One to Watch
When Chiedo John was a little kid, his dad was very strict about how he spent his time. Creation, not consumption, was the ethos of the household. “He really limited the time I could spend consuming entertainment,” says Chiedo, 27. TV and video games were contained to four hours per week and only on weekends. Even hang time with friends was somewhat restricted. But Chiedo was free to make and build whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted: books, piano, HTML. Chiedo learned to code when he was 9.
When it came time to get a job, his dad, who was born in Sierra Leone before emigrating to England then to the United States with Chiedo when Chiedo was a first grader, wouldn’t let Chiedo do the regular teen thing of bussing tables or working at 7-11. “He said if I wanted to make money I had to think like an entrepreneur,” says Chiedo. “I had to make my own job. So I did.” First he sold cans of soda to kids at school. Then he graduated to candy, buying bags in bulk from Costco that he’d divvy up and have classmates sell for him. Soon he was buying used first generation iPhones, unlocking them to resell on eBay to buyers in China for $200 each. By the time he got to James Madison University, selected primarily for its favorable guy to girl ratio (hey, it’s an important consideration!), he knew computer science was his calling. The program helped him land an internship at AOL. He sensed a job offer forthcoming. “I remember thinking, I guess this is just what you do now? Go get a real job?’ My friend said, ‘Well, do you want to work on the AOL toolbar for the rest of your life? Or do you want to do something important and start a company?’ And I was like, Oh, when you put it that way, it’s an easy choice.”
Given Chiedo’s upbringing, starting a business was all but inevitable.
Chiedo Labs is a software solutions agency that builds all kinds of projects on the web—custom websites, online stores, courses, apps. It’s housed in a breezy, open- air office on Market Street. Business has been brisk. He says the company has been profitable since day one, and in 2016 doubled its revenue from the year prior. He has a podcast, blog and a YouTube channel covering everything from tech concerns to conversations with area entrepreneurs and Frisbee golf champs.
Chiedo is emblematic of the “new” Harrisonburg: young, dynamic, tech savvy, oozing with start-up energy. He knows his business might be more profitable in a place like DC or Richmond, but Harrisonburg has him hooked. “I love the community, I love the lifestyle, I love the piece of mind,” he says. “I love downtown. I love my church. It just feels like home.”
Right around the time Chiedo was busting his butt working 12 hours a day, he and his wife Kelsie found out they were able to adopt a baby way sooner (like, by three years) than they thought they would. Suddenly, Chiedo was a father…a father of an infant and who now had considerably less time to spare. He had to figure out how to do more with less. Be more productive in fewer hours. He began to read a lot of business books (be sure to check out his top five recommendations on page 18) and began to see the holes in his business model. “We hit this weird place where we were selling our time by the hour,” he says. “It wasn’t scalable. And I was spending all my time managing people, which I’m not really good at.” In a bold move, he decided to shut down the marketing and IT side of his business. He scaled back on the podcast and YouTube platforms and recently hired a COO to free him up from managing day-to-day operations so he can concentrate on what he’s truly passionate about—creating products, setting the vision for the company and meeting with and mentoring entrepreneurs. “I love start ups and tech,” he says. “It keeps my spirits high. It puts me in the right circles and having the right conversations. I want to be working with the Ubers before they become Ubers.”
These days, he spends more time each week on the road (but home before Shiloh’s bedtime!) drumming up new business and meeting with like-minded souls. “It’s easy to work with companies who aren’t passionate about what they do,” he says. “They’re just following orders—‘hey, we need a new site.’ My energy comes from working with startups and nonprofits because they’re super passionate. They think they’re going to change the world. I’m like, yes, I want to work with those companies!”
With that kind of infectious enthusiasm, startups in the Valley want to work with Chiedo, too.