[quote style=”boxed”]Problems inspire me. When I see two things, that maybe are good on their own, interacting imperfectly,it is that imperfection, or inefficiency, that causes some switch in my brain to turn on and suddenly I have an idea. I try not to create solutions and go looking for problems, but to encounter a problem organically in my day-to-day life and innovate around it.[/quote]
Charles Marr lives and works in downtown Portland, Oregon. He was born and raised in Norfolk Nebraska and grew up in his parents’ small town restaurant. He has been interested in business ever since his grandfather set him up with a paper-route at the age of 11 against his parents wishes. After getting up at 5am every day for five years to deliver newspapers for 10 cents apiece, Charles moved on to the equally rewarding field of retail sales. Charles then moved to the “big city” for college and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in philosophy and environmental studies with minors in anthropology and ancient Greek. During undergrad, Charles continued tinkering with various business ventures and began selling things on eBay. Charles also joined the Sigma Nu fraternity, going on to intern at the national headquarters and he currently serves on the alumni board for the University of Oregon chapter.
After graduating from Nebraska, Charles knew he wanted to work in business, so he went to law school at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. During law school, Charles worked for the start-up Umbrolly, which designed and sold umbrella vending machines. After graduating, Charles worked for Nike before moving on to a business law firm that specializes in business planning for small businesses and start-ups.
Throughout his life, Charles has tried to do a little bit of everything. He has hosted a radio show, worked as a professional fireworks operator, given wine tours, been an extra in a TV show, and now, launched a website called ActualSchedules.com, which provides the actual schedule of live television events.
What are you working on right now?
I have many things that I am working on right now. I am trying to focus on one, get it up and running, and then move on to the next thing. I founded ActualSchedules.com in April and recently I have gotten that to a point of maintenance. There are of course, things that I am improving and building upon,but I feel comfortable enough now to add something else to my plate. Also, I just got married, and my wife and I planned and executed the wedding ourselves, so that was almost like a part-time job.
Now that that is over with, I have a lot more time to dedicate to other things. There are a few ways I want to spend my free time. First, I am working on a tree farm with my father. My parents still live in Nebraska and the opportunity has presented itself. We are still working on some of the details, but it looks promising. I also have an iPhone app that is in development right now as well as a book that I am writing. My goal with all of my business ventures is to diversify and have many distinct and independent revenue streams.
What does your typical day look like?
I’ve switched it up recently. I used to work out in the evenings, but recently I have switched it to the mornings. I am training for the relay race Hood to Coast, which I will be running for the second year and I have been running a lot for that. After I run, I typically get ready and go to the office. I still have a separate and distinct “day-job” and I do my business ventures on the nights and weekends. Even though my law practice deals with entrepreneurial ideas, I still keep the two separate. That means, during the day, I am working and interacting with clients, and in the evenings, I am writing posts for ActualSchedules.com or working on one of my other ideas. I try to work on ActualSchedules.com two nights a week and focus on one idea for the remainder of the week. In between my time at the office and my work at home, I eat dinner with my wife. Growing up in my parent’s restaurant, I learned to love cooking and so does she, so we generally split the duties. And, if there is enough time in the day, I will try to watch a baseball game.
3 trends that excite you?
1. The great recession has really forced a return to simplicity. People don’t want flashy or extravagant anymore. I don’t have to spend a lot on a watch or drive an expensive car anymore for people to take me seriously. If I keep things simple and deliver what they want, then I don’t have to distract them from poor work with expensive things. Part of this is that people just can’t afford those things anymore, and part of it is that they don’t want to pay for them even if they can afford them.
2. This has also lead to getting rid of a lot of the crap in the marketplace. Consumers are no longer tolerating mediocrity that used to pass for quality. Anything that people are going to give value for (pay money, time, or otherwise) they expect to get value back for (knowledge, experience, entertainment, etc.). This value for value trade has driven to a lot of really good stuff being developed and designed.
3. The return of entrepreneurs. I don’t know that it ever went away, but it seems like everyone, from the unemployed to the fully employed, has a side business or an idea that they are developing. I think that with unemployment as high as it is, many people are trying things themselves, and that may be encouraging other people who may not have attempted their idea otherwise to give it a shot. Plus, sites like kickstarter and etsy are making it so easy for someone to start something with lower risk than before and to pursue it if it takes off.
