Steve O’Dell is an entrepreneur you need to keep an eye on. Having started multiple companies and having many more on the way, this guy doesn’t seem to stop. I worked with him on a few projects and witnessed the enthusiasm and perseverance that makes Steve a very interesting person.
Today, I wanted to interview him on my blog to learn more about what motivates him and also understand how he is managing the multiple businesses he started because this is something I also want to do with Flux Ventures.
Let’s just jump right into it.
Hey Steve, pleasure to have you here. Why don’t you tell the readers a bit more about your background and the companies that you started?
Thanks for having me, Ale. For everyone reading, I am a 22 year old, college dropout, and social entrepreneur. I started my first company called the Odd Job Bros when I was 20 with two of my cousins. We were a temp service for unskilled labor offering to do almost anything for $15 / hr. Word of mouth allowed us to secure referrals for bigger projects at higher hourly rates which allowed the company to flourish in a short amount of time.
Naturally, after some small success I was eager to take entrepreneurship a step further. I co-founded a printing company at UCLA called KOTU, Inc which failed. It was an important learning experience though. While working on KOTU, I did a brief stint with Flux Ventures, which was very eye-opening and then went on to co-found Ad Valorum, a holdings company that invests in social good businesses.
Currently, Ad Valorum has multiple subsidiaries, Tenzo Tea – a green tea matcha company, Iliad Tech – a web development business, the Odd Job Bros, and ACCESS – a non-profit dedicated to providing resources in higher education for underrepresented communities.
What got you started into entrepreneurship?
Ironically, I was introduced to entrepreneurship in the classroom at UCLA.
What caught my attention was the magic of entrepreneurship. How a visionary could take an idea and transform that into a tangible difference in the world.
It still blows my mind.
Also, for the first time in my formal educational career, I loved the material. As I started to learn more I began to realize how my personal skills and goals fit neatly into the entrepreneur’s shoes. After I started Odd Job Bros, I never looked back.
We know you’re a tools and process kinda guy. Which tools or workflows do you find most useful when running your businesses?
Yes, I am a tools and workflows guy.
I think of my toolset figuratively as the “Batman Belt”.
I use Trello Boards to layout each company and track all the operations. Currently, Ad Valorum owns 29 domains, all of which are in what we call the “Iliad Network”, this is tracked in Google Analytics, and I absolutely love it. All the sites are heavily integrated and the SEO effects have been tremendously powerful (this will only increase as the network grows). All the companies use Google Suite for Email, Docs, Sheets, Cal, and Powerpoint. Slack for Communication, too. Atom is my personal Text Editor but the companies deploy across multiple platforms.
As for workflows, it’s hyper specific to your industry or niche. So I’d like to be general.
The most important thing anyone can do right now is maximize their productivity.
Any “good” entrepreneur is working their tail off, so what separates you from them? Productivity.
Give the readers the best actionable piece of advice you have.
Moving on, I want to borrow this question from Peter Thiel, What do you know is true that no one else agrees upon?
Society as a whole believes intelligence to be relatively static over the course of a person’s life. I believe it’s much more fluid and that anyone (excluding the mentally disabled), can learn anything. Of course there are obstacles, but if one truly puts their mind and heart to the cause of learning, you’d be surprised what they can become.
You mentioned that you love mental models. What are those and how are they important in life?
Mental Models are simple representations found in systems across every domain. For example, the concepts of operant and classical conditioning are mental models from psychology. Natural selection – Biology, Recursion – Computer Science, Backwards Induction – Logic, F = ma – Physics, and so on.
The best part about mental models is that they take advantage of cross-domain thinking. Charlie Munger, Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, says intellectuals should build a “latticework of mental models” in order to develop a large knowledge base. Developing the base is not hard either – it takes some time to read and learn the terms but that is it. The difficult part is having the discipline and creativity to use them. Too many people become hyper focused and over the course of their career, they lose the ability to think fluidly across multiple industries. I’ll never be that person.
How do you keep everyone in your team motivated? What is your leadership type?
At this point in time, I do not have a refined type of leadership. I like to be supportive, allow my team to make their own decisions, and hold everyone accountable.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from building several companies is that culture will carry the business.
With that being said, I like to lead by action. The beliefs of the company are the beliefs of the founders.
Early on, I laid out the core values and beliefs for each venture. For example, we have systems of transparency to make sure issues are confronted and solved. We pride ourselves on execution and consider ideas weak. We believe in being good people. We’re industrious. We invest in people and systems, etc.
I lead by exemplifying our values.
What do you expect to accomplish in 2017? How do you plan to get there?
In 2017, I have a goal of reaching a 1M Valuation for Ad Valorum. I’d expect a large portion of the value to come from Tenzo Tea (Pareto’s Principle) based on our current growth rates and projections for the new year.
Secondly, I expect Iliad Tech to reach profitability this year based on website monetization. Several members of the network will also be launching e-commerce brands this year, which will help drive the value of the entire Iliad Network and by extension, Ad Valorum. Some smaller pieces of Ad Valorum revenue will come from the Odd Job Bros and other stock holdings.
What are your favorite productivity hacks?
- Time Yourself – How fast can I code this page? How fast can I read this book? How fast can I qualify 50 leads? Make sure to measure your quality and speed.
- Feedback Loops – Leading multiple companies leads to a very high informational flow. Some is noise, but there is a lot of important stuff that requires remembering. Luckily, psychologists have figured out a reliable forgetting curve. In order to prevent the forgetting, create a feedback loop to remind yourself at intervals just before the forgetting curve. This also takes advantage of the spacing effect.
- Track personal Key Performance Indicators. For example, each week I track the number of words written, the Tenzo Management weekly score, website visitors, workouts, and more. This way, I’m consistently stepping closer to realizing my long term goals.
Related: How to Be Hyper Productive
Any last comments or remarks?
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest” – B. Franklin
So there you have it, Steve O’Dell in a nutshell. Hope you found this interview valuable and that you learned something out of it. Let us know in the comments which tool or concept you took away from it!
If you would like to be interviewed next, head to Future Sharks.