Justin Kelsey is CEO of VAXA Digital, a digital agency focused on scroll-stopping creative strategy and media buying for established e-commerce brands. Before leaving the corporate world to pursue his passion for creating e-commerce videos, Justin worked in finance and digital strategy roles at Bank of America, Accenture, and Amazon. Today on the show, we talk about how he built processes and plans that helped fuel his journey from the corporate world into entrepreneurship.
Check out Justin's articles, companies and other content here: https://linktr.ee/justinkelsey
Episode 11: From Strategy to Content Production: Systemically planning your career switch
[00:00:00] Elyse: Justin, thank you so much for joining us today. I'm really excited to have you on the show.
Justin: Yeah, thank you, Elyse. Appreciate you having me.
Elyse: So you mentioned you started your career in finance and digital strategy. Can you just give us a quick overview of what the early part of your career looked like?
Justin: Yeah so it's taken a couple of weird little turns, but initially back in college, I studied finance at the University of Florida. From there, I did an internship with Amazon, kind of doing operational finance out in San Francisco, loved it, but was not sold on doing corporate finance. So from there I had a quick stint in consulting and a company called RSM previously McGladrey kind of.
Smaller tax accounting firm liked it, but didn't love it. And that's when I finally made the jump over to Accenture. So I did Accenture for about three years, and that's really where I fell into this digital strategy routes, which was much more passionate about, you know, figuring out how we acquire customers, how we keep customers for these fortune 500 companies and FinTech and retail and you name it just, just had a [00:01:00] lot more enjoyment out of that role .
Did that for, you know, three years traveling every single week, anywhere across the country, across the world. Started to get a little bit old living out of a suitcase. And finally decided I wanted to jump over to in-house at Bank of America. Moved to Charlotte. And that's kind of where where I ended up for about the last year and a half, almost two years before recently, you know, switching full-time over to VAXA but you know, I, I filled out a very traditional kind of corporate strategy path for awhile, which was awesome.
But ultimately, you know, still comes with the same bureaucracy that you see with really any corporate job and, and having to report to people and having to put in those long nights, especially. When people know you have a consulting background, that the expectation is that you're going to put in those 60 hour work weeks and function like an internal McKinsey team.
So yeah, it was, it was fun, but ultimately I was ready to, to break away and do something else.
Elyse: Yeah, absolutely. And what got you interested in finance and consulting in the first place? I mean, why did you think those were good options?
[00:02:00] Justin: Yeah. So I, I obviously I studied finance at UF but it was more a program tailored towards investment banking and stock trading, which was interesting to me, but not really as interesting as, as you know, the other areas of business.
My methodology was, Hey, if I can go into consulting, I can learn a lot about a lot of different businesses, a lot about how they're growing, what their pains are, how we solve those. So it was able to still apply those kind of same financial foundations that I, that I learned in undergrad.
But. Essentially, I was going to be able to get an MBA over the course of two to three years of working in consulting. Not an actual MBA, but a real time real experience MBA that was going to teach me how to run a business, how fortune 500 companies are running their business, what their pain points were and kind of how we could solve those better through, you know, frameworks and strategies and all that good stuff.
So it, it was kind of my way of, of one gaining cool experience, working with a lot of different fortune 500 kind of companies and, and, you know, building a cool track record, working with Accenture was, was awesome.
But also like it constantly kept me entertained. I was [00:03:00] every three months, six months, 12 months in some cases, switching to a new client doing new problems, new industries, just new opportunities. So that's really what drew me to the consulting path. And, you know, finance was, was fun and I've always loved personal finance.
I've always loved, you know, crunching numbers in Excel, but really the opportunity to switch projects is what drew me to consulting initially.
Elyse: So what then drew you to e-commerce and what made you start thinking about it as a potential career path?
Justin: Yeah. Great question.
So I have always loved e-commerce I've always been fascinated by it. And the idea of, of really anyone being able to take an idea, a product idea, and start a company online and make money with it as has just always been something that's fascinated me. And, you know, it probably traces back to my high school roots where I first got my taste of entrepreneurship.
So in high school I had, I had four different companies. I had a beef jerky company. I had a car audio company. I had a video production company and I [00:04:00] had a, so it's always hard to explain, but it's a it was a grow box company that would take old PC towers and convert them into something that you could grow plants inside. Sounds crazy. Sounds super wacky, but.
Elyse: It sounds like it's something that would be super trendy right now.
