11 Mar March 12, 2019 – Forbes 30/30 Sophia Sunwoo and WTF! Whitney Vosburgh & Dr. Charles Grantham
If you do all that little stuff every single day, that compounds to nothing
at the end of the year. If you replace those components with sales growth,
business growth and do that consistently for the whole year, that is going
to compound to your business getting to the next level.
Sophia Sunwoo is a Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree in Social Entrepreneurship, was awarded the Fred Alger Finance Award, was a NY pitch finalist at ELLE Magazine’s Impact2 Awards, and was a Forbes 30U30 All-Star Alumni. She co-founded and built her first company (a clothing company) at 19 years old and sold her first company at the age of 22, and built an international nonprofit when she was 24. In 2011, Sophia co-founded Water Collective, a non-profit that has helped over 80,000 people in Cameroon and India fix and prevent broken water projects in their communities. She started her career in entrepreneurship because it was the only career path she knew where she could learn endlessly, and be challenged ruthlessly. She stayed in entrepreneurship because she couldn’t resist the opportunity to build something new everyday. Sophia is the founder of Ascent Strategy, a consulting firm that helps entrepreneurs move beyond DIY startup building and create a more grown-up, polished version of their startup that’s poised for success. Ascent helps entrepreneurs build startups that see 6-figure launch years, a 50% growth in sales within 3 months, and a business that feels easy and simple to build.
Whitney Vosburgh and Dr. Charles Grantham – Authors of Work the Future
Everyone in every organization has its role, its unique value. You
have to figure out what is your unique value, your gift to the world.
Whitney Vosburgh is the co-founder of WORK THE FUTURE! TODAY, a social venture that offers vision, leadership, and solutions for maximizing personal, organizational and societal potential, and co-founder of Brand New Purpose, a brand transformation consultancy that creates purpose-built, value-driven opportunities. He graduated with an M.A. in Religious Leadership for Social Change from Graduate Theological Union, and with a B.F.A. from Parsons School of Design in New York City. His expertise on the Future of Work has been featured in four books, including a bestseller by Dan Pink. When Whitney is not focusing on business consulting and writing, he can be found making art, and his work has been featured in exhibitions throughout the world.
Dr. Charles Grantham is the co-founder of WORK THE FUTURE! TODAY, has a rich multi-disciplinary background and pursues his passion for helping leaders, organizations, and communities realize their true potential for effective performance, governance, and sustainability. Charlie served in the Special Forces, and enjoyed a career in academia and as Executive Director of R&D for several multi-national technology companies. He received his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Maryland and is the author of nine books and several dozen technical papers.
Highlights from Sophia’s Interview
My parents were entrepreneurs. They tried to prevent me from going into entrepreneurship, and were very upset when I did. They were entrepreneurs so that they would make enough money so that I wouldn’t have to struggle with business. They’re in their mid 60s now, and they just opened a new business yesterday. They’re still going at it. So that was my inspiration when I dove into entrepreneurship.
I watched my dad get home from work at 10 o’clock at night and do the bookkeeping and inventory check. So for me it was about watching them do everything. Then when I was in college, I worked at their store with them, so I got to see it firsthand.
I learned from them, and I liked the freedom of what they were doing. It seemed like whatever they said went. If they wanted to change direction, if they wanted to sell something else that no one else was doing, they had the power to do that. That was what attracted me to the field.
I initially went to Parsons with the idea of learning more about fashion, and then when I built the clothing company, I realized that the clothing company came before you have the capital to create your own clothing. It’s pretty limited and really hampers you creatively when you can’t do much. Because you don’t have your own manufacturing plant, you don’t have your own printing press. So until you hit a certain capital revenue mark, you can’t do much.
I’m not in the business of manufacturing. So when I was at Parsons, I was in a program where they helped students learn business and design strategy. If you wanted to create a business from scratch, they gave you all the tools to do that.
While I was there, I started exploring this question of how can I do good in the world while bringing in all these tools from business and design? And I realized that there was actually a really interesting field emerging at the time which was designing for bottom of the pyramid. So how about for the 99 percent of the people in this world that are suffering are in poverty, living in developing countries, how can we use the tools that we know to help them?
My second startup ended up being a disaster prevention program. Hurricane Katrina happened a couple years prior to my senior thesis. I worked on creating a senior thesis project to help people who live in areas that don’t have ambulances, and don’t have medical resources nearby. I created a program around that and it ended up inspiring Water Collective and the structure of that company.
My co-founder and I realized that we didn’t want to be in the manufacturing business. And we both wanted to go down different paths. She wanted to go into artist management and I wanted to explore the social impact, business side of things.
That was because working in a developing country like Cameroon, especially in rural villages, was a logistical headache. There wasn’t even a road system in Cameroon to get to these communities, instead, mud roads had four foot deep pockets, and cars would have to navigate that for miles. To plan around that is almost impossible. That stopped us from doing a lot of things. We couldn’t do time sensitive building projects. We couldn’t build certain very material heavy water projects, for example, because it would just cost too much money.
