186: Fellowship Ft. Austin Gray: Get Creative And Make It Work: An Entrepreneurial Conversation On Community, Sustainability, The Shame Cycle, And Doing Business For Good
It is not wrong to give your best in your business and strive hard to achieve success, but it is unacceptable to disregard your physical, mental, and personal states just to accomplish that. An entrepreneur can only be considered successful if they truly understand how to use a sustainable approach when running a business. Sharing his personal experiences with Thane Marcus Ringler is the Founder of EntrepreneurHQ and Owner of The Perk Coffee Co. & Green Spaces Coworking, Austin Gray. Austin explains how he found growth even outside the business scene by appreciating the help from his mentor, business partner, and loving wife, all while keeping a strict workout routine throughout the year. He also talks about his mission of bringing entrepreneurs together, contributing a lot to building his business mindset.
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Fellowship Ft. Austin Gray: Get Creative And Make It Work: An Entrepreneurial Conversation On Community, Sustainability, The Shame Cycle, And Doing Business For Good
This is a show all about the process of becoming, learning how to live a good life and living with intention in the tension. Life has a lot of tensions and the best way we believe to live in the midst of those is by infusing intentionality and a reason why into all that we do. On this show, we get to talk to fellow Up and Comers on that journey who are living on purpose and on a mission. We get to share their stories. It is such a joy to do that through long-form interviews, fellowship episodes and sometimes through solo combos that I share some thoughts I’m stewing on.
Boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another episode of the show. This is a show all about learning how to live a good life and living with intention in the tension. Life is filled with so many tensions and the best way to face those is by infusing intentionality or reason why into all that we do, living on purpose and mission. We talk to and interview people in the process of becoming which hopefully, we are all in our entire lives. It means we’re learning. We never stop growing. That is what this show is all about. That is what this Up and Comers community is here for. We hope it’s an encouragement and inspiration to you on your own journey. Thanks for being a fellow up and comer.
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This is a really fun fellowship episode which is a little bit more of a peer-to-peer conversation than a full-on interview. It is featuring Austin Gray. Austin Gray is the Founder of EntrepreneurHQ and also owns The Perk Coffee Co. and Green Spaces Coworking with his business partner, Jayson. In his free time, he loves spending time with his wife Bayleigh and they enjoy all of the outdoor activities Colorado has to offer, but specifically snowboarding, mountain biking, fly fishing, and hiking with their dog, Jade.
Austin and I got connected when I joined the Green Spaces Coworking group, which was a lot of fun. I enjoyed being there. I was a part of their Startup September. They have a great mission, a great space there, and a great community of people. I knew ever since that moment, I’d love to get Austin on the show and we finally made it happen. We talk about a lot in this episode, including his mission in life, the importance of community, starting new things, focusing on sustainability even at a young age.Money becomes an issue when it's the only thing you ever think about. Click To Tweet
We talked about the shame cycle, rethinking the “American dream,” Austin’s entrepreneurial journey thus far, lessons learned from COVID-19 while owning a brick-and-mortar business, and so much more. There was a lot of thought-provoking conversation in here, also a lot of really fun, real talk, life on life, what’s happening on with boots on the ground conversations as well. If you’re an entrepreneur, if you’re someone who likes learning, if you’re someone who wants to know about the ups and downs, and ebbs and flows, then this one is definitely for you. Go check out what Austin is up to. He’s got some cool stuff going on. He’s got a great humble attitude and demeanor, and provides a lot of value. You’re going to want to check it out. That’s all I’ve got for you. Please sit back, relax and enjoy this fellowship episode with Austin Gray.
Austin Gray, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me, Thane.
It’s going to be a fun conversation. I have been looking forward to this and ever since we first met at the Coworking Space, that is a big part of your story now, I thought it would be great to be able to share a conversation here. I’m glad we finally got to make this happen.
Thanks for having me on once again. I’m excited to be here.
One of the things we are sharing right now is a warm beverage. I’m drinking Costa Rican from The Perk, which also has to do with your story. There are a lot of tie-ins. I’m feeling caffeinated and excited to learn all about that and share some more of that.
I’m excited about that. That’s one of my favorite ones we do. Trevor, who helps us run Green Spaces here, we were having a conversation about that before. He was saying that he likes Costa Rica the best as well. I’m drinking a cup of our Sweater Weather, which was our holiday seasonal blend. I brought a couple down to Denver so we can drink these up before we changed seasons.
That was a cool blend I liked, from what I read online on that. I appreciated the style and emphasis with that one. Before we dive into Green Spaces and The Perk, and all that you’re up to now, I’d love to know what question are you asking yourself the most.
Something I’ve been personally going through is, what is my personal mission in life? What am I here to do? I wouldn’t say I have an absolute crystal-clear answer on that yet, but I’ve started to get clear on that. Where it lies is I’ve realized that I’m passionate about creating community. I’ve realized that I’m passionate about building relationships with people. I’ve realized that I’m most passionate about creating a community for entrepreneurs which is a big reason why I’ve launched the new project, EntrepreneurHQ.
