Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Channeling my Creativity with Coffitivity


Raise your virtual hand if you are anything like me in the fact that you need ambient noise to study, work and/or be creative! I have NEVER been able to study, read or really concentrate in work/study environments without some sort of background noise. I have an attention span of about 5 minutes then I'm off in la-la land if I don't have some sort of noise around me.

In fact, even when I am performing surgery, I always have to have music playing in the Operating Room because it helps me concentrate and improves my focus!

So, imagine my delight when I came across a website that plays ambient coffee shop noise straight from my laptop ( Que my Happy Dance)! In med school, I studied in coffee shops so much that my family told me I should buy stock in them LOL! Coffee Shops are where I get my best blogging done as well. I can go into one of my favorite coffee shops at 1pm and Literally be the last person they are kicking out at 9pm....yeah, I get down like that!

Coffitivity was launched in March 2013 by four friends and recent college graduates in Virginia. Within just a few short months they have been named one of the 50 TOP Websites of 2013 by TIME Magazine!!!!!

After just one afternoon of blogging from home using the Coffitivity website to provide ambient coffee shop noise, I was Officially a fan! I was in my coffee shop element and my work was extremely productive that afternoon.

Check out the creative minds behind Coffitivity!

Coffitivity Re-tweeted my tweet and featured it on their website....very interactive and SMART marketing!

Below is my interview with ACe Callwood, Co-Founder of Coffitivity:

Dr. Carmen April:    Start off by giving me the names of the founders of Coffitivity......

ACe Callwood:       
My name is ACe Callwood and I'm one of the Co-Founders. Our Graphic Designer Co-Founder is Nicole Horton. The man with the plan and the brains behind the whole thing is Justin Kauszler. Then our heavy lifting web developer is Tommy Nicholas

Dr. Carmen April:   
Tell me a little bit about your educational background and then about your college major. 

ACe Callwood:       
Justin, Nicole, and myself graduated last year from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.  We did four years each and we all graduated in 2012.  Justin and I both majored in entrepreneurship, which is where we actually met.  I actually run the entrepreneurship program at the university now. It’s my day job.  Justin and I majored in entrepreneurship at the Business School at VCU.  Nicole is actually an interior designer by trade.  She was in the School of the Arts at VCU and majored in interior design.  Tommy Nicholas went to VCU his freshman year and transferred to the University of Virginia (UVA).  He graduated in 2011 and he majored in business and African American Studies.

Dr. Carmen April:   
Are all of you guys from Virginia?

ACe Callwood:       
Yes, Nicole and Tommy are both Richmond born and bred.  Justin and I are military brats so I’ve been up and down the east coast but did high school in the Hampton Roads area.  Justin is actually from Hampton Roads as well.

Dr. Carmen April:   
This is the first time that I had ever heard of a university having entrepreneurship as an actual major versus Business, Marketing, or Human Resource Management.  When did they put that program in place?

ACe Callwood:      
  Let me clarify that entrepreneurship is a subset of Business Administration and Management.  It’s a concentration of learning how to be a manager.  The core of our curriculum is focused on entrepreneurship and small business management.  There’s actually quite a few schools throughout the country with this major.  More and more people are getting excited about this, I’ll put it that way.  Here at the university, we teach disruption which occasionally gets people fired from a couple of jobs because they think too freely.  But at one point, they’ll settle into a good fit if they go out and get the job.  As the prime candidate for the job, they can go and shake things up to do some revolutionary innovations.  That’s what we push for with our students.

Dr. Carmen April:   
So that’s what you do full-time.  What’s your official title with the university?

ACe Callwood:       
I’m the Coordinator for Entrepreneurship at the School of Business.

Dr. Carmen April:   
Tell me where the idea for Coffitivity came from. Were you sitting around in a coffee shop one day and the idea came to you?  How did it come about?

ACe Callwood:       
Yes.  As I mentioned, Justin and I (I may refer to him as Jay here and there) work together on several projects now. Our first start-up actually conceptualized a self-working bike rack called CycleStay.  That was a huge project for us to work on for a year and a half.  Part of our curriculum is a business plan competition that is the majority of our grade.  We hired Justin for this project in our senior year.  After his graduation, we continued the project and ran it.  We were getting a lot of work done in coffee shops.  We brought Nicole on board to look at some of the designs that we were doing for CycleStay.  We were in and out of coffee shops over the course of two or 3 months, looking at the brand, how that would fit, and what it would look like.  We went through a sprint of four or 5 days in some of our favorite coffee shops.  Justin went back to the day job the next Monday or Tuesday and according to him, it was dead quiet in the office.  He was banging his head against the keyboard. He asked his boss, who is the mentor for both of us, if he could work in a coffee shop.  She looked at him like he was crazy.  Justin was in this environment where he couldn’t get the creative juices that he needed going and he realized, “hey, I can do some awesome work in coffee shops.  If I can’t get into a coffee shop, I can bring it to me.” That was his inspiration for Coffitivity and coincidentally, because Justin and I both work in academia- we read a lot of research and white papers.  I had just finished reading a white paper that indicates that playing a moderate level of ambient noise can produce creative cognition.  Like with everything we read, we pass that information on to each other.  Three or four weeks prior to Justin having his revelation, I told him about the research and thought nothing of it.  Fast forward a couple of weeks, he’s in this environment where everything’s a shock to him and then realize that “hey, this is what I want to do.  This sounds like a good idea at the time, there’s research to back it up, and we just need to run with it.”

