11. Will Kitchen,
StartUp Winona State
Eric: Hey there everybody I'm Eric Mueller and once again I am pumped to be welcoming you back to The Eric Mueller Show. Today on the show, you'll be hearing from a vibrant, optimistic spirit, who possesses a keen vision for what it takes to grow as an entrepreneur. As a networking guru and innovative thinker, Will Kitchen has assisted countless individuals in realizing their entrepreneurial dreams. He currently serves as the Director of Innovative Community Engagement at Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota. He also leads an initiative called StartUp Winona State. This program provides support for new entrepreneurs to develop their ideas and connect with the people that can best help them pursue success.
Will’s career has taken him all over the world. From consulting for IBM throughout the US and Asia, to serving as Chief Operating Officer for a food manufacturing company in Belgium, he has illuminated his business skills internationally. He co-founded [00:01:00] a company called Tele-Systems Associates, and he has more than 10 years of experience in distance learning, teaching and technology arenas. Additionally, Will and his wife's philanthropic endeavors have brought numerous artistic events to Winona and surrounding areas, such as the Great River Shakespeare Festival and the Frozen River Film Festival.
I'm excited to peel back the curtain to the enterprising mind of Mr. Will Kitchen. Let's head on over to the interview.
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Eric: [00:02:06] Alright, so welcome back to The Eric Mueller Show. Today, I've got a very special guest with me today. His name is Mr. Will Kitchen. Say hello to the folks here Will.
Will: Hey, how's everybody doing?
Eric: You know, I think they're doing pretty good. I'm doing pretty great. How are you doing today?
Will: All right. Me, and I'm fantastic, I'm always good. So that's just the way it is.
Eric: Well, that's easy. Can't get much better than that.
Will: That’s right.
Eric: So Will, appreciate you being on here. I'm excited to dive into entrepreneurship, talk a little bit about what you're doing at Winona State. The first thing on my mind, I just want to ask you what gets you out of bed every morning?
Will: Oh, I just love life. I really do. One of the things that I want to do for the rest of my life is to be curious, and I want a question, and I want to wake up every day knowing that there's something different that I can approach. I don't like having everything the same every day. I'm not one that likes routine.
So the Winona State gig is like really great for me because I have all these [00:03:06] wonderful students who everyday ask me for different things that I have to learn about, and it just makes my day great. So just life. I love getting up. I love doing things. So I'm kind of an excited guy.
Eric: Yeah, very energetic. I share that with you. And are you a coffee drinker Will?
Will: I am a coffee drinker. But I think I have a natural caffeine high every day anyway.
Eric: Yeah. Do you take your coffee with cream or straight, just black?
Will: There's, there's no caffeine and cream.
Eric: Yeah, that's a good point. I mean, I think as I get older, maybe I'll start to slowly use less and less cream. I know that, you know, really appreciate the robustness of the blend, but Will yeah, so you mentioned, Winona State. So you're involved with Winona State University. You're the Director of Innovative Community Engagement and StartUp Winona State. Would you mind sharing a little bit with the folks here about what that is and what your responsibilities are within those programs?
Will: Sure. Two years ago, I was asked to take over this program. [00:04:06] It was in its infancy and basically was a one-pitch competition for students for the year. And when I took it over, I wanted to change it. So what I do now is students come to me with ideas or passions, and they say I want to start my own business or I wanna do XY and Z. And what I do is I Network them. I help them through the ideation process. I have connections in the state and actually around the country that will work with my students on helping them develop their ideas, and then if they get to a point where they want to start a business, great we've got the network to help; the ecosystem, the network, to help them out.
But the whole idea is not to just get students in two semesters to start a company. I mean, if it happens, wonderful. More to the point, it's understanding what it's like to have the confidence [00:05:07] to come to somebody and say I've got an idea, and I'd like to try it. Taking a risk, moving forward. So what I do is I work with them, I get them involved in the community, I introduce them to community leaders, both within Winona, around the region, around the state, around the country and around the world. So that students have an idea that my idea is worthwhile. I can do anything with it. So in a nutshell, that's what I do. I'm a connector who who gives young people and entrepreneurs the permission to try anything.
