This is the third and final installment of my interview with Kevin Reeth of Outright.com (See Part 1 and Part 2). In this part of the interview, I talk to Kevin about the new organization he’s helped create, Unintentional Entrepreneur, which is currently holding events around the country to help provide newcomers to the world of entrepreneurship with the tools and skills they need to get started and build a successful business.
Dustin Wax (DW): Where did the idea for Unintentional Entrepreneur come from?
We were doing a promotion with Newtwork Solutions, giving away free websites for businesses, and we thought, there’s gotta be more that we can do than just running this promotion. It could be providing help and guidance ourselves, but also connecting folks with other entrepreneurs.
We learned an awful lot actually watching what Chris Hutchins did at Laid-Off Camp. I was up at the first Laid-Off Camp and it was something that kind of grew organically and went nationwide. Chris organized several of the initial ones and then they started to spring up and other people who were passionate about this picked it up and ran with it.
DW: What kind of support is out there already for beginning entrepreneurs?
KR: There’s a ton of support but it’s all over the place. You can start with local Small Business Administration and SCORE offices around the country. Meetups have also become a very interesting form of support for these folks, where they’ve done a good job of getting people in certain disciplines together. And there are the older, formal networking groups: professional associations, things like that.
But a lot of it, the really good support, tends to be smaller and more organic. We see this a lot with our customers who sell on Etsy and eBay. They’ve got very active communities where people share stories about what they’re trying to do. They like to get together and they share knowledge, and it’s not just the practical tips and tricks but it’s also the motivation and the inspiration and what keeps them going – the emotional connection that’s important as well.
DW: What do you think is missing from these existing sources of support? What is your role here?
KR: With Unintentional Entrepreneur, the focus really is on those folks who may find themselves in this position but they’re not quite prepared. There’s a pretty significant education component, just in terms of what it means to be self-employed. Just the fact that you now have to pay both social security and Medicare is one of those “You’ve got to be kidding me” moments.
We really wanted to be able to get those basic discussions going, and introduce people to other folks who are maybe a few months ahead of them. If you’re a brand new entrepreneur, you don’t necessarily want to get advice from somebody who’s already made 10 million dollars, because they probably don’t remember what it was like when you’re trying to get that first or second customer. You want to talk to someone who is a few months ahead of you, who’s figured a few things out. That’s really the charter of this initiative: get those people who aren’t quite prepared and help them get a little bit more prepared.
DW: I know you’re still sort of feeling out what you’re doing, but what is the short term goal? Are you hoping to produce local user groups, or are you planning to build this around special events, or what?
KR: The immediate goal is just to generate awareness about this. We don’t have a very clear end game for it. If I had to say what I think an awesome ultimate goal would be, would be if these events spawn groups of committed folks or multiple groups that build up their own networks. But honestly the best thing that could come out of this are a bunch of people who feel empowered to go off and make a go of it on their own and start generating successful businesses. And start interacting with each other themselves.
DW: You just had your first event [at the end of July; there have been more since then]. How did that go?
KR: It went great! There was a very good mixture of people who are evaluating, should I do it, should I not, should I keep looking for a job? And there were some people who had the idea that they did want to make the leap and were wondering if now might be the right time. We had good attendance, we had great energy from the group, a good cross-section, and we also learned a lot about what people are looking for.
Because this was our first event we were very much using it as a sounding board to help figure out what people are looking for, how can we improve this, what kind of resources? So we’re at the very beginning of those conversations. But the fact that we’re having those conversations and people are engaging is very encouraging.
DW: Tell me about the event, what exactly was it? What do you do?
KR: We had people come in, we did half an hour of meet-and-greet, have some pizza and soda and beers, and just kind of socialize and share stories. Then we had three speakers. I actually kicked off the initial one, which was basically “Let’s get the least sexy stuff out of the way, here’s all the stuff you have to do according to the IRS if you’re self-employed.” I gave pretty much an overview of all the compliance stuff, all the tracking and reporting and bookkeeping and taxes and tax tips and things to think about, and then we moved into more of business stuff.
The second presentation was about going out and getting some business: Building a personal brand, letting people know what you’re trying to do, getting online and getting a presence. And then we capped it off with Lorna Li who spoke more specifically on online marketing – how to use the technology to increase leads, how to take advantage of the Internet to maximize your impact from an inbound sales and lead generation perspective.
Those went pretty well, but we got some good feedback from folks in terms of other places where they might like some help and so we’re going to modify that.
DW: One thing that really interests me in general is how at one level in business, everything’s about competition, but at the personal level, there’s this kind of cooperation, a kind of “sharing-ness”. You see these big companies in cut-throat competition but you get a bunch of bloggers or a bunch of developers in a room , and they all just want to help each other out. It’s kind of fascinating.
KR: That’s absolutely true, especially of small business owners. Because very few of them actually do compete directly. They love to just learn from each other and seek to help each other out, and they seek advice from others, and so that organic and community-based nature wins out. For example, we’re in downtown Campbell, and you see the local merchants here, out on the street, talking to each other and swapping stories. There is this great sense of camaraderie – they know that they’re in this together, they all share similar goals and challenges and so they share and learn from each other.
With Unintentional Entrepreneur, too, there’s almost a little bit of the little guy vs. big corporate America, especially if you just left corporate America. To be out there with other self-employed people is empowering! And it’s also a replacement for your social interaction, because it can be lonely – you don’t have your office mates, you don’t have the big crew of people that you could rely on. You’re out there and it’s pretty much you and maybe a couple of other people you interact with, some customers and vendors, so there’s also that social element to this.
DW: How will you know if Unintentional Entrepreneur is successful? What’s your best-case scendario?
KR: For us the ultimate great outcome is that the people who come to these events find that they can be successful, that if they’re good at it and they love it and they stick with it, they’re never going to have to rely on somebody else to give them a job again!
The first round of Unintentional Entrepreneur events appears to be over, but Kevin told me they’re already planning a new series of events, so stay tuned for an event near you – or contact the folks at Unintentional Entrepreneur and see about organizing an event in your own community! Be sure, too, to join the Unintentional Entrepreneur LinkedIn group to stay up-to-date on the latest news.