“Have a Mentor in Life” The 5 Lessons I Learned Being a 20-Something Founder

I had the pleasure of interviewing Felix Ekwueme. Felix is the 25 year old founder, who attributes his mission to addressing pressing…

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Felix Ekwueme. Felix is the 25 year old founder, who attributes his mission to addressing pressing needs first, and empowering others to achieve their goals. Haven founded and managed over $300 million dollars in software products, today, Felix is a founder of a new startup addressing social physical interactions. He is also a speaker, and a judge at venture panels, and university entrepreneurship programs where he helps identify investment-ready startups.

Jean: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory” of how you became a founder?

It is an honor to be here. I became an entrepreneur by necessity. At a point when I began to feel most comfortable within my corporate role, I realized that there was so much more to be done in the world. Rather than building products that the wealthy could utilize, or making productivity enhancements, I wanted to address key problems.

I believe that no matter the technological innovations we bring to the world, the things that matter most to us today will need to be addressed, because they will matter the most in the future if they are overlooked today. These are issues like energy, electricity, transportation, healthcare, and human-human interactions.

I believe in Need First, Innovation Second, and this was how my journey began as a founder. My startups have developed gesture controlled home security systems for the blind and immobile, reliable solar energy to Nigeria, and my newest startup, TELL EM’, is powering physical social interactions through social media.

Jean: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Being at the intersection of social media and physical experiences, we are building for what matters most today, and how that will shape the future we live in. How we interact with people and how that affects the families and friends we keep or lose.

In a recent chat with a former colleague, he shared a story of a conversation he had with his high school aged daughter. While at the mall, he asked her to find out some information from a customer service agent, and she responded that she had decided that her goal for the summer was not to talk to anyone in-person. While this may sound shocking to some, it is the case today, and the second time I had heard such a similar story.

A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people who use social media more, also report feeling more socially isolated, and that for real friendships, there needs to be actual in-person contact to sustain it. As a company, our goal is to address this issue by leveraging social media to bring people to physical social experiences. We believe in a future where physical interactions remain the bedrock of the relationships we build.

Jean: Are you working on any exciting projects now?

Some of the interesting projects we have in the pipeline are largely tied to tourism and sports. This includes working with governments to provide more visibility, and recommendations to tourist attractions. Some of our customers are some of the largest African nations, and one of the world’s largest airports located in Asia. Nations that believe that physical interactions facilitate a sense of belonging and a caring community that can provide the support needed to create new economic opportunities and solve cultural challenges.

In addition to this, we are currently raising funding, and engaging with investors in Consumer Internet, Social, AI, Media, and impact investments. This is an exciting stage, because more often than not, the success of the round, affects the growth of the company.

Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

My favorite book is The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne. The secret is a book which claims that thoughts can change the world directly. This is true for founders because a lot of what we do is based on the vision we have for our company; where we see ourselves in the future. This book showcases the significance of believing that your dreams are possible. It is the first book I fully adopted in my life, long before I ever became a founder.

In one instance, I had imagined the type of car I wanted to drive, I searched for its cost, and even test drove it. Years later when I had forgotten all about it, I noticed that I was driving the same car I once visualized. I utilize this principle today, even as I envision the day I move from leading a private, to a publicly traded company.

Jean: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a Twentysomething Founder” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1 – Live simple, but enjoy life.

Never make the choice of trading personal happiness for business ambitions. As a founder, you do not have an 8–5 schedule, rather you work any hour, every day, so you must ensure that whatever you do is within the boundaries of your personal happiness.

I check this with the simple things that bring me joy. For me, I am the Harley Davidson riding founder. I wear my blazer underneath my leather jacket while I cruise to my office. It’s the little experience I look forward to every morning as I get ready for work. It is my early morning dose of enjoyment. It ensures that no matter the pressure, I still have something that gets me excited to be at work daily.

2 – Making money isn’t the goal. Empowering others is.

There are many ways to be successful financially. If you are doing what you truly believe adds value to people, then focus on the impact, and less on the financial reward. With dedication, skill, and the eyes and ears for your customers, you are more likely to build a successful company that will result in financial success.

3 – Have a mentor in life.

Rely on mentors for goals you want to achieve, no matter how big or small. In my case, when I identified that I wanted to learn how to speak slower, I reached out to one of my mentors who is an executive at a sales company. He had more public speaking experience than I did, and through multiple calls, I paid attention to how he spoke, and began to improve daily. I am not where I need to be, so if there is a mentor out there, with the knowledge of how to improve on this, kindly reach out.

4 – Be simple. Stick to the things you understand.

This is especially important for founders in the tech space. As new technologies erupt, you will be tempted to adopt, especially at the early stage when you are under the pressure to show relevance and innovation to investors. This mistake have significantly derailed many startups, especially in today’s world where blockchain, cryptocurrency, machine learning, and AI are trendy words.

Stick to what you know, and excel at what you do. Regardless of how trendy a new technology may be, most investors care for what makes them money. Once you identify your craft, and excel at it, they will come knocking.

5 – When you get comfortable, it’s time for a new challenge.

When you feel comfortable, look out for the many issues in the world that you can contribute to. Take on an advisory role at another startup, consider expanding your company, to include a research team that explores new product offerings. This could spark the next phase of success you achieve.

Getting comfortable could significantly impact your contribution to your company, and that could impact the company’s relevance to customers. This is a risky space to be in for a long time, because there are always companies waiting to grab your market share.

Jean: 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 see this. 🙂

Alexis Ohanian. In a recent interview, I listed Alexis as someone I would love to have a private breakfast with. Interestingly, Alexis and I are connected, but we have never met in person nor have we spoken to each other. We also share well over 15 friends with 2 degree separation. So if you are reading this Alexis, I will like to learn, as we say in Nigeria, “a thing or two” from your wealth of experience in building and betting on billion dollar companies. I will also love to chat about providing investment opportunities to startups within Africa. There are many things we can learn from each other, but I will love to spend some of the time to show you the opportunities that exist in Africa.

Jean: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

— Published on June 27, 2018

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