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National Small Business Week Spotlight: Consortium Alumni Share Their Entrepreneurial Vision and Advice

In recognition of National Small Business Week (April 28-May 4), we are shining a light on the contributions made by Consortium alumni entrepreneurs and small business owners. Through our Alumni Business Directory, we’ve created a resource for other members of The Consortium network who want to support these businesses — which range from consulting firms to construction companies to doula services.

To celebrate National Small Business Week, we spoke with several Consortium alumni who shared insight into their businesses and advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Dan & Rena Driscoll

Dan & Rena Driscoll

Boutiq, Inc.

boutiq.co

Elevator pitch:

Guided by our proprietary machine learning algorithms, Boutiq is a sophisticated, tech-driven asset manager for investing in vacation rental real estate. Boutiq optimizes rental returns and mitigates investment risk. (For a deeper dive into what Boutiq does for investors and how we do it, check out BoutiqHomes.com, which is our secondary website for vacation rental home owners, buyers and investors.)

The vision for your business:

Boutiq is centered on the idea that data science and industry expertise empower smarter investment decisions and asset management. Having experience as owner-operators of short-term rentals and luxury vacation rentals, as well having worked at leading OTAs such as Expedia and Vrbo, we focused our efforts on developing machine learning algorithms to better understand where to buy a vacation rental investment property, as well as how to optimize its revenue with a proprietary pricing algorithm. In other words, we reduce the risk involved in selecting which vacation rentals to purchase by providing advanced due diligence and data science-driven underwriting. Once a vacation rental is acquired, we guide the setup of the property and use our algorithms to optimize rental revenue, with bespoke pricing for each night at each home.

Our clients range from individuals looking to buy their first rental property to real estate funds, and even alternative real estate funds such as Arrived.com, where anyone can buy fractional shares (like stock) in a vacation rental for as little as $100. And that achieves our ultimate goal, which is to make investing in high-yield rental assets accessible to anyone — from the money required to make an investment to the sophistication and effort required to deliver the best results on the asset.

The inspiration behind your business:

We have come to believe that the two best investments in one’s future are education and real estate, especially real estate that earns passive income. We both have a couple of advanced degrees, including our MBA degrees, and when we started graduate school in our late 20s, we were determined to buy a home in Austin with our savings while still in school, rather than pay rent on an apartment. Basically, we wanted to invest in our education and in real estate at the same time, and this proved to be a very good and important decision.


What sets you apart from competitors:

Our founders’ deep expertise at the intersections of real estate, technology and hospitality gives us a unique edge for knowing where to invest, exactly which homes to purchase and why, how to set up and operate them and how to price them for the best real estate investment outcomes.

We may be the only asset manager applying actual data science and proprietary advanced machine learning algorithms to vacation rental real estate investing and revenue optimization. As far as we can tell, a lot of the pricing and forecasting tools out there are using data analysis, historical data and market averages in the information and recommendations they provide. In other words, they are looking backwards and sideways, whereas our machine learning algorithms are forward-looking.

Furthermore, Rena is one of the only female founder-CEOs in this industry. This is genuinely a competitive edge because our CEO legitimately understands our vacation rental customer. Rena (a mid-30s mom of two) is reflective of the ideal customer profile of those who typically make the decisions when it comes to booking a luxury vacation rental (upper-income 30- to 60-something moms).

Advice for other aspiring business owners and entrepreneurs:

Don’t start a company just to start a company. Try a bunch of things for which you personally would pay, and when the market organically shows up and demands your product or service — even when your product or service is lo-fi and janky — then you are on to something. That said, don’t get distracted by vanity metrics. Users or sign-ups are not the same as customers; customers pay you. The metric that matters is revenue, and the revenue only matters when the unit economics are actually profitable and sustainable.

Best business-related book you’ve ever read:

“Let My People Go Surfing” by Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia) and “The Sumo Advantage” by Bernie Brenner.

Raven Hudson

Raven Hudson

The Shrewd Closet

theshrewdcloset.com

Elevator pitch:

Shrewd Closet provides a limited assortment of quality clothing and accessories for women who enjoy making a statement with their everyday wardrobe — from work to happy hour. Look good and feel good in and out of the office.

