Natalie Novoa : Teachmeo

TELL US YOUR STORY. 

I've been fortunate enough to have had only the best influences growing up.

My father and mother were both entrepreneurs. My dad having been co-founder of a bank and a BMW dealership back in Argentina, among other ventures, and my mom, having created her own clothing line while living in Miami.

Working 9-5 jobs for other people always bored me. I knew I wanted more. I felt that I was missing out. After being an art director with a very successful company for 6 years, I quit to pursue my dreams as an entrepreneur. It was one of the hardest and scariest decisions of my life — to leave a safety net with no savings to follow my gut — but once I left that office, there was no turning back, and I realized it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I felt better than ever. I was genuinely happy.

I had started a boutique photo studio to make ends meet before I quit my art director job, and in under four years we photographed more than 3,000 clients.

For me, the studio was a stepping stone to bigger and better things. I did everything from designing the website to marketing, to hiring, retouching and shooting.

I started doing side projects in between. I always had what I thought were great ideas. And I loved taking those ideas and finding ways to improve upon them.

One of the earlier startups I put together was called Hottest Happy Hour, a Yelp-like website that was strictly about happy hours, their menus, deals, and interaction with their patrons. It was a fun project that I thoroughly enjoyed. Then I did an e-commerce venture with political car flags during the 2008 presidential campaign that did fairly well and still sells products to this day.

I also founded Sundance VIP, which was an iPhone app with everything party related to the Sundance Film Festival along with RSVP emails. I later sold that to a marketing company in the UK.

TELL US ABOUT TEACHMEO. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO FOCUS ON EDTECH?

Teachmeo came about at a time when we were all feeling a bit down in the dumps. I had been out of work for an extended period of time and struggling to make Hottest Happy Hour work with minimal to no funds. My partner had been laid off, and the studio was going through a rough patch. I sat in the living room with my band after rehearsal one day and we brainstormed on ideas about how to change the world and help people cope with the declining economy.

My drummer Ky said, "Wouldn't it be great if we could teach what we love doing and make a living out of it?" And based on that simple idea, Teachmeo was born.

We are re-inventing education and the world of tutoring by providing a marketplace and community for teachers and students who want to learn anything, to connect worldwide via live one-on-one video. Our goal is to break down the barriers that exist between teachers and students based on location, while providing a customized and interactive experience with the most seamless user experience possible.

Why EdTech?

My parents were passionate advocates of learning new things whenever possible. My weekdays as a kid consisted of ballet, piano, theory, painting, ceramics, sports, and voice lessons after school.

I loved learning! And I truly believe we were put on this earth to learn and teach. That is our main purpose. You learn something new every day. And if you have to make a living, what better way than by fulfilling that highest of all purposes? I can't think of any more fulfilling and gratifying experience than to have learned or taught someone else something you truly cherish and love to do. Whether it be gardening, crochet, photography, yoga, trigonometry, banjo, you name it!

WHAT ARE SOME LESSONS YOU HAVE LEARNED ALONG THE WAY AS BEING A SERIAL ENTREPRENEUR?

My lessons learned as an entrepreneur always go back to learning and giving back by sharing your experiences and, hopefully, teaching people a few things they didn't know. I'm not going to lie to anyone, being an entrepreneur is very hard. It definitely takes a specific kind of person with a particular personality to endure the rigors of entrepreneurship. It is one of the most challenging and rigorous things you will ever do in life. But it is by far, one of the most rewarding and character-building things I have ever done, and I love every minute of it!

You will work hard and long hours. After quitting my cushy 9-5 job and pursuing being an entrepreneur, I found myself often working 6-7 days a week, 12-14 hours a day. The difference is that I now love every minute of it! As soon as I get up in the morning, I go straight to my computer to get to work on my projects. It's an energized feeling that I never had before while working for someone else. You have to dive into it to be able to experience it fully. To grow a company from idea to fruition is definitely a huge task, but oh so rewarding.

It takes a very disciplined individual to stay on track. When you have a 9-5 job, you have a boss who's on your back most of the time. So you better meet those deadlines right? When you work for yourself, you are your own boss. Which means that you have to constantly keep yourself on track, stay focused, set your own deadlines, and try not to deviate from them. I experience ADD at times, and this was one of my biggest challenges. My remedy for this was to turn all social media off (browsers and phone), turn emails off and check them only a couple times a day (morning and afternoon) at specific hours, and put your phone on vibrate. I also keep a written to-do list that I physically write and cross off when I complete tasks. I find it it keeps me on track and it's so much more rewarding to physically cross things off your to-do list on paper than an app. Call me old school.

