Ziv Elul – Co-Founder & CEO, Inneractive

Ziv Elul co-founded the ad-tech company Inneractive in 2007 and served as its CEO, expanding the company globally and achieving profitability, with consecutive 3-digit YoY growth. In 2016, Fyber N.V. acquired Inneractive and with 15 years of management experience, Ziv was appointed as the next CEO of Fyber N.V. Since stepping into his role in July 2017, he has been leading the successful integration of Fyber, Heyzap, and Inneractive into one consolidated entity, under the Fyber brand, with the goal of bringing the best components of each group into one cutting-edge, unified technology platform. Under his leadership, Fyber N.V. reached profitability for the first time as a unified company.

In addition, Ziv serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in Israel’s Reserves Corps and is a member of Israel’s branch of the Young President’s Organization (YPO), a global network of young Chief Executives. Ziv is deeply involved in the local high tech and startup ecosystem by investing, mentoring, and advising young companies and entrepreneurs. Ziv holds an Executive MBA which he graduated from with honors and is currently working on his new book, which combines the ancient wisdom of Judaism and his vast experience and knowledge of management.

How did the concept for Fyber come about?
This is a story of two parallel companies:

Fyber was founded by two German entrepreneurs (Andreas Bodczek & Janis Zech) in Berlin, Germany. Originally called SponserPay, it was later renamed RNTS Media and finally rebranded as Fyber. The group made a series of acquisitions prior to my time as CEO, the last one of which was Inneractive.

Inneractive was founded by Offer Yehudai and me in 2007 as an eMBA project. I was a student of the eMBA program in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and my final project was to come up with a new revenue model in an industry of our choice. Offer was a student at another institution at the time, the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology), and he helped me as a friend with the project. We came up with something innovative at the time – monetization – placing ads in return for providing free content. In those days, the big mobile carriers controlled the app stores and therefore there was no free content for an advertising model. Halfway through, we realized it was a great model…so great that we decided to found a company together which was eventually acquired and merged into Fyber, and I became CEO of the group.

How was the first year in business?
The first year of Inneractive was tough. We were only four employees and we tried educating a market that was used to a paid model to use a new revenue stream instead – ads. In our pitch to aggregators, carriers, and investors, we presented an educational slide that always worked – we called it The Onion Model slide. We convinced them that by using the paid model, you only approach 10% of the market and leave 90% on the table – the users who are afraid to leave their credit card info online or simply don’t want to pay at all. There are many layers around this onion and with us they can reach a wider variety of users. Based on this, we raised $1.1 million, pre-seed and seed capital, for the first time. Today, you can see this model worked, with the Google and Apple app stores, people rarely pay for content today.

What was your marketing strategy?
Even though mobile carriers were very big at the time (Vodafone, Verizon, Singtel), they were heavy and rarely open for change. We approached more aggregators and focused on business development and resource allocation rather than conventional marketing in the beginning.

We originally had two focus areas: (1) main off-portals (which managed their own app stores) and (2) aggregators that were white-labeled for carriers. We wanted to run fast, and understood it is better to directly approach the content creators rather than approach the big-name carriers and waste our money and resources.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
The first three years were mainly for education of the market. We did earn money, flew around the world, met with clients, but still the model was more manual and not scalable (agencies wanted to approve the ads for each “real estate” ad space). Very soon, we understood that if we want to scale, we need to change something, and we decided to pivot and change our product into a more tech platform (Ad Exchange). It wasn’t a proven technology yet, but from that moment on, we started seeing growth of hundreds of percent YoY.

How do you define success?
I see success as execution that goes according to your vision and plan by creating a sustainable business model, with real technological edge and product uniqueness which bring long-term value.

When a company fulfills its purpose, it results in benefiting all stakeholders – employees, investors, market, and clients – and that’s also success to me.

What is the key to success?
First, creating a strong DNA to the company and having solid belief in your vision.

Nobody can run alone, so an entrepreneur must have a strong team that also believes in his vision and works as a tight unit to execution. Such a team will help you through challenges or changes and will find creative solutions.

To attain the team’s buy-in, listening is key. However, at the same time, you must remember to listen to yourself and your intuition as well. As a founder, you have a lot of advisors, but at the end, you are the one who knows what’s best for the company’s success and growth.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Many treat their creation, their company, as their “baby.” I almost did, too, but your “baby” might grow quicker than you’ve imagined into a child, and then into an adult, and it might also fail to grow. So, you must be willing to adjust, adopt changes, don’t get attached, and do not to fall in love with an idea, or even a person, too much.

Like in any growing company, I had to become not only a founder, but also a professional CEO and make tough decisions, like letting go of people that I appreciated and personally liked when they were no longer the right, fitted professional for the position and for the direction the company was going in. Accept this as an opportunity to grow and develop as an entrepreneur.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” There’s always enough time for things you are set on doing and passionate about. If you can’t find time for something, it is probably because it is not high enough on your priority list.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all” – Helen Keller. When you lack the energy to wake up, to change, or to develop, this is a sign to move on to greater challenges.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer.” – Harriet Tubman. When you truly believe in an idea, people recognize your passion and light in your eyes and this is what cut deep into the hearts of your employees, investors, and the market.