Justin: Would totally crush it. And this was back in grade 2007 when you know, growing certain types of plants was very taboo. So I had to market it as like, Hey, grow herbs from the comfort of your own home or grow your tomatoes from your bedroom.
Those kinds of things, obviously, whatever my customers did with these things, that was completely up to them and not on me. I literally sent a pack of vegetable seeds with every single order. But funny enough, like that was my initial taste of e-commerce and I built a website on GoDaddy e-commerce platform, but before go down to e-commerce or before Shopify was even a thing, GoDaddy e-commerce was kind of the big player.
So built up a little website, got my first taste of e-commerce way back then. I sold enough of those things to pretty much pay for college completely on my own, which, my parents really couldn't afford to send me to [00:05:00] college. I, I was not destined to going down a path of going to college.
Working middle-class divorced parents is not ideal when you want to get to a top institution. So, something like UF, I knew that I was gonna have to pay for it on my own or get a scholarship, which I also did. But ultimately my draw to entrepreneurship was knowing that I was going to have to be in charge of my own financial destiny a little bit.
And that's, that's what got me initially to e-commerce. And I put a pause on it for about seven years while I went through college, got into consulting, did all of that. And then finally, with funny enough, like COVID happening, e-commerce really got heavily back on the map. Shopify stores were popping up left and right.
Shopify stock was climbing and I realized there was a golden opportunity to combine my passion for creating videos and understanding the fundamentals of e-commerce and kind of create a hybrid of those two and start producing videos for e-commerce stores that were running Facebook ads that were, developing their product pages that were building up, Amazon listings.
If I could crack the formula for delivering e-commerce videos that [00:06:00] can, can convert it and ultimately made these e-commerce stores money. At the end of the day, I knew that was going to be a viable business model. And that's kind of what brought me back to the world of e-commerce was, Hey, how can I take my, my love for creating videos, which is my other passion and make some actual money with that because typically it's not easy to make money as a brand new videography firm unless you have a lot of connections.
So I realized that I could kind of combine this hybrid of video and e-commerce together to, to build what is now the VAXA.
Elyse: And it sounds like you really had sort of this plan. I mean, obviously you grew up with these entrepreneurial endeavors, but your vision was always to become an entrepreneur. Is that right?
Justin: Yeah. I mean, I knew that it was ingrained in my DNA. Since I was even younger than high school, I was doing little business ventures, I think literally before I even knew what an entrepreneur was, I was sewing clothes for my sister's friends, build a bear like dolls and bears.
And I was like selling them for like a dollar to [00:07:00] $5 per like a little shirt and I'd go to Joann fabrics or the fabric store Michaels and buy fabrics. And taught myself, how to sew on my mom's sewing machine. And it would build them little clothes and, and sell those for like a couple bucks. And, then I had the traditional lemonade stand, like every, young entrepreneur did and legit bought an old trailer, converted it into a lemonade, stand, put it on a busy intersection and sold lemonade and other little random ventures.
And so I think I was just fascinated by the idea that I could make money on my own before I even knew that there was a term like entrepreneurship for it. I always had just love to create. I'd love to, figure out something that people wanted, like candy or beef jerky or car audio, or whatever that was and find out how I could build a scalable solution that was gonna make a little cash from it.
Elyse: Nice. So you mentioned that really e-commerce started popping up again, hugely during the pandemic, which of course, I think we've all witnessed. But was there then a specific moment where you were like, okay, now is the time I'm going to [00:08:00] take the leap? And how did you even come up with your concept for VAXA Digital?
Justin: Yeah. So initially I was just doing freelance work, not even in the e-commerce space. So I bought myself a pretty nice camera, 78, 73 back in like 20, 19, late 2019. Like October, probably it was doing a lot of cool like car content, like locally here in Charlotte.
Was having a lot of fun with it, but I realized it really wasn't a scalable model behind doing a local video production firm. So I actually, funny enough, I know we met through, the Facebook group put together by The Hustle and Trends, so put a little beta test in Trends, way back in like January 2020, and basically said, Hey, I'm going to make 10 products, videos for 10 different e-commerce companies for 400 bucks, which was way below market value for what the average product video goes for. And the first 10 people to comment on this that are a good fit, I'll, deliver one of these videos to you. So it was totally kind of like throwing darts against the wall to see what stuck. I had no idea if people had an interest in this, if there was a [00:09:00] demand for e-commerce videos. And to my surprise, there were like 40 people that commented on the post, interested in getting videos created. And, that turned into our first, really like 10 to 20 customers.
