The Leap: On entrepreneurship with #WFHStudio founder Daniel Calderon

Welcome to The Leap! For this IG Live series, Wethos CEO Rachel Renock sits down with entrepreneurs who took the leap toward working independently or starting their own project.

In this episode, Rachel sat down with Daniel Calderon. Daniel is the president of Entrepreneurs Of Tomorrow (EOT) and the founder of #WFHStudio. EOT teaches at-promise Black and brown students to solve problems through entrepreneurship and innovation and they’re launching their first campaign to reach 10,000 Black and brown entrepreneurs by December 2023.

At #WFH Studio, Daniel’s got a roster of master creatives. They produce art and direct different things like design projects, films, and videos, and have worked on global and national campaigns across several countries, working with brands like Spotify, Netflix, and Playbill, to name a few. 

Watch the full interview here or read below to learn more about how Daniel manages two businesses, how he applies his corporate background when pricing his work, and the tough lessons he’s learned along the way.

Note: The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

RR: Daniel, really, really stoked to dig in today. Would love to start by hearing about your journey of starting and launching a couple of businesses and how it has evolved over time.

DC: I left my corporate career about six years ago. I used to be a senior HR business partner over at Amazon, and then I was an HR business partner, running HR for eight stores out in Hudson Valley, New York for Target. I have a nine-year corporate career and it’s been really great to take a lot of those learnings because a lot of people talk negatively about working for a company. Literally, I was paid to learn and paid to learn by some of the best companies in the world. I’m just so grateful that I got that opportunity to learn and test things out before I had to struggle and lose money myself.

There’s been a couple of different things that I’ve done, that brought me to this place I’m in now. I’ll lead with Entrepreneurs Of Tomorrow (EOT). Right before the pandemic in 2020, me and my co-founder Jack Salomone were going to launch a program for EOT in Trinidad and Tobago and New York. We were going to partner with Samsung. Then the pandemic happened, and we were like, oh, what are we going to do? I was nervous about losing money. I was nervous about the future of the project that I was starting, but then also, what is life going to look like as an entrepreneur?

The response to that was to create something really cool with a lot of other entrepreneur friends. We created this party called #WFH party. We were like, okay, we can’t do EOT yet, so let’s do this party. I reached out to a couple of friends, and folks over at CCNYC, Culture Con. We had a lot of support and we created a party that went pretty viral. It was supposed to be one party and it ended up being seven different reoccurring virtual shows. It was so amazing. That was supposed to be it, then I was going to go back to my regularly scheduled program and move forward. 

Then Samsung reached out and they said, hey, can you produce virtual programming for us? Then not only did Samsung reach out, it was Playbill, then it was a nonprofit that was working with Disney. It was like so crazy. I was like, whoa, where did this business come from?

Unfortunately, the death of George Floyd pushed way more business to us but it was a reckoning with America to say hey, how do we support black creatives? How do we support black entrepreneurs? I ended up benefiting from that unfortunate situation, but I’m just grateful to be here. I’m grateful for where we have grown. 

I know we started a party to celebrate black and brown creatives and to raise grant money. Now we have a bigger responsibility. Now we’re getting bigger checks from brands. How do I distribute and spread this wealth amount to my people?

Fast forward to now, at #WFHStudio we only specifically work on projects that shine a light on any sort of cause, whether it be environmental or racial justice or social justice — any sort of cause that helps move the world positively forward. To be able to pick who I want to work with, whether it be brands or other artists, has been such a great blessing that I know a lot of my peers don’t really get the opportunity to do.

RR: Something that I hear a lot from our community is that there are a lot of people who have multiple businesses or even multiple revenue streams, whether that’s products or services. Can you just help us understand a little bit more about what your actual day-to-day looks like? How do you prioritize your time across these different initiatives? Any advice for folks who may be managing a couple of different things?

DC: I think it’s a constant journey for me in terms of day-to-day. I’m now doing a lot of bio-hacking. What does my health look like? What does my sleep look like? How do I control my thoughts? Part of my routine is, one, I have therapy every week and it really teaches me that most of my thoughts are not real.

My thoughts used to rule everything that I did. Once I was able to really get better at that — and I’m still a work in progress — then that changed my meditation practice. That’s how I normally start my mornings. Exercise, meditation, gratefulness. It is intentions for the day. It is my morning walk. It is my reading. Then my podcast. I do all of those things before I open up an email because if I don’t really manage myself or if I don’t pour into myself, I’m not going to be really good for other people.

