Last night, I renewed my commitment to Defy Ventures by volunteering as an executive coach at an event hosted by WIX in Chelsea. There was a small presentation, then speed dating-style resume review, business ideation and thorough business-related Q&A. I left feeling inspired and reinvigorated about tackling some of my own challenges.
I wrote a bit about Defy Ventures in an earlier post here. More about Defy can be found on their website here
— Kevin Weeks (@kp_weeks) July 15, 2015
A few takeaways from the event:
- These are seriously impressive entrepreneurs: Over the years, Defy has consistently tapped into an overlooked (and undervalued) pool of impressive, creative, aggressive, thoughtful, talented entrepreneurs: citizens with a criminal record. Many of Defy’s students were incarcerated for drug-related crimes, which can translate into pretty strong business fundamentals. Others just hustle. And hustle. And hustle. If there’s one unifying theme at Defy, it’s hustle. Defy’s EITs are some of the most impressive, inspiring leaders that I’ve ever been able to spend time with.
- These are amazing people: I can’t give enough positive praise to Defy’s EITs. Most are juggling multiple jobs, providing for their family, thinking about starting their business, and completing Defy’s rigorous online training. But they find time for the in-person Defy events, because that’s where the magic happens. When Defy’s EITs open up and share their stories, I’m often speechless. A few (somewhat paraphrased) quotes that stuck with me from last night:
- “I’m doing this so I can give my seventeen year old and my fifteen year old whatever they want in the whole world.”
- “I made one bad decision and now I’m stuck with it. For the rest of my life. But I just need to keep moving.”
- “My seven year old daughter was born 12 days after I started my two year sentence. I didn’t meet her until 12 days after her second birthday.”
- “I believe everyone deserves a second chance. I believe I deserve a second chance.”
- This is exactly where Defy’s biggest success stories were sitting 1, 2 and 3 years ago: Before the event, I made smalltalk with a few of the current EITs. They described the online learning modules that they’ve independently been working on before this in-person event. I was amazed that they showed equal awe and respect for the Defy grads on the videos as they did for industry heavyweights like Tim Draper, Duncan Niederauer and Seth Godin who recorded some of the modules. It makes sense though – those are Defy’s success stories. And they were in those shoes a couple years ago. Mikey Cole of Mikey Likes It Ice Cream presented to the first Defy panel that I ever volunteered on. Coss Marte, founder of Con Body, was one of the emotional leaders of the program’s third class (and one of his trainers kicked my ass at Prison Yoga last Sunday). Jose Vasquez was one of the most outgoing, thoughtful, appreciative EITs that I met in the first class and now he’s a learning specialist at Grovo, a NY startup that has raised VC funding from Accel, SoftTechVC, Box Group, Lerer Hippeau Ventures and Redswan, among others. Jose was also instrumental in helping me and a few others launch Defy’s Professional Network, a group of young professionals dedicated to raising awareness and money for Defy.
- Ok but how do I FEEL?: If you’ve ever been to a Defy event, you know that Defy is (too) good about asking how you feel. Not business. Not advice. Not observations. How do you feel? I feel inspired by what this group of people will accomplish. I feel appreciated, useful and helpful to the EITs. I feel fired up to take on whatever curveball gets thrown my way.
Email me if you want to get involved. Defy is now in NY, SF and Chicago!