The vision for your business:

My vision came after much frustration revamping my wardrobe for my first job post-MBA. I became aware of the need for transitional clothing. I created an online store to serve people like me: Shrewd women — working women who enjoy items that stand out wherever they are, classic pieces that can be worn in and outside of a work setting.

The inspiration behind your business:

We can all remember a time as a child when we had our first exposure to entrepreneurship — whether it was a lemonade stand or selling candy bars for school fundraisers. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, widely driven by my entrepreneurial father, but I never pursued entrepreneurship until 2020, when the pandemic hit. I saw people who spent decades at companies lose their jobs unexpectedly. I realized I shouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket. I wanted to build something that could be passed down to my family and create a revenue stream outside my corporate job. Shrewd Closet was born! I found a niche with everyday fashion for the working woman.

What sets you apart from competitors:

I mix retail with education. I’ve incorporated tips for navigating the workplace, created digital content to help women “level up” and more. My goal is to create an end-to-end experience that helps women look good and feel good — making Shrewd a lifestyle brand.

Advice for other aspiring business owners and entrepreneurs:

I’ve been a small business owner for over three years. There’s a quote I live by. “First you have to LEARN. Then you remove the ‘L’ — then you begin to EARN.” Learning is a part of the process. Don’t quit your job right away once you decide to start a business (even if you hate it). Instead, see your job as your business partner. This mindset will help you balance your day job and your side venture; one funds the other until the side venture makes you more money than your day job.

Best business-related book you’ve ever read:

“Strategize to Win: The New Way to Start Out, Step Up, or Start Over in Your Career” by Carla Harris. It’s a mentor in book form.

David Medina

David Medina

Stewardship Financial LLC

StewFi.com

Elevator pitch:

We believe in the liberating power of investing for the future to achieve financial freedom. We also seek to help others obtain a work-optional lifestyle, with the kind of retirement and legacy they desire.

The vision for your business:

Stewardship Financial provides distinctive fiduciary advice dedicated to holistic wealth management and workplace retirement plans. We prudently manage the resources entrusted to us for the benefit of our clients. The concept of stewardship is fundamental to our business, since it recognizes that everything we have belongs to God, and we are just temporary caretakers of what we possess. As a Christian, this notion is broadly embraced. However, no matter what belief system one holds, the fact that “you can’t take it with you” is beyond dispute. While Stewardship Financial is a small firm today, I expect that it will grow under my tenure, or a future leader.

The inspiration behind your business:

My journey to founding Stewardship Financial stemmed from a career transition necessitated by the near demise of Avon Products. Faced with the closure of my regional facility, I sought a path where my age and experience could be an asset. Drawing on my passion for personal finance and helping others achieve their goals, I embarked on a new chapter as a financial advisor. The impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act further solidified my decision to pursue independence, leading to the establishment of Stewardship Financial in 2021.

What sets you apart from competitors:

I apply the same diligence to my clients’ finances as I do for my own family and business. This disciplined approach reduces the impact of predictions or emotions, which are often destructive to wealth. We work holistically with private clients to strive for objectives beyond the investment statement. We also seek to partner with plan sponsors to streamline solutions so that employers can focus on their business, while employees can enjoy financial wellness. In both of these practice areas, we focus on helping ensure broad diversification, reduce expenses and manage tax liabilities.

Advice for other aspiring business owners and entrepreneurs:

Find a business with a profitable business model that you are also passionate about. I see business owners, who despite being profitable, run a business they do not love and seem unfulfilled. I know other business owners who followed their dream, but the business model is so difficult that the business is an economic struggle. Finding that intersection between a good business and something that you love seems like an obvious combination.

Best business-related book you’ve ever read:

“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. It is human nature to slip into bad habits, so this book is a reminder on how to maintain discipline and integrity. Honorable mention goes to “The Right Plan, The Right Process,” a collaborative book I authored to help sponsors optimize their workplace retirement plan.

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