Vervor does it all really – logo, layout/print work, posters, invites, all sorts of social media design.

Did you go to school for graphic design? If so, where did you go and what exactly did you study?

Nope! I went to Penn State for film, tried my hand at the film editor ladder for about four years in LA, got pretty washed out by that twisted town and ended up escaping to San Diego where a much quieter, sleepy, but ambitiously growing city awaited. I trained myself on Photoshop and Illustrator and continue to do so when I can get the time.

When did you decide to pursue the freelance route full time? Was this a conscience decision?

Well, when I decided film editing wasn’t going to work out I was kind of lost for a little while, but I knew I wanted to be creative everyday. I’ve always been someone who can draw, I collect art of all kinds, and I’m constantly sharing and trying to connect disparate feelings and colors and patterns in life. I started working with Photoshop and doing some contests on 99Designs to kind of test the waters. I started winning some contest and I got hooked on the whole process of learning to read a client – communicating with them, and it evolved from there. I had the idea of being a designer in my head for a long time – it isn’t too far from a lot of what you do in film or any art – you arrange things and create a message.

How do you go about finding clients? Do you use specific websites (e-lance, 99designs, etc..) or do you rely more on old-fashioned networking and word of mouth?

As I just mentioned 99Designs was my testing ground. I actually use Craigslist still for some stuff – I really like how random the clients can be, and I’ve “met” some amazing entrepreneurs that way. I was terribly shy with some of the basics of strong marketing and business-building when I began – I’d ignore a phone call, because I just got scared about them asking about something I had no idea about. I’ve grown in huge strides since the early days – I actually really like being on the phone now and getting to know a new client. I pride myself in attempting to bridge that communication gap and nailing their design. Once I got going, word of mouth was really important and still remains very important. You get people who have a whole different level of innate trust and “lean” on your skills when you get a referral, in general. When it’s a cold client you just never know what you’re going to get.

How do you divide your time between client acquisition and actual design work? Are you always looking for new clients even if you have a few projects on deck?

I have this routine where I do some emails and looking for jobs in the morning once I get going. I sometimes lapse on the acquisition if I’m really busy – it’s quite a luxury to be really busy, and it is like this rebel impulse to say “fuck it” for a day. That’ll quickly bite you in the butt though as I’ve found too many times when I’m all dried up a week or two later. Gotta always hustle!

Do you have other people you work with on a regular basis? If so, how did you create these working relationships and how do these relationships help your business?

Yes, I have a solid group of long term clients. I’m also currently on retainer with a company (essentially working half-time for them) which has been really nice and consistent. The best clients are often like good friendships – there’s a sort of magical instant connection and they feel the need to use you in particular for your style or for whatever reason. I’m sure I also have been much more charismatic or smart about my interactions when it comes to work I really want to pursue. This is also how I think designers develop a “style” and certain type of work they are known for. You begin to develop types of work you’re deep in experience with, and when an opportunity comes along you’re able to whip out some good nuggets and nail the first couple interactions then you’re in. It is massively important to get that sort of “good feeling” with a client. In general you still encounter that sort of suspicion people have with artists and visual arts… like it’s a swindle or not really worthwhile to throw assets at. You’re constantly convincing clients that good design is worthwhile (and worth spending money on). The clients it seems to work out best with are all-in and you’re able to just communicate and get to work. Wow, got me on a rant…

Vervor Design Work

Because you work for yourself (or whatever client you are currently working for), do you find it difficult to stay productive or do your deadlines keep you in check?

This is something that has evolved a lot with me. Initially I was excited about any work and wasn’t super busy so staying productive wasn’t too much of an issue. As I’ve grown and gotten busier, I get work that maybe I’m not as amped about or I’ll just be straight-up tired. I find letting my natural patterns of creativity breath a bit really helps. If I’m not up to really digging for a great idea I don’t push it. I work on stuff that I know I can bang out with solid design and good work that afternoon, go for a run, settle in at night, and then I relax and do some digging late night to find the nuggets of good design that takes harder work. When I get busy, I’ve learned to just buckle down and bust it out. I won’t admit that I naturally have a fantastic work ethic, so it has taken some personal growth to whip myself into shape especially as a rather idealistic, creative dreamy type I’d melt into otherwise.

Do you have set pricing for certain projects or do you determine pricing based on your client and the project at hand?

I have my standards that have grown as my portfolio and experience has grown, but the reality is that it definitely changes based on the client. I certainly never gauge people, and I take pride in doing charity work and tiny jobs for people who just want a little advert or personal piece done. Design is democratic, and I also feel it’s an integral part of the community and should never be unapproachable.

Do you work from home or do you work elsewhere to help with staying focused?

I used to work at my desk in my bedroom, and then I got completely stir crazy with that after a year or so. You don’t see anyone all day, and then when you go for a bite to eat mid afternoon you can’t form a sentence – it’s weird. I have this place Lazy Hummingbird here in Ocean Beach that is like my office away from home. I was there the day it opened, and I’ve gotten to know every person who has worked there. I bring them leftovers and stuff – it’s like my plug into the community. If I really have to focus on something intense I usually just hang at home. I really like working at home alone late at night. Its like a perfect limbo where great ideas come in… if you do it right.

With so much cheap design work coming from overseas, do you find it difficult to stay competitive? How do you deal with this?

Yeah, the low end of design has been nailed by that stuff. Lots of logo jobs and stuff that I might be bidding on are going to get totally undercut by insanely low offers form India and stuff. I rely on local business and people who value keeping business close, communication good, and an ongoing growth between us. All I can do is create my niche, work hard, and offer good prices – anyone can design if they know their stuff!

What is the most difficult aspect of working for yourself?

I haven’t built up the kind of savings or retirement reserves I probably would have if I’d gone corporate. My health care is minimal.

