Professional SpotlightSpotlight

Benjamin Koren, the founder and CEO of Frameology, knows how important it is to use your time wisely and to push yourself. Having majored in International Relations at Brown University, Benjamin went on to study at Columbia Business School. After he spent time working abroad in Brazil, he started his own company that focuses on making printing and framing beautiful and easy.

Benjamin has had a variety of experiences that he has both learned and grown from, and he shares some of those lessons. Whether he’s living abroad and working, studying to earn a degree, or making the most of every day to build his company, Benjamin seizes his youth day in and day out. Read on to learn more about what a day in his life looks like, what he’s learned from being an entrepreneur, and what books influenced him at different parts of his life.

Name: Benjamin Koren
Education: Brown University and MBA from Columbia University – Columbia Business School
Follow: frameology.com / @BenKoren

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Benjamin Koren: Taking the opportunity to really push yourself to learn and have experiences. It’s about using your time wisely and getting the most out of a very unique phase of your life.

CJ: What did you major in at Brown University, and how did you determine what to study?

BK: I studied International Relations. Honestly for me it was a bit of a cop out. IR allowed you to take classes in a lot of different things, and as I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, it seemed appropriately broad. And I love to travel so there’s that…

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CJ: You later attended Columbia Business School. What inspired you to earn this degree, and how did business school help you?

BK: I kind of fell into business. I originally wanted to be a lawyer. My first job out of college was as a paralegal at Shearman & Sterling working on IPOs (initial public offerings). These are transformative events for most companies and are super interesting for that reason. However, I found myself most drawn to the business aspects, not the legal ones. After a year at the law firm I was fortunate enough to get a job at a merchant bank that was one of Shearman’s clients.

CJ: You’ve spend time working as a paralegal and in a private equity company in Sao Paulo, Brazil. What is it like working and living in another country? What were those experiences like?

BK: It was awesome. Living in another country for a period of time is something I would recommend to everyone. It’s challenging – you’re forced to be independent and figure things out that are not so easy to understand (either because of cultural or language barriers). For me it was one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences I’ve had.

CJ: You are the Founder and CEO of Frameology, a company that makes printing and framing beautiful and easy. How did you come up with this idea? What were the steps necessary to execute your idea?

BK: I came up with the idea when I wanted to buy a framed photo for my girlfriend as a gift for Valentine’s Day. To my shock, I couldn’t find anyone online who would allow you to upload a photo and get it printed, framed and shipped to you. A light went off. Framed photos are awesome – they make the ultimate personal gift and they help people focus on the things in life that are most important – their best memories. And my dad owned a frame shop so I knew a bunch about the business already. Starting Frameology was the logical next step.

CJ: What are the greatest lessons you have learned so far from being an entrepreneur and running your own business?

BK: Starting something from scratch is hard and it takes much longer than you think it will. I’ve truly learned so much. But if I had to highlight just one lesson, it’s the following: stay focused on your vision. Products will change, branding will evolve, the people helping you will change, but the founding vision is what provides the real consistency in your business and life. I (as founder) believe strongly that the people and experiences in life are what really matter. Our vision, as a company, is to help our customers to focus on the things that matter. Everything we do is a function of that vision, and we constantly test new tactics to bring that to life.

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CJ: Every day in your life must vary depending on the time of year and project you’re working on, but what does a Monday look like for you? Take us through your day.

BK: It does vary constantly! But let’s see. This Monday I woke up at 5:25AM to go to the gym (I know, it’s really early). When I got home I checked my Google Analytics account to monitor our key performances metrics from the weekend. I usually get into the office around 9AM. We have our company standup at 10:30. Then throughout the rest of the day I strategized with our Marketing Director about how best to promote a new program we launched for professional photographers. I fielded some questions from a TV producer that hopefully will put us on her show for a holiday gift spot. I spent time QA’ing some of the new features being built on our site. I participated in a planning meeting to decide on inventory levels that we would carry for the holiday season. I’m sure there were some other things as well.

CJ: What advice do you have for those interested in running their own business one day?

BK: Don’t give up. Starting a business is really hard. Things often don’t go the way you plan, but that’s OK. You will figure it out. Also: test, measure, analyze, repeat. When you have a startup, you actually know very little about the market in the beginning. You need to put together tests to figure things out. Measure the results. Analyze them and figure out if there is a better way to achieve your desired outcome. Then test again using what you have learned.