Dr. Carmen April:   
How did you come up with the name Coffitivity?

ACe Callwood:       
The research actually cites creativity being boosted with ambient noise.  It was coffee, and creativity.  We did spend a day or two mulling over the spelling.  Coffee, c-o-f-f-e-e or coffie with an "i".  We thought that Coffitivity would be a little bit easier to say, to look at, and understand phonetically.  That’s a pretty simple ten second story there.

Dr. Carmen April:   
  How do you plan to increase revenue from Coffitivity?

ACe Callwood:    
An IOS app is coming out as well as our Mac app.  We’re super excited to have those in the Apple store.  We’re looking at a couple of merchandise options as well so people can have Coffitivity stickers to throw on their laptop, maybe a mug or two, or a thermos. It’s not quite up and ready yet, but those are in the pipeline.

Dr. Carmen April:   
What has been the response to the website? 

ACe Callwood:       
We officially launched on March 4, 2013.  It’s just over three months old and it absolutely exploded.  Our first day live, on the 4th, we had one hundred and twentyish views.  I think 124, something like that. I joked that our moms looked at it 120 times a piece and that was it LOL!  We told our friends and family, “Hey this is the thing that we built.  We built it for us and we’re going to use it.  If it works for you, that’s awesome!” The second day, we had 47,000 views and 49,000 views the third day.  So yeah, it absolutely blew up! We got a call from our server saying, “Hey you crashed our server.  You need to pay us more money to put the website online.” It was just a hectic day, that second and third day.  At that time we didn’t even have a Twitter account yet.  We got that geared up the second day.  It was wild!

Dr. Carmen April:   
How did the word spread that fast?  Because I was assuming that social media and Twitter may have been what spread the word, but you guys didn’t even have the Twitter account up yet.

ACe Callwood:      
Tommy Nicholas is our Growth Hacker.  We call him that because he does the majority of web development now. He is awesome at connecting, at the right place and right time, and making posts count.  We posted some information at the right time and it got picked up by the tech community.  The Hacker News bumped it up to the front page for a day and a half, maybe two days.  From there, I think Life Hacker picked it up first.  Within the first week, we had Life Hacker, Popular Science, Mashable, The Net’s Web, and I think Gizmodo.  We just had the big tech players pick this up.  That drove a huge amount of our traffic.  Our viral  mechanics were built into the site.  They were very calculated. That has been huge.

Dr. Carmen April:   
I also read that Time magazine recently ranked you guys among the 50 best websites of 2013!!!

ACe Callwood:       
They did!  We had no idea.  They never told us, nobody gave us a heads up.  We were stuck in traffic and Reggie, who does our analytics stuff asked, “What is techland.time.com?” We ended up following the link to Time magazine’s top 50 websites.  It was a pleasant surprise, to say the least!

Dr. Carmen April:   
You mentioned a little while ago about a smart phone app that will be coming out.  When is that set to launch?

ACe Callwood:       
No set date yet.  We’re still working on playing the Apple review game right now so we could get it bounced back for any number of reasons.  Fingers crossed that it’ll get out in the next two weeks and that’ll be for Mac and IOS.  It’s all pending review, submission, and how fast we can get it hooked up.

Dr. Carmen April:   
Lastly, tell me what is next for you guys?  You certainly shouldn’t reveal everything, but what else can you reveal that you guys have in the pipeline?

ACe Callwood:       
Somebody asked that the other day and I told them we were going to start a boy band.  That’s actually not going to happen, but it makes for a great story LOL!  Justin and I have cleared the dance moves.  Right now, we’re going to sprint for the app.  Getting that out is huge!
Very soon and hopefully within the next week or when the app launches- we’ll be doing cool redesigns for the site.  You’ll see more audio tracks.

Dr. Carmen April:   
Do you know where most of the traffic is coming from?

ACe Callwood:       
Yes.  Our top listening city is actually Seoul, Korea.  They’re number one on the list, followed by New York City.  We have the usual suspects- DC, London, and Richmond, VA.  We’ve got San Fran as a top city, I believe, so a bunch of awesome cities.  Right now, the top listening country is the U.S.  Number two is Great Britain and then Japan is number 3.  But yeah, the list goes on.  Korea, China, Canada, Great Britain, France, Russia.  I think that we’ve been on every continent but Antarctica!

Dr. Carmen April:    
How do you balance, since this is not a full-time gig for you guys yet, your full time career at the university with this venture?

ACe Callwood:       
Balance, that’s an interesting word.  I can’t say balance because according to my life, there’s a lot of not sleeping.  We’ll put it that way.  Justin and I actually got our first vacation since we graduated last week.  So it’s the first time we’ve been out on absolute leisure, but other than that it’s goes in circles all the time.  Justin works in the entrepreneurial space at the university as well, so we work together in our day jobs very frequently.  For me, being in the classroom once or twice a week- I got to use Coffitivity as a case study for my students.  The fact that we’ve done so much with our start-up is actually beneficial to our jobs which is awesome, in the form of experience, in the form of publicity, and just a lot of things.  It’s a great working relationship to be in the space we are in our day jobs and our site gig.  Everything kind of balances itself out.