Eric: That's inspiring. I know that you've connected me with a few individuals as well, and I know I appreciate that, and you mentioned a key term that I've read on some of the StartUp pages on the website, the entrepreneurial ecosystem. So that surrounds the framework of StartUp Winona State, if I understand correctly. Would you kindly define that term for the audience?
Will: Yeah, it's one of those ten-dollar terms that we throw around a lot and [00:06:07] basically what it means is that we have created an environment of innovation and support so that if Eric you have an idea you want to start a business and it's in a certain area. Say it's the medical profession. That ecosystem then first thing you do is get you networked into the whole medical profession, so that you find out what's going on, and you get networked with other entrepreneurs who started up businesses so you understand the process.
Eventually, as you develop your idea, you will need some funding. So the ecosystem is set up so that you can be introduced into various areas where funding is potential, whether it's a traditional, or it's angel funds, or it’s investors or whatever it might be and then a lot of it, which I don't know how people look at it very, very much, it's just the support. I mean, you're out there naked to the wind in the elements, [00:07:07] and you've got this idea that’s your baby that you want to do something with, and it's an emotional roller coaster and sometimes you just need people there who you can talk to in that ecosystem. That say, you know what, Eric, you're not crazy, and I've gone through the same thing. It's okay. So it's a little, it's just this, it's a I'll call it an entrepreneurial community.
Eric: Fantastic. That clears that up. I was actually curious about that definition myself. I hadn't found anything that fully, you know, explains that. But I had seen it in other postings and other, you know, people that have maybe been mentees of you or people that have, you know, then turned into mentors to help other entrepreneurs and future entrepreneurs. But it brings the question to mind for me at what point in your life did you know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur? Was that something that happened right away? When you knew at a young age? Or kind of walk us through a little bit of that.
Will: I wish I had me when I young. I never knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. [00:08:07] I I'm a first gen going to school. I think my dad had a 3rd grade education. My mom had a 10th grade education. Nobody in my family went to college. I went to college because it seemed like the right thing to do, and I thought I was just going to get a career. My dad worked for the railroad for 50 years and his only advice to me was son, don't work for the railroad. So I had no idea.
So I went through, I got a degree in education. I started teaching K-6, and I wasn't great at it. I don't fit well into institutions, so I saw an advertisement for they wanted, the community I moved to wanted a cable television franchise. So I thought, I enjoyed HBO in college. [00:09:07] So I went to the first meeting and it was seven communities. We set up a, I became the chair of this group because of my vast knowledge and experience in cable TV. And basically set up a two-way interactive video system back in the 70’s for education, for basically high schools so that they could share teachers and students. And that was my first venture into being an entrepreneur.
I was still teaching and people kept asking me to speak. So I started to speak all over the place, and then I had a business card made up that made me an expert. And then I started a business that I ran for seven years and sold it. So I've got to testify in Congress about distance learning and did all kinds of stuff. So I'm kind of and the well, the rest of them, and then I started another company that failed miserably, and then [00:10:07] I started with my late wife, three nonprofits in the arts. So I just I love starting things. I don't want to run things. I want to start things, that's where I get my energy in it, but I didn't know it until I was, you know, Iet’s see my first business was I was 28.
Eric: That's a good sign. I'm 28 right now, so it's not too late in other words.
Will: You're in the prime of your life to do this.
Eric: That's good news. In reading some things, entrepreneurial type things in books and whatnot. I see some commonalities in people that have become entrepreneurs or those that have co-founded companies or founded companies, CEOs, different types of c-suite individuals. Do you think there's any sort of pattern or formula to become successful in that way? Or you know, a successful entrepreneur type thing?