We have seen a trend between Jayson and I. We’re investing in businesses and we’re starting businesses together that all comes back to one thing, and that is community. Whenever you talk about coffee, there’s a community aspect to that. Whenever you talk about coworking, there’s a community aspect of that as well. Personally, I’ve gotten clear up to a certain point on my personal mission that I’m passionate about creating a community for entrepreneurs because that leads to things later on.
When you have gone through this process, this is something that many of us, myself included, can often find ourselves in this place. What is my mission in life? That’s a great question and a very common question, especially at this stage in life, and I’m sure in every stage in life and different nuance and ways. As you’ve approached this season of asking it this time, sitting with it, and trying to delve into discovering the answer, what has been helpful for you in that process? How have you gone through that? What does that process look like for you?
I find most peace when I’m outdoors. I moved to Colorado in 2010 to go to school at CSU, and like everybody else who’s living in Colorado, I came out here with the mindset that I was going to be here for a short amount of time. For me, it was the four years I was in college and always expected to move back home, but I have found such a love for the outdoors. I’ve found peace and serenity there. It doesn’t matter what activity I’m doing, but there’s some spiritual connection there for me, and that is ultimately where I’ve found my meaning of God. When I talk about a personal mission, it’s how do I get outdoors and find quiet time to connect. That is ultimately what helps me get clear on things whenever I’m uncertain about things in life.
What are your favorite activities or what do you find the most peace in doing outside?
It depends on the season. I love the seasons that we have in Colorado. If it’s summertime, definitely on the mountain bike. I used to be into trail running. In the last couple of years, I love mountain biking in the summer, but snowboarding and skiing for the wintertime. I’ve also found a lot of enjoyment in cross-country skiing. There is something about being on mountain bike trails whenever there’s snow. It’s very peaceful. All the people are at the downhill ski resorts. It’s nice to get away and unplug in nature on some cross-country skis. I’ve enjoyed that. I bought an uphill ski. I have skins that I put on my skis and go hike up mountains and then ski down. That’s been a lot of fun as well.
You’ve got the whole gamut there. That’s impressive. You’re living the full-on Colorado lifestyle.Allocate some time to be fully present with the people who mean something in your life. Click To Tweet
I’m telling you, I get bored of things easily. I have to switch it up a lot, but there’s one underlying theme there. It’s getting in the outdoors. There are many good things that happen whenever I get outdoors. As I said, it’s more of a spiritual thing for me. It’s a way that I can get away from these screens, the iPhones, and the notifications, all the things that were blasted and bombarded with in our generation. It’s a way to disconnect from all of that.
It’s so important and something that I’m thinking about a lot in my daily life of what does that look like to be connected but then to disconnect, and what are the healthy rhythms of that disconnection for our own self-care and help. When we think about balance in life, as someone who has many hats and wearing them in many positions, doing a lot of things, and constantly on the go sometimes because you’re bored of things or sometimes because you’re an entrepreneur and that’s what you do. Alongside what we’ve been talking about, what helps you strike a balance in all of this? What does it even mean to you? Everyone has a different definition of what balance means. I’m sure one of those rhythms are getting outdoors. How do you even evaluate or think about where you’re at in your own pendulum swing? Where can you find or how can you find a balance in that?
You’re bringing up questions that I ask myself too. That’s another question like, “What is the optimal balance between living a fulfilled life?” I’m passionate about business in this season of life. I’ve got a couple of different businesses. I’m spinning up new projects. That’s like my vice, my problem. I can’t stop starting new things. Up to this point, I’ve accepted it about myself. What’s good is I have a business partner named Jayson. He’s an awesome guy, and he always brings me back to reality.
When I talk about the balance between professional, personal, and physical areas of life, I break things down into three pillars, which are professional, physical and personal. Professional is anything career-related. Physical is anything health and exercise-related. Personal is anything family-related or friends-related. In 2020, I started writing on a blog. Writing has helped me distill my thoughts. I have millions of thoughts bouncing around. One day, I was writing and this came out. I came up with if you want to move forward in any area of your life, my hypothesis is that I should apply dedicated and focused effort twice a week to something that I want to move forward.
With EntrepreneurHQ, I’ve set up what’s called Productive Cycles. Productive Cycles are Tuesday and Thursday coworking sessions where we jump on Zoom. They’re designed to help entrepreneurs focus. I created this by scratching my own itch. My hypothesis was that if I have all these projects going, if I can identify the highest leverage tasks to move those projects forward on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and eliminate all distractions, then my hypothesis is that those projects will continue to move forward with time. I’ve applied the same principle to the physical area of my life. I still enjoy lifting weights after playing in college. That was a habit that I’ve had all my life and it feels good when I do it. It’s a confidence booster. There are endorphins there. There are all the scientific benefits that happen to your body whenever you train your muscles.
