Cam Weis - How to Navigate Life as a Young Entrepreneur
Today, (7/2/19), I am in Wilmington, North Carolina, at tekMountain with none other than Cam Weis, who I met through Dr. Harper, which is featured in a couple of episodes previous to this one. Shout out to Dr. Harper. Cam has a really cool story. He's 25 years old and made a big hop straight into entrepreneurship and business really early on. So, I think his perspective is going to be really good for those of you who are in the same boat as I am being a young person and diving into the business world with a bunch of big players and trying to navigate that.
Catherine: So, to start things off. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey so far as an entrepreneur?
Cam Weis: So, North Carolina boy born and raised. I grew up in High Point, which is a furniture and textiles hub. Really, my first passion, you know, besides a neighborhood pet sitting service and lemonade stands was golf. I wanted to become a PGA Tour player, play D1 College golf, and see where that took me. That was my first passion. That was my first, Okay, how do I lay a foundation for success in this industry? Around 16 going on 17, I got burned out in part to getting a car and, you know, having my first girlfriend. But, the majority of it was I don't have the talent, and I don't want to put in the time to be the caliber of player that I need to be to get in D1 school and to play pro golf. Some of my good friends are still doing it. Some of them are on the PGA Tour. Some of them are on TheWeb.com, and they're doing great. But, I'm glad that I diverted from that path because I like what I do now. A little bit more about me, so I was waiting tables in high school with my best buddy, and we looked at each other one day, and we were just like this really stinks. This is not fun, and we want to do something more with our senior year. So, I go, 'Well, look, we have the senior project that we have to do to graduate high school next year. Why don't we do a project in tandem, and do it together? I don't know what it's going to be, but give me the night to think about it, and maybe we'll be able to quit this job.' Then, he goes, 'Okay.' So, I call him the next morning, and I say, 'Okay, what do you think about starting an apparel company where we hire a graphic designer, we'll put out a couple of different T-shirt lines, and see which one works, and then, we'll try and grow it?' And, he was like, 'Okay, awesome, but what is our point of differentiation?' And, I go, 'One-hundred percent American' because High Point had lost a ton over the years, at that time, of manufacturing jobs overseas. We just thought it was kind of a good tagline, and so, we went with it. I loved the experience. Yes, it was on a small scale, but it made me fall in love with entrepreneurship.
Catherine: And, that led you to UNCW. We were both involved in the fast track program there. That's kind of how I got to meet him as well. And so, after this company that led you to TG Apparel, is that correct?
Cam Weis: Yep. And, you know, in the middle of that, I had the opportunity of a lifetime meeting with one of our mentors, Brett Martin, who is the CEO of CastleBranch, as well as the visionary behind tekMountain. And, I was the first intern on the tekMountain Development Team. So, I basically got thrown into, 'Hey, we need to go do the due diligence behind what other co-work spaces and incubators and accelerators are out there in the world and what pieces of them do we like and what parts that we want to pull.' So, beer on tap, gym, and beanbag conference rooms and the conference room we are sitting in right now. You know, I mean, all of the things that make this place the beautiful sandbox it is. So, I got the opportunity of a lifetime to be on the founding development team here, and we launched in the summer of 2014. So, back to your question. Going into my sophomore year, of course, the entrepreneurial side we had just completed this project, and I wanted to now use the sandbox that we created. Through my channels in High Point, I said, ‘Okay, let's do another clothing company, but let's have a little spin on it.’ I saw in pledging a fraternity here, Kappa Alpha, I saw a void in the market where they needed to facilitate a better ordering process for the T-shirt chairs that are organizing all these events. But, point being, they needed customized apparel for every single event they do, whether it's Mountain Weekend, Beach Week, or a nonprofit philanthropy effort in collaboration with the school. So, we coded a platform that facilitated that. So, not only did we have the vendor partnerships, and the screen printing and embroidery on-site in the shipping side, we also gave the software away for free and built it into our costing model to where they would put on, you know, they wanted a lower cost, lower budget t-shirt like Comfort Colors, Haynes, Gildan, and they wanted something a little nicer. So, they had two options on there, two colors, short sleeve, long sleeve, a hat thrown in there - whatever they needed. We would put on this and say, Okay, how long do you want to open? So, whether they wanted it open a week or they wanted to fundraise for a month, this facilitated that ordering process for them. So, that was kind of the thought. Then, there was also kind of a TOMS Shoes approach where, Okay, if all of these organizations are trying to make an impact and make a difference, why not be a part of that? Not only facilitating, but why don't we have a fundraising platform as well? So, add three dollars each shirt, and then, they get a payment at the end of their order once it's all completed. So, kind of like that TOMS Shoes approach, where how do we give back to our customers that are ordering through us, giving them 5 percent of our sales to each cause, but also creating this fundraising vehicle for them?
Catherine: That's so cool. Then after that, you had this opportunity, through an established company to take it in a different direction. Tell me a little bit more about that.
