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A Chat with Cam for National Entrepreneurs’ Day

To celebrate National Entrepreneurs’ Day, we spoke with our resident entrepreneurship expert, Cam Doody, president and cofounder of Bellhops.

What does a really good day at work look like?

Cook pancakes for my wife Hannon and daughters Liles and Margot. Drive to the office on a bluebird Chattanooga day. Nab a couple high fives from teammates walking into the office. Spend an hour answering emails and thinking about the problem of the week. See a few openings in my calendar to whiteboard through said problem.

I’m a creative, so the meetings I usually enjoy most are what we call “Jam Sessions” – open-forum brainstorms designed to build something or solve a problem. Then Jimmy John’s desk delivery for lunch: my order is a Turkey Tom with BBQ chips. But I put the chips on the sandwich. I also have to finish the sandwich before our shameless office beggar, Jack (director of happiness and office pet) shows up and gives me his pitiful face.

Afternoon All Hands meetings happen every Friday, and we do video shout-outs to top bellhops for heroic efforts – probably my favorite part of the week. I work on a lot of deals, whether it be recruiting an executive or closing a partnership, so I like spending a lot of time in the afternoon in front of a computer connecting dots. Google Inbox with the “Snooze” feature runs my life.

What superpower would make your day-to-day life easier?

Oh man. It would have to be planting ideas in other people’s heads, so basically inception. In startups, knowing the right answer is almost worthless. What matters is the ability to convince others of the right answer, so you can align and quickly move forward. I think most founders have a natural superpower of seeing into the future to some degree – not because they’re geniuses, but because they’ve thought about their company’s challenges 100x more than anyone else. There are times when your conviction nears 100% on something, but the real challenge comes when you have to articulate it. Because vision is subjective and normally can’t be fully backed by data (say goodbye to your Excel Sheet mic-drop), you have to make people believe in the unseen!

Most times, it’s also super complicated because high-level vision is formed through hundreds or thousands of hours of thought, with the unique context and perspective that only a founder or CEO has. So articulating it is hard! If I could incept, or skip a few steps, it would maybe buy me time to make things happen sooner. I’m also wrong sometimes, so it could very easily get me in trouble. I’d probably self-impose a “one inception use per quarter” limit so I couldn’t abuse it. My wife, who proofread this, is also mandating that I limit my inception usage exclusively for business decisions. That probably makes sense 🙂

What are some words to live by for someone thinking of starting their own business?

“Have strong convictions but hold onto them loosely.” I once read a post by John Sonmez, a blogger and life coach for software developers, that introduced this idea, and I haven’t heard another philosophy since that I feel is more important for entrepreneurs to heed.

Sonmez wrote, “Having weak convictions is akin to not having thought long and hard enough about a subject to form a strong conviction. As for holding onto that conviction loosely. I basically say that I reserve the right to change my mind. There is no point in holding onto any conviction tightly because that conviction’s soundness should be based on logic and reasoning. When that conviction’s foundation fails, so falls the conviction.”

Form strong opinions and defend them fiercely, but the second new information presents itself that causes you to question yourself, don’t ignore it. Challenging an established conviction is uncomfortable, but usually ends up being the right call. What type of person is willing to go through this discomfort? Someone who knows a past decision was wrong or is no longer right, and the company’s future depends on it.

What do you do when you’re not building the most fun moving experience in the country?

The six F’s: Faith, Family, Friends, Finances (work), Fitness, and Fun. They say you have to prioritize three if you want to do them well, but I think in startups, Finances counts for two. So you really only get to pick one other category. This isn’t easy to say, but in my case, I chose Family, and I mean immediate family. I spend 95% of my free time tickling my daughters until they’re blue in the face and driving my wife crazy with impromptu adventures.

As Bellhops has matured, it has gotten easier to refocus on some of the other categories lately, but I have to say the business forced some sacrifice! When I have the time, I love to fly with my dad (we’re private pilots), snowboard and snowmobile at my family’s cabin in Idaho, chase after trout with my brothers and friends, and go hunting with my best buddies.

Who would you most like to have dinner with (living or dead)?

Chuck Yeager is a WWII ace fighter pilot who went to work as a test pilot after the war. He tested pretty much every major breakthrough in jet technology, and he was the guy who broke the sound barrier. He lived life on the edge. If you like non-fiction’s that read like fiction, you should read his autobiography, Yeager. He’s just the man.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Haha. A Marine Biologist. When I was 5, I lived in New Orleans and spent all of my time chasing lizards and frogs. I had a terrarium where I’d keep everything I caught, which I now realize made for terrible living conditions for those creatures. I also owned every National Geographic VHS that existed – took up an entire bookshelf. I can still rattle off facts of just about every animal on the planet.

What was your favorite class in college?

While at Auburn, I became fascinated with supply chain management, and I changed my major two years before I graduated. I didn’t think I was ever going to use it, but here I am. We started a logistics company. It clearly had more of an impact on me than I realized.

Do you get nervous before pitching or public speaking? If so, how do you cope with those feelings?

I used to get nervous for sure, and it sometimes still hits me randomly. The only trick to mastering it is just to do it. It’s like skydiving . . . you think you’re about to die, you get pushed out of the door, but right on the other side of the door is pure bliss and freedom. In a lot of cases, fear is a liar that scares off the masses. Most of the personal growth I’ve experienced is directly on the other side of debilitating fear. Public speaking was one of those tangible things. You just have to do it, and you realize there is nothing to be scared about.

Is there anything you think entrepreneurs should keep in mind when starting out?

I think group decision is the Angel of Death. Getting in a room and saying, “What do we all think?” turns a group discussion into round-robin decision making. People just want to share their opinions and are often only thinking about what they can add to the discussion. It rounds off the sharp edges and ideas. What comes out of group decision tends to be a safe, dull outcome. The best decisions in my experience are the ones where you say “I have a sharp idea. And I’m taking a risk and putting my money on this sharp idea.” And it either works or it doesn’t.

Finally, what’s a quality you think most entrepreneurs should have?

Delusional optimism. If you and a buddy are in a garage thinking about building a billion dollar company or taking on a billion dollar market, that kind of, by definition, is delusional. But delusional optimism is necessary for really great things to happen. There were so many headwinds we faced along the journey from 0 to 1 at Bellhops, but I never wavered from believing we could do it. I didn’t see the challenge for what it was – nearly impossible – and because of that, I was able to stay purely confident through some bleak times. If I had really understood the math, I don’t think I ever would have started the company. Thankfully, I did not!

At this point, Bellhops is as much a part of me as my hands or feet. When something is a part of you, the thought of giving it up isn’t even an option.

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