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Last week, Doug sat down to chat with with Web Smith, a local entrepreneur who founded the concierge service, Whence. Below is that conversation.
DOUG: First question…What is Whence? Why did you start it? And what is its current status?
WEB: Whence is a concierge app designed for iOS that allows a user to purchase almost anything within the city’s local economy and have it to their door within 90 minutes. I started it for 2 reasons. I wanted more time with my own family and I knew that one of the things that prevented me from achieving that was having to leave the house for certain tasks and certain consumer operations that I thought were a waste of time from a B2B side. I wanted to find a way to create more income and more traction for local businesses. Essentially expanding their geographical borders by opening the entire city to their grasps.
Where did your love for start-ups come from?
I don’t necessarily have a love for start-ups. I’m not into the culture. I don’t go to the conferences and all that stuff. I have a disdain for people that love that and only that side of it; not the actual operational side. That really bothers me. I just feel like I have a certain skill-set and have a tenacity and I have the stomach for risk. If I have those tools I should use them on something like this.
Who or what is your greatest source of professional inspiration?
I’m not going to name a specific person but what I will say is – I know a few people that fly under the radar, especially in this town, and I think its really cool they can build such a strong foundry and foundation; both in products and in people without much fanfare. I have learned a lot more from those individuals than from anyone you would see in Fast Company or Entrepreneur or any public magazine or public setting. I think that is really really interesting. The effectiveness and humility of it are really interesting to me.
What are some publications you have been a part of or how has getting published in so many places helped you professionally and personally?
You know, I had a really interesting conversation yesterday with Tanisha Robinson. She called her and I “unicorns.” And I don’t even put us in the same sort of category because I think she’s actually done more than I have. But I think that whenever you are different than other people within your professional category, public validity grows a long way in building credibility and building a very transparent track record for your success and your viability. People are more likely to be a part of and invest in me and know that I have a likelihood of success. The only way you can know that is if people are saying that.
How important do you think transparency is today in business?
It depends on what the subject is. I think that transparency is important. I try to share as much with the team as I can without making them stressed. I think that while some sides of transparency are important, it’s equally important to be so resilient that things that are bothering you don’t necessarily really shine through because of the effect it can have on your team. So I don’t believe in 100% transparency but there are certain sides of it that I think are effective for business.
What is some advice you would give budding entrepreneurs in Columbus?
Stop reading magazines. What was said to me when I first got to Rogue Fitness, the 2 years I learned the most about business, was, “don’t read the hype magazines. Move on from wanting public accolades and things like that. Find the people that are actually doing something, not the people that want to do something, and learn from the steps that they took to actually get the ball rolling, even when it comes to the formation of the business or the hiring of the first person, or getting through the stressful days.”
So really it’s more about taking action and walking the walk?
How do you get over the fear of failure when it comes to having a start-up?
I think that you have to get used to experiencing micro-failures. I think there’s a difference between micro-failures, failure in general, and fatal failures. You’re used to failing a lot. It becomes a daily thing. Something is not right, something doesn’t happen the way that it is supposed to, growth is not exactly where you imagined, things like that. But essentially, the number one thing that you can do is stay on your feet. I have seen a lot of brands do amazing just because they stuck with it long enough for something to hit.
What’s it like being a part of the Young Entrepreneurs Council?
I would say I don’t use them enough. It’s certainly an honor and I think it’s great to be recognized by those sorts of organizations but at the end of the day, what’s most important is coming into the office and doing a lot of the grunt work that goes on behind the scenes. The most qualified people in that organization have built 9 figure companies and they wouldn’t have done that if they didn’t do the shitty stuff.
If you could be in any other profession, what would it be?
Without a doubt, as soon as I’m done making money, I’m going to own a bar and I’m going to be there 15 hours a day and my goal is to do that for 40 years. That’s it.
What’s the vibe going to be like in the bar?
(laughs) I really want it to be a place where people can go and have those pivotal professional conversations. Where they can walk out better than when they walked in. It sounds counter-intuitive for a bar but often times thats what happens if you’re in the right place.
Yeah, especially if you’re among the right crowd.
A few more here, one the Whence FAQ page, you said Columbus is the “best city on earth,” can you elaborate?
Yeah, I think it’s sort of lame to jump on the train everyone else is one. I think it’s really cool when you see opportunity and when you see potential success in something very few people have recognized on a public scale and thats what I see in Columbus. I think in the next 10 years, Columbus will be very, very widely known and it’s going to be one of those top brand cities that we see now with Chicago and Austin. Once upon a time Austin was a town where dazed-and-confused seemed like the common place. Whereas now, it’s just another mega-city with the top tech-brands and great employment record and great social and music scene.
I agree. What are some of your favorite spots in Columbus you can recommend?
It depends on what your vibe is. I spend a lot of time at Lindy’s when I have the time and money to burn. When I’m in a situation like this it’s probably better to focus my time on the business but Lindy’s is great. I’m a fan of what they have done at the Guild House. I love the LC. I think that concerts there are pretty cool. I went to see Vampire Weekend not too long and that was just a really cool experience because I didn’t even know what the venue was before I went there for the first time. I’m a real big fan of what the Arena District is doing in general and obviously I love the Short North. I’m really interested in seeing how it continues to evolve moving forward.
What are some artists or playlists that you have been listening to on Spotify?
(laughing) That’s a really tough question. I’m really eclectic with my music. I listen to all different types of music. When I am in a work setting with people I tend to listen to coffee house music. I know it slows everyone’s heart rate and in this type of business thats probably a good thing. When I’m by myself I take a complete opposite approach. I probably listen to a lot of trap-rap because at that point of the day I’m sort of lagging behind and it’s pure adrenaline that gets me through until 11 o’clock at night. So I balance those two things. Just depends on what the audience is around me.
What TV shows do you recommend?
I don’t like to watch a lot of TV shows. I’m not like anti-TV or anything. I love The Newsroom. I obviously watch Scandal. Everyone said watch Scandal. I don’t know. I’m a big fan of stuff like the Men Who Built America or just documentaries about history or entrepreneurship. I watch a ton of Netflix, almost every single night because I think history repeats itself and it’s really cool to take cues and to know how to manipulate them for the time and day.
What about movies?
I watch probably every cool movie that comes out. It’s one refuge. I have seen everything cool except for The Theory of Everything, I still want to see that. I’m such a movie addict. I’m the type of guy who would consider paying $300 for a hotel just to watch the movies that are not in theaters but are not out yet on Apple TV.
What’s one you’re looking forward to?
That one, The Theory of Everything. I missed it in theaters. What I’m looking forward to coming out is a lot of comic book movies. So any of the Avengers series. The last movie that I saw was American Sniper. That community means a lot to me. I have a lot of friends in that circle so it was really really cool to see that.
Yeah that was a really good movie. I really enjoyed American Sniper. 2 more questions. Here at Serif we respect storytelling above all else, how important do you think storytelling is in business today?
I think it’s everything. I think it’s what separates, especially in the tech community. You put us against startup-X with similar technical expertise and I think whats going to separate us is that we have a good story; both personally and in our brand. We know how to tell that story on a daily basis and we can grow our audience based on the story versus just the software that we are building.
Anything else you want to share?
Yeah, we really need a good video for our website.
(laughing) We might be able to help you out with that.
You can find more about Web and what he’s doing here:
Twitter: @web (Editors note: yes… @web… what a great Twitter handle to have)
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