Student Profiles Archive

How Instagram Helped Him Quit His Job To Become A Full Time Artist

My favorite stories are all about hustle and Jeremy’s story is precisely that. In the fall of 2014, Jeremy Wolff quit his nine to five day job doing marketing and sales in the pharmaceutical industry. He did this while living in New York City of all places and took a huge leap of faith to pursue his dreams: being an artist.

I spoke with Jeremy to get his story of how he went from a corporate slave to becoming a full time artist, and flipping the term “starving artist” on it’s head by making many, thousands of dollars for his paintings and selling them to artists, celebrities and athletes.

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Instagram “jwolffstudios: Getting there. Not too much left to do. Hope everyone has enjoyed the progress pictures. Also a nice glimpse at my work station.”

 

Dan Reich: What was the decision of quitting your job like?

Wolff: Quitting my job was probably the biggest and hardest decision I have ever made. It was not something I just did randomly one day. It was a thoughtful process and a decision I had thought about for years before actually doing so. It is my opinion that hundreds and thousands of people go through life never knowing exactly what they want to do with their career. They end up jumping from job to job, chasing that higher title and salary down a path through standard and monotonous corporate America. I often questioned what it was I wanted to end up doing. I knew I had a diverse and creative skill set, but I never was given an opportunity to show that at any of the jobs that I had during my corporate stint.

It wasn’t until I took a 10-day vacation on a trip to Israel for my birthright where I got to reflect on my career and think deeply about what I wanted my life to be. We were in a very artsy town and I had noticed a lot of street art and vendors selling their artwork for hundreds of dollars and I looked at my friends and said, “I can absolutely do that.” My friends looked at me like I was crazy at first but it was that day that I knew I was eventually going to give it a go.

Reich: What were some of the first steps you took to changing your career and becoming an artist?

Wolff: The first thing I thought about was whether it was realistic or not. I thought about my immediate network of family, friends, and past co-workers. I knew my strongest asset in the beginning would be word of mouth. In fact, I still think that is my strongest asset as I continue to grow and build my network. I have always prided myself as someone who never burns bridges. I have always made an effort to be the best I can at staying in touch with people. I figured if I could get one or two people from that core network to commission me for a painting in the beginning months it would be a great start. After all, I didn’t even have a portfolio of work to show off in order to gain any exposure. I knew I had to work diligently to have something to show in order to gain clients. Sure enough I did get a couple commissions from some friends and family and thus my art career had begun.

Reich: It must have been tough in the beginning not knowing when your next paycheck was going to come in. How did you manage to pay your bills?

Wolff: Tough is an understatement. It was always a grind. 20-hour days. Not all of those hours were spent doing tangible work, but more so brainstorming my next steps and figuring out my path. I knew I needed a way to make some quick cash any time I needed it. Gotta eat right? So, it was the beginning of September, nearing the end of the baseball season and September 25th, 2014 was Derek Jeter’s last home game. I thought this would be a great opportunity by doing a Derek Jeter portrait and having some prints made up to sell in front of the stadium. I painted an oil painting close up of Jeter taking an at bat, had 150 prints made, along with some business cards that featured the painting on it. I packed up the prints in a bag, borrowed my friends Jeter jersey, and stood out side Yankees Stadium selling prints from anywhere between 5 to 20 dollars each. Each time I sold a print I made sure to give the buyer a business card and told them I also work on commission. I ended up selling around 100 or so of those prints during that series and made right around $1200 cash. Not only that, but a dozen of those people that bought a print contacted me and commissioned me to do an original piece for them later on.

So I had figured out a way to make some quick cash while also getting my name out there. I continued with the New York sports theme for a little while and knew that whenever I needed some emergency money, I could go out to Madison Square Garden or Metlife Stadium to sell some Rangers or Giants prints. It was a large portion of my initial income when some would say I was a “starving artist”.

Reich: But you’re not starving anymore. I know social media has played a huge role in your success. Can you elaborate on your use of Instagram and other social media?

Wolff: There is so much to tell about social media so I will do my best to give everyone as much insight as I can. Instagram has changed my life and social media has given the term “over night success story” a new meaning. Instagram alone has over 600 million active monthly users. As a visual artist this was my obvious choice in terms of which outlet I focused most on. I told myself that I am not only an artist, but I must become an expert in social media as well. I consider Instagram half my job. In two years I have gained 16K followers and that number grows each and every day.

Reich: Tell us more about your Instagram activity. What are some tips you can give to other entrepreneurs?

Wolff: One great thing about social media is that everyone of importance is represented on social media and if they aren’t then they are way behind the eight ball. Because of that, it is so important to be as active as possible. The more activity you have the more you will align with the algorithm of Facebook/Instagram.

The first thing I recommend when it comes to Instagram is to have role models. There has got to be one person or business that you look at and say to yourself, “I want to be like that.” For me, there were several artists that I chose to use as role models for my career. I used well known artists like Alec Monopoly, Retna, King Saladeen, BK The Artist, Bradley Theodore, and Mr. Brainwash just to name a few. I made it a purpose of my life to study these individuals. What connections have they made? What people are they talking to? Not only that, but I have taken it further and gone out and met a lot of those artists and have become friends and acquaintances. I think it is fair to say that I have piggy backed off some of those artists success.

Every night before I go to sleep I will go to one of the aforementioned artists page, take their most recent photo and begin following the accounts that have liked the picture. I also unfollow accounts to maintain a comfortable followers ratio. Then I ‘like’ over 1000 random pictures using hashtags that align with what I am working on. I am sure many people are aware that there are plenty of computer robots that can do this automatically for you, and there are. You can pay for this service, but why pay to have something completely automated when you can do it yourself but smarter? I focus in on my target market. I am coming in contact with people who I know are already interested in art because I am finding them through other artist’s accounts. This gives me better odds that I will one day come in contact with one of there collectors who may be spending thousands of dollars and investing in emerging artists like myself.

