Antonio Calabrese is the founder & CEO of Boonle, a freelancing platform that connects people seeking digital services with those who are eager to kickstart their career. As a freelancer himself, Antonio is on a mission to help every new freelancer get started. Follow him @acalabrese83.
What is the first thing you did to turn your current business from an idea into a reality?
I left corporate life a few years ago to begin a freelancing career, knowingly taking a risk. Other than tinkering with some of my own projects and doing some work for a few one-off clients, I had little experience in web design. Like many new freelancers, the biggest challenge I faced was finding work. I’m out in the crowd yelling, “Pick me!” and clients are yelling, “Show me what you’ve got!” They wanted to view a strong portfolio of similar projects, and I didn’t have much to show.
I could have folded my hand and returned to corporate life. But like most freelancers, corporate isn’t my cup of tea, so I needed to find a way to develop a worthy portfolio. I began offering my time to friends, family and nonprofits to gain additional experience and build a portfolio. Because of my mentality, I was able to quickly refine my skill set and begin marketing myself as a professional. And so Boonle was conceived. I wrote down in great detail my vision of how it would work, how users would interact, and ultimately, how it would help people. I surveyed as many people as I could to help validate the idea, and then I put a plan together to finally build what is now boonle.com: an online platform specifically designed to help freelancers launch their careers by giving them an opportunity to build their portfolios founded on the principles of kindness and generosity.
What is the scariest part of being a young entrepreneur and how can others overcome this fear?
Not knowing if “it’s” going to work. Many people will question your idea, your vision and your goals and will in turn make you question yourself. Surround yourself with those who are working on building something and with those who have done so successfully. These people are your mentors, your friends and your sanity. Use those who question your vision as thought provokers. Take their (legitimate) concerns into mind and address them in your business model so that you can say, “I thought of that, and this is why it’s not a concern of mine.” As for the negative people out there, I’ll extend them basic courtesy. Other than that, I have no use for them in my life.
Were you ever told not to pursue your entrepreneurial dreams? Who told you that, what did they say and why did you ignore them?
People have questioned my ideas many times. But luckily, I have a fairly strong support network of people who believe in me. Truthfully, I don’t advise ignoring everyone. The most successful entrepreneurs are those who are focused but also open-minded. If someone who cares about you questions an idea or dream, listen to them because they may be able to provide value regarding how to make your dream even better. Move on from people who don’t support your dreams without any good reason.
What is the No. 1 thing you wish you’d known starting out and how did you learn it?
You can’t listen to everyone’s opinion and think they all matter. Others will have their own thoughts, positive and negative, and you need to be wise enough to decide which ones are worth considering. I’ve learned to actively listen to people, take the time to think things through, and ultimately, follow my instincts.
What do you recommend all new founders do for their business — or their personal lives — that will help them the most?
Don’t lose focus of family, friends and other important aspects of life. It’s easy to get lost in the grind of building your company, but you need to keep a clear mind in order to continue on the right path. Take the appropriate time away from business activities. Learn how to put your business on “airplane mode.”
How do you end each day and why?
I like to write down the successes I had for that day, no matter how small. It’s easy to dwell on what went wrong or what you didn’t get accomplished, which promotes negativity. Writing down successes ends the day on a positive note.
What is your best PR/marketing tip for business just starting up?
It’s never too early (or too late!) to start thinking about how you’ll market your business. There are so many areas where you can spend money, but they will not all be the right outlet for you. Take the time to do your research and put together a strategy for when you are ready to share your business with the world.
What is your ultimate goal? What will you do if/when you get there?
My ultimate goal is to provide a friendly and easy-to-use outlet to help beginning freelancers launch their careers by helping others. When I get there, I’ll explore other options to expand upon the concept of launching dreams by helping others.
BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.