Co-Founders of Training Consulting Company: Elevos, Nikki Kong & Jake Prince, Waikoloa Village, HI USA

“One thing Jake has taught me is the importance of always assuming good intent from each other, which applies to all our interactions — personal interactions, professional interactions, and everything that falls somewhere in between the two. Having this mindset, especially when you’re in the same house all day, every day, with one other person has been invaluable.” 

Nikki and Jake were living in Colombia when COVID-19hit, and shut down all international and domestic travel. They ended up getting on a repatriation flight organized by the U.S. Embassy and coming home three weeks early.

“Jake and I met when we worked together at a consulting firm in the Bay Area. The first time we actually had a conversation was about six months after I started, after a company wide meeting. We presented on topics neither of us can remember, but — and I hesitate to even say this because it sounds kind of lame — we bonded over being the two presenters with the most aesthetically-pleasing slide decks. The conversation that ensued was a very Stepbrothers-esque exchange where we realized we loved many of the same things. As you might imagine, it ended in the classic “Did we just become best friends?” “Yup!” dialogue.

This is the part of the story where an omniscient, third-party narrator would jump in and say, “They did not, in fact, become best friends.” This is true; our manic first conversation was followed by pretty much nothing. But, it was nice to know there was a coworker who loved slide design, data visualization, and Will Ferrell movies as much as I did. It took two more years for us to actually start hanging out. We both found ourselves working out of a different regional office of the same consulting firm and saw each other more often. Call it fate, or proximity, or whatever, but we quickly became the best friends we had initially set out to be.

Since then, we’ve lived in Sacramento, San Francisco, Colombia, and Alaska together. Somewhere along the way we started dating — apparently it was an “everybody knows it but Nikki” situation — and now, we’ve launched a consulting business together. 

Through our business, Elevos, we help organizations build out new hire training programs to more effectively transition staff into and within their company. We developed the training program at our former firm and loved the process of introducing new hires to the company, facilitating relationships among coworkers, and helping our colleagues feel prepared and empowered to take on new roles. We’re excited to continue learning more about the space and honing our skills as we bring unique perspectives to our own clients now.”

Throughout the pandemic, Nikki and Jake have kept their business going strong — and even made the move together to Hawaii. Read more about their journey taking on COVID-19 together, below:

How has the pandemic changed what you do for work?

Jake: Now we at least have a good excuse for why our business isn’t making money!

Nikki: Honestly, the pandemic didn’t change anything about what we do for work. Jake and I both left our last jobs around the same time the pandemic started, but it wasn’t necessarily because of the pandemic. When we conceived of our business, Elevos, we intentionally positioned it as a remote consulting service, regardless of the shelter-in-place restrictions. Jake travels a lot, so we never wanted to make it an in-person gig.

Jake: Our business was meant to enable us to travel to different countries, then live and work in a single place for several months before moving to a new country. Alternatively, this model also allows us to live absolutely anywhere we want for longer or indefinite periods of time. 

Nikki: Launching the business just happened to coincide with the travel ban and the nationwide quarantines. We haven’t been able to leverage our remote model yet, but we’ll resume our plans once it’s safe to travel again.

Jake: But, the pandemic does force us to focus on building the business. And this is a good time to position ourselves as a remote company, since everyone is working remotely. 

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced during COVID?

Jake: Any day when Nikki doesn’t bring me coffee in bed…

Jake: The biggest challenge we’ve faced so far has been spending so much time with each other — and with only each other. In launching a business together, we’re already trying to do what most people would deem impossible. But, we figure that if we can get through this together, we can get through almost anything together. This is just about as chaotic and bizarre as it can get.

Nikki: Yeah, totally. We lived together for a little bit before the quarantine, but of course, it feels different when leaving for work during the day or seeing our friends on the weekends aren’t really viable options anymore. All things considered, we’ve been really lucky. Our friends and family are safe and healthy, which has been huge. Plus, they’re supportive of and interested in the work we’re doing. But yeah, it would be remiss if I didn’t say that evacuating a foreign country during a global pandemic, launching and building out our first business, and putting in the emotional work to ensure both our personal and work relationships are in ship-shape has been really challenging.

What have you learned about yourself and/or the world?