Dr. Carmen April:   
  As a young entrepreneur myself, I know what you mean about balance and vacations.  I’ve had to take my mini-vacations, which may be an extended weekend or something.  But as far as the big 7-10 day trips to France, I can't swing that because I'm not at the point where I can leave my business for that long.

ACe Callwood:       
Exactly, we didn't even have Wi-Fi at the beach!  The team was still back here working on the app releases and other stuff, so we ended up paying the next door neighbor at the beach for Wi-Fi. We had to be on one side of the house to be able to connect, so we made it work and it was good to almost be forced to unplug. Justin and I are type A’s who don’t unplug if we don't have to, but we should.  It was a good R and R for us to get our heads straight and have some time to think about where we’re going with the project and what the next projects will look like, whether it’s over the next couple months or the next few years. 


Need to channel your creativity today? Visit www.coffitivity.com and let your creative juices start flowing!

--Dr. April

Monday, July 29, 2013

Dinner Lab Nashville - Central Thai

Dinner Lab Nashville - Central Thai

It's finally here....Dinner Lab has officially arrived in Nashville!!! A couple of weeks ago I told you about a cool new dining concept that was coming to Nashville ( See that initial blog post on Dinner Lab coming to Nashville HERE). After a much anticipated wait, I walked into a historic warehouse with cement floors in an area of town I had never ventured into previously for an awesome dining experience!

Not only is Dinner Lab a great dining event but also a great place to meet new people! I met some fellow foodies who all work for the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee: Amy Fair- Director of Donor Services, Kelly Walberg - Online Marketing & Web Content Coordinator, and Jenn Scheartzenberg - Director of Community Initiatives. The cool thing about meeting these ladies is that Amy and Kelly are from Ohio and Amy is specifically from Toledo, OH...I was born in Toledo, OH and spent the first 12 years of my life there! Jenn is from NYC and when I lived in Philly, my friends and I would travel to NYC every now and then (Boy do I love that place :-). Needless to say, this gave us a lot to talk about!

Check out my unique one-of-a-kind dinner experience below!

We didn't find out where we would be dining until 24 hours in advance of the dinner...how cool is that! The building where we dined is over 100 years old and the owner is actually working to turn the space into some cool restaurant and coffee shop space. For now, it is an open industrial space that was the perfect backdrop for this event!

Fresh Cucumbers with a spicy dipping sauce
A great selection of wine and cocktails were flowing all evening......
The long communal tables are in place to facilitate networking and meeting new people

Chef Lalita Kaewsawang is the featured Chef for the evening
Per Dinner Lab -  "Chef Lalita has always been a bit of a rebel. Between growing up in Chaing Mai, Thailand, living with a Lao family and working in a Lao Restaurant in her teenage years, Lalita never bothered with pesky "fire code" rules when she began cooling her favorite childhood dishes in her dorm room for the students of Wesleyan University. And, while the administrators eventually shut down Lalita's Mango Tree, they couldn't keep a girl down for long.Chef Lalita now lives and works in New Orleans. Tonight's menu is a compilation of dishes Lalita learned growing up under the tutelage of her Laotian stepmother, and it's always a special night when she throws on the whites!"

Dinner Preparation

Chef Paco Robert will be the featured Chef for next week's Dinner Lab - Puerto Rican Cuisine

Signature Drink - Siam Sling made with Vodka, Lemon, ginger, cucumber, cardamom, leches and an assortment of bitters
The husband and wife bartender team serving up great craft cocktails are Jon and Lindsay Yeager of PourTaste (www.PourTaste.com). They started this business, PourTaste, about a year and a half ago when they got married. They even have a pour taste app for smart phones!

Myself with fellow Nashville Food Blogger, Melissa Corbin of Corbin in The Dell

Diners settling in for the evening

Dinner Lab COO, Drew Barrett, discusses the concept for the evening

Chef Lalita discussing the menu for the evening: Central Thai

1st course - Grilled prawns, green mango, fish sauce caramel, cashews
Somehow, I totally forgot to take a picture of the very first course of the night....YIKES! I think I was so excited to enjoy it that I forgot about the picture...LOL

Thai Tea - This was mildly sweet and paired well with each dish!

gai yang: Coriander-Lemongrass rubbed grilled chicken wings with sweet chili sauce. Along with the dessert, this is probably my favorite dish of the night! There was so much flavor in the one wing...it's like they injected it with delicious spices!

pad phrik khing - Dry sauteed pork belly, ginger paste, salted duck eggs, kaffir lime leaves, sticky rice. The sticky was a great texture to pair with the mix of mild and bold flavors of this dish

khanom jiin kaeng kiao wan kai - House made green curry, catfish balls, rice vermicelli, eggplant, crispy basil. The catfish balls were flaky and full of flavor. The green curry flavor was just what I expected....tasty!

Drink pairing for dessert - Milo Chocolate Milk

 ka nom pang sak ka ya - Pandan custard, white bread
This dessert certainly looks simple, but it delivers an unexpected sweetness that I wanted more of! Who would have thought that white bread could be so delicious!?!?!?