So from there, it kind of just snowballed, word of mouth got out about the work we were doing. We started working with some bigger agencies that didn't have in-house creative teams that became a source of our revenue and it really just was this, this snowball effect where every month we were adding, 10% to our revenue and, grew from doing $0 a month in revenue to at the end of 2020, almost 30,000 a month in revenue, just, just in the first year, just because of what we were able to, to build our name around for clients. So it never was like a formal game plan. I never wrote a business plan for launching VAXA, it kind of just happened. And again, this was all as a side hustle.
And you know, from, from January, 2020, all the way through February, 2021, this, this state of side hustle and leveraged a lot of offshore talent and built the systems around how to deliver a consistently good creative [00:10:00] and, you know, built a team around me that was smarter and better and more efficient at creating videos than I was.
And that's really when we started to scale this thing.
Elyse: That's awesome. That was actually gonna be my question was you were doing all of this as a side hustle, which I mean, I have many questions, but how did you organize your time? Because if you're working a full-time job at Bank of America, like how did you, and I imagine as you were picking up revenue and you were getting clients, it was just getting busier and busier.
So how did you structure your time?
Justin: Yeah, that was the most difficult parts of the whole process. Obviously, I got really lucky. We had a couple of reorgs at the bank that meant you know, my stress level was not at its peak capacity, so I wasn't getting off work at 5:00 PM, like drained every day. I was, I was able to get off work right at five or six and go straight to building the business without feeling like my capacity was strained throughout the day.
So got lucky from that perspective where I was able to keep some bandwidth when I started the workday, but really I was [00:11:00] introduced to the concept of time blocking, you know, early 2021. And that's still something that I keep up with to this day, to the hour, every single week, sometimes to the 15 minute chunk .
Every single task I have to do throughout the week is put into my Google calendar. And I have a whole process around how I do the pre-planning before that wrote a medium article on it. You can check it out.
But basically the gist of it is every single week I put all of my priorities on a sticky notes on a, a massive whiteboard I have in my office, four by six foot whiteboard. I'll I'll put all of these priorities I have to do on the right-hand side.
And I have a grid that's Monday through Friday morning, afternoon and night. They're basically like these three to four hour chunks throughout the day. And I then take all of those sticky notes. And based on importance based on priority, based on size, if it's a four hour task, it'll take up a whole cell by itself.
If it's the two hour task, I can fit two of those in a cell. It's a one hour task, I can fit four of those in a cell. So I almost take like an agile approach to planning my time. So I'll, t-shirt size these [00:12:00] things. These tasks will say, okay, this is a small, that takes 30 minutes. This the medium that takes an hour.
It's a large, it takes two hours. It's extra large, six, four hours. Literally write that on the sticky note with the task and a little circle. And then I just stick these things all throughout the week. From there, once I have it kind of stuck in whiteboard form, I'll literally just open my computer, hop on a Google calendar and convert all of those tasks into literal time blocks in my calendar.
So that's. No matter what, these things are scheduled time. I don't have the excuse of, well, I don't have time to do this, or I don't have time to do that. When it was a side hustle, I was scheduling these things after work, obviously, and early mornings before I had to log in, but now it's pretty crazy.
I have like 40 hours a week back. I can really fill up a schedule with things to do, which has been also a pain in itself now trying to figure out what I spend my time doing. But as a side hustle, definitely. The idea of time blocking and prioritizing tasks based on time, based on complexity, based on importance w was something that really drove the needle and move the needle for us.
And, and those first you know, [00:13:00] 12 months in business.
Elyse: Yeah. I think that's such a great point. I've talked a lot on this show about like the idea of really budgeting your time. And I sort of think about it the same way that you budget your finances. So, and I think your time-blocking concept is actually, is really applicable to that mindset as well, because you're really figuring out okay, it's like, it's the same thing. Like you have a bunch of money to spend on one thing or another thing. And there are various investment levels for lack of a better term. And it's really about making that budget. And I think what is great about it is that it also really frees up your mindset and it sort of frees up that mental space so that you can really focus on the task for which you've blocked that time. I think that one thing that people tend to struggle with, especially in, as they're sort of changing careers, is this idea that like they have to be looking for a job all the time or it's something that's sort of all consuming or always on their mind.
But I like this idea of really blocking it out, setting a boundary around it. And saying, okay, here's my time to focus, but everything [00:14:00] else, like I'm moving on to this next task in three hours, you know, or I'm spending time with my family or I'm doing whatever I need to be doing. So I love that.
