Since its founding in 2012, CircleUp has been named a CB Insights Fintech 250, Top 5 Most Disruptive Company in Finance by CNBC, a Forbes Fintech 50 honoree and one of America’s Best Entrepreneurial Companies by Entrepreneur magazine. The company counts Smarty Pants Vitamins and Barnana snacks among its clients and has raised $53 million in funding, according to CrunchBase.
Each week, GOBankingRates sets out to discover what makes the people behind top companies tick. We like to call this series “Best in Business” — and Eakin really is one of the best. He told us why it’s so important to have teammates who challenge you, how being a parent shaped the way he built his company and ways that you can find (or build) your own dream job, too. Below, find our favorite moments from the story of how Eakin launched his business.
He’s an Entrepreneur Investing in Other Entrepreneurs
In previous jobs, I was heavily involved in social impact investing. I have always felt strongly about the positive benefits of providing capital at the right time to entrepreneurs looking to grow their businesses. Entrepreneurs in the consumer industry face such a difficult road to funding because capital is much harder to access compared with early-stage tech investing. Our hope with CircleUp is to truly break down these barriers for entrepreneurs, and along the way develop a new model for scalable early-stage investing across many different industries and geographies.
Pushing into any new challenge always creates uncertainty and fear. With CircleUp, we were, of course, afraid of failure, but more for me was the fear of what I would find in myself. It is a constant challenge to who you are. How will you show up day in and day out over a period of years when facing constant challenges? Launching a company requires you are honest with yourself about some of the big questions around work ethic, leadership, and trust in yourself and in others. It is a very revealing practice.
He Believes a Business Is Only as Good as the People Who Work There
I was struck (and still am) by how quickly ideas and processes are shaped by the team. From our very first hire, a fantastic colleague named Bryce, I saw how CircleUp would no longer be a static idea that Ryan [Caldbeck] and I had, but a living, evolving organization. That was the most surprising, and in the end, fulfilling part. It also underscores how people are the most important part of any organization. You have to surround yourself with teammates who will challenge your thinking and drive change every day.
On the flip side, it becomes much more complex when people are involved. The possibilities grow exponentially, but you need processes and structure to harness and capture that potential. This remains the hardest part of growing today.
When my co-founder Ryan and I started CircleUp, we were adamant about instilling a culture of learning — something I experienced in previous jobs and wanted to impart on CircleUp. We both believe strongly in testing ideas and assumptions, and we want everyone at CircleUp to feel empowered to take charge of an idea or test a new hypothesis. I get very proud at full team meetings when a new employee, from a different team and background, asks a pointed question of a senior leader. My hope is to create an environment where we are all engaged in growing the business and can respectfully challenge the points of others.
His Company Shares a Birthday With Someone Very Special
My son plays an important role here, though he doesn’t know it. He was born the same year, within a month, as when CircleUp launched. So the two have grown together. The patience, balance and perspective parenting has taught me has been a huge support and parallel to building CircleUp.
He Gets His Advice From the Greats
I have always been drawn to a quote from Teddy Roosevelt: “The greatest gift life has to offer is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing.” I think it’s meant more for professional than personal life, but it has resonated with me as a guideline to enrich both.
To me, success is harmony in your life — whatever that means to the person. For some, that is a balance heavily weighted toward [a] career at times, and family and friends or other pursuits at other times. But success means you are living a life that meets both your needs and desires and [the needs and desires of] those around you — so there is consistency, integrity and richness in how you show up in all of those worlds. I don’t believe you can be successful if you feel torn to be someone different than you are to certain audiences, or don’t have control over where you spend time.
His Final Thoughts on Starting a Business
Whatever you think it will be, it is more — more challenging, more rewarding, more humbling. Building a company is a remarkable journey that tests you daily, but if you are at the right time and place in your career or life, then I would recommend it to anyone considering.
Click through to read more about what you should know before you start your own business.
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This interview has been edited and condensed.