Learn more about Dinner Lab @ www.DinnerLab.com

--Dr. April

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sky Blue Cafe

Saturday Brunch @ Sky Blue Cafe

Hey there foodies! Today's Blog Post is an oldie but goodie! I actually visited Sky Blue Cafe in East Nashville before the official launch of Dinner With Nerds.  It was a beautiful summer Saturday and  I wanted to try something new. I had been hearing about this place located in East Nashville and decided to check them out. At the time, Sky Blue Cafe only served Breakfast/Brunch (They now serve dinner as well). The place was packed and since I was out and about by myself this morning, I decided to just sit at the bar so that I could chat with the Baristas....yes I sat at the coffee bar for breakfast :-)

The Baristas and the chef were friendly and informative when I asked some of the many questions I usually ask of the staff when I visit a new restaurant. They use a lot of local products including the coffee and Bagels which come from a local bakery. Many of the fresh vegetables and herbs are grown in a nearby garden.

Since this was an impromptu restaurant visit, I did not have my professional camera on me....just the trusty iPhone. I hope you enjoy the pics! 

Soooooooo, this was pretty amazing and is what I initially ordered. It's a breakfast sandwich complete with sausage, eggs and cheese. Alone, the sandwich would be enough. However, as you can see, the sandwich is literally sandwiched in between 2 pancakes and topped with powdered sugar....WOW!

As I was learning more about the restaurant from the Chef, he told me that he had a great Caprese salad that I should try because the tomatoes are picked fresh from the garden across the street. I'm glad I took his suggestion because this was one of the best Caprese Salads I have ever had! It reminded me of warm summer evenings sitting on the deck with my dad eating fresh picked tomatoes. 

Caprese Salad - Fresh tomatoes, Mozzarella, Pesto and Fresh Basil

Now, by this time I am hooked and Breakfast has turned into Brunch. I love anything made with Blue Cheese and when I spotted this burger I had to try it! This burger is stuffed with blue cheese and topped with balsamic caramelized onions....talk about good!

Blue Burger

On the chalkboard display at the entrance to the restaurant, I noticed the Deep Fried Oreos on the menu...yes really - Deep Fried Oreos! As if this dessert could not get any better, it is served with Espresso Whip Cream that is 10 times better than dipping them in milk!

Deep Fried Oreos

I'm sure you can see that I enjoyed myself at Sky Blue Cafe and I'm sure you will too!
Check out Sky Blue Cafe at www.skybluecoffee.com 

--Dr. April

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How to Make Networking Work for You

Food For Thought: How to Make Networking Work for You


2013 Nashville Emerging Leader Award Finalist Reception 
(Photo Credit: Nashville Chamber of Commerce)

I love Networking! I frequently attend Networking events because it's awesome to walk into a room with other business-minded individuals and make mutually beneficial business connections. When I first moved to Nashville 3 years ago, I knew only 2 people - My sister, who was in Dental School at the time, and a college friend/sorority sister. That's it! So, when I took the leap of faith to start my own medical practice after living here for only 2 months, my lack of connections in Nashville was a HUGE obstacle for me. However, I networked the pure HECK out of Nashville and have made so many connections that, as I look back on it now, astonishes me!

I'm honored to be a 2013 Nashville Emerging Leader Award Finalist! Here I am networking with some of the attendees at the Finalist Reception in June 2013
(Photo Credit: Nashville Chamber of Commerce)

I believe that being able to effectively network is an art form. For me, networking did not come second nature. Even though I love to sit down and talk for hours with people that I know and am familiar with, walking up to random people and saying "Hi, I'm Carmen April. How are you? Tell me what you do for a living" was not always as easy for me as it is now. Just like anything that you want to become good at, it requires repetition and practice. Making meaningful business connections is essential to both my medical practice and my blog so being comfortable in large networking environments is a MUST!

I'm still Networking at The 2013 Nashville Emerging Leader Award Finalist Reception!
(Photo Credit: Nashville Chamber of Commerce)

Here are a couple of Tips to help you make the most out of Networking:

1.) Attend Events that are specifically structured for Networking. When you attend events that are designed specifically for networking, everyone shows up with the same intention. You are not left wondering if the people you meet have ulterior motives for chatting with you. Everyone is there, or should be there, to make meaningful business connections. I have taken my enthusiasm for networking to some laid-back social gatherings and, unfortunately, have had people look at me like I have 3 eyes on my forehead when I walk up and introduce myself the way I do at networking events. This is not to say that networking does not take place at social gatherings; in fact, it should!

2.) Dress Professionally. We form opinions about others in the first 7-9 seconds of meeting them. Don't you want the lasting impression someone makes of you to be a positive one, especially when business is involved?

3.) Have your Elevator Speech Prepared and Practiced. An Elevator Speech is your 30-45 second description of who you are, what you do and how you and your business can be of benefit to others. You should be able to clearly articulate this description in the time that it takes you to ride in an elevator with someone from the bottom to the top floor in 30-45 seconds or less. You risk loosing someones attention when you ramble. Because the most common question asked of you during networking will be, "So, tell me what you do for a living?", you should practice your response (Elevator Speech) because you know it will be asked. It should roll off your tongue like butter!

