Blair Kelly

Blair’s Story: 

Blair graduated from the University of Virginia in 1988 with a double major in Economics and Psychology. While unsure of what he wanted to do in college, he knew he “had an entrepreneurial spirit.” 

Throughout his career, Blair has been involved in numerous successful business ventures: 

Shortly after graduating, he started a business publication for Central Virginia with a friend, leading eventually to the creation of Real Estate Weekly, which was “a new model for real estate publications…where realtors would own the publication and control it,” and which was widely adopted across the country. 

In the mid-90s, Blair was involved in the launch of Virginia’s first internet service provider. After opening multiple offices, and several acquisitions, the business was sold five years later to nTelos, fortunately right before the dot-com bubble burst. 

Blair’s next business role was as the CEO of Eye Response Technologies, Inc, a manufacturer of technology that tracks eye movements so that individuals with disabilities can convert text to speech. 

For the past two years, Blair has served as the CEO of Commonwise Home Care, a non-medical homecare company that allows individuals to age-in-place in their homes, rather than move to a nursing home or assisted living facility. The business has “carved out a good niche as being a very high quality provider.” Commonwise has expanded to four offices in Charlottesville, Richmond, Williamsburg, and Charleston, South Carolina. According to Blair, in-home care is a rapidly growing market due to demographic changes and the pandemic, and he’s working with a great team at Commonwise. 

To sum up his career journey thus far, Blair says that he’s “been very lucky…to stay here in Charlottesville…and be able to call my own shots for my whole career and still be around UVA.” 

What draws you to entrepreneurship? 

The control you have over your own destiny. You can pick your path; you can choose to work when you want and as hard as you want. And in the early days that meant plenty of hundred-hour weeks plus, and I bootstrapped everything I did. I think I borrowed money from my girlfriend and ate peanut butter sandwiches for the first three months in a little rented apartment in somebody's basement. The joke as an entrepreneur is that you only have to work half days, you just get to pick which 12 hours. It's being able to control your own destiny, and pick what you want to do, and then reap the rewards if you're successful enough. And I guess I've got a little bit of an anti-conformist streak so I had questions about my desire and ability to work for a big company where I'm being told what to do all the time. 

What makes a good entrepreneur? 

I think you've got to be multifaceted; you've got to be good at a number of things, managing people first and foremost, you have to be a good communicator, you have to be able to relate to folks, inspire them, you've got to understand the financial basics of running a business, and you've got to understand what people want from a marketing standpoint - how to market to people and understand what the market wants. A lot of entrepreneurs trip up by trying to sell something that people don't really need or want. So, you've got to be able to read the market and understand what people do want and tailor your product or service accordingly. 

Do you feel that the economics major helped prepare you for your career? 

Yes, it did. Probably a number of courses in particular. I actually debated going into the Comm school, and I sat down with Ken Elzinga, my advisor, and told him I was thinking about that. He gave me a list of a half dozen or more courses that I could take in the Comm school without actually entering the comm school, because as indicated by my psychology double major I was interested in a lot of things, and I didn't really want to give up the liberal arts education and the ability to take a bunch of different courses that I liked. And so it was a good compromise where I took accounting, etc. Just as a side note— you learn a lot of things in college and then forget things after a period of time, and to give you an idea of how important some of those things were like the Money and Banking class, I remember early in my business career sitting on the beach and rereading some of those textbooks. So, it does help. Psychology helps too in a way because it helps you understand people and situations. There was an organizational behavior class I took that was relevant to what I'm doing. 

Do you have any advice for students who want to pursue entrepreneurship? 

If you do have an idea, it doesn't hurt to give it a shot. One piece of advice I give to folks is that it's better to start early because if you fail you can always go back and get a job. Taking the leap is a bit like kicking a baby bird out of the nest - go give it a shot. It doesn't always sit well with parents. But know you've got to be willing to work hard, and you've got to be able to listen to people. Learn to communicate well - written and verbal communication is huge. Being able to communicate effectively and efficiently to people is probably the foremost skill that you're going to need throughout your business career.