Everything is part of a bigger ecosystem so we should be conscious of how we are treating ourselves, each other, and our planet at all times. When you break this down on a smaller level, it allows us to take immediate action and make small, conscious changes in our everyday life and our communities.
Chicago native Candice V. Cunningham has always had an interest in Entrepreneurship. She attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and majored in business and marketing. After school, she came back home to Chicago and decided to study graphic design.
Candice Cunningham began her entrepreneur journey by attending conferences all over the world. She became interested in building websites at these conferences, and five years ago she started her own e-commerce business.
Today, she has five different e-commerce stores ranging from jewelry, clothing, and other apparel. With her online stores, Candice V. Cunningham was able to reach six figures from sales within the first year.
Candice Cunningham residing in Chicago, Illinois is also the founder of As One We Can Foundation dba The Black Ecosystem, a nonprofit she started to help her community because she was unhappy with the social situations around her. The nonprofit focuses on providing several solutions to address common issues in poorer communities.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I like to think of everything as being an ecosystem because it really is. The simple definition of an ecosystem is everything that’s in an environment and how they interact and affect each other. On a bigger level I think the worldwide problem is that we don’t look at how things work together, how they work against each other, and how they affect each other. If we look at everything that’s happening around us, everything is part of a bigger ecosystem so we should be conscious of how we are treating ourselves, each other, and our planet at all times. When you break this down on a smaller level, it allows us to take immediate action and make small, conscious changes in our everyday life and our communities.
I thought of the nonprofit in terms of the community, particularly the Black and the Hispanic communities. There are so many things that need to be fixed in those areas in order for us to get results that will help change the community. We can’t just look at one issue – we have to fix several issues concurrently. For example, people always like to focus on violence in poorer communities. And they put bandaids on the problem instead of pinpointing the cause. We have to instead look at where the violence comes from? The violence is a result of many different factors. You can look at it as a disease that has stemmed from so many other underlying conditions. With a disease, you are supposed to look at everything that is causing it. So therefore, we have to look at everything that is causing violence in these communities. It’s the lack of resources – no jobs, no mentors, etc. And then we try to solve the problem by adding mentorship programs but no jobs. How effective will a mentorship program be when you are still not providing a way for a man to feed his family? That’s why I say we have to put several solutions in place concurrently because just addressing one problem will not fix the bigger problem. You can’t just put an after-school program in place and stop there. Add the career training, the personal development training, the spirituality classes, the internships, family involvement, mindset training, etc. That’s why my organization is called The Black Ecosystem because all the programs will work to provide a solution to multiple issues under one roof. Everything in the Ecosystem will positively affect everyone involved – participants, partners, volunteers, employees, donors etc.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I begin my day about 5:45 every morning and I start it by tackling the two or three highest priority things on my list first. On average I have a list of about 20 things to do each day. I used to focus on doing the easier things first to make it look like I was more productive, but at the end of the day, I would feel more stressed out because I’d have the more difficult or more time-consuming things left. After reading 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris, I changed my routine completely and now, instead of focusing on the quantity of how much I’ve finished, I focus on what will leave me feeling the most productive at the end of the day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I bring my tablet and iPhone with me everywhere so I can jot down any new ideas that come to me. Sometimes I use my voice recorder app when I have a bigger idea so I can go back to it later. I like to let my ideas marinate in my mind for a bit and then when I feel it in my spirit to implement it, I just do it.
What’s one trend that excites you?
E-commerce for sure! It is booming and it’s going to continue to grow. I’m happy I started way ahead of the trend. I hope to inspire a lot of other people to go ahead and take that step to get their online business started.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Discipline for sure. My ability to prioritize and block out things of less importance. I think being able to prioritize is a skill that everyone needs to have. If you don’t prioritize, you’re likely to focus your energy on something that may not necessarily matter, so I’ve learned to ignore certain things throughout the day. Most people love to say they’re busy but are they being productive? That is the million-dollar question. You can’t focus on being busy because busy is not the winning formula to being profitable. BE PRODUCTIVE. I receive hundreds of emails, phone calls, and text messages every few hours from clients, customers, family, and friends and I have to temporarily block out those that don’t need my attention right now. It’s so I’m not stopping constantly throughout the day to tend to every little thing. People don’t understand how much it hurts productivity when you’re interrupted. My train of thought is so important to my ability to focus and I can’t expect others to understand that so I had to learn to not feel bad about temporarily ignoring a request. I ask myself before I start any task or respond to any request: Is this going to help or hurt your productivity right now?