What is the biggest benefit of working for yourself?

I do what I want! It is that simple – there’s great freedom in being your own boss, charting your course, finding your way. I love it. My wins are my own.

What things do you do to make sure you are staying up-to-date with industry standards? Ie – how do you further your education in graphic design without formal schooling?

I have a massive list of websites that I keep up with to keep my finger on the pulse. Awesome designer collab sites like dribbble.com allow you to really interact and see how people are evolving styles and coming up with new ways to express. The Internet has just recently really “grown up” in terms of design, so its an exciting time. You can always find a tutorial for a new idea you want to explore. I have some colleagues I can get in touch with if I’m stuck on something or want to bounce something. In general it’s a very collaborative, vibrant community, and I really love that.

How long were you freelancing before it became a solid source of supportable income?

Two years? It can go from 6 months of amazing work to 4 months of dry so its all over the place. I still don’t feel like I’m out of the woods and I’ve been going for almost 6 years. I’m getting there though.

Was the company completely self-sustaining or have you ever received any investments or financial support?

I got some help from my parents for initial investments – computer, programs. They’ve been really supportive. I don’t have a ton of overhead so once it was off the ground it’s a matter of budgeting my life well.

Do you consider yourself “successful”? What stands in your memory as the moment when you realized you were able to support yourself from freelance work?

No, I wouldn’t say I’m some blazing success. I think things are building nicely! I remember getting my first pretty big branding job that included also designing the full packaging for a new company. That felt like a big boy job – it was an exciting day. I see those packages at my local market every day and it makes the work very real to me.

How would you define success and who is someone that is successful in your mind?

I think success is a very personal idea… I define success as comfortable financially, set with friends and family, and happy with the pulse and routine of life. I want to have work that is vibrant creatively, great relationships with my clients that are growing… just as I would want with all my other relationships in life.

Be honest, how many hours a week do you work?

50ish – that can definitely fluctuate. It’s been a really busy spring!

What do you do to stay ahead of your competition?

If I’m being honest I’m not looking over my shoulder all the time. I just do what I do and try to create design I’m happy with and hope to find clients who dig it too. I like to think my personal style with clients keeps them coming back for work with me.

If you had to give one piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?

Don’t kid yourself – you’re on your own, the world owes you nothing, and you have to slice out every bit of progress you’ll make. I think it was Oprah who said success equals opportunity + preparation…or maybe Ben Franklin. Either way, that’s bang on.

Is “the customer always right”? How important is customer satisfaction to your business?

To a point… I can be pretty stubborn when I hit my point too. I’ve learned this is quite the tightrope act when it comes to design. Lots of the time if the client really wants something, and you have done your best to communicate all the reason or reservations or adjustments you see fit to make the DESIGN GOOD, then you have to just let them have their way and take your fee. But I really hate doing that when it leads to a twisted product, which happens just way too often. I think it’s the responsibility of the craftsman to advise with the integrity of the craft in mind at all times and fight for it when it can be done without burning a bridge. It’s a tightrope act, but one that I enjoy navigating – it makes for a lively interchange, and I’ve learned a lot about design finding the middle ground with many great clients who are willing to have the back and forth.

Do you get a lot of repeat business?

Yep! Especially these days with social media graphics being so prevalent – lots of updates, memes, page graphics, etc.

How do you drive traffic to your website/facebook? Where does most of your traffic come from?

I’m woefully bad with the SEO…reminds me I need to work on it.

What kind of advertising do you do (paid or non-paid)?

Not much really. I’ve done some flyering around town. It is another thing I need to build on.

How does social media benefit your business and how do you plan on continuing to leverage these avenues?

I used to use social media more, but since Facebook changed how people see pages I’ve fallen off a good bit. I personally love how wide open social media is, and I have a strong personal presence there both with design, personally, and with the electronic music weekly I run, so all that combined has led to quite a bit of business which I really like. It means it is organic.

Vervor Packaging Work

I would assume having a portfolio is important for your business. Do you have any advice on how to start building a portfolio when starting out as a freelancer?

Just get to work. Go through the process and finish pieces. I think 99Designs was a great way to learn that because you’re forced to just get an iteration done. So much of progress is repetition, learning shortcuts, learning how to quickly and smoothly get a task done so that you can concentrate on a larger idea. When you have a big idea you want to work on it is so important to be able to coast through the smaller steps it takes to get to the bigger whole. So much of art is contingent on this. Master the skills and then you have the freedom to build unique expressions. It is important to FINISH work – go through the entire process, get it out there, get feedback, etc. All of it is equally important to really progress.

Do you have a basic routine that you stick to everyday? If so, run me through it.

Typically – up by 8ish if I didn’t work late night, 10 if I was up very late which happens a couple nights a week if I’m jamming on something. Morning: marketing emails and pressing revisions before noon. Often I’ll head to a coffee shop by noon, lunch, then jam on 3-4 hours of afternoon work. I like to hit the gym or go for a run from 4-6. After the sun is down I’ll usually get 2-4 more hours of work depending on my workload. If I have something I need to be really inspired about I’ll work late into the night.

How do you unwind after a long day?

Exercise is super important to me or I overload – love to run, go to the gym with my buddy, shoot some hoops. San Diego is always begging you to step out into the sun – it’s the best and I’ve never taken it for granted.

With working from home, do you find separating work life and home life difficult?

If I am really jammed up I can get pretty cranky and not get my mind off of work, but in general I can be pretty good with just turning it off and forcing myself to chill out. My weekends are generally totally off or if I have to work I’ll bang out a Saturday morning or Sunday night, but I really value them.

How do you “shut it off” at the end of a workday so your mind isn’t constantly worrying about work?