Justin: Yeah. I mean, you do have to look at it from like a mindset and a mental capacity standpoint, like you can only work X number of hours throughout the day. You need to be diligent about how you're spending that time, but you also need to be diligence of your free time as well. Like you don't want to over-schedule work tasks when you do need to work out throughout the day, you do need to you know, my girlfriend hates it.
I'll sometimes like schedule in our like date nights or something to like my Google calendar. So I know that things are, are completely blocked off and nothing else can get in the way of those. And, you know, trips with family trips, with friends. I, I put immediately put those in a Google calendar. So nothing else can get booked like through my Calendly or anything like that in that time.
So I can truly unplug during those times, and even with my morning routine now, like some of my friends think I'm crazy. I have a two and a half hour morning routine. Now that I'm like an entrepreneurial mode, I just redesigned it to, to fit this new lifestyle. But you know, [00:15:00] that is my sacred morning routine time and nothing work-related gets in the way of that.
It is my way to get my mindset right for the day. There's a lot of tasks in there from meditation to journaling, to reading, to fitness that at the very least I can say, okay, no matter what, no matter how crazy the rest of the day gets those two and a half hours, let me hit my bare minimums in terms of habits and routines that I wanted to build throughout the day.
Elyse: So you had this as a side hustle, you were kind of, you were working on this, it was getting bigger and bigger and bigger. What was the point where you then said, okay, we're at an inflection point, I got to quit my job. Let's go into this, full head on.
Justin: Yeah, I definitely had thought about it for a while. I mean, all the way back into 2020, I think I initially had told myself, Hey, if that actually gets traction, I'm going to leave this thing. Like September, 2020, that was my initial date. And then, you know, COVID hits and I was like, okay, let's, let's try to do the September timeframe, but we'll see what happens with COVID.
And obviously we lost a bit of clients at first, [00:16:00] things were up in the air for really anyone in the e-commerce space, not knowing how supply was going to be affected and all of that. So, you know, September rolled around and I was honestly just comfortable with doing both. I wasn't feeling overly stressed at the bank.
I wasn't feeling overly stressed at VAXA. So we were, we were growing at a comfortable rate where I could still swing both and, I was on a nice, to be honest, like six figure salary at the bank that made it where I really didn't have to have the pressure at VAXA to, to just be like full blown, crushing it.
Like we could grow at a very comfortable level like really focused internally on the systems we were building, really focused internally on defining our processes and building out talent and, and we didn't have to go, you know, scale like crazy because I had this income coming in. And so I realized like, okay, All right, let's push this out a little bit longer.
Let me spend a couple more months building the business internally, keep the bank salary coming in, which was helping me not have to worry about paying myself anything out of the business. And I never took a dollar out of the business up [00:17:00] until last week was the first time I wrote a check to myself from the business for payroll up until then didn't take a single dollar.
Everything was reinvested in reinvested into the business. So I, you know, kept pushing this back and pushing this back and just realized, honestly that, Hey, I I'm pretty good at this time blocking thing, my team is kind of running itself. Why would I rush to get out of this before, before I needed to? So that continued all the way up until February was when things really started to change. Got put on a new team at the bank that was all of a sudden, really requiring a lot of my mental capacity throughout the day. I was, logging offline at five or six, just completely mentally drained. There was a couple of deliverables that had slipped through the cracks with VAXA that again, I attribute to just not having the mental capacity to keep up with them.
My team was, was carrying a lot of the burden for things when I should have been helping them project manage. And I just realized like, Okay. If I, if I really want to get serious about growing VAXA I need to go into this full-time I need to serve as that [00:18:00] project manager, until we hire one of those, I need to serve as a sales person until we hire one of those.
And I realized there was a lot that I needed to, to focus on 40 hours a week with no distractions that you know, what happen if I, if I just finally left the bank and went full-time with it. And that's, that's kinda what happened. I just got to this point where I realized like, Hey. Yes, we're doing good now we're at a a nice, consistent revenue, we're flowing, profit in the positive right now. But if I really want to get this thing to the next level and build an actual, truly developed company out of this, then I'm going to have to go full-time with it. So that's really when I made the decision to put in my two weeks, this was end of February, 2021.
My boss, he was really cool about my resignation. Thankfully, you know, he, he completely understood where I was coming from because he had also run his own company for five years before, getting back into the corporate world. So I I was very candid with him. I told him, Hey, I need to go do this.
Like, something was drawing me to it. If I didn't do it, I was going to regret it. And Honestly, I haven't looked back since. It's [00:19:00] not going to say it's been easy this last month, we lost a client or two was, was questioning everything. It was like, Oh God, did I make the right decision? Like, we just lost two clients.
