Tess Hottenroth, ClickStartMe, Crowdfunding, The Story ExchangeYour Name: Tess Hottenroth

Business Name: ClickStartMe, a crowdfunding service

Type of Business: Arts & Entertainment/Coaching & Consulting/Design/E-Commerce/High Tech/Marketing & PR/Social Enterprise/Crowdfunding

Business Location: Tampa, Florida, United States (available worldwide)

Reason for starting
ClickStartMe began with a desire to restore the American Dream. People have become disenchanted since 2008. Lenders clutch bailout dollars without lending. Political posturing, partisan blame, and empty promises aren’t fixing the economy. I met people with phenomenal ideas that were going nowhere and dreams that weren’t taking flight because traditional funding sources had dried up. I wanted to be proactive instead of giving in to disenchantment. We can’t rely on the problem to create a solution. We need people power-the basis of crowdfunding. What better way to rejuvenate the American Dream than by leveraging the power of people inspired by your idea and willing to put their money and heart behind it? Our goal is to make the Dream a reality again, one project at a time. Every revolution needs a renegade. ClickStartMe is revolutionizing crowdfunding. I want to find other renegades and support their revolutions.

How do you define success?
While I could give a rambling definition filled with examples, Bob Dylan has a definition that’s far more eloquent and simple than anything I can offer. “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” Pronouns aside, I believe that success is a personal journey, not a judgment call by an outside observer. Success is about discovering yourself and working to fulfill that passion.

Biggest Success
After graduating from university I spent two years in Nigeria volunteering in hospitals and health clinics. I returned to the U.S. and was accepted to medical school. About two weeks before classes were supposed to begin, I decided not to go. Becoming a physician had always been my goal, but I realized that as much as I loved medicine, I couldn’t do everything I wanted in life and devote my life to the operating room. It took me a few years of wandering (geographically and with respect to career paths), but eventually I realized what I wanted to pursue. Although I had worked hard to get to that point, deciding not to pursue Plan A, especially when there was no Plan B, and subsequently discovering talents and passions I didn’t know I had, has been my biggest success.

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Biggest challenge, without a doubt, is finding A Players. When I started my own business, the most immediate lesson I learned is that you cannot settle for employees who are B or C players. Hiring a warm body simply to fill a position isn’t just a waste of money; it’s something that affects the work ethic of the rest of your team too. But finding A players is not easy. One way I have addressed this is my being very hands-on in the hiring process. Rather than delegating the hiring to others completely, I insist on meeting with every person who makes it through the initial screening process. I conduct less formal interviews (more storytelling than Q&A) so I can actually get to know people, and I look for people who are smarter than I am at what they do best.

Who is your most important role model?
Ann Pickard, VP-Shell Australia, has been a mentor/friend since I was 19. Ann never needed an exhortation to Lean in–she knew her potential was hers to achieve. I often ask myself: “What would Ann do?” The lessons: Ask the simple questions because there’s always something to learn. Mentors aren’t there to be nice. It may be harsh, but take the criticism and learn from it, or go find a place with people will pander to you. The only way to maintain sanity is to look for humor in every situation.

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