Have People Who Challenge You

Have People Who Challenge You

Justin Ullestad
Devin Miller
The Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs

Have People Who Challenge You

Surround yourself with people who are going to challenge what you are saying in a positive way. But also that you can learn from. Before I moved to Austin I did not have a wide network of people that I could leverage from a connection, network, or from an intelligence standpoint. Nor did I have people who would challenge my ideas. Not in a bad way just why do you think this? Why do you think this product is important? I think the last couple of years especially over Covid I have tried really hard to bring in a vast amount of people that I trust and have backgrounds that I can learn from and continually educate myself but also can give me feedback.


The Inventive Journey

Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.

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surround yourself with people who are going to challenge what you're what you're saying in a positive way but also that you can learn from because you know before i even moved to austin i didn't have a wide network of people that i could i could leverage from a connections from a network from from just an intelligence standpoint nor did i have people who would challenge my ideals as and not not a bad way just like hey why do you think this or why do you think this product is important and i think the last you know couple years specifically especially over covid i've tried really hard to bring in just a vast amount of people that i trust in or that have backgrounds that i can learn from and just continually educate myself but also you know can give me feedback [Music] everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devin miller the serial entrepreneur that's grown several startups in the seven and eight figure businesses as well as the founder and uh ceo of miller ip law where we help startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks and if you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com we're always here to help now today we have another great guest on the podcast justin eulestad if i say say the last name right and there's a quick introduction to justin so uh went to high school and his words was kind of a wannabe athlete uh got hurt turned to music went to college uh was a music major and i think did a major in music and in business and he can correct me where that is um and was always interested both kind of on the creative creative side as well as the logic side of the brain after undergraduate went and worked in la for a distribution company for a while uh learned how not to or how not to run a business uh went back after a year or so and got an mba and then went into consulting for a while worked on a couple startups for others also started a business focusing on student athletes and then had to pivot that a bit as covet hit and then he'll tell us a little bit about now how that brings him to where he's at today so with that much his introduction welcome on the podcast justin appreciate you having me devon that was a great intro awesome well i gave kind of the 30 second quick run through of a much longer journey but now take us back in time a bit back to kind of high school and getting into athletes and how their athletics and that and then how that how your journey went from there absolutely so so as david said that uh as you said the the stem of my journey sort of started when i was i was one of those you know short kids that wanted to be a professional athlete right i was i put two junior so you know i didn't really get the the run-up uh that i that i you know dreamed of as an athlete i i was in basketball baseball football you know the major sports um got hurt my freshman year and uh you know never really continued on that journey because i just didn't fit and i was always worried about getting hurt again so um turn to music uh as that was you know the other thing that i was really passionate about and sort of you know down head first and that went to allstate went to you know solo ensemble contest and like really you know worked my way through that um you know getting getting further into that space and then went to uh university of iowa and was a music major there um and then with my background as well knowing that like i probably wasn't gonna be a professional musician like that wasn't my end goal um also got a business degree while i was at university of iowa so so the two opposite ends of the spectrum as far as a major you can choose i did so you know i was there for you know four and a half years um and so finished out school university of iowa i loved iowa it was a great time sometimes wish i could go back uh and then as you said i went to i went to los angeles for a year tried uh it's 2011 so you know when you you get a job right out of college you took it at that point and so uh went out to l.a tried it for a year lost money you know not for you know the company wasn't the right fit uh but you know i learned a lot about hold on just one second on that yeah so how did you get a job that you lose money at was it one where you invested in or they didn't pay enough or like cost of living usually at least your job will pay you so that was where i wanted to double check on them yeah i made i made 30 000 in l.a my first year and as anybody who lives in los angeles or who lives on the west coast would know for california like that's not necessarily a livable wage uh and i struggle with that a little bit as far as like okay i'm working here it wasn't a lot of career growth you know i had a savings going out there and i that dwindled away you know you're paying you know almost 2 000 in rent just just by yourself so um you know that was the whole thing so uh but look i enjoyed my time in la as far as like a social standpoint if i could make you know obviously gobs of money like i think i would enjoy you know having some some time in la but uh you know from a your first job standpoint i mean everybody talks about this dream moving out to los angeles and like starting their career and it is a grind and i appreciate those people that like are willing to put in the time and effort to to do that grind in los angeles so no definitely makes sense and so that's what's gonna say so you didn't it wasn't that you lost money in the sense they didn't pay you that it was just the amount that they were paying you as such that you weren't able to support yourself or make a living off of it such that in essence you lost money so yeah i did that for a year and i think you also mentioned a bit when we chatted before the podcast he also kind of learned a bit of what not to do or what how not to run a business or those type of things maybe provide a bit of