Am I going to go, how am I going to go get two new clients? Like, those are the things going through my mind. The agency world in general is a roller coaster. You, you get clients, you lose clients. It's, it's, it's constant churn and you're fighting against, but I thankfully have realized in the last week that I made the right decision, we just gained a couple of clients back.
Some, some huge clients bigger than we've ever worked with before. Very well-known brands and have been very grateful that we have the opportunity now to work with them. And I'm, I'm convinced that, Hey, this, this was the right move. Yes. It took a few weeks of figuring myself out, figuring out what my mindset shifts was going to look like, figuring out what my days were going to look like.
But now I, I, I feel like I'm going to get flow. Obviously there's gonna be a lot of stuff that comes up in the future, these, these coming months, these coming years. But you know, I, I just knew that I needed to go full-time with the business, if I was going to see it kind of taken to that next level.
Elyse: I know you said you you've never looked back and it was a great decision, but how did that [00:20:00] actually feel, I mean, was it scary? Was it intimidating? Did you have any sort of hesitation as you were kind of going through that process?
Justin: Yeah. I mean, it was, it was absolutely terrifying.
It was you know, I, I ran it through a few of my mentors who, you know, probably had a slightly biased perspective because they were also guys and girls who had left their corporate job at some point to run their company full-time so they had a slightly biased perspective of like, you gotta do this, like, you'll regret it if you don't.
But that being said, the minute I finally did it turned in my resignation. I realized like, Oh, man, this is real like, this is, this is happening. I have about two weeks of pay coming in. After that my bank account is going to start dwindling if I don't do something about it. So was absolutely terrifying off the bat.
At the time knew I was going to have to pay my myself payroll which was going to start putting us back towards a, just break even profit, which was also just terrifying in itself. So I I, I was without a doubt terrified of, of what the future looked like. And it, [00:21:00] it, it took a few calls with mentors and friends and other folks in the space who had done the same thing to realize like that's completely normal.
Like it is 100% normal to question everything after you leave a nice cushy job to go do your own thing, regardless of how many clients you have, regardless of how your cash flows look like, it's terrifying to, to all of a sudden be fully responsible for your own, your own pay at the end of the day, but also your employees.
Like I had to two full-time contractors that, that were working with me, who I needed to pay every single month. So it wasn't just me, you know, needing to eat now. It was them as well. So absolutely terrifying. I'm still terrified. Like it's been a month. This is just the very beginning. I'm just kind of getting, getting into the bath water, so to speak and there's going to be a lot of growing pains as we continue to hire. So we can continue to lose clients, gain clients, lose clients, gain clients. Like it's going to be a constant battle, but I, I I'm mentally prepared as I can be for it. I'm sure it's going to be stressful. It's going to take a lot of calls to those same mentors, every single month to, to convince [00:22:00] myself I didn't do something crazy.
But it's just a rollercoaster of emotions and you've got to find ways to cope with those and to let those out, whether that is like meditation, whether that's talking to, your friends and family close to you, whether that's exercise, like you gotta get yourself back on the right track and kind of just brush those, those negative thoughts off when you have them.
And the rest it'll it'll fall into place. If you're truly passionate about something you're doing right, you will find a way to make money. It might take a couple months, might take a year before you start to see any good money coming from it. But in my opinion, the results are always going to be exponential.
If you can crack through that first year, that second year, that third year you're going to far surpass what you were doing in your corporate job. For example.
Elyse: I think that's, that's great advice. But I'm also really curious. Did you set up any sort of financial safety net for yourself as like you knew you were taking this leap, you didn't maybe necessarily know when you were going to be able to start paying yourself?
Did you do any sort of thinking or planning around your finances before you actually made the jump?
Justin: Yeah. So I am a, [00:23:00] a personal finance nerd. Self-proclaimed so I'm all about it. I actually teach a course on personal finance on the side for millennials. So that, has helped me stay on top of my own finances, but every single month I do an Excel calculation of my like net worth, essentially.
So I take every bit of equity and property value and whatever I have investments, cash, you name it, anything that's like positive assets, put those listed out in Excel. And then every single thing I owe money on, you know, whether that was student loans that I had left over or credit card bills or whatever car payment at the time, if I had a car that I was paying off.