Reich: Tell me more about the business side of art.

Wolff: I think I am learning it as I go. I think there is a whole side of the art world I haven’t even come close to divulging into yet. The gallery scene is something I have every intention of breaking into one day when the right opportunity comes along. One thing I do know is that it is changing. Artists are beginning to realize they don’t necessarily need the galleries. I like to think about Chance The Rapper and how he became who he was with out a record label. We have the tools to do everything on our own these days.

Reich: What are some of your best experiences so far on this journey?

Wolff: Oh wow, there are some pretty surreal moments, I can’t lie. That’s a tough question. I have met some of my child hood sports hero’s who have personally signed my original pieces. Kim Kardashian posted one of my paintings on her website, that was a wild morning. I got to live body paint a model during this past Art Basel in Miami. I have met some amazing people that inspire me to be great, people you wouldn’t normally get to meet. But, I think the best experiences are when I get to see people admiring my work. Putting smiles on faces from a painting is so powerful. Being able to inspire other people to chase their dream. Being able to spread a message through imagery that I created. It’s just a special feeling and one that is hard to describe.

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Jeremy’s Art Basel Show with the Kim Kardashian painting

Reich: What do you have on your horizon?

Wolff: I have some really cool projects coming up. I am currently working on my “Cartoon Money Team” series, which as you know features a Forbes Magazine cover with “Cartoon’s Richest Characters”. I have around 12 ideas in which I am going to include the 5 characters I deemed to be the Money Team. So you can be on the look out for that theme to continue. I also have a few murals planned to happen in 2017 and have already begun working out details on painting my first exotic car during Art Basel week 2017 down in Miami.

Reich: Give one piece of advice to other entrepreneurs and artists.

Wolff: My one piece of advice is the cliché that Rome wasn’t built in one day. While it is possible to get a viral hit in today’s day and age, being an entrepreneur is about gaining a reputation and that seldom happens over night. Just as in the corporate world you need a resume to get a job, it works the same way for yourself. I look at my career as an artist and entrepreneur the same way I looked at it while I had the normal 9 to 5. I told myself I am at the entry level of being an artist and I need to work my way up. For some it happens quicker than others as it does with corporate jobs as well. But, you need to crawl before you walk and walk before you run. Take it step by step. Small goals first and make them bigger and bigger each year.

This Startup Failed In Year One And Is Now Doing Over $6M In Sales Per Year

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

On January 19th Kyle Porter, CEO of SalesLoft, a sales technology startup out of Atlanta came to chat with the Building The Sales Machine community here in New York City about the challenges of building company as it relates to culture, values and building the sales organization. Kyle and the SalesLoft story is compelling because the business was pretty much a failure in the first year. But now, they are an 80 person company and grew sales by 1000% in 2015. Moreover, they went from $1M to $6M run rate in the past 5 quarters and was rated the #1 Best Place to Work in Atlanta.

As someone who is building a sales-facing technology startup myself, this story is especially compelling to me.

So how did they do it? Here is what Kyle had to say.

Dan Reich: How did you get started with Salesloft?

Kyle Porter: When we started this company, we flat out failed in the first 12 months. In 2011 I started the company and had no idea what I was getting into. I was a really good salesperson but had no idea had to start a company.

A sales person is the closest job to an entrepreneur. It’s the role where you control your own destiny the most. And you have to have this relentless pursuit to make it happen. I had that gene inside of me. But I didn’t understand software development. I didn’t understand the culture of an Engineering Org, the prioritization of product management philosophy. I didn’t understand that you can only do so many thing at once. I had these guys build, build, build and ultimately I scattered them too thinly.

The other big thing that I was missing was the people’s culture. Think to yourself right now about how you think people should behave… If you start a company you HAVE to inject those things into your business. I didn’t make that happen. I had people that I hired that I thought might be good, but the culture spun out of control.

On the reboot: I’m going to start over from scratch but do 2 things wildly different. 1 I’m going to put thought into product management 2. Pay a ton of attention to culture.

Reich: What has become of the modern sales organization?

Porter: You either have a modern sales organization or you don’t. Are you striving to do things better? Are you using the processes and tools that are available today to drive your team forward? What I keep learning is that there’s stages inside these sales organizations.

When I started sales loft we had this hot thing that a lot of people wanted. So we could reach out to anyone with a “soft touch” and were able to kind of “carpet blast” the universe and get some really good numbers. Eventually, you need to go deeper and build real relationships with people.

If you’re out there and have a sales process that’s working but doesn’t require significant sales skills, you should be skeptical.

If you’re sending emails and people are responding, but you’re not actually diving in and solving problems and going deep, building relationships, connecting with people… those sales are going to eventually dry up.

That’s what I’ve learned about the modern sales organization. The good ones aren’t taking anything for granted. They’re going deep to build true problem-solving relationships with their buyers. They figure out ways to get really personal and interactive with their customers over time.

Reich: What should the SDR and Account Management interaction look like?

Porter: Two years ago this was shocking stuff, but now we’ve all seen the SDR [Sales Development Movement]. We’ve seen the specialization in sales between the people who prospect and bring in the business, and those that nurture the relationships and close it down. Now with the specialization, you’re seeing both disciplines get better at their craft. But now those two roles are coming together a bit more. They have empathy for the role of the other person.

Reich: What are your core values and why are they important to SalesLoft?

Porter: As an executive at your company, work hard to inject your personal core values into your business. What are the 3 things that matter most to me? 1. Positive 2. Self Starting 3. Supportive. The first person I hired: are they positive, are they self-starting are they supportive. This ran down to everything we’ve done. The difference has been night and day.

Now as you grow, it get’s harder and harder to control this at a company level, but you can definitely control it at a team level. So hiring the right people to start, then putting your best people into leadership positions, that embody and understand your values, then having them hire their teams to those values and letting them run with it; eventually you have a solid team, built around your culture.

