For the series ‘Successful entrepreneurs with AD(H)D' I went looking for inspiring stories from entrepreneurs who have a label, such as David Kellerman. David is a social entrepreneur and change maker and has ADHD. As one of the 20 most promising entrepreneurs in Europe, David is listed in the Forbes 30 under 30. Thanks to daily rituals, changing his limiting beliefs and developing focus, he has come a long way. He would like to share what he has learned with setting up one of his companies, and he also shares his tips. For this article, David answered questions about his ADHD and entrepreneurship with ADHD.
When were you diagnosed with ADHD?
At the beginning of my student days when I was just 20 years old, I was tired of constantly hearing: “You are chaotic.. Why do you forget so much.. You are annoying and hyperactive”. I had heard this all my life in multiple forms from different people. I thought it was part of me as a person, so much that it became part of my identity. Inside, I always felt different, yet I had the feeling that people always only saw the chaotic part of me, as if it was covered under some sort of haze or cloud.
Then I did a search online and typed in “I often lose my keys” and the first search result was “Do you have ADHD?”. When I read the list of questions and answers further I read the following “you are easily distracted in a conversation”, “you are often seen as annoying”, “you are often late” it was check … check … check … that's me. And then the penny dropped. I have ADHD.
Then I went through a process with a psychologist and psychiatrist and when I was 20 it was officially established that I have ADHD.
It almost felt like I had won an award because I finally had something to point to outside of myself. Something to start with.
How has ADHD hindered you in your study/career/work life?
Phew, in high school and college a lot. I was relatively smart, but couldn't focus, on the one hand it didn’t lead to low grades, yet I was underperforming to what I felt I was capable of. Because of this, I always thought of myself as average, and I always had the feeling, no matter how much effort I put into it, I’ll always stay “average”.
While studying in university, after completing an article, a paragraph and even a sentence, I always thought at the end I, what did I just read?! I just couldn't store it properly. It just vanished from my head like thin air. Writing papers and theses was equally a nightmare, because I had no idea how to apply a coherent structure. This meant that I started ‘faking’ a structure, instead of writing an actual good paper.
I did start experimenting with Ritalin and Aderol around that time, but that made me feel like I was at a party and for me, and it was just ‘masking' my symptoms rather than solving them.
How is it going now, and how have you been able to turn this around?
I'm actually doing really well now, I can say that I have discovered a method that has helped me to reduce ADHD symptoms by 80%. The 3 biggest things I have changed for me are the following:
- Nutrition, by this I don't just mean removing e-numbers and sugar (these are given), but I really investigated what food groups make my ADHD worse or better. Gluten was the biggest game changer for me, followed by lactose (mainly milk and cheese) and funnily enough night shade vegetables (e.g. eggplant & chili pepper).
- Positive habits and focus tricks, I started meditating for 1 minute every day for 4 weeks in a row, not longer, not shorter. I wanted to ‘trick' my brain in setting up a habit, instead of willing myself to it. After those 4 weeks I started increasing it by a minute every week. Because of this, I now meditate for 15 minutes every day which gives me a lot of peace and focus while I stay creative. In addition, I started looking when I lost focus. I then started reading a lot about the neurobiology of my brain, especially when and how I got into hyperfocus, that is, the moment I was able to read something for hours on end, without distraction. And then I landed upon a concept called ‘open loops'. Open loop is nothing more than a unclosed thought or action in your head (this can be a task or something random) which keeps on distracting you. For example, that product you need to buy in the supermarket or that task that your boss asked you to complete. I found a very easy way in how to tackle these open loops, by writing them down into a handy app and thereby removing them from my cognitive load.
- Accountability buddy, this has helped in to get lost into the ‘raw diamond syndrome' (made up myself). The raw diamond syndrome, is nothing more and nothing less, than that we as ADHD’ers are always, on the hunt for that next raw diamond, without really polishing it up and seeing if if can become a shiny diamond. In other words, there was always a more fun activity or project that I could pursue that would prevent me to finish my current project and feel less guilty. Resulting into a graveyard of half-etched diamonds and projects. Because I now check in weekly with an accountability buddy, I have someone who keeps me sharp on my own goals and agreements. As a result, there are almost no more dead diamonds in the cemetery.
