Is your homeschool student a budding entrepreneur? Then you won’t want to
miss this week’s program, as host Mike Smith talks with homeschool grad Ben
Uyeda about his success as an architect, designer, and business owner. That’s
next on Homeschool Heartbeat!
Mike Smith: Today’s guest is Ben Uyeda. He’s a
homeschooling graduate and the founder of the HomeMade Modern website. Ben, welcome
to the program!
Ben Uyeda: Hi Mike, how are you doing?
Mike: I’m doing great.
Limited means, unlimited options [0:28]
Mike: Why did your parents decide to homeschool you, Ben?
Ben: Well, if I was to speak for them, I think it was just a
matter of economic efficiency. There were four of us kids—two boys, two girls.
And when you look at the prices for private schools and then the quality of some of
the public schools—I’m pretty sure my parents just thought they could do
a better job than the public schools, for less money than the private schools.
Mike: Ben, where were you raised?
Ben: Santa Barbara was where I was born. And then when I was
about 10 or 11, we moved about 30 miles north to Salinas Valley.
Mike: Ben, in your TED talk, you mentioned that your
mother’s resourcefulness was a big inspiration for you. Could you tell us about
Ben: Our family had limited means. But it never felt like we had
limited options. And I attribute that a lot to my mom’s creativeness, and also
just her willingness to try things for the first time. She was inventive with a very
restrictive budget for food. She would make a lot of our clothes and furniture.
But more importantly, I think she just was open to whatever we wanted to do. Any
time we had a question about anything, she would say, “Well, let’s figure
that out! We need to go to the library and check out a book on it, or go to a museum
and ask an expert a question about it.”
Commercials you want to watch [1:37]
Mike: Tell us about your business, HomeMade Modern. What is it,
how did it start, and why did you start it?
Ben: HomeMade Modern is a website where we share design ideas.
And it’s sort of interesting: we use very conventional internet means, such as
YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, to publish these ideas. What’s a little bit
different is that we’re actually working with brands like Home Depot, Quikrete,
and Ryobi—not to show people how to build and make their own furniture and do
home improvements, but actually to introduce them to new products. So what’s
awesome about it is that we’re basically making commercials that people want to
watch and that actually teach them how to do something useful for their home.
Mike: Well, it sounds like a very unique business model. How did
you arrive at that?
Ben: So, my background is in architecture. And in architecture,
design is a service. So you’re charging people to design something custom. Now
that’s a great business and we’ve had a lot of success with it. But we
tend to only work with rich people. Now that I’m doing HomeMade Modern and
I’m publishing design for free to consumers, I can reach millions of people
every month but still not charge for my designs, because I’m making money from
the brands that I’m working with.
Mike: Ben, how did the principles you learned from your parents
come in handy when you started your own business?
Ben: I don’t know if there were principles, but I think
there was just a lack of assumptions. I think one of the advantages of homeschooling
is that you’re not confined to the traditional ways of thinking. As long as
your parents are homeschooling you as a way of showing you and exposing you to more
stimulus, rather than trying to protect you from things, I think you end up becoming
very resourceful. And it’s actually a great way to prepare for a career being
So I’d say that the wide-openness and the lack of structure actually led to
that sort of aggressiveness and simply saying, “Why can’t I start a
The bucket stool [3:25]
Mike: Well that’s fantastic, but can you give us some
examples of the projects you’ve worked on as part of HomeMade Modern?
Ben: I’ll give you a few examples of some of my favorites.
One of our most popular projects is called the “bucket stool.” And we
show how easy it is to take a five-gallon bucket, pour in three inches of concrete,
stick in three sticks, and then wait 24 hours and pull it out—and you have a
finished stool. And this project—people have watched it hundreds of thousands
of times on YouTube, and now people on six different continents have built this
project. So we’re spreading design all over the world through the internet.
Mike: Well Ben, I’m trying to picture this. How did you
think of that?
Ben: I was trying to think: What is the easiest way to make
something that involves the least amount of power tools (because that’s one of
the things that scares people)? And concrete immediately came to mind; it’s
material that’s cheap and available all over the world. I said, “What if
I used the concrete actually to hold everything together?” And then the idea
just took off from there.
Homeschooled entrepreneur [4:18]
Mike: Ben, besides HomeMade Modern, what other projects are you
involved in today?
Ben: Well, I’m still a cofounder and partner in my
architecture firm, Zero Energy Design. We design high-performance, sustainable homes.
Really incredible work—these zero-energy homes that produce as much energy as
I’m also involved in real estate development, primarily in Boston.
And then I’ve also lately come to investing in tech startups. I’m an
advisor for a really cool company called YoShirt. It’s an app that we just have
now reached more than a million downloads. You can take a picture and customize your
own clothes and things like that. [It’s] a really cool piece of technology that
I’m happy to be a part of.
And then I’m also invested in a few other startups. We just did a
Kickstarter campaign for an improved X-Acto knife, called Ergo Kiwi—which
everyone should check out.
I’m just having a lot of fun traveling around, working with different
creative groups, investing time and advice into these startup companies.
Mike: I must say: I’ve been involved in homeschooling for
over 30 years, and you’re one of the more creative people I’ve ever met
or heard of. I am so proud of you. You’re such a tremendous representative of a
Put away the bulldozer [5:34]
Mike: Ben, what do you hope to accomplish in the future with
HomeMade Modern or any of your other projects?
Ben: Well Mike, I’m not really that goal-oriented;
I’m more process-oriented. So for example, every day if I wake up I always do
the bed test. I love sleeping, but if I am more excited to get up even before I feel
like I’ve had enough sleep, to get started on whatever project I have scheduled
that day, then I know that I’m on the right track and I’m successful.
Now, in terms of specific accomplishments, right now I think our videos have been
seen 16 to 18 million times. Yeah, it would be nice to get to a hundred million video
views. But I really don’t think that’s as important as having a deep
connection between the tasks that you have each day and your own internal motivation.
And so I really just focus on that: Am I excited about what I am going to do? Because
I know I can be lazy or I can be disciplined, but I know whether or not I really
engage with the work is going to determine that.
Mike: Well Ben, we have some budding entrepreneurs out there that
would love to hear from you. What should they do? How do they get started?
Ben: The best tip for getting started is to actually get started.
But to be a little more specific, I think we you have to balance aggression with
humility. And a lot of people mistake that for cockiness. I think learning how to
listen, learning how to understand other people. So many entrepreneurs, especially
the young ones that I meet, they just want to bulldoze you with their ideas. And they
want to convince themselves that it’s going to succeed at the same time that
they want to convince potential investors or customers. And I always say, if
you’re working really hard and you think your idea is good, but it’s not
quite doing what you want it to do, step back and listen. Listen, be humble, be a
generous collaborator, and really learn how to share ideas as opposed to trying to
inflict ideas on other people.
Mike: Ben, I really appreciate you being with us this week and
taking the time to share. It’s been such a tremendous experience for me, and I
hope that listeners have experienced the same. And until next time, I’m Mike