Will: Great question. You have to have a strong belief in yourself. Strong, a strong community around you that ecosystem. You have [00:11:07] to be willing to take risks. I mean, my whole philosophy is I'm never going to get it if I don't try. And if it doesn't meet the expectations that I set out, the sun is still going to rise the next morning. And hopefully, along the way, I've learned a lot more things. So, that's my attitude.
I, stuff I don't care about. I love the experiences; I love the meeting of people. I love taking an idea forward, but again, if it doesn't succeed, well as they say in French, tant pis pour moi. Too bad for me, but life will go on, and life’s great. So I think it's just an attitude, and I don't, I'm not saying this for everybody, because nobody, you don’t want to have a world with all Will Kitchens in it, but that's what gets me going. It's that excitement of doing as opposed to not doing or just [00:12:07] thinking about it. So I want to try things.
Eric: And along the way, have you found certain myths or things that people say about entrepreneurship that you found it just be not true. You just say that. That just isn't how it works, man.
Will: I hear a lot of people say, I want to be an entrepreneur because I don't want to work for anybody. Let me tell you right now, you're going to be the worst boss you've ever had. When I had my first business, I worked seven years, I didn't take a vacation, I was traveling three to three and a half weeks of every month and it's not easy, but there's, you know, I was fulfilled because it was mine. It was something that I was doing. It was my idea. So yeah, it's not easy.
You don't do it because you're going to make a billion dollars, right off the bat. It takes persistence. It takes hard work. [00:13:07] It takes they are days as I said earlier, you're just going to say, what the heck am I doing this for? This is crazy. I could do a 9 to 5 and not have the stress, but it's not as fulfilling.
Eric: Yeah, and you touched on this a little earlier like an idea of yours can become your baby, and you want to see it go forward, and you want to see it thrive and succeed, and hearing people say no or that they doubt it is probably quite discouraging. And in that from what I've looked at, you know, entrepreneurial type paths that you're probably going to encounter quite a bit of that. And I guess it kind of leads me into what is the greatest challenge that you've encountered throughout your life or career? How did you overcome it? You know, what did you learn from it?
Will: The greatest challenge I ever had. I was working for IBM, and I was sitting in Fountain City, Wisconsin in the middle of a 25-acre valley and doing remote work. And I saw an email that said, who wants to go to India for 18 months on an assignment? [00:14:08] So I said to my wife Maggy, I go, hey Maggy, you want to go to India? She says, yeah, I mean just like that yeah. And I go oh damn. I said probably not going to happen. IBM's, pretty big company like 380,000 people or something.
Six weeks later, we're in India, and I didn't know anything about India. I didn't know anything about the business that I was going into because it was a subsidiary of IBM. I was general manager of learning and leadership development for 30,000 Indian employees. Never been in anything like that before. So trying to set up home and profession and understand the culture, understand everything, everything was the biggest challenge I ever had. And it was one of the best things I ever did. It turned out okay.
And how did I do it? I just, I kept asking questions, I kept [00:15:08] making mistakes, I kept learning from my mistakes, and I put a lot of great young people around me that made me look pretty darn good.
Will: So you build that great team, and it just makes things so much easier. So that was my biggest challenge really. To go to India and a year-and-a-half turned into five years, and it was the best thing I ever did.
Eric: That's really great to hear. And you know what, what a risk. What a, you know, kind of leap of faith that both, I mean, luckily for you, you had the support of your wife. But, you know, not everybody is lucky to have that, and it probably could be pretty hard if someone has an opportunity to do something like that and people around them, maybe aren't as supportive, you might think to say no to it. But think of had you not done that, you would have missed out on an incredible opportunity to grow and develop, and you know, really develop yourself into the future Will.
Will: Absolutely. No and you're right of having a significant other or a partner or you know, a friend [00:16:08] who is going to support you. It's critical. I mean you do some crazy things as an entrepreneur, and it's nice to have people around that don't think you're completely insane.
Will: Maybe a little bit but not completely.
Eric: Just a hint yeah.
