As an entrepreneur, there are so many things to keep track of, so if you want a chance at any life outside of work, it’s critical to have a system.
Corry Cummings, president and co-founder of Soda, started his first business in 2006, when he was fresh out of high school in the Detroit suburb of Wyandotte. As a freshman athlete in college, he had little time for a “normal” job, but he needed to make money somehow. The Internet seemed like a natural solution.
Corry taught himself everything he could about the web, particularly how to build a website and generate revenue from it. The more skills he developed, the more he could build informational, content-driven websites. Eventually, he dived into the local business space and was running three businesses at once.
Suddenly, spread too thin and having no capital outside of the revenue being generated from these businesses, he decided to sell off what he could and head to Seattle to focus his energy on one of his clients’ businesses. There, he made the connections that led him to start Soda, where he currently works to change the consumer experience through the development of content-driven websites.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
We’ve been in the online publishing and media space for many years. Our business is just a continuation of that experience. The Internet is a giant place, and we’re always looking for the best opportunities on the web — within content. Reviews.com was a domain name that became available to us (via acquisition). When that opportunity presented itself, we just went after it. We weren’t exactly sure how we would approach building the business, but we had enough experience in the space to know it could be a big business.
Soda was the investment vehicle for acquiring Reviews.com, which was the first business we started. Once our investors became happy with our work on Reviews.com, other opportunities continued to pile up. The Simple Dollar soon followed, then Freshome.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
I try to keep a schedule as much as possible by being disciplined with my calendar. My work-life system is rigorous. My typical day looks like this:
• Work out around 7 a.m.
• Get to the office by 8:15 a.m.
• Have my daily review between 8:15 and 9:15 a.m. This is when I review my calendar, clear out my email, and process my inbox into my system in Evernote.
• The rest of my day can vary greatly. Typically, I set aside at least two hours for project work. Project work usually consists of strategizing, planning, budgeting, etc. Aside from that, I’m doing one of the following:
o Interviews or other hiring activities
o Meetings with the leadership team
o One-on-one meetings
o Putting out fires and taking care of problems
How do you bring ideas to life?
I build teams capable of executing ideas. Everybody has ideas, but actually being able to execute them effectively (on time and on budget) is another story. In my business, that just takes great people with strong capabilities.
Thinking through strategy and taking time to plan while having a bias toward action is a strong combination. Adding a great team that’s capable of executing that plan usually leads to a lot of wins.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The Internet is growing! People are consuming more content on the web than ever before. It’s never been easier for just about anyone to become a publisher and get content live. Whether it be images, writing, or video, all of it’s pretty easy to get out into the world without much technical knowledge.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Focus. As an entrepreneur, there are always ideas. New things and opportunities are everywhere. Being disciplined about focusing on the right thing and not getting distracted by all the noise is crucial. Beyond that, it’s doing the little things that you really don’t want to do — but that add up if you let them.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
I’ve never really had a bad job. I’ve always worked for myself, with the exception of a one-year stretch when I came in-house to build out a department for a client. That didn’t feel like a job either — more like a partnership. Everything I’ve done has been a huge learning experience. I couldn’t do something that didn’t lead to lots of challenges, which lead to learning.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I’m not sure that I would do anything differently. Every mistake I’ve made has led me to where I am today. Ultimately, I like where I am. There are definitely many smaller-scale things within each business I’ve worked on. Even with my current business, I can think of things off the bat that I would’ve done differently. Nothing big, though, that would change where I am today.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I rely heavily on my work-life system. My entire system operates through Evernote. I capture every thought and every note there, then turn things into actions. I have regular reviews and meetings for everything — lots of checklists and processes so nothing falls through the cracks.
As an entrepreneur, there are so many things to keep track of, so if you want a chance at any life outside of work, it’s critical to have a system. Most entrepreneurs I know are absolute messes. They’re unorganized and scattered. They also aren’t considered very successful entrepreneurs! The ones who have success all seem to have discipline and some sort of system. Aligned with the system, there has to be a true north. I’m constantly asking myself, “Why? What is the purpose of this or that?” What you don’t do is just as important as what you do.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Everything I do with my business is growth-oriented. If an action doesn’t lead to growth (directly or indirectly), we shouldn’t be doing it. If I had to give a specific example, the growth of revenue through the optimization of existing traffic is a fun strategy to be on top of.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When I started my first business, I supported it with another services business. Both of them started from scratch with no money whatsoever. I aggressively reinvested every cent I made back into those businesses, plus more. It was a big mistake because I was spreading myself too thin. Also, I was always broke.
I overcame it by working harder and ultimately selling those businesses to dedicate my time to joining a company (and taking my first-ever job) for a year. That led to the connections needed to start my next business, which is the one I’m building now.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
There’s an endless amount of opportunity to build a publishing business. Publishing is a huge space, so there’s plenty of room for new sites. I’d suggest staying away from news, as that’s the hardest to break into and the hardest to make money in.
If I were going to start a business from scratch, with limited resources, I’d start a website around starting a business, actually. The focus would be on reviewing the best products and services for startups and small business owners. It would be a spinoff of the sites I’m building now, but it would primarily be focused on small business owners and startup founders. The site would connect them to the best tools for starting and running their businesses.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
A nice meal out with friends. It’s always good to be able to enjoy a nice night out and take a break from work. I love spending my money on experiences big and small.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
• Evernote: I run my entire life on Evernote. Everything lives there.
• Slack: This is how I communicate with everyone in my company.
• OmniGraffle: I use it for strategy, planning, wireframing, mocking up concepts, etc. The tool is powerful and has lots of features, but for me, in its simplest form, it’s an excellent digital whiteboard tool.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Getting Things Done” by David Allen. Of course, anyone who has any level of exposure to GTD probably knows there’s a cult around it. Most people either find it overwhelming and boring or life-changing — not many are in between. I read the book for the first time when I was 18 because I was starting up my businesses and had no idea how to handle it all. It took me a couple years to “master” GTD, and now, I’m running strong nine years later. I reread the book every now and then to refresh. My system is always evolving, but it’s been the same now for a solid year. I recommend GTD over any other book because it can be immediately applied to any industry and any line of work.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Corry on Twitter: @corrycummings
Corry on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/corry-cummings/9/54a/278