Not only is it physical, there are mental benefits as well. There’s a big benefit to getting your mind to a certain point of when you want to physically and mentally give up, and then mentally choosing to push a little bit harder. That applies to many areas of life. With lifting weights, I’ve tried and tested different times or amounts per week. I used to say, “I want to lift weights five times a week. I’m going to lift every single day of the week.” I found that it wouldn’t happen. I would get busy and life would happen, and then I would run into the shame cycle. I’m like, “What is the sustainable approach to this?” “What is something I know that I can do every single week?”
I’ve identified that if I go to the gym two times a week, week over week for 52 weeks of the year, I stay in pretty good shape. I took that principle and I applied it to outdoor cardio. If I get outside two times a week and do some form of outdoor cardio, I’m going to stay in good cardiovascular health. We’re starting to see a trend here. This is where the 2X principle came from. I’m a few years into marriage at this point. What I’m trying to do with my personal life is identify ways that I can apply the 2X principle to my relationship with my wife, and also my relationship with my family and friends.
A simple way as I’m going to call my parents twice a week, or I’m going to do something special for my wife twice a week, whether that be plan a date night, go and grab her flowers, pick up some little thing at the store that made me think of her, all these little things that you can do twice a week to move that area of your life forward. I’m not sitting here and telling you I’m perfect at this, but it seems like a more sustainable approach to have a balance between those three pillars.
I love that because sustainability, especially in our younger half of life is probably one of the least thought of parts of the process. It’s something that we would all do well to embrace more of, that long-term, what can last the test of time for ourselves and those around us. I’d love to hear more on how you’ve come to this idea or conclusion as early as you have. Arguably, it’s something that usually isn’t thought about until well into our late 30s, early 40s, even 50s. Being younger in life and still viewing and approaching things with a sustainable approach is rare. We’d do well to have more of that.
I’d love to hear what your process has been or what you think has led to that. Everyone can relate to the shame cycle. The shame cycle is a human condition and we all fall prey to it all the time. It’s poisonous for me, especially, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Enneagram but I’m a three and that’s like the antithesis of shame cycle. Anything you aren’t achieving, you’re shaming yourself for. I definitely have experienced that and still work on not succumbing to that. This is a long-winded question, how have you found yourself valuing sustainability at a young age?
There are a couple of reasons. We’ve seen generations above who have prioritized professional careers over everything else. The American dream has been all about making money and creating wealth and doing that at all costs. Our age of people has grown up seeing people who are older than us prioritize that. We’re also seeing one if not two generations above us get to retirement age and be like, “All I’ve done with my life is work. You’re spending your time going fly fishing on a three-day trip right after college. That’s something I’ve never done.” These are the older people saying that, “I wish I would have done that when I was your age.”
Hearing that from people who were older than me get to a point in life where they have not done those types of life experiences has challenged me to think about, what would it look like if I could succeed at business, if I could succeed at health, and if I could succeed in my personal life? How would that look?” What I don’t want to do is work my whole life away because what’s the point of just making more money? I have two viewpoints on this. Our society and the Millennial generation have almost gone so far on the other side of like, “It’s bad to make money. We don’t need to focus on that.” The reality is money does provide a base level of security up to a certain point. You need money to provide food, water, and shelter for yourself. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to focus on money early on at all.
It’s a responsibility that you have to take care of your own self and your family to do. Where it becomes an issue is when it’s the only thing you think about, and there’s no balance there. What I don’t want to do is to be working 12, 14 hours a day, and not spending any time with my wife. I want to value all of these things equally and allocate equal amounts of energy towards them. While family is the number one priority, you have to say, “If I am prioritizing my family, then I do still have to allocate time towards my professional life to provide resources, to put food on the table for the family.” That’s one reason. I know that was a long-winded answer.
Secondly, I was challenged about the whole concept of sustainability and deeply thinking about it. When my business partner, Jayson and I co-operated Green Spaces since 2018, it made me dive deeply into what the word sustainable means. While Green Spaces is focused mainly on what does it look like to create companies that help make sure that we have a sustainable planet long-term, you can take that principle and apply that to your personal life. What does it look like for me to live a sustainable life? It doesn’t make sense for me to go work 14, 16-hour days, and not spend time with my wife and expect to have a good marriage. There has to be some sustainable balance there. It also doesn’t make sense for me to just focus on making money and not prioritizing my health because nobody wants to be old, rich and fat. How do you balance all of these things together?
I had a meeting with a guy and I was talking about this golf program that I’ve been getting off the ground. He was one of those gentlemen who has worked very hard and found himself in a large position with outside influence, but his body wasn’t holding up well. He couldn’t do things he enjoyed as much like golf, which is his favorite thing to do. Having that reality that everyone has something they want that they don’t have often. The goal is to have a little bit of each of those pieces as much as we can that’s right for our season in time as you’re talking about, that’s sustainable and can blast through a lifetime to where none of them get too far out of balance. If you think about your own life where you find yourself now in the season you’re in, which would you say has been the biggest challenge for you in maintaining a balance? Is it professional, personal, or physical? Which category have you seen yourself struggling the most and why do you think?
