Photo: Warby Parker
This post was originally published on NOEW.org. New Orleans Entrepreneur Week is a festival celebrating entrepreneurship and innovation in New Orleans. See it all happen this year March 19-24, 2017.
Karynn Verrett was in New York City walking the cobblestone streets of SoHo, feeling totally exhilarated and overwhelmed – a familiar feeling for most first time visitors. But it wasn’t just the sights and sounds that had her feeling that that way. Verrett was frustrated that she was spending most of her time on her phone searching Google, TripAdvisor, and Yelp for recommendations on where locals liked to eat in the city. She’d had a fleeting thought as she wandered the streets of the city that never sleeps. What if there was a way that could help you experience cities like a local?
When she left, she felt like she had wasted nearly her entire trip to New York. What a travel tragedy. On her return flight to New Orleans, that fleeting thought came back like a jolt.
And TOURED was born.
Since then, the 24-year-old Louisiana native has been bouncing around New Orleans like a fireball. After participating in and winning The Idea Village and NOLA Media Group DIGITAL MEDIAx accelerator program challenge, it’s been a non-stop whirlwind ever since. Verrett has been up working late nights on the development of TOURED. She is hoping for a launch at the end of this summer. We talked with her to see what late nights of launching have been like for the young founder. She left us longing for those early 20s with their days of endless energy and enthusiasm.
Where are you from originally?
Youngsville, Louisiana, which is near Lafayette.
Where did you first travel to?
Miami, Dallas, and New York.
What were you doing before you started TOURED?
Consulting as a medical case manager, and I am still working.
Why did you start TOURED?
Since I could remember, I’ve always wanted to travel. I vividly remember my first year out of college, and I was so ready to see the world. I traveled to as many places as I could afford. It was great, but there was just one problem. I was a complete tourist in every city I traveled to. I found myself always lost and missing out on tasting and seeing the best that each city had to offer. Instead, I was always on my phone researching some restaurant to try or trying to figure out if there was an event or club to go to. I was working as a nurse at that time, and my schedule was so crazy, so I was only able to do weekend trips. So I really had to make the most of my travel time. So I decided to build TOURED to help give me the travel experience that I wanted.
And when did you take the first step in building TOURED?
In January of 2015, I started working on the mockups creating the concept of what TOURED would be, based on my previous travels and what was missing based on other apps I’d used.
Where are you now in the process of building?
I am working with our CTO, and I’ve outsourced developers in Guadalajara to get the app launched. We didn’t realize how seamless the process was going and we were on track with meeting with all of our target goals, but recently we hit a bump in the road. Now, we’re re evaluating the personalization and feel of the app, which is why we decided to push the launch back. We want the app to be very tailored and customized to user’s needs. Now we have to go back and recode on the back end.
We reevaluated what our system architect looks like on the map, and I think it will be easier to scale, so I’m happy that we caught it early. I was so stressed about not reaching our initial date, but I’d rather push back the launch date and make sure the technology is best for the user.
Ah yes, launches always take longer than expected.
One thing I’ve learned is that it’s very hard to put a date on things when you’re working with technology. That is one of the many things I’ve learned in my work as a non-technical founder.
I was working on a systems requirement document – which is a document that outlines what your app does. This is essentially a guide that any new oncoming developer will look at. Before you scout a developer, they need to see the document. I was working on it by myself for two weeks, and I thought I’d covered everything, but then you get into the development process, and you find all of these things you never even thought of.
I know that you’re a night owl. How are you operating right now?
I usually wake up around 8:30am, and I get started around 9am. I work from 9am until 7pm as a case manager. I do case management for workers compensation. I meet with doctors, attorneys, different claimants to get a claimant back to work. I consult with them on getting back to work or living and coping with their injury.
Then, I come home, take a nap for thirty minutes to an hour, wake up, and read online about any new developments. Then, I work on TOURED anywhere from 9pm to 5am in the morning. I try to schedule my appointments for my job and for TOURED beginning around 11am.
So you’re only sleeping for 3 hours?
Maybe you can make it 4 if you include the nap.
You’ve got to get more sleep!
I know. I’m feeling very, what’s the right word?
Yes, but something else too.
What is your biggest struggle as an entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur is much like being in a small boat with a row in the middle of a great sea of water. You have all these different directions that you can take to get to land, but you never really know which way is the best way or if your even going in the right direction.
A lot of times I ponder what’s the best direction for the company to take. As a young entrepreneur with an early startup, you have to trust in your decisions and wholeheartedly believe that learning is good, but doing is better. Some decisions won’t be the best ones, but what matters most is the next decision that you decide to take.
