I’m a late bloomer, let’s just say that. I’m 38 now and at 30 was still lost, confused and taking odd end jobs at $12 per hour. So how did I end up where I’m at now? Hard work, some luck and a lot of help from my friends. Leading up to my early 30’s I had spent a good deal in finance and entertainment. Right out of college I took a cushy investment banking job, only to leave it to pursue a passion career in entertainment. Unfortunately, like any artistic endeavor – it is very risky with very little financial security. That said, I did have some minor successes. Amongst them was writing, producing and directing a small little horror film that I shot in 5 days and ultimately sold to Lionsgate for a profit. The whole endeavor from start to finish was 3 months. For those in the filmmaking community, this kind of story is unheard of. Although not a financial homerun by any means, the ability to do something that many dream of yet an infinitesimally small number of people actually accomplish gave me my first taste of realizing nothing is impossible. If you shift perspective, you can do anything.
This led me to my first startup experience. After I sold this movie, I basically had done what I set out to do when I ventured into the entertainment world. And so I felt somewhat directionless. Fortuitously, I had a close friend of mine that was in a similar boat as me – but his journey led him to traveling and while in Vietnam he saw how cheaply textiles could be manufactured, specifically when it came to custom suits. When he came back to the states, he sat me and another friend of ours down for drinks and said he wanted to sell custom suits online. As we talked further (and got a lot drunker) we realized that there were already many players in the space. Instead the idea for disrupting tuxedo rentals came up. Being that I had just recently gotten married and went through a horrific experience (as many other men will attest to), I knew that there was something in that idea. So we started an online tuxedo rental business called Simpletux. We took it from ideation to $100,000 plus in revenue in about a year’s time and I became our pseudo CEO.
After that first year, several of the other founders experienced burn out and decided to go back to corporate jobs. I, on the other hand, found my calling and stuck around the startup scene. Little did I know that my odd work history between finance and entertainment would make me really good at growth hacking. To me, all growth stems from storytelling (entertainment) and the ability to use data and analytics to ensure you are scaling that story effectively (finance). And so I went on to become a growth consultant, working with around a dozen companies helping them scale from $1M-5M a year to that $10-15M a year mark. I found my sweet spot in companies that were in the Seed or Series A stage.
What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture or to make significant changes in an existing business? How did the idea for your business come about?
I am now on my second venture Renly, an Airbnb for commercial business space. The idea stemmed from my ex-wife who was a hairstylist of ten years before becoming a salon owner. The problem was there was super high turnover between these sub-renters and small business owners, because of the lack of formal discovery process. Things like culture fit, something we value highly in a traditional work environment, falls to the wayside in these service-based industries. And with creative personalities, you can imagine how big they are – which then creates these inefficiencies. High turnover yields a large chunk of time being spent as a landlord for owners while impacting the overall business operations for both parties. It makes their abilities to grow their clientele much more challenging. With Renly, we’ve been able to see tremendous growth in a short amount of time. We competed last year in the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield competition (which for any tech geek is a dream come true) and we raised a Seed round. We are currently at operational breakeven in just a little over a year of operation and are exploring launching an ICO with our own digital currency. Being my second venture, I was much more patient and was able to focus on strategy and execution. Sticking to a game plan and long-term vision allowed for us to get to where we are. As a second time founder, I was able to be much more efficient and effective.
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
When it comes to building your business I don’t see obstacles or hurdles. I think most of it actually comes in the form of the personal hurdles and the toll it takes on you. When you realize that the world has billions of people, the fact that almost any idea for a product or service has an existing audience somewhere, and that you just need to find where they are, reach them and introduce them to your product or service – then it really takes a lot of the complications out. The reality after you go through that exercise is you may not have a large enough market size to justify your expenses or you actually might have a sizable business on your hands – but the truth is you can get to these fairly binary answers pretty quickly. However, to get there – it takes a bit of an obsessive nature. And that is where I think the hurdle lies. Additionally, the feeling of being a lone wolf – having impostor syndrome, given you are forging new uncharted roads…these are all difficult emotions to get through.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits?
How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
This question is extremely personal, because I’m now divorced. I mentioned the obsessive nature…when you obsession for you business becomes greater than your obsession for your significant other, you can imagine that it poses a serious issue. My family is my family, they have always been supportive of my entrepreneurial endeavors and I think for the most part they understand. But that hasn’t come without its’ own set of consequences. I don’t see them or talk to them as often as I like. The act of starting my own family is also put on hold. When it comes to doing anything differently? I mean, I’d say I’m still very much in my journey. Yes, I’ve made certain sacrifices along the way, but I have yet to know for certain how this all plays out. I know hindsight is 20/20, and I not much of one to revel in the past…so I guess all I can say is that one day maybe I’ll have an epiphany and I’ll be able to better answer that question. But I’m a firm believer that hardships fuel success. Failure fuels success. And in that statement, if I did any little thing differently – I don’t know if I’d be in the position I’m in now.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
My father. Hands down. He was the one who taught me the meaning of hard work and it was his passing that ultimately fueled my unwavering work ethic in my first venture. When that didn’t pan out the way I had planned, I questioned the journey. But then I realized that I just needed to push thru. When I did that, I realized quickly that anything is possible. And not to sound too preachy but when you see someone fight for their life day in and day out for ten years, it really sheds light on any complaint you can possibly have. Nothing is really that bad in comparison to watching someone fighting for their life. Once that notion clicks in, yeah – anything is possible. Work ethic is just a muscle that needs to be exercised, if you do it enough it becomes routine and your threshold for what others deem “work” become habit for you. This allows you the ability to surpass others and achieve more than status quo.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
I wish I had learned to code. Or at least taken some classes. I had an idea for Netflix before Netflix was Netflix…but I had no idea how to execute. I’ve had a hundred or so other billion dollar ideas from when I was younger, sitting on a couch, super ambitious but with no direction. Because I’m not a technical person. I’ve learned to become conversational in tech speak – but I’m still very far from being fluent. I think that’s the one thing I try to work on at being better at daily. Because it’s what I am weakest at.
What advice would you give to an upcoming young and old entrepreneur locally and internationally?
Just do it. Stealing this from Nike, but that’s as simple and as direct of advice I could every possible give. Have an idea? Figure out the first step and just do it. Then when you get to the next step after that, just do it. Scared of taking that first step? Just do it. Everyone saying you can’t? Just do it. Worried your idea won’t pan out? Just do it. Think there is a realistic chance of being flat broke? Definitely. But, just do it. Because in the end, we cannot realize what we do not do. And you can’t build a billion dollar company, disrupt an industry, change the world or shift the paradigm without that simple phrase. Just do it.