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Interview with Claire Houston, Co-Founder of Houston & Ko



Interview with Claire Houston, Co-Founder of Houston & Ko

Paula (left) began her career in one of the big consulting houses, and she has spent most of her professional life focusing on the area of Mergers & Acquisitions. When it comes to detail, Sherlock Holmes doesn’t have a look in. Paula leaves no stone unturned, no question unasked and no business plan unscrutinised. Outside of work Paula can be found with her face as close to the snow as possible as she carves up the Swiss alps with her hardboard.
Claire (right) has had an international career that has taken her far from the green fields of Ireland, where she started with one of the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) giants, Coca-Cola. Her guiding light when it comes to project management has always been the collection, measurement and (she says ‘most importantly) use of data to drive value. When Claire isn’t measuring, analysing or managing something she can be found stretching her legs on the triathlon circuit.

Where did the idea for Houston & Ko come from?

Both of us grew up (professionally speaking) in large corporations such as Coca-Cola, KPMG, PWC, Hilti, and The Adecco Group, where we saw and experienced the benefits and challenges to both employers and employees of the traditional hiring model.

We have been imagining a different approach to talent acquisition, where organizations don’t purchase time, but outcomes. Of course, the freelance market was already in existence, but in its current state, is so complex that it doesn’t allow for effective collaboration with the fast-paced start-up world – and so the dream of a simpler, more effective, and more premium marketplace was born (and simply named Houston & Ko).

Today, Houston & Ko has more than 120 years of collective experience in providing freelancer services to various types of organizations all over the world. Our highly-skilled team is working from 17 different countries and speaks 12 different languages. Their experience allows us to deliver (almost) any type of freelancer support you might need, from administration support to marketing experts and finance professionals.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Uninterrupted working hours are gold – so we try to structure our day around this.

Paula and I track the time we spend on each topic throughout the day and split they key tasks on our business on a monthly basis, e.g one month Paula takes care of clients and I the team, the next month we change over.
This means (1) we don’t waste time and energy jumping from topic to topic and (2) as a bonus – we spend enough time focusing on one process that we get to know its good/bad/ugly sides and make the necessary changes.

How do you bring ideas to life?

We are doers.

It might not be the sexiest of responses, but so many brilliant ideas just never make it further than thoughts or conversations. It’s sometimes disheartening to talk to talented individuals about the amazing idea they have, only to catch-up two years later and find out that they never started.

In comparison Paula and I have a variety of ideas, some are truly awful, some mediocre and some pretty good, and we bring them to life (rightly or wrongly) by putting them into action. We aren’t afraid to try, fail and learn.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Would it be too predictable to say the freelance revolution?

Ok, we are going to say it anyway, because we are so genuinely stoked about this topic.

When done correctly, with reasonable policies and practices we believe that freelancing has the potential to provide numerous benefits to individuals, organizations and communities.

1. It has the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty
In developing countries like Kenya, Nigeria and India, full-time freelancers are making up to 14 times more than the current minimum wage.

2. It creates opportunities for truly inclusive employment practices
The flexibility and remote nature of the freelance economy means it welcomes skilled individuals regardless of gender, ethnicity, physical ability or personal circumstance.

3. It revives our small towns and villages.
Opportunities for increased proximity to nature and reduced cost of living encourage freelancers to move to, or remain in more rural locations. This moves income away from bigger cities to smaller towns and villages, distributing wealth more efficiently and driving investments in the local communities.

If you can’t get excited about contributing to a movement that could actually make a positive impact in the world – what can you get excited about?

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

We track our time.

Some people will be squirming in their seats reading this – we get it, it sounds a bit micro-managy, but bear with me.

Tracking our time makes us more productive for a number of reasons. The first being that we tend to work on one topic for a prolonged block of time, rather than switching every few minutes.

The second is that this blocking of time discourages us from procrastinating. If we have one hour to do operations, we tend to work through all of these open tasks methodically, rather than picking and choosing.

The last is that at the end of each day we see a detailed breakdown of where we are spending our time. This is important when it comes to assessing if we are spending time on the topics that matter most to our business.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Trying and failing is better than never having tried at all.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Being naive is a good thing.

As first time founders, we approach many of our challenges creatively and without the limitations that come with experience – which allows us to think in ideals, rather than marginal improvements.