Eric: You know, you speak on the support you have for other people now. So you've created these relationships and networks with students at Winona State and other people. And, you know, I feel lucky to be connected with you in that way as well. Who are three people that have been most influential to you throughout your life and career? Would you mind sharing just a quick little bit about three people?
Will: Sure. Yeah. My one and only mentor I've ever had is Gary Evans. Gary's from Winona. He was a former Vice President of Development at Winona State, and many other things, just the most wonderful man I've ever met. He taught me, he, you know, get up early, work hard, you know, always show up early, you know, [00:17:08] just all the basic blocking and tackling stuff that just stuck with me in and it really helped. He's just been gold.
The second one is going to be Andre, Andre Alphonso. I met him in India, and he really helped me with the India experience. He's an entrepreneur. A sharp, shrewd business guy. And just made me smarter in terms of my business acumen, and we both learned that you have to laugh a lot in life. And that's the most important thing. And he and his wife are still really dear, dear, dear friends of mine.
The third person is Ben Whiting who you'll be talking to you soon, and Ben is a young man who's a professional magician, he’s a professional speaker, he's a consultant, and he's a professional actor. [00:18:08] He started out as street performing in Chicago and ended up doing some Fortune 50 consulting, and I just like him because of his attitude, and he's helped again, I just think the world of him because I like his energy. I like his willingness to try things.
So those three have just, you know really and you know, one is, I think Gary must be 80 now, Andre is 60, and Ben is in his 30s. So it's like, you know, these people just give me motivation, and I should say there's a fourth one and probably the most important is my wife Maggy. Yyou know, who passed away five years ago. She just had this love of life and she could do anything. She was creative and, and I just followed her around and helped wherever I could and tried to stay out of her way, and she just it, just [00:19:08] she changed my world in terms of how I view life and those four, man if everybody had those four people, it’d be okay.
Eric: Yeah and in terms of networking and building connections to find out, who those potential mentors are in your life. Do you have any tips for people listening if they want to connect with others and kind of harness their own entrepreneurial minds or just learn how to be more successful in their own lives? How would they go about doing that? Who can they reach out to her? Or what avenues can they take to meet those people?
Will: Well, you know, the first thing, you know, everybody will tell you is you start with the people around you and who do you meet day to day and just, maybe just let’s take Winona State, the president of Winona State. I say to students, if you have, if you want to meet this person, do not be bashful, do not be shy, ask.
Say, I as a matter of fact, one of my students today wanted to reach out to some people and she said, how do I do this? [00:20:08] And I said, number one be honest. Tell them, hey, I heard about you, I read about you, I saw you. I think that you have something that I need to hear. And just ask. If you don't ask, you won't get. Sometimes people say no. That's okay. Go on. You don't want to, you don't want to talk to them anyway.
So be, I don't want to say aggressive, just be, the best thing I can say is be honest and open and just say you have something. And then I tell my students before you end any conversation, when you're networking because networking is not one of these things where I'm going to go to you and try to get something from you. You go to set up a relationship and the thing that, my, I tell my students, that they have to say at some point during their meetings, how can I help you?
Because maybe the president of Winona State wants to hear more from students about what's going on. Maybe the banker, the president [00:21:08] of the bank in Winona wants to know from a student's perspective, are we doing everything we need for you? Are we missing something? Is there another market out there? Students have to realize and anybody for that matter. You have things to give, you have things to share, and the more we share, the more we help each other, the better off we all are. So that's kind of my philosophy for networking.
Eric: Yeah. Yeah. And I agree with that. And those of you listening, if you haven't checked it out yet, episode 1, The Power of Networking here of my show. I touch on a few of those points Will really hammered home, that what can I do for you mindset that you need to have networking, and I think, I know I've seen that payoff great dividends on my side and also, you know, kind of compounding what you were saying to Will, is that the, that quality of persistence and continued reaching out and like you said, if someone says no, then you know, great. Table that for a little while, I wouldn't necessarily be scared to reach out again, at a later date if you feel that's reasonably. You wouldn't want to just continue bantering the person or anything like that, but [00:22:08] yeah in a respectful way, you could probably continue to reach out and be persistent in that way. So yeah, I appreciate that insight there Will. Thank you.
