In the mid-2000s, when John T. Meyer, was student at Iowa’s Luther College, his dorm room wasn’t just a refuge after grueling exam days. It was also the headquarters of Motsus, his self-run search engine company. Entrepreneurship was all over his platelets, but for a while he played it safe, working as a consultant for Blue Brain Consulting while still attending Luther.
Meyer recognized that although a great many companies were growing their businesses online, and were leveraging the web’s influence, there were still others who needed to get into the game. He decided to explore the possibilities by launching Motsus, a company that helped businesses mold online identities.
Meyer left Motsus and accepted a position with Accenture, as a Management Consultant. He lasted there for a little over a year, before giving in to the voice in his head that was telling him that solo was the way to go. To that end, Meyer founded 9 Clouds and ran it alongside his brother Scott. That venture would win Meyer a great deal of recognition, including as a Finalist at Bloomberg Business Week’s annual Young Entrepreneur’s Competition.
Two years later, Meyer conceptualized Lemon.ly. The company has given the zealous Minnesota Twins fan the opportunity to gather all his loves together: social media, communications (Meyer is a current contributor contributor for Silicon Prairie News), entrepreneurship and design. Lemon.ly’s trademark services include infographics—creative and zany images that sum up complicated data, and overall visual management. Governmental agencies like USAID, drink giant Pepsi, retail Titan TJ Maxx, Toyota, Amtrak all call on Meyer and his team when they need to simplify information they present to consumers.
An intrepid entrepreneur, Meyer never really tries to play it safe, even in minor things, like choosing the headquarters for Lemon.ly. The company is actually tucked away in good ole Sioux Falls, South Dakota, far from the tech hustle and bustle of say, San Francisco or New York. Meyer’s team is headed by Creative Director Amy Colgan, and he works alongside his brother Scott.
With everything the entrepreneur has on his platter, he actually manages to find time to write a newsletter called The Point Letter, which can be subscribed to here.
It goes without saying that being an entrepreneur has its good days and has its bad days. John T. Meyer probably reenacts Minnesota Twins triumphant game moments in his mind during those moments.
How do you usually start out your day?
Everyday I write down in my little notebook the 8 things I want to get done that day. I call it my “8 for the Day.” I write down 6 work things and 2 personal things. I figure if I can’t get 8 things done in an 8 hour day then my priorities are off. It really helps me get set for the day.
Was the name of your company pretty much a no-brainer?
Not exactly. I owned the domain name lemon.ly because I just really liked it. I wanted to use it but never knew what for. When we made our first infographic I thought, what if we help turn people’s lemons—boring data—into lemonade—sweet infographics. It seemed like a perfect fit.
Do you and the Lemon.ly family ever feel lonely…in that you’re in Sioux Falls, whereas all the other tech companies are on the east or west coast?
I think we miss out on some of the events and random run ins with fellow entrepreneurs and creative simply because the density of tech companies is so much smaller here in Sioux Falls. But this place is home for all for us and we’re working at creating our own entrepreneurial community here and encouraging others to build cool things.
What tips do you have for new entrepreneurs on getting attention, on getting press from the media?
Focus on your story and what makes you unique. Tons of people are building really amazing things, but what makes you unique and why should they tell your story. At Lemonly, we help people tell their story through visuals, but there are many ways to accomplish this goal. My advice would be to focus on the why of your story and not the what.
Complete this sentence: When life gives you lemons you…
Make infographics. [Smiles]
Sometimes we need a breather from the people we work with. In your case, you work most closely with your brother.
It’s definitely different. It works because my brother and I have different skillsets and we’ve learned where our strengths/weaknesses overlap and where we can help each other. In this case he runs our first company, 9 Clouds, and I run Lemonly. This gives us each autonomy over our daily work which really helps keeps the balance.
What are some of the things you’ve learned about launching a company that you’d like to pass on to others?
It’s really hard. So I would emphasize the importance of solving a problem that you’re really passionate about. Work on a problem that needs solving and that you want to wake up every day to work on. There will be lots of ups and downs, but if you have your sights on fixing a problem, you’ll be okay. Also, surround yourself with really great people. Hire people who are smarter than you and get out of their way.
Are there times when you wished you were working for someone else?
Only when I’m feeling lazy. Sure, there are days where I wish I could just check out at 5 pm and take my paycheck. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. I love what we’re building and I love the challenge of trying to make the world an easier place to understand. Controlling your schedule is also pretty awesome.
There’s been times when we’re sitting in a class and we’re wondering when we’ll ever use that stuff in real life. Out of all the subjects you studied in high school, which one—or ones—would you say has been the most helpful in your journey as an entrepreneur?
Theater. Business is all about people and relationships. Being able to confidently present your story, answer questions and be in front of people is critical. I think experience in theater gave me this confidence.
Has a Minnesota Twins game ever made you cry?
Not a game, but I definitely cried the day when Kirby Puckett had to retired. He was forced to retire because of an illness and as a 10 year-old that was very hard to swallow.
If your life was one big infographic…what would we see on there?
Hah, that’s a great question. Lots of data about the amazing people who have made an impact on my life. Family is so important to me. You’d definitely see some stats about sports, music, and travel. The overall look and feel would be very minimal and clean. I love simple.
Lemon.ly is definitely growing. Is it easy selecting people for your team?
It’s easy to know what type of people we want. We really focus on culture and want to make sure that not only is the person right for Lemonly, but that Lemonly is right for that person. Being in Sioux Falls, South Dakota can make finding that particular person a bit more difficult as selection is more limited. But that being said 9 of our 11 team members are from South Dakota and work in our office. There are some incredibly talented people here.
What’s the best—let’s put it another way—what’s the most helpful business book you’ve read in your life so far?
Rework by 37 Signals. Far and away my favorite business book. That book made me question how I work and I changed a lot of things.
When things start to get too overwhelming—like when things get too stressful—how do you keep your hair and sanity intact?
Writing really helps me clear my mind. I think a lot about focus and how I can be a better entrepreneur and person. I write a daily letter called the Point Letter about the topic of focus. I hope it helps other, but I know it helps me.
Do you think skipping college and launching startup is the way to go?
I went to college and launched an okay startup, I think. I’m not sure I can point to specific classes or lessons from college that helped me launch my startup, but I know the life lessons, people experiences, and maturity process definitely helped me launch my startup and grow my team.
Do you see yourself still running Lemon.ly five, ten years from now? Or do you think you’ll have moved to something else?
That’s a great question. I love being an entrepreneur and I always have new ideas and projects I want to tackle, but right now I feel like we have a good thing going with Lemonly and we have a big mission we’re working on so I’m committed to building Lemonly. Ask me in five years.
Be sure to visit Lemon.Ly here. —Kat