Running/workout. You get to sweat it out and breath – it’s so important to me.

Do you listen to music while working (I know you, out of all people, do)? If so, what are you listening to these days?

ALL THE TIME. Music is really my life – I use it to shape my feelings and routine constantly. Recently I’ve been all about The War on Drugs, Sufjan Steven’s new one, Mr. Carmack, French Kiwi Juice, Jamie XX, Garden City Movement, Kan Wakan, Spoon… want more?! I got stuff for days – let’s talk music!

Do you make to-do lists? What does a typical Aaron Null To-Do List look like?

Oh man, you should ask my mom about that – she’s the queen of to-do lists. I don’t really do them – only when I do a crazy errand run. I have these moleskin graphed notebooks I use for keeping track of clients. I keep my current job list going until a page gets messy and then I transfer it all over to the next page with things that are still going freshly updated. I end up starting new projects in whatever facet of my life from the back of those books. I’ve run through about 5 of them now – they’re my little books of secrets and projects.

What motivates you/gets you out of bed in the morning? Do you have any sort of songs, videos, quotes that you use to stay motivated?

The song I can’t wait to hear again. The song “Minor Cause” by Emancipator has been my total reset button since he came out with it. For whatever reason it gets me totally focused and feeling “in awe” with life no matter what mood I’m in. It’s a magical little tool.

If you are ever feeling lazy, what do you do to get rid of that feeling and resume productivity?

I force myself to think very practically – something that doesn’t come naturally. I think about my friends who are hard at work in a traditional office and remind myself I don’t get to be lazy and that hard work is its own reward – which is so true.

If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring freelancers, what would it be?

Be very realistic and do your homework before you jump in, but if you feel the itch then go for it. Freedom to build your own path I think is very human, and I totally encourage it, especially given the powerful tools at our disposal these days to anyone who wants to put in the time/effort.

 

Lessons Learned: How to Avoid Travel Burnout

A very patient elephant gives me his leg to help me mount up. Elephant Conservation Center, Sayaboury, Laos.


When preparing for a trip, it’s instinctual to plan a full schedule in order to get the most out of your journey. This crammed itinerary may look good on paper but could come back to haunt you in the end. Even if you only have a week of time available to travel, it may not be ideal to pack those 7 days full of sightseeing and things to do.

I’ve noticed that the longer I travel and the more I do, the less I appreciate things later in the trip (especially if I am not taking care of myself). Travel fatigue, or the correlation between appreciation and exhaustion, is a common occurrence among many travelers. After traveling for a long time, or packing a ton of activities into a small amount of time, people find themselves going through the motions without fully appreciating what it is they are doing or seeing.

The more shitty you feel, the less fun you’ll have. Period.

By understanding your limits and knowing how to pace yourself, you can get more of what you set out for in the first place: enjoyment! On my most recent 8-month trip around South East Asia, I covered over 23,000 miles while visiting 50+ cities. It was amazing to see and do so much but it was an uphill battle trying to stay fresh in order to take pleasure in everything. Here are 4 lessons I learned that will help keep you going, seeing and doing as much as possible while still loving every second of it.

1) Sleep is king

Nothing wears you out like frequent travel and no amount of coffee or Red Bull can make up for not getting a proper night’s rest. When flying, studies have shown that your body can take a full day to recover for each hour spent in the air. This means that a 7 hour flight could take your body a FULL WEEK to recover. One way to speed this recovery time up is to make sure to sleep 8-9 hours a night and hydrate properly. The longer you travel the more you realize that your energy is finite. Scheduling enough time to sleep will keep a smile on your face and provide you with enough oomph to adapt to and enjoy all that you are doing and seeing.

Scheduling sleep time is the easy part but ensuring good, quality sleep is a different story. Make earplugs and eye masks essential packing items and try to lay off of the booze as it can cause a restless night. I know too well how easy it is to have a few with new friends and stay up late on a trip, but allowing for an occasional relaxing night in makes all the difference later in your travels.

2) Plan downtime

If your itinerary is packed to the brim with sightseeing and activities, chances are you’ll wear yourself out much earlier than you think. To save energy and get the most out of your trip, treat relaxation and downtime as things that need planned. This can be as easy as setting some time out of each day to lay out at the beach or check e-mails in the hotel room. If you have some work to do, plan out time to do this in between activities to let your body rest and reset your mind. Reading and light exercise (going for a swim, or doing a few pushups) are my go-to’s for breaking up a long day of exploring.

3) You can’t see and do everything

It’s normal to feel the urge of wanting to cram as much as you can into your trip. I’m guilty of this on many occasions. The more I travel, the more I realize that quality trumps quantity.

Are you really dead set on visiting your 15th temple in 3 days?

Would you normally be interested in visiting a ceramics museum?

Asking yourself these questions is a useful strategy when worrying about burning yourself out. When cutting out a few activities you aren’t crazy about, you will find yourself better able to enjoy the interesting ones.

4) Remember your initial intentions

So you’re tired, your legs are sore and just about everything anyone says or does annoys you. In a normal situation, you would take some time to yourself to rest and regroup. But alas, you are traveling! Time to power through it and do everything possible… right? Of course not! Why create memories that will have negative feelings attached because you’re worn out and exhausted?

When finding yourself on the verge of collapse, take a second to pause and reflect on your initial intentions of traveling. Was your goal to wear yourself out and half-ass your trip in an agitated state? Probably not. Remembering these intentions will make you slow down and focus on why you set out on your journey. Sometimes relaxing with friends or reading a book in a beautiful setting is what’s most important.


Do you have any other techniques to avoid burning yourself out? Have you incorporated meditation into your routine on the road? Let me know in the comments below! 