Will: Oh, my pleasure.
Eric: So you've had a great deal of success in business, so you started off, you created a company. I know in a previous conversation you said you may have sold that company too early in hindsight. But how would you have known that?
Will: Too early and too low.
Eric: Yeah, but you learned a lot along the way and you hit on in the bit earlier. So it was a two-way video type platform set up for learning. How did that, you co-founded that, so how did that idea come about? You mentioned a little bit of the framework of it earlier but let's really tease out how you got that. How that ideation process was arrived.
Will: Yeah. Well, you know, at the time that I was teaching, we're going through budget cuts and these are all small, rural school districts, and you couldn't have an advanced math class or a foreign language class because you may only have two or three students in [00:23:08] your, in the class. So you can't afford to hire a teacher for that.
So the idea came well, why don't we, if we could do a two-way, video connection and we could get three schools connected at one time. And the teacher could see three monitors, you know, the whole, it was really rudimentary Zoom,
Will: And but again this was in the 70s. We could then share teachers among school districts. And we could have, we could fill up classes, because we may have five from one school, six from another school, and maybe three from a third school, and then you have enough to keep the teacher on payroll, and you could do it for other things like staff training and whatnot.
So to get this cable television company in, they had a head end of central point where they microwaved my guess was 50 channels to the other [00:24:08] six communities, and I thought, well, gee shouldn't we be able, if you’re going to send a microwave one way, can't you send it back another way and we can set up something? And that's how it was.
You know what entrepreneurs do, they look at the world and say here's the problem, we need a solution or I can do that better, and that's what I did. I looked at it and I said, we could do it better. We don't have to just fire teachers, and we don't have to, you know, not give students the opportunity to have the same educational opportunities that somebody in a metro area has. So that's how we put that together, and it seemed to work. We went on from that one. Now that we were experts in microwave to put in the first fiber optic network in Minnesota for K-12, and it worked out just fine. This was pre-internet, and we thought, gee maybe we can send, you know, some data [00:25:08] or something over it, and we didn't know how to do it. We just thought, well, we'll try it, and it was successful. As a matter of fact, the Vice President Winona State, just brand-new this year. I met him and he said, I asked him where he's from, and he told me and I said, I know that community. And he says, how do you know that? It's a really small town in Minnesota and I said, I put in a fiber-optic network there. He goes, you're the one who did that? I took a Spanish class on that and it changed my life.
Will: I guess I did one thing well.
Eric: That's crazy. You were ahead of the game there. It was before the time of the internet, and I mean that's quite incredible.
Will: You know, Al Gore didn't have anything on me. He said he invented the Internet, eh we were way before him, but again if I'd kept that you know who knows?
Will: But, you know, the way it is.
Eric: Yeah, yeah that's right. And got your feet wide and in terms of how to start, how to run a company, and I [00:26:08] mean, I'm sure you've experienced a lot of challenges along the way that we're unforeseen and, you know, you’re chuckling there, you got, it seems like there's a story behind that.
Will: Oh man. It's just, it's finding people to work with you that have the same passion. It's you know, making payroll. It's just all those. I'm just thinking back all the little crazy things we knew nothing about. We wrote contracts out on with type writers. You know, we, I had no idea what's going on, but our whole concept was to do good for others. That was, so we may have been a little, maybe not sophisticated, but we did our best to try to do what we could for our clients. That was our driving force.
Will: And we learned everything else along the way.
Eric: Yeah, and as you're juggling, those types of situations, I'm sure, you know, you learn that you're capable of more things [00:27:08] than you originally thought. And then when you're running a start-up, I'm sure you touch on this with your students at Winona State that you have to really kind of become the jack-of-all-trades of the business, and have a healthy understanding of those aspects to do a start-up.