Hands down, personal area of my life. It’s good to have these concepts that I’m talking about at the forefront of mind. If we talk about what’s happening, I work a lot and I have to make a conscious effort to shut it down by 6:00 every night. I work hard to do that and it is so hard. I launched this EntrepreneurHQ thing and new members are signing up. I’m getting notifications on my phone that two new members signed up and I’m all excited about this. I’m in work mode and I’m like, “That onboarding email sucks, I need to refine that. The first name is not being populated in the Zapier integration, so I need to fix that.” My head is totally in the workspace, even though I’ve shut my laptop for the day. That’s not fair to my wife.Always take the emotions out of the business and look at everything logically. Click To Tweet
If I’m hanging out with my friends in the evening, that’s not fair to my friends. The least I can do is allocate some time to be fully present with those people who mean something in my life. It’s a hard thing to do, especially I get super amped about creating new businesses and selling new products. It’s fun and challenging. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but I do think that I personally struggled the most with being present in my personal life. I realized that the first piece is acknowledgment.
I have these conversations with my wife of like, “I’m sorry. My head is in work mode right now. I apologize, I was not paying attention. Can you stick with me? I promise you, I’m working on this.” I have an amazing wife. She’s understanding and she’s helping me through all of this, but I would say that’s my biggest struggle. Health is easy for me because it’s a habit I’ve formed since high school. I have this internal alarm. It’s like if I haven’t worked out in a certain number of days, my body starts telling me, “You’ve got to get to the gym,” or “You’ve got to get outside and go for a run.” That hasn’t been a struggle for me at this point. Personal life and being able to shut it down after work is my biggest struggle.
That’s so common. I relate with that, same on all of what you shared. Even in the sense of the physical side, there’s something to it. The body is like, “This is the point where it’s no more waiting. Get back in the gym.” You’re right. It’s something about it. By nature, people that go down more on entrepreneurial paths are intrinsically motivated and get a lot of fulfillment from that motivation. When we see the benefit of that and feel the reward of that fulfillment, it’s hard to turn that off. It’s not saying that we necessarily value that more than our family because we share the same priority that family comes first, yet our actions don’t always indicate that because we get excited and lost in the fulfillment that whatever we’re working on brings. There’s that dance. It’s like removing ourselves from the shame cycle. We’re keeping that on us for not living up to our own expectations or goals but saying, “This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just I need to reallocate my focus so that it can show my wife that I love her more than anything.” It’s such a practice. I share that with you.
Before we started talking about it, it was much tougher now. I’ll hear something and she’ll be like, “Where’s your head at now?” She understands me so well at this point. I love her for that because she knows that my brain goes a million miles an hour. It’s so awesome when you have somebody who can support you in that. Now that we’ve communicated to each other that this is an area that I struggle, she brings me back in, “Where’s your head at? We’re having this conversation.” It’s not in a condescending way. It’s like, “I’m helping you out to bring you back in,” but I’m excited to see as we grow together how I can continue to come up with ways to combat what I call the monkey mind.
Speaking of marriage, you mentioned a few years in, how would you describe or define the season or chapter phase that you guys are in marriage now? I’m curious what’s the place after a few years you find yourself in, and how you would describe the season for you guys?
To be real and honest, it’s challenging. Loving somebody more than yourself and prioritizing their needs, their wants, and always having their back is challenging for both of us. We both acknowledge that and have those conversations. It’s been really good. We’re focusing on what are the good things that we love about each other. Let’s get back to that. Let’s figure out a way to encourage each other, to love each other, and to have fun because that’s what this thing is supposed to be.
I love that you bring that up because it’s a choice. At the end of the day, it’s a choice on both sides and you keep choosing it for it to work. There are going to be ebbs and flows always. I hear you on that and I love those words of wisdom there. Thank you for sharing. If we rewind the clock a little bit, I believe you played football at Caro State. After competing there, you jumped into the workforce. I know you were at HP for a while. I’d love to hear a little bit of your story in the transition from college to corporate, and then the transition from corporate to entrepreneur, the entrepreneurial endeavors that you’ve been in. I’d love to hear what those transition times held for you, what they taught you, and what you learned from those different seasons.
This could turn into a three-hour conversation because every season brought different things. What it comes down to is I’ve always known that I’ve had the entrepreneurial itch. My dad was a business owner. He always went out and found his own work. In his construction company, he builds some residential rental homes. He’s never worked for anybody. I worked alongside him growing up in the summers. I learned the principle of work ethic. Even through playing football, I played with some amazing athletes and some very hard workers, but from a work ethic standpoint, I would put my dad up against anybody. He has another gear and that principle from a young age has always stuck with me.
