Aaron Velky is an entrepreneur, writer, coach, speaker and author from Baltimore, Maryland.
He’s the CEO of Ortus Academy, a financial intelligence company, that’s focused on changing the narrative of money, success and business for the future generations. Ortus Academy has worked with over 2200 individuals to shift their mindset with money, careers and happiness.
His work has varied, but his thought-leadership and impact have not.
As a speaker and coach, he and his company are the leaders of intersecting emotional and social intelligence with money and financial decision-making.
But he’s got other methods to change the world. He’s helped over 700 people master their credit and travel around the world for free.
He’s coached over 360 athletes and released his first book called Let Her Play in March 2020.
He leads a group of 40+ other entrepreneurs in a mastermind and event company focused on impact and heart-led, purposeful businesses coming together to grow, connect and succeed.
And to balance it all out – he’s an athlete, reader, adrenaline junky and comic book nerd.
Where did the idea for Ortus Academy come from?
Ortus Academy started after hearing that schools needed supporting math programs. Money at that point was just the overlaying hook to get kids’ attention.
But there was an idea that we could reshape a person’s future if they learned it young. It was one of those “If I had learned this as a kid, I’d be a ____________,” moments. And that was the major idea – a better version of the world through this kind of education.
As we learned more and more, we saw that learning about money wasn’t happening, and math is mostly irrelevant for most people. So we evolved. We evolved again as we got into the work, noting that the learning or gaining an understanding about money doesn’t actually change behavior. Then we pivoted to the emotional, behavioral and social side.
Each of those phases were different ideas based on listening, asking good questions, and being super brave when people thought we were a little crazy. We didn’t, and don’t know the long term of what we will become. We just know that there’s a version of the world we’re working towards.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Early start – run before the sun. The body needs to be strong and fit to mirror the mind. Then – nothing is scheduled until 10am so that I can use the space to create, dream, and work without interruptions or emails. Once the day is underway, it’s often a mix of emails, calls, team discussions, fire-management and if I’m intentional about it – lunch.
Making a day productive isn’t something I can always do, but my key is making sure my day starts with the most important things done first, including taking care of me. That morning routine creates the sacred space to make productivity not as competitive. The rest of the day involves lots of curveballs that I can’t predict, and I’m usually working through 10pm. My lights turn off at 10:15.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas, like any art, require commitment to the practice. If you want to make powerful paintings, you better put the brush on the canvas. That is to say that ideas come to life when we work on them. We must move towards them and as we move they become more clear. I’m huge on ‘processes over outcomes’ in business and personally – you should see the spreadsheet of my personal priorities and my system for managing the person I want to be!
The basic process for creation looks like this: 1. Take the mountain, make it a step. What can you do right now, today? 2. Once complete, look back up at the mountain. Reflect on the step, and realign. 3. Make a list of what you might need or who you might need for the next step. 4. Go to bed. 5. Start over.
As you get better at this, you can make multiple step 1’s in a day.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Education just got significantly ALTERED. Sure it’s a space we play in, but I’m excited beyond us.
Distance learning made online learning a strong sidekick to classroom education, and since schools have been practically evading the use of tech and updates to modern content, it’s a welcome change.
Social and emotional needs are now going to be a part of the conversation in more than just the mental health industry. Teachers are glaringly underappreciated (financially and otherwise) now that parents understand how hard it is, and people are looking at colleges with a much higher skepticism since they basically fumbled the ball during the COVID crisis.
Lastly, learning about money is a much more obvious omission from any educational provision. We’re excited it’s on radar, though we wish it wasn’t through anyone experiencing hardship.
These are REALLY exciting, much needed changes in how our future generations will interact with the world!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Sunday night prep. What a life changer!