Will: That's right, some of my students that wanted to be entrepreneurs. Their idea didn't go as far as they wanted to do. So I got them jobs with startups, and they're saying, they say, just what you said. Wow, this is great. I'm not just pigeon-holed into you know, one little piece of the business. I have to learn everything.
Will: And I think that's wonderful.
Eric: Yeah. I'm hopeful to have an experience like that at some point, and whether it's a company that I start or one that I can get in with and really just learn a lot of those things like, you don't know what you don't know. So you really got to figure it out. First-hand experience that those types of things to get there.
So when you start a company and let's say you have a successful company, you can put metrics and measurements on that as the time goes on, whether you, maybe you take it public or you have a certain amount of ownership in it, equity. You can [00:28:08] put physical numbers on that, but I want to ask you aside from those things you can actually measure with numbers, what is your definition of success? How do you measure, you know, success in more of an abstract way?
Will: I may not be the best one to answer this. Success, for me, I'll take it from my business. Number one, my startup business. The success was, we did something that no one else had done the same way. Distance learning, you know, from correspondence classes, and all kinds of things that's been around for a long time, but we did it a different way. We, we built systems on other institutions. So, if there was a cable system or rural telephone company or whatever it might be, we called it parasitical communications where we were just, you know, riding on something else. But the success was we did it, and we did it in a different [00:29:08] way.
Success for me in my life is I want, I've been, I'm a successful man. I'm the luckiest man in the world. I had the love of my life for 20 years, Maggy. Every day I wake up and I'm curious, I want to know something new. I want to learn something. That is success. Success is not gaining stuff. It's not, it's not how much money you can set aside or earn or make, it's how you run your life, and I'm trying to be a better person every day. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I'm human. So success for me, is a lot of different things. In business it’s doing something new and being relatively successful, doing what I said I was going to do.
Eric: Yeah. Thanks for defining that. I think that definition, I mean, I've heard a few people define, [00:30:08] you know, success and answer that question, and it really is, it's fun for me because at you get so many different answers. You probably asked a hundred people, you get a hundred different answers.
Eric: But it seems to have a similar theme and that really boils down to you know, that happiness piece and are you feeling fulfilled, and I would argue that you're probably not going to feel very fulfilled unless you feel like you're making a difference in other people's lives, and the ones that chase that solo success and want to get all of that stuff for themselves, at the end of the day, I don't really think they're going to feel very fulfilled. What do you think about that, Will?
Will: Oh, spot on. You just nail it. You said it better than me. You should have just answered your own question. No, you're absolutely right. You want to do good things, and you want to do good things for other people. I hope when I leave this world, I leave it in a better place than when I came into it, and I know that sounds very lofty and very woo woo, but you try to do good things. I mean I try to give back to my community, [00:31:08] Winona. It's not even, I'm from Maine. I don't even, I wasn't even born in Minnesota, but I've kind of adopted Winona and I like it. I love it. It's got a lot of potential, and I try to give back to it. That's to me, that's success. When you can, my late wife really changed the community here in terms of the arts. It is now an arts community, and it was in part because of her. So she left a legacy. I want to leave a legacy of goodness.
Eric: Yeah. Making others happy, inspiring others to chase their dreams and feel fulfilled themselves. That's really incredible Will. I want to build a little bit more off of that success piece too. So we define success, we figure out what that is. Differs for everybody, you know that's great. It makes the world kind of go around that everybody's chasing a different piece of the pie, but the backbone of my show is really to explore what makes any successful person's inner clock tick? What keeps them driven each and every day you mentioned, what [00:32:08] gets you up in bed in the morning, so your answer might be similar here. But what is the one single driving force that keeps your inner clock ticking towards success?
Will: When I see the young people that I work with, when that light bulb goes off and they say, ah, now I get it, now I understand or the young person I helped them, set them up with a job in a start-up, and they come back to me and say, this is the best thing in the world. You've changed my life. When their parents call me and say thank you for doing the things you do for our son or daughter, whoever it is. That's what gets me going. I believe we have a responsibility to give back.