So yeah. I've done that every single month since I was in college. So that keeps me, you know, pretty in check with my personal financial situation. So before I finally did make the jump, I really thoughtfully built that out. I, I made sure that everything was correct down to the dollar, even forecasted kind of, A, B, C scenarios of how that would be impacted by this, this venture, you know, option A being, Hey, this is great.
We exceed our [00:24:00] expectation options. B is okay. You know, we just keep it consistent, kind of break, even option C is that we lose money and here's how my net worth is going to be affected. So I, I did all those calculations. I was, I was fortunate enough to buy a house back in November. So I bought a house before obviously making the jump to entrepreneurship, which was a great move. Now, looking back at it, because it would have been much, much more difficult to buy something and get a mortgage if I was self-employed after now talking to some folks who have recently gone through that, so was very fortunate to get a house, which obviously helps from a net worth perspective, the, the appreciation on the house, the opportunity costs of not paying rent to an apartment that you're never giving it back. All those things helped a little bit in the back of my mind, kind of justify this jump. And then finally, like the biggest thing was I knew that I had a safety net built within the business.
So not even having to touch my personal savings, personal checking, anything like that, I had about 75 K in, in my, my business savings account that I knew, like, this is my lifeline, this is my, my burn rates, [00:25:00] X number of dollars a month. Now it's, with employee overhead and all that was was different than when I first started, but basically I could calculate my burn rate.
I could calculate how much was in the bank and that was my runway. And if I blew all of that money in my business savings, well, then we shut down the company and that's that's, that's it. I wasn't gonna, pull out of my personal savings, unless for some reason I really thought there was a reason I need to, but yeah.
I could basically look at it like, okay, this is my safety net. I can pay myself a small fraction of this every month to pay my bills. I can pay my employees this much to, keep, keep them happy. And if we ever dropped down to zero, well, it was a good run. Let's move on to the next thing or, or try something else.
But that was kind of how I justified our savings and kind of how I approached the financial side of things.
Elyse: That's a great plan and it's great advice. So you said that you had a bunch of mentors. You had talked to people who've done this before. You've talked to people, sort of in a similar industry who are also encouraging you to take this leap, to run your own company, to quit your corporate job.
I mean, [00:26:00] what did your friends and family think? Was there anybody who thought you were crazy?
Justin: You know, initially I thought there would be, I was, looking at some of my close friends who were still in the corporate world and thinking like, why would like, what are they going to think about this?
Like they're they were probably going to think, why would this guy leave his like cushy salary job to go start a video agency, which somebody could start without a college degree. Like you can literally pick up a camera to learn how to make videos and go start something. So I was, that was some of the thoughts that were initially going through my mind.
It was like, yeah, God, people are going to think I'm crazy. But then as it got a little bit closer and I started kind of socializing this idea with my close friends, with my family, there was a recurring bit of feedback that was it's it's time for you to do this. Like, why have you waited so long to do this?
My, my parents, my sister, my girlfriend, my, my closest mentor is my closest friends. They were all like. Yeah, this makes total sense. You should 100% do this. Like this is you. Like [00:27:00] everyone essentially knew that I was, was, was going to be making this jump at some point or another. So I don't think it was a shock to anybody.
Even my, my boss at the bank was supportive of it, even my like previous bosses at Accenture and previous firms. When I finally posted an update on LinkedIn, they were like, this is not surprising at all. We're so stoked for you. Like we all saw this coming. So. Again, I think that that comes down to your support system to some degree there's, there's definitely the flip side of that equation where it could have easily gone the wrong way.
It could have easily had parents that were totally against that. And there's probably a lot of people out there listening who have that, a problem where their parents would completely disown them if they gave up their corporate job to get started company. But yeah. I think, honestly, it comes down to the numbers.
If you can literally go to your parents and, and show them, Hey, here's how much money I'm making with this. Here's my projection for the next year. Here's how it's going to, far exceed what I was doing in this position, I think, people can't argue with the facts. If you can show them, Hey, this is how much money I'm making with it, who wouldn't be supportive of that at the end of the day?
Elyse: Yeah, absolutely. It's all [00:28:00] about having a plan and having your pitch together and making it something that people can kind of understand and make it easy for people to get behind. So I think, you know, the fact that it seems like you went to them with such a sense of certainty and a sense of almost inevitability that probably, I think helped make them a bit more comfortable in what you were doing and.
Justin: For sure. Yeah. I mean, The biggest thing to take away from that too, is that you shouldn't ever quit your job or make a drastic career change just for an idea. Like you should never just give it all up and say, I think this idea is going to work and I'm going to go all in with this and hope my parents and family and friends support me.
