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5 Lessons Learned in my 4th Year as an Entrepreneur

February 3, 2016

After four years, I have become a seasoned entrepreneur. I have an office, not a living room, coffee shop, or shared desk. There are four salaries to support. I’m helping build robots, collect bacteria, protect farm animals, find a new use for flies & worms, and fight aging. A Virtual Lab Manager has helped labs in 11 cities and 2 countries. I know that myself and HappiLabs are catalysts in a biotech revolution. It’s a great feeling.

Over the past year I have had several people tell me that I’m a good planner. I get a head of projects, think about potential obstacles, and plan for the best and worst case scenarios. I have timelines, ToDo Lists, and well-formatted Word documents. The map I’ve created is easy-to-read, and sometimes I feel like Captain Robert FitzRoy. As a result, my company grew 4x.

Thinking back to lessons in 2012, websites are still expensive, and from my lessons in 2013…communication is still the king. Without effective communication, your life as an entrepreneur will fall apart. The lesson you should know from 2014: Eat breakfast.


In 2015, I became a real CEO (except I don’t wear suits). Hiring, managing, deciding, projecting, and planning. Growing pains. There were 12 round trips to San Francisco with 7 visits to Half Moon Bay. Our SF customer base has grown outside the city limits, therefore I’ve also slept in San Jose, Mountain View, Redwood City, Menlo Park and Brisbane.

I am very grateful for the friends who offered a free couch, air matress, or guest room: Nina, Sangeetha, Jun, Stacey, Aras, Daiva, Tom, Elina, and Kinkead. Combined, you probably saved me/HappiLabs $2000.

After much debate with my brain and family, I did not move to San Francisco. Rent is ridiculous! It’s waaaaay cheaper to fly back and forth.

Valuable lessons have been learned on my journey.

5 lessons learned in my 4th year as an entrepreneur

More gets done when you clear the inbox.

clear inboxI read advice from successful entrepreneurs and this is a split decision. Some say you need to turn it off for extended periods of time during the day so you can focus on specific tasks. But I disagree, at least for now. Quick email responses help other people move quicker. So don’t respond later, respond now. As one CEO told me: “Every morning the first thing I do is respond to all the emails that require 3 words or less. Then I head to the office for longer emails.”

You should take the first meeting offered to you.

When someone offers you >1 option for a phone call or meeting, and they are a useful person, take the earliest option. Like the emails, help everyone move quicker. And leave the second option as a backup.

Turning off email or phone improves work-life balance.

The goal here is happiness at home and avoiding burnout at work. I have a time every night (usually) that I turn my phone off, and all day Sunday.

One of my friends said, “But there’s so much to do!” I bet at least 15% of what you “need” to do can wait. No one wants you to respond to their emails on a Saturday afternoon. So don’t!

There’s plenty to get done without the need for technology. Live where you are.

Misspending $1000’s is normal.

I will try my best to spend wisely, but certain expenses just don’t work out.

Some consultants are very useful and some are very useless. Sometimes a business trip was a complete waste of time. I spent $2000 on a conference that turned into nothing but some free meals. As @eperstle likes to say, “It’s the cost of doing business.”

Karma plays a role.

If you are nice to people, honest, and fair, it will come back to you. Build this into your customer service and people will buy what you sell.


If you want help or advice about starting your own business or how to be happier, please reach out. Twitter is the easiest place to find me: @letUbeU, or LinkedIn (Tom Ruginis).


5 Lessons Learned in my 3rd Year as an Entrepreneur

January 3, 2015
Science art at 1871 Chicago

In 2012, I learned that everything takes longer than expected. In 2013, I was frustrated, but learned about communication and web development. 2014 was a success. HappiLabs hit the one goal that all businesses aim for. Revenue! It’s taken a lot of iterations to identify the revenue-generating product, but we figured it out–the Virtual Lab Manager.

I hired one employee and a handful of scientists for microjob positions. I took 10 roundtrips to San Francisco (mostly on Virgin America), spent over $3,000 with AirBnB, became a regular visitor at QB3@953, made good friends in the Perlstein Lab, appeared on the Groks Science Show and Illinois Business This Week, shared office space at TechNexus, 1871, and EnterpriseWorks; and am raising a baby who will not sleep.

Here are 5 lessons I’ve learned over the past 12 months of being a scientist-turned-entrepreneur from Chicago:

1) Twitter was my best sales, marketing, and communication tool.

If you’re starting a new business, get a Twitter account. It’s where I found HappiLabs’ first customer (@eperlste) in 2014, several of our microjobbers, and potential investors. You can follow people to learn from their lives; find and interact with investors, colleagues, partners, customers, and potential customers; and get updates on the latest breaking news.

2) Rejection stings, but it goes away.

One of the hardest parts of being an entrepreneur includes being rejected. Over and over and over. “No. I don’t have time for you.” “No thanks.” “Not interested.” “You want me to pay you for this? Ha!” And so on. It stings, and it is a cause for breaking down and losing faith in your product. But with patience and persistence, enough people said “Yes” that the no’s didn’t affect my mental stability anymore. I became immune.