We went from 3 core values, then my team came to me and said, hey I see a few other things we’d like to talk to you about. “We see people who are positive, supportive and self-starting at this company but they leave a bit to be desired. We also see people that are doing things that are not 1, 2, & 3 but we love it. So we went out to dinner and I asked my team to write down: Who are the top 7 people at this organization, that if we cloned them it would lead us to market domination? Write out the top 5 traits of those people and put them in the middle. Sure enough, 1. Positive. 2. Self Starting 3. Supportive. rose to the top, from that we mined out 3 additional core values. 4. Empathetic 5. Transparent 6. Exceptional.

Reich: How can you use your core values to measure a team (hire, fire, train)?

Porter: I’m a super broken record when it comes to core values. I’m sure people say “Kyle’s an idiot, he says the same things over and over and over again.” Well, I might be. But you better believe everyone at SalesLoft remembers those 6 core values. No matter how long they’ve been there, they can walk you through them. That’s important. That means they run deep.

I’m a parent. I have an 18 month-old baby girl, Brooklyn. Every night before I put her to bed I tell her the rules of the house: be nice to Mommy and Daddy, be nice to others, be nice to yourself. I say that to her over and over until she gets it. If she does something dishonest or not fair. I’m going to tell her, “share, share share”. People think that the job of the CEO is to be some mad scientist and write these elaborate equations locked up in a whiteboard somewhere… The job of the CEO is to ingrain the vision and the values into your team. That simply takes repetition.
I’m the chief reminding officer.

Then I’m injecting it into the hiring process. We have a matrix. Anyone hiring at SalesLoft score candidates on a Matrix according to our core values. By the time I see a candidate in the 3rd round, “I’ll walk right in and ask what are the SalesLoft core values?”. If that person doesn’t know it, they’re out.

Then we work it into management. If I’ve seen that Alex has shown a ton of empathy to a vendor. I’m going to pull her aside, look her in the eye and tell her “thank you”, and explicitly call out what she did, how it tied back to our values and how great it was. All of our managers are trained to do that as well. It makes a difference.

I’ll do the same thing if with negative responses to the values. If I notice that Alex wasn’t attentive to a note that was sent around the office. I’m going to pull her aside again and say hey, you need to be up on this, it’s part of being successful. When you’re not up on this, it hurts our company and here’s why… and “I know you’re better than that”. That matters.

Now, the reprimands are like 1:6 on the compliments. Go heavy on the positive. But stick to your cultures. That’s how you inject that shit right into the business!

Promote on culture values, hire on culture values, fire on culture values.

 

How These 20-Year-Olds Raised $13M And Built A Massive Food Tech Company

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com

Being a young, first time entrepreneur is hard. Without a stunning success story or years of applicable experience, a new founder can face significant challenges starting and growing a company. A study by the University of California indicated that the average venture backed founder is 38 years old with 16 years of work experience. That’s quite a gap when it seems today that every new startup founder is in their early 20s.

What challenges differentiate a veteran entrepreneur and a newcomer’s experiences? What are strategies a first time business owner can employ to maximize the chances of success?

Eat Street's Office in Madison, WI

Eat Street’s Office in Madison, WI

Eric Martell started EatStreet, the largest independent food ordering company in the United States, when he was 20 years old with two classmates at the University of Wisconsin. EatStreet has raised $13 million and powers the online ordering of 15,000 restaurants nationwide. The startup, founded in 2010, exists in a cohort of foodtech and delivery companies that have some impressive deal flow: Instacart raised $220 million at a $1 billion valuation, Postmates has raised $138 million.

I recently chatted with Eric about starting a business in college and about the explosive growth of the food and delivery tech sectors.

Dan Reich: Speak to the challenges of starting a company at 20 years old.

Eric Martell: Early on, and to this day, we’ve had to convince others to take a risk on us, because we’re young and don’t have any pre-EatStreet experience running a tech company. In 2010, we had to convince the restaurants to take a chance on us. Matt was walking into every restaurant in Madison, WI with a simple pitch that our service would bring the restaurants more orders from new diners. Restaurants were wary of the entire idea, because if we took an order online and didn’t properly ensure that the restaurant received the order and could fulfill it, the diners would blame the restaurant for the poor experience. Additionally, we accepted payments online, which meant that we had to pay the restaurant every week, so they had to trust us with their money. Matt looked young for a 20 year old, and he heard more than once that the restaurant “just didn’t feel comfortable doing business with a kid.” Matt was able to sign up five restaurants when we launched February 1, 2010. With some results under our belt, we were able to expand that list to over 100 Madison restaurants within a year.

Additionally, in order to process online payments, we needed the trust of a credit card processor. We applied for six processors before getting approved… there was a lot of inherent risk to accepting online payments and transferring out the payments to restaurants on a weekly basis. It took over two months of searching before someone took the risk on us.

If it weren’t for those five restaurants and the credit card processor taking a risk on us, EatStreet would not exist.

Dan Reich: Do you still face challenges similar to these?

Eric Martell:  Although the nature of the challenges has changed over the years, we still face obstacles from being first time entrepreneurs. We’ve raised over $13 million from venture capitalists, and every single one of them has taken a risk in betting on our drive. We also form strategic partnerships with companies like Yelp, Google, Single Platform, and Hotel Communications Network. These businesses need justification to take risks on a company like ours. I’m glad to say that we’ve always been able to put up results, and the company is the strongest it’s ever been.

Dan Reich:  Do you think the current trajectory of food and delivery business funding and acquisitions will continue?

Eric Martell: We stand by what we’re seeing. GrubHub IPO’d a little over a year ago, and has consistently held its value as a multibillion dollar company. Over in Europe, DeliveryHero has raised over $1.5 billion, and Just-Eat also had a very strong IPO. With even Amazon and Uber eyeing the food delivery space, we’re happy to be where we are, with strong relationships with thousands of restaurants.

