An Interview With Jeff & Annabel on World Entrepreneurs Day

World Entrepreneurs Day celebrates entrepreneurs every year on August 21st. We took this awesome opportunity to sit down with AE’s co-founders, Jeff Mitchell and Annabel Youens, and ask about their experiences as entrepreneurs.

What was your first entrepreneurial experience?

Annabel: My first entrepreneurial experience was in high school. I joined a club that my friend was in called Young Entrepreneurs, I think. I remember going to a session and it was a whole bunch of guys, a bunch of nerds, and I remember thinking “I don’t want to do this.” So I opted-out. I thought it was only going to be about business, making money, and talking to lawyers. And I decided that I didn’t want to do that.

I never considered being an entrepreneur or business person because I never had any female role models for that. I had a few female teachers in school and that’s about it. All the way through to university I never met women professionals, when we lived in Calgary or overseas, so I never considered it as a career option.

Jeff: My first entrepreneurial experience was actually working at a co-op here in Victoria. It was my second co-op job, the one prior to that was working for the government. I was a junior developer at a small startup run by a bunch of guys who worked out of their basement. That was when I first realized that you can build something out of your home and people will still buy it.

 

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What motivated you to start your own company?

Annabel: I would never have become an entrepreneur if it hadn’t been for Jeff. He was the one who initially went out on his own as a consultant when we lived in New Zealand. Then I quit my job as well and joined him. I guess that’s when I became an entrepreneur, I was in my thirties. And what I loved about that work was the client stuff. Meeting with people, strategizing, coming up with ideas – that’s the stuff that I really love to do.

At our agency in Wellington, Jeff and I realized that we could work together. If there is a test drive you can do before you jump into business with someone, I think it’s really important you do that. After that, we dove into our first real startup together. Then all of a sudden I was learning a thousand different skills. Stuff you never thought you could do. I realized that I’m not actually bad at math. I mean I’m not great at algebra, but I can do the finances, with all of Google’s help, which is something I really didn’t realize before.

Jeff: When I was living in New Zealand, I worked at small companies where I wore a lot of hats. So you learn a lot of stuff. Then one day I realized that all this stuff I was doing for the company, I could be doing by myself and earning twice as much money. So I decided to start my own consultancy and I did that for a few years in New Zealand.

 

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What is the most overrated part of being an entrepreneur?

Annabel: Having wins. Everyone always talks about winning and celebrating your wins. I think both are important, but actually, the most important thing about your business is that you are doing it every day. You are making those tiny steps that lead to the wins. And I think we don’t talk about that stuff enough – it’s always about the fist bumps and the winning. For me, it’s more about the grind. You have to get stuff done in order to make [wins] happen. There are a lot of entrepreneurial stories all about the overnight success when it’s more like “No, that took us 15 years.”

Jeff: It’s good being your own boss, but at the same time, you don’t really cut yourself any slack and you’re probably more stingy with your time. You’re never really “off” is the problem. There is no line drawn to say work starts and work ends, it’s all blurred together.

 

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What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Annabel: Working with people. I only realized in the last year that one of the reasons why I run my own business is because I get to choose who I work with every day. And yes, I get huge satisfaction when we close a big sale, but as soon as that happens, that means we can hire more people and have a bigger team and grow that team and grow those people. For me, the most satisfying thing in any work I’ve ever done has always been the people and solving problems together. I think that’s the stuff I love. I’ve been the least satisfied with what I’m doing is when it’s just Jeff and me, grinding it out. I enjoy my work so much more when there are people to talk to and ideas to run off each other. Also, I want to inspire people to challenge themselves and try new things and push themselves because that’s how you grow and figure out what you like and don’t like.

Jeff: The excitement of executing a big project for a big company with a small team. We just had a meeting today with a large multinational corporation and we’re about to kick off a really key data infrastructure project for them. Sometimes I take it for granted but we’re a tiny team that is capable of a lot.

 

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What is one thing that has saved you a lot of time recently?

Annabel: No Meetings Thursdays. Though I still find it difficult to say no to people because my natural instinct is to say yes. But blocking out that Thursday for deep work and turning off my calendar and has really helped me to be more productive. The other thing is thinking of my email inbox as other people’s to-do list; every time an email comes in, it is someone who needs something from me. While that is going to help move their work forward, it’s not necessarily going to help me. So I’m trying to be more aware of that and to close my Gmail when I need to get things done. Because otherwise I just get distracted – I just want to help people.

Jeff: I mean it’s boring but automation has been really helpful. We’re a small team but we use a ton of toolsets on Amazon that have saved us a lot of time. There’s a lot of auto-scaling stuff that I used to have to take care of myself.

If you could clone yourself and start a second company, what would you do?

Annabel: I would have a business where I’m designing fabric. I love prints and colors and I want to design my own print range. I also want to start a re-upholstery business. As much as I love people, I would like to spend half my time in coveralls, in my garage listening to a podcast, re-covering an old piece of furniture that needs a new life. Come back to me in 5 years and I will probably be doing that. Here’s hoping! I’m putting it out there at least.

Jeff: I’ve been wanting to get more into AI-based work. It’s somewhat related to what we’re doing with information but I want to start applying AI to understanding information. I like the idea of developing a personal assistant, or agent as they call them in sci-fi films. Like Google or Alexa, but a smarter version that can actually help you to do stuff.

 

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If Jeff/Annabel could clone themselves what do you think they would do?

Annabel: Jeff has talked about going back to school to do his Masters, so that might be one thing. But if it was a business I could see him focusing on technology and data privacy. As Ada is getting older, he wonders what her digital future is going to be like. He might build an app that helps parents keep their kids safer on the internet. I think it might be something like that, involved with tech but with purpose.

Jeff: She would want 50 clones [laughs]. She has a different idea every day I think. She’d be running a bookstore, a textiles shop, patterns a lot of creative stuff. Running the local women’s tech group, a million things.

 

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Oh. We won for Emerging Technology Company of the Year! #viatechawards #shocked

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Odette Jacquet

About Odette Jacquet

I'm AE's jack-of-all-trades marketer! I'm a part of everything from social media to analytics to sales. My passions include videography, the arts, and growing food.