Q&A with Jason Stambaugh, Startup Kick Starter

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Jason Stambaugh is a Maryland native, passionate about entrepreneurship and helping startups become thriving businesses. As an entrepreneur, he knows just how hard it is to get started, so he’s teamed up with his local chamber of commerce to create a contest for local business owners, sort of an American Idol for entrepreneurs. He’s a man of God, successful in what he does, and fond of small business. Here’s our Q&A session with Jason:

Q: What type of work are you involved in?

A: I have two companies. One is called Wevival, which is a social media, web marketing and development firm. Basically I work with businesses doing bread and butter websites, marketing strategies, social media, etc. Then I have new project, which is called Hometown Startups and I do local startup contests kind of like American Idol for entrepreneurs right in the local community.

Q: How did Hometown Startups get started?

A: I had just shut down operations on a business I had started and I was kind of licking my own wounds. Then I joined my local chamber of commerce to pick up some local web development and social media clients and through that process I became very involved and the chamber fell in love with it a little bit. Currently, I am the president of our young professionals group that’s here in Carroll County (Maryland). So that kind of gave me perspective on the chamber.

Then I also have a business partner who is in the educational technologies field and he was invited to a large communicational startup contest called LAUNCH Edu. Basically it’s SXSW, which is the big interactive conference, and for frame of reference, Twitter was launched there. So it’s a huge, huge conference. So he (business partner) was invited to go out to that and was a little skeptical and thought maybe it might be a waste of time or not a very good use of time. But he comes back and he’s just fired up about his experience and how great it was for entrepreneurs and for the community.

So that gave me a thought—why the heck don’t these cool opportunities happen in my backyard, in my community, for entrepreneurs? So that idea turned into last year’s contest, which is called the Carroll Biz Challenge.

Q: What happens at your contest?

A: Basically there is an application window for local entrepreneurs who have brand new business ideas or existing, early-stage startups can pitch some of their business concepts, and make great connections, get lots of publicity and compete for a $5,000 cash prize. They apply until the application deadline has been reached, the advisory board reviews all of the applications and scores them and then selects five finalists. Then those five finalists pitch in front of a live audience and panel judges at an exciting, live community event where the audience can vote, we can hear the pitch, the panel can ask the finalists some questions and we announce the winner on the spot and give them a big check.

Q: Do you plan to continue the contest annually?

A: Yeah, that’s my plan to continue it every year and my goal is to bring this big startup concept model to areas around the country. So I’m in the process of that and a big national push to bring this contest to more communities.

Q: Why were you so passionate about getting this contest started?

A: It’s kind of scratching at my own niche. I’m an entrepreneur and I was one of those guys that was sitting there scratching my head at my day job, in retail and banking sales, and I was just wondering why the work didn’t seem meaningful. I was building somebody else’s empire and you know, I wanted to do my own thing. Out of that desire, I paved my own way. But the reality is that there are a lot of people like me in Carroll County and local communities around the country and I want to provide all of them with a successful opportunity to get noticed, connected and better. Small entrepreneurs and people who have a great idea need a catalyst, something that helps them along their way, so what a better way to offer that in a community where they are living and working.

Q: What would you say in regards to small vs. big business and how important small business is to our country?

A: Sometimes you look at these stats and basically, there are all of these crazy stats where 60-70% of jobs are built by small businesses. I think that the small business ecosystem is absolutely vital to the economic future of our country. I mean these are the places where new jobs are coming. These are where new ideas are coming from. Now, I say that knowing that their definition of small business is quite the stretch. I think like 500-1000 employees or less is considered a small business. But forget the stats, the bottom line is that the upward trend of development of small businesses account for an enormous portion of the economy. They’re employing people, paying local taxes…they really are the biggest drivers in the economy.

But the trend I’m most interested in is this trend to micro-entrepreneurship, where people encourage other people to start and grow businesses that aren’t necessarily multi-million dollar ventures, but are ventures that feed families, pay mortgages and they add to the vibrancy of the local, small town economic development.

Q: Working with a bunch of entrepreneurs, how do you approach the constant question of risk?

A: I think that I am probably the most cautious of the people that I know who are entrepreneurs. I started my business in my other free hours even though I had a full-time job and I think that’s becoming a more and more popular philosophy that you don’t have to “bet the farm” on a business idea—you don’t have to put your family or kids at risk.