Cam Weis: Yeah, so, 28-year-old I.T. consultancy based out of Richmond and my father founded the company in '91 with his partner. People always ask me where I got my entrepreneurial spirit, and a lot of it's from him because my father is self-made. That's also one of the reasons I went off and did my own thing because I wanted to prove that I could do it without him. You know, kind of coming of age, coming of manhood thing that I'm sure many people can relate to. But, once I exited the company junior year, I came to my father, and I said, 'Hey, you know, you've been doing this for so long. I'm interested in what that looks like and what you do. And, you know, pardon my ignorance, but I want to learn more, you know?' So, my pitch to him and his business partner was, again, I have to do a senior project to graduate the entrepreneurship program. So, why don't you let me do a year of due diligence on who DAS is - that's the company. What's your relationship with IBM, and what's your customer base? What's your competitive landscape? What does all of that look like from an outsider's lens and perspective? And, where do I see added value? So, I came to them in 2017. March 1st was the first draft of the business plan. And, I said, 'I want to start the data analytics division of the company.' For those of you listening, the core company centers around enterprise content management through a relationship with IBM. So, DAS resells, implements, and supports IBM's digital business automation portfolio. So, not the buzz word IBM Watson that a lot of you have heard of, but more of the behind the scenes backend business process software, which to be candid, I didn't find sexy at the time. I saw data as the new oil. It's an ancillary complement to what DAS was already doing for 25 years, so I thought it was a no-brainer. You know, it's a strategic growth initiative in a direction that I could spearhead and lead the company while still being entrepreneurial. So, after July 4th after about a month off after graduation and having some fun and trying to prolong getting things going to give myself a little break, we launched DAS Analytics, and that is now scaling. We have a director in there running the day-to-day. My core focus right now is sales and business development for both the core company as well as the analytics division and all the startup work that we're doing, which includes a couple of investments. So, it's been quite a journey, but yeah, that's in a nutshell kind of how I got here.
Catherine: That's so cool. What are your recommendations for marketing? Because you are a great salesperson, and I've seen your role in different companies. So, from a marketing perspective, what do you see as its role in companies?
Cam Weis: I think there's a balance. A lot of people over-promise and under-deliver. That often leads people into trouble because I mean, think about Elizabeth Holmes for a second with Theranos, the drug testing company. She believed that she could pull it off, but her expectations were unrealistic. So, she painted this line that she could not jump to and touch. She kept trying and trying and trying. So, the marketing side and her unrealistic expectations were not backed up and supported. I think it starts there. What is realistic? Where can I get, and what are the small wins that are gonna get me to where I need to go, realistically? You know, and that's hard for any of us especially if you're confident. Confidence is key in the entrepreneurial journey because you're alone a lot of the time. Marketing is really just everyone's perceived notion of you, and what you're doing in the company, the mission, and all the things that you are undertaking. So, of course, there's an art to that, but it really lies in the planning process: where do I want to go, what marketing do I need to facilitate what I'm doing and to help spur it along. But, it's really just a complement to what's my vision? How are we getting there, and what are the small defined wins along the journey that are going to lead us there? But, I think the short answer is to define those. Don't get caught up in the hype because at the end of the day, PR is great. Good press is great. But, if you're doing all the right things and you're producing on the sales side and executing on those milestones, all of that will come organically.
Catherine: [00:11:46] Super good advice. You mentioned the confidence that you need to be an entrepreneur. That's 100% necessary, especially as a young entrepreneur, because you are going to be talking to people who are much older than you, and much wiser than you, and have had years and years of experience in the industry that you're trying to get into things like that, so what are your recommendations for kind of doing that? For example, when you're in a conference room with a bunch of old guys who know what they're talking about and being the youngest person in the room, how did you make that transition? What are your recommendations for a young entrepreneur trying to do that?
Cam Weis: That's a great question. A lot of it lies with you just can't see age, and you can't go into a room with that self-reservation of, hey, I'm the youngest person in the room. I may be the least knowledgeable in the room - which oftentimes is not true whatsoever. Just because they're 40 doesn't mean they have the experience that you do. You never know. So, I guess don't go in with those assumptions because then you are going to have them in your head, and it's going to throw off your delivery. So, that's number one. Number two is if you're passionate about what you're doing, whether it's a non-profit you're starting, or podcast you're starting, or a new e-commerce solution, you know, whatever it is, if you're passionate about what you're doing and you believe in yourself, if you're doing it, you should have had that conversation with yourself before you even started. Can I do this? Do I believe in myself? Look yourself in the mirror very hard, and if you can get over that, then you can do it. Really, the only thing holding you back is your own mental. So, that's the biggest part. You know, I think one of the biggest issues with being an entrepreneur is you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and you have to realize that you're going to be alone a lot of the time. You're going to be up in a place like tekMountain - which is a beautiful place - but until midnight, one o'clock, two o'clock, executing on things that need to be executed on in order to get you to your dream and fulfilling that vision that you set out from the get-go. So, I think it really lies with the careful preparation, but also having that conversation with yourself and looking yourself in the mirror and saying, 'I've got this.' If you have that fear or doubt, expel it. Talk to your closest mentors about it. So, the second part of your question, I'm getting a little far ahead. What advice would you give? Aside from that, surround yourself with positive energy. People that are constantly pumping you full of ideas, and different ways to look at situations, and different ways to deliver certain verbiage, whether it's in a marketing blast or on a cold call or meeting notes, you know, surround yourself with those mentors and those friends and those people that are going to propel you forward. It's the power of the collective. It's so difficult to do this alone. And, you are alone a lot of the time as entrepreneurs. So, my biggest piece of advice would be that.