This and a whole bunch of tricks, habits and systems have helped me to set up the 3 companies I currently own.
What exactly do you do (can you tell us about your companies)?
My main focus now is building a program and community for millennials with ADHD to help and inspire them to follow their passion. Because I believe ADHDers are too creative and mission-driven to get stuck in a place that doesn't inspire them. I just want to encourage them to follow their passion and hope that they will make the world a little bit better.
Specifically, I’ve set up the ‘Get Focused' program, in which I teach millennials to go from distracted to focused in 3 weeks or 3 months. So that they can understand that their ADHD can also be a superpower. I want to teach them everything about nutrition, habits and focus, so that they learn to enjoy the fun sides of ADHD and no longer be bothered by the annoying sides of ADHD. For the millennials with ADHD, who then want to start their own business, I offer a follow-up program on how to make products that people actually want to buy, how to find customers and how to launch your company.
Because yes, there is a method for that. And that was key for me to understand, as an ADHD person you don't have a ‘mental model for order', but there are models to create the order you need, you just have to find the right models and adapt them to make them your own, that's it.
In addition, I am also working on growing the e-commerce part of my company Frank about tea, which I started in 2016 with my girlfriend. Our company is a lot like Tony Chocolonely, and like them, we started with a passion for tea, but rather a passion for social change.
Why is entrepreneurship so good for you (if you look at the characteristics of ADHD)?
Hmm, actually the majority of my positive skills did not translate to university or when being employed, yet all those things that I’m good at translate positively to me being an entrepreneur. But, especially the following 3:
- Creative thinking. I have an eye for design, I give my girlfriend clothing advice and I have no idea where this comes from. I have designed our website and coordinated our packaging design
- Being able to stand up straight when things get chaotic. Because we ADHDers are often labeled as chaotic, yet al those chaotic situations have made us particularly adapt at coping with choatic times. I’ve become somewhat of an expert in it. The moment a crisis arises somewhere, I become very calm and I get a clear overview.
- Being able to quickly see a solution when problems arise. Because a lot has gone wrong in my life, I always had to be ready with a solution, during entrepreneurship you roll from one problem to another problem and being solution-oriented helps enormously.
What positive influences does your ADHD have on your company?
Especially at the beginning of Frank about tea, I quickly realized that we had to sell our tea to offices. I then set up a whole sales machine like crazy. Next to, designing flyers, packaging and setting up the website. Because I had so much energy, I didn't mind working long hours and working a lot. Now that I am a little older, I am much more conscious of my energy and try to get into more flow states, but I still have a very nice creative eye, I can easily connect with people and when things get difficult I am I'm the one who often keeps his head above water and can keep the rest calm (upside-down world, right?).
Are you glad you took the step into entrepreneurship? Why yes/no?
Yes, running your own business is not easy, don't get me wrong. You are responsible for your own income, when you are ill, and you are not insured, you are responsible, and what you do might have the ability not to succeed. But the freedom, the ability to create something you have created in your head, and then see that people like it and actually want to buy, is fantastic. In addition, no one telling you what to do, and creating your own work environment and times so that they work for you and work against you, outweigh all the drawbacks for me.
Do you have any tips for other people with AD(H)D?
Yes, take a hard look at what you eat, after which you might feel tired (e.g. pasta, bread). Food should give energy and it should not cost energy. This is often a sign of food intolerance. Look at habits that help you focus and prevent you from getting into a focus state. Sleep is a very important driver of focus, do you get enough sleep, do you go to bed at regular times and do you get up at the same time.
Ooh, and make sure you have an accountability buddy with whom you can discuss your goals on a weekly basis.
Do you wish to share something else?
Yes, ADHD is not a disease, it is not an abnormality, it’s not an identity, so do not be ashamed of it, despite what you have been told. When you start viewing ADHD from a positive side, those parts that actually make you special, you suddenly see that ADHD actually could be your superpower to leave your mark on the world.
This was the inspiring story of David Kellerman, entrepreneur with ADHD
It is clear that David has proven that entrepreneurship & AD(H)D can go very well together. David turned his weakness into a strength, and is now one of the 30 most promising entrepreneurs in Europe.
Do you wish to stay informed or know more?
Check out the Get Focused and Frank About Tea websites.
- Frank About Tea
- Get Focused (update 2023: this business no longer exists)