I applaud people who do that (give everything for a startup), but I also think it’s not very smart. So I always counsel people, anyone who is interested in starting a business, to take baby steps. Take small steps while maintaining your current cash flow and make sure you have a way to eat and keep your family sheltered while you make your business dream a reality. I would never counsel someone to go all in until they have a good feel for the market and for the product and service they’re offering.

Q: How do you incorporate your faith in your work?

A: Well, for frame of reference, I was in high school and just a typical high school kid. The gnawing thought I had after my senior year of high school—I was quite successful in high school, team captain, I was great at wrestling and theater, I had won a bunch of awards, I had a really prestigious internship, I was headed to one of the best schools in the country and I felt like I really owned high school—but I had this nagging thought about whether I could possibly get my arm around everything in this world. I felt like I had won and I had beat high school.

So one thing led to another and I started reading the Bible a little bit and then that’s when I got connected with Young Life and a particular leader at a local high school. Then one thing led to another and I was like, ‘man this Christianity thing sounds like a pretty cool thing’ so I rolled the dice and I’ve been a big part of local faith communities ever since.

In terms of how my faith affects how I do business, I’m certainly not a Jesus fish type of business owner. However, where it does come into play is essentially my code of ethics. Primarily, which is integrity. What I do, or rather what I think or say is what I do every single time and that’s a big part of how I do business and how I’ve been successful. So, that obviously means a lot of transparency and honesty. I think that’s something that someone who does business with me, well, I want them to notice.

I try to live up to those things as much as I possibly can, and as you know with business, it’s all about relationships. There is no exchange of value without having a relationship with somebody or someone. So, my goal really is to just be a witness in my faith and what I’m all about in all my business operations.

Q&A with Personal Trainer, Pastor, Entrepreneur, Author – Jake Merrick

Jake Merrick has a packed, full life, as he’s started a fitness gym, nutritional supplement line, is a bivocational pastor and author. You could say Jake is an entrepreneur at heart. He starts what he believes in and sees no separation of church and career. It’s all one. One life surrendered to God’s glory and use.

I sat down with Jake to discuss his work, his thoughts on being bivocational and honoring God in his endeavors, and how he handles some tough situations within his career. Here’s our Q&A session:

Q: What all are you currently doing and involved in?

A: Well we own a fitness studio here in Oklahoma City (Balance Fitness Studio), and we bought it a little bit over a year ago. It’s been going really good and I’ve been in personal training for over seven years and then God just really opened this door to start this place and it’s centrally located, so we’re still learning about how to grow it and market it, but it’s headed in the right direction. I have this and help pastor at a church up the road. And I have a book coming out this summer (“Bodies of Christ”) that deals with fitness, especially within the church.

Then we have nutrional supplement company that we’re putting together and we have a partner down in Florida who has a manufacturing plant, so we’ve been working with him for a couple of years. Hopefully we can launch that about the same time as the book comes out.

Q: I guess you’re an entrepreneur at heart?

A: Yeah, exactly. Always have our hands in several things, which I love it. It definitely keeps us busy and moving, but we don’t just want to be busy, we want to do the things God has opened for us and I feel like all of the things we’re doing now are. It’s just about balancing them and it’s really neat because they all work together and it’s not like they are all separate entities.

Q: Do you have a business background or just interested in these things and learned how to do them?

A: My background is a major in Biblical studies and psychology, and then I went to seminary with the pursuit of full-time ministry. Over the years God has just morphed what full-time ministry is and it doesn’t have to be in the pulpit all of the time. I went into personal training because I was going into church planting and wanted to be bivocational to help supplement while we’re planting a church. Then God just really started opening doors with the training and He just taught me that that is ministry—helping people, working one-on-one with them.

Seven years later we have this business and we’re still learning about the business end of it, but one of the things God has shown me is that it’s about serving people, and when we do that, He is going to bless it. It’s been an interesting journey.

Q: How would you encourage bivocational living and letting your career be your ministry?

A: That’s one of the biggest problems we have, I believe, in the church, is an artificial divide between our church life and our real life. It’s all just one life live to God’s glory. If we glorify Him in everything we do, then our whole life becomes ministry and He’s going to gift you with certain talents, whatever that is. For me, I have a passion and calling to teach and to preach, and that’s something I’ve had training in, but it’s something that comes naturally for me—it’s a passion of mine.