The example he set of, “I’m going to go out and find my work. I’m going to solve interesting problems without being told what to do,” has always been embedded in me. From an early age, I knew that about myself and I never wanted to go the corporate route at all. Early on, right after college, I was optimizing for life experiences. At the time, I was into fly fishing and archery elk hunting. I wanted to be able to take a whole month off in September and spend it in the woods, archery elk hunting.
One of my friends had a fence company. He built fences. His family was in the ranching industry and they had some connections with some ranches near Steamboat. He had a contract in place and he needed some help. I said, “I’ll come help you in the summers,” and with my construction background, it fits naturally into that. I was able to take September off and do my archery elk hunting. I did that for a couple of years and felt the need to start figuring my life out. You can’t just work in the summers and take the fall off, and then take the winter off and go skiing and do that. I jumped into the corporate world and I was at HP for a year before being completely done with it. I don’t like being told what to do. I like coming up with ideas on my own and I like chasing after things that I come up with. I’ve realized that about myself and I know that’s an ego thing, but it is what it is.
At that point, I started doing some entrepreneurial side projects. I was building websites, running Facebook ads for some clients. I jumped into this entrepreneurial community and that’s how I met my mentor. This guy still mentors me to this day. I run some startup out of Austin and I got embedded into that community. I started meeting other entrepreneurs and started bouncing ideas off of people. As I said, I met my mentor during that time. That was when I started taking off. When I had some encouragement from a person who was a little bit older than I was, who was a little bit further on their path on the entrepreneurial career, when I had a little bit of guidance, it was game over. I had actionable steps to take. That’s when I made the transition completely from HP into diving into buying businesses with my partner, Jayson.
I’ll take a step back. One thing I forgot to mention was I was working on all of these little startup ideas. For example, I tried to build the Airbnb for tiny houses and ended up building it with a no-code tool. I got to the point where I started getting people on the platform, and then went to another idea. My problem was I was coming up with ideas, I would get them to a certain point, and then I would have the shiny object syndrome. I shared this with my mentor and we did a personality test. He’s like, “I’m the same personality that you are.” Here’s what one of my mentor has told me, “Commit to the people rather than the things. Figure out who in your life you can make a commitment to and start practicing.”
I started with my wife and this leads into the story about how I met my business partner, Jayson. At the time, I was working remotely for HP. I had moved to Winter Park to optimize for a lifestyle decision to be close to outdoor activities. I started working out at The Perk Coffee Shop, which was originally Jayson’s. Jayson and I got to know each other and for whatever reason, he started the coworking space in Winter Park. We started working alongside each other. For whatever reason, we felt this urge to start working together. I applied that principle that my mentor had told me of commit to the people rather than the things.
Whenever we started this initial partnership together, it was like, “Jayson, I’m going to make a commitment to you because I know this about myself. I come up with ideas and it’s so easy for me to move onto the next idea, but I want to try this.” We shook each other’s hands. We went into partnership, looked each other in the eye and said, “I’m committed to you.” That was a few years ago. That was ultimately what has gotten me through COVID-19. It would be easy to give up on these things with what happened from a revenue perspective, with our brick-and-mortar businesses. Having that commitment to that person and that partner in the business has helped me in this
Commit to the people rather than the things, what great advice. I love that journey. It was a great overview of the path. I love that everyone’s path is so unique, catered, and tailored to their own journey and what they need. There is no right path in that sense. I’m interested in learning a little bit more on what you’ve seen in going through this in a committed partnership versus what you see in others who were doing it on their own. That’s something that I have experienced on the other side of trying to do most things on my own, and now I have a partner in my wife, and other aspects I’m looking for partnerships in. It’s a different journey and has inherent limitations to it. I’d love to hear maybe now that you’ve been around entrepreneurs for quite a while, and you’re involved with networking with entrepreneurs and the businesses you run. What have you found that’s unique value out of having a committed partner like the organization structure that you and Jayson have versus solo, versus even a team of more individuals?
It comes down to one thing for me. I proved very early on before I was married and in a committed relationship. After college, it was easy to provide for myself. I proved that if I was going to be providing for myself, then all I need to do is work hard for a summer. I can then take many months off and optimize for life experiences, but that’s not the stage of life I’m in. Would I change anything about that? Absolutely not. That was unique to my personality. I needed to have those experiences. The question that I would ask is, what stage of life are you in and what is most important to you right now? Different stages require different amounts of commitment. Once I got married, now I feel this commitment to provide for my wife. As we start thinking about having kids, I’m feeling that responsibility. I’m working a lot more now than I was the year after college, but it’s what motivates me. It’s because I am committed to my wife and my future kids one day, if God willing.Commit to the people rather than the things. Click To Tweet
As far as the business partnership goes, there is a deeper level of responsibility that I feel each and every day for when I wake up. I feel like my body is naturally waking me up. I literally couldn’t sleep. It was like at 4:00 AM, I’m ready to go because there’s so much that needs to be done. We’re in a challenging time. Our brick-and-mortar businesses, we’ve lost revenue there. We have to get creative and make this thing work. That responsibility is not only for my wife and my future kids one day, it’s now for my business partner and his wife because of the equity agreement that we have.
