Richard Carthon was attending a meeting for his business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi (AKPsi), as a senior at Tulane University where one of his fraternity members presented a challenge to the group to come up with a new idea every day for a month.
About a week later, Carthon was organizing the fraternity’s fundraising and community events when he was frustrated by the difficulty to manage all of the group’s social calendars. He thought there should be a better way to streamline the process. Carthon took the challenge to heart, and decided to create one.
Nearly a year and a half later, he and co-founder Carlos Wilson launched Follow My Cal, a social calendar platform that allows you to seamlessly share your events across multiple calendars.
Since launching last month, Follow My Cal has gained roughly 1000 users so far. The co-founders recently secured a series A round, and have their eyes on closing another round. Carthon took us through the long and hard journey of ideation to launch, where he met some dynamic individuals along the way.
He offered insight on navigating difficult but helpful feedback, advice on finding the best developers, and why being a college athlete helped prepare him for the wildest sport of his life.
Walk us through what happened after the challenge.
I started my due diligence period. I looked up as much information on the industry, on competitors and on the pros and cons of all of them. I did that for a month – I researched as much information as I could to hone in on exactly what I wanted my platform to be. During this time I was also trying to find a developer and potential partner. Ultimately, I decided to bring on one of my co-founders, Carlos Wilson, to go on the journey with me. The next part was to try and get a developer. That was when I met someone who became a big influence in my life.
Tell me more about this person. She gave you some critical feedback on developing the product?
She gave me critical feedback on my plan – what exactly I was trying to create. The first conversation we had, I hadn’t fully mapped out enough what exactly I was trying to create. That was the first thing she checked me on. The next thing she checked me on was the actual pitch – the pitch deck. Having an actual plan, a marketing strategy, next steps for creating my product. After that, she taught me the importance of creating an MVP (minimal viable product.) I had to learn how to create my entire product – everything but coding. After that final conversation, I learned how to do everything (except coding).
This is interesting because this person is sort of like a helpful villain in your story.
She was definitely helpful. I would give her credit for pushing me. I would say that she went about it the wrong way.
What would you say is the most valuable thing that you learned from that experience?
That it’s good for people to be direct with you and not sugar coat things, because that did nothing but challenge me. The way she approached it was you’re either serious about this and want to get it done, or don’t waste your time. I appreciated that directness. That side of it truly made me sit down and say, okay, I’m going to do this. I am going to sit down and knock out all of this stuff that needs to be done so we can get to the next point.
Do you think it may have prepared you for more tough conversations to come?
Absolutely. I’ve always been around sports and been around coaches that are extremely direct and who don’t sugarcoat anything. I’ve always been used to it – having hard skin and being able to take criticism. This was a different side – it was the business side. It was actually how the world is going to treat you.
“You have to be overly prepared, because if you have any holes that can be poked in your plan, they are going to poke you left and right. It made me become more of a perfectionist in what I was doing.”
That’s a really interesting parallel to think about. Athletics and entrepreneurship. Having been an athlete and having dealt with a lot of criticism and voices in your face constantly-is there anything that you have taken away from that and applied to this journey?
Work ethic. Attitude. The fact that when I say I’m going to get something done, I have to get it done as soon as I can. When there is a deadline, I have to reach it, because just like in sports, when you have to do something in a certain amount of time, you get it done, or you have to do it all over again (like drills). And you have to be punctual, because there is no such thing as late. There is early and there is on time.
Do you think that your time as an athlete has prepared you for this moment, where you are now?
Absolutely. I was juggling four to five things at once. Between school, football and baseball, and the extra-curricular activities that I was involved with on campus, I would have to map out days and set aside hours within each day to dedicate to each part to maximize the time. Now that I have more time, I’m able to get so much more done, but still in a small amount of time. When I sit down and work on it, there’s no fooling around, just get straight to the point.
I’ve heard from a lot of entrepreneurs about the need to put your head down and focus to a point where no outside noise can reach you, and that’s critical it seems.