If we had a firm understanding of the challenge we were undertaking, we would likely never have started.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Build a resilient business because despite having passed what seems to be the heat of the most recent crisis, the business world will remain turbulent and volatile and only those with a robust, adaptable, and antifragile business model will be able to thrive.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Being a customer-led business.

Our entire business strategy for growth centers around building a business that solves real-world challenges for our customers. This sole belief drives the conversations we have, the content we create, the people we hire, the services we provide and much much more.

It means asking not assuming, listening not talking and speaking with, rather than at our customers.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

In our first year of business, our biggest failure was the inability to discern between business and profitable business.

We took on nearly every project that crossed our paths, a practice that drained our time and energy and while it brought us revenue, it didn’t bring us profit.

At the end of the year, we recognised our mistakes and implemented a yearly business review.

Now we sit down and look carefully at all the projects we undertake in terms of profitability and success. We decide consciously what services we will offer next year and what services we will discontinue or find a different model for.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Oh you are going to make us shy now. In another life Paula and I were experienced apres-ski instructors and had the idea to create a real-time GPS tracking system to show you where the best parties were on the ski slopes.

We talk about this quite often with a healthy mix of absolute embarrassment and fondness because it was our first baby steps into the wild world of entrepreneurship.

We still have the domain – so if anyone reading this fancies it, the idea, website and first two customers are up for grabs!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Starlink. For Paula and I freedom is everything, but wifi connection comes in a very close second. Starlink is helping us balance our personal and professional life by giving us the freedom to travel and the security to know we will be able to run our business from (nearly) anywhere in the world.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

We are obsessed with Loom at the minute. Essentially it’s a video messaging tool that helps you get your message across by recording your camera, microphone, and desktop simultaneously.
We use it to explain what we mean when an email just doesn’t cut it, as a lead generation tool and to document standard operating procedures and processes.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

If you want to build a business that doesn’t stop when you take time off, we recommend reading Clockwork: Design Your Business to Run Itself by Mike Michalowicz

What is your favorite quote?

Unsurprisingly, one of our favorite quotes is about freedom by Danielle Colding.

“Quality of life is having the freedom to make choices that are not fear based. Whether it’s the ability to choose the kinds of projects I want to take on and can learn from, or the ability to take a month off to travel. Freedom to choose is the ultimate luxury.”

Key Learnings:

  • There are few misunderstandings that can’t be solved by a phone call, but many that can be exacerbated via WhatsApp.
  • Every single day is a school day – teammates and clients, the best teachers.
  • Learning how to exclude ego from conversations exponentially improves nearly every relationship in life.
  • The grass is not greener on the other side, it’s just different grass and your experience of it will depend on what you value in life.
Originally published on IdeaMensch.


Interview with Jack Carlson, Founder of Rowing Blazers: History, Tradition, and Innovation



Interview with Jack Carlson, Founder of Rowing Blazers

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Jack Carlson is the founder and creative director of Rowing Blazers, a fashion brand that combines classic American style with a contemporary edge. Jack Carlson, a former national team rower, and scholar of history draw inspiration from vintage sportswear and traditional Ivy League fashion. His passion for design and fashion, combined with his unique background. Jack Carlson has resulted in the creation of a brand that stands out in the industry.

Can you tell us about your background and how you became interested in fashion?

I’ve always had a passion for fashion and design, even while pursuing my other interests. I grew up in Connecticut and started rowing at a young age, eventually competing at the national level. While studying history at Harvard, I became interested in the traditional clothing worn by rowers and began to collect vintage rowing blazers. This sparked my interest in fashion and led me to start designing my own clothing. After completing a Ph.D. in archaeology, I decided to pursue fashion full-time and founded Rowing Blazers in 2017.

What inspired you to start Rowing Blazers?

I wanted to create a brand that celebrated the rich history and tradition of American fashion, particularly the preppy style of the Ivy League. At the same time, I wanted to bring a contemporary edge to classic designs and challenge the boundaries of traditional fashion. I was inspired by the vintage rowing blazers that I collected and wanted to create my own versions that were both authentic and modern.

Can you walk us through the design process of creating a new collection?

The design process always starts with research and inspiration. I spend a lot of time looking at vintage clothing, archival photographs, and historical documents to get a sense of the styles and aesthetics of a particular time period or culture. From there, I sketch out ideas and work with my team to refine the designs and select fabrics. We always strive to balance classic elements with modern twists and unexpected details. It’s a collaborative process that involves a lot of trial and error, but we always end up with something that we’re proud of.