4.) Have Business Cards on Hand. Your business card should be clean with your name, business logo, phone number,  business email address and business website listed. I can not tell you how annoying it is to receive an old, crinkled business card that has probably been sitting in someones pocket or wallet for who knows how long. Your business card is a tangible piece of your professional brand and it can speak for you in your absence. I keep business cards that I receive during networking by scanning it into one of my favorite apps - Evernote, and also placing it in a business card holding folder that I keep in my office. Additionally, I write down where I met the person, the date and the year, directly on the card.

5.) Follow-up. What is the point of networking if you are not going to make use of the meaningful connections? Networking is for making the initial connections, but it should not stop there. If you meet someone at an event and identify that you can be of benefit to their business, they can be of benefit to your business, or vice versa, you should set up a time to grab coffee, lunch or a cocktail. Send an email to those connections after the event saying that you enjoyed meeting them and would like to meet them again for coffee, etc and discuss ideas. The follow-up is usually where the real connections come about.

 I hope these tips help you on your next Networking excursion!

--Dr. April

Monday, July 22, 2013

Carmen April My Aha Moment with Mutual of Omaha

My Aha Moment with Mutual of Omaha

I was contacted by Mutual of Omaha to share My "Aha Moment" on their "My Aha Moment Tour". I am totally honored that they found my blog and enjoyed it and my story enough to ask me to participate!!

This is me inside the mobile recording studio :-)

The Aha Moment Bus has been traveling the country to find out what inspires and encourages individuals

For my interview, I discussed how embracing all of my passions has added tremendous balance and joy to my life! I love being a physician, but there is more to me and my life than being a good doctor. God has blessed me with many talents and it would be a disservice to myself and those around me to not utilize those gifts to my fullest potential!

I had so much fun recording my "Aha Moment" that I want to do it again!!!!!

You can read more about Mutual of Omaha's Aha Moment Tour by following this link: http://www.ahamoment.com/

Dr. April

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Yolanda Harris-Jackson

At The Table with Yolanda Harris - Jackson: Spa Director of Relache Spa at Gaylord Opryland Resort

I met Yolanda Harris - Jackson earlier this year at a reception honoring the two of us along with  20+ other young professional women as nominees for the Nashville Young Professional Athena Award. We both love networking and immediately upon meeting, started talking about career, life, family, etc. She is currently the Spa Director at Relache Spa at Gaylord Opryland Resort, the largest spa in the state of Tennessee. Her journey to get to this point in her career has not come without some hick-ups and she openly shared them with me in the interview. Yolanda is proof that we should always stay open to unexpected possibilities!

Dr. Carmen April:    Hi there Yolanda, let’s get started.  Tell me where you’re from.

Yolanda Harris-Jackson:    I am originally from Nashville, Tennessee.

Dr. Carmen April:
    Where did you go to college and what is your degree?

Yolanda Harris-Jackson:    I went to Fisk University, right here in Nashville, Tennessee. 
My degree is in Dramatics and Speech.

Dr. Carmen April:
    Tell me about your first job out of college.  Was it in the hospitality industry?

Yolanda Harris-Jackson:    That’s a question a lot of people ask me.  How did I end up in the spa world?  What is the track to becoming a leader in the spa world?  When I first entered college, my goal was to be an actress.  I wanted to go to L.A. and be an actress, be the next Halle Berry. I just wanted to go out there and spread my wings and utilize my talent.  I have a talent with communicating, speaking, and inspiring other individuals.  So I went to L.A. for the summer and had a terrible experience.  L.A. is a fantastic place, but for a young college student who did not have a lot of money at all- it terrified me!  Being from the South, I was like “oh my goodness”, maybe I don’t want this bad enough.  I heard some horror stories about the industry while I was out there.  Instead of finding someone who was doing it effectively and being successful at it, I was around the people who were really having a hard time.  That turned me off, so I decided to come back to Nashville to finish college.  At the time, I had that Dramatics and Speech degree and did theater work but also some television work. At the time, I was also doing nails.  When I was a senior in high school, I got my license to do nails. I had a natural talent in doing nails.  All through college, that’s how I paid my expenses.  Not only did I do nails, but I ended up working at a department store.  I worked behind the counter doing makeup so that put me in the makeup field.  I won Miss Black Tennessee in 1995-1996, so that also put me in the beauty industry.  I was kind of swimming in the beauty industry all through college.  Between doing makeup for people as well as doing nails, I started thinking about what a great business it was.  I wanted to learn more about the business side of beauty.  I did not have a big corporate position. I just wanted to learn how this beauty and wellness business works, so I ended up working at a local salon and spa.  At the time, it was one of the first salon and spas in Middle Tennessee that really embraced the concept of a salon and spa combination.  This was in ’94 and the early ‘90s is when that concept really became very popular.  This is a very large facility, a lot of hair stylists and a nice sized spa there.  I worked at the front desk taking reservations, checking people in and out, and things of that sort. A few months later, I started managing that front desk staff.  A few months later, I became the salon manager.  I was trained to really understand how the business worked.
    That was a great experience for me and a great springboard for me to jump into this industry.  That was my first job right outside of college.  At the time, you start thinking “all my friends have these corporate positions making great salaries” and I’m like, “man, I don’t have that working at a local salon and spa.”  But I’m so glad I did and I really enjoyed that experience because I was able to really embrace how the operation of a beauty and wellness business functions. 