Nick Waterhouse is the founder of AirBuds, Ltd. and BackpackingWithaBusiness.com. When not starting new projects, he is exploring far-off lands or making music with his friends. Feel free to contact him at BackpackingWithaBusiness@gmail.com.

Time Management is Tough!

When you are deep in a Malaysian jungle, up in the middle of the night on GoDaddy Support and giant bugs land on your computer.

When you are deep in a Malaysian jungle, up in the middle of the night on GoDaddy Support and giant bugs land on your computer.

Hey guys,

I just wanted to update you on why there hasn’t been any new content recently. I just returned from an amazing 8-month trip exploring South East Asia and experimenting with running a small business while traveling. It was a great experience (which I will post about soon) but definitely took its toll physically and mentally.

Since returning stateside, I have been focusing on acclimating my body and mind to a semblance of a regular schedule and catching up on some work that piled up at the end of my trip. It has been difficult to get back on a regular schedule but it is all just part of the experience of long-term travel! I will be posting about this experience soon so thanks for staying put and checking back regularly.

As always, if you want to reach out, just use the contact form or e-mail me at backpackingwithabusiness@gmail.com.

Cheers,

Nick

An Interview with an Entrepreneur: Matt Kossoff – President of The Retrofit Source

by Nick Waterhouse

Editors note: 

This post is the first part of a new series that I will be featuring periodically on the site. I will be interviewing entrepreneurs who are making waves in their industries in order to get insights on what it takes to create a successful, flourishing business. Sure, we have all read about Richard Branson or Warren Buffett. My goal here isn’t to bore you with business lessons or typical success stories. Rather, I want to infiltrate the minds of hugely successful people you probably haven’t heard of to find out how they got to where they are now. I will be asking about habits and personal life, as well as diving into how these entrepreneurs turned a simple idea into a lot of money. 


 

For Part I of the ‘Interview with an Entrepreneur’ series, I talked to Matt Kossoff, President of The Retrofit Source. To get an idea of what The Retrofit Source (or TRS) does, here is a snippet from their homepage:

The Retrofit Source is more than the world’s largest supplier of high-end automotive lighting upgrades. We’re a group of enthusiasts with a passion for perfecting your night-time driving experience. From humble beginnings to our current 15,000 square foot facility that’s always stocked with an unbeatable selection of headlight happiness, our roots have nearly doubled in size annually since opening in 2005.

That’s right. They sell headlights. High-end automotive lighting upgrades, to be exact. Matt is an old friend of mine and I have been fortunate enough to watch him take his business from “humble beginnings” (i.e his parent’s garage) to this:

The Retrofit Source Shop

Awesome office and warehouse space aside, the numbers speak for themselves. TRS is averaging 5,000 orders a month and $30,000/day in gross revenue so far this year. 2015 marks 10 years in business for TRS, and with a projected $10 million in sales this year, the future has never looked brighter. TRS has a prominent customer base in Canada, the Middle East, the UK and Australia and have served tens of thousands of happy customers world-wide.

Talking with Matt was insightful and interesting, I hope you enjoy the interview.


 

BWB: First off, thanks for taking the time to do this and congratulations on 10 years in business. Take a moment and put yourself back in the mindset of your younger, senior-in-high school self when you started the company. What were your original intentions of starting The Retrofit Source and what sparked your interest in automotive lighting?

Matt: I’ve been into cars, and really anything with wheels that goes fast, since I was really young. I’ve always considered myself a bit of an entrepreneur, too. I remember buying bulk candy at Sam’s Club with my parents when I was in 5th and 6th grade, and then splitting it up and selling it on the playground. When I was in high school, I started a company with a couple friends buying computer parts at wholesale and reselling them on eBay – but we were too naïve and got burned trying to buy inventory from overseas and ended up losing a bunch of money. I had to find a way to make the money back, so I started customizing headlights for other people online. It was profitable and fun, so I stuck with it.

I watched you grow the company while being a full time student at The Ohio State University. After graduating, when did you make the decision to pursue TRS full time?

I went through college wondering if I would end up with a real “suit and tie” job after graduation. The whole time, my parents would bug me about applying for internships and dropping the headlight gig. When I finally gave in and interviewed for an internship one day one of the questions they asked me was, “So tell me why you want this job?” and after a pause, I actually said out loud, “well….I don’t”. And that was that.

When did TRS become profitable enough to support yourself with?

When I was in college I remember my bank account hitting $10,000. Realizing my friends were working odd jobs and donating plasma just to pay the rent and the fact that my overhead was the same as theirs since I just worked from home… that’s when it was profitable.

Was there ever a time when the company was losing money? If so, what did you do to turn this around and how did you keep sane during the process?

The only time we ever lost money was when one of our suppliers email addresses was hacked. Some scam artist pulled a bait and switch and replied back to me with an invoice for $6000 that directed the money to an alternate bank account in China. We never saw that money again, and the real supplier took no responsibility.

Was the company completely self-sustaining or have you ever received any investments or financial support? If not, give us an idea of how much profit you would live on/pump back into the business in the early stages.

The company was always self-sustaining. In the beginning, my personal checking account and the checking account for the business were one, so I had to be careful not to overlook the fact that the money sitting there wasn’t all at my disposal and had to be available for working capital. I actually printed a “poster” and put it on the wall by my desk that reminded me to “Buy Inventory!”. It was hard letting go of the money sitting in the account sometimes, but I realized there wasn’t any more reward without the risks of reinvesting the money I’d worked hard to earn and already had in my hands.

When did you hire your first employee and what does your full time team look like now?

The first full time employee we had came in 2009. He was a friend of mine and a roommate who was also into cars, so it worked well. Ironically the website doesn’t even reflect our team now, we’ve got 17 people working full time for us now including myself. We grow faster than we can keep our website up to date.

Do you like being a boss?