How do you stay true to your brand’s identity while also keeping up with current fashion trends?

For us, it’s not about following trends, but rather creating timeless pieces that will never go out of style. Although we draw inspiration from the past, we don’t limit ourselves to it. We’re always looking for ways to innovate and push boundaries while staying true to our brand’s core identity. We’re not interested in fast fashion or disposable clothing – our pieces are meant to last and be treasured for years to come.

Can you tell us about a particular challenge you faced while growing Rowing Blazers and how you overcame it?

One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced is scaling the business while maintaining the quality and craftsmanship that we’re known for. We’ve had to find the right partners and suppliers who share our values and are able to produce our garments to our high standards. We’ve also had to be very strategic about our growth, taking things one step at a time and not rushing into anything too quickly. It’s been a learning process, but we’ve been able to grow the business in a sustainable way that we’re proud of.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own fashion brand?

My advice would be to stay true to your vision and never compromise on quality. It’s also important to be strategic about your growth and not try to do everything at once. Start small and focus on doing one thing really well before expanding. And always be willing to learn and adapt – the fashion industry is constantly changing, so it’s important to be flexible and open to new ideas.

What’s next for Rowing Blazers?

We’re always working on new designs and collaborations, but we’re also focused on expanding our brand beyond just clothing. We want to create a lifestyle brand that encompasses all aspects of American style, from furniture to home decor to travel accessories. We’re excited to continue growing and evolving while staying true to our brand’s identity and values.

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Jack Carlson’s passion for fashion and history has resulted in the creation of a unique and innovative brand that stands out in the industry. His dedication to quality and craftsmanship, as well as his commitment to sustainability, sets Rowing Blazers apart from other fashion brands. To stay up to date with Jack Carlson and Rowing Blazers, you can follow him on LinkedIn.

Liked this interview? Check out this interview with Gracie Cedres

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Interview with Gracie Cedres: Insights on Entrepreneurship and Work-Life Balance



Interview with Gracie Cedres, Founder of G.R.A.C.E.

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Gracie Cedres is the founder and CEO of G.R.A.C.E., a company that provides virtual assistance and project management services to entrepreneurs and small business owners. With a degree in communications, Gracie has always been interested in helping others succeed in their businesses. Her passion for helping entrepreneurs led her to create G.R.A.C.E., which has been helping entrepreneurs and small business owners increase their productivity and profitability. In this interview, Gracie will share more about her journey as an entrepreneur and the success of G.R.A.C.E.

Can you tell us about yourself and your journey as an entrepreneur?

Sure, my name is Gracie Cedres, and I am the founder and CEO of G.R.A.C.E. I have always been interested in helping others, especially entrepreneurs and small business owners, succeed in their businesses. After completing my degree in communications, I worked as a virtual assistant for various entrepreneurs and realized that there was a need for high-quality virtual assistance and project management services. That’s how the idea for G.R.A.C.E. was born, and since then, I have been working hard to help entrepreneurs and small business owners achieve their goals.

How did you come up with the idea for G.R.A.C.E.?

After working as a virtual assistant for several entrepreneurs, the idea for G.R.A.C.E. came to me. I realized that many entrepreneurs were struggling to manage their time effectively and needed high-quality virtual assistance and project management services to help them become more productive and profitable. I saw an opportunity to help entrepreneurs and small business owners by providing them with top-notch virtual assistance and project management services, and that’s how G.R.A.C.E. was born.

What are some of the challenges you faced in starting and growing your business?

One of the biggest challenges I faced in starting and growing my business was finding the right team members. It’s important to have a team that shares your vision and is passionate about what they do. I also faced challenges in marketing my services and reaching out to potential clients. However, I overcame these challenges by networking, building relationships, and creating high-quality content that showcased the value of my services.

What is your vision for G.R.A.C.E. in the next five years?

My vision for G.R.A.C.E. in the next five years is to become the go-to virtual assistance and project management service provider for entrepreneurs and small business owners worldwide. I want to expand my team and services to be able to help more entrepreneurs and small business owners increase their productivity and profitability. I also want to continue building strong relationships with my clients and providing them with top-notch services.

Can you share with us some of your favorite success stories from working with your clients?