Believe in yourself and never give up. Following your dreams is not easy. Believing in yourself, trusting that you are on your right path, and never giving up is key. Not every day will be perfect. There are days that I get up and don't want to do anything. There are days that totally suck. Days where I have $3 in the bank. Days where it seems like all hope is lost. Obstacles and challenges will always be there... this is how we learn. Life is a game. And being an entrepreneur is the most fun game of all.

Never give up - get yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going. One thing that helps me that I used to be skeptical about is meditation — quiet time. I try to start my day with 10-15min of quiet time.

Even if you're not spiritual, calming your mind, getting clear with yourself, and sitting quietly with no distractions is by far the best thing you can do before your workday. I tried to fight it, but when I do it, I am more zen about the obstacles that arise. I focus better during the day, and ideas and possibilities always come to me when I do. I highly recommend it.

Do your due diligence in all areas. Whether you are signing a contract with a new lawyer, an investor, incubator or accelerator. Always do your due diligence and read the fine lines - all of them. Don't be so quick to accept money no matter who it is. Often times, things that sound too good to be true are. If your idea and team are strong, you will get plenty of opportunities. Make sure you find the right partner. Your gut is always good for this too. And don't forget to ask questions no matter how stupid they may sound to you.

Take one day at a time. Entrepreneurs wear many hats in the early stages. Sometimes all of them. Often times you will feel overwhelmed. Take a step back, take a deep breath or two, prioritize a list based on importance, and cross items off one by one as you go.

Don't dwell on failed attempts, negativity, or blame. Place your energy on a solution and move to the next thing.

Get visibility for yourself and your startup. Apply to pitches and attend as many events as you can. And always have business cards on you at all times.

Make time for yourself. Startups are a lot of fun, but can take a toll on your body if you're not taking care of yourself and working all the time. What good is your startup if you're sick? Make sure you take time for yourself to relax at least 1 day a week, even if you do nothing. Very often, I get so caught up in what I'm doing, I forget to eat all day. And sitting on a chair 12hr days gave me horrible back problems. Take care of yourself. You are not a robot, and even a robot needs some maintenance once in a while. Take time during the day for yourself and relax at least one day a week where you don't focus on your startup. You and your startup will thank you.

How and where do you find a great co-founder? It's all about the networking. Go to the hackathons and startup weekends. Aaron's co-founder dating (now founder panel) meetup group is great as well for this and one of the first meetups I attended. Get out there and network. You will find likeminded passionate people. Angelist is also good for finding co-founders.

AS A WOMAN IN THE TECH STARTUP INDUSTRY, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ARE IN SIMILAR SITUATIONS?

Being a woman in tech in inspiring! Two years ago, I would have answered this question very differently. At first glance, you might think I'm a hard core feminist. But I don't see a line between gender and race in tech. It was a little tough in the beginning because the tech startup industry has been known for being male driven. I'd attend a Startup Weekend and out of 65 people, there were 5 women including myself. I see that changing every day.

My advice to women out there is to not focus on something that is quickly becoming a non-issue, and instead channel their energies into their ideas, passions, and solutions to change the world. It's great to celebrate our differences, but it's our commonalities that move our industries forward.

WHAT RESOURCES WOULD YOU RECOMMEND THAT HAVE HELPED YOU IN THE STARTUP HUSTLE?

The reality is that the startup tech scene and a lot of others are based on who you know. Three years ago I knew zero people in the LA tech industry. I didn't know where to start. I found an amazing startup called meetup.com and never turned back. I joined every possible tech meet up on there and went to all of them; even the developer ones. It is so important to get out there and network with people in the scene. Meet new people. Don't be shy.

Angelist, is a great way to get your company out there and find people that are true entrepreneurs. I have found most of my co-founders on here. It's a great way to expose your startup and connect with angels, and a great way to meet new team members.

Eventbrite is where most people here in LA post their events, even some that are not in meetup.com.

Stay in tune with everything tech. TechCrunch, Mashable, Gizmodo, Pando Daily, all the tech blogs and twitter feeds you can. It is very important to be up to date with everything tech. The Flipboard app is awesome for keeping all the tech blogs in one place.

Follow TechZulu and Digital LA. They are among the most high-profile organizations in the world of Silicon Beach where you'll have a chance to rub shoulders with the movers and shakers of today and tomorrow.

Connect with Teachmeo via Facebook and Twitter.