Starting a new business can be the thrill of a lifetime. In front of you, you have the possibility of personal and professional achievement. Times, however, have changed dramatically, and some old adages about business don’t necessarily hold true anymore. “Location is everything” is no longer applicable in today’s digital world. Some businesses begin in basements. Others thrive in old industrial warehouses.
The internet is your storefront now, which allows you to focus your energies on more pressing concerns for your new business venture. With the rapid advancement of technology, you need to worry about location much less than you think.
Here are five elements that should be more important to consider than location when starting your business:
Despite the prior two paragraphs, location is still important—just not in a way that you may have considered yet. Certain locations will obviously cost more than others. When you are a fresh, young business, you might decide that your money is better spent elsewhere and pass on that exposed brick property on Main Street for something more affordable.
You also want to consider everything you need in the space you will be renting or buying — shelving, lighting, fixtures, artwork, etc. It’s good to save money when you are looking for office space, but if you go too far, you might wind up missing some of the amenities that you need. It’s a balancing act.
A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to pay the first three months’ rent plus deposit on the space you decide to rent. It is also wise to ask if there are any extra fees or administrative costs, as even small ones can add up, and you’ll be spending more than you wanted before you know it.
It’s a great idea for fledgling business owners to find a space that is already within the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If it isn’t, you will have to make changes to the space to comply with ADA regulations. Installing handicap ramps, handrails in restrooms and widening doorframes isn’t cheap. Or easy.
Of course, accessibility goes beyond considerations for your customers who have disabilities. You want a location that will be easy enough for your employees to get to. If you have distributors, you want to make sure that getting to your business isn’t an absolute nightmare.
3. Your brand
You need to keep your brand top-of-mind because you want your business to be in an area that makes sense. For example, if you are an office supply store, it would make sense to be near offices or schools, as opposed to a high-end shopping district.
If you put your business in an area that makes sense for your brand, you are more likely to have new customers walking in because they will have come to that specific spot for a specific thing.
4. Style and feel
There was a time when people in the business world might have thought that caring about the interior of your office space was simply a frivolity, but that is not the case. Think about it: You and your employees will spend a lot of time in the workplace. The only place they’ll spend more time at is home.
Having a space that you enjoy is crucial for your mental health and the mental health of your employees. If you and your employees like where they work, they are more likely to be more productive.
In the modern era, you need to make sure that the space you rent has the infrastructure to operate with all the technology you need. For example, be sure to double-check that you are in a location that offers reliable high-speed internet.
In 2023 and beyond, location won’t matter as much for a new business as it used to. Pay close attention to the aforementioned elements to set yourself up for as much success as possible.
Since February 2022, the UN High Commission on Refugees reports that nearly 14 million people have been displaced from their homes in Ukraine—most of them seeking safety and shelter in other countries. More than 9 million of them crossed the border into Poland alone.
Dawid Adach, a co-founder of technology company MDBootstrap and former EO Poland president from 2021-22, partnered with fellow EO members Szymon Boniecki, Jakub Szalaty and many others across Europe and North America to fundraise, collect supplies to make comforting ‘living kits’ for arriving families, and create welcome centers for refugees crossing into Poland.
Embracing the agility of the entrepreneurial spirit and EO’s Purpose: to move the world forward by unlocking the full potential of entrepreneurs, these member-leaders stepped away from their businesses to lead from the front.
We asked Dawid about his experience in the past year, and what he learned while helping refugees from Ukraine. As the world confronts more frequent and compounding disasters, Dawid’s insights can offer learnings for other entrepreneurs who seek to support their communities in times of crisis.
What were your most memorable moments in helping the people of Ukraine?
Bearing witness. The strongest memories are what I saw with my own eyes. Thousands of refugees queuing at a train station, holding their kids’ hands with just a few belongings they packed moments before leaving. Also, the picture of shelters with 6,000+ occupied beds will stay in my mind forever. Of every 100 refugees, 60 were kids, 35 were women, and only 5 were men. We saw a lot of mothers with two or three kids and sometimes a grandmother. The men stayed to fight for their country, and we had to take care of their families now.
Random acts of kindness. One example that stands out is when Tomás Champalimaud (EO Portugal) showed up with a rented van and asked, “How can I help?” He explained that when he saw pictures of moms fleeing Ukraine with their kids on TV, he looked at his children and knew that he had to do something, so he took the first flight and came to help. There were thousands of others like Tomás. Many friends from Poland jumped into their cars and went to the border without knowing what to expect. All of them came back with cars filled up with refugees, which they gladly hosted in their houses and offices.
Flood of support. Since we were frontline workers, people from around the world who couldn’t show up themselves asked us how they could help. My phone was flooded with messages from hundreds of people. We created a working group on WhatsApp, but within a few days, we reached the 250-person group limit and had to switch to another tool. Many wanted to come, some even from other continents. People organized themselves into groups to collect donations. One friend, Dominique Love (EO Atlanta), heard that we were building shelters, so she ordered 50 mattresses online and had them shipped directly to us.