I’ve lost a lot of sleep thinking about work. I’ve lost touch with old friends from the lack of spare time. I’ve probably aged a bit faster than I should from the occasional stress too. However; I’ve also made a lot of new friends working in the industry, achieved financial freedom, the ability to achieve my dream of owning various sports cars, the honor of employing other hard working people here in Atlanta and even my own brother. There’s a lot of ups and downs, but its definitely fulfilling.

What is the toughest element of supervising other employees?

The fact that not everybody cares as much as you do at the end of the day. They’re here for their paycheck, not the end game.

What is one trait that any employee of TRS MUST have to be hired?

They need to be into cars. Not only to understand what it is they’re working with, but to connect with our customers and get along with the other guys here.

How do you keep your employees motivated?

For a long time I bought everybody lunch every Friday. Not everybody always liked what I decided to order, so we quit doing that. Now, we have a variety of financial perks and rewards that we give out when they achieve certain goals that we set forward.

I know you are gearing up to celebrate 10 years in business come June (2015), where do you see the company in 5 years? 10 years?

We are shaping up to take on some outside investors for the first time in company history. Our goal would be to reach national distribution in a lot of big box retailers. Now, our business is made up 50/50 wholesale and retail, we hope to move more towards the wholesale side of the business and let the other dealers work with the individuals. After all, Pareto’s law says 80% of our revenue comes from 20% of the customers, right?

Aftermarket automotive lighting seems like a very niche industry to most people. Do you have any tips for people on how to be successful when starting a business in other niche markets?

My best advice for anybody whose trying to start a business is for them to only get into something they’re passionate about. If you’re not really interested in it, you’ll have a much harder time succeeding. From there, it will be easy to act like a pro even if you’re not really; because chances are you already know a lot about what you’re doing. I always lived by the saying “fake it ’till you make it” – because, especially for internet based businesses, people really don’t have any indication of how big or small the company is that they’re thinking of spending their money with aside from how the business portrays itself.

Do you consider yourself “successful”? What stands in your memory as the moment when you realized you had accomplished something big?

I would. Even though the automotive aftermarket for lighting isn’t the most glamorous industry in the world, it’s kind of weird, people consider me like a godfather. One time a guy walked into our shop and I casually introduced myself as Matt as I was asking him how I could help out. He said “Wait, you’re ‘the Matt’ ….You’re like a celebrity man!” Haha!

How would you define success and who is someone that is successful in your mind?

My dad told me that “success is wanting what you have, not having what you want” and even though it was in causal conversation, that’s always stuck with me for some reason. Even though he retired successfully after selling his dental practice of 40 years, he’s not a flashy guy and takes more satisfaction from visiting with his family rather than driving an expensive car or moving into a gated community. He was always a humble guy. Success is staying true to who you are, what you believe, and refusing to let money change that. My dad did it, and I plan to follow in his footsteps.

Be honest, how many hours a week do you work?

50, on average. I take off my fair share of Thursdays and Fridays to travel with my wife; basically whenever she tells me we’re going out of town.

What is your current advertising spend (% of sales) and which ad avenues have proved most profitable?

We spend $60/day on Facebook advertising, and that’s it. I think it’s the best way to spread the word since social media is so popular. We have a coupon code for our Facebook fans and monitor it’s use, so we know it’s definitely paying for itself. $60/day divided by $30,000..I guess that’s like, .02%? Haha!

Do you actively watch the market for new competitors?

Yes, we’re always keeping an eye on other companies to see what they’re up to. What they’re saying, what products they’re developing, how they’re pricing similar products, etc. We spent a long time climbing to the top of the totem poll and the last thing we want to do is get knocked off.

What do you do to stay ahead of your competition?

We’re constantly evolving our product line, making sure we’re delivering the best possible product at the most reasonable price. We’ve got great economies of scale that allow us to undercut most of our competition when we need to, and a lot of our suppliers recognize our buying power and have granted us exclusive rights in our territory. We also tend to eat a lot of costs associated with taking care of customers even when they’re flat out wrong, just to uphold our reputation for perfect customer service.

If you had to give one piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?

Do what you love to do. Don’t try and grow faster than you can manage. Too many customers isn’t necessarily a good thing if you’re not equipped to serve them.

If you had to give one piece of advice to people sourcing products from overseas, what would it be?

When there is a language barrier, don’t bombard them with lots of complex details as they’re bound to miss something. Stress what is important.

Is “the customer always right”? How important is customer satisfaction to your business?

Yes, unfortunately we deal with a lot of customers who think they’re right, but are flat out wrong. For us, taking care of these guys is one of the costs of doing business just to keep everybody happy. Refunding one customer whose irate about something even though it’s not your fault is the right thing to do…especially with social media and the like these days. One bad review can potentially turn away ten good customers.

How do you drive traffic to your website? Where does most of your traffic come from?

I wish I had better advice here, but I think we’ve just got great SEO and traffic because of the age of the domain. We rely heavily on word of mouth from customers, and include a promo card with every shipment that promises them store credit in exchange for a positive review anywhere on the net. It’s the best advertising out there!

I saw you recently hit 100,000 followers on facebook! Congrats! How does social media benefit your business and how do you plan on continuing to leverage these avenues to drive sales?

We put out a coupon code for our facebook fans that we can track in our website’s back-end. Even though we spend money advertising on facebook, the marginal revenue generated by our following there easily pays for it. It’s a great way to let them know we’re always active in what we’re doing, put the word out on new products, sales, etc.

You strike me as a routine person… do you have a basic routine that you stick to daily?

I actually wish I could be more routine, but my schedule varies pretty often. I generally work out with a trainer at 615am M/W/F. When it gets dark outside, I’m ready for bed. What happens in between is different every day.

