Published on Charlottesville Tomorrow
A skateboarder, a fashion designer, two CEOs and a record executive brought a common denominator Friday to the Tom Tom Founders Festival’s Founders Summit: They all had pursued businesses based on their passions. Rodney Mullen turned his preternatural talent on a skateboard, the consequent rabid fan base and a math and engineering degree into World Industries, one the most successful skateboard companies of the 1990s. Sukhinder Singh Cassidy used her experience as a Google executive as a springboard to launch online retailer Joyus and theBoardlist, an online tool to connect CEOs with female board candidates who are peer-reviewed and certified. Bill Crutchfield turned his passion for cars and consumer electronics into an Albemarle County-based, $250 million-a-year mail-order and retail electronics company. Becca McCharen left her job as a city planner to be a fashion designer. Her creations have been worn by Beyonce and Nikki Minaj, and her company works with Intel to combine clothing and technology. Each speaker also preached the values of flexibility, hard work and the passion to invest sufficient time to realize a daunting idea. “If I had sold my company 20 years ago, I would probably be senile or dead by now,” Crutchfield said. “Staying involved can be great for your longevity.” Cassidy stressed the importance of company founders to differentiate between the role of company founder and company CEO. “It’s the difference between, in some ways, the forest and the trees,” she said. “The job of the founder and CEO is to know when to be the forest and when to be the trees.” “In the end, for an invention to become and innovation, it has be true to the ethos of the culture adopting it,” he said. McCharen espoused the power of collaboration as a way to renew inspiration. During filming of a special for Amazon Prime, she said, she realized that collaboration often wins out over competition. “I gained so much just learning from my peers,” she said. “We were all competing for a prize, but there were no other swim lingerie and technology companies … so that was really cool for me.” In a question and answer session after their addresses, McCharen and Mullen expressed a shared sense of inadequacy that pushes them to achieve higher goals. “I never feel good enough, I feel like a fraud,” Mullen said. “Wherever I go, that sense of try harder is always pushing me. It may not be fear, but it is definitely an uncomfortable feeling.” For McCharen the push is most acute at the end of a project. “The worst moment of my life is five minutes after the fashion show,” she said. “It has been my baby for six months and then once it is out in public, I have this feeling of self-doubt, crippling self-doubt.” The Tom Tom Founders Festival continues through Sunday. A full schedule can be found at www.tomtomfest.com.