Did the urgency of war and the desperate needs of refugees unlock any entrepreneurial skill or talent that you did not know you possessed?
We learned how to run a charitable organization; we had no experience in it before. We learned that saying “yes” to something means saying “no” to something else, and vice versa. When the war started, we raised $500,000 in a weekend. It’s a lot of money, but when you apply it to a million refugees, you quickly realize that you have to make difficult choices on how to spend it. The needs were overwhelming, from medical care to shelters, food, and transportation.
I had never worked under so much stress before. As an example, many entrepreneurs who couldn’t come and help themselves were willing to donate. We didn’t have time to wait for an attorney’s decision on what paperwork to submit to ensure that we would fall into exemption requirements (similar to 501(c)3 in the US). We had to act quickly and bear the consequences later.
Finally, the surrounding chaos was indescribable. Supplies were sold out on the way to the store. Refugees scheduled to get on a bus to City A decided to take an earlier bus to City B without notice, so no one knew whether the bus should wait for them or pick up other people. “War-time CEO” took on a new, unfortunate meaning.
What has the fallout from the war helped you realize about yourself and other entrepreneurs?
The situation highlighted the dynamics of our response as entrepreneurs. Unlike larger humanitarian organizations, we were able to quickly and flexibly gear up and respond to the crisis. While established organizations may have more significant resources and procedures, we were able to deliver much-needed support where and when it was needed most. Thanks to the trust and support of donors, we could focus on the work at hand without being bogged down by bureaucratic procedures that could hinder our ability to respond swiftly.
As entrepreneurs, we were able to quickly pivot and adapt to the evolving situation, leveraging our networks and resources to mobilize support on the ground. We were not bound by traditional hierarchies and could make decisions on the fly, which proved to be crucial in such time-sensitive situations. Our ability to innovate and find creative solutions also helped us overcome challenges such as the shortage of supplies and the chaotic logistics of moving large numbers of people.
The trust and support of donors were instrumental in allowing us to carry out our mission. It provided us with the financial backing we needed to operate efficiently and respond quickly to the needs of those affected by the crisis. We were able to provide a level of support that was not possible for larger organizations, which are often constrained by bureaucratic processes and red tape.
What will you share with people who are not there to witness the human impact of the war?
The war is not over yet. Civilians are still dying. The lives of millions have changed forever, and Ukrainians still need help from the international community. So our work continues. EO Poland is still accepting donations at: ukraine.eopoland.org
As Dick Winter once said, “War brings out the worst and the best in people.” While we witnessed the worst of war through our TV screens, we were fortunate to witness the best in people—and our fellow entrepreneurs—firsthand.
Impact of EO Members’ Efforts for the People of Ukraine
Value of cash and goods distributed to people displaced from Ukraine in 2022: US$1+ million
The 17,000+ members of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) share a passion for entrepreneurship and maximizing their individual potential to move the world forward, together. In doing so, members forge a strong bond of support and shared experience.
In observance of Random Acts of Kindness Day on February 17, we asked members to share a Random Act of Kindness they received from another EO member and how it impacted them. Here’s what seven EO members shared:
Creating a brighter future
I met Carolina Lopez (EO Nicaragua) through EO. Our shared passion for helping children through education and empowerment helped us become great friends and colleagues.
In 2022, I founded a non-profit organization, High Tide Global, with my life partner, Elbert, to provide underprivileged children around the world with access to education, infrastructure, and motivational classes. We believe that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and empowering children to create a better future for themselves.
Carolina has been an invaluable partner in our mission. She has invested US$1 million to create a unique educational and empowerment program for children, the Superhero Program. It teaches children how to tap into their inner strength, empowering them to become strong, confident, and resilient individuals who can make a positive impact on their communities. Carolina generously donated the Superhero program to High Tide Global—allowing us to further our mission of lifting the tide for 1 billion people by 2032. Her act of kindness is a gift that will keep on giving for generations and throughout the globe.
While we were in Accelerator together, Brennen Bliss (EO Austin) helped me out of a bind during our overnight group retreat. My company’s website got hacked. I knew nothing about websites, security or hosting. But Brennen, founder of Propellic, came to my rescue: He migrated my company’s website to WP Engine over breakfast! That’s not even his business, but he is a technical guru. It would have taken us weeks to find a trusted resource and get it done.
It was a random act of kindness that improved my business, reduced my stress level and made Brennen a trusted fellow EOer for life!
— Carolyn Lowe, EO Austin, founder and CEO, ROI Swift
A thoughtful personal touch
GLC provides opportunities to connect with EO members from all over the world. At the 2019 GLC in Macau, China, my wife and I had the pleasure of meeting Saurabh Kakkar, former president of EO Jaipur, who truly embodies the spirit of EO and the meaning of connection. Eventually, my family planned a trip to India, including a visit to Jaipur.