Run me through the first two hours of a typical day in your life.

I wake up 1 minute before my alarm goes off because I can’t stand the noise in the morning. I take the dogs out, feed them, eat breakfast. Depending on the day, Ill either work out and head straight to work after that, or just push everything back a bit, skip the workout, take a shower, and head to work after that.

How do you unwind after a long day?

I like to cook and catch up on some TV shows that me and Ashley like to watch together.

Do you find separating home life and work life hard?

Not really. Back when I used to work from home it was more difficult to maintain two separate lives. When I leave work for the day, I try to avoid thinking about it until I’m back in the morning.

How do you “shut it off” at the end of a workday so your mind isn’t constantly worrying about work?

I enjoy the drive home. I don’t listen to the radio, and value the quiet time spent in the car just reflecting on the day.

Do you exercise regularly? If so, what do you usually do and when?

Yep, 30 minutes at 6:15am with a trainer, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. That’s it.

Do you have a certain time that you do your best critical thinking? Are there certain times when ideas seem to come easy? If so, do you schedule your day around this time?

Yes, I tend to be the most productive early in the morning. After a good nights sleep and with some good coffee in hand, I’m on top of shit. If I know I have something critical to accomplish that day, I’ll push the other stuff back so it’s later in the day.

What guidelines have you set for yourself to limit working too much? I know how easy it can be to just keep working when things are going well.

I basically just make a point to shut it off when we close up for the day. I’ve realized that there will always be a mountain of things to accomplish, and I could work around the clock 7 days a week, 365 days a year and it would never go away completely anyways, so I might as well save my sanity and energy for a taste of life outside of work at the end of the day.

Do you like working with others or do you do better work on your own?

I like working with others, and I especially like delegating small tasks to others. Another one of my mentors told me that I’ve got to spend more time working on the business than in the business.

How do you stay productive and drive processes when having so many things on your plate?

Being overwhelmed is an excuse for lack of priorities. Set deadlines to accomplish certain things and stick to them.

Do you make to-do lists? What would a typical Matt Kossoff to-do list look like?

Imac’s “Reminders” tool is very helpful. I make lists for things that I need to accomplish, and things that I need to make sure others are accomplishing

Do you invest? If so, what kind of investing do you do?

I invest in headlights. Investing in markets that I don’t know anything about scares me.

Have you ever thought about starting another company? What has held you back?

TRS has kept me so busy it’s prevented my mind from wondering into other ventures. I did try and patent folded chips because I liked the crunch so much and couldn’t find them anywhere in stores. Who doesn’t like folded chips? Im talking an entire bag of intentionally folded chips. The idea ended up already having a patent on it though, unfortunately.

What motivates you/gets you out of bed in the morning? Do you have any sort of songs, videos, quotes that you use to stay motivated?

Admittedly no, not really. I have a lot of random quotes that I live by, but none that personally motivate me on a daily basis

If TRS never happened, what do you think you would be doing right now?

That’s a great question, I have no idea. I’d probably still be in Ohio living an average life. TRS opened a window of opportunities for me and I’m enjoying life everyday.

If you are ever feeling lazy, what do you do to get rid of that feeling and resume productivity?

Call it a day and resume work after some rest. I don’t like working when I’m not “into it” because I know the quality will be compromised.


A special thanks to Matt for taking the time out of his day to answer some questions for me. If you are in need of some quality lighting upgrades for your ride, or just want more information on The Retrofit Source, check out their website here. If you have any questions or have a suggestion on who else to interview, please ask in the comment section below.

 

 

 

Improved Adaptability: Traveling’s Greatest Benefit

by Nick Waterhouse

Long term travel can be just as rewarding as it is challenging – but challenging it is. Constantly moving my body countless miles, usually over rough terrain, definitely takes its toll. I have been backpacking (going going going) for six months now and I am tired. Don’t get me wrong, I am still having a blast and have learned, seen and experienced so much in the 40+ cities I have visited. I have recently been reflecting on this trip and asking myself a lot of questions. What have I gained from traveling for so long? What experiences have stayed with me and changed me? What can I “bring home” with me that will help me improve and accomplish my goals? After all of this pondering, one area of self improvement that stands out is the newfound ability to quickly and seamlessly adapt to new situations.

This improved adaptability isn’t so much convenient as it is necessary while traveling. It is necessary in the fact that in order to get the most out of a small amount of time, I can’t waste energy developing new habits and routines for every place I visit.

Getting settled in is now instinctual.

I usually book a place to stay in advance. Although this can take the fun away from being a complete vagabond, this process introduces me to the geography of a city, insures I will have a good wifi connection and a comfortable place to rest, and saves valuable time and energy. Next, I find a local shop where I can easily buy water and other essentials and I usually don’t shop anywhere else for my entire stay. This eliminates unnecessary decision making so I can save my finite mental energy for more important decisions. If I plan on working while in the city, I find a convenient cafe that serves a cheap breakfast and has a reliable internet connection. Again, saving mental energy and helping me stay in my routine of having a quick breakfast and completing work in the mornings. I then feel out the general layout of a city and the best way to get around (i.e public transportation, biking, walking, etc..). Within a day, I am settled in and my routine is solidified.

Being able to quickly adapt to a new place is essential for staying productive while traveling. Incorporating this skill to my everyday life when returning back home will be awesomely valuable. While I plan on continuing my personal ventures, I will be relocating to a new city and looking for new professional opportunities. I am now confident that I will be able to adjust to a new city, job and living situation in record time. Acclimating to a new work environment will be easier than ever as I am already accustomed to being in new situations constantly. I will be able to get a feel for a new city, pinpointing a neighborhood to live in and staying in my routine without skipping a beat; something I would have had trouble doing without all of the practice I’ve been getting.