Jake: There’s a whole lot more action going on at your local gas station than you’d ever expect, if you just take the time to hang out and watch…

Nikki: I need precisely three snacks per day to function and God HELP anyone around me if I don’t have them. I kind of knew that before the pandemic though… 

Jake: Everyone is making it up as they go. 

Nikki: I think this is something we’ve always suspected, but never had any evidence to show us if we were right or wrong. Everyone being thrust into the chaos of working from home, practicing social distancing, and wearing masks everywhere has been such a massive equalizer for a lot of our peers. 

Jake: Another thing I’ve learned is that every day has ups and downs. I have a lot more variance throughout a single day than I thought I did.

Nikki: One thing Jake has taught me is the importance of always assuming good intent from each other, which applies to all our interactions — personal interactions, professional interactions, and everything that falls somewhere in between the two. Having this mindset, especially when you’re in the same house all day, every day, with one other person has been invaluable. 

Has this pandemic changed the way you prioritize in your personal life?

Jake: I’ve really gotten in touch with the nuances of a chicken salad. What else? … Fashion first, safety second. I guess that’s it.

Nikki: I have officially reached a new echelon of fashion. My standard outfit is now my Tevas, snow overalls that are about two sizes too big, and a homemade t-shirt with our friends’ faces screen printed on it.

Nikki: We’re fortunate that the shelter-in-place orders have given us time and space to understand ourselves a little better. Some of our priorities have changed in small ways, like, we’ve realized we no longer want to make time for things like small talk or daily Bay Area commutes. Personally, I’ve realized that I needed to make going outside a bigger priority. Whether it’s kayaking or hiking, or just letting Jake use me as a human weight for squats, I always feel a lot better after being outside for a bit. 

Jake: Also — the practice of putting your lifestyle before your work. We built our work around our lifestyle and frankly, I don’t think there’s any going back. Lifestyle must come first because our lifestyles are for our health.

What do you do to keep your spirits up?

Nikki: I think the solution is a combination of (A) being cognizant about the things you need to do every day to be happy, and (B) figuring out ways to make the other person’s day a little bit easier. For example, I like having a few moments to myself in the mornings and I thoroughly enjoy recounting my all dreams in excruciating detail (sorry, Jake!).

Jake likes having coffee when he wakes up and going outside to play. So, on most days, I’ll get up a little earlier than Jake, make coffee, and bring it to him in bed. Then, I immediately plunge into a five- to ten-minute monologue about everything I dreamt of the night before. He invariably convinces me to go outside with him sometime in the afternoon, even if it involves a longer kayak or a (very) cold swim in the lake.

Has this travel ban or quarantine impacted any important plans you had laid out?

Jake: I would have preferred to disappear into the rainforest of a developing country, so yeah.

Nikki: I wanted to self-isolate anyway, but now it’s too trendy and I WANT OUT.

Nikki: The travel ban has impacted pretty much all our important plans, aside from launching a business. We were living in South America when the worldwide quarantines started, and Colombia shut down all international and domestic travel. We ended up getting on a repatriation flight organized by the U.S. Embassy and coming home three weeks early.

We planned to return to Northern California, but we got an eleventh-hour offer from Jake’s parents and flew to Anchorage, where he’s from, instead. I can now say I’ve officially lived in Alaska for five months and it’s been amazing. I’ve experienced the coldest temperatures I’ve ever felt, eaten the best burgers I’ve ever tasted, and lived in places I never thought I’d visit. 

Jake: I had also planned to go to Argentina in December, but it’s looking like I won’t be able to travel until 2021. I’m bummed that I can’t go, but it’s a lot of fun to be here too.

Nikki: Where’s the second place you’ll go once the travel ban is lifted? Assuming the first place you’ll go is Argentina?

Jake: Japan, to go backcountry skiing.

Nikki: Can I steal that answer? Also Japan… but for the sushi.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Jake: Treat yo’self! Hopefully everyone is getting some time to get back in touch with how they want to live their lives. I’m thankful that COVID has given me the chance to treat myself and reacquaint myself with how I like to spend my time.

Nikki: Get comfy! Don’t be afraid to show up to a work meeting wrapped in a blanket and wearing pajama pants. Do what you need to do to be happy and productive during the workday. Thankfully, my boss is super lenient and sometimes also shows up to the dining room table in his comfy work attire — usually shorts and a button-up Hawaiian shirt.

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