Saurabh graciously arranged for us to have dinner together and even sent a car to pick us up. But that’s not where the story ends. When one of our flights got cancelled, we had to take an eight-hour train to Udaipur. Saurabh and his wife, Vinnie, went above and beyond by preparing a take-along food bag for us, complete with individually wrapped meals, condiments, snacks, after-dinner refreshments, drinks, vitamins, medicines, and even a deck of playing cards! Their thoughtful act had a profound impact on our trip; they taught me a valuable lesson about incorporating a personal touch in my business relationships.
Whenever a new member joins EO anywhere around the world, Ashtan Moore (EO DC) shares his direct contact on Slack and invites them to meet with him so he can welcome them and share any advice he may know about EO or business. When I met with him online, he gave me a tour and explained to me how a sales tool worked, even sent me templates and scripts he personally uses in his business. He is very active within the EO community, generous, and makes time for not just me, but everyone at EO.
Russ Hassmann, the first founding member of EO Connecticut, owns National Sign Corp. His company makes signs and branding for well-known companies including Maserati, Ferrari and Barnes & Noble. I am honored to call Russ a Forum mate for my 14 years in EO (24 years for him). My company recently moved to a new space where we could (finally!) have a sign above our entrance. Russ offered guidance and insight around the process of ordering and permitting a sign. As my team got the necessary approvals, to my great surprise, Russ had his team make and deliver us a new sign. It was a huge gift both personally and professionally, and I am reminded of our tremendous friendship and bond every day I walk into my office. It’s a symbol of all the learning, growing and friendships I have from joining EO and a reminder of giving back to this awesome EO global community.
During the height of the Covid pandemic, my then-wife’s sister contracted Covid and passed away. We live in New York City; she lived in Florida. My wife needed to go to Florida to bury her sister. As Covid was raging and vaccines weren’t yet available to us, traveling by plane didn’t feel safe. I posted on EO NY Google Groups, requesting ideas on how to get her from New York to Florida safely.
One EO member offered to fly her to Atlanta by private jet to meet her niece who could drive her to Florida. Another EO member offered up his RV so she could drive there comfortably. Other members offered access to high-end safety equipment. An international member worked her network to find a charter plane. I remain grateful for the many resources and ideas our generous community offered during that difficult time.
On separate occasions during a very tough time in my life, Trixie Whyte and Leah Caringal, both EO Philippines members, reached out to me to say they were thinking about me, asked how I was doing, and made sure I knew that they were there in case I needed anything.
Time, for me, is the most precious gift. For two incredibly busy women to stop whatever they were doing to check in on a fellow woman entrepreneur is an act of kindness that I will never forget. Knowing that I had friends in EO who were tuned in to me and who cared enough to let me know that I was not alone made me feel more confident and brave. I truly have a tribe!
Entrepreneurship is a blend of many skills. Undeniably, the ability to deliver a message efficiently, eloquently, and effectively is one of them. For some, the goal is to capture attention from a TED stage; for others, the stage is our boardroom. Regardless of our audience or the stage we aspire to dominate, EO has created a programme that turns EOers into exceptional presenters.
Global Speakers Academy (GSA)was launched in 2019 with the goal of bringing together members from across the globe and world-class speaker coaches for an intense and immersive 4.5-day classroom training programme on public speaking. Since then, the programme has graduated and certified inspiring high-impact talks delivered by members on every continent.
Applications are open (until 28 February 2023) for another high-impact Global Speakers Academy training in Lisbon, Portugal in May 2023. As you ponder whether now is the time to 10x your public speaking skills, hear from four GSA graduates about the transformational experience the programme had on their journeys:
What was your level of comfort with public speaking prior to attending Global Speakers Academy?
Michèle Hecken (EO Canada Bridge): I was comfortable, but I was not confident. Prior to completing GSA, I did not have the tools that I have now, which allow me to comfortably—and confidently—stand in front of hundreds of people and deliver a talk.
Stephanie Camarillo (EO Idaho): I was a novice with a passion and a desire to get my story out!
I had experience teaching university classes, some presenting for work, but it was giving an EO talk that inspired me to want more. I must admit: the self-doubt during my GSA experience was strong; I was comparing myself to others in the EO cohort. I remember walking into the room one morning and fellow attendee Robyn Rosenberger, founder of Tiny Superheroes, said she believed in me and told me to keep going. I did. And it’s been an amazing journey since.
Joe Frost (EO Nebraska): I had spoken in small group facilitations, in front of a classroom of students, and as guest at community events. I was fairly comfortable being in front of an audience but did not feel comfortable at all being considered a “keynote” speaker. That is why I attended.
Andrea Heuston (EO US West Bridge): I was a confident speaker when I signed up for GSA. On a scale from 1-10, I was about a 7. I’d been speaker-coaching for nearly 20 years, but I loved being behind the scenes more than on the stage.
What was your main motivation for attending Global Speakers Academy?
Michèle Hecken: I had sold my business and was writing a book, which made me curious about public speaking. First and foremost, I wanted to see if speaking was even something that I would enjoy. To me, the only way to answer that question was to go through proper training and find out.
