Chris Kelly – Co-founder and President of Convene

I ask myself the same question every day during my commute: “What is the most important thing I can do today to inch myself and my company toward achieving our vision?” I spend the rest of the day attending scheduled events and striving to answer that question.

He was a finalist for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2013, and both he and fellow co-founder Ryan Simonetti were named top entrepreneurs by Crain’s New York Business in 2014.

Chris was selected for Inc.’s 30 Under 30 list of the most promising entrepreneurs twice and was appointed to serve on Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Small Business Working Group. He’s a regular speaker at Columbia Business School and NYU Stern School of Business, and he serves as a mentor for the Thiel Foundation and NYC Venture Fellows.

Chris loves to travel throughout developing economies and has visited more than 30 countries on five continents. He considers himself to be a lifelong student, drummer, triathlete, and chef.

He currently lives in New York City with his wife, Adriann, and their daughter, Vivienne.

Where did the idea for Convene come from?

As entrepreneurs, we have an opportunity and an obligation to discover and resolve problems for prospective clients. Taking a macro view of the world, Ryan and I observed that convergent trends in tech and communications, as well as shifting generational preferences, were rapidly and radically transforming the way we work. However, in stark contrast, the workplace itself had barely evolved to keep up with these trends.

The growing gap between these two intimately connected worlds defined our window of opportunity and informed our development of Convene. Our company integrates design, service, technology, and culinary and applies them in various ways to transform the workplace experience.

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

While every day is different, some things remain the same. I train for endurance races every morning from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. Then, I spend time with my family, cook, get caffeinated, and get ready for work from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Then, I hop on a Citi Bike and ride to the office.

I ask myself the same question every day during my commute: “What is the most important thing I can do today to inch myself and my company toward achieving our vision?” I spend the rest of the day attending scheduled events and striving to answer that question.

My goal is to get 1 percent better every day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Bringing an idea to life — and subsequently managing the business that follows — is the process of asking and answering an endless stream of questions. The better the questions, the better the answers.

There’s a process to bringing ideas to life. First, I develop perspective by immersing myself in an area of focus. Once I develop a deep, holistic understanding of stakeholder and market interests, I can create an exhaustive list of key questions and subsequently map out possible answers in a multiple-choice format. It’s important to resist making any decisions until this entire solution set is mapped.

Once all the options are apparent, a vision needs to be set so it can be used as a touchstone from which to make informed and well-aligned decisions across the board.

In the end, success depends more on execution and alignment than strategy alone.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I’m excited by the trending consumer preference for experiential consumption and tailored, “one size fits none” service solutions. It’s forcing service providers and manufacturers to rethink everything and incorporate agile best practices from tech into brick-and-mortar businesses. The real world has a lot of catching up to do relative to tech.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

The day-to-day of being an entrepreneur involves juggling a lot of different things. This can be highly overwhelming and distracting. To maintain productivity, I’m extra mindful of not confusing “urgent” with “important.”

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

In college, I worked for one week as a busboy in a high-end French restaurant. I love the restaurant business, but the management at this particular restaurant treated its staff terribly. I only worked five shifts before I started buying and selling used textbooks on campus. This was many multiples more lucrative.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would learn to program and code.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I constantly reinforce our company’s values in every conversation I have with my team and clients. You can’t reinforce your values enough. They should make up the lens through which all communication is filtered.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Having and instilling a growth mindset in our company has been our single-most effective growth strategy. Our mantra is “1 percent better every day” because it’s a simple, actionable concept that’s approachable on a daily basis yet transformative over time.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I failed to retain our original founding team members. It’s difficult to align individual growth trajectories with a quickly growing company. The people who take you from one phase of growth to another aren’t always the right fit for the next turn. We never fully overcame this challenge but always tried our best to treat people fairly on the way out.

What is the best $100 you recently spent?

Citi Bike is the best $100 I’ve recently spent. I use it every day — sometimes multiple times a day — because it’s the fastest, healthiest, and most fun way to get around Manhattan.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I love using a service called TrainingPeaks  that fully integrates my daily training regimen into my calendar and syncs a log of my performance into a dashboard. Beyond improving my fitness, it also foreshadows the future applications of wearable tech in health and wellness.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Exponential Organizations” by Salim Ismail is a must-read book that you’ve probably never heard of. It decodes and defines the mindset, organizational architecture, and strategies of disruptive companies while providing insights that are globally applicable to all types of businesses.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

My mom influences my thinking more than any other person. You can’t be a fifth grade teacher and the mother of four boys without values-based management and communication skills.


Chris Kelly on LinkedIn:
Chris Kelly on Twitter: @thoughtsonbiz