And that's it. And that's like your plan because that's not going to work. And nine out of 10 cases and you are going to upset yourself and you're going to have this, perception to your friends and your family that, you know, why did this person do this crazy move. So I think the way to combat that two things, I would say treat every single business, like an experiment.
That's kind of my motto. I can't remember what book I [00:29:00] read that in. But some book along the way said treat every single idea. It might've been like the Lean Startup or something that. That I initially talked about that, but if you, if you tell your friends, tell your family, Hey, I'm going to start an experiment and keep that experiment of side hustle.
Like don't call it a company. Don't call it a new product. I'm going to do a little experiment. I'm gonna do an e-commerce experiment. I'm going to do an agency experiment. No experiments are bound to fail. It's expected that experiments fail at some point. So you all of a sudden now have this this perception with your friends and family that, Hey, he's just doing an experiment.
It's totally fine. So then from there, if that experiment becomes successful as a side hustle, you start making money with it. You can then tell yourself, okay. If I was able to devote 40 more hours a week to this, how would this experiment grow at scale to be able to support me full-time and that's really where the rubber meets the road in terms of, okay.
If you were to do this experiment as a side hustle for three months, six months, 12 months, get some traction, know that there's a market fit. Have some sort of data and financials back that you're going to make some money with [00:30:00] this. Then it's, it's a thousand times easier to go to your friends and your family and say, Hey, look at this experiment.
I just made six figures this year with, with a side hustle. Then nobody's going to argue the fact that, Hey, it's totally viable to go full-time with it, right?
Elyse: Yeah, absolutely. And I think the fact too, that probably that you had sort of tried all of these other side hustles before. You had made your interest in entrepreneurship very, very clear. I imagine to all of these people. But also that also probably really helped as well.
Is there anything that you wish you had done differently as you were going through this process?
Justin: That's a good question. I mean, I think if there was one thing I would've done differently was probably defining more systems from the very start. I think I was kind of winging a lot. I was throwing work over to freelancers and outsourced you know, talent and VA's and all that kind of stuff without really like [00:31:00] having a, a true, defined, proven system and process for them to follow.
Not to say it didn't work, obviously it's still worked, we still grew the business, but yeah. I wonder looking back if we had had a very strict SOP for a video editor to follow everything from the naming conventions, to where they upload it, to how they, you know, worked and updated our project management tools, you know, that's something now I'm like, Crazy about every single single thing we do down to the minutes out of VAXA is tied back to some sort of SOP.
There's a reason why we're doing every single thing we're doing. And it's all being tracked through, click up in a project management tool. Even our time is being tracked on certain tasks, but I think leveraging that from the very start would have been much more helpful, like having, you know, a set of processes in place for VA's or editors or whoever you're working with, whoever is that lever to help you grow your business, having something already written out for them, it's going to make them a lot more successful at that job.
And then on that same note, not being afraid to outsource stuff to talent I think I waited for a while [00:32:00] as with most entrepreneurs too let go of control with this new hustle. I was good at doing video edits. I, I love to be behind a camera. I love shooting. I love, you know, jumping into premiere and whipping out edits, but by no means I was the best at it.
And finally I realized like, Hey, there's probably people out there who can edit better than I can. Who are going to free up X number of hours of my time, that has a much higher opportunity cost associated with it, then I'm paying them to do these things. And that's when I really started to see the business grow was when I could outsource almost everything that we were doing besides the strategy work, which I was kind of still stepping in to do.
But, I was doing business sales and strategy and then the actual delivery work was being outsourced to a team. And that is really when the business really started to grow. So I wonder like, Had I done that sooner. Had I built those systems to outsource the work? You know, how, how much more could we have gone grown in that first year?
And I think that's really something that, that I would [00:33:00] recommend it really, anyone who's starting a business, no matter the business type, figure out, you know, every single step of the business that you follow on a day to day, week to week, and then start to figure out, okay, which of these tasks can I start to outsource?
Elyse: Yeah. I mean, I think that whole approach of systems based thinking is really applicable across any area. So whether you're starting a business, whether you're trying to find a new job, whether you're changing careers, whether you're doing any of that, I think just the idea of having a system of really understanding sort of the things that you really want to do versus the things or the things that you're really passionate about or that you need to do, versus the things that you could, you know, maybe let coworkers take more of, or the things that you can kind of outsource or that your family can take care of or something like that.
I think that's just a really helpful thought process for anyone in any situation.
Justin: Yeah, absolutely.