an insight as to kind of how that went yeah absolutely so one thing i learned off the off the hand is like you're obviously in a business like your customer is the statement your customer is always right but for me it's always trust you're always treating customers right and so there were certain times where i had built relationships with distribute distributors or customers and you know it would be more profitable for the company to do it this way but in my mind in my midwest morals like it was better for my customer relationship and just from a you know standard to do it this way and because the company chose to do it the company beneficial way like we lost customers and we lost deals because of that and so you know learning of hey you know from a accounting or like an fp a standpoint like hey let's do business this way or let's set it up this way as opposed to the way that you know we that company had and so um there was a lot of i mean it's international company so there was a lot of things that didn't necessarily translate the united states as far as culture as far as uh regulations as far as additional like just business acumen uh but i learned a lot and it was a great experience to me of like hey if i as someone who wanted to be an entrepreneur here's how i wouldn't run a business or here's things that i would put in place to uh fill these holes that i'm seeing in this business right now which was you know making you know net revenue you know a million two million a year with their u.s business no definitely makes sense so and you know and it's always interesting one of the you know how how much customer service and how much you know how you interact and treat customers and all that can impact the business it's one where it has a big impact on it but often times you don't necessarily think about it there's one where hey you're more focused on doing the work or you know figuring it out or making you know cost or whatever and yet the biggest thing the often or people often forget about is taking care of the customer so that sounds like it was a great lesson to learn early on in the career so so now as you kind of go as you go through that you know and do that and then you said i think he went back and got an mba after working for about a year or so with the other company so that you'd have a better kind of business background or acumen as far as um is you know as far as if you're to be a participate or run a business or otherwise do that is that about right correct my my business degree in undergrad was in entrepreneurship right so it was a lot of case study and market research and those kind of things and so i i had missed the at least my boy the operational and like the actual function of the company uh or building a company from an operational standpoint and so i wanted to go back to grad school one because i wanted to leave california and that wasn't i was it and this this role so like one option for me was like okay i had an in and a grad school that i had a living situation set up like this makes more sense than not to um and so went to grad school it started to learn about operational efficiencies and setting up a team and how to really launch a business as opposed to launch a product and so spent two and a half years in south florida for atlantic university um i did specialize in entrepreneurship but more from an operational stand-up situational and learned a lot from them worked along with the the athletics department as well as um the the bachelor of arts uh school and you know worked as a ta which was beneficial because i got to work with students i got to help them through their undergraduate journey which ties into the student athlete company later on and also just got you know the the training i needed to you know see the world a little bit differently through more of a operational lens as opposed to a here's a product lens no definitely makes sense so now you go back you get the mba kind of get that additional training and education and whatnot and as you're coming out kind of now you're looking as to what you want to do or what kind of employment and that and kind of where did you transition or land to from there well after grad school that i i was had no shortage of jobs that i applied to uh it just my you know a repercussion of the timing in which i wouldn't got my grad school at least in my opinion i had too much education not enough experience to like fit in the roles that i was looking to dive into and so i ended up just consulting for a myriad of companies on the side as an independent contractor just like i couldn't find the right fit of like hey i want this level job or i think i'm valued here but i didn't want to take an entry level or even some entry levels wouldn't take me because of my education so i had a couple opportunities that i said no to just based on situationals one was a job in new york city that you know was going to be a very similar situation to my l.a situation where it was like right above the cost of living right and and there was some people that there's some people that are willing to take that risk and i based on where i was situationally i didn't want to take that on and i and the company wasn't the the exact fit i was looking for so take its old thing for about a year and a half um and did product launches worked with non-profits worked with you know franchisee owners did a lot a myriad of things um website development social uh digital advertising uh pitch decks you know a wide range of things that have helped me now later on that i it was really really was an invaluable year and a half but at some point in time health insurance is important so i definitely wanted to you know spend the time learning but also finding the next uh step in my career which which led me to austin no and so now so now you get to austin definitely makes sense how you're kind of navigating and i think along the way as you graduated you know got the nba you wouldn't work for a couple different startups prior to kind of starting your own thing is that about right correct so what you know what was the experience with those startups as opposed to when you worked at la and did that business did you love working for other startups was a good experience did you further gain education as to what what not to do and kind of what were those startups so the first thing i worked for was a sports media company here in austin like full full-time workforce as far as a w-2 employee and i was i started in there in one role in in a sales operation standpoint as far as like a pre-sale and like building out pitch decks and building a strategy of how we're going to you know gain revenue through advertising and was able to work my way through the company into new roles new new visibility higher you know higher up as far