There's a great book called Wisdom at Work, and it's the making of the modern elder. That's my Bible. That's, I am not a, I'm not elderly, [00:33:09] you know, I'm sixty, what am I, 67. I'm not elderly, I'm an elder. And because of that, there's a responsibility for me to give back to young people, to share the experiences I've had, to share the stories I've had, to share what knowledge I have, and also to share the mistakes I've made. So that you can, you know, you can choose to make your own or make mine again, whatever.
Will: So and I look at all of my students. I hire a small team of interns every semester to work with me, and they work in different projects of their own, or with other startups. And I call them, we're menturns: mentors and interns. I am a mentor. I'm also an intern with my students because they teach me things. So that's for me success is to develop those relationships and see that my life has had some worth [00:34:09] that I can now share with others to help them go forward.
As I said earlier, on the interview, I wish I had me when I was younger. I didn't have anybody. Not a oh woe is me, you just kind of figure it out, but
Will: Boy, I wouldn't have made quite as many mistakes I hope, if I'd had somebody. So, that's really what it is all about for me is it's that give back and be the modern Elder where I can help others.
Eric: Yeah, thank you Will for sharing that and off of that, you know, giving back piece that we've touched on a few times. So that you maintain that humble mindset of you want to, you want to give people the you that you wish you had. And I just want to tease out, is there one specific memory that you can list that is your most joyful memory of giving back? Or would it be you know, it could be a combination of things if you need to?
Will: Everyday I see students who come to me. See, I don't teach. Students come to me because they want to [00:35:09] because they've heard word of mouth or whatever. So those students that I have helped reach their, some of their goals or to reach a learning experience that says I may not be ready for what my goal was, but now I know what my next step should be. That happens to me a lot.
I mean, I've got one, there's a one young woman. Okay, here's a story. I met this young student. She was interviewing me for the University marketing department. She asked if she could do a video of me, so I said sure. And we talked, we did the video. As I usually do, I ask them what they're doing, what their interests are, what not.
She said, well I'm going to be graduating in December of last year. So this is in early 20, early yeah early, what is it we’re in 21, [00:36:09] early 20 and before the pandemic hit. And I said, so, what are you interested in?
Well, I'm a filmmaker. I tell stories. I'm ready to go to New Zealand for a semester abroad. I can't wait. And she was really excited. But she's one of these young people where you meet her. You say there's something there. There's something special in this young person. Then she went away. I went off and did my own stuff.
About three months later, just the beginning of COVID. I happen to connect with her, and I said, so Brin, you going to New Zealand? And she said, no, that's canceled, everything's gone. My internships, my everything, there's nothing. I don't know what I'm going to do this summer.
I said why don’t you be my intern? She says, what am I going to do? I said I don't know. Do my social media? I don't know. [00:37:09] Help with strategy? What do you want to do? So, she did that for about two, three weeks. And I said, Brin, you don't want to do this anymore. This is really boring. What do you really want to do? She said, I really want to make a movie. I said okay, let’s make a movie. So, out of what she did is I partnered her with a professional film house, and they mentored her, provided the equipment. She put everything together and did a documentary called The Connection Project, which talks about StartUp Winona State, and the importance of networking and community for students and for the community itself.
And I use it in all my stuff now. One of them is they're actually 4 videos have come out of that and one of them's gone viral.
Will: So but she ended up doing something she really was passionate about, and she just she just changed. Every week we get on a Zoom call, and we have a life topic that she picks. [00:38:09]
Will: And it could be anything, and we just talk about it for an hour, and I got her a job at a local company as a strategic marketing director, and she's just loving it. So I felt really good that I could help a young person go from, “Oh my God, my whole world is falling apart with COVID. I don't know what I'm going to do” to say, “Hey, let's do something crazy. Why don't you be my intern and we'll figure it out.”
Will: And it was successful.