My actions on a day-to-day basis don’t only affect my family, they affect my business partner’s family. To me, that’s motivating. I can’t sit here and tell you that that’s the one and only path for everybody, but for my personality, that is. To answer your question, I would probably ask a question, what stage of life are you in? Identify that and then, what are your priorities? What are you trying to optimize for right now? Along with that, is there anybody else that you’re specifically trying to provide for? That all goes into the equation.
What I love about what you shared too is it highlights the importance of taking ownership. The fact that there are a lot of people like my wife, she works with a company that arguably takes the award for dysfunctional team of the year award. It’s one of those things where there’s a group of people that are all on the team that have their own backs and no one else’s. They’re only taking ownership for their own role and part in that. What I love about what you shared is that you say, “This is more motivating for me because not only is it my skin in the game, it’s this other person that I care about, and I want them to succeed as much as I want to succeed.” That’s such a more empowering place than this defeating, “I want to succeed. I don’t care if you do or not,” mode, which unfortunately, a lot of corporate environments can induce, and a lot of dysfunctional teams can induce. That’s a sweet perspective to hear in such an empowering place to be, especially in partnerships like that.
Speaking of this season we’re in and the challenges you faced, I’d love to hear a little bit more about owning multiple coworking spaces, and then a coffee business as well. How those have complemented each other and been uniquely compatible in the sense that they’ve taught you some of the things or your skillset is wired for both of them? How they’ve been challenging and different, and how you’ve had to overcome those obstacles in owning them and moving forward as an entrepreneur in that?
With COVID-19, we own brick-and-mortar businesses. As you can assume with people being locked down and confined in their houses during the early stages of COVID-19, and then with people being more uncomfortable going into public, it’s been a challenge. That’s just me being real and transparent. I’ll take it back to the beginning of COVID-19. When it happens, we lose half a revenue overnight. I remember going into this “What the heck is going on” mode for two weeks. It was depression. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but this is where having a business partner is so valuable because at that point, it would have been easy to give up.
I remember getting on the phone with Jayson and we came to the conclusion, and it was him who led this. He was like, “The reason I got in partnership with you is because I am so confident in your ability to go back down to Denver and figure out a way to make this thing work.” That is ultimately what I needed to hear right at that time. I switched out of that mode. It was like, “Let’s take emotions out of it. Let’s look at this thing logically. Logically, what do we have? We have two options forward. We can give up or we can get creative and figure out a way to make this work.” Right then and there, that’s the option we’re choosing. We are going to get creative. We’re going to figure this thing out together and make this thing work. From that point on, things changed.
People started showing up in Winter Park with the push to remote work. People were moving to their second homes in the mountains. Other people were uplifting out of San Francisco and Chicago, and moving to the mountains. Our Winter Park coworking space has thrived throughout this whole time. With coffee, it’s been up and down. We’ve had closures that we’ve had to abide by. Our approach with this whole thing is we’re going to do whatever we need to do to stay open. We are also going to do whatever they’re telling us to do from a mandate perspective. We’ve followed that this whole time. Given the constraints we have, we’re going to do the best ability that we can do every single day. That mindset throughout this whole time has led us to things like investing in this roaster that we got.
We were so excited about it and we had always looked into this. It’s a zero-emission roaster called a Bellwether Roaster. It’s a new technology and it reduces emissions by 90%. We’ve been looking at it for a couple of years. We got to this point where we were like, “This is something we have to do to diversify right now.” Had we not been in that mindset of, “We have to get creative and make it work,” I don’t know if we would’ve taken that risk or invested that capital. We knew that we could invest that capital to increase our margins on our bean sales by roasting in-house. Also, that opens up new sales channels.
We can go and acquire wholesale accounts in Winter Park. Jayson’s done a fantastic job of going out and acquiring those wholesale accounts. We’ve also invested in building out a Shopify store. Now we can sell subscriptions to our coffee. We can do monthly deliveries. We can do one-off deliveries. It goes back to that mindset of getting creative and making it work. That’s coffee. With coworking, we’re looking at the market and as you know, people have been pushed to working from home and a lot of people enjoy it. What we’re looking at is how do we take the concept of coworking and replicate that in an online format in the short-term.
I fully believe coworking is going to come back stronger than ever over the long-term because a loneliness pandemic is going to set in. People are going to realize that they need to be around people. In the short-term, we’re getting creative by creating a community. It’s like creating coworking in an online setting. What do you get when you join a coworking space? You get a desk, but that’s not what most people are paying for. They’re paying for the network, for the connections, and the community. That is what has led us to creating EntrepreneurHQ, which is the online community for entrepreneurs. That’s ultimately how we’re getting creative now. I will say it probably a thousand more times before this thing is over. It comes back to that decision. You can either give up, or you get creative and make it work.