Stephanie Camarillo: I wanted to amplify my voice, get world-class training, and get feedback and support from my peers. It turns out that the relationships built from that group have been the best takeaway and life-changing. We have all stayed in contact, frequently collaborate, ask questions, and support one another. It built my network exponentially, and I’m astounded by how valuable the experience has been.
Joe Frost: I’d been talking about becoming a keynote speaker for years, and finally decided to take a step towards doing it. I wasn’t sure of the formula for success, nor what topic I should present. I wanted GSA to give me a framework for a signature talk and help me understand what topic and how best to present on it. It did exactly that!
Andrea Heuston: Learning! I am a quintessential EOer with a true love for learning, always looking to add more arrows to my quiver.
In what way was the experience transformational for you?
Michèle Hecken: In so many ways! My biggest takeaway was to learn how to craft a talk that is not only informative, but also engaging, all the while presenting my value proposition. I was also impressed to learn the process that can be applied to crafting a five-minute talk equally as much as to creating a four-hour workshop. Lastly, I am grateful to GSA for the incredible community of fellow EOers I met and remain in contact with.
Stephanie Camarillo: GSA helped me gain the confidence and tools to speak publicly and tell my story. It helped me begin to build out other platforms. In inspired me to start building my personal brand. I just co-authored my first book, Lead Like a Woman: Audacity (with a fellow GSA graduate), I’ve written a second talk and am expanding my audience and social media following. I have also developed a women’s leadership retreat in Tuscany, Italy. Seriously, GSA opened a new chapter in my life. I am having so much fun!
Joe Frost: The GSA experience was impactful in three key ways. First, interacting with fellow EO members from around the world is priceless. Second, learning a proven system for developing a signature talk and the takeaway value from applying that system to multiple topics. And third, being able to work on my talk with professionals and peers during the week, improving every day.
Andrea Heuston: GSA is the single most impactful event I’ve attended in all my years with EO. I even wrote an article about it sharing the three reasons the programme was truly transformational to me.
Thanks to GSA, I became more comfortable telling my stories on stage. I also met and cultivated friendships with the most amazing people in EO!
What is the coolest outcome (speaking gig) you got as a result of attending GSA?
Michèle Hecken: I’ve had quite a few, from a five-minute Ignite talk at EO One Canada Conference to a four-hour workshop for a group of female entrepreneurs. Since GSA, I’ve given a keynote in Vegas, a talk at EO’s Global Leadership Conference, and have spoken to so many amazing chapters. My next talk is for EO Malaysia, and I am really looking forward to it!
Stephanie Camarillo: I loved delivering a talk to an audience in Seattle from a little village in Tuscany where we have an apartment. I’m applying to speak to global audiences now and that’s exciting. But in all truth, the coolest outcome is when someone attends my talk and writes about the impact. One EO member said: “I couldn’t let today go by without sending you a note to tell you how inspiring and courageous your message was last night … you were the topic of conversation today in the office, everybody was so touched and motivated by your story.” Impacting people like that gives me a sense of deep purpose.
Joe Frost: I am much more confident in my ability to deliver keynotes, but honestly the coolest outcomes were the relationships I made with other EO members. I’ve worked with many, shared the stage with a couple, and referred several others.
Andrea Heuston: I have had so many incredible speaking opportunities since attending GSA—more than I can count! Right now, I am finalizing an online course for aspiring speakers and presenters in the fitness industry, available to over 100,000 people for continuing education credits!
What is the title of your keynote, what is it about, and who is it best suited for?
Michèle Hecken: The title of my talk is “The Art of Offboarding,” and I love speaking to very different types of groups, but I am biased in favor of fellow EOers. When I speak to EO chapters or at EO events, not only do I get to bring tangible value, but I also get to meet fellow members and grow my incredible community.
Stephanie Camarillo: The title of my talk is “Three Secrets Successful Entrepreneurs Use to Find and Keep the Best Talent.” It illuminates a strategy of how to gain freedom and empowerment by lifting the dreams of the people you employ. Every entrepreneur deserves the opportunity to take a radically honest look at our innermost hopes and dreams—and reshape our business culture accordingly. A self-styled “freedompreneur,” my message is that ultimate freedom is the ability to choose your own journey in the face of any consequence.
I love delivering my talk to entrepreneurs, their spouses, employees, and key stakeholders to help align their company around a shared purpose empowering all to drive results.
Joe Frost: The title of my talk is “The Future is Fractional—Reinvent, Re-engineer, and Reimagine your leadership team with Fractional Professionals.” It’s about learning what a fractional profession is (and is not), why you should take advantage of the talent emerging in this space, and how to find the right fractional for you. It’s best-suited for business owners, which is why I have been delivering it to EO groups nationally and internationally. My favorite audience!
Andrea Heuston: I don’t just have a singular keynote—I have developed a portfolio of them! Some of the most recent are: Five Reasons Why Women Make Outstanding Leaders, Three Tactics to Create Deep Connection with Your Audience, and Finding Joy and Confidence in Public Speaking.
Are you ready to apply to Global Speakers Academy?