Can you tell me about your lowest, darkest point as an entrepreneur? A moment (or moments) when perhaps you thought, what am I doing, why am I doing this?
As an entrepreneur there is never a time when you don’t have a million and one things on your plate. When starting TOURED by myself, I didn’t realize how lonely things could be. For a very long time, I was the one and only employee at TOURED. Before I started the DIGITAL MEDIAx program, I would call friends to vent and they just couldn’t relate, and when the people I love and trust couldn’t put themselves in my shoes, I would drift back to the thought that I’m in this boat… alone.
How did you get through that?
As an entrepreneur you have to be your own cheerleader. Nobody can believe in your idea more than you. You have to tell yourself, yes, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and yes, there are probably a million gratifying things that I could be doing with my life, but I chose to be different. I chose to live outside of the status quo because I never cared for a life of normalcy. I chose to be my own boss. That’s what gets me through those darkest hours.
In your experience, what would you consider a failure you’ve had as an entrepreneur?
I hate wasting time and money. For one, you can’t get time back and two, money is harder to get back once it’s lost. I place high values on both.
So many of the women entrepreneurs we talk to battle fears every day. What have you struggled with?
I am considered a young entrepreneur and one of the biggest things throughout my life that I’ve struggled with is feeling that I haven’t done enough in school and my career. I can be really hard on myself, and it’s my internal struggle of how much can I accomplish. You see other people and read about their successes, and I want it so bad for myself. I have to keep reminding myself that as long as I’m working on it every day and doing something that’s working towards getting there, then that’s what matters. But that’s also one of my biggest motivators. I use it to test myself and constantly analyze where I am in life, and if I’m not happy with there I am, I use it as an internal motivator.
How does living with that fear affect you?
As much as it is a motivator, I get really down about it some days. It overwhelms me to the sense that some days, I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. It affects my progress, and I let it ware me out. There have been a lot of days when I call my mom and say I’m so overwhelmed, and it’s me thinking there’s so much that needs to be done and can be done. Looking ahead sometimes is a bit too much to think about, and I do it a lot. My mom’s advice is always supportive. She usually tells me, take a day. TOURED will not be built in a night, and it definitely won’t work if you’re not working. That’s our quote, “Take a day.” When that happens, I take time to myself, get out of my house, re-prioritize things in my life and get back on track.
And I do. I usually come back revitalized, refreshed, and ready to work on it again. My mom will literally do anything she possibly can do for TOURED. Having her support is also a distressing mechanism for me.
What do you do when you “take a day”?
When I take a day, I get out and try a restaurant that I’ve never been to in New Orleans, because I’m a foodie. I’ll go take photos of New Orleans. Going for a run at Audubon Park is one of my favorite things to do here. If there’s a festival (which there always is), I’ll get out to that. Or I’m driving out to Lafayette to be with my family. There’s nothing better than being in the country. Sleeping in the bed that you spent the first 18 years of your life in. Eating junk food and binge watching TV at home.
What motivates you to wake up each morning and do the work you do?
Passion and love for TOURED. I’m motivated to grind when no one is watching. And most importantly, I love what I do.
What is the biggest misconception about being an entrepreneur?
That it happens overnight. It doesn’t people.
What do you enjoy the most about being an entrepreneur?
Late nights. Crazy right? I seriously come alive at night. I’m sure all of the night-owls out there understand where I’m coming from. I get my BEST ideas when working through the wee hours of the night. No coffee needed.
No coffee? That’s good. Where do you draw your energy from?
Food. I grocery shop two or three times a week and stock my place up with healthy snacks, foods, junk food, and when I get work done, I reward myself with snacks.
What’s your favorite snack to treat yourself with?
Fruit Loops are my treat. I’ll go to the store and buy a crap load of those and have them stocked in my closet. I pop it open and snack on them. And LaCroix, the lime flavor.
Do you have any practical advice that you would give to someone who is launching an app, or thinking about it? Perhaps it’s something you wish someone had told you before you started TOURED. (No fluff! Real stuff only.)
You’re not going to always have the answer. If you don’t, ask and then make what you feel is the best decision.
You’re going to lose sleep. It’s okay. Who needs sleep anyways? (We are currently working on that!)
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Closed mouths don’t get fed.
No one is going to love your company more than you, so, “Trust your crazy idea.”
Any other parting words you’d like to share with our readers on the real experience of being an entrepreneur?
Do what inspires you. Your life choices are not meant to be understood by others. The most meaningful life is one that is guided by passion and love. So push yourself. Take the opportunity. Remain humble. And always, always, always say thank you.