How I Work: 26 questions with John Espey, co-founder and CEO at Levvel

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Under John’s leadership, Levvel has grown to about 170 global employees with a $30 million annual revenue run rate.

Here’s how he works.

Office location?

Uptown. Nascar Plaza Building, floor 17.

What’s your official job title?

CEO & Co-Founder at Levvel

What type of computer do you use?

When I travel, I have a MacBook. At work, I keep a MacBook Pro.

What are your social media habits?

I use LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram. I read Reddit when I’m bored.

Facebook is where I put the most content out there. It’s two things, either family- or work-related. The reason I put the work stuff out there isn’t because it gets in front of customers, it’s because it gets in front of employees. All the great people you hire are the people you know or the people the people you know, know.

I read more LinkedIn than most people do. I actually like the newsfeed in LinkedIn.

What type of phone do you have?

iPhone X. I’m a sucker, I upgrade every time.

phone-of-John-Espey-charlotte

Looks like John’s a big iPhone folder guy. I dig it.

What gadgets do you use regularly?

Airpods have been a game changer. I talk on the phone a lot more now with them. You walk around our office and you’d think we issue them standard. Everybody has them hanging out of their ear. And everyone that doesn’t have them makes fun of the people that use them — until they break down and get them and then they’re wearing them too.

On the personal side, I just bought a Joule Sous Vide. You cook with the app. You can leave it for hours. And the Instant Pot is the other game changer at home.

How much sleep do you get each night?

I try to go to bed by 9:30 p.m. and I usually wake up at about 5:45 a.m. to get to a 6:30 a.m. CrossFit class.

How long is your commute and what do you do during it?

10 minutes. I typically listen to Howard Stern.

What’s the first hour of your day look like?

It’s the gym.

If I’m not in the gym, it’s literally consuming as much information as I can. I make coffee. I fire up my travel laptop on the kitchen table.

Are you a coffee person?

I’m a three cups a day guy if you count the afternoon coffee.

When I wake up, I do coffee immediately. We have a Keurig, but if I’m being patient, I use the French press. I love grinding the beans. I love making the French press.  If I’m really feeling it, I’ll make a bulletproof coffee. It sounds disgusting, but you really need to try it once. It’s 500 calories. It’s brain food.

What’s your typical breakfast?

During the week, I do intermittent fasting. I skip breakfast. Breakfast becomes lunch. I eat paleo. Usually lunch is a salad with a meat. On the weekends, I don’t do the fast. I’ll have a regular breakfast, like eggs and bacon.

Music at work?

I think I have the music palate of a 15-year-old. I listen to old-school hip-hop and heavy metal. I use Apple Music most of the time. I’m not an Apple fanboy, but I’m fully bought in on their ecosystem. I’m almost a fanboy.

Do you have any unusual habits?

I eat paleo. I’ve done it for four years. Everybody at work makes fun of me for it.

CrossFit as well. I’ve been doing that for four years too. We pay for everybody at Levvel to do CrossFit. There’s a group of probably 15 of us that go fairly regularly — but that tells you, if only 15 out of 90 do it, it must be pretty weird.

I also get a lot of crap for being so into old-school and underground hip-hop.

crossfit-John-Espey-charlotte

CrossFit halloween. John looks like he’s in pretty good shape, but I need to run him through my 22 minute workout that includes running a mile on the treadmill at 6.5

What everyday thing are you really good at?

Listening to the market and reacting.

And I don’t multitask. I’m working with the team on this too. Just focus on one thing and get it done. If you try to focus on everything at once, you get nothing done.

Best thing about your job?

The people, hands down. Clients are awesome, but people make work special.

What do people get wrong about entrepreneurship in Charlotte?

You build an entrepreneurial community around the entrepreneurs. Not the other way around. You don’t build an entrepreneurial community and wait for the entrepreneurs to come.

AvidXchange is going to be the one that changes things. You look at tech communities around the U.S. and they all boil down to one or two amazing companies that hit it really big.

Where do you often find yourself around Charlotte?

My 5-year-old loves Discovery Place and DefyGravity, a trampoline park. In the summer we go to Carowinds a lot. My wife and I just started going to Resident Culture, it’s a friendly neighborhood spot.

Do you have any side projects?

I’ve invested in a few companies. Two AI companies, both related to Charlotte. I’m not super involved. I’ve also invested in a company I helped start called Nexgrid in Virginia. I’m a little more active with that one.

And then there’s a restaurant concept I’ve invested in. They’ve got three open in the Miami area. The restaurant is called Dirt Eat Clean. It’s fast-casual and geared towards millennials that want better food, but don’t want to sit down for every meal.

If you weren’t doing your current job, what would you be doing?

I’d love to be a sales person in a software company or I’d love to just go back to writing code all day long.

I love to plug in headphones and write code.

What’s a recent purchase of less than $100 that you love?

I bought a watch winder. I have four watches. I used to hand wind them every night. I don’t remember the brand, but it cost about $80 on Amazon. This is another habit that people think I’m an idiot for.

What industry-specific news or information do you consume?

I get a lot of my news from Twitter.

Stratechery is my favorite read. My team sends articles back and forth.

There’s also a series called Breaking Smart. They do episodes and seasons. It’s a blog with hand-drawn images.

What advice would you give your 30-year-old self?

Enjoy the ride more. I was too results-oriented.

What’s the best job advice you’ve received?

I was 25 or 26 and a guy told me, “Look John, I see so many guys come through this company and jump to the next job to make a few thousand more a year. Even if somebody offers you a 25% salary increase, the most important thing for you is to learn.”

You need to seek out opportunities to grow. It’s worth more than money. I would extend that to building your network too. Our network is the reason we’ve been able to scale Levvel.

What book do you recommend the most?

Zero to One by Peter Thiel. I also tell people to read Black Swan. I think people, especially in a banking town, always think they can model stuff out on a spreadsheet.

What’s the one thing that people don’t realize about Charlotte?

This town punches above its weight.

What other Charlottean would you like to answer these questions?

Eric McCoy, one of my favorite businessmen in this city.

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