The quote above is often attributed to Socrates, but the delightful irony is that the quote has no verifiable source. Whether or not it was Socrates, or a misinterpretation of Plato’s paraphrasing, or someone else entirely, the quote still carries an important truth—A lot of times, and honestly probably all of the time, we know nothing (Ygritte would be so proud).
Determining and accepting what we don’t and didn’t know has been pivotal in our development as a company. A successful entrepreneur asks as many questions as one can, but the admittance of ignorance is not always. Sure, it’s easy to ask a few questions at the beginning and then slowly wind down, believing you’ve learned everything you can, but that simply is impossible. It takes a heightened, intentional self-awareness to not only be able to ask and ask, but to keep yourself from forgetting to ask.
Our self-commitment to questions has helped us to forge relationships with incredible people who have mentored us, advised us, and pointed us along the way to entrepreneurial success. It took us a great deal of that self-awareness to bring ourselves to remember the importance of asking. The five founders knew very well how little they knew.
We’ll focus on Jim Kitchen, an entrepreneur in-residence at Chapel Hill. Jim gave us a launchpad—both figuratively and literally, given that he’s our office landlord—and provided us with strategic recommendations and an expansive network of other professionals to reach out to with our incessant questions, all of whom have helped us in countless ways.
Triad came to know Jim through Tristan, who had him as a professor and admired his worldly, entrepreneurial background. Like us, Jim delved into business as a college student, creating a company that packaged travel, hotel, and other accommodations together in such a way that targeted college students looking for spring break plans. In the time since, he’s pursued other ventures.
As his student, Tristan badgered him with questions and conversation after class and in the process developed a relationship that has time and time again been crucial to Triad’s direction and growth. The relationship became so influential to Tristan that he realized his goals for medical school at the time were not what he actually wanted to achieve, and so he switched his focus toward business and entrepreneurship.
Jim’s generosity to Triad has been enormous. Aside from his general business knowledge that he doles out, he helped us secure an office space last summer—within hours. The summer started with several weeks of the team working and sleeping in Tristan’s living room when Tristan reached out to Jim and inquired about office space. Later that day, Jim handed over the keys to a new office space, which Triad has since expanded into an office with an attached conference room on Franklin Street.
He gives back to the broader entrepreneurship community, as well, through his work at Launch Chapel Hill. Companies started by our peers on campus have used Jim as a key resource for working through the difficulties of starting a business and his dedication to young businesspeople is unmatched.
But Jim’s story is not limited to Chapel Hill. Throughout his life, he has traveled to quite a few countries—a staggering amount, actually, of 180. 180 countries, where has not simply stepped over the border and said, “Welp, it was nice to see you, Djibouti!” In each place, he pushes his comfort zone and explores the cultures and histories of the incredible places he’s been able to visit. He’s documented his travels on videos, which Triad is currently working on consolidating into a videographic travel journal of a scope that could rival Magellan, ibn Battuta, Marco Polo, and all those other guys.
It’s difficult to imagine where Triad would be without Jim and his endless advice and assistance. He exemplifies the concept of a professional mentor and is someone who has deeply impacted this company and the lives of our team. Helping to compile and edit the videos from his odyssey is the least we can do to reciprocate what he has done for us.
But Jim is not our only mentor, and he has encouraged us to seek other opinions and perspectives from other professionals who have met success in business, like Tim Flood, a Kenan-Flagler professor who advised us on building a portfolio and optimizing our website. Sharique Hasan, a graduate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at Duke helped us identify the mistakes NOT to make and gave us substantial business direction. Dave Fouts, a regional CFO, advised us on forecasting and financial planning, and David Spratte, a fellow entrepreneur, has answered our questions about business strategy, sales, and managing people.
These mentors, and many more, have listened to our questions and our concerns with patience and have responded with passion and interest in our endeavors. Their selfless advice has taught us so much about starting and running a business, but also about how to engage with clients, how to interact with the market, and much beyond. But it is important to remember mentors cannot give advice without questions that prompt it. We’re lucky to have a team who never stops wanting to ask and learn, and a humility that allows us to keep from getting too comfortable with what we know, because without that pursuit for advice and knowledge, we would not be the company and the people we are today.
More on Jim Kitchen:
Tristan had him as a professor and admired his background and his story. Jim was an entrep in college as well and started a spring break vacation planning company targeted toward college kids. He packaged travel, hotel, accommodations all together before it was a huge thing. He did it specifically for spring break, his business took off from there and he did that throughout college. He’s done several other ventures. Tristan appreciated his experience and asked him questions and contacted him. That’s how his connection with Triad began.
When we were working out of Tristan’s living room over the summer, Tristan reached out to him and let him know we wanted office space. Offered us space in his building in the room next door. Since then, we’ve expanded into the current offices and then added a conference room.
Justin and Baaqir have had classes with him, continued his connection with the company and its people.
Tristan—relationship started in class, he tried to impress and would ask him questions after class. Had great conversations with him, asked a lot of questions. He’s the one who made me further pursue entrep and ultimately led me away from med school. Good chance I wouldn’t be doing this without my conversations with Jim Kitchen.
Jim had been an advisor to us from the start, very interested. Gave us the office space within a few hours of us reaching out for space. The team was sleeping on Tristan’s apartment floor basically and knew that it would be bad if they kept it up all summer.
Gave us good advice on how to split equity, what positions to create and what markets to go for. He’s very big on competitive advantage and gave us a lot of advice. He was the first guy on our Board of Advisors. He saw us emerging and our relationship grew from more professional to
Write about the fact that Jim is how we want to be in the future. He values really fun shit, he gives back, which is something I see us all doing in the future (he gives us the office for basically nothing). Generosity to entrepreneurship in the community is great.
Update as to where we are now with Jim: He’s reached out to us to help with branding himself, producing videos for him that showcase all of his trips he took when he traveled. He’s almost traveled to every country (he’s been 180 out of 193 countries). He’s spent a few days at least in every single country and takes videos to document his experiences and does unique and memorable things, such as immersing himself in the cultures.
When referencing other people, it shows that we look for a variety of opinions, but it’s okay to center it around Jim as the exemplification of what an advisor can be. All the other advisors offer unique views in unique aspects of business, so there is not much overlap but Jim is key.