That was the reason why, after doing it for six and a half years, I was ready to move on from the nonprofit space. Nonprofits raise money by piggybacking off of their Executive Board of Directors for their project needs. It was great to be part of that community and to witness people’s generosity, but I’m a very business minded person and to be in the nonprofit space and do that for six years was really difficult for me. I wanted to move to a space where I could rely on the business models that exists to sell products and services. I can rely on the equal exchange money for products. It’s better for my brain.
Because my zone of genius is in building startups, I really want to stay in that space, rather than going from the beginning of starting and then eventually growing and scaling. I really wanted to live in that beginning part of this whole timeline of things.
I’ve been in entrepreneurship for over a decade. I can share the words, lessons, and best practices I’ve learned with people so that they don’t make the same mistakes as I did, and that they can accelerate the growth of their startups.
I really love working with entrepreneurs, with the freedom they have, they’re able to create everything that’s inside their head. That’s a beautiful thing. I wanted to empower people to make their visions a reality, so I work with entrepreneurs for everything from their business plan, to coaching them through building their startup, to getting to a point where they’re bringing in sales, to the next adventure of growing their sales by 50%, so that they’re constantly getting to a place where they’re not only building but also scaling and creating a viable business model.
I also have a structured program called Summit that takes apart your business as if it’s a car and audits every single component, every department, and makes sure that this is a business that a Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos would have created themselves. It integrates best practices from everything I’ve learned myself, but also from other industry players.
In the beginning days, as far as getting first customers, it was word of mouth and tapping into my personal network to find people who needed my help. Starting from there, I didn’t have to worry about finding leads, I could just pilot the idea and make sure it was a real need I was meeting. But that well ran dry quickly. I also teach my clients that they need to expand from that initial well and find new channels of income.
I looked at Upwork and Facebook groups and played around with their ad systems, as ads can be great if you know what you’re doing. I think there are a lot of online businesses out there that say, ‘Hey, I’ll help you make like 10k this month through Facebook ads,’ and a lot of that isn’t realistic. Making ads work is complicated; you need an expert behind it. So that failed me in the beginning.
Then I started seeking clients from existing networks like Upwork and Facebook, and I found my first clients there. Working with people I didn’t know at all was a learning experience in itself. I did that within two months, to start bringing in a pool of new people who needed my help.
Something people don’t realize about these sites is they’re actually search engines to find what freelancers are available. I’ve had customers come up to me and ask for help after finding me on those platforms, and that’s great for me.
I think the biggest mistake is taking pride in wearing multiple hats, and the fact that you can do everything yourself. The problem with that is that we only have a limited amount of time on this planet, and it’s more efficient to find experts to perform these tasks.
I get you to the next level, and free up your time by exporting your work to freelancers and different team members. Because the freelancing marketplace’s global now there’s really no excuse to not leverage that. There are always people who will meet your budget. In addition to that, there’s so much AI, there’s so many tech tools that can help you with different admin tasks.
Your job as an entrepreneur is to focus on growing your company, making sure that it has a unique value proposition. Maybe the product is really wowing people and blowing things out of the water in your space. That should be what you’re focusing on.
That is what differentiates a media company from an Apple or an Amazon and that’s the biggest mistake I see. The reason why so many people fall into making that mistake is because it’s really easy to manage finances and social media and the like. People are vulnerable when they’re putting themselves out there and risking getting rejected, and that’s why people avoid it.
One way to put it in perspective is that if you spend all your time doing that little stuff, absolutely nothing will change by the end of the year. But if you replace those components with sales growth, and do that consistently for the whole year, that’s going to compound your business and bring it to the next level.
Sometimes people get distracted from the external judgment perspective, and think about how the company is how people are going to judge them, and they think people will know they’re successful because they’re wearing a T-shirt with their logo, and I want to scream about how that kind of stuff is not the heads down, important back end work that needs to happen.
Another thing is just people who are gung ho about fixing their own problems. I’ve been at it for a year, let’s say a company is trying to grow their business from 50k a year to 100k year, and they go at it for a couple of months. They’re still not there yet. And they’ll speak to someone like me, let’s say at a networking event. And they say, ‘I’ve been at it for a year, but it’s not going anywhere. What’s your advice?’ And my advice is, “You don’t have the capacity to turn this ship around, you proved that the past few months. You need someone’s help.’ And they say they don’t have the money, but they’re okay with wasting their time, like that’s not wasting money. It’s a pet peeve of mine when people aren’t receptive to help.
A lot of that stems from an entrepreneurial culture of YouTube videos and articles that assure people they can do it all themselves, and they can hustle all the time and accomplish everything. But a lot of people don’t get that you can do more if you ask for help, just like the most successful entrepreneurs did when they needed help.
I’m in Boulder, Colorado. Definitely join me for a hike if you’re out here, but my website is sensethatstrategy.com. You’ll find a lot of free resources on there, and if you want to get my weekly email list, you could do that on there too.
Thank you for having me.