Sunday night I go through the week of and the week ahead, set goals, identify targets, and send emails to CEOs (we all do this, pro tip). It helps me keep the boundaries for the week strong, but also helps me make sure I’m being the person I want to be. I outline what processes I’m committed to. My goals aren’t just business, there’s things like volunteering, scheduling a family zoom calls and even runs, walks, workouts, meditating and reading
But getting clear on these as I go into the week is really powerful.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Aaron, work harder to let go of the opinions of others. I know it’s not easy. But the more you that you can be, the better you’ll feel. Be brave, and if you don’t fit in, learn to leave it rather than chase it. You’ll find your place soon, it just might not be right here. But you’re not alone and the approval of others that aren’t right for you isn’t as important as you feel.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Sell it before you have it, have built it or have done it.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Get in shape. Get therapy and work on your own limiting beliefs and emotional growth. Hire a coach. I guess that’s three based on my experience, you simply can’t work your best without those three things as a regular practice.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I know it sounds really, really unrelated. But be o-v-e-r-l-y kind. There’s a business tact that’s normal, but we’re good people doing good work. And you’d be amazed at how easy it is to align with real, good intentioned people. Plus, when things go wrong, you have a reputation that’s positive and you have a habit of taking the high road.
Here’s why it’s a strategy. When you over deliver on a regular basis, extend more than common platitude, and learn to deepen the relationship with clients, a few things happen; namely you get to understand your market way better and ask questions that mean real insights into other customer segments. You also get extended courtesies if things don’t go well (mistakes and mishaps are real – and forgivable)because you’ve invested into the relationship. That kindness equity can’t be replaced.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Failure is a pretty regular thing as an entrepreneur, to the point where you eventually don’t even see the individual moments. You push through them equally, small and large.
One particularly “fond” moment – I pitched at an investor meet up group in silicon valley. Nearly got laughed out of the room. I stumbled over an answer that was a pretty normal investor answer, and I knew it. It played on my psyche, and since that was a 3-day, 4 city pitch tour, it wasn’t a good start. It was probably the most challenging mental comeback I’ve ever had to create for myself. Confidence was low, travel was exhausting, but I still had to bring the thunder.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Now is a great time to be handy. If you can do any kind of home improvement work, maintenance, or fixing and like working with your hands, there’s lots of opportunity for that since people are home so much lately.
Another one – ownership sharing for common goods. People are going to want to use assets and not own them – things like riding mowers, handsaws, motorcycles, cars, etc. You don’t have to own these things to potentially win, too. Imagine renting your neighbors lawn mower for a week, and then renting it back out for a day at a time so that your neighbor can go cut laws. You could take profit share or charge flat – and the industry wouldn’t matter. Anything limited use, high cost would be a great space.
Podcast studios, film & music studios, construction. I see so much opportunity to bisect the traditional seller/buyer market with owner/license/user markets. One group owns assets, one borrows them and then rents them to users who ultimately save.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Mega size post-it pads. This gigantic notepad of 2’x3’ sticky notes is great for mapping out ideas and drawing dreams. I put it on an easel and draw or write with them – usually balling them up and playing basketball with the remains.
For the cost, a bunch of these can help me reel in a good idea. I can segment the idea into various categories, and stick each on a wall or window and go to town with outlining the various components. It’s totally worth it, and even though I have whiteboards, makes the entire house a surface to write on. Based on my wall situation some days, I’m not sure I’m human. 🙂
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Asana is our team tool for tasks, which I love and recommend. But another simple tool is MixMax that lets me schedule emails and do all kinds of follow up data mining. Most of what I use is scheduling. I’ll type an email and schedule for the morning so my day get’s off to a strong start. Or I’ll think of something and write the email, but send based on what’s relevant.
Otherwise, I’m all in on the Google suite. I keep things simple, and they do, too.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
It’s hard to pick one – but I would say for entrepreneurs, The Art of Possibility, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. It’s a book on reframing traditional pathways, expectations, and objectives and I think our roles often challenge us to remain optimistic and detached. The only way to do that is to see possibility where others don’t, and the book does a great job of making that approachable.
Another would be Finite and Infinite Games, by James Carse. Will force you to re-evaluate yourself and how we see the ‘game’ of business, life, relationships and more. Simon Sinek has a book on the subject, and it’s a great follow up on how this applies to business compared to this more scientific, mathematical outline of these two distinct ways to play, but this one is great for the thinkers in the room.
What is your favorite quote?
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
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