as responsibility and insight into the business excuse me and you know by the time i left you know my my partner at the office and myself had built out a huge value prop for the company as far as how they did business and what they used to measure business success right so i was able to see you know from you know a role that is you know mid to senior associate all the way to like a senior manager as far as understanding that growth perspective but also understanding like hey once you get to a certain spot uh within a startup world you hit a ceiling because there's there's only so far you can go internally until you you know have to make a big jump and a lot of times in startups like that is people that have been there forever that is people who are founders who have you know a lot of investment in the company and the companies invested a lot in them as opposed to someone like myself who was just you know grinding away you know pounding on doors and working my way through um but it was a wonderful experience that i learned hey there are certain things across the business that you can build here and then you can actually uh scale across and hey this affects not only your department or your function but it affects the bottom line across all the fbnas across your business and you can you can bring impact with just your one uh your one initiative or your your one rollout or your one product release and really bring value that is you served across the company so that was a great experience i you know i'm still very close with a lot of people i work there like we were in the trenches that's the thing about startups right like you're in the trenches you're you're pushing forward it's a grind but like the the winds are are your wins the winds are uh are are a team win it's a it's a much more it's a much more gratifying feeling than you know when i was working in l.a it was like you know you get a win it's more of a corporate win and nobody really has like there's not that celebratory thing there's not like feeling like you accomplished anything it was just like hey we we rode the boat forward a little bit we're still at sea no definitely makes sense and you know it's it's one word you know that ceiling you hit it in different forms unless you're doing your own business your own startup you're always going to hit that ceiling at some point or another in the sense that you know it's going to be one where there's only so many here so only so far up you can go only so much room and then you know then there isn't any more for the room to grow so kind of as you started to you know work for those other startups get that experience and then you know or realize that you had kind of those glass ceilings how did that trend how did you start how did that transition to the doing your own business so the big thing for me is it always been is like self uh growth and personal motivation and like actually getting better every day like that's i have that on a poster on my walls like you know hustle you know stay humble hustle hard right and like making sure that you're you're still growing every day and once i like at my first the first startup here in austin i hit that ceiling it just became more of a monotony and as far as ham do the same task every day we're out of build mode now we're in maintenance mode we never really got a chance to go back and build mode and you know we were we were in we were in that sort of like hold you know hold the course for about a year um and so you know after that amount of time you're just like well if i'm gonna if i'm here if i've been here for a year like what's what's stopping the next year being the same right and so you know i moved on to a different startup in a different a different uh kind of capacity from an m a for you know m a position and then you know the market change so like that got moved around so you know there's been a lot of things that i i as an entrepreneurial mindset in person um i like to have control of my situation whether that's career-wise or personalized and i also like to be in charge of my own destiny and so you know certain things over the past two years have pushed me towards hey i have these ideas i have these goals um you know the the founding teams that i'm on like we we all believe in what we're doing and there's no there's no time now like the president specifically with like the the market change over the past year with copen19 and sort of the the resurgence of consumer buying habits here in the last six months um there's no better time than president to like actually give it a shot and try and really take control you know take the bull by a horn so to speak and really give it a shot as opposed to you know keeping keeping the safe ground i'm gonna say but also um understanding like your your mental happiness and sanity is super important specifically in a very remote based working world right now um and i and i think that's one thing that is definitely the last six months uh run true for me as well as my partners as far as hey it's important for us to achieve our goals or at least try to achieve our goals as opposed to just sitting on them and wishing for them to happen and i think you know for the remote working environment that we're in that is definitely heightened that uh how heightened that uh effort to push forward no that definitely makes sense now circling back just a little bit to when you you know kind of transition or looking to hey i want to take control and you know take the bulls by the horns do my own thing captain my own destiny kind of whatever cliche you want uh but you know he's saying okay i want to do my own thing now as you go out and do that how did you figure out what that was or did you start doing it did you quit your job and just say hey i'm going to go full blasted did you start something out as a side hustle did you get other partners or how did you kind of make the transition and how did you figure out what you wanted to do 100 so with on that on that moment on that note um i found two co-founders and myself started athletes athletes uh two years ago uh two years ago actually this month and it was it was an idea to help high school student athletes have a better recruiting experience and inevitably have a better college experience which enables them to have a better holistic life experience post college because a lot of uh the student athletes today like they're inundated by recruiting information just out the wazoo as well as you know fictitious information presented by recruiters who are paid to entice you to become schools and so you know providing a a service that's performed and and you your interactions with former student athletes and former college athletes like that was that's really the value prop that we we uh push forward and all our