Inspiring, right? As your member host for the spring 2023 GSA cohort and a fellow GSA graduate, I consider GSA to be one of the best programmes ever created by EO. I am eager and excited to meet you in Portugal this May as you, too, undergo this fully transformational experience.
Contributed to EO by Natalie Kaminski, an EO New York member and co-founder and CEO of JetRockets. In observance of the United Nations’ International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11 February, we asked Natalie to share her view on women in STEM careers, and specifically in her field of computer science. Here’s what she shared:
I immigrated to the US from Israel at the age of 18 with US$500 in my pocket. It was 1998. Between the dotcom boom and Y2K nearly upon us, there were many jobs available in the IT industry. Not having many tech skills, I opted for a role as a Junior QA Tester, and I immediately fell in love with the work! I found it absolutely fascinating that computer programs could solve real problems and make life so much easier and more convenient.
I was unknowingly following in the footsteps of Grace Hopper, Evelyn Boyd Granville, and Margaret Hamilton — female computing pioneers of the 1950s and 60s.
Fast forward two-plus decades, and I’m now the CEO and co-founder of JetRockets, where we develop high-performing web and mobile app solutions that help our clients transform their businesses and grow.
But while many of the industry’s earliest pioneers in electronic computing were women, today the picture looks very different. Although more women than men graduate from college, and the computing world has boomed for decades, only a small fraction of computer programmers are women.
While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what percentage of software developers are female, all data point to a stark gender gap between men and women. Studies specifically focused on software developers suggest that as few as 8-10% of all software developers are female.
Why are so few women in tech and specifically software development? There is no single answer, but the main reasons include:
1. A drop in women earning computer science degrees
While it is not always necessary to have a degree to get a job as a computer programmer, a computer science degree is one of the most common pathways into the tech field. Fewer women obtaining CS degrees means fewer women becoming software developers.
According to the National Science Foundation, women earned only 19% of computer science degrees in 2016. That’s a significant drop from 1985, when 34% of CS degrees were earned by women. It’s frustrating that this decrease comes at a time when more women overall are graduating college—in fact, more women than men graduate from college in the United States each year now.
One positive development, however, is that more women are seeking graduate degrees in CS than before. In 2016, 31% of CS masters degrees were granted to women, up from 28% in 1997.
2. Lower job retention
Only 38% of women who majored in computer science are currently working in tech, further compounding the gender gap due to fewer degrees. By comparison, 53% of men who majored in computer science are currently working in tech.
While it is not uncommon to see CS graduates wind up in management or consulting, that’s probably not the full story. Women may feel unsupported in their process of moving into a career where so much career advice is geared toward men.
3. Problems with workplace culture
A major obstacle facing many women in tech is an unfriendly, male-dominated culture. While it is difficult to quantify culture, several pieces of information point to common problems that women experience.
A 2017 Pew Research poll found that 50% of women reported gender discrimination at work, compared with 19% of men. This effect was more pronounced for women holding postgraduate degrees, 62% of whom reported some form of gender discrimination. Additionally, 36% of women said that sexual harassment was a problem in their workplace.
Unwelcome cultural environments create situations where women may feel compelled to leave. Often, they may feel they are unfairly passed over for promotion, or assigned work that doesn’t fit their skillsets. Unsurprisingly, many women switch careers after just a few years.
It is important to keep in mind that these are generalities. Not every company has a chauvinistic, male-dominated culture. But those that do may tend to lose their female employees, making it even harder for women to establish a presence there in the future.
4. Lack of representation
Female representation in company culture is crucial in many ways:
It creates role models for women who may be on the fence about pursuing the industry.
It provides opportunities for mentorship.
It gives women a voice in organizational decision-making.
The fact that there are not enough women in tech, therefore, makes it more difficult to increase the number of women in tech. A lack of strong female representation creates a vicious circle that maintains the status quo.
An employment gap now means an employment gap later. Although women make up 47% of the US workforce, in 2015, they held only 25% of computing jobs — in a time when tech is booming and has been for decades.
What we can do about it
As a mother of two girls ages 16 and 9, I make a point that they know and understand that there is nothing intrinsically masculine about writing code. I often share with them that there are many strong reasons for women to consider a career in the science, technology, economic or math (STEM) fields. I encourage you to do the same.
Here are five reasons to consider a STEM career that I share with my daughters and other young women:
Job security. There’s high demand for STEM jobs and they usually come with good salaries, so you’ll have financial stability and independence.
Brain power. STEM careers are all about solving problems and being creative. You’ll have the chance to make a real impact and change the world for the better.
Career progression. The world of STEM is constantly changing, so you’ll always have opportunities to learn and grow in your career. You could even pursue a leadership role.
Something for everyone. STEM covers a lot of different fields, so no matter what you’re interested in, there’s something for you.
Making a difference. You’ll get to work on projects that improve people’s lives and make a positive impact on the world. It doesn’t get much better than that!
As a woman in a STEM career and leadership role, I strongly encourage you to promote STEM learning and exploration among the young women in your community. It’s up to us to reverse the vicious cycle of gender underrepresentation in STEM fields into a positive cycle of representation, gender diversity and inclusion.