Give up or get creative and make it work. That’s the rally cry that everyone needs to hear and preach to themselves, especially in the era we’re in. I’d love to hear a little bit more. Speaking of EntrepreneurHQ. I know this is one of the newest endeavors. Where is it at now and what do you see for what your hopes are that it can be?
I launched and we’re at six paying members. I’m going to document this process. I am sure I will fail many times and I already have. I tried to do a launch before, but didn’t get any traction so I had to change up the offer. This whole game of building online businesses is such a challenge and there’s so much strategy that goes into it. I get so excited by that of figuring out the pieces to that puzzle. It’s been fun. What it comes back to is I love being around entrepreneurs and I love what happens when you get entrepreneurs in the same room or over the same Zoom cal. Ideas start to happen. Friendships are made. People start working together on projects. We’re already working on some new projects together with people who are part of the crew.
Ultimately, what I see is when entrepreneurs come together, big problems are solved. The way I see Green Spaces and EntrepreneurHQ working together is I believe there are many people out there who are aspiring entrepreneurs like myself when I was working at HP. They’re also early-stage entrepreneurs. If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, what is the next goal that you’d like to achieve? The first milestone in that process is to take the leap of faith. The first portion is to help aspiring entrepreneurs take that leap of faith and to provide encouragement and resources for those people.
Once you’ve taken the leap of faith, you’re considered an early-stage entrepreneur. You’re an early-stage entrepreneur as well. You know all the challenges that come along with that. You also know that and tell me if I’m speaking too far out of line here, at least for me, it’s this way. I can’t go and talk to all of my family and friends about strategy and how I’m thinking about. People’s eyes glaze over when you start talking about version rates and the sales funnel. Whenever you can get in the room with entrepreneurs and start riffing on that stuff, it gets fun. You’re like, “You should test this. You should test that. Here’s how you should think about this. I’ll give you feedback on that.”
As an early-stage entrepreneur, you’re thinking about millions of different things. How do I change up my ad copy? How do I structure my landing page? How do I drive traffic to this? Which sales channels should I focus on? What are my strategies for onboarding once I get new users? Those are the struggles of an early-stage entrepreneur. If you can get those types of people together, now you can start voicing those struggles that you’re having. On top of that, the biggest benefit for when I joined an entrepreneur community early on was there were people who had gone before and who had some success already. Whenever you can connect early-stage entrepreneurs with successful entrepreneurs, things start to happen. Whenever you can get advice from people who have gone before, that is where the gold is.When entrepreneurs come together, big problems are solved. Click To Tweet
The ultimate goal is to provide a network of people who have been successful in entrepreneurship, and then connect them to aspiring early-stage entrepreneurs to provide resources, advice, tips, tricks, strategies, and ultimately help those early-stage entrepreneurs along in their path. Where the Green Spaces philosophy comes in is there are massive problems within this world, poverty, clean water, hunger, climate change, you name it. There are a ton of social and environmental issues that need to be addressed. The reality is if you want to address those, you have to have some capital to tackle those.
What I get most excited about is creating a community of entrepreneurs who can build success together with the principles that, “We want to use business for good, but we’ve got to figure out a way to generate some capital to do that.” If we can aggregate a like-minded crew of entrepreneurs who have that end goal in mind to solve big problems in the world, business becomes more than just about making money. It’s long-term. The definition of entrepreneurship in its simplest form is a problem solver. When you can get problem solvers together who have the capital to tackle big problems, that’s what I get excited about. It’s a long-term mission and it’s a process. We have to start at step one, and step one is getting early-stage entrepreneurs together while building the list of mentors to help those people succeed.
What a great vision. I love that. That’s sweet to hear. It gets me pumped up and this idea of business for good. It takes all of us. No one can do it on their own. We need each other. Every single person has unique skills, giftings, and abilities within that can benefit the whole. There’s no shortage of opportunity. As you said, when entrepreneurs come together, big problems get solved. Especially when you bring them together under the mission and umbrella of running and pursuing a business for good, not for self, but for others, and ultimately the environment and the world around us. That is such an empowering place to be. It gets me pumped up and why I’ve been proud to be a part of Green Spaces in the past as well, and hopefully in the future. I love what you guys are doing. Before we wrap up, I’ve got a few one-offs. This has been a lot of fun, Austin. I’ve appreciated it. Just a few questions and we’ll be on our way here. Less, more, and none. What do you want to do less often, more often, and not at all?
Can you give me a few seconds to think about this one?
It is deep reflective and it’s shot from the hip. Take as much time as you need.
I’m into ski touring but it’s hard to fit into my schedule. I’m down in Denver a couple of days a week or a few days a week. I feel like I have to squeeze it all in on the weekend. I love exploring. I had this idea of going on a hut trip sounds so fun, like hiking into a hut, doing some backcountry skiing. For me, that’s a long-term deal because I don’t have the avalanche training courses. I need to make time to do that. I want to give the mountains the respect that they deserve. If you’ve been following anything in the skiing world, there have been a lot of people who’ve lost their lives to avalanches and it’s very unfortunate. If anybody out there is considering backcountry skiing, do your homework first and get your education. That’s something that I am personally going to do forward, step foot in the backcountry.