CJ: How do you stay organized and keep everything running smoothly?

BK: Asana. And hiring great people that I can trust.

CJ: With such a busy schedule, how do you keep yourself energized and inspired throughout the day?

BK: I try to stay in shape and eat well. I think that’s really important to maintaining energy. Most importantly I try to keep focused on Frameology’s vision. We want to help people focus on what’s important. Our customers upload such meaningful moments to our site, I’m constantly reminded of why we do what we do. One customer contacted me recently to tell me how he framed a photo from his wedding for his father in law, who was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He broke down in tears, because he was so moved by the gift. Hard not to be inspired by that.

CJ: What are some books, resources, and websites that have influenced you – either personally or professionally (or both)?

BK: Professionally, there are a lot. I read The New York Times and The Economist regularly. I’m also digging the new Apple News app. Personally, here are the books that really influenced me at different parts of my life: Catcher in the Rye, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Song of Solomon, and The Old Man and the Sea.

CJ: When you’re not working on growing Frameology, how do you like to spend your time?

BK: I spend all my time growing Frameology. But I do find time to hang out with friends and family (while working on growing Frameology).

CJ: What are you working to improve upon, and how are you doing so?

BK: Right now, really all of my attention is on my company. I don’t think much about personal growth and improvement these days. That’s not to say that I don’t have things to improve upon – I have a ton of things. But starting and growing a company just comes first right now at this point in my life. This goes back to what we discussed before about “seizing your youth.” When you’re young, you can put yourself first (or at least a lot of people can – some aren’t even that fortunate). Later in life you are responsible for others – employees, investors, children, etc. I’m sure I’ll have other periods in my life that at a later date.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

BK: Don’t force things – figure out and focus on what you love. Everything else will follow into place.

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Images by Ben Koren

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

We met up with Shavanna Miller, the Co-Founder and CEO of Bloompop, earlier this fall in a coffee shop in the middle of bustling downtown Washington, D.C. Having grown up in the area, Shavanna knew the in’s and out’s of the metropolitan streets and kindly helped point lost passerbys in the right direction. It’s no wonder that she now runs an online marketplace that connects consumers with the best local florists across the country (think ‘Etsy for flowers’) – she is a natural community builder. Apart from providing beautiful flowers and an incredibly easy and enjoyable browsing and purchasing experience, Bloompop’s true success is in helping small businesses and consumers build a stronger community network.

Shavanna graciously shares her career trajectory, how she stays organized, and why she ultimately decided to come back to D.C. after having lived in so many great cities. This entrepreneur is making the world a better place one bouquet at a time, and we’re so excited to share her interview and introduce the face behind the flowers.

Name: Shavanna Miller
Occupation: Co-Founder/CEO, Bloompop
Age: 29
Education: The German School of Washington D.C.,B.S. in Environmental Science and Film Studies from Columbia University, London School of Economics and Political Science
Follow Shavanna: Facebook | Twitter |LinkedIn
Follow Bloompop: Bloompop | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Shavanna Miller: One thing I’ve tried to do is always say yes to opportunities. Whenever I’ve had to make a decision on something that could be important – whether its deciding to take a new job, making a leap into entrepreneurship, taking on additional work for a committee, or even helping someone else out – I’ve never regretted taking those opportunities – even if not everything pans out. There are a few times I’ve regretted not taking them for some reason or another, and that kind of regret is much worse. So my definition of Seizing Your Youth would be to act rationally about the opportunities you might take, but to ultimately take those opportunities, especially early on.

CJ: You studied film and environmental science at Columbia University – How did you decide what to study?

SM: Those were two topics I really loved on a personal level. For a while I thought that I was going to be working in film so a lot of my internships in school were related to that. I worked at a production company and an agency for actors. Those experiences were very fun and I still have many friends working in that industry. But somewhere along the lines I realized it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. The environmental side of things was a personal interest that I’ve always had. When I was growing up I raised and bred aquarium fish. My parent’s basement was filled with aquariums; I think I had 30 aquariums or so when I left for college. That was a lot of fun and it was how I learned about basic genetics, water quality, etc. I probably started that in the fifth grade and it’s something I hope to get back to when I have the space again.

bloompop

CJ: What did you do after you finished studying at the London School of Economics and Political science?