At the end of the day, you either get it done or you don’t. Actually, as cliché as it is, I have Yoda on my phone right now that says, “Do or do not, there is no try.” I heard it one day and I went, this is my life right now.
“Just get it done. No one wants to hear excuses. Especially being an entrepreneur, it’s all on me.”
Alright, let’s go back. You talked to this person who shall remain nameless, and got some constructive feedback, and then what?
From that, I created my pitch deck, MVP, business model, marketing strategies, projections, profit/ loss model and I identified different developers that I could use and how much it would cost. I set up an initial start up budget and what the funds would go towards, and how I could use it for an amount of time.
So from there, what was next?
Next was finding an investor. The fun part. Now I had the preliminary work done, and I needed the money to make it happen. So, I start reaching out to many people as I could, get on Angel’s List, incubators, you name it. I tried to do as many things as I could to just to try to get in front of people.
One of the biggest things I believe and know about myself is if you get me in the door, I will handle the rest.
“Just getting your foot in the door is the hardest part. And so, for three months, I was literally just talking to anybody that would hear me out.”
I was getting ready to sign a contract with a developer, but I had to pay via PayPal, and I didn’t have any money in the account. But I was going to have to wait over the weekend for the payment to go through. I ended up meeting who would become one of my first investors that Friday. I showed him everything I had, and he showed interest. He told me to send all of my work, and a week later he and his partner decided to invest in me.
Wow. Talk about divine timing. You brought up an interesting point about feedback earlier. How do you know when to stop listening to all of the feedback? Because at some point, you have to decide.
“With all of the constructive feedback that you get, eventually you’re going to see a recurring theme. It’s going to be said in a lot of different ways, but at the end of the day, it’s recurring. Then, you take out all the other stuff. That recurring theme is what you should be focusing on and trying to build on.”
What was the recurring theme that kept coming up for you?
The recurring theme in the constructive criticism from the developer was I need to get all of this done, I need to do it myself, and I need to learn how to do it. There’s no excuse of “I don’t know how to do it” So I learned it. Be the learner.
For the investors, it was one of two things. The question asked was “How many users do you have?” I would answer, “I don’t have any users, but I have an MVP.” They would see it and they would ask, “Well, is it coded?” And I would say no, “That’s why I need the investment to code it.” Then it was, “When you get something coded, come back to me.”
So it was a catch 22 because you needed the money to code it?
Exactly. That’s why I decided I was going to make it myself so that I could have that coded version to go back to the investors with. But as fate would have it, I didn’t have to do that in the end.
So you met this investor and he decided to invest in you so you could code the MVP. And then what was next?
From there, I had to make the decision of do I truly commit to doing it, or do I start law school? At that point I had already been accepted into Tulane Law, but I knew that I wouldn’t have been giving it the full effort. I made the decision to go after this (Follow My Cal) because this is an amazing opportunity, and yes, there is a lot of risk and unknowns involved, but it’s worth it to me. I look at it as no matter what happens with the company, it’s not a loss because the knowledge I’m going to gain from this, whether I make a dime or not, is going to be invaluable in life. And I can always go back to school. I can’t always get another investor to invest in an idea, which I still think is amazing.
What has been one of the high points for you?
I would say one of the proudest moments of this entire thing was the day I got my first beta version. Low-key, I almost teared up a little bit. It was like seeing a baby born.
Where is your developer?
Overseas in India.
And so you’re still working with your co-founder, Carlos?
Yes, he is in New York. We communicate and I shoot ideas back and forth to with him. He’s more of “let’s plan out some stuff” and I do most of the execution, if you will. He’s been there from day one. He sometimes plays devil’s advocate, making sure the possibilities are truly being thought out. Because if you’re truly by yourself, you can get into this one-sided, locked in perspective without seeing all of these other things. I never wanted that.
How did you find your developer?
“So much research. I spent days researching different companies, looking at their products, pricing, their execution, customer reviews, and then I started doing scoping sessions with them.”