Eric: Yeah. You helped her, find her passion, you helped her, you know, figure out what that freedom of what are we going to do? I don't know. Let's try some things and it kind of touches on how you can maybe be more entrepreneurial and how you can really figure out what your niche is, and one of my previous interview guests, John Lee Dumas. A big thing he hammered home was to be the best solution to a real problem.
Will: That's right.
Eric: And I really try to think of that with my podcast, even. I want to figure out how to niche this down more, how to find the true audience, and it's tough.
Eric: Do you have any tips for niching down? Once you have an idea, Will, how to niche that down?
Will: [00:39:09] Just keep trying. It's what I tell, again, I tell my students, keep trying, I don't have the answers. I don't know, but keep working at it. Keep trying different angles. Some things will work well, some things won't, but as you try more things, you'll start to narrow it down to say, hey this is starting to feel right. This is starting to feel good. Keep that focus.
I like that definition that you just gave. It really is, a good entrepreneur looks at things and says, I can come up with a better solution. Or there's a problem here, I know that the way that it's being looked at now, is not working. I can do it differently. I could be more effective. So yeah just keep trying, keep trying, don't give up and say, oh man, the last ten things didn't work. Okay, maybe the 11th one will work.
Will: You know and when it does you forget about the other 10 except for the lessons you learned [00:40:09] along the way.
Will: And keep trying.
Eric: Yeah. And without those 10 failures, you may not have ever gotten to 11 so yeah. It reminds me of this drawing or painting that I've seen online, and it's a guy digging into the ground for a treasure chest. And there's one drawing where he gets down and gets to it and finds the treasure, and he's a happy man.
And then the other side of the drawing is someone that dug, like nine-tenths of the way down and stopped, and turned back up, and they were just inches away from, you know, finding their treasure. So I think that to me really is inspiring to hear that, you know, just keep throwing throwing darts at the dartboard. Just keep, you know, tossing those lines in the water. And at some point, if you stay driven and motivated long enough, surely something will stick.
Will: And if you have that ecosystem that's around you that helps you continue the momentum going forward, because you have people to talk to. You have a support network.
Eric: Yep. Yep, networking is huge. I know that is, that's a lesson I really tried to instill in myself when I began [00:41:09] my last year of pharmacy school and residency. And just really make as many connections as I can, and provide value to those people as well, but, you know, learn from them in the process.
Will: Absolutely, absolutely.
Eric: Yeah. Well, Will thank you so much for being on here. I really appreciate learning from you. It's been really fun to, you know, hear a little bit more about your background and share with the audience your insights to how you can be more of an entrepreneur, how you can learn to be more successful in really any avenue in your life. And before we close, I just wanted to give a plug for you here. I know you have a new restaurant that's opening up in Winona. So local listeners, you know, you might be able to check it out. Will, share us a little bit of detail there.
Will: Yeah, we're the process and you know, I'm still an entrepreneur. I tell my students that I don't just talk about it. I have to live the, you know the life. So three partners of are mine, we're going to start a wood-fired pizza, wine bar in Winona called Maggy's Place, named after my late wife. And [00:42:09] hopefully, we've got the dining area set up, right now, we're working on the wood-fired pizza part next but it's open for events and meetings and whatnot. So it's going to be great.
Eric: Sounds good.
Will: If not, I'll keep digging those holes and until I find the right one.
Eric: That's right. Yep. But I look forward to trying that restaurant at some point in time
Eric: And again thank you so much for being on Will, it's been a pleasure.
Will: Eric my pleasure, I've really enjoyed it and best of luck to you, and you'll do great. I have a feeling that you'll do great.
Eric: Thank you, Will.
Will: With whatever it is you want to do.
Eric: Really means a lot.
Will: I'm always here to help.
Eric: Appreciate it sir, right back at you.
Will: All right.
Eric: Thank you so much. Take care sir.
Will: Yep. All right.
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Voice audio: Written, produced and edited by Eric R. Mueller
EDM music: Produced and edited by Eric R. Mueller