In this fourth edition of the Unusual Entrepreneur Interviews for 2013, I have with me today, Jenny Blake the founder of Life After College –where she helps fresh college graduates get a grip on their after college life!
She’s a bestselling author, micro-business coach and international speaker who helps people move beyond burnout to build sustainable, dynamic careers they love. With two years at a technology start-up as the first employee, over five years at Google on the Training and Career Development teams, and two years of running her own business, Jenny combines her love of technology with her superpower of organizing information to help clients through big transitions — often to launch a book, blog or business.
Take it away Jenny!
Interview Questions Part One
ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Awakening the Spirit of business
1. Can you please tell us a little about yourself and your business? What do you do?, how do you do it?, why do you do it and who do you do it for?
Hi! My name is Jenny, and I’m an author, speaker, career coach and occasional yoga teacher living in New York City (when not out of a suitcase). I love working with other solopreneurs looking to get their biggest, hariest, scariest ideas out there to the world. You can find me at JennyBlake.me, where I explore how to thrive at the intersection of mind, body and business.
2. How would you describe your entrepreneurial journey into the world of business? Where there any key incidents or life changing events that inspired your decision to become an entrepreneur?
I realized one day that, despite my fears about whether I could succeed at running my own business, I would forever regret not trying. That set me on my entrepreneurial path and I haven’t looked back since! There have been lots of ups and downs, and I’m learning to live with the uncertainty that comes with solopreneurship, but it’s also so rewarding and a deeply meaningful growth process.
3. When you started out in business, what specific idea, purpose or vision was your key driving force?
My book, Life After College, had just come out and I knew I couldn’t promote it fully while working full-time. I took a 3-month sabbatical from my job at Google (where I had worked for 5 years in Coaching, Training, and Career Development).
4. What is your take on the general notion that entrepreneurs should build a business around what they naturally love to do?
I’m all for it AND it’s critical to make sure that you are developing marketable skills that others will actually pay you for. I wrote about this in more detail in my recent post, The Two Year (Scratching the Surface of) Mastery Itch.
5. What is your personal life mission as an entrepreneur? That is; what contributions do you want to make with your life or what would you like to be remembered for as an entrepreneur through the businesses you create when you die?
I want to be remembered for inspiring others to go after what they really want, while providing insanely useful tips and tools to help them ensure that they aren’t just tiptoeing around their best ideas but vigorously pursuing them.
6. What would you describe as the purpose of entrepreneurship? That is; what role do entrepreneurs play in the world?
Creating value through innovation by solving a problem or pain that people are experiencing, or making an existing process more efficient or effective.
Interview Questions Part Two
STRATEGY: The unusual execution of business best practices
7. How do you identify business opportunities and what metrics do you use to measure their viability?
I am really a fan of agile development these days. At Google people often followed the axiom “launch and iterate.” Sometimes, particularly as a new entrepreneur, it can be hard to tell what ideas to pursue. Without investing too much up-front, launch a beta version and get feedback from your audience. It has also worked well for me to get feedback up front through surveys and conversation with my audience, before I start to build.
8. Do you have mentors, business coach or external consultants that you work closely with to grow yourself and your business? If yes, to what extent would you describe their impact on your business? If no, are there any particular reasons?
Mentors and coaches have played a HUGE role in my success (and sanity) over the years, but I don’t have just one that I always turn to. I love having a variety of people in my corner that I can turn to for advice, guidance and reassurance. If there’s someone you admire, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for a few minutes of their time!
9. How do you strategically use your time as an entrepreneur? What key activities would you recommend entrepreneurs use their time for?
Every morning I have coffee, do a short meditation, and read for a little bit to ease into my day. I identify 2-3 “must do” priorities and tackle those first thing. I try not to get swallowed up by email right away, unless that is my designated “big frog” for the day.
10. How do you generate profitable customers for your business? What unusual approaches do you adopt for marketing your products/services?
All of my business comes through my websites (LifeAfterCollege.org and JennyBlake.me), the first of which I have had for almost eight years now. I focus on providing insanely useful tips and tools, and authentic, relatable content and trust that the customers will follow. Thankfully they have!
11. Many entrepreneurs complain about not succeeding in business due to lack of adequate funding, what is your take on this matter and how do you cope with funding issues in your business?
I’d suggest reading Chris Guillebeau’s $100 Startup — it’s amazing how much you can do with very little up-front investment. I do recommend having a savings runway of at least six months of living expenses so that you can make it through lean times without panicking.
12. When starting out a new business, who are the likely possible partners or professional service providers you would recommend every entrepreneur work with?
There are tons of helpful online apps for small business owners (I list all the ones I use in my Business Ninja Tech Toolkit) — I’d start there, since you often don’t need to hire as many professionals as you think. Do definitely consult a lawyer and accountant, though. On that note, eMinutes is currently helping 500 entrepreneurs register their business for free!
13. The pricing of products/services is always an issue for entrepreneurs, what unusual approach do you take when it comes to pricing?
Experiment! Nothing is final. Try to come up with three numbers for each product: minimum you would want, nice to have, and a stretch number. Usually it’s somewhere between the second two, unless you specifically choose to price low for a secondary goal (such as going for quantity and exposure rather than income).
Interview Questions Part Three
MISCELLANEOUS: Resourceful Recommendations, tools, books, and ideas for entrepreneurs
14. Since you became an entrepreneur – someone who solves problems for people profitably; what has been your most outstanding accomplishments in the context of business?
I’m proud of maintaining really healthy habits while working for myself: I schedule my meetings around my yoga classes, I really prioritize sleep (above almost all else!) and I eat very clean. This helps me show up as my best, most creative self each day.
15. What would you describe as your major setbacks and what lessons did you pick from them?
Going through personal transitions can be tough when running your own business. If I don’t feel like working or am in a “building mode” rather than client acquisition, I have come to accept the trade-off that happens: I won’t just automatically get a paycheck every two weeks the way I did in the corporate setting, so I may experience a more lean month income-wise. That said, maybe not! Sometimes I’ll serendipitously get a big income surge that I wasn’t expecting (say from a speaking engagement), but that’s all part of the adventure of entrepreneurship 🙂
16. Where there any particular questions you expected me to ask that is beneficial to entrepreneurs and I didn’t? Kindly share with us such questions and their relevant answers here.
My personal motto is “build and your courage will follow.” Don’t expect to feel 100% confident BEFORE you take a leap or pursue a big idea — usually that comes after you start making moves. It’s part of the reward for finally taking action.
Jenny has shared a lot in this interview, but just in case, she missed out something, what more would you like to know about the unusual Jenny Blake?
You can ask her further questions below in the comment section and I will be sure that you will get an answer directly from her.
Also, what did you learn from this unusual entrepreneur? What lessons, what philosophy of her strike you the most?
Jenny has shared her unusual story with you, now is time to hear from you. Can’t wait to hear what you have to say!