Because a lot of times these companies won’t show you their portfolio until you do a scoping session with them and when they’re ready to charge you to get it started, they’ll send you their portfolio, and that’s when you can really see the quality of their work.
I used that as leverage because they all want your business. And they know when you’re ready to go because you have to do a pretty big upfront payment, and then you do payments at milestones that they reach.
And in some places, those big payments can sometimes pay for their next six months of operation, so they’re willing to give you free estimates and vital information. You try to gather as much information as you can, and then make an educated decision.
And also throughout that process, you have to see if their communication is thorough, if their punctual, if they’re doing everything they need because one of the biggest challenges that arises is the communication barrier and the timing. Because culturally in a lot of other places outside the U.S., it’s acceptable if you’re late on deadlines, so you have to be clear about that from the get go.
When did development start?
Were you happy with the beta?
Yes, they clearly mapped out each function in each release and everything that was supposed to work with each release has worked.
How do you communicate with your developers?
Skype. We talk every morning. When it’s 8am here, it’s 7pm there.
Another reason you have to be punctual.
Yup, because if you misstep, you miss a whole day.
“I like it because there is always work being done. When they’re asleep, I’m working through the day getting stuff done. When I’m asleep, they’re working on the product. It’s 24 hours of progress.”
What has been the most difficult part in all of this? Any “F*** this sh** moments”?
Trying to find an investor. That whole time period.
“You start to get excited because one person shows some interest, and then you get rejected. And then you go to the next person, and then rejection again. You just keep catching all of these rejections.”
And it’s like okay, I still know this is a good product. I still know this is going to work. I just have to get someone to believe in me.
One of the biggest lessons I learned with my first investor is that you need to get somebody that believes in you. At the end of the day, they’re investing in you. That first one, they believe in you, that you’re going to get it done. I put a lot more respect and appreciation into that, knowing that they are truly doing it because they believe I am the man to get the job done. But before I reached that first person, to have that many people keep saying no, that was the toughest part. It gets disheartening.
I think no matter how tough you are, it gets to you. It’s human nature.
One investor told me I don’t see the value in what you’re doing, and I think you’ll never be able to compete with Google, and I said okay thanks, I’ll keep it going.
Also, now that I’m really thinking about this, that was hard, but also putting in the time to learn how to do everything, and then executing it was really hard. I had to stop doing a lot of other things that I enjoyed.
Like having a life?
What advice would you give to someone who is in your shoes sixth months ago?
Make time for what’s important to you, not excuses. If something is that important to you, then make sure you put in the time and get it done. Because then you’re just cheating yourself and what you say is important to you. Time is the most precious thing you have, and if you’re cheating that, it must not be that precious to you.
Be prepared for a lot of no’s. Just keep pushing. Take your no, get what’s helpful and keep pushing. You can’t expect yes’s off the top. Even the greatest of the great all got rejected. You have to keep it moving.
No one is going to get it done but you. You have to drive the result. No one else is going to bring you there.
Get a mentor ASAP. Get a mentor with influence as soon as you can. Because they will lead you in the right direction, and if they can’t get it done, they will put you in front of the people who will help you get to where you are trying to go. A mentor is crucial.
Don’t let anyone change your vision. Everyone is going to have an opinion, and tell you what you should do. Take it and use it how it fits your vision is. Never lose sight of it.
Know the power of follow up. When you show that you care or you want to have some type of relationship with a person, they are more inclined to want to help you. And they are more inclined to look out for you, and it’s not just about how they can help me? No, you can bring value to them to. Take time out of your day to take ten minutes to an hour to follow up with people to ask if they will talk to you. The only way to get your foot in the door is you’re actively trying to do that.
*Editor’s Note: This interview is a part of a content partnership featuring companies through The Idea Village, a nonprofit committed to identifying and supporting entrepreneurs in New Orleans. Follow My Cal is an alumni of the 2016 DIGITAL MEDIAx accelerator program.