Dan Reich: Do you have any advice for first time entrepreneurs facing challenges regarding their experience levels?

Eric Martell: Persistence and results. Matt went to over 100 restaurants and only signed up five for our business’ launch. We could have called it quits after five credit card processor rejections. Our investment pitch historically has had less than a fifty percent success rate. Accept the failure as inevitable, and push forward. We’ve had restaurants that initially refused to sign up with us tell us today that when they finally did sign up with us, the additional orders we drove saved their business from going under.

Results might not always be present, but they speak louder than the best sales pitch. Focus on the aspects of your business you have control over, and grow like crazy. We didn’t raise a dollar until we had over $1 million in food sales, and that first million was the product of thousands of hours of promotion and hard work. It’s much easier to convince someone to believe in your vision if you have a track record of growth and hard work to back it up.

Startup CEO: Would You Max Out Three Credit Cards To Start A Business?

Image representing Alec Lynch as depicted in C...

Image by None via CrunchBase

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Would you max out three credit cards, spend your life savings, and take on loans from family and friends all for some cool website idea? In January 2008 Alec Lynch did just that and started a freelance marketplace in his garage called DesignCrowd.

Today, Alec and his team announced a new round of financing putting the company’s total fundraising to date at $6.3 million. Back in March, I was able to spend some time with Alec to hear about how he took his small garage-based startup from Sydney Australia and $60,000 in debt, to multiple locations worldwide and $1 million per month in revenue.

Dan Reich: What were you doing before DesignCrowd?
Alec Lynch: I studied Bachelor of Information Technology at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).  I loved it and did well academically (I was awarded a $36,000 scholarship and the University Medal).  When I graduated from UTS I was 20 and started my first business with a friend from UTS (Adam Arbolino who studied a Bachelor of Science in IT).  Our business was online CRM software and, while it ultimately failed, we learned a lot of good lessons.  After this, I went to work in strategy consulting at Booz & Co where I worked for 2 years.  While I was there I had the idea for DesignCrowd.  In 2007, a few weeks after scoring a promotion, I quit my job at Booz and moved back home to live with my mum and start DesignCrowd.

Reich: What gave you the idea for DesignCrowd?
Lynch: While I was working in strategy consulting at Booz I was constantly looking at different industries.  I had a personal interest in the design industry, as I’d been building websites since I was 14 and I could see three key problems in the traditional design industry: for small businesses buying design it was 1) slow 2) expensive and 3) risky (you never knew what you were going to get back).  One example that highlighted these problems for me was the release of the London Olympics logo in 2007.  It cost £400,000, took one year to make and was absolutely panned by the public and the media.  I thought to myself  “wow, imagine if they had run a global design contest for £40,000 or even £10,000?”.  I knew they would’ve received thousands of designs and ideas from around the world and saved half a million dollars.  At the same time, I could also see a lot of friends graduating with degrees in creative disciplines but struggling to find work.  Essentially, I could see the dynamic for a marketplace that could disrupt the traditional design industry.

So is Alec and his team disrupting the traditional design industry? According to Techcrunch, “the company currently has over 250,000 registered users in 197 countries, including 100,000 designers and says it recently hit $12 million in design projects through its site, a figure that it expects to exceed $20 million in 2014.”

When I asked Alec back in March what his ultimate goals were, he said “our goal is to pioneer crowdsourcing around the world.”

And with the latest round of financing of another $3 million it looks he is one step closer to that goal. Not bad for someone that maxed out three credit cards and moved back home wit his mum to start some nifty website called DesignCrowd.

Startup CEO: How To Build A Double Sided Marketplace In the Fashion Industry

Textile Supplier with President George W. Bush

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Websites like eBay and Amazon have transformed the way people buy and sell products. With a current market cap of $68B and $151B respectively, it’s clear that efficient and highly engaged marketplaces between buyers and sellers can provide real value to both parties.

A new NYC based startup realized the same marketplace dynamic could be applied to a different part of the retail value chain, and in a very specific but necessary category: textiles. Until recently, textile suppliers from around the world had no way to conveniently sell their products in a global marketplace.

I caught up with Benita Singh, the CEO of Source4Style, to learn more about how she is building an online marketplace for a very interesting but critical part of the fashion business.

Dan Reich: There are hundreds of online marketplaces in existence today. Alibaba.com is one example. When did you realize there was a need for a textile marketplace?

Benita Singh: Throughout my career, I spent a lot of time at trade shows, on expensive sourcing trips and even on sites like Alibaba. And it wasn’t unusual for a two-week sourcing trip to India to result in finding only one new supplier. So I learned early on that it was a highly-fragmented market.

At the same time, many of my “best finds” were suppliers that didn’t showcase at the biggest trade shows. And their online presence was limited to a three-page static content site.

We then started to do some research on the market opportunity. In one of our surveys with independent designers, we heard that they spend up to 85% of their time sourcing and navigating the complex textile supply chain. And among the larger fashion brands, we saw that since 2008 travel budgets on the production side of the business were dropping. Couple all these industry trends with the rise of B2B marketplaces and we saw a clear opportunity.

Reich: Any entrepreneur that has built a double-sided marketplace will tell you how hard it is. How are you building both the supply and demand for Source4Style?

Singh: At the beginning, we focused exclusively on building up the supply side of the marketplace. In our case, that was getting a critical mass of textile mills onto the platform. Within three months, we were working with suppliers in over 30 countries. We learned that we must have a baseline of supply before we could go to the demand and start the engine.

We’ve also learned that the two sides of your marketplace may very well have two very different reasons for wanting to be part of your platform. For our buyers, it’s about discovery and access. They want to be able to replicate the inspirational experience of walking a trade show floor 365 days a year, and that’s how we present Source4Style to them.