advisors are former college athletes and so we started that in 2019 because we saw the writing on the wall of like the recruiting landscape was changing we want to be part of you know the next you know wave of empowering high schoolers right the the the player empowerment movement as they're talking like the professionals like that is also a thing that's we're pushing forward in the high school space and so we started this 2019 we had uh you know big time goals for 2020 uh starting in january february of last year uh with the goal of you know some of us some of the founders going full time on this and then cope it happened and everything stopped and so at that moment we're all like okay we're gonna you know stay in pat keep our day jobs uh because nobody's there's no sports happening for six months twelve months and so we we push forward through that and then you know just recently uh i i have made the decision to move on to this full time so like jumping off that cliff uh so you know taking the entrepreneurial step and then another founders coming on full-time here in the next couple months uh which is really exciting and um but but i would say like the the timing of it was both beneficial but also like tumultuous as far as we wanted to push hard on this you know last year and we really wanted to go for it but you know understanding that timing is everything and i think if we waited another year uh i think would be too late so i actually think the the timing was uh perfect for us to really get our get our house in order move to a digitally only digitally only project product which was a huge thing that we weren't doing we're doing in person advising um and spending you know the six nine months to really re-evaluate um re-launch so to speak and push forward with you know the new vision of our company no and that definitely makes sense and one of the other things you hit on as we chatted a bit before was you know you have the company you launched it a couple years ago and you had to pivot a bit with uh covet as well right in the sense that that landscape change so how did or how did you guys pivot and you know was that beneficial in the sense that sometimes the force pivot is hey it's not what we want it's not as is uh you know lucrative or is is worthwhile for the company but we want to keep alive and keep it moving forward versus others sometimes when you're forced to pivot even though you wouldn't have thought of it it forces you to go in a new direction that can actually be beneficial or better than what you originally are doing so kind of as you did that pivot how what did you do and how did it work out so far i think it's i think it's a bit of bold as far as like the pivot you have to and then actually was beneficial um you know when coveted hit in march we'll say last year i can't believe it's been you know 13 months of this actually but um you know all youth sports stopped i like tournaments canceled nothing happened and so you know the amount of money people your parents were spending on their kids you know diminished entirely right so so the the the stoppage in events led to a stoppage in advising which led to a stoppage really in our business um from a from a new from a new client intake perspective and so as we were a one-on-one advising in-person company here based in central texas and we served dallas austin and houston areas um broadly you know we were we were doing our advice in person we were one-on-one conversations with with kids which we still think is super valuable right but because that one-on-one interaction is is so uh tangible and and you can actually have you know face to face and read emotions and understand you know what what the vibe in a room is as opposed to a digital meeting but with the pivot we've made in the last you know year to a fully digital space we now have the ability to advise to advise and our market nationwide so it completely opens up our our pipeline for additional kids that we can help but it does take away a little bit in that one-on-one advising experience from that in-person standpoint and and with a lot of companies entering the space that are very tech fa tech focused and like heavy on like will give you x and you go do it you know we definitely want to be that personal touch company as far as hey we build a program for you for your student athlete for your parents uh and understanding that vibe but again like being in a digital first environment makes it just a little more tricky so we spent you know the extra time the last you know 12 months figuring out how to move our one-on-one advising into a digital space that is still effective to a rate that work that we think is acceptable no not definitely you know pivoting one sense you have to figure out a new way sometimes you know you figure out better ways and it helps to it and on the other hand you're all saying and i'd also like for life to go back is a bit as normal because we liked our own model and it had a lot of good things to it as well so it sounds like kind of on both fronts and it's beneficial because it increased or expanded the model you guys are at and it also as things hopefully open up you can also incorporate that with what you're previously doing and have kind of both of those models so definitely makes sense so well as we kind of now are brought towards you know the future of the current or where your uh journey is up until today i know um always have two questions kind of the end of the journey that i always like to ask so we'll shift to those now so the first question i always ask is along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made and what did you learn from it the worst business decision i ever made is i didn't do my homework and when i say homework in this this context i mean i didn't go and ask customers what they wanted i had an idea i asked people that i trusted as far as like friends and like people that would like the product and just put it out there and i think for like a proof of concept that works but in my younger you know more naive days i was just like oh people around me like this why don't we just put it out to the market and it'll be great and not understanding the landscape not understanding you know what the competitive what competitive uh depth was and also not having something that was super differentiated from our competitors and that didn't help right so and this is like 2014 so like the the e-commerce space isn't what it is now and those kind of ideas um but i'll parlay that into the same situation happened where i had an idea and i wrote out a business plan and a case study and all kind of stuff and i didn't do my homework and i should have done it and it would have been in a much better place today if we had done it in 2016 or whatever it was because i actually had an