One of my favorite success stories is working with a small business owner who was struggling to manage their time effectively. By providing them with virtual assistance and project management services, we were able to help them increase their productivity, improve their marketing strategies, and ultimately grow their business. It’s always fulfilling to see my clients succeed and achieve their goals.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to educate themselves and never stop learning. It’s important to constantly learn new skills, stay up to date with industry trends, and seek out new opportunities. It’s also essential to have a strong work ethic, be persistent, and not be afraid to take risks. Don’t let failure discourage you, instead use it as a learning opportunity and keep pushing forward.

How do you maintain a work-life balance as a busy entrepreneur?

Maintaining a work-life balance can be challenging as a busy entrepreneur, but it’s essential for your well-being and the success of your business. One of the things I do is prioritize my tasks and delegate when necessary. I also set aside time for self-care activities like exercise, reading, and spending time with family and friends. It’s also important to know when to disconnect from work and focus on other aspects of your life.

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Gracie Cedres is an inspiration to entrepreneurs and small business owners worldwide. Her dedication to helping others and passion for entrepreneurship has led to the success of G.R.A.C.E. With a vision for continued growth and success, Gracie is sure to make an impact in the virtual assistance and project management industry. To learn more about Gracie Cedres and G.R.A.C.E., visit her website and follow her on LinkedIn.

Liked this interview? Check out this interview with Evan Cagner

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Interview with Evan Cagner: Insights into the World of Tech and Entrepreneurship



Interview with Evan Cagner, CEO of TechBlue

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Evan Cagner is the founder and CEO of TechBlue, a company that provides managed IT services to businesses of all sizes. Evan has over 15 years of experience in the tech industry and has helped numerous businesses grow by leveraging technology. He is a thought leader and innovator in the IT industry, with a keen eye for emerging trends and technologies. In this interview, Evan Cagner shares his insights into the world of tech and entrepreneurship.

What inspired you to start TechBlue?

I’ve always been passionate about technology and how it can be used to solve business problems. I started my career working for a large IT consulting firm, and I quickly realized that there was a big gap in the market for managed IT services. Small and medium-sized businesses often struggle to keep up with the latest technology trends, and they don’t have the resources to hire full-time IT staff. That’s why I decided to start TechBlue – to help these businesses leverage technology to grow and succeed.

What sets TechBlue apart from other managed IT services companies?

There are a few things that set TechBlue apart from other managed IT services companies. First and foremost, we are incredibly focused on customer service. We believe that building strong relationships with our clients is the key to our success. Second, we have a team of highly skilled technicians who are constantly learning and staying up to date with the latest technologies. Finally, we are very flexible and can customize our services to meet the unique needs of each of our clients.

How do you stay on top of emerging trends in the tech industry?

I’m always reading and staying up to date with the latest news and trends in the tech industry. I attend conferences and meet with other thought leaders in the industry to discuss new technologies and how they can be used to solve business problems. I also encourage my team to stay up to date and share their knowledge with each other.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the IT industry?

The pandemic has had a significant impact on the IT industry. With so many people working remotely, there has been a huge demand for cloud-based services and virtual private networks (VPNs). There has also been an increased focus on cybersecurity, as remote workers are more vulnerable to cyberattacks. Overall, the pandemic has accelerated the shift toward digital transformation and has highlighted the importance of having a reliable and secure IT infrastructure.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses?

My advice would be to focus on building a strong team and never stop learning. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and who have different skill sets. Be willing to take risks and make mistakes, but also be willing to learn from those mistakes. And finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from other entrepreneurs who have been through it before.

What is your vision for the future of TechBlue?

My vision for TechBlue is to continue to grow and expand our services to meet the changing needs of our clients. I want to stay at the forefront of emerging technologies and continue to be a thought leader in the industry. Ultimately, I want to help as many businesses as possible leverage technology to achieve their goals.

What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family and staying active. I’m an avid runner and I also enjoy playing basketball and golf. I’m also a big fan of music and enjoy going to concerts and discovering new artists.

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Evan Cagner is a true leader and innovator in the IT industry. His passion for technology and customer service has helped TechBlue become one of the most respected managed IT services companies in the business. With his keen eye for emerging trends and technologies, Evan is sure to continue to make an impact in the industry for years to come. To learn more about Evan Cagner and TechBlue, you can visit their website or follow them on LinkedIn.

Liked this interview? Check out this interview with Makayla Gordon

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