Starting a business is hard enough. But try launching a venture while training for the Summer Olympics. That's what Jake Cornelius, Charlie Cole, and Nick LaCava did. Last year, these members of the U.S. men's rowing team launched LetterPeg, a website that matches students with tutors in a virtual classroom.
Why on earth would they do this to themselves? Because when the athletes were dispatched to California and Oklahoma for Olympic training, they started to miss their other companies. LaCava, 25, is co-founder of Chocomize, a New York City-based company that sells custom chocolate bars. And Cornelius and Cole, who are both 27, founded Milestone Academic Counseling, a tutoring company in Princeton, New Jersey.
The teammates say they turned to entrepreneurship partially as a way to support their busy rowing schedule. "It's pretty hard to tell an employer that you won't be able to come in until 9 or 10, and that you have to leave at 4," says Cornelius. "Or that you'll be traveling to Switzerland, but you don't know when or for how long."
Plus, entrepreneurship and rowing require a similar drive, says LaCava. "What I find most attractive is the direct link between how hard you work and the outcome you get," he says. "You own the results." And whether you're in a racing boat or a start-up, adds Cornelius, there's something gratifying about working so intensely with a small team that you can anticipate a person's next move without having to utter a single word.
But this time, it seems that the three entrepreneurs may have bitten off a little more than they could chew. This spring, as preparation for the Olympics intensified, they decided to suspend work on LetterPeg until late August. For now, the teammates don't want to think about anything other than rowing.
"I'm training hard and trying to get faster every day," says Cornelius. "This is probably my only shot at the Olympics, and I'm giving it everything I've got."