Do as much research as possible and gather insights from people you trust before venturing into anything new.
Fresh out of school, Russell spent 19 years as a pit trader in the S&P futures pit at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. When electronic trading changed the dynamics of futures trading, Russell retired and focused his energy on becoming a full time entrepreneur. His latest venture, LITTLE BIRDY COMMUNITY, is a web app that allows parents to receive anonymous alerts from their chosen network of trusted friends regarding their children’s misbehaviors.
Before launching Little Birdy Community, Russell was part of an online startup in the fantasy sports space and also co-wrote and produced two feature films, Baby On Board (starring Heather Graham, Jerry O’Connell, John Corbett and Lara Flynn Boyle) and The Dogfather (starring Chris Parnell). He was also co-executive producer of The Last Rites of Joe May (starring the late great Dennis Farina).
Russell lives in Chicago with his wife and three children.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I grew up blocks away from Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox. I was always hustling around the park trying to make money. I would park cars before the games and then after the games I would sell souvenirs. I was a high school athlete and I could have played basketball or baseball in college, but I chose to instead go start working at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange because I wanted to earn money and start my career. When trading went electronic, I decide to step away from trading and my natural instincts lead me to pursue ideas I had some passion for.
This is where the idea for my new company, Little Birdy Community, comes into the story. As a father of three kids entering and/or in their teenage years, I wanted to help parents stay aware of what’s happening in their teenagers’ lives. So, I began developing a progressive web app focused on providing a safe environment for parents to receive important information so they can keep an eye on their children with the help of a trusted community of chosen friends.
The app relies on anonymity to provide fellow parents the peace of mind to report incidents without fear of delivering hurtful information, a confrontation, losing a friend, or being labeled a snitch.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
As an entrepreneur, I don’t work a typical 9 to 5. My day starts at 7 a.m. I get the kid ready for school and then drop them all off (3 kids, 2 different schools). Then I work out for an hour, mixing cardio and strength training, which is my time to clear my mind and get an energy boost to start my day. Then, I hit the computer and start tackling my tasks for the day. I make a list of tasks and check them off as I complete them. In the afternoon, the kids return from school, so I help with homework, get them fed and then get them to their activities, which currently consists of my two girls playing travel volleyball, my youngest daughter’s school volleyball and my son’s school basketball. I coach my daughter and son’s grammar school teams, so I have volleyball practice on Tuesday from 2:30-3:30, and basketball practice on Thursday from 2:30-4. Coaching my children’s sports teams allows me to turn off my brain and let it recharge. Without taking mental breaks can lead to tunnel vision and sometimes I can overlook a solution that has been in front of me the whole time.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Most of my ideas come from everyday things that I already have some sort of interest in. So, first I share the idea with friends so I can get feedback and confirm that the idea has a valid purpose. Then I will contact people who work in that field and pick their brain.
I really believe in receiving peer feedback and vetting your ideas with people you know and trust to gain wisdom.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Continuing advancements and improvements in technology. It has been reshaping the way we operate, and I’ve seen it firsthand: the Chicago Mercantile Exchange was transformed during the years I worked in it. While it excites me, I also realize that it is having an impact on our children. It is in part what inspired me to launch my new progressive web app, Little Birdy Community. It helps parents keep an eye on their children in an increasingly complex digital society.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I actually act on my ideas and do the work to try and validate the ideas. Like most great entrepreneurs, I do as much research as possible. And I’m not afraid to fail. If you haven’t failed at something that means you aren’t trying.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to listen to advice that comes from a person who has experience in the same space I am trying to enter. Wisdom is an invaluable part of the entrepreneurial experience, something you learn over time.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Aliens from other universes, ghosts and spirits. It is true that none of these things can be 100 percent confirmed or substantiated, but the vast majority believe in one of the three. Until I have a visit with an alien, ghost or spirit, I will never believe they exist. It’s all in the mind!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Do as much research as possible and speak with people who have knowledge in the space you are exploring.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Little Birdy Community is in a very initial beta stage – we will be tracking our growth in the year ahead. But a strategy I firmly believe in – grassroots marketing. Entrepreneurs cannot expect to simply buy ads on FaceBook and expect success. Whatever the product, try and find grassroots ways to get your product to your target user.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My biggest failure was opening a business in the foodservice industry while having a job in a totally different field. Fortunately, my actual job was paying the bills. Along the way, I learned the most valuable lesson of business – you must be present in the day-to-day activities of running a busines if you want to achieve success.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Installation of single-use revolving doors with some sort of gun detection technology at schools and public places that automatically lock the person inside when a gun is detected.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I took the whole family to dinner. With three kids who are all involved in activites and sports, we, unfortunately, do not eat dinner together as much as I would like.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Google’s unmatched search engine has allowed me to research ideas and find as much information as possible, so I have a better overview. Like so many others, I begin conducting research on Google. Gathering that publicly available information then helps me make more intelligent decisions moving forward.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I don’t often have a lot of time to sit down and read books but when I do, they are usually biographies/auto-biographies. I prefer long-form articles regarding any topic that catches my attention. I still subscribe to print magazines, including Fortune and Vanity Fair.
What is your favorite quote?
Learn to walk before you start running.
- Do as much research as possible and gather insights from people you trust before venturing into anything new
- Without taking mental breaks can lead to tunnel vision and sometimes I can overlook a solution that has been in front of me the whole time
- Wisdom is an invaluable part of the entrepreneurial experience