Our suppliers on the other hand want a more practical tool to help them streamline their leads, follow up with potential buyers and track conversions from sample requests to purchase orders.

It’s critical to learn the value proposition for each side of your market. For our buyers, we have to effectively merchandise and market. For our suppliers, we have to really focus on building a great SaaS platform for them to help manage their global business.

Finally, your influential first adopters can help you grow both sides of the marketplace. Some of our buyers bring their suppliers onto the platform because they want to use Source4Style to manage all of their sourcing. These buyers are also offering case studies that are inspiring others in the industry to give us a try.

Reich: You had to build a global business pretty quickly. What challenges did that entail and how did you overcome them?

Singh: Sourcing is inherently global, so yes, we had to become an international business pretty immediately. Operationally, we built a dynamic platform that allows buyers and sellers to confirm final pricing before proceeding with a purchase order. This accounts for currency fluctuations in the 36 countries where our suppliers are now based. We also brought on local agents in key markets like India and Italy who help us to both onboard new suppliers and ensure that their collections and data are kept up to date.

We have a global market on the buy side as well. And with a small team, we have to provide top-notch service around the globe. This isn’t easy and it means our phones are ringing around the clock. But I consider it the best incentive to grow quickly and intelligently!

Our next steps are to translate Source4Style.com and optimize our platform in key markets as well.

Benita’s work is paying off. In less than two years Source4Style has created a presence in over 76 countries. More recently, they partnered with The Council of Fashion Designers of America to provide their members with “concierge-level access to their comprehensive online sourcing marketplace.”

From Law To Liquor: How One Corporate Attorney Left Law To Start A Luxury Tequila Company

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Over the past few months I’ve heard the same brutally refreshing remarks from a handful of friends: They all want to quit their job as a lawyer so that they can pursue a business of their own. As one corporate lawyer friend put it, “it’s rewarding to help my clients with their business but I think it would be entirely more satisfying if it were a business of my own.”

This is one of the reasons a new tequila company called Qui Tequila was launched. Pete Girgis, a once corporate attorney, felt the same way and decided to leave his corporate gig so that he could launch a tequila company. Pete put it this way.

“I was at a big firm where I felt like a cog in the wheel.  There wasn’t a sense of creation.  Growing up, my father was a small business owner who owned liquor stores that I managed while in school. I had a passion for the spirits business and was lucky to have met my cofounders while practicing law. We are like brothers.  We saw a great opportunity in the luxury tequila market. Now every time I walk into a bar or restaurant and see someone enjoying Qui, it is incredibly satisfying.”

Pete’s leap of faith to start his own business is now paying off. His tequila is now carried by dozens of liquor stores like Sherry-Lehmann, Bottlerocket Wine & Spirits, Park Ave Liquor Shop, Chelsea Wine Vault and prestigious hospitality venues like the Bowery Hotel, the Standard, Lure Fishbar, Casa La Femme, Darby, 1OAK, the General, and La Cenita.

Although hard work and hustle are two key ingredients to Pete’s success, he was able to share some more tips for future x-lawyers and aspiring entrepreneurs.

Education Matters. Although he doesn’t practice law anymore, Pete’s academic background as a JD/MBA provided him with critical building blocks to build his business.

“If I had to do it over, I would have still studied law and business. Starting a successful business is incredibly challenging and big businesses can have lots of complexities. I’m a firm believer that a strong foundation in the business and the legal worlds only helps your likelihood of success.”

Create a unique product. Pete and his team spent a lot of time meticulously developing a product that they would be proud of and the once lawyer is now a full blown tequila connoisseur.

“On the product side, Qui is the first Platinum Extra-Añejo Tequila in the world. So after the tequila is made, it rests in French Bordeaux and American Whiskey barrels for three and a half years.  This aging process gives it a rich flavor, character and beautiful aroma. Then we filter it 9 times and distill it a third time for an incredibly smooth finish. No one has done that before and as a result, we just won Gold in the Spirits of the Americas Competition.”

Have a good distribution strategy. In the world of liquors and spirits, it is incredibly difficult to stand out. Pete and his partners figured they could create a unique product and distribute it in a competitive landscape by targeting specific market segments.

“We knew that New York was one of the most challenging spirits markets in the world, but if we could win here, we could go anywhere.  We set out to create a brand that was more elegant, sophisticated and cosmopolitan then the rest with a juice that was equally as refined.  So far, Qui has had great traction in the fashion, film, music and art worlds because of our focus on strong product-market fit and distribution.”

So if you are thinking about leaving your corporate job to start your own business, just remember that hard work, hustle and good planning can pay off. And then maybe you too will see your product in a nice window display like the one above.

Founder of Vault.com Discusses Startup Life and His New Healthcare Company Zeel

Samer Hamadeh, Founder & CEO of Zeel.com

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Samer Hamadeh started hustling the good ole’ fashion way by finding a problem and fixing it. A few years later he would apply those same principles to his other ventures, most notable of which is Vault.com. Now Samer is on to an entirely new business but this time it’s in a new industry: healthcare.

I caught up with Samer so he could share some of his insights into his life as an entrepreneur, a candy salesman, and his new startup called Zeel.

Many people aspire to start their own companies. How did you get started as an entrepreneur?

My first big entrepreneurial success was selling candy at recess during 7th grade. I was eventually caught, but I convinced the school that I was just meeting unfilled demand, so they let me continue. (Twix bars were my best sellers – I’d buy them for 25 cents each at Costco and resell them for 50 cents.)

After I graduated from Stanford, my friend Mark Oldman and I saw another opportunity. We realized that internships were becoming an essential part of the career path –and that there was no good information available about where to find a great internship. This was pre-Internet industry, of course, so we published a book, America’s Top 100 Internships, which was a huge success, and started a consulting practice to help companies with their internship programs

I’ve always focused on getting people the services they want to make their lives better, delivering via the latest technology. I’ve gone from passing notes at school, to books, to CD-ROMs, to the web, to mobile apps. I sometimes joke that telepathy is next.