Portions of this post originally appeared on the JetRockets blog and are reprinted here with permission.
For more insights and inspiration from today’s leading entrepreneurs, check out EO on Inc. and more articles from the EO blog.
Don’t miss EO’s 2023 EmpowHER virtual series on 7, 14 and 21 March (the first three Tuesdays of the month). EmpowHER invites women entrepreneurs to hear inspiring stories from fellow founders—including Brian Smith, founder of UGG Australia; Aanchal Bhatia, founder of Sydenham Clinic, Hannah Vasicek, founder of Francesca, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former prime minister of Denmark—during a series of virtual events that are free and open to EO members, EO Accelerators, their companies, and prospective EO members. Register today!
Antonio Lennert, a member of EO Canada Bridge, is an entrepreneur, designer and community builder. He is the co-founder and CEO of Surf the Greats, Canada’s largest brand and community for surf education, adventure and lifestyle on the Great Lakes and beyond. Marina Byezhanova interviewed Antonio about his entrepreneurial journey and contribute this post.
When Antonio Lennert left Brazil at 20 years old, he was in search of a community. Upon arrival in California, he met his partner in both business and in life, Lucas Murnaghan, and the two built a new home in Canada.
The move to Toronto meant that opportunities for surfing, his favourite pastime, appeared few and far between.
“Canada is not known to be a surfing hotspot,” said Lennert. “In my mind, I had basically said goodbye to surfing entirely.”
After pursuing a degree in graphic design from Ontario College of Art & Design, Lennert launched and scaled a successful creative design agency, which he ran for over three years. The agency was an early foray into the entrepreneurial world—but one that took its toll.
“I love the design world,” said Lennert. “But building an agency was a complex, always-on type of business. Before I knew it, I was completely burnt out.”
Lennert exited the design business. While on a sabbatical in Costa Rica dedicated to recharging his mental and physical health, which included a 10-day silent meditation retreat, something began to shift for him.
“I started surfing again during that sabbatical,” said Lennert. “Surfing not only helped to heal me, but it reminded me of something I had forgotten: Time spent surfing on the water was where I felt at my happiest.”
Lennert and his cofounding business partner, Marcello Gortana, earned their teaching certificates with the International Surfing Association. A new vision for Lennert’s life began to form—and he brought that vision back to Toronto.
As he began to explore Canadian surfing, he realized what felt like a “secret” both to surfers across the globe and to Canadians themselves: There is amazing surfing to be had in the Great Lakes in Ontario!
He saw the beginnings of how their passion could be utilized for a greater purpose.
A Passion, a Cause, and an Opportunity
Although a pre-existing surfing community existed in the Great Lakes region, Lennert quickly found that it contained veterans who had been riding these waves for decades; they had little interest in catering to newcomers.
“My version of the Canadian dream involved capitalizing on the inclusivity of Canadian life,” said Lennert.
He contemplated hanging up his wetsuit once again. Yet, after rescuing people who were unfamiliar with the Great Lakes’ waters, he saw an opportunity to expand and shape this community into one driven by inclusivity, education, and adventure.
Lennert’s cause initially focused on making surfing safer in the north. Launching an online store with Marcello, the two occasionally opened pop-ups to bring the community together. Ever the adventurer, Lennert soon left Toronto’s advertising scene, at which point his new venture really took off.
Lennert and Murnaghan opened a newcomer-friendly, Toronto-based surf and coffee shop in 2017, Surf the Greats. The venture quickly scaled beyond its initial vision. What began as a go-to source for surfboards, wetsuits, swimwear, and other surfing gear quickly transformed into a robust community for everyone seeking adventure on the Great Lakes and beyond.
While Lennert’s life partner, Lucas Murnaghan, remained a silent partner for the first few years, Murnaghan became particularly invested in day-to-day activities in 2019 after falling ill, forcing him to take leave from his position as an orthopedic surgeon at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital. Lennert continued to grow the business with Murnaghan’s help.
Today, the organization is making major waves in fresh water. Surf the Greats has collaborated with a veritable tsunami of leaders in the sports industry: Patagonia, Rip Curl and Red Bull, as well as artists of all identities and backgrounds.
“The whole purpose of this company has been to educate and create spaces for the community to come together and live this lifestyle,” Lennert noted.
With an ever-growing social media following counting 25,000+ and collaborations that have sent Canadian surfers to global surf competitions, Surf the Greats has helped elevate Canadian surfing to the international stage. What grew to become the Great Lakes’ premier surf authority has since evolved into Canada’s surf brand.
“Through a lot of work building this community and showcasing our waves, we gained international respect in the surfing world,” Lennert said.
The success, much like the rolling waves, continued for Lennert and company. A documentary, Fresh Water, chronicled his journey.
Lennert’s remarkable story of overcoming prejudice, discrimination and barriers was the showstopper. While the film’s original concept was to showcase Canada’s surf culture at large, filmmaker David Kalinauskas uncovered Lennert’s story—and knew it was one that needed to be told. The media world agreed: the documentary is now live on Crave in Canada, and continues to be featured by media outlets and platforms across the globe.
