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Community Highlights: Meet April Caldwell of fayVen

Today we’d like to introduce you to April Caldwell.

Hi April, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
My husband Aaron, our COO, and I met in the US Air Force where we both served as dental laboratory technicians. He served 20 years and retired and I served 10 and separated. We moved to Austin, Texas, and worked in varying government positions.

After five years of working at the VA, I decided to start my own business, diving into the food industry – which I had no knowledge or experience in. I thought popcorn would be a fun business, and who doesn’t like popcorn, am I right? But after putting in all the work of starting and launching a gourmet popcorn company, I was met with issue after issue in trying to find the best places to sell my popcorn.

fayVen was created out of frustration – my first company was a gourmet popcorn business, and our artisanal popcorn wasn’t meant to be haggled with, price-wise. But having farmers’ markets as our first and only opportunity to sell, we did it anyway… even at a loss most times.

We eventually decided to take things into our own hands and start reaching out to local businesses and asking if we could set up shop in front of their storefronts to sell our popcorn and were met with great enthusiasm. After speaking with dozens of other vendors with similar issues to our own and with no real answer to my question, “what website do vendors go to find cool events to attend?” I decided that I would be the one to create something just for our community.

It’s incredibly hard starting a new business and we want to ensure vendors that there are ideal venue matches for them in order to find their best customers. Farmers’ markets are wonderful, but they might not always be the best match for all vendor types.

We want to help match up vendors and artisans with retailers (venues) who have similar clientele and offer them both opportunities to work together and create new revenue streams for both sides of our marketplace. A lot of people sum up fayVen as the Airbnb for small businesses… and we think that is a great comparison.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
There have been so many challenges along the way… the first and most persistent challenge is that I am a non-technical founder of a technology company.

If I knew how to code, this baby would have been up and running a long time ago. The beauty of that though is that it has taught me patience and allowed me to be vulnerable and not so self-reliant when that is typically my MO. I have had to reach out and get lots of advice and rely on others to build my dream with me.

By doing so, I’ve gotten great input and feedback and been able to iterate along the way with lots of sound advice. It’s also given me additional time to talk to customers and find out what’s important to them before investing too much time, energy, and resources.

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about fayVen?
We truly believe that all small business owners should have access to quality retail space no matter what stage of growth they’re in.

fayVen was built by vendors, for vendors – and we know how hard it is to start a small business and we wished we had a resource like fayVen when we were first starting out. It’s truly incredible to see how fayVen started and where we are now, actually quite humbling.

fayVen wasn’t built alone though, we have partnered with so many community resources and organizations and wouldn’t have been able to do it any other way. We know that it takes an army to build a sustainable business and we’re so incredibly grateful for those who have supported us along the way.

I started off with SCORE in Austin, TX, then I learned about the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) and their many programs for entrepreneurs like STRIVE (at HCC), V-WISE, EDGE, and now EBV.

STRIVE to lead me to get a grant from the Everyday Entrepreneur Venture Fund and helped me get a scholarship at Embarc Collective. Embarc Collective has been a HUGE help for all things tech and business related and has provided me with incredible opportunities, Veterans Florida has so many offerings for veteran entrepreneurs including scholarships, and Bunker Labs (another veteran and military program).

I went through their Veterans in Residence program, Action Zone – they had an incredible program called Action in Motion where I had a mock board of investors I presented to for feedback, the State College Florida Veteran incubator was fantastic… and I won their pitch competition, Tampa Bay Wave – TechWomen Rising cohort was so integral in helping me learn how to pitch, and is helping me learn all about fundraising.

I won a small grant from the Steve Grant Fund, we won St. Pete Pitch Night (St. Pete Greenhouse) in December last year, of course (HUGE help), and most recently won an episode of Two Minute Drill with David Meltzer where we got $50,000 in cash and prizes – which aired on Bloomberg in March. We’ve also pitched for 1 Million Cups in St. Pete and Tampa. The ECC is a fantastic resource for entrepreneurs.

I can’t forget to mention the two college programs that have helped me develop my MVP – both Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida Polytechnic have partnered with us to scope and code our website with the help of free UX/UI design done by Springboard (another phenomenal organization)! We’ve also won free branding from MilMedia, a free one-year membership from Babe Crafted, and the list goes on and on!

To say that fayVen is a group effort is an understatement. There are so many others that are important to our growth as well – Omni Public, St. Pete Catalyst, Tampa Bay Inno, and Hypeotamus, who all shine a light on the tech industry and have helped people find out about us. Military.com, AMSE, NACCE, MSPN, (just a few more acronyms to throw at you).

Phew! I’m sure there’s more, I’ll come up with!
What makes you happy?
When I see small business owners coming together and working with each other to promote each other’s businesses and cheer each other on – it really makes me so proud.

There is so much competition in the business world, it’s tough sometimes to keep going when you see someone else further along than you are -but even with slower traction, a worldwide pandemic, and the passing of my mother, I’ve still kept working on fayVen because I know how valuable a tool it will be in furthering small business’ success.

The fact that I’ve been able to stay tenacious and resourceful is a huge reminder that I have to stick with it and that success doesn’t happen overnight.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
April Caldwell and Kelly Weatherholt

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