You’ve spent your career building businesses in the career and education space. What made you decide to switch industries?

The thing is that I’ve always been focused on delivery and customer service. At Vault, we were pioneers in on-demand content – our customers purchased and downloaded interview guides and company dossiers in PDF format right before interviews. After selling Vault and before founding Zeel, I was an investor and advisor at Campusfood.com, which we recently sold to GrubHub, the food delivery service, also based on satisfying last-minute needs.

In addition, I’d say that I’ve spent my career figuring out the best way to solve the problems I was facing at the time, from a lack of candy, to getting a job, to, today, easing aches and pains.

When my co-founders and I started Vault, we were right out of school, and we naturally created a company to assist recent college grads. Zeel, on the other hand, was inspired by the aches and pains of our 30s and 40s. I’m married with kids now, along with most of the rest of our founding team. We need the relaxation and pain relief that massage therapy provides. We don’t have time in our busy schedules to book massages a week in advance and spend hours going to and from a spa – plus, getting massage in-home means that we don’t need to hire a babysitter. We like flat fees so we don’t need to worry about tax and tip. We want to use our phones like a remote control for our lives, so we launched an iPhone app for booking. We’ve basically created the most convenient way possible to reliably get a great massage, from a vetted and licensed massage therapist, as quickly and efficiently as possible.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to get into the healthcare space?

The healthcare space is complicated. You need to take time to understand the industry – just being a healthcare consumer won’t give you anything close to a complete picture. For one, it’s much more regulated than other spaces. Health insurers have intricate rules. And there are laws about advertising, payments and provider referrals that you just don’t have in other industries.

That’s why it took me and my team nearly two years of immersion in the healthcare space to devise Zeel Massage On Demand℠. Massage, for example, might seem straightforward, but there are different licensing requirements in every state, local regulations about when and where massage can take place, and restrictions on how you pay therapists.

So I’d advise entrepreneurs to educate themselves as thoroughly as possible. Go to conferences and healthcare meetups. When you’re ready, apply to some of the superior accelerators and fellowships that have sprung up in this space, like Blueprint Health and StartUp Health.

Startup CEO: How To Quit The Trading Floor and Do A Startup Placing Interns All Around The World

The Intern Group offers amazing opportunities to gain vital work experience, develop extensive, global networks and see the best of what some of the greatest cities in the world have to offer

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

It’s easy to get stuck in an unfulfilling corporate career path. Before you know it, you turn around wonder where all that time went. In some industries, like banking or consulting, it’s very hard to jump ship from the lucrative safety net of the corporate world to the treacherous waters of entrepreneurship.

David Lloyd decided to forgo a potentially lucrative career in banking to start his own company in South America and in less than two years, his company is doing a few million in revenue. The business? He places talented individuals with international internship programs in London, Madrid & Latin America where they go to work for leading companies, NGOs & National Governments and live a cultural immersion in a new, fascinating country.

I recently caught up with David to talk about what it’s like to rip off the golden handcuffs of the corporate world and to discuss his business called The Intern Group.

You had a great career path as a banker. What made you decide to quit in order to pursue The Intern Group?

I realized early on in banking that the rigid, hierarchical corporate path in a mature, saturated industry was not where I wanted to spend the next decades of my life.

Before banking I had done something more unusual. I moved to Latin America after university with the goal of becoming fluent in a second language. I moved to Buenos Aires, where I knew no-one, and enrolled in intensive Spanish classes. Outside language classes I searched for an internship as I wished to use and improve my fledgling Spanish in a work-place environment. However, with no particular contacts in a highly contact based environment, I was in trouble. Finally, after months of trying, I was offered a marketing internship at Rolex. The value to my resume of an international blue-chip name, in the context of a different culture and language was enormous.

I developed a great deal through my internship experience abroad. I set up The Intern Group so that individuals have the opportunity to do the same as I did – but in a structured, systematic and educational way – and develop themselves professionally and personally.

How did you go about funding the business? After all, you just quit your job.

I had enough saved up to bootstrap with a very basic WordPress website et al. I started to apply to Start-Up Incubators and 8 months after starting the business we were accepted into Start-Up Chile, a Chilean government program for international entrepreneurs, and awarded 40,000 USD in equity-free seed capital. Shortly afterwards, during Start-Up Chile, we turned cash-flow positive and have not looked back.

What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs especially those stuck in the corporate world?

Don´t talk yourself out of it. It is easy to say “You need to be rich to start a business”. You don´t. Technology has made the amount of money needed to launch a start-up astonishingly low. “But what if it doesn´t work. The risk!?”. Do you want to live your life thinking “what-if?”. Yes, your planned project might not work out. But failure, in this context, is seen as a good thing by the people that count – if you learn from it. Many of the most successful businessmen and women started with out-right failures. You learn more from failing than succeeding. The far bigger risk is talking yourself out of it and staying in a job you are unhappy with.

Where do you go from here?

The Intern Group is now on the way to becoming a mainstream option within global higher education.

Just like study-abroad programs became established in recent decades, I see the same now happening with structured intern-abroad programs. Crucially, interning abroad brings even more benefits than traditional study abroad. Not only do you learn all about a country´s history and culture by being immersed there, and develop language skills essential in a globalized world, but you also develop the critical professional skills necessary to advance your career.

I see The Intern Group leading this movement, with more, exciting destinations in our portfolio and further governmental/university partnerships as the next step.

As a young company, operating various international offices presents an extra layer of challenge. How have you overcome these challenges and are there any other pieces of advice you’d give to aspiring business operators?

Firstly, great co-founders/partners in the business. In every program destination we operate, a local partner is leading the business locally, and they are always from the destination. They grew up there. They have the local professional network, and the local know-how vital for success. If your international team is talented, and invested emotionally and financially, you are on the right track.