Catherine: What about the best piece of advice you've ever received?
Cam Weis: I think I've already said it earlier. Don't over-promise and under-deliver. Switch that. Flip it on its head. Because if somebody I mean, whether it's, you know, a level of effort for a scope of a contract that you're bidding on or even just a friend that you meet with that you're going to promise some introductions for them or whatever it is. If you promise it, do it. Number one, because your character and reputation and the persona that you put out to the world - especially when you're in a small town like this or wherever you are, a university or community college - your word carries a lot of weight, especially if you go deliver on it. But, the thing that I see a lot of people do that really comes to bite them in the ass, and pardon my French, but they are so excited about all the things that they could potentially do with somebody to help or whether it's a customer, 'Hey, we can do this, this, and this.' Then, they don't do it, and it makes them look really bad. Then, they have this kind of thought in their head of, 'Oh, crap, I didn't fulfill on A B C.' Then, you have this negative energy, this red energy as I like to call it, that is kind of in the back of your mind of, 'Oh, I didn't deliver on this.' So, rather than being able to fully dedicate and focus your time on the 10 things that you need to be doing, you have this thought or two or three or four thoughts in the back of your head that are keeping you from delivering. So, don't over-promise and under-deliver, and you'll find yourself in a better situation.
Catherine: I love that. That is so true. What book recommendations do you have for our readers or podcast or whatever you look at that has helped you a lot along the way?
Cam Weis: Well, Catherine Armstrong's podcast, for one. I love The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. It talks about how a product or an epidemic like syphilis in the 70s, for example, or AIDS, for example, how an epidemic or a product goes from idea to actual to the tipping point, which is widespread adoption and that curve that looks like a hockey stick. When I was starting the company in sophomore year, I was like, Okay, I have the network of all my friends that kind of dispersed and went off to all these different universities and community colleges and people that I bet could, you know, evangelize what I'm trying to do. But, I want to learn more about kind of the psychology behind it. From a branding standpoint, marketing standpoint, to how do I communicate this? So Malcolm Gladwell, a great author, he has many, many books, but The Tipping Point talks about that and how do you get it and position it and prime it to where it can take off. So, that's one for sure.
Who stole my cheese? That's a really good book. It's like 70 pages maybe, but that's another one that if you've never read it, it talks about some things that are very pertinent to what we're talking about now.
Then, I guess my last big piece of advice for reading and content, follow those key influencers. Instagram is a big thing for me, but also Twitter and LinkedIn. Facebook is kind of falling off, to be honest, but you still keep track of people's birthdays. I constantly am filling my brain with whether it be the Morning Brew, the, you know, every newsletter that comes out every morning or, you know, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, you know, all these key influencers that I follow socially. I'm constantly trying to just get random bits of information that may not be of benefit to me, but that one article a week that comes out, you're like, oh, my gosh, that's awesome. Or, thanks for shedding light on this topic or this, you know, that kind of full, cohesive content curation is really important aside from just reading books because in the digital age that we live in now, whether it be a podcast or a newspaper or article or infographic, there are so many ways to digest. And ,if you have a combination of it, it's very healthy.
Catherine: My last question for today is looking back on your journey the past like eight or so years is there anything that you would do differently or things that you're really glad that you did?
Cam Weis: When I was younger, I picked myself apart a little more than I do now. What if I did this differently? For example, I had to fire a couple of people when TG was running. One of them was a friend that I recruited to be an ambassador for us. So, after that firing process, which wasn't an easy thing - firing never is, but especially when it's close to home - I started picking apart what actions led to that and what were my doing? I stopped myself, and I said, 'Cam, those actions taught you the lessons that led you to be who you are now and have the successes that you have now and have the background and the knowledge and what not to do. You know?’ So, I answer that question differently at 25 than I may have at 21 or at 18 because I wouldn't be the person I am without making the mistakes that I made, and I made plenty of them. I've had plenty of successes too, but I've also messed up. We all have. But, you learn way more from failures than you do successes. I'm a strong believer in that. I'm a strong believer in not going back and picking apart past actions because all that gives you is negative energy, and it occupies your brain space in not the best way. So, I guess to kind of end on that note, whatever project vision, idea, non-profit, whatever it is, go into it knowing that you're going to give it your all. You're going to surround yourself with the proper resources, mentors, resources at the university you're attending, whatever it may be, utilize those people around you because, at the end of the day, that's the only way it's possible.
But, it is possible.
Catherine: Are you sure??? Haha, thanks so much for your time.
Cam Weis: Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.