At the beginning of the year, I said I was going to decrease 50% of my workload, which has worked and is more expensive to do because you have to hire people to do that. Part of the reason I was going to reduce 50% of my workload is so that I could fill the rest with self-development because where I want to go and the success that I want to have, it’s going to take a lot of self-development and practice. That’s what I’m doing. I’m doing a lot of speech classes. I’m doing a lot of reading when it comes to finance. I’m doing a lot of leadership training and I’ve been heavily recruited lately for some C-suite, high-level executive positions. Let’s see where that takes me. It’s pretty exciting, but I think all of that stuff helped me get to the level of getting that sort of interest in the world.

RR: So speaking of mental health and tough lessons, I was curious to hear if there was a lesson that you learned the hard way that maybe other entrepreneurs can take something away from when building a business. Whether that’s like avoiding the pitfall or maybe learning the lesson, not the hard way? Does anything come to mind for you when it comes to the journey of building?

DC: One big “aha” lesson that I learned is allowing people to be. So allowing people to be themselves personally and giving them the opportunity to succeed. That was so hard for me, because there’s a certain quality level that I expect of myself, and because I expect of myself, I expect it of others. What I had to learn is that the expectation that I create for myself, doesn’t necessarily have to be the expectation that I placed on others in a very nuanced way. Of course, you have to have high standards, but you also have to leave room for people to meet those standards.

I don’t think I was doing that well enough or I was patient enough. Knowing that, what I realize is that the investment in the company is not only to get the things done, it’s also [an investment] in your people. 

I know that I’m going to have unproductive hours and those unproductive hours translate into way more quality work in six months than I would’ve gotten done in two months. If I’m more patient and allow people to grow themselves, I actually benefit way more. That was one lesson that I learned the hard way because I lost a lot of money doing the opposite.

RR: I want to get a little tactical for a second because when it comes to building a business, especially when it comes to services, there is a big cloud over how to price. How do we charge? The reason why I ask this question is because it’s very unique to service-based businesses. In no other kind of business are you in the dark, totally guessing. Like [no one says] I don’t know how much to sell my books for, because we all know how much books cost. How do you think about what you charge, how you charge, and how has that strategy evolved over time as you’ve grown? Are there any things that you have learned about tracking, either profitability or figuring out what the right price point is for your business, that has helped in that regard?

DC: I would say, predominantly black and brown people charge less. And it is [due to] anxiety because we are worried about getting the job.

I used to work for big brands, so I know how much things cost. But being on the other side of it, my asking for those things was a problem. I was so surprised. That’s why I said it was very beneficial to work for a brand because you understand the data. You understand a lot more.

A lot of that stuff, I know that it was race-driven. Because some of those same people that said no and or they said yes and lowballed us and we walked away, asked us to come back after George Floyd died. It was just unfortunate. So that was one thing that I learned — the power of talking. The power of talking to other creatives so that you can get a really good understanding of what people are charging. 

I think it’s also about understanding the market. If you’re not doing research, if you’re not asking those questions, if you’re not booking gigs just to see how much it costs another competitor, you’re really behind. The answers are there for you and you just want to make sure that you’re sticking to your guns in that way and having that confidence.

RR: A lot of people right now are going through layoffs, so maybe they’re not going freelance by choice. My girlfriend actually just went through that, but hey, she’s already got some projects lined up and she’s ready to roll. So any advice for folks, who are looking to take the leap and the starting their freelance business, or maybe found themselves there, maybe not by choice?

DC: So if you are working and want to take a leap, make sure the business is right. I would love to give you an inspirational speech about following your dreams and how you don’t need to work for anyone and all that. We are in a recession. It’s very important to have cash flow. If you do not have cash flow, you’re already behind. 

Whatever it is, whether it be a job, whether it be [freelancing], make sure that you have cash flow to be able to survive, because it’s going to be very hard for you to grow anything when you’re struggling. That’s one piece of business that I’ve been through because I’ve quit without having anything lined up [and] it was just the hardest thing to do. I’ve made it to the other side, but there are so many things I didn’t have to experience if I was smarter with cash flow or not overconfident in my ability to turn a profit in less than a year.

Make sure the business is right. The cash flow is right. Having a job is not a bad word. Make sure that you’re set up for success, not like you’re behind and you’re trying to catch up with your own business, which is very difficult. We all know the statistics of how many businesses last. If you’re starting a business already behind, that’s an even worse statistic.

Ready to take the leap?