Jonathan Vlock – Co-Founder and CEO of Cooking Planit

[quote style=”boxed”]Take a step back, and try to focus on something else, even for a few minutes.[/quote]

It’s the stuff that dreams are made of – doing what you love to do and making a living doing it! While working on his degree in Political Science, Jonathan never envisioned that his favorite hobby would one day become his central focus in life. Every facet of his career has worked well to give him the knowledge and expertise needed to lead the strategic growth and positioning of Caelo Media.

Jonathan began his career working in BtoB Technology publishing, where his focus has been on helping people and organizations harness the power of this new age of digital marketing. This exposed him to the amazing things that could be accomplished using technology and the internet.

At the same point in time, living on his own in a tiny studio apartment, trying to make it in New York City, made cooking for himself a necessity. Teaching himself how to cook, however became more and more frustrating because of his lack of understanding as to how to best manage his time in the kitchen. So on the weekends he satisfied some of his desire to be better at what was then just a hobby by attending cooking classes at the Institute of Culinary Education. Meeting other amateur cooks, Jonathan quickly realized that he wasn’t alone in his frustration with time management in the kitchen.Then came that so-called “chance” meeting with his soon-to-be partner and co-founder of the company, followed by numerous brainstorming sessions, resulting in the launch of Caelo Media.

What are you working on right now?

Now is the time when we are transitioning from application development to the real business operations. So my days are pretty much dedicated to working with my team on the marketing and PR campaigns, and the development of external partnerships.

Where did the idea for Cooking Planit come from?

The idea for Cooking Planit came from an aspiration to help everyday people save time and money, learn to be better cooks, and eat more nutritiously.

What does your typical day look like?

Being an entrepreneur, I am not sure I could say there is a “typical day.” Every day brings something new to the table. One day, I might be working on reviewing patent applications, and the next day I might be working on marketing materials. If I were to list some of the typical things I do everyday, I would say doing research on the competition and the market, reviewing our web and application stats, and brainstorming new ideas with my team on how we can make Cooking Planit even better.

How do you bring ideas to life?

There are a couple of things I do to help me bring ideas to life. The first is, approach everything like I am a customer, and I ask myself, who am I? What am I trying to solve? What value does this really bring me? Is that value proposition clear? What are the alternatives, or why wouldn’t I choose this solution. A lot of people come up with great ideas, and work hard at them, but frequently get to enamored with their own approach, and fail to properly acknowledge the viewpoint of their target customers.This is particularly critical when it comes to your monetization strategy. Second, I always approach things from a negative stance. I ask myself, why wouldn’t this work? What would cause my idea to fail? This helps me to better predict where the potential pitfalls could be.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

We are witnessing an evolution in the way people interact with technology, more specifically the internet. For years, the internet has been a place dedicated primarily for research and communications. Advancements in technology have given way to a new era, one where the technology is so advanced it can now actually help us improve our day to day lives.

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

The worst job I ever had was when I was in high school working as a temp in the mail room at an investment firm over winter break. I spent 8 hours a day putting postage and address labels on to booklets, which were then mailed to the firms clients. Every morning my supervisor would stack enormous boxes of the booklets next to my desk, and I would have to sit there and neatly stick address labels on to the cover of each of the booklets. All day long, peel and stick, peel and stick, peel and stick. It was mind numbing work, and the adhesives made my fingers so raw that I could barely put my gloves on at the end of the day. After a week or two of doing this, I quickly learned that the key to doing this job well was to develop a process so that I could finish my work more efficiently. So I develop a system and turned it into kind of a game. Booklets had to be so far apart from one another. The adhesive labels needed to be at a certain angle so that I could more easily pull them off, and stick them on straight. The boxes needed to be stacked in a certain way so I could access the booklets more easily. I would time myself to see which combination worked the best, until I finally perfected the technique. I guess that experience taught me the true meaning of the phrase, “Work smarter, not harder.”

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

If I was to start again, I would try to better manage my own expectations, and be more patient. When you first start a company, you assume everything is going to go to plan and come out perfect. Every idea you have is gold, easily achievable, and is going to take the market by storm. The timelines you put in place are more than reasonable, and there is no chance things will be delayed. Well take it from me, no matter what you do you are going to run into snags, but the key is to assume things won’t go exactly to plan. Be reasonable about the plan you put into place, and the deadlines you attach to projects. Push, but don’t push so hard that it causes important things to be overlooked. That way you can be better prepared for those eventualities. That’s what I would do if I started all over again.

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

There are a few things I would recommend everyone do. First, ask for feedback. Ask your customers and prospect customers, as well as your peers what they think. However, make sure you ask different people, otherwise you’ll keep getting the same feedback. Second, you need to walk away from time to time and clear your head. Take a step back, and try to focus on something else, even for a few minutes. Third, write it down. I keep detailed records of everything, meetings, ideas, things that I find, etc. You never know when those things will come in handy. Forth, consistent and frequent communications with your team is key. This isn’t so much a way to keep tabs on your team, rather it is a way to make sure everything is moving in the direction is should be, and that your team is on board with your decisions.

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

Well I can’t say I’ve had any major failures. There are of course things I wish I had done better.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

How about offering immersion type courses at camps for students studying for the SATs. It would be like summer camp for 2 weeks, but it would be a hybrid between academic courses and extracurricular activities.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

Wow, this is probably the most difficult question you’ve asked. There are so many things out there that need to be fixed, but unfortunately, most of them aren’t really feasible or are too complicated. So if I had to pick one simple thing I would like to change, and that I think is possible, it would be to help people reduce the amount of food they waste every year. There are people starving all over the world, and we throw away practically 50% of our food. To accomplish that, visibility is the first step. Most people have no idea how much they eat, and how much they waste. we would first need to help people to better track their consumption habits.

Tell us a secret.

I am addicted to Haribo Happy Colas. I go through at least a pack of them a day.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

Well it would depend in what context. In a business context, the tools I find to most invaluable are:
LinkedIn – Best business networking site, and lead sourcing tool.
Evernote – Fantastic way to keep and manage notes and information
Dropbox – Amazing way to share documents

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

I would recommend reading The Solution-Centric Organization, as it talks about how organizations should define themselves not by the products or services they make, sell or delivery, but by the problems they solve for customers. I think that is something people frequently forget.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I was watching a rerun of 30 Rock’s Dark Knight episode, where Tina Fey was dressed in the Joker costume talking to Alec Baldwin about her hatred towards NYC and what she does on the NYC subway. The dialogue between the two put me on the floor laughing. “What’s following the rules ever get me…a bunch of music I paid for? ” “Its these new microfibers… they keep you dry but it all has to go somewhere.” “Tupperware vat of steamed broccoli? Check! Talking to myself to seem crazy… mooo hoo!” I just think that show is brilliant.

Who is your hero?

I would have to say my father, Daniel Vlock. About 4 years ago, he started his own biotech company, working to develop an antibody for Staph infections. He not only gave me the inspiration to start my own business, but also taught me that you can be successful and still create something that will help people.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I see myself building upon the success of this business, and starting my own VC fund, where I can invest in other start up companies.

How do you relieve stress?

I started going to Jeet Kune Do classes twice a week. For those that don’t know what Jeet Kune Do is, it is the mixed martial art that Bruce Lee created. I’ve never been one for violent sports, but I’ve got to say, nothing beats hitting the hell out of a heavy bag.