Sheldon Barrett is a busy guy. He is pursuing a degree in engineering from the University of Florida with a triple minor in business administration, entrepreneurship, and sales engineering. At the same time, he is running his Gainesville, Florida, company, Cocovana, which makes an innovative “can opener” for opening coconuts safely in a few seconds.
Starting his business presented plenty of challenges, from securing a patent to finding a manufacturer. However, one of the biggest obstacles was something he never heard professors talk about in business classes: friends becoming envious and derailing his progress toward his goals.
Many of Barrett's friends are fellow engineering students who plan to get 9-to-5 jobs when they graduate rather than pursue the entrepreneurial path. “They see me being able to wake up at any time, and having the potential to make a much larger income than they do, and they get jealous,” he says.
Resisting the Lure
The more subtle forms of derailment are well-intentioned. Friends who are entrepreneurs might invite him to accompany them to a networking event, telling him it would be a great way to make contacts. “It’s hard to resist the lure to hang out with friends,” he says. “But you have to prioritize what you’re going to do.”
Barrett realized an evening drinking with friends at a local networking event didn’t actually provide a business benefit, unlike, say, attending a trade show filled with retailers who might stock his product. When the invitations from friends came in, he had to assess if that was really how he wanted to spend his free time.
He says his ambitious goals can only be accomplished by being efficient and using his time wisely. He makes to-do lists to keep him focused on things that will keep his company moving forward rather than with stuff that is more fun, like tinkering with designs.
Reaching Out to Mentors
For all the self-discipline, Barrett is anything but anti-social. His LinkedIn profile invites “other product designers, entrepreneurs, engineers, or just interesting creatives” to get in touch with him.
He constantly seeks out contacts, emailing professors in different departments for their advice on everything from marketing to design. “Everyone I have asked for advice has said yes,” he says. “Networking with professors has been incredibly valuable.”
He has also reached out to mentors outside the university, one of whom connected him to the overseas manufacturer with whom he now works. “Most of what I’ve learned about entrepreneurship has been outside the classroom,” he says. “That’s what separates me from most of my peers.”
However, he carefully considers his use of time even outside of business matters, such as doing what it takes to stay healthy. Barrett got the idea for his product when he started drinking coconut water to help his battle against high blood pressure. He now maintains a vegan diet and makes sure that his to-do lists include time for yoga and daily runs. “If I don’t eat healthy and exercise, I feel sluggish,” he says. “If I take time out for those things, I feel better and am more efficient.”
While he guards his time preciously, he still gets together with friends socially; he doesn’t want to miss the Florida Gator college football games after all. “If you’re an entrepreneur, there’s always more work you could be doing, but doing more work all the time may not get you where you want to go,” he says.
The key is that now the activities are based on his needs and goals, rather than time-sapping lures coming from others--even from his well-meaning friends.
Barrett won Get Started Gainesville 2017, a fast-paced pitch competition developed and sponsored by Cox Business.
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