Collin Powers is the Founder and CEO of Ellyra, a developing revolutionary VR software for tennis training. The app allows players and coaches to work together one-on-one in real-time from anywhere in the world as well as access never-before-seen training analytics. Before founding Ellyra, Powers played professional tennis for 6 years and worked part-time as a tennis coach in the Netherlands.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in Houston, Texas in a normal suburban family. My parents have always been incredibly supportive of everything I have done, and I am so grateful for all of their support. The biggest experience that shaped my adult life is when I started a company with a close friend of mine in high school. At the time LED technology was new and was beginning to be used for various purposes.
So, my friend and I started a company called A&C Lights that sold LED Christmas lights. We were fortunate enough to secure a $10,000 loan which we were able to repay in full within a year. We operated this company for a couple of years and by the end, we were selling our lights to customers in all 50 US states and most of Canada. I still remember driving around the city looking at lights that we had sold to clients and thinking “this is here because of us.” In a small way, we were making our mark on the world. It is a feeling that has motivated me to pursue entrepreneurship ever since.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
There are a few things I wish I realized earlier in life, but there are two that stick out. This first one is that it is ok to take risks, especially when you are young. If things go wrong, it is an opportunity to learn about why it went wrong and how to grow from that mistake. The other and the arguably more important point I wish I learned earlier is that the answer is always no unless you ask. There have been many times early in my life where I did not pursue something because I didn’t think the person I was speaking with would respond to my email or that if I requested something they would just say no and I would lose an opportunity.
The way I look at it now is, what is the worst-case scenario, more times than not it is simply that the person says “no” which would be the same end result as if I had never asked. Realizing this has given me much more confidence as I realized the worst-case scenario is the status-quo and the best-case scenario is an opportunity to better myself or my company or whatever the case may be.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
In the entrepreneurial world, there is a glamorization of outside investment. This outside investment can be very beneficial for an early-stage company as money is a tool to get things done. However, once an entrepreneur accepts an investment they are no longer the only stakeholder in the company and have to take the investors’ wishes into account which may alter the course of the company from the entrepreneur’s vision. Within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, there isn’t enough praise for bootstrapping. If you can create something without the need for outside investment it will benefit you in the long run. For many companies, this is not possible, but if you can bootstrap, especially in the beginning, it will help you later on.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I have been fortunate to have had a rather stable life. However, the financial crisis in 2008 was a very trying time for myself and my family. At the time I was in high school and my father had a business developing houses. Unfortunately, due to the impact on real-estate caused by the crisis his company was forced to close. It was a scary time for us as my parents struggled to make ends meet. It was a few years before life returned to any resemblance of normality, but it taught me many valuable lessons. The first being that no matter how hard things might be, if you persevere, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. Secondly, it has taught me to diversify my income sources away from just a salary.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
One of the biggest contributors to my success so far has been teaching myself how to program. It has allowed me to bootstrap my product development and achieve more with a smaller team. In the early days of the company, we had a technical founder who was going to work on the programming side of the product development. However, before we were able to incorporate the business, he received an offer to pursue a dream of his that he could not refuse. After a few days of uncertainty, I decided that I would teach myself the necessary skills to be able to do his job as well as my own. I am so glad I did, as I was able to personally grow a great amount from this decision.
What is your morning routine?
Every morning I get up at 6:30, make a cup of coffee, and read a book related to something I am trying to achieve. At 7 I get to work either with product development, emails, or any other pressing matter that needs to be addressed first. Then around 7:30 I make a second cup of coffee and keep working. I take a 30-minute break for breakfast around 9 and then progress to another task that I need to focus on.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
One of the habits/behaviors that has most improved my life is my mindset/personal goal of doing at least one thing every day to better myself. It could be anything from reading an educational book, or learning new programming languages or methods, or learning new recipes. It is amazing to see how far you can go in a relatively short amount of time if you do a little each day.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
My strategy for being productive and using my time most efficiently is to create a schedule that works best for my needs and sticking to it. With that said the schedule needs to be flexible enough to handle unexpected situations that occur such as last-minute meetings.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
The books that have influenced my life the most are Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury. Rich Dad Poor Dad changed the way I look at money and work. It taught me to find opportunities to make my money work for me as opposed to solely working for money. Getting to Yes is a very important book in my opinion. It is one of, if not the leading books on negotiation and talks about methods to achieve the best outcome for both parties which is vital to any negotiation in life, from work up to deciding what to have for dinner and everything in between.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
I have two main quotes that I live by. The first is: “The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can’t are both right. Which one are you?” by Henry Ford. This quote always inspires me to push myself to achieve more and to believe in myself. The second quote is: “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything” by Dwight Eisenhower. I firmly believe in having backup plans in case something goes wrong. But it is planning for the worst-case scenario that is more important as it gives you a chance to think about how best to approach the situation.