How do you bring ideas to life?
When I have an idea, it really takes a hold of my brain and I don’t really want to stop working on it. So,once I have an idea, I determine how I can proceed with it. Do I need financing? Can I do it myself or should I hire someone? And some things are best suited to just jumping in and starting, that is what I did with ActualSchedules. I had the idea, bought the domain, and started posting. It is definitely a learning experience, but I didn’t want to make the mistake of waiting until I had it all figured out. That was the perfect thing to learn as I go along. However, to use a previous example, the tree farm that I am looking at doing with my dad, I am taking a great deal of time planning and mapping that out before we move the idea beyond the initial stage. So, I guess it really depends on what type of idea it is and how it is going to be manifested. However, I do decide quickly if I am going to pursue it or not. Having an idea and thinking it is great does me no good without acting on that impulse. If I haven’t acted on an idea within a couple weeks, I either calendar it for the future so that I can forget about it for now or I write it down in an idea book I have with no plans to act on it. Occasionally, if I am bored, I look through that book for ideas, but it turns out that the ideas that I didn’t act on initially probably weren’t the best ideas anyway.
What inspires you?
Problems inspire me. When I see two things, that maybe are good on their own, interacting imperfectly,it is that imperfection, or inefficiency, that causes some switch in my brain to turn on and suddenly I have an idea. I try not to create solutions and go looking for problems, but to encounter a problem organically in my day-to-day life and innovate around it.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
I don’t really have a good answer for this that doesn’t make me sound like a liar or someone that thinks he has never made a mistake. I have made mistakes, and I always try to learn from them, but I don’t dwell on them or even remember them all that well. I remember the lessons, but not the mistakes that made me learn those lessons.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
One idea that a friend and I had a couple of years ago was to open a store where you could come in and complete projects with the equipment at that store, paying by the hour. So, you could come in and use the drill press, the table saw, or maybe work on your car. Payment would be either by the hour for either the entire workshop or each individual tool. The one thing that would probably hurt this model is liability insurance. I wouldn’t really want to be the owner of a business where some guy could come in and slice his hand off on the table saw.
What do you read every day, and why?
I am a huge baseball fan, so every day I try to set aside some time to read baseball news and catch up on what has happened. I don’t have a television, so the amount of baseball I watch has decreased, which makes my daily reading even more important.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?
Veeck as in Wreck. It is Bill Veeck’s autobiography, who was one of the most innovative MLB owners ever. The thing he is most widely known for is for batting a midget as a publicity stunt. The midget drew a walk on four straight balls and was pinch-ran for, but the stunt drew Veeck, and his team, national attention. The reason why I think that story, and the entire book, are of interest to the IdeaMensch community is because he did all of this innovative thinking and marketing 40’s and 50’s and many of his ideas would still be new and innovative today.
What is your favorite gadget, app, or piece of software that helps you every day?
Technologically, I am a pretty simple man, but I would find it difficult to get by without my iPhone.
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
Craig Calcaterra (of HardballTalk.com). He is a recovering lawyer whom left the profession to blog about his passion, baseball, which he now makes a living doing. I get a lot of inspiration from him to do things besides my chosen profession of law.
You have said that you knew you wanted to work in business, so you went to law school. What do you mean by that?
I think that law school is the new MBA. Business is becoming more and more complex as corporations get bigger and bigger, making it more difficult for the small businesses to make do. As a lawyer, my training has been to understand the situation as fully as possible and to analyze various courses of action. Being able to read and interpret complex rules and contracts can be the difference between gaining a competitive advantage or going out of business. Many of my business ventures have come from my ability to analyze the situation and see something that someone else didn’t.
How has being married changed your entrepreneurial adventures?
I have to remember that my risks are not just my own, but are the risks of the both of us. Therefore, if I blow a bunch of money on a project that goes south, I am not just wasting my own time and money, but hers as well. I am a very optimistic person, and I also think that when anyone has an idea, you naturally
want it to be a great idea and therefore you may focus on the positives and downplay the negatives. My wife is one of my biggest supporters, and my toughest critic. Whenever I have an idea, I first run it by her. She thinks about it for a while and gets back to me with some very real and practical questions or concerns. If the idea can make it past her analysis, then I know it is a good idea. She has never told me not to do something, but she definitely has thought of things that I hadn’t that made me rethink what I was doing.