Coming home from any long trip can be stressful. Improving your ability to quickly adapt to new situations will increase confidence and eliminate a lot of this stress. I am now excited for what new opportunities await me and am looking forward to continuing my adventure back home.


What are some other benefits of long-term travel? Are there any negatives? Let me know in the comments below! 

Nick Waterhouse is the founder of AirBuds, Ltd. and BackpackingWithaBusiness.com. When not starting new projects, he is exploring far-off lands or making music with his friends. Feel free to contact him at BackpackingWithaBusiness@gmail.com.

The Perfect Place for the Perfect Price: How to Hack AirBnB

by Nick Waterhouse

I have rented AirBnB properties in many different cities all over the world. From wine country abodes in Sonoma to party pads with infinity pools (see above image taken earlier this year) in Thailand, AirBnB has proved a legitimate and affordable way to have all of the amenities of a true home while traveling. Best of all, I have never paid the full listing price for a rental on AirBnB. Whenever I share this fact with other travelers, they are surprised at how easy it can be to rent a great place for less.  Learning the process below will help you find a phenomenal place for an affordable price while helping renters fill vacancies and further develop this amazing community.

Here are 5 items to help easily secure your next cheap rental on AirBnb:

1) Contact hosts as close to arrival date as possible

When looking for the perfect AirBnB property, make sure arrival dates and the number of guests are set correctly as this will filter out the unwanted places and places that aren’t available for the dates of your stay. It is vital for the bargaining process to contact hosts as close to your stay as you are comfortable in doing. This puts pressure on the host to fill the vacant property and also ensures that someone else won’t come along and want to book the property for the full price.

2) Bargain Smartly

Obviously, hosts are going to be hesitant to drop the price for their property for no reason. To begin a conversation, mention that the property and reviews look great but that it is currently out of your price range. Then say how much you would like to spend and ask if the owner has any other properties in that price range. The email will look something like this:

Hello [Insert Host Name]!

I hope all is well!  My name is __________  ( a fellow AirBnB’er) and I will be in [City Name] on Sunday to relax and get work done after a long stint of traveling. Your place looks perfect but it is a bit out of my price range at the moment.

I wanted to reach out and ask you if you had any other properties available during this time that are cheaper/smaller or if you had any suggestions as to where to stay locally. I am looking to spend about $xx USD a night and would only need one bedroom. If your property I am contacting you about remains available, would you be able to lower the price for me? I am a great guest and leave great reviews on AirBnb 🙂

Thank you for taking the time to read my message and I am looking forward to hearing back from you.

Best Regards,

AirBnB has a great feature that saves the first e-mail you use to contact a seller so for all other available properties, you can contact the host with one click. Don’t be afraid to lowball the original price of the listing and be honest with yourself about your true budget. Always say that the price you mentioned is the maximum you can pay. If the host has another property in your price range, then great! If not, more times than not they will lower their price to meet your needs and fill the vacant property.

3) Use reviews as leverage

As you can see in the template above, I mentioned that I am an experienced AirBnB’er who always leaves great reviews. This will encourage a host to give you the property for your asking price as they know you will leave a positive review in exchange. AirBnB reviews are treated just like any other e-commerce site and positive reviews greatly increase the rental chances of a property. Using a positive review as a bargaining chip can go a long way.

4) Look for great places with no reviews

If you find a new property or a place that seems great with little or no reviews, contact these properties first. Hosts will be much more likely to rent their property for a cheaper price if they are new to AirBnb and want to start generating some reviews and income. The e-mail template above will still work fine but feel free to lower your initial asking price if the place has no reviews.

5) Don’t skip unusually large properties

If a host is offering a very large place, there is a good chance it is rarely rented on AirBnb. Most couples, solo-travelers or families wouldn’t think about contacting a host who is renting an 8 bedroom house. I have been very successful in renting larger places for myself or a very small group. Use the e-mail template above but I would make sure to tell the host that they are welcome to lock x-amount of bedrooms that would not be used. This puts the host at ease by ensuring that you will not be bringing more people than originally mentioned.

These 5 simple tactics have worked wonders for me throughout my travels. Contact as many properties as you can to better your chances to finding that perfect place. Don’t forget that hosts also leave reviews on their guests – so be polite, leave the place spotless and write a kind, constructive and thorough review of the property. Safe travels my friends!

Have you tried these tactics out? Let me know by sharing your story below.


Nick Waterhouse is the founder of AirBuds, Ltd. and BackpackingWithaBusiness.com. When not starting new projects, he is exploring far-off lands or making music with his friends. Feel free to contact him at BackpackingWithaBusiness@gmail.com.

Dialing Up Success From Abroad: Tips from ZipDial CEO, Valerie Wagoner

Nick’s note:

Mikell Hazlehurst is an avid traveler and just finished an MBA exchange program at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, India. Mikell wrote an in-depth research paper on barriers of entry and strategies of success for expat entrepreneurs in Bangalore. Mikell interviewed Valarie Wagoner, CEO of the mobile marketing platform ZipDial. Soon after this interview, ZipDial was acquired by Twitter. Below is a condensed version of Mikell’s research paper including Valarie Wagoner’s ideas on starting successful companies abroad.

Enjoy!


by Mikell Hazlehurst

The amount of aspiring entrepreneurs in places like Silicon Valley is staggering, and a face-to-face meeting with a successful startup CEO would never happen without personal ties (and even that is a stretch). By placing yourself in a small startup ecosystem and adding to the equation that you have “being an expat” in common, I believe that chances of getting the support you need from the local expat community drastically increases.

Regardless of who you are or what you’re doing, the likelihood of success ultimately depends upon your strength of character and an unwavering attitude of persistence. Strategic adaptability is essential for an entrepreneur coming to India to start a business, and the expat entrepreneurs who are successful are the ones who can “Think Local”.