Elyse: So I know I actually we're are almost out of time. So I want to just wrap up with a couple of final questions for [00:34:00] you. I know we've talked a lot about, the process of starting a business and your sort of whole life as an entrepreneur, but when you think about changing careers or really taking the leap from corporate, a corporation to entrepreneurship or from finance to strategy to marketing and e-commerce like, what advice would you have for someone who's looking to make a career change?
Justin: I mean, it really comes down to a couple of things. I mean, in terms of executing the change your, your network really is everything.
I know that's the most like cliche thing to say, but don't overlook the value of building a strong network far before that change needs to happen. So, you know, before I made the change to Accenture from, from RSM, I was building out a network of Accenture connections, not even asking them for anything. I wasn't trying to say, Hey, can you give me an intro? Can you, can you help me get an application in any of that? Can help me get an interview? I was [00:35:00] just connecting with them on LinkedIn. I was liking their stuff. I was attending little webinars. I was driving back to university of Florida campus as an alumni to, to attend like Accenture's on-campus recruiting events, really just trying to get in the door with those same familiar faces that were there.
That same advice can be applied really anywhere. I mean, before I got into e-commerce, I was connecting with agency owners and e-commerce store owners years before I made the switch, just because I figured I might play in this space one day. So again, cliche to say your network is everything, but you know, really don't overlook the value of that build, build value within your network far before you ask them for anything.
And you'll be surprised, kinda what doors that can open up. My other piece of advice would be, don't be afraid to go after a position that maybe you're not qualified for, or, you know, start a business that you're not the best person in that industry to, to be running.
Like when I started VAXA. So for example, I had no agency experience. I'd never had worked at an agency and I worked at Accenture interactive, which is technically an agency, the biggest agency in the world, but I was not doing anything that I'm doing [00:36:00] now. There, I wasn't selling proposals, I wasn't pitching clients directly to the decision maker.
So there was a lot that I really had no idea what to do, but I just jumped in and did it. And same thing with a career switch, you know, going from Accenture to bank of America, you know, I, I. I was hired into the bank at a post MBA level position as an AVP. So I was, you know, in a junior level executive position without ever having worked at a bank without ever having truly aside from client work at Accenture, having been in a position like that.
And, I just had to say, you know what, I'm gonna figure this out. I'm going to make the jump. Yes, technically I might not be fully qualified for this, but I would have figured out when I get there and you know, that's exactly what happened. I was kind of thrown in to the deep end and figure it out and, you'd be surprised what happens when you're kind of put up against the wall.
You can figure things out very quickly. So for anyone out there looking to make a career switch or to jump to entrepreneurship, like. Yeah, it's terrifying. Yeah. Going for that position, that's a, a notch above where you should be is absolutely terrifying. But again, if you [00:37:00] get the right connections and you can get, get your foot in the door with a recruiter at that company who believes in you , there's a lot you can do from from, from putting yourself out there, taking a little risk, getting into a position that you're not qualified for starting a company that you've never worked in that industry before.
Like you, you you'll always figure it out.
Elyse: Absolutely. It's the idea that you have to make a lot of deposits before you can make a withdrawal. And that if you're looking for an opportunity, you're looking for a person . A lot of this isn't going to come from job boards.
So my last question for you is what is your definition of success?
Justin: I've definitely thought a lot about that. I, used to tie success to some monetary value, having a million dollar net worth by the age of 30 , that was a short lived thing.
And then I realized like, okay, money is great, but. You can be a millionaire. You can have a $5 million net worth and still be slaving away working for a boss. And, your net worth is tied to your career. And all of a sudden, your career, you know, [00:38:00] something happens and it, you get fired. You get laid off, you get furloughed, whatever that is, all of a sudden you're that net worth is going to start to dwindle.
So I think in my book, success is building something on your own that you're in control of that allows you to free up having to work for somebody else or having to work for yourself. Even the idea of, of building something that will fund your lifestyle that will fund your basic needs, but also your lifestyle.
But the idea that, that you can go out and do whatever you want to do and not have someone to answer to and not have your, your worth tied back to a single position or job or company. I think that's really what I define success as is, is, Hey, I'm 100% in control of my destiny and my financial situation that is not reliant on anyone else.
And if, if something got screwed up with my financial situation, that's on me. Yeah.
Elyse: Awesome. Well, Justin, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show. It's been great to talk to you and I, I, I really appreciate you sharing your story and all your [00:39:00] advice.
Justin: Of course. Yeah. I definitely appreciate you having me.
It's been a fun one for sure.