By Lindley Estes The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.
Job: I'm the CEO/founder of FFunnel, an online community collaboration calendar, and I'm also a co-founder of Muster Me, which is a way to share contact information via text messaging--no app required!
Jobs you've held previously: My first job out of college was working as John Chichester's campaign manager back in 1987. It was a fancy title--I stuffed a lot of envelopes!
In San Diego, I managed a 600-slip marina, worked at an ad agency and was a marketing director at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, home of the Navy SEALs. I moved back to Virginia and held the same position at Naval Station Norfolk for several years.
I've also worked for several nonprofits, including the Arthritis Foundation and, for 11 years, as the executive director of the American Institute of Architects--San Diego Chapter.
Education/training: I graduated from the University of Virginia in 1987 and then, in 2000, I earned a master's from George Washington University's business school. As a foster parent in San Diego for more than five years, I obtained more than 120 hours of parenting training, which has served me terrifically in a number of situations outside of parenting and is probably the most valuable training I've ever had.
Describe what your company does? FFunnel is a community calendar that allows an individual to "self-curate" their lifestyle onto one calendar. The user "likes" an organization--from a favorite sports team to a nonprofit organization to a school system (or even a specific classroom)--and all of the dates and events and deadlines associated with that organization can then be found on one calendar tailor-made for the individual user.
Why should people use it: Rather than adding events one at a time to your paper calendar, your Outlook calendar or your Google calendar, with FFunnel, you can identify your favorite organizations--"liking" them just one time--and, moving forward, all of their content automatically goes onto your personal FFunnel calendar--saving you a lot of time and hassle. The primary value? Convenience.
Being from Fredericksburg, how has the business community changed here during your lifetime: Well, I've actually been gone from Fredericksburg for about 30 years--I graduated from James Monroe in '83 and came back here in 2013. I came back to be closer to family. However, without the business environment that exists here now, I'm not sure that family alone would have been enough to get us back here.
In June 2013, after participating in the FredXchange-hosted Startup Weekend Fredericksburg, I really found my "tribe"--people just like me who were launching high-tech, scalable businesses. It was awesome to realize that there were businesses here outside of the more traditional real estate and retail enterprises.
Connecting with people who talk about things like MVP (minimum viable product), scalable traction, lean and agile methodology and "the sales funnel" has dramatically impacted me--and both of my startups. I really credit the emerging "entrepreneurial ecosystem" that is being fostered here as an influencer regarding my decision to come back to Fredericksburg.
The startup movement is big all over the country, and it's just delightful to see the business community here engaging and supporting that movement.
Your thoughts on the local economy: The local economy is good--Virginia's ranked super high as a state in which to be doing business--and that's great. There's also plenty more that can be done--and I'm eager to be a part of what can be done.
I'm advocating for the "entrepreneurial ecosystem"--something that is really beautifully explained in Brad Feld's book, "Startup Communities." With our terrific location, access to a highly talented workforce and a great community in which to raise a family, the Fredericksburg region is ripe for technology-focused businesses as a means of diversifying the local economy.
What advice do you have for people who want to start a business locally: Get out of your house and talk to people! Engage in the various organizations that are supportive of entrepreneurs--that's the local Chamber, the SBA office and both of the terrific education leaders we have locally--UMW and Germanna.
Of course, as a board member of FredXchange, I'd love to see folks at our various events--events that we host to fulfill our mission of having a flourishing startup community in place by 2020.
Anyone who is thinking about starting a business--locally or globally (because lots of local business nowadays are indeed global businesses)--I say, "Get up. Dress up. Show up." So, show up at all these events. You'll find your tribe.
What resources would you point them to: In addition to the established organizations, I'd encourage folks to look online--Twitter and LinkedIn are super helpful to me. They both grow your network--globally. Just because someone is in Seattle doesn't mean that they can't be a resource to you in Fredericksburg.
In many instances, if you have some business commonality with another person, geographic barriers really don't exist--thanks to the Internet. The number of folks that I've "met" via Twitter and LinkedIn has been staggering--and terrifically helpful as I'm growing both of my startups.
Community involvement: Right now, my primary community involvement is focused on FredXchange as its mission is truly part of my business DNA. With a kindergartner at Hugh Mercer, I'm excited to engage with the parents and faculty in the coming months.
And there are several local organizations whose missions speak to me--I intend to get involved at some level with the Community Foundation (it rocks!) and, as my daughter and I are a foster-adopt family, I want to engage with the foster family community locally.
What would the title of your autobiography be: "Saltwater: Of Sweat, Tears and the Open Sea."
Favorite book: I read voraciously, so I'm really hard pressed to pick a favorite book. One of my favorite quotes, though, is about books. Jorge Luis Borges said, "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library," and I couldn't agree more.
Favorite movie: "Silverado"--I sat through it back to back the first time I watched it in a movie theater. Cowboys are my heroes.
Hobbies: In addition to reading as much as I can, I love to sail and I love to play golf. Whenever the opportunity arises, I will go to the theater--to see any performance, really.
Something people don't know about you: I'm a certified mixologist. About 10 years ago, I took a bartending class on a whim. I had to study like crazy to pass--both the recipe and the live, timed-test portions. We were required to make eight drinks in two minutes, and it took every ounce of focus and logic I could muster to do that.
Age: 49, going on 5--wide-eyed and full of wonder
Family: The Three Musketeers--Morgan O'Malley, who is my 5-year-old daughter and Jack O'Malley, our wacky dog, and me, one very lucky 'head of household'
--As told to Lindley Estes