SM: When I finished graduate school I went back to New York. I started my career at Meetup, which was a great introduction to both the startup and tech worlds. It was smaller then than it is now, so I really had a chance to interact with every department. Eventually I left Meetup to go to Rosetta Stone in Washington, D.C., which was a fantastic experience as well and is also a great company. I was promoted there to ultimately be the head of web sales for the US consumer side of the business. I was responsible for a huge part of the company’s global annual sales – definitely a big, exciting thing to have on your shoulders. I had an amazing team there and we did everything from social marketing, to managing email and paid search platforms, to working with affiliates, you name it – basically anything related to digital sales. I managed a team of seven people who each had their own specializations. We were a very young, fun team and I loved the company.

CJ: What tools do you use daily to keep yourself organized?

SM: My sister is also an entrepreneur – she’s the CEO and co-founder of Kabinet based in New York – and the two of us have an ongoing debate about how we manage our time, and what tools we use. There are so many tools out there you can use, and I feel like you can have as many apps as there are people since everyone manages things differently. I’ve tried a million of them, but honestly I always end up coming back to a notepad and pen. I keep trying to figure out how to modernize this classic method with technology. I heard about a partnership between Moleskin and Livescribe recently which sounds like it could be exactly right for me. And of course I also use google calendar for meetings so it can sync to my phone, but for actual tasks I always come back to paper and pen To-Do lists. Old school.

CJ: What made you decide to come back to D.C. where you grew up after living in a couple of different cities?

SM: I actually came back to D.C. because of the Rosetta Stone opportunity. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a job here, but it came up and it was an exciting opportunity. So it was almost a coincidence that I grew up here, but it’s great being around my parents again and being back in this city.

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CJ: Where did you get the inspiration for Bloompop?

SM: I’m someone who has always personally loved flowers, and what I discovered as I looked into this space was that it’s a really outdated industry in more aspects than I’d initially realized. I knew that the experience for consumers was really terrible, but it was shocking to discover how detrimental it is to the florists themselves. Local florists will often work with a mega-network like 1800flowers etc, but they don’t get to create any of their own designs, have no creativity in the process, and to add insult to injury often barely make money off of those orders. I’ve actually spoken with many who literally lose money on filling orders for the big flower behemoths. It was an industry ripe for disruption. I decided to take my experience in digital sales and tech, combine it with my love for flowers, and tackle this outdated industry with better quality products, better tools for both florists and consumers, and modern tech and marketing experiences.

CJ: What has been the greatest success since having started Bloompop?

SM: Definitely putting my team together. Matt, my co-founder and CTO, for example, is brilliant and also somebody who is such a perfect cultural fit with the company. The two of us get along amazingly and I’m finding that that’s incredibly important. We all spend so much time together, so being able to find the right people – on both a personal and professional level – has been one of my biggest successes. It was a very deliberate thing in finding them and building our team; it wasn’t something I took lightly.

bloompop launch

CJ: Can you please tell me a bit about your past experience with The Craft Factory?

SM: I’ve always been into DIY projects. Craft factory was something I started when I was back at Meetup. It was a group that came together every month and worked on a project together. I think that DIY is a stress reliever for me because at Bloompop so much of my day-to-day is digital – from web sales and marketing to product work – it’s very much sitting front of a laptop. DIY is a nice way to do something with your hands.

CJ: You also have an Etsy shop called HudsonScout – can you please tell us more about that?

SM: I’ve been an Etsy seller for several years now – it’s great because it has really helped in my understanding of the supply side of an online marketplace. Which obviously comes in handy now with Bloompop. My shop on etsy sells first birthday candles. I actually started HudsonScout by selling candles in every number, but what I eventually saw was that nearly 95% of orders were for First Birthday candles. So now that’s really what the whole focus is.

CJ: Although you’re a young company, has Bloompop hired interns before?

SM: We had two interns last summer but none currently. I feel like hiring interns at such a small company can have a huge impact – it’s a combination of figuring out what they can be doing that really has an impact and also providing them with a valuable experience. We want interns who will be excited about Bloompop and become serious contributing members of the team.

CJ: What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

SM: Become friends with professors at CU’s business school.

Image: Courtesy of Bloompop

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