To this day, every so often, Lennert wakes up to a random message in his inbox from strangers thanking him for both his work and his voice for inclusivity. Aside from amassing a cascade of collective interest in the sport, Lennert’s journey pulled at the heartstrings of athletes, entrepreneurs, parents, children, and anyone who found themselves in search of their own inclusive community built on passion. “I just feel so honoured and humbled to have my story documented,” Lennert reflected. “And to have my life with my partner documented forever that way. It’s so special.”
Sadly, Lennert lost Lucas Murnaghan to cancer in 2021. It was a tragic event that continues to ripple through Lennert’s life. Yet what began to lift him from the depths to continue on his own journey was the very thing that had given Lennert a renewed zest for life years prior: community.
He was invited to an EO event in Quebec City by Julie Mitchell, a Toronto-based entrepreneur in the health and athletics space who knew Lennert from their neighborhood. Without knowing what to expect, he was thrust into the EO world—and it helped inspire him to stay on course with his business goals, his dreams, and his purpose. “I wish I had known about EO years before,” said Lennert. “It’s been instrumental for me in such a short time.”
He’s seen some challenges, to be sure—but there is plenty to look forward to in his story as well as the stories of the vibrant, passionate communities of which he remains a core pillar.
“I feel like I have such a strong support community,” Lennert said. “Not only in my chapter, but anywhere I go. It’s the best thing that’s happened to me in the last few years.”
Marina Byezhanova, is an active member-leader within EO and a member of EO Canada Bridge chapter, is an entrepreneur, global speaker and university instructor on a mission to inspire entrepreneurs stand out, speak up and be radically authentic. She is the co-founder of Brand of a Leader, the personal branding agency for entrepreneurs. Photo of Antonio Lennert surfing the Greats by Sam Moffatt.
For more insights and inspiration from today’s leading entrepreneurs, check out EO on Inc. and more articles from the EO blog.
In the photo: WEF’s Olivier Woeffray, Julia Devos and Stephan Mergenthaler with EO members John Metcalf, Troy Armour and Nikhil Hirdaramani in Davos, Switzerland.
The World Economic Forum (WEF)’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland convened leaders from business, government and civil society committed to driving positive, tangible change for the long-term of our planet and the people who live on it.
Though EO did not have an official presence at the January 2023 WEF annual meeting in Davos, four EO members attended, having been invited through other initiatives: Nikhil Hirdaramani (EO Sri Lanka and EO Global Partnerships), Troy Armour (EO Europe Bridge), John Metcalf (EO San Antonio), and Pajani Singah (EO London).
We asked them to share takeaways from the meeting.
The SDG Lab
Nikhil Hirdaramani and Pajani Singah participated in the SDG Lab, which aims to promote the UN SDGs and brainstorm new ideas for promoting them among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) such as EO-member companies. Troy Armour also attended and shared his story with the SDG Lab.
“SDG Lab is a multi-stakeholder initiative that contributes to the implementation of the UN SDGs. We were invited to participate by the Global Leaders Initiative, which aims to bring key networks together to find solutions that address the challenges of sustainable development. During the four days of the SDG Lab in Davos, we worked with global leaders to create mutually beneficial solutions to address the SDGs,” shared Pajani Singah and Nikhil Hirdaramani.
Nikhil continued: “We were fortunate to have two EO members who were able to demonstrate how they are addressing the SDGs through their companies – Pajani Singah and Troy Armour.”
Troy Armour’s company, Junk Kouture, has created an engaged, active, and inspiring community of young people working together to make a difference in climate change by finding a new purpose for discarded objects. More than 15,000 Junk Kouture designs have prevented an estimated 40,000kg of waste from going into landfills, and inspired youth from 35 countries.
“At EO, we have storytelling at our fingertips. We can easily share how our 17,000 members are addressing the UN SDGs with their businesses,” Nikhil continued. “It was fantastic that Troy could be at the SDG Lab with winners from the Junk Kouture competition who came dressed in their creations made from discarded objects – providing a real-life example of how to breathe new life into what might otherwise have gone into a landfill.
“In addition, SDG Lab participants were asked to support the creation of the SDG Olympic Games for Climate. They hope to launch it later in 2023. I shared EO’s GSEA model; SDG Lab may take inspiration from that on how to run this new programme,” Nikhil shared.
Nikhil’s three overall takeaways from Davos:
Improving the state of the world is everyone’s business, not just big business.
There is a need for the voice of entrepreneurs to be heard in Davos.
We need to make sure all the positive discussions turn into concrete actions with solutions.
Inspiring Creativity Among Youth
Troy Armour carried his company’s message from youth to the inner circle at WEF, and even got some of the Junk Kouture alumni a platform to speak and share their stories. Here’s what Troy shared:
I was invited to Davos by Deloitte to speak on “how inspiring creativity among youth can drive innovative sustainability solutions and help toward achieving the SDGs.” One story I told was about Junk Kouture, the world’s largest youth sustainable fashion competition, with a vision to enrich and empower the lives of young people through creativity and sustainability.
