Jamie Michael Hemmings had the pleasure of interviewing Nikolas Woods, founder and CEO of HOHM; a custom engineered sound-blocking sleep pod. As a serial entrepreneur, Mr. Woods thrives on creating and cultivating companies and teams. His last company Lightbox Medical sold in 2015.
What is your “backstory”?
By the time I was 14, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I would read Entrepreneur & Forbes every time my mom brought me to the grocery store. Entrepreneurship to me was freedom. With entrepreneurship, it didn’t matter your age, you were in complete control. Success was yours for the taking. So, I started going after things. I started my first venture when I was only 14 years old. Yes, 14. It was a 3D world website called CarFuze that allowed you to customize your own 3D car. I had no idea what I was doing, but somehow, I found a business partner who was four times my age and worked at IBM. We wrote a 40-page business plan, met with lawyers, and emailed major car manufacturers. Ultimately, the project stalled when I met with a local web developer who quoted me $100,000 for the project.
I kept starting new ventures all through high school — an online tee-shirt business, an anonymous compliment website, and I also DJed parties to earn extra money. Some of these panned out and gained traction, some of them didn’t. But I never thought of any of these as failures. I learned a lot from each and every experience. By the time I was 18, my entrepreneurial spirit was thriving and I was hungrier than ever.
At 19 I hit my first real entrepreneurial success with Lightbox Medical. Lightbox was a medical supply start-up I created where we would purchase excess over-the-counter medical supplies from people all over the U.S. and resell the products back into the market. In four years I grew the business from my room at my mom’s house to a handful of employees purchasing over $500,000 in product annually. In early 2016, I sold Lightbox to a few investors out of Florida and started HOHM, my current company.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I always get asked, “What if people have sex in one of your pods?” It’s one of the first things most people think when I bring up HOHM. I always find that funny.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are tackling a major issue every human being deals with: sleep.
In addition to food and water, sleep is a basic human necessity. When you need food on the go, away from the house, you have hundreds of options — from sushi to steak. When you need sleep on the go, what are your options? You can sleep uncomfortably in the car, or lay under a tree out in public, or pay for an expensive hotel room. We are filling a gap in the market — a quiet, safe, and private space to get some rest, for a short period of time, while on the go.
There have been many nights when I’ve had trouble sleeping. I’m thinking of how big this idea could be, and how we could grow it. I would stay up, thinking and thinking. Several others on my team told me the same thing happened to them. That’s why I think there is something great happening at HOHM.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Right now, it’s all about HOHM. We’ve been picking up steam over the past year, and I’ve never been more excited about a project in my life.
HOHM is a custom-engineered, sound-blocking sleep pod, designed to provide individuals with comfort, privacy, and a quick escape from hectic environments. Our goal with HOHM is to create a network of our sleeping units across the country bookable via our mobile app. All placements have a personal attendant present to check you in and out, clean after each use, change sheets, ensure single occupancy, and answer any questions.
We’ve partnered with Tempur-Sealy, placed our HOHMs at SXSW, and are in talks with the San Diego Airport, Cornell University, AMN Healthcare, and several other locations looking to provide safe and affordable short-term sleeping options to their communities.
We’ll be officially launching and expanding HOHM throughout the year.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Find people who are the right fit for the position, put them in that position, keep clear and open lines of communication, and get out of their way.
I think each of those points are very important. Don’t just choose someone for a role because they are your friends or you know them, find the best person for the position, and plug them in. Once you do that, keep an open line of communication, and make it a point to let them know they can talk to you about whatever they need. People don’t automatically know this, so make them feel welcomed when they become a part of the team.
Finally, be clear on your expectations, teach them the ways, but ultimately, let them do their thing. Don’t hover, micromanage or try to control them. But do discuss the tips and tricks to better optimize their process.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
There are so many people who have helped me in their own unique ways along this journey. My parents, my friends, even people who didn’t believe in me gave me fire to succeed. And I love proving those ones wrong.
One person who definitely helped me was entrepreneur and investor Mike Alfred. He is a man I have always admired as a person and business leader. He gave HOHM the initial capital spark we needed to take off.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Right now, it has been through sharing advice and helping other entrepreneurs. I love entrepreneurship, and when others share their ideas with me, it excites me and gets my mind going. I want to help them succeed with their ventures as well.
In the future I would like to bring even more goodness to the world. I think there is a large philanthropic angle that we can implement with HOHM, and I am excited to explore that once the time comes.
Can you share the top five lessons that you have learned from your experience as a “Black Man In Tech”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
I think part of what has gotten me to where I am is that I don’t really acknowledge my race in the professional world. I simply work hard, create great products and close deals. Race or the color of my skin, to me, is irrelevant. It’s never brought up or discussed in business and I never let it hold me back or use it as an excuse.
To me, if you work hard and have a good business, nothing else matters. Most of all race, ethnicity or gender.
The more under-represented founders that dive in this mindset, the more diverse the tech space become.
So, I think that the top five lessons I would give to a founder of color are:
1. Don’t think about race. Focus on building something great. Focus on optimizing your product. Your race doesn’t matter. You are great!
2. Realize that you can do anything. Hard work and dedication trumps race every time. Just because you may be a minority in your field, it doesn’t mean you cannot succeed. Look at Tiger Woods, look at Lewis Hamilton, and look at Barack Obama. These are all examples that prove this is true.
I never had anything handed to me. I came from an average middle-class family in Sacramento, CA. I just wanted it really badly, so I made it my life mission to get to where I wanted to be.
3. Inspire other minorities. Encourage other minorities to succeed and let them know that they can do anything as well. The only way to create less of a division in the tech world is to educate and inspire other minorities to enter into the field.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out. The internet is an amazing tool. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you see online. Start a conversation, make them an offer, and make them your mentor. Just because they may have a high position within a company, doesn’t mean they bring any more value to the world than you do, so don’t be afraid to hit them up, and see where it goes.
5. Develop a Smart Circle. Develop a smart professional circle of people in the business and start-up world who will help you propel your career. Whether it’s other tech entrepreneurs, executives, attorneys or engineers. Develop a circle, provide value, and they will reciprocate.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Motivation is worth more than knowledge.” Steve Wozniak
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
There are a few!
Sean Parker. He’s one of the early disruptors in the tech world (Napster), a true go-getter, extremely smart, and seems to have the golden touch (Facebook & Spotify). It would be awesome to sit down with him.
Deborah Flint, CEO of LAX. Although I don’t focus on race or gender, I still see it. It’s incredibly powerful and inspiring to see an African American female executive ascend to such a high level within one of the busiest and most trafficked airports in the world. LAX is one of our biggest targets for HOHM.
Kobe Bryant. I’m a big Sacramento Kings fan, but I admire Kobe’s work ethic and story. He’s said that when he was younger — in his teens — putting in the work on the court was his outlet, his escape. Whenever he had a free minute, he was on the court practicing. I admire that and try to practice that as well. I’m also inspired by what he’s doing in the VC world now with Bryant Stibel.
Originally published at medium.com