I would encourage people to find their gifts and those are going to be used within the four walls of the church and outside of the church. I have a friend who just loves to serve people and he looks for ways to come alongside people with a vision and help them out. So he doesn’t really carry a vision or try to be the lead man, he just wants to be there to support. And that’s a huge thing!

I would just see your life as one life, surrendered to God, and He has gifted you with certain things to bless the body and bless the world. That’s inside and outside the four walls (of the church).

Q: Have you had opportunities to share your faith through your work?

A: Oh yeah, it’s all the time. Seeing life as a unit and not divided up into spiritual and non-spiritual is important. I carry that into my training and when I’m training someone physically, it’s not just about their physical health. When someone is really overweight and out of shape, there’s a reason they got there and it usually has a spiritual route to it. They may be in prime condition but have depression or some other type of issue and there are spiritual routes there as well.

With everyone that I train, it’s all about, first and foremost, that God created this body and we need a living breathing relationship with Him.

There’s a guy right now that I’m training and he’s almost 400 pounds and just struggling to lose weight. So I’ve been training with him for almost a year and he hasn’t seen much success and he came in the other day and said, “I have problem. I can’t stop eating.” And I kind of laughed it off, but he said, “I’m serious. I have real problem. I can’t stop eating.”

So I asked him, “how bad do you want to change?” And he said that he wanted to really change. So I said, “what are you willing to do to change?” Then he said he would do anything.

Then I told him he needed to sign up for training five days a week because he wasn’t getting in the gym five days a week and needed to. Then I asked him again, “how bad do you really want this?” And he said he really wanted it. So I told him we were going to his house and made him take me to his house across town and I went through his fridge and cabinets and cleaned it out. I said, “if you want to make a change, you have to get rid of this junk and start making real choices.”

Then it went deeper than that and it was about how he wasn’t connected to a church body and he’s Christian but he’s out there on his own. I said, “man you need to get connected to a body and that needs to be priority number one.”

We get people who come to us and are real desperate, but I say to them, “okay, I’ll help you, but we’re going to do this on my terms.” And our terms are to lead them to the one who can really heal them, who is God.

Q: How would you address the issue of gluttony, one of the biggest issues that the church tends to sweep under the rug?

A: It’s actually the focus of the book I wrote. I’m passionate about it and believe it’s a real serious issue. What I believe the root cause of it is—well, I look at God’s number one priority. What is His most valuable creation? His greatest creation is His church and His people. And He’s called a people out to be separate and holy. We’ve got this individualized mentality about it being all about my life and I’m going to live it for me, and so it becomes a selfish way to live. And it becomes about your cravings and what you’re going to do to satisfy your cravings.

When you sacrifice those cravings, you sacrifice your individual life and you commit it to other people and you become accountable. It becomes about something bigger than you.

I believe that when we truly understand the nature of the church and what God wants to do through His body, then we’re going to see success with our own physical bodies. Then I believe that people aren’t living on a daily basis surrendered to the Holy Spirit and just letting Him lead you in everything you do. Paul says, “whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.”

We’ll go to church and tie it to the glory of God, but we won’t choose to not go to McDonald’s for the glory of God. You know? We need to know that He wants to lead us in all the small things in life.

Q: What’s your advice for people who have a desire to start something and how to manage the risk?

A: Speaking to Christians, the way we live is one big risk. We are betting everything on a God we can’t see. Our whole life is about faith, so that should flow over into every aspect of our life and so we are constantly taking risks, and I think God is wanting us to take bigger risks because that means we are trusting Him more and more.

God, who is the source of creativity, is going to give his people great ideas and inventions. It’s just about Him leading and you following him. Don’t try too hard to figure all the details out, just walk in it, take the next step as He leads you and don’t run ahead of him.

Podcast – Stephanie Hinderer, Red Letter Paper Co.

Stephanie Hinderer is the owner of a 3-year old business, Red Letter Paper Co. She’s an experienced newspaper designer, but decided to go into business selling her own cards. Why? Well, when you see a need for simpler, more unique cards with a Christian message, you sit down to design and sell them on your own. Stephanie also wanted a subtle way to slip Christ into everyone’s life, since she isn’t an “in your face” type person. You can find Red Letter Paper Co. online at two locations: www.redletterpaperco.com and on Etsy.

 

Music: Josh Garrels “Farther Along”