I always weave EO into the story of Junk Kouture. I share how, in 2018, we experienced significant staff issues, even as the competition was reaching its peak popularity in Ireland. In late 2018, I let the whole team go, and started over. My biggest realisation being that I needed to invest in myself before I could lead others. That’s when I applied to the EO Entrepreneurial Masters Program (EMP) at MIT in Boston.
At EMP, Brian Brault, our course leader, asked me, “Why Junk Kouture?” He kept asking why, and eventually the realisation came on: Because every one of those kids are me, and I’m not going to let them down! In that moment, EO changed the course of my life and my business. As a result, I hired a team based on the mantra that we existed to enrich and empower the lives of young people.
I went into EMP with a ‘millionaire’ mindset and came out with a ‘billionaire’ mindset, and not just in money terms: I believe I can impact one billion lives in a positive way. That’s transformational for me but also for those one billion young people — Junk Kouture went from a one-country event to now reaching young people in 35 countries. I’ve been fortunate to tell this story at several events, including three in Davos: the Goals House Sustainable Fashion Roundtable, the UN SDG Lab, and the Deloitte Haus presentation to 130 people at Deloitte C-level and their clients.
Overall Takeaways from the WEF meeting in Davos
John Metcalf, co-founder and CEO of Upgraded, shared his experience at Davos 2023:
This year was my fifth time to visit Davos during the WEF annual meeting. I started going regularly in 2014 when I became a Global Shaper. (I am now an alumnus). On my first trip, I made friends with people in other WEF communities like Young Global Leaders and Technology Pioneers. Now when I go, I see old friends and attend events — including the Swedish Lunch.
My three most significant takeaways from Davos are:
1. WEF events and communities train you to think big. The question is not, ‘How do I grow sales from $10M to $20M?’ The question is, ‘How do I improve the lives of those in my community?’ Or, ‘Which of the UN SDGs goals and targets is my company working towards?’
2. WEF events and communities are therapy for Impostor Syndrome. Having the chance to meet leaders at the highest levels of business, government and impact helps me to remember that they are not some form of superhumans. People you respect can also slip in the snow, sometimes lose their train of thought, and enjoy singing karaoke.
3. WEF-size goals + Entrepreneurship is the perfect match, but we need to bring the two together. In the WEF, entrepreneurship is mentioned, but it’s not at the forefront. At the same time, my entrepreneur friends kind of consider how they are Improving the state of the world, but it’s often not at the forefront. There’s an opportunity here.
EO is excited to continue its collaboration to provide value to its members, increase EO’s visibility globally, elevate the organization’s brand as a global thought leader, and attract new potential members.
For more insights and inspiration from today’s leading entrepreneurs, check out EO on Inc. and more articles from the EO blog.
The dialogue with the direct report goes something like this:
“The leadership team decided …”
“My boss wants me to tell you …”
“I’m sorry to tell you this, but EOS teaches that we should …”
As John Ortberg says, “Leadership is the art of disappointing people at a rate they can stand.”
In these two recent sessions in which I observed this, in the first situation, the manager blamed the leadership team for the bad news they had to deliver to their direct reports, and, in the second situation, the manager blamed EOS (the Entrepreneurial Operating System) for the bad news that they needed to deliver to their direct reports.
Another common situation is where the manager blames someone else for having to fire their direct report.
When a manager blames others for the tough decisions or news that they have to deliver to their direct report(s), they give their power away, they lose the respect of their people, and it creates resentment, lack of trust and organizational dysfunction.
You have to learn to take the bullet. Your verbiage must be “I support this decision,” “This is my decision,” “I agree with this decision,” or “I believe it’s the right thing to do.” If you take the bullet, you will gain your people’s trust and respect, and they will absorb the bad news faster. There’s nowhere else for them to look to blame. You will become a stronger leader.
When you have to fire someone because your leadership team enlightens or convinces you of something you’re not seeing, you must make it your decision.
When I see a leadership team member making this mistake, they tend to be a really nice person who doesn’t like conflict. They don’t want to hurt their direct report. It’s totally understandable. However, for the greater good of the company, the news must be delivered. The good news is that, as a nice person, you’ll do it with compassion. The painful truth is that by not sharing the news and taking total responsibility, you’re being selfish. You’re thinking of yourself. It’s not fair to the company, to your team, to that person or yourself.
Even if you had a fierce two-hour debate about a big strategic organization-wide change with your leadership team, and you didn’t agree with the decision, you must disagree and commit with your leadership team. When you deliver the message, your verbiage must be “Here’s what we decided as a leadership team.” That is how healthy leaders do it.
On a side note, if you find yourself disagreeing with your leadership team quite often, you may be in the wrong company. But that’s a whole other article.
Take a few minutes and think about tough news you’ve had to deliver to your direct reports in the past. Have you taken total responsibility? Or have you given your power away?