Dr. Carmen April:    Along those lines, tell me how you became spa director at Relache Spa.  Which is the largest spa in the state of Tennessee.
    Obviously, you didn’t just become the spa director of the largest spa in the state overnight.   What happened in that interim?

Yolanda Harris-Jackson:
   While working at my first job out of college, I got an opportunity to move to South Carolina.  That position, once again, automatically put me in leadership.  I was a spa and salon manager for a department store.  This department store had an Aveda concept salon and spa.  Aveda focuses on natural organic products.  They really believe in the transformation of the person.  It’s a great product line and great experience to work for them.  By the time I left there, I was overseeing three of those locations.  So three different department stores, three salons and spas that were inside of those.  That gave me another springboard in leadership to run spas and salons.  Once I left South Carolina after 3 years, I came back to my hometown of Nashville. I missed Nashville and really wanted the opportunity to come back where family was. Nashville was really beginning to take off and to grow about this time - the very end of 2003.  At the beginning of 2004, I landed a position at a health club and day spa. It was brand-new and wasn’t even open when I got the position.  The position was actually created for me.  The staff was already hired and ready to go.  The owner interviewed me and actually carved out a position for me to oversee.  It was a great opportunity to oversee the retail area as well as oversee the operation of the retail itself and the little juice bar store that they had, etc.  I was a systems expert, so I brought in the right system to use to book appointments, train everybody on that system, and make the system do what we needed for our business.  That was a great opportunity for me, but that did not end well.  After as much time and energy as I put into that organization, I was actually fired from that position.  That was very devastating to me because I was always used to getting promoted and moving on to the next adventure.

When things don’t align with your position and purpose, things begin to fall around you.  You have to understand that when you’re in a career and moving forward, it’s okay to fail.  I had to learn it the hard way.  At the time, I didn’t understand that lesson.  It was really a hard fall for me to the point where I even tried to get out of the industry.  By this time, I had almost eight years in the industry!  When I was job searching, I didn’t just want to land at another local spa and salon.  I wanted another opportunity where I could plant my feet and really make a difference.  I took my time to find that and I looked outside the industry.  But when you find your passion, your passion will follow you.  You cannot run from it!  I’m telling you, you can’t run no matter how hard you try.  I ended up hearing about Opryland opening a spa and I was like, “oh great!”  I got excited about it, got in my car, and drove out to Opryland.  That spa at that time was just a pile of dirt.  I was like, “when is this spa opening? Oh my goodness!  This spa hasn’t even opened!  It’s not even in existence right now.” There was just one sign that said “Coming Soon: Spa.” I was like, “oh that’s great.  I need a job now!” I’m the type of person who needs to find something that I love because one of the best pieces of advice that I ever received is to "find what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life" so I’ve always lived my life that way.   I wanted to find what I love because it kept following me.  I ended up going into the office and interviewing for a position.  I wanted something in leadership because by this time, I’d been leading large teams of 40 to 50 people.  I was just looking for a leadership position because leadership skills are transferable in different areas.  You just need to learn the skill set of whatever industry it’s in.  They said, “We don’t have anything to match your criteria.  We do have a call center position.” I was like, “call center?  That sounds like phones and cubicles.” If anyone knows me, they know that I’m not a phone and cubicle type of girl.  I want to be at the front of the crowd, talking to the crowd, getting everybody riled up and excited about their jobs.   

However, sometimes in life, you have to swallow that big pill and do what your spirit is telling you.  Something told me to just walk into this position.  I did and became a reservation agent at Gaylord Opryland.  Of course, going from a great salary to making an hourly wage that was close to minimum wage was another hard lesson that I had to learn.  But I’ll tell you that it was one of the greatest lessons that I learned and it actually gave me the biggest springboard in my career because I ended up becoming a reservation agent for eight months.  I learned so much about the hospitality industry- how it works, how it functions, how we book appointments, what the guests want, and what they expect.  I never would have learned that had I come in without being in this environment because day spas and resort spas are totally different.  Once they start interviewing my boss in the reservation department who knew all the experience that I had, she said she would keep her eyes and ears open for me when they started to interview.  When they started to interview, I received an interview and actually got the job during the first interview. 

Dr. Carmen April:    That is an awesome career journey Yolanda! Thanks for being so honest about the ups and downs of your story. Switching gears a little bit, can you tell me about the summer enrichment program you founded for teenage girls?  When did you start it, tell me the mission, and how has it evolved since you started it?

Yolanda Harris-Jackson:    I started a youth ministry.  When I got married I instantly became a stepmother into a blended family.  My stepdaughters were teenagers. I had a very young daughter at the time. The teenagers really taught me a lesson on the support that they needed and the love that they needed, so I started with my stepdaughters but most of all. At the church that I worshiped with, we didn’t have any program specifically reaching out to these young ladies, so I decided in 2007 to launch this ministry called Daughters of Destiny.  I also learned that whenever you want to do something, you get great people that are dedicated, loyal, and love the mission around you so that you can do it together.  It is very hard to do something of this magnitude with just one person.  I have a team of people, called our coordinators.  We’ve made Daughters of Destiny what it is today and I’m just so grateful for these dedicated women who have come together to really embrace these young girls.  Most of my girls are around 8 - 18 years old.  We work with them twice a month - second and fourth Saturdays from 12 to 3 o'clock.  We spend six hours, sometimes more, a month just working with their character development, talking about their love of God, and helping them understand that process.  We have workshops on some Saturdays.  We’ll sit down and actually do a lesson or bring in a guest speaker.  On other Saturdays, we take field trips to places they normally don’t go or wouldn’t go.  These are all young ladies that are in at-risk situations, single parent homes, etc.  We try to give them those experiences.  Back in 2010, we were able to raise enough support that I was able to take 28 of those young girls, along with our coordinators, to Disney World!  Once again, an opportunity for them that they normally wouldn’t have.  This year, I’ve got a place in my heart to really work with the transformation of them, to really get into the root of their heart on what they can do and what they potentially can be.  We’re really excited about and glad to see what God is doing with Daughters of Destiny.  We believe that these girls will live in excellence.  We teach them and take out the time to give them that love and serve them.  Then they will continue to live in faith and excellence. 