I’m learning how to ski. I’m skinning up the resort to get my legs underneath me and learn how to ski because I’m normally a snowboarder. I want to do more of that. That’s a long-term goal for me to work towards. I allocate time to that. Less of the monotonous tasks that come along with the business. I don’t enjoy the accounting stuff. I don’t enjoy going back and forth. Even though I enjoy connecting with people, I can’t stand when it’s a three-email sequence of like, “Does this time work for you? Does this time work for me?” I want to do less of email. Less of email in general would be awesome, and then not at all. I could easily say email for that one as well. Email for not at all and less of email too would be awesome.
What can you not imagine living without?
At this point? It’s crazy. The first thing that comes to mind is my MacBook because that’s how I do business.
Honestly, it takes one computer problem where you’re down and out, and you quickly realize that 95% of what we do for work nowadays involves that. I’m with you.
It’s so contradictory because I said that I want to do less of email, but I told you that I couldn’t imagine living without my Mac.
What book or books have had the biggest impact on you?
I’m a huge Deep Work fan by Cal Newport. I read that and that pushed me into creating productive cycles. It’s thinking about how to work productively. The points that are made in there are very fundamental and they’re obvious points like eliminate social media, decrease your notifications. For me, that’s the extreme part of it, but what I’ve taken from that is when I’m working on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Productive Cycles, I put my phone and my laptop on do not disturb. The principles in there are obvious, but he paints the picture of doing your best work is fulfilling in itself. That principle can apply to many areas of life. Do something to the best of your ability and set yourself up for success.
Doing your best work is fulfilling in itself. I couldn’t agree more with that. It’s beautiful. If you could teach a class for a semester, what would you teach and why?
I’m teaching a course called Zero to Blog. That’s the first one that comes to mind because that’s what I’m actively teaching. What it does is takes somebody with zero experience in writing or building a website. I help people set up their website web flow. I’m going through the principles of SEO. We talk about writing your first article.
Check that out. If you’re wanting to start a blog or have any interest in writing, that’d be awesome. What are you most proud of in your work or life thus far?
I would say my marriage because I didn’t expect to get married as early on as I did. That has fundamentally helped me so much for the rest of my life. The principle of commitment has taught me so much because as somebody pre-married who jumped around between idea to idea in business, making that commitment to somebody else transfers to so many other areas of life. It’s challenging but it’s also rewarding to be able to look somebody in the eye and say, “Let’s figure out a way to have fun. Let’s figure out a way to love each other well, and let’s focus on the good qualities about each other even in challenging times.” To me, there’s a lot of reward in that. Once again, that principle translates over to business for me.
The final question that we ask everyone that comes on this show is if you could send a morning text reminder to every up and comer out there, what would you say and why? This would be a short message they get on their phones every morning from you.
“Today, you can either give up or you can get creative and make it work.”
Austin, thank you so much for taking some time and sharing this conversation. It’s been encouraging and informative for me to hear and I’ve enjoyed it. Where’s the best place for people to find out more about all the businesses and work you’re up to?
I’m most active on Twitter, interestingly enough. It was a platform that I let sit idle for a long time but it seems to be there’s a lot of entrepreneurial activity on Twitter. I picked it up again. I’m @AustinRileyGray on Twitter. I write on my blog as well and that’s AustinRileyGray.com.
Austin, thanks again for coming on and sharing a bit of your story, and what you’re thinking and working on. It’s been sweet to hear.
Thank you so much for having me on. If anybody’s read this who is an aspiring or early-stage entrepreneur, and you want to connect with somebody who’s been there before, I love meeting new people. Feel free to reach out. I love the entrepreneurial spirit and I’m always down to connect.
Until next time. Thanks for coming on. For all you reading, we hope you have an up and coming week because we are out.
Following up with one last thing to note, if you would like to get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from, whether that be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering, or even some sermons I’m enjoying, In-Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Go to ThaneMarcus.com/InThane to sign up and you’ll be sure to receive the very next one. Each edition of In-Thane is released on the first Sunday of the month. This is a once-a-month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.
- Apple Podcasts – The Up and Comers Show
- Patreon – The Up and Comers Show
- @UpAndComersShow – Instagram
- The Perk Coffee Co.
- Green Spaces Coworking
- Austin Gray
- Deep Work
- Zero to Blog
- @AustinRileyGray – Twitter
About Austin Gray
My name is Austin Gray.
I’m the founder of EntrepreneurHQ & also own The Perk Coffee Co. & Green Spaces Coworking with my business partner, Jayson. In my free time, I love spending time with my wife Bayleigh.
We enjoy all of the outdoor activities Colorado has to offer but specifically snowboarding, mountain biking, fly fishing, and hiking with our dog Jade.
Check out our YouTube!
Send us an email – email@example.com