Before I learned how to do that, it affected my business because I would always stop to see what someone wanted or to check an email and that distraction would cause me to forget other things I may have been working on. It would make me forget small details which caused major problems since I wear so many different hats in my business. Now that I’ve learned to prioritize while I’m working on something, I give it my full attention. Discipline is super rewarding.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would advise a younger Candice V. Cunningham to get herself a mentor before embarking on her Entrepreneurial journey. I really think that if I had known the value of having a mentor, of having someone who was doing exactly what I was trying to do, I would have avoided a lot of costly mistakes.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I definitely believe that everything happens for a reason. Literally everything, even things that don’t make sense. Even if it seems like a mistake, it happened for a reason.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
One thing I do is talk to myself over and over throughout the day. I work hard for like 19-20 hours many days per week. I’m up at 5:45 after not going to sleep until 1 or 2am. If I don’t give myself pep talks, I wouldn’t make it (smile). It also helps me remember things and keeps me from making a lot of mistakes. I highly recommend that people do not underestimate the power of having a few conversations with themselves throughout the day, and don’t be afraid to do it aloud if necessary.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
One strategy that has helped me to grow my business was taking the time to really understand social media marketing “mathematics”. For example, Facebook and Instagram, they’re always updating their algorithms in the background and so you can’t just leave your strategy the same for months without checking to see what has changed. You’re going to really be kicking yourself in the foot because your money is basically going to go down the drain. Taking the time to learn the algorithms is definitely a very important strategy.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When I launched my first online store, I lost more than $10,000. This was after I had already lost over $50,000 of family member’s money (ouch). I overcame it by deciding not to give up and instead, educating myself more. Also, the fact that my family trusted me to make investment decisions at just 20 years old meant a lot to me. It means they saw something in me. I refused to let them down. I’ve always believed anything is possible. I really felt like the only thing standing between me and a successful online store was proper education and execution so I started waiting tables and bartending so I could invest a lot of money into educating myself.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’m trying to think of one that I think a lot of people could be successful with, and what first comes to mind is a local coffee delivery business. I believe a lot of people could start something like that if they’re focusing on their local area. They would take their customer’s orders on an app (that you hopefully would contact me to build for you!) and then they would deliver them fresh coffee every morning. They could focus it on businesses that need large orders delivered every day, or they could have a few drivers who could deliver to customer’s front doors while they’re getting ready for work. I think it would be a good way to make extra money…maybe an extra $500 – $1000 per week and after it’s set up you wouldn’t have to devote a lot of hours to it.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently purchased a portable scanner, which is amazing. I keep an electronic copy of everything organized on my computer. So being able to scan directly to that folder instead of on my phone provides me with a peace of mind.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I would definitely say my email follow-up list. If someone is in business without email follow-up software, I really don’t know how they’re doing it and they are missing out on a lot of potential sales. The two that I use are MailChimp and AWeber, and I think both of them are amazing. Constant Contact is cool too. This is how I communicate with clients, customers, potential clients and I couldn’t live without email software.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The 10X Rule by Grant Cardone.
I love this book. I’ll read it over and over again. He helps you change your mindset. He breaks things down and explains things that people need to hear and talks about always going 10 times harder. I always tell people that they should read this book because it will really help them in life. You should apply it to business, and you should also apply it to your life in general. Grant Cardone said to always make your goal 10 times what you originally wanted it to be. So, if you want to make $10,000 per month instead set your goal at $100,000 per month. Shoot for that and even if you fall short, you’ll land somewhere among results that will make you happy.
What is your favorite quote?
A quote by me which is: “You control your happiness by controlling the way you react to the things you can’t control.” – Candice V. Cunningham
• Everything is part of a bigger ecosystem so we should be conscious of how we are treating ourselves, each other, and our planet at all times. When you break this down on a smaller level, it allows us to take immediate action and make small, conscious changes in our everyday life and our communities.
• People don’t understand how much it hurts productivity when you’re interrupted. My train of thought is so important to my ability to focus and I can’t expect others to understand that, so I had to learn to not feel bad about temporarily ignoring a request. I ask myself before I start any task or respond to any request: Is this going to help or hurt your productivity right now?
• I’ve always believed anything is possible. I really felt like the only thing standing between me and a successful online store was proper education and execution so I started waiting tables and bartending so I could invest a lot of money into educating myself.
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.