“Just Do It and Have Fun” The 5 Lessons I Learned Being a 20-Something Founder
I had the pleasure of interviewing Carl Turner, CEO and Founder of Neighbor, Inc.
Carl founded Neighborz in April 2017 during his final semester at Wake Forest University where he graduated with Bachelors in Finance and Computer Science. Within in just one year he started the “tinder for food” and launched the app and service in two cities in North Carolina. He was born and lived most of his life in Berlin, Germany and had the honor to gain experience before Neighborz working with Google, A.T. Kearney and BCG.
Jean: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory” of how you become a founder?
As many of us, I was very entrepreneurial and curious as a child and teenager trying out small business here and there. From painting some art and selling it at friends and family events at age 5 to earning some additional money with a YouTube channel at 12. But overtime and especially when starting University, I got excited by and started to follow the corporate path. Early on I had a passion for consulting as it combines many skills and gives young hungry students a lot of exposure. I interned with major consulting firms as a student but as my last summer approached I needed to decide what I would like to do as a final internship and experience — normally the most career defining one. I had the choice to double down on consulting, go into Investment Banking or maybe try marketing. In did not do any of that — but decided, inspired by my entrepreneurial ventures back in the days, to shadow and intern with a variety of entrepreneurs to observe, learn and understand what it takes to start a company.
My core learning was straight forward — just do it! Most of the founders I worked with had no fancy university degrees and often not even any major business experience but what they had was the ability to just get things done and to always move forward even after failure.
Now, I had the passion and drive but no idea. It didn’t take long and that changed. After that summer I studied in Shanghai and was impressed by the food and delivery infrastructure. This initial inspiration and the leanings working with other founders made me start Neighborz and brought me where I am today.
Jean: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Neighborz stands out because of our relationships. When we started out we signed many restaurants and it was always very important to have good relationships with the owners. In the beginning, as we were and are growing, we did not bring a whole lot of business to our partners. Because we kept them in the loop, worked closely with them and shared a glass of wine with them every now and then, we were able to retain them as customers even during hard times and are now growing all together.
Especially for young start-ups, I believe relationships are one of the most important things. With customers, partners, shareholders etc. It might not be always scalable to have great relationships with everyone but it’s the best booster to start out and worth the work.
Jean: Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Yes! Neighborz is currently working on curbside delivery. We built the most fun and convenient way to explore and order food. Now, we are adding the most convenient way to pick-up.
A Drive Thru is great, but they only work if the food takes 1–3 minutes to prepare. Your favorite local restaurant can’t cook fresh meals that fast. With mobile ordering, traffic prediction and blocked parking spots in front of your favorite local restaurants we can virtually make them a drive thru. This allows them to compete with fast food and major chains and gives customers a lot of convenience.
Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
My favorite book is a very special one because it was written by my grandfather (“ Die Heimat Nehme Wir Mit”). In this book he describes our family history and my family’s expulsion from both the “Salzburger Land” and later from East Prussia. The book was really moving and I came to understand how people are shaped by their experiences. Furthermore, it showed me how privileged I am to have been born into a great family and to live in peaceful times.
Jean: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a Twentysomething Founder” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1) Just do it and have fun.
We are young and don’t have a lot of experience (we just lived here 20 or so years) but what we have (in most cases) is less to lose — that’s great! This allowed me to just get out there, go full-time into a start-up. I was hesitant at first and was about to go intro corporate but working with other young founders taught me that one just has to start and continue. And while working hard, getting from one milestone to the other — having some fun helps a lot!
2) Talk to people.
When I started out I worked a lot by myself trying to make everything perfect before I share it with others. Big mistake! Talking with many people as early as possible helps a lot as they hold you accountable (I got it and get it all the time “How is the start-up going?” — this question makes you work very hard). In addition, it’s incredible how much you learn and what connections can bring.
3) Don’t get overwhelmed and have a mentor.
Things can get rough and frustrating and trying to build a company and doing everything while one has very little work experience can be overwhelming. That’s okay. I learned that having a close mentor, friend or family can help a lot. A person you can call anytime and just talk through some things or let some steam off.
4) Have patience but be persistent.
Everything you plan for multiply by x2 — minimum. Having detailed plans, timelines, deadlines is very important and I LOVE plans (influence from consulting). But especially in entrepreneurship things can take time especially as often you are David and trying to deal or get a deal with Goliath. Have a beer and be patient — things tend to work out if you are persistent. We had some restaurants we really wanted to get, and I started to show up every other day until finally the owner was there.
Listening to what others say is crucial. I heard a lot of negative and very empowering feedback. Key for me was to listen to others and accept when they had a point and a good idea — not every idea needs to be from you. By listening and being able to adopt and accept feedback and other ideas is why we are working on the amazing concept of curbside delivery.
Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
It is Will.I.Am, the founder and lead singer of the “Black Eyed Peas”. I not only love their music but I consider him to be a great and unusual person. Most people don’t know that he was the composer of the song for “Curiosity”; sent back as the first signal from Mars to earth. In addition, like my grandfather´s book, he helps me to remember how privileged I am, and that if you work really hard, you can nearly achieve anything you set your heart on. Even if this may sound a little unrealistic, I really want to win his interest some time in the future for the STEM education projects, designed for people who don’t have access to higher educational opportunities.
— Published on June 27, 2018