For instance, the ability to do business in India requires a willingness to turn constraints into opportunities. Valerie Wagoner, who is the CEO of ZipDial, spent a semester studying in Bangalore at the Indian Institute of Management. Originally hailing from California, Valerie’s Bangalore-based company was just listed on Fast Company magazine as the 8th most innovative company in the world, ranking just behind some of the world’s biggest brands like Nike and Google. Valerie actually gave one of her first demos for ZipDial on the IIMB campus at the N S Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (NSRCEL). She would go on to explain why starting ZipDial in India was the right move:

“A large, growing domestic market that is a solid foundation for expansion of a unique business model and technology into other emerging markets. Emerging markets in general have a huge amount of opportunity if an entrepreneur is willing to take a long term view and have the stamina to execute, and India is a great place to start for future expansion.”

I then wanted to know what advice Valerie would bestow upon a potential entrepreneur who is interested in starting their business abroad. Oftentimes, entrepreneurs have obtained knowledge the hard way, and it becomes of utmost importance to learn from their mistakes. Valerie was kind enough to share with me to “have a strategy to be global from early on. India is a large, important market, but you should think early about your long-term global expansion and how you build a solid foundation for that. Incorporate outside India, even if you are going to primarily build in India and sell to India. This will make future expansion outside of India more seamless. Raise more money than you think you need earlier than you think you need it (if you can). Do not take for granted the importance of high-quality finance and compliance team members (whether in-house or outsourced). You need to keep this in order from day one to avoid costly headaches later. And don’t underestimate. Be generous with employees about Employee Stock Options, and be ready to educate employees about how they work and why they are important.”

Shortly after returning from India, I found out that ZipDial had been acquired by Twitter. Valerie’s hard work had paid off, and I bet she ended up banking a lot more money because she was able to keep both her business and personal expenses at a minimum. I ended up interviewing several other expats and local VC’s for an article which was used for my final research paper in an independent study course at IIMB.

I spent countless hours running around the city of Bangalore trying to make my meetings on time. All of the entrepreneurs knew each other, and it was an interesting experience for sure. If you’re interested in trying your hand at starting a business abroad, I’d recommend looking into Bangalore for the low cost of living and high availability of cheap talent. One of the entrepreneurs I met with for this project has a company which specializes in finding startup jobs for expats in Bangalore. His name is Troy Erstling, and you can checkout his website at BrainGain.Co.

A 12-Hour Time Difference: How Traveling Helped Me Manage E-Mail

by Nick Waterhouse

We’ve all come to the conclusion that e-mail sucks. Everyone and their brother has figured out a “perfect” inbox management technique. From auto-responders to batch and unsubscribe programs such as Boomerang and Unroll.me, I’ve tried them all. Surprisingly, nothing has worked better for me than taking an extended trip through Southeast Asia.

I am not going to pretend I am some public figure who gets 1000s of e-mails a day, but, like a lot of you guys, I do receive 100s of daily e-mails even after religiously unsubscribing from junk. But with wanting to cover a lot of ground over the course of a year, I refused to let my inbox dictate my evenings. I took this trip to help rid some of the bad work habits I had at home, not reinforce them. Plus, my evenings are much better spent with a Beer Lao and new friends.

After being overseas for a few months, I am happy to say that the problem of managing my e-mail has solved itself without the use of any fancy techniques or tools. I used to be a big fan of auto-responders and used an e-mail template similar to one Tim Ferriss recommends but have recently steered away from this tactic for a few reasons.

First, auto-responders clog up inboxes. If someone doesn’t need something immediately, there is no need to clog up their inbox with a slightly pretentious “I’m too busy for you” response. Second, if something is actually urgent (medical emergency or death-in-the-family urgent) than someone wouldn’t be e-mailing anyways. Before traveling, I always make sure at least one close friend or relative has a way to reach me in case of emergency.

If I know I will check and respond to e-mail every 48 hours or so, an auto-responder is unnecessary. I think my lack of an immediate response can be a good reminder that e-mail shouldn’t require immediate attention. Plus, people get used to my typical response time and will stop worrying after a few exchanges. If I know there is a chance I won’t have any internet for more than 3 weekdays, I will use a very basic auto-responder including the date that I will be back on e-mail and always thanking the person writing for their patience. Or, a short “Sorry, I was having e-mail issues” usually replaces the need for an auto-responder. A little white lie won’t hurt anyone in this case.

Unless intentionally avoiding a wifi connection, you would be hard pressed to go 3 days in any country in the world without finding one. Over the last few months I have had a solid wifi connection on buses in Malaysia, jungles in Thailand and on a floating restaurant meters away from the oldest rainforest in the world. Although a constant connection can be a huge productivity killer, it is possible to find one if necessary.

I usually check, or batch, my e-mails in the mornings after breakfast. I am currently 12 hours ahead of EST and 15 hours ahead of PST, which is perfect for my e-mail schedule. During my morning e-mail session, I can see all of my (US based) e-mails from the day before. Any long and loopy e-mail chains have answered themselves and I am able to quickly delete or sort all of that day’s junk and ‘no response necessary’ e-mails.

After narrowing a full day’s response required e-mails down in a matter of minutes, I can efficiently and intelligently respond on my own time. There is not someone waiting for me to get back to them immediately so I always make sure my responses are thoughtful and accurate to avoid another e-mail on the matter. Once I am satisfied with my responses, I send all the e-mails at once before signing off – usually for the rest of the day.

I literally process hundreds of e-mails in one go rather than checking my inbox five – ten – twenty times throughout my workday as I did back home. On top of that, I usually maintain a 24-hour response time for all of my e-mails that I deem a response necessary.

Continue reading…