Dr. Carmen April: 
   That sounds like an awesome program and one that is much needed. To wrap things up, any advice for teenagers, college students, or even young professionals who may feel discouraged because they don’t feel like they’re moving along in either their school path or not moving along fast enough with their career plans and having setbacks?  What type of encouragement or inspirational words would you give to them?

Yolanda Harris-Jackson:    I’ve learned so much in my life thanks to the great mentors and great people that I have wrapped myself around.  One thing I truly believe in is getting your own personal board of directors - your own group of people who can be honest with you, help lead you, and who you can ask questions without feeling like you’re being judged, etc.  Get a group of your own personal directors around you, a circle, a community of people that can be there for you because you don’t have to do this alone.  They can offer various support for your professional life and for your personal life, so mix them all up and have that great support team.  Most of all, I have learned so much especially in later years when I was called in to the ministry.  I have learned that being of service is so much greater and important than anything else in this world!  Unfortunately, we get so hung up on the things that we see and then lack belief in those things we don’t see.  We have to be of service to others without expecting anything in return.  If you just have that mindset, to be of service, without expecting anything in return, things that you wouldn’t even imagine will happen to you!  You just have to be open to receive those things and that’s what I’ve done. 

-- Dr. April


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ashley King of Ashley's Bride Guide

At The Table with Ashley King of Ashley's Bride Guide

Ashley's Bride Guide is THE go-to guide for brides planning a wedding in Nashville, TN! When Ashley King developed this guide, she did so to fill a void in the Nashville wedding planning market. Sure, there were wedding planners in Nashville, but no online resource that combined numerous resources for finding wedding venues and caterers to florists and wedding photographers all in one place. I sat down with Ashley King, the creative woman behind Ashley's Bride Guide, and she shared what she enjoys about entrepreneurship and how she developed the idea for this phenomenal online resource.

Ashley King of Ashley's Bride Guide

Dr. Carmen April: What was your first job out of college? Once you graduated, did you stay in D.C.?

Ashley King: I graduated from Howard University in Washington D.C. My first job out of college was in management consulting in Atlanta. I took a job offer in Atlanta and I was working for a top consulting firm.  It was my first job out of college. I chose to work in management consulting and enjoyed it because it allowed me to work in different jobs. Every four to 6 months, I was on a new project.  A new project meant a new industry, new city, and new goal.  So I might be in Canada working with a bank, trying to help them launch or figure out if a new online banking product will be successful.  Six months later, I was in Oklahoma working with Citgo gas trying to figure out how to cut costs. I realized that I thrived in that environment of change and I think that this says more about my inability to stay with something for too long.  I get bored.  I need things that are challenging and stimulate me.  If I hate it, it’s over in a month.

Dr. Carmen April: Then you decided to come back to Nashville.  Why did you decide to come back here?

Ashley King: The number one reason was that I was ready to settle into home life, family life.  I was thinking at that time that two things were driving me.  One, my parents- they’re getting older and I wanted to be near them.  I hadn’t spent much time with them as an adult and so I thought that I really wanted to soak up their knowledge, their wisdom and to not always be gone. I really wanted to spend some quality time with my parents.  Two, I also said that I was ready to plant some roots and I thought if I moved to Nashville- I’ll probably meet a guy in Nashville.  That way, we could get married here. I had also just hit a point where I was like, “what do I want to do with my life?” I was ready for a change, career wise because that time I was traveling a whole lot and I was like, “I don’t know if I want to travel this much.” I decided to move home and didn’t really have much of a plan in terms of a career.  I really was ready to just chill and figure out what the next phase of Ashley’s career might look like. I just played around with a lot of different things.  I took a retail job, for the first time in my life.  I was working at a children’s clothing store and Starbucks. I loved it!  I don’t even like coffee, but I loved working at Starbucks.  To meet so many different type of people and they don’t care or know anything about my background.

Dr. Carmen April:  You’re a young entrepreneur.  How long have you been an entrepreneur and where did the idea for Ashley’s Bride Guide come from?