Charlie Atom and Daddy


3) Having a baby made me a better entrepreneur.

Born on Nov 17, 2013, he made it very easy to focus on what’s important. Now that I have a human being to support, I have a legitimate excuse to say no to people, events, and unnecessary distractions. Say hello to @CharlieAtom.

4) Eat breakfast.

I made it a goal to eat a healthy breakfast regularly. In 2013 and prior, I didn’t and it had always been hard for me to wake up and get in the working zone. So the neuroscientist in me said, “Eat breakfast and your brain will have more nutrients to get going.” Now I always have eggs, fruits (faves = bananas, tangerines), and veggies (faves = olives, avocados, orange peppers) in my kitchen.

5) A ToDo List makes my day waaaay more productive.

Plain and simple, you’ll get more shit done. Read how I created an effective ToDo List.

If you want help or advice about starting your own business or how to be happier, please reach out. Twitter is the easiest place to find me: @letUbeU, or LinkedIn (Tom Ruginis).

3 Lessons Learned in my 2nd Year as an Entrepreneur

December 24, 2013

2013 was frustrating. My companies didn’t grow as fast as I would have liked them to, but has progressed and we see a happy future for the scientific community. Here are 3 lessons, among many, that I learned as a Chicago entrepreneur in 2013:

Social data entrepreneur for happiness

People will believe in your company if they believe in you…

…Have a passion, a cause, anything that drives you. Customers and investors will follow.

Excellent communication is extremely important.

…Without communication skills, look forward to failed expectations, misunderstandings, and awkward conversations.

Starter League was a great investment…

…I learned to code the front-end of, made wonderful friends, and gained a better understanding of how the brain development and web development are very similar.

Is 2014 your year? Entrepreneur Inspiration:

5 Tips for Organizing Your Ideas

Create an Effective To-Do List

5 Book Recommendations for Entrepreneurs Who Want to Change the World

Can You Change Your Brain?

December 22, 2013

Listen as I explain new scientific research that suggests it is possible to consciously change the structure and function of your brain, including the size of your “happy” region.

Tweet this: 

You can’t change your brain if you don’t know you can.


What is neuroplasticity? (via @BigThink)

Giving and kindness: Scientists Find That Giving Support Offers Health Benefits (via ScienceDaily)

Avoid unhappy environments: People who have a good peer support system at work may live longer than people who don’t (via Medical News Today)

Food that can help with cognitive function (via SF Gate)

Oxygen Helps Brain (via @ABCnews)

Welcome to

August 27, 2013

Everyone, we are here to protect your health and your happiness.

Scientists, we’re here to improve the quality of your research. Enjoy…

Investors Can Be Annoying and Science Suffers

June 21, 2013

“Your market is only $11,000,000. No investor will care.”

What an annoying comment I recently overheard while an investor talked with a passionate tech entrepreneur at 1871. The ent’s facial expression quickly evolved into a hybrid of anger and frustration. Apparently, solving problems doesn’t matter much. Timing and size of ROI matters.

Then I read this Opinion/Commentary from Alan I. Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS):

Cutbacks to basic science threaten future innovation

Let me copy & paste the opening paragraph of the Commentary:

Hefty federal deficits in Canada and the United States pose a significant threat to fundamental, basic research as some policy-makers seem to value near-term, industry-focused science more highly. That’s short-sighted and a shame. Basic research is the seed corn for economic growth and the foundation from which we build solutions to society’s big problems.

Policy-makers and investors are in the same boat. I’ve recognized this in the growing tech/digital entrepreneur community in Chicago where investors are ubitquitous. Let’s not lose sight of what’s important. Money is nice, but let’s spend it on solutions to REAL problems. I’m scared of all the time & money that is wasted on silly apps. Can we stop investing in short-term, technological conveniences and focus on long-term, scientific-based solutions?

And by the way, if that entrepreneur can grab ~10% of the market and build a $1 million company that solves a real problem, that’s a hell of a success! #letUbeU

3 Laws of Failure for Entrepreneurs

June 3, 2013
Science and entrepreneurs in Chicago

This bat failed to find its way home.

Becoming an entrepreneur is no easy task. You’re venturing into uncharted waters in your life. Some people’s paths will be harder and longer than others, but all paths will follow the same laws. Have you heard of Newton’s Laws of Motion (ex: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction)? Well, entrepreneurs have their own set of laws, as I see it. If you’re a entrepreneur-wanna-be, here are some thoughts to keep in mind…

3 Laws of Failure for Entrepreneurs

First Law = Failure is inevitable.

Get used to it. From Inc. Magazine: Want to Succeed? Get Used to Failure.

Second Law = For every failure, there is a lesson to be learned.

Always be improving. From TED: 8 Talks About Learning From Failure

Third Law = Failure correlates highly with success.

From Richard Branson on the Secret to Success –> Failure.

If you are aware of these laws, planning will be easier and you’ll have a better chance at success (and happiness). Stay strong and don’t ever give up. #letUbeU

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3 Lessons I Learned in My First Year as an Entrepreneur