idea that was ahead of the game and now is a very prominent ideal across the sports media industry but because i didn't do my homework we i didn't do anything with it and so you know that on both fronts can is something that i wish i had done better with which is which i've definitely learned from now as far as like with athletes athletes specifically like we talk to student athletes as much as we can i even if they're not even involved with our program we like here's what we do what is the value we talk to former college athletes and say hey would this program be valuable and i can tell you 100 certainty every student athlete we've talked to that has gone through the recruiting process and has gone through college athletics wishes they had something like we have now and so it just it it reiterates the importance front loading our this information and this service to high schoolers to help them better prepare for a college athlete experience which is completely different than a just a regular student college experience no i think that uh definitely is is one to you know as far as doing your homework is one where you know every you always i don't think anybody thinks that you shouldn't do your homework but one is you oh i know the market well enough or oh i know that's well enough or hey this is definitely something i would use and other people would obviously use that and even if that's the case now you have to figure out okay how big is the market now and is there 10 people that use this including myself or is there a million people to be using how much would they pay it for versus how much they would cost and you know the thing is everybody's like well you know you do a business plan and you know you do that kind of thing and it always it always inevitably changes and you pivot you adjust which is always true but you also need to at the onset as you're figuring out what to do and how to approach and how to tackle you need to have i think that structure such that while you're inevitably going to pivot you have enough reason you convince yourself so to speak that there's a reason to there's a market here and there's an all-business opportunity so i definitely think that makes sense both on getting excited and it's easy to make that you know mistake but also one where it's a good one to learn from yeah i did passable homework not a plus homework that's that's right yeah so now we jump to the second question which is if you're talking to somebody that's just getting into a startup or a small business what would be the one piece of advice you give them the one advice i would have and that i've really tried to do the past two three years is surround yourself with people who are going to challenge what you're what you're saying in a positive way but also that you can learn from because you know before i even moved to austin i didn't have a wide network of people that i could i could leverage from a connections from a network from from just an intelligence standpoint nor did i have people who would challenge my ideals as and not not a bad way just like hey why do you think this um or why do you think this product is important and i think the last you know a couple years specifically especially over covid i've tried really hard to bring in just a vast amount of people that i trust in or that have backgrounds that i can learn from and just continually educate myself but also you can give me feedback and and one thing that i tell young entrepreneurs is like don't be afraid to share your idea there's a very very low risk that anyone's gonna be like that's a good idea i'm gonna go do it now like that's that's not the entrepreneurial space right they they're other entrepreneurs are here to help you and so you know share your idea like don't give them like the schematic but like here's what i'm trying to do what do you think right or here's here's my concept of how this might work in this marketplace you work in this marketplace what do you think right and get feedback on your idea get feedback on your business model get feedback as much as you can from people that you trust and you will be much better suited for student for it because i can look i mean just an example i can look at a word document and read it 30 times and be like cool i'm ready to go and then you get a new set of eyes and there's one thing you missed and getting additional set of eyes on on an idea or concept especially if you're gonna you're gonna tie your horse to it is super important and super valuable no i and i definitely agree with that and i think it makes perfect sense well as we wrap up if people are wanting to reach out to you they're wanting to find out more about your business and they have a student athlete or you know they have a nephew or a niece or they are the athlete or any of the above if they're an athlete they're they want to be a client a customer they want to be an investor they want to be an employee they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to reach out contact you or find out more 100 so uh the business website is athletes2athletes.com it's t o athletes to athletes.com um my instagram handle is j olestad uh j u l l e s t a d or you can email me directly at justin athletes athletes.com we are currently excited about our growth excited about the future for what we're doing we have in plans for investment and additional staffing and additional resources you know in the next couple of couple years throughout the throughout the next you know 18 to 24 months and we're super excited to help you know additional student athletes whether they be you know uh freshman sophomore junior even even middle school at this point um you know help them through their through their recruiting journey and get them to a school that makes sense uh for them and their needs no i think that's a great way to reach out great way to find out more and definitely appreciate you you're putting it out there well thank you again uh for coming on the podcast it's been a fun it's been a pleasure now for all of you that are listeners if you have your own journey to tell and you'd like to be a guest on the podcast feel free to go to inventiveguest.com apply to be on the show two more things as a listener one yeah in uh make sure to click subscribe in your podcast players so you know when all of our awesome episodes come out two leave us a review so new people can find out about our awesome episodes as well last but not least if you ever need help with patents trademarks or anything else just go to strategymeeting.com and grab some time with us to chat thank you again justin for coming on it's been fun it's been a pleasure and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last appreciate devin thank you so much

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