After receiving her Ph.D. in Sociology, Amy Wilkins became a professor for sixteen years. Beyond teaching college students, Amy also led many research projects during her time as a professor. The work she accomplished alongside her team led to her being credited with the authorship or co-authorship of more than 20 peer-reviewed studies and articles. As her academic career progressed, she was invited to contribute to several scholarly books, which ultimately inspired her to write one of her own.
After leaving the world of academia, Amy decided to pursue her interests in the commercial realm. Initially, she used her skills as a specialist to conduct product research for several startup companies, while simultaneously dedicating some of her off-hours to work for Hack for LA, the Los Angeles branch of Code for America, which is a civic technology organization that applies tech skills to provide solutions for government organizations and civic problems.
Following that, Amy took a position as a Director of Insight at an integrated advertising agency. There, she developed business strategies based on extensive data collection and analysis. Throughout this period of her career, she also took on select projects as a freelance consultant and project manager.
Recently, Amy Wilkins has partnered with one of her cousins to create a real estate company. Together, they have purchased several properties to manage as rentals. One of the properties that they have given significant attention to is a short-term rental in Florida. The pair personally conceived and executed the interior design for this property, ultimately creating a beautiful getaway spot, both for themselves and any vacationing renters. This rental is situated in an idyllic, family-friendly location near where their grandparents retired, years before.
In her free time, Amy Wilkins enjoys hiking, spending time with her kids, and yoga.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
I’m not sure where exactly the idea first came from, honestly. I was in college as a Women’s Studies major, back before the discipline was called Gender Studies. It was a humanities-based program, and it was interesting, but it just wasn’t checking all of my boxes. I didn’t really know what to do next, so I applied for a Ph.D. in Sociology. At the time, I don’t think I knew exactly where my propensity for research was going to fit into that. So, it was really just serendipitous that I was accepted. But once I was and I began to study the subject in earnest, it became clear that I had an inclination for it.
Then, when I left academia, I had to figure out how one conducts and applies research outside of a scholarly setting. It turns out there are endless opportunities for researchers outside of academia; I just didn’t really understand that while I was a grad student, and later, a professor. That’s it, really. I just have a passionate curiosity and an analytical mind, and research was the natural fit.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
The way I try to make work productive is to set up blocks of time for different things. I’ll have blocks of time for thinking, blocks of time for meetings, and so on and so forth. It’s something I’ve always encouraged other people to do, as well. I try to block off time, whether it’s a couple of hours per day or certain entire days, to just think, because otherwise I can’t get any solid research work done. You can’t conduct research in short bursts; you need to have longer blocks of time set aside in order to be productive. And during that time, you can’t let people interrupt you. No answering emails or slack messages, and keep your phone turned off. The other thing I do to stay productive is ensure I get enough exercise, because exercise really helps me to unlock my brain.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I usually start by packing ideas into a Word document or into a slide deck, and then I move them around, share them, and usually involve other people, such as colleagues, co-workers, or friends, and I integrate their feedback into the project. Then I move the ideas around again. It’s an iterative process based largely on feedback and conversations with other people.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I love the trend of older people getting more involved with technology and technology-related pursuits. People in their 70s are increasingly showing interest and getting involved with technology, and it’s really opening up whole new worlds for them. It helps them to be less isolated. It’s really important, and it’s not being talked about nearly enough.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
It’s a bit cliché, but exercise. I’ve personally started moving away from other forms of exercise in favor of just walking and hiking, and I cannot believe how much walking has changed my life. I walk, and as I exercise, I see all of these beautiful and wonderful things around me, be it out amongst nature or through interesting sections of towns and cities. Beyond that, walking helps improve my knee health.
What advice would you give your younger self?
There are so many possible answers to that question, it’s hard to narrow it down. But I think I’d most likely tell my younger self to simply slow down a little.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
The big box store chain Target is terrible. While that’s maybe not the most profound kernel of wisdom, it is true, and not many people seem to agree with me.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I think people should reassess their lives every couple of months. It’s as simple as that. Take stock of things, and make sure you’re still on track to achieve your goals, and that your goals still work for you. It’s what I do, and it’s what I recommend everyone should do. Also, it’s a bit cheesy, but every morning I reflect on all of the people that I love. I find that really helpful from an emotional standpoint.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Perpetual curiosity and reflection. Always be curious, but take the time to reflect on whatever you’re doing in the present, as well.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve had a long career, including several years spent as a college professor, and during that time, I taught classes that didn’t go very well. It was important to overcome that and do better, and I did so by thinking carefully on what I did wrong, and consulting with other people and listening to their feedback. From there, I kind of started over, keeping what worked and fixing the things that didn’t.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’ve recently started a property management company with one of my cousins, and in doing so, I’ve realized just how much space there is for growth in real estate. If a would-be or novice entrepreneur is looking for a sector in which to start a business, I would say that property management is fertile ground.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I’ve spent recently was on a nighttime steamboat ride. I was just extremely peaceful and beautiful out there on the water, and the experience was very good for me.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
It’s hard to narrow that down. I make use of all the standard ones, of course. I do make extensive use of slide decks, so if I had to pick one, it might be Google Slides, which is the software I use when I’m making slide decks. Canva is another good tool for making slide decks.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Everything I Know About Life I Learned from PowerPoint by Russell Davies. It’s an interesting little book about the history of PowerPoint and its usage, and it’s a surprisingly good read, even if the premise doesn’t sound exciting at first.
What is your favorite quote?
“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” — Dolly Parton
- You can be more effective by setting up blocks of time for certain tasks ahead of time and sticking to them while avoiding interruptions.
- Exercise regularly—it’s good for the body and mind.
- Take the time to reassess your position, your progress, and your goals regularly to make sure that you’re still on the track you want to be.
- Remain curious.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.