My guest on Small Business Roundtable is Stephen Culp, Co-Founder of Chattanooga, TN based Smart Furniture and Delegator.com . Stephen is a serial entrepreneur and a believer in an entrepreneurial approach to everything. I am excited to have Stephen on the show for an engaging conversation around what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur and most importantly the biggest mistakes to avoid.
Stephen is a very smart, interesting and successful entrepreneur and will share KEY learning lessons for Success. You don’t want to miss this engaging conversation.
Please hear this show by clicking the Player located at the bottom of this post.
We dive into:
- Taking an Entrepreneurial Approach to Everything.
- Why Chattanooga vs. Silicon Valley
- The Smart Furniture Entrepreneurial Journey
- What happens when you drive a forklift over a drainage area?
- What is Delegator?
- Advice for Raising Money
- The Biggest Mistakes to Avoid
- Scaling your business
- Finding and Building the Right Team
- Building the Right Culture
Stephen Culp is a founder of Smart Furniture, Delegator, Causeway, Chattanooga STAND, a founding partner of the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund, and a believer in an entrepreneurial approach to everything.
As a former U.S. Naval Reserve officer, Peace Corps Volunteer, and, randomly, an attorney, Stephen has served as an advisor or director for the local Trust for Public Land, CreateHere, Chattanooga 3D, RiverCity Company, the Chamber of Commerce, the Company Lab, InnovateHere, the American Lung Association, the Theatre Centre, Chattanooga STAND, and Causeway, a nonprofit he is founding to support civic entrepreneurism. In 2010 he represented the Chattanooga region as a Marshall Fellow in Europe, and in 2012 he will become a trustee of the Lyndhurst Foundation.
An NCAA Division I fencer in college, Stephen graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with Highest Distinction, ranked 8th in a class of 4,000. While studying abroad in 1989 and ‘90, he produced an on-site photo & audio journal of the political revolutions breaking out across Eastern Europe. Traveling in Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East and West Berlin (vs. sitting in class), he spent Christmas 1989 hammering pieces off the Berlin Wall, pieces he keeps to this day.
In 1992, after a short research project for the United Nations, Stephen joined the United States Peace Corps. While learning Hungarian and teaching high school for two years in a small town in Hungary, his school named him Teacher of the Year.
Returning to the U.S. to earn a degree at Stanford Law School, Stephen also completed a graduate fellowship at the Stanford Center on Conflict and Negotiation, studying international terrorism. He worked briefly for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, DC, and again as an Intelligence Research Specialist for the FBI Olympic Squad in Atlanta 1996, where he ran a leg of the Olympic torch relay.
Starting his first (real) company in 1998 in a Stanford professor’s garage, Stephen set out to change an industry by inventing the first patented Smart Furniture®, pioneering the web-based “Design on Demand®” model, and bringing custom design to a whole new market– everyone. Applying the Peace Corps mission to help others to help themselves, his goal was (and is) to put design directly in the hands of consumers. Today, Smart Furniture is an industry leader in innovation, personalized design, customer service, and marketplace ethics.
Building on the belief in the power of people to help themselves, in 2008 Stephen co-founded Chattanooga STAND, one of the largest community visioning efforts in history, in 2010 launched Causeway, a 501c3 organization designed to support civic entrepreneurism, and in 2011 became a founding partner of the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund to foster local entrepreneurial growth.
Joined by talented entrepreneurs from Smart Furniture and elsewhere, Stephen founded Delegator.com in 2009. Built on experience in the business and entrepreneurial trenches, Delegator was born of necessity, created to help growing businesses focus on their core mission, and delegate the rest. With a fast growing list of clients, from 2-person startups to 150MM companies, Delegator relies heavily on the integrity of its team, and focuses on getting things done right, on time, and on budget, every time.
Stephen was born in Birmingham, Alabama, youngest of five boys, and is now, finally, married, to one of his heroes, Karen. His interests include international affairs, athletics, and asking too many questions. He has climbed the Grand Teton in Wyoming and Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, holds a black belt, is (was) an avid surfer, and appeared on the November 2004 cover of Inc. Magazine. He also used to speak several languages, but now they’re all mixed up in his head. Finally, Stephen can tell you what happens when you (1) roll a forklift perpendicular over a drainage ditch, (2) drive 30,000lbs of inventory across the country in a truck rated for 10,000lbs, and (3) drive away from a gas station with the pump still in the tank, twice.■