Fred Perrotta leads a fully remote team at Tortuga Backpacks, a company he founded that sells gear to international travelers. Here he talks about the importance of living on your own terms and how he manages his distributed team.
Mark Leruste doesn’t like to do things the way everyone else does. In fact, he left his job in a leading non-profit last year to launch a media company that celebrates and captures insights from unconventional entrepreneurs and thought leaders, aptly titled, “The Unconventionalists.” In our latest installment of “The Hustlers,” Mark tells us about the pain points and triumphs of becoming a solopreneur.
So, what are you working on right now?
Since leaving Movember last year where I had been a Country Manager for four years, I’ve been focusing on growing my business by producing weekly valuable content via my podcast and YouTube channel, as well as reaching out to more organisations to deliver talks and workshops. My goal is to help teach the life skills as well as the entrepreneurial principles needed to succeed in business, that we were simply never taught at school.
The really exciting thing I’m working on at the moment is the launch of my first online accelerator programme, which I really can’t wait for!
Where are you most productive?
Even though I work from home, for some reason, I am the most productive in a coffee shop. There are two coffee shops I spend most of my time: LLS Café and Ginger & White, both in Hampstead. I’m not sure what it is, but when there’s a slight buzz in the background coming from the conversations from people around me coupled with some decent music (soul, jazz, folk, funk…) I just get in a flow and find it easier to focus. I also tend to spend less time on social media for some reason.
What I find interesting is that this was also the case when I used to work in my last job. I’d easily whizz through ten times more emails when I went off on my own in a coffee-shop for a few hours vs staying at the office and being distracted every five minutes.
What are some of your best and worst work habits?
My ability to take on quite a lot at the same time has been, up until recently, something I’ve been quite proud of. I found almost pride in the fact that I could start so many different projects, juggling so many things and almost being a bit braggy about how “busy” I was a result of it. But what I’ve come to realise—in part thanks to my girlfriend who’s so much better than me at this—is that you have to take some time off to be more effective in your business. Otherwise, you’ll burnout and there’s no way you can be as effective in your work.
My current favourite work habit is that I don’t check my emails in the morning. Whatever I need to focus on, e.g. editing my podcast, recording a vlog, creating a deck for my next talk, I do it first thing in the morning. I also do my best to take ten minutes each morning to do a bit of meditation and journaling. That’s really helped me stay focused.
By far my worst work habit is that I start something and before you know it I’ve started something else and I never end up finishing anything as a result.
What’s the biggest perk of working independently? What’s the hardest part?
What I enjoy the most is that I don’t have to commute anymore into work! I feel so bad for anyone in a suit in the morning crushed between two sweaty armpits. In fact, every time I have to go back into central London for a client meeting or for catching up with a friend, it reminds me of how lucky I am to have that freedom.
The hardest part by far is how lonely it can feel sometimes. You’re basically trying to build an empire behind a laptop and you can go for days and weeks without seeing anyone! I really miss the community aspect of being part of an organization. We’re social creatures after all and as an extravert, I love connecting with other people. Co-working spaces could work but they tend to be far away and a bit pricey for when you’re starting off.
Also, I think when it comes down to going off on your own and setting up your own business, it’s easy to blur the line between what’s being productive and what’s being a total waste of time. As in I can easily work from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. with almost no breaks, and still feel at the end of the day like I haven’t achieved anything. That’s something that’s really hard to deal with as when you’re your own boss, the only person you are accountable to is yourself.
There is no one there to say, That’s enough Mark, time to go home!”.
What I love the most about running my own business is that I get to spend much more time with my partner and that we’re able to plan our days according to when we want to hang out, which is such a treat compared to spending two-thirds of my time traveling around Europe for work.
What opportunity would make you quit your independence?
If a TV channel offered me a gig to host my own talk show where I could turn my podcast, The Unconventionalists, into an actual TV show. That would make me jump back into “employment,” in the traditional sense of the world.
What’s one early career mistake you made as an entrepreneur that you wish you could have avoided?
I still make this mistake up to a certain point, but definitely at the start it was something I did more often. And that’s to learn how to focus on what matters, which usually means “what will generate revenue.” At the end of the day, cashflow is king.
Another misstep: I didn’t save enough money before I quit my job to start my business, and I ran out of cash really fast! That was a really hard thing to deal with, emotionally, spiritually, physically, etc. So now, I try and ask myself, “Is this going to help me grow my business?” I’ve had to learn to say no to more opportunities, and try and focus on the things that will help me generate income. Even though I still to this day love chasing my curiosities, even if 80 percent of them won’t help me pay the bills!
In your opinion, what is the most important personality trait that one must have to find success as an entrepreneur?
I think everyone has the capacity to become an entrepreneur, but I don’t think everyone is willing to do what it takes to become one, and stay one. There are so many personality traits I could talk about, but three that come to mind are:
- Persistence / Resilience: When it comes to starting your own business, you have got to be persistent. Nothing will come easy and everything will take much longer than you’d like. In fact, you will be faced constantly with ups & downs, challenges and set backs. And your ability to pick yourself back up and keep going will determine, I think, your probability of success on the long term.
- Compassion: You’ve got to be able to be kind to yourself, otherwise you just end up beating yourself up along the way and never appreciating the journey. Comparing ourselves to others is so easy, making up we should be much further along the way than we are is so tempting. But if you can find the courage to give yourself a pat on the back, even if it doesn’t feel like it, it’s a great way to keep on track.
- Kindness: People talk about being passionate, which I get. But actually, if you genuinely care about what you do and for who you’re doing it, it will pay off dividends on the long run. A helpful person will always win at the end of the day.
If you could be living and working in any year or era, which would you choose and why?
This is going to sound really cheesy but the truth is, I’m so happy to be living in this day and age. It’s ridiculous how much better we have it than our ancestors. Of course you could argue that competition is fierce, that the industries are saturated, etc but the truth is all you need is a laptop, internet and a passion to start a business. That’s it! So many free resources available that have just smashed the barriers of entry in pretty much any industry. So I’m extremely grateful to be living in this era.
Batman or Superman?
What is the strangest way you’ve ever won a piece of new business?
By far the weirdest thing was to get a phone call from a potential client who was an Italian millionaire and who wanted to fly me out to his penthouse in Bangkok to help him launch his new startup. It was so surreal.
But one of my favourite stories was how the CEO and the Chairman of Boomcast, a social media app, reached out to me (after hearing my podcast) on a Friday morning on Skype, and by Sunday I was flown out to Amsterdam to spend two days with their core leadership team to help them find their voice, clarify their purpose and craft a message that resonated with their users. That was so much fun.
Want to keep the conversation going? Send Mark a tweet @markleruste.