Secondly, and as a function of the first point, this brings up the importance of spending a lot of time on hiring. I read the other day of a company who spends 98% of their time on hiring, and 2% on resolving hiring mistakes whereas most companies do the opposite. I am a big advocate of this philosophy. In large companies a bad hire is costly. In smaller, younger companies, especially those with different teams spread out around the world, it can break you.

Thirdly, lots of communication. When you are far away from each other, it is easy for individuals and even entire local offices to feel somewhat dislocated and isolated. We prevent this with technology and lots of good-old fashioned talking.

Home Security Startup Raises $180,000 With Its Own Crowd Funding Platform

Scout raised almost $180,000 with their own crowdfunding campaign in order to improve home security systems.

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

No one thinks home security is cool or interesting, but when you’ve raised almost $180,000 with a custom made kickstarter-esque website, home security becomes pretty interesting. Lindsay Cohen and the team at Scout realized that home security is a commodity and most of the 17% of the country that has security is dissatisfied with their provider. They thought they could bring security up to date, and to do so they went about building their own organic fundraising campaign to get them off the ground. Lindsay was able to share some insights on how they pulled this off.

Dan Reich: Scout seems like a great product. Why did you decide to raise money without a platform like kickstarter or indiegogo?

Lindsay Cohen: Kickstarter rolled out new rules this year that have disqualified a lot of companies from using their site, including Scout. Too many companies were raising millions of dollars without a solid plan to deliver on their promises. At about the same time those rules hit, Lockitron launched their project and showed that you could be successful with an independent crowdfunding site. We felt well prepared for the campaign and were able to save 5% (about $9000) in fees by not going through a third-party website. That money goes a long way for a startup.

DR: You mentioned that you raised money without a first generation product. What assets did you have when you decided to start this fundraising campaign?

LC: Scout came out of the Sandbox Industries startup foundry in Chicago, IL. We had some initial seed money from Sandbox to do the research and development on the project. We used that money to complete the market research, create our initial prototypes, create our website and pay a small team to execute our rollout plan.

DR: As of this writing, you raised close to $162,000. How did you pull this off?

LC: A huge part of our success has been attributable to our ability to get press coverage. In order to do that, we spent the month prior to our campaign planning who we would contact in the press and how we would pitch the story. Since then, we’ve had a small team here at Scout that has been hustling and executing the Scout plan for the majority of their waking hours over the past three weeks. We do have a small budget for pay-per-click ads and an ad retargeting campaign, but press coverage is far and away the biggest reason we have been able to raise $160,000 to date.

DR: What advice would you give to people that are thinking about doing their own crowd funding project?

LC: Know what you’re getting yourself into, put the time into creating an aggressive rollout plan and then execute your plan every minute that you aren’t sleeping. There is a massive amount of preparation that goes into making something like this happen. We’ve written two blog posts on the topic to help others learn from our experiences. There are pros and cons to our approach. Don’t dismiss Kickstarter, if you qualify, just for the sake of doing it yourself. You can gain a lot of leverage from an existing crowdfunding site with a built-in base of users.

DR: What do you wish you would have done differently?

LC: We wish we would have talked to our early backers of Scout more often and given them more chances to share news about the project. We planned to contact them mid-campaign and during the last week, but we should have started in the first week and touched base every week thereafter. Backers are your best evangelists, their sharing efforts on Facebook and Twitter allows you to reach a whole new group of people that you otherwise would not have reached. Also, we would have incentivized sharing more often. Running referral competitions and motivating people to share can be highly effective.

Startup CEO: Ian Monroe on Social Entrepreneurship, Startup Chile, and Building a Tech Team

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Ian Monroe is a lecturer at Stanford University, as well as the founding CEO of Oroeco, a company that’s gamifying personal sustainability (and seeking to incentivize the global economy in the process). It’s a big mission and I was intrigued by what his company is working on so I caught up with Ian to hear more about Oroeco’s trials and tribulations, as well as his relocation to Santiago for Start-Up Chile.

Dan Reich: When and why did you decide to become a social entrepreneur?

Ian Monroe: Well, I suppose my path to social entrepreneurship was part inspiration, part imitation, and part process of elimination.

I’ve spent most of the last decade bouncing around the world while working on projects related to energy, sustainability, and international development. I enjoyed working with non-profits and corporate clients, but I didn’t see many lasting impacts come out of my field research and report writing. I also enjoyed collaborating with academics and government, but the lack of information transfer from research to policy-making and public awareness got similarly frustrating.

As these frustrations were building up, I saw many of my friends start companies I’m convinced are going to change the world, like Lukas Biewald (CrowdFlower), the late Corwin Hardham (Makani Power), and Brent Schulkin (Carrotmob). Being surrounded by entrepreneurship mentors – where I live in San Francisco’s Mission district there are literally dozens in every direction – made the process of founding a startup seem less daunting and more doable. All I needed at that point was an idea worth dedicating a substantial chunk of my life to build into a business.

DR: How did Oroeco become the idea you decided to build into a business?

IM: Oroeco was born out of seeing both need and opportunity. Fundamentally, Oroeco is something I’ve wanted for my own life for a long time. Despite being a supposed “expert” in sustainability – to the point that I’m invited to teach courses at Stanford on the topic, speak at conferences, and contribute to industry certification efforts – I still can’t walk into Walmart or a grocery store and easily quantify which options are best for other people and the planet. And the choices I know make a difference – like driving less and eating less red meat – are often offset by my international flights.

What I’ve been missing is a tool that easily tracks all my choices, shows me how they compare based on the metrics I care about, and suggests and encourages improvements. Ideally this tool would be fun and social too, since it’s easy to get overwhelmed by data, while comparisons to friends are a lot more engaging.