Ashley King:  I started Ashley’s Bride Guide in 2006 and I always wanted to be an entrepreneur.  I knew from working with my parents that I was going to be an entrepreneur.  I didn’t exactly know what type of business.  I think you should follow what your passion is and that’s always changing.  I don’t see being an entrepreneur as, “I’m going to start this business and I’m going to have it forever.” I think of it as what phase am I in, what do I love now, and how can I turn that into something that is a win-win?  Something that I love and can make money by serving others, to me that’s what it’s about.  At that time, I was engaged.  I got engaged in 2005 and through planning my wedding, I realized the inefficiencies of planning a wedding. I was at work planning my wedding, as most brides are, and there weren’t any websites to plan a wedding in 2005 that were speaking to Nashville weddings.  They were personal websites; most of them were national websites. There were none for Nashville.  The only options were to go to a bridal show, word of mouth, or pick up a wedding magazine- none of which I could do at work.  I started researching the idea and confirmed that there was a void.  Then I started putting together a plan.  I knew that once I got married, I would start Ashley’s Bride Guide.

Dr. Carmen April: What does a typical work day look like for you?

Ashley King:  Most of my work is writing related.  Sixty to seventy percent of what I do is content development and writing, so I am putting together the content plan.  I am reaching out to people to interview, as you’re doing, and I’m writing articles.  The other part is promoting my site, content, and customer/client management.  My typical day follows that same thing.  Most of the time, I’m writing.  Then there’s some promotion, emails, conversations, and meetings for client management.

Dr. Carmen April:  Can you give me a couple of pros and a couple of cons to being a young entrepreneur?

Ashley King:  The pros are flexibility, creativity- what I say is what I create.  That’s one of the things that I love about being an entrepreneur.  I see that more clearly than most people.  It’s just a matter of thinking it and creating it. I love impacting others economically. I love that people are building businesses and feeding their families based on the business that my site drives to them.  Every day, I pray that my clients are blessed through my business and that my brides find good matches for their weddings so they have joy, harmony, and trust in the decisions that they make.  I know that I’m impacting the Nashville economy. That’s a blessing as well. Those are my pros, the cons- accounting, taxes, bookkeeping, anything like that.  That is my thorn.  I don’t like anything to do with that part of it.  I also don’t like sales and that’s a big issue in my business.  You always have to network, to be all about turning people into clients.  I don’t really like that part of it, so I would much rather do the creative side. Also, I'm realizing that as the business owner - you can't make changes to the business as fast. I like to experiment and try new things. But since it's all on you, you can't be as agile. That's one of my biggest challenges. 

Dr. Carmen April:   To wrap things up, are there any tips that you could offer to any young professional interested in being an entrepreneur? Maybe they’ve had an idea in their head for some time.  They’re working in a corporate structure or corporate America and can’t figure out if it’s the right time to be an entrepreneur.  What advice would you give them?

Ashley King:  My old boss, the one I was working for when I was thinking of starting Ashley’s Bride Guide, gave me a plaque that says “you only regret what you don’t do.” Just try things, be willing to experiment.  I think that God rewards those who are willing to step out of the boat and try to walk on water.  I think that people are so fearful!  What is it that you fear?  Imagine that.  Is that really going to kill you?  What’s the worst that can really happen?  There’s lots of people in those scenarios and most of those things never come true.  Because you’re so fearful of what could happen, you’re not really living the best life.  I always tell kids that I mentor, do what you love when it comes to your college major.  Follow your heart and your natural interests.  Get a minor in business.   You can turn anything that you love into a business.  Whether it’s art or anything, you can turn anything into a business if you have a business acumen. 

Dr. Carmen April: Wonderful, “you can turn anything into a business if you know business.” That’s perfect!
Ashley King:  That’s what I’ll leave you with!

You can find Ashley's Bride Guide online @ http://ashleysbrideguide.com

--Dr. April

Friday, July 5, 2013

Loews Vanderbilt Hotel Grand Re-opening

Loews Vanderbilt Hotel Re-Grand Opening Event

The Loews Vanderbilt Hotel recently underwent a $17 Million renovation and boy does it look great! Just as I would have done had I spent $17 Million on a new space, they had a Fabulous Grand Re-opening of the hotel complete with great food from one of my new favorite restaurants - Mason's, live music and acknowledgements from the hotel's General Manager, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and others.

You already know how I feel about Mason's Restaurant....I LOVE it! If you don't know, check out my full post on Mason's Restaurant HERE!

Enjoy pics from the event below:

A Devil of an Egg - I had 7 of them....because they are totally awesome!


Shrimp +...........

Grits =

Delicious Shrimp & Grits

Biscuit with Jam and Pimento Cheese ....Delicious!

The Libations were flowing all evening........

Corn Bisque with Pickled Raspberry

This initially caught me off guard because it's pretty enough to be a dessert, but is in fact Bisque! It's great!

Chicken Biscuit - There is also a classic Nashville "Hot" version but you know I'm a heat wimp and stuck with the basic version :-)

Fried Green Tomatoes - topped with all kinds of goodness!

There was live music playing all evening

Loews Vanderbilt Hotel General Manager, Tony Philips

Acknowledgements from Loews Hotel Executives

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean

Mason's Executive Chef Brandon Frohne

Jalapeno Cheddar Poppers

Mason's Steak Burger with Egg

There's the cute little egg nestled into the burger!

Dark Chocolate Cremieux

My dining buddy for the evening was my friend Cassandra. If she looks familiar, it's because you've also seen her HERE..........

So, what are you waiting for? The next time you are in Nashville, swing by Loews Vanderbilt Hotel. Whether you are coming to eat or sleep, you won't be disappointed!

--Dr. April