I also found myself increasingly thinking an Oroeco-like service was needed to realign our economy for sustainability. Most large-scale social and environmental issues – like climate change – trace back to companies producing goods and services that ultimately get paid for by consumers. So informed consumption can drive supply chains to become more sustainable, but first we all need the information and incentives to make better choices.

The idea for Oroeco didn’t refine into a social business concept until I saw that technologies already existed to make it happen. First my environmental life cycle assessment research with Stanford and NRDC exposed me to a bunch of great data sets, which quantify sustainability impacts for most products and services. Then I saw technologies like Mint.com make it easy to automatically track all my spending and investment in one place. And the last piece was seeing the opportunity to connect both of these data feeds to the growing ubiquity of Facebook and social gaming.

DR: What are the biggest challenges Oroeco has faced so far?

IM: The biggest initial challenge was building a great tech team. It’s funny, because I considered myself to be more of a “techie” than most with my science and engineering background, but unless you’ve got “computer” or “software” in front of your degree you don’t count as “technical” in the Silicon Valley.

Finding a team of solid technical co-founders took nearly a year. The process was made more difficult by the fact that Oroeco was entirely bootstrapping, so I was essentially only offering equity and enthusiasm for how Oroeco could change the world. On the positive side, we’ve now got a fantastic team that’s both highly qualified – most are startup vets from Stanford, MIT and UC Berkeley – and as passionate about personal sustainability and Oroeco as I am. I’m particularly excited that our primary engineering leads are two awesome women (Yang Ruan and Kirstin Cummings), which is a rarity in the startup world, and something that’s helping us incorporate gender-balanced perspective into design decisions.

DR: Chile is a long way to go for a startup accelerator, what convinced you to leave San Francisco for Santiago?

IM: We considered a few American startup accelerators, but by offering about $43,000 in equity-free investment, Start-Up Chile was by far the best deal we could find, as well as a great opportunity to connect with a network of international entrepreneurs who can eventually help Oroeco go global.

I’m the only Oroeco team member who’s spending a full six months in Santiago, while the rest of our team will keep circulating between the San Francisco area, Boston, and New York. While I’ve had the opportunity to work in much of the rest of Latin America on various sustainability projects, this is my first time in Chile.

On the more personal side, I’m fascinated by Start-Up Chile’s model, and getting a firsthand look at its successes and failures. The program is already being emulated by other countries, like Brazil. Start-Up Chile clones could catalyze entrepreneurship throughout the developing world, and the program is already sparking a tremendous amount of international networking and knowledge exchange.

DR: How has the Start-Up Chile experience compared to building a business in Silicon Valley? Has Chile succeeded in creating a startup-friendly environment?

IM: Overall, Start-Up Chile has been fantastic. The support staff and working environment are great. Santiago is an easy city to navigate, with public transportation on par with San Francisco and many European cities.

Navigating the Chilean bureaucracy has been a bit more challenging. Start-Up Chile has tried to streamline the process as much as possible, but there are still a lot of paperwork hoops to jump through. It took me nearly a month and more than a dozen signatures to open a bank account through a local Citi branch, then another half dozen documents to sign off on just to put cash into my account. In contrast, setting up a Citi account in San Francisco took about 15 minutes, and I’ve opened an account in Beijing in about as much time, despite my Mandarin being much worse than my Spanish!

DR: Oroeco’s mission is to fundamentally shift the global economy towards sustainability. But that task seems quite daunting, particularly for a little startup. What are your biggest challenges ahead?

IM: Our current challenge is to spread the word that we exist. Our big push now is to recruit our first beta users through our Indiegogo campaign – indiegogo.com/oroeco – which wraps up January 1st. So if people hear about us, like what we’re doing, and want to try us out, that’s the place to go. We’ve got a next to nil marketing budget, so we’re relying heavily on social marketing and word of mouth.

Over the longer term, the challenge is to simultaneously grow our user base while keeping our existing users engaged. There’s plenty of market research that shows most people want to live more sustainable lifestyles, and Oroeco can be a disruptive technology that changes how people and companies incorporate sustainability into decision-making. But for that to happen we need to scale to millions of users, ideally hundreds of millions, and these users need to be engaged enough by Oroeco’s user experience that our information and incentives factor into their everyday choices.

Our success will ultimately hinge on our user experience, since a compelling product will market itself. We think we’ll appeal to more users as we add societal, health and environmental impacts indicators beyond climate change, and we should appeal to even more users as we refine our social gaming and rewards. The challenge is to add functionality without compromising on design elegance, and to provide a flexible interface that can accommodate a wide range of user preferences.

A final challenge is protecting user privacy, particularly since we’re working with financial transaction data that can be sensitive. It’s important users trust us with their information, and have faith that we won’t create a great service that changes the rules of the privacy game once it hits critical mass. Users understandably get quite upset when this happens, which we’ve seen most recently with Instagram.

DR: Any parting advice for aspiring social entrepreneurs?

IM: It’s cliché to say, but the most important thing is to be thoroughly passionate about what you’re working on. And don’t be afraid to share that passion with everyone you know. Your honest enthusiasm is what will attract like-minded team members, as well as investors and users. It’s also ultimately what will make the bouncy startup journey fun and rewarding, even if you end up in a ditch.

I’m naturally a pretty laidback guy, with a tendency to engage in long-winded academic discourse, so infectiously exuding my excitement for Oroeco is a challenge. But I’m still happily working long nights and waking up excited, which is only the case because I still thoroughly believe we’re building something that will help craft a sustainable future. Sharing this passion with a great team and crew of awesome advisors has only magnified this feeling. Now we just need to demonstrate there are a lot of users out there who feel the same way.

Dan Reich is a tech entrepreneur and engineer. He has founded and sold multiple companies, the most recent of which was acquired by Buddy Media, which in turn was acquired by Salesforce. Follow him on Twitter at @DanReich.