What are some of your favorite books?
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Executive EQ: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership & Organizations by Robert Cooper

Thrive on Pressure: Lead and Succeed When Times Get Tough by Graham Jones

The Bible 🙂

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
In the early days of INN, due to the financial bubble burst of 2008-2010, two VCs that previously agreed to invest in the company decided to pull back their offers and we found ourselves with seven employees and no money to pay next month’s salary. This forced us to make tough concessions. We let go 3 of the 7 employees and Offer and I, as founders, gave up our salaries.

This wasn’t even the biggest challenge yet! With no money left, we still wanted to pivot the company and invest in a new product. This was a real challenge and it took a very strong belief in the company and our vision. Ultimately, it worked as you can understand from my answers above, but what we’ve learned from this experience is that entrepreneurship is a jungle, it is a roller coaster, it really takes you to extremes and you should be ready to be in the front line and take risks.

If you are risk-averse and don’t know how to manage big, risky challenges, rapid changes, and gaps between your expectations and reality, you won’t succeed.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
It is important to understand what you are heading towards and set expectations with yourself, your friends, and your family. Not only you, but also they will be paying a price for this journey and you’ll need their support, time, and sometimes money.

Invest in your technology! Don’t build a short-term business, but a unique technology that adds value to the industry that you are in.

Finally, find the right partners for this journey. The right co-founder next to you will be like a good spouse in life. Look for ego-less people who share your world view and values but at the same time compliment your traits to create a diversity of ideas and knowledge.

Albert Williams – President & CEO, Best Deal Private Car Service Inc.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica to a single mother, Albert Williams grew up in the birthplace of Hip Hop and the home of the New York Yankees – the Bronx. Motivated by the countless hours his mother worked to create a better life for him and his siblings, Albert grew up to hold several jobs in both the public and private sectors, while all at the same time owning and operating several of his own businesses. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to explore many avenues including landscaper/snow removal, restaurant menu designer and printer, computer consultant, barbershop owner, part time owner in a laundromat, and part time owner in a hair salon.

In June 2012, Albert acquired Best Deal Private Car Service Inc., based in the North East Bronx with 35 owner-operated cars in its fleet. As president and CEO, he went on to certify the business as a Minority Business Enterprise, increased the company’s revenue to top $1.5 million, added hundreds of new drivers, and created a new revenue stream by adding non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) to their line of services.

This serial entrepreneur with a proven ability to grow a business now teaches others through his Mastermind coaching. Albert considers it his responsibility to give back, coaching minorities with entrepreneurial aspirations to realize their dreams.

How did the concept for Best Deal Car Service come about?
I’m not exactly sure how the idea to form the company came to be, as I was not the founder. I bought into the company approximately seven years ago with the idea of building a transportation business around the NYC Access-A-Ride (AAR) program.

How was the first year in business?
The first year was particularly challenging. Soon after purchasing the company, I connected with one of NYC’s top brokers for the AAR program. Reality quickly set in when I saw the prices. There was no way I would pay my drivers a livable wage and still make a profit. In fact, the rates that the brokers were offering at the time was, in some places, lower than the minimum cash fare that a customer would pay to a driver.

What was your marketing strategy?
Marketing strategy…what’s that? I figure that I’m an entrepreneur and I’ll figure it out. What I have come to learn is that in my business, as with any other, it’s all about service and relationships. These are two attributes that define any successful business. So I guess my marketing strategy is to build good and meaningful relationships with your internal and external customers while offering the best service.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Once I got the bad news that the rates for AAR were a nonstarter in 2013, I pulled up my big boy pants and decided to try plan B thru Z. There was no plan B at the time, much less a plan Z. I’m proud to say that last year Best Deal was named one of 2018’s fastest-growing companies by Inc. Magazine, ranking #2965. When I purchased the company in 2012, we had 35 owner-operator drivers under one entity. Today, we have over 300 drivers and 4 companies that make up The Best Deal Group of Companies.

How do you define success?
Success to me is the ability to perform at a pace that moves the needle forward each and every day, with each and every play. I must admit that it wasn’t always like this, but I’ve come to learn that success doesn’t come easy, or else everyone would be successful.

What is the key to success?
My key to success is realizing from an early age that my greatest, in fact my only competition is myself. By that, I mean I compete with ME. In the current environment where Uber and Lyft are the dominant forces, it’s fulfilling to know that Best Deal is holding its own, recruiting drivers on a daily basis, securing accounts, and growing not only as a business, but as a part of the community in which we live and serve.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Honestly, this may sound like a cliché, but as an entrepreneur I can tell you that it’s lonely at the top. As an entrepreneur, who is responsible for the well-being of a company that serves 25 employees, over 300 drivers, and countless customers, you are forced to make decisions that are not going to be very popular with all the stakeholders. I recently read an article in the New York Times where Delta’s CEO Ed Bastin said, “Leadership Is not a popularity contest” – I think that sums up my greatest lesson.

What are some quotes that you live by?
I don’t really have too many mantras. If I were forced to give one, it would be if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry and brush it off and try again.

What are some of your favorite books?
Hands down, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill is my go to.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The toughest day thus far was when we discovered, after searching for a missing driver, that he had taken his own life due to non-work-related issues. This gentleman, “elderly statesman” as I called him, embraced me from the first day I walked into Best Deal and threw his support and influence behind me and my initiatives to build the company. I will be eternally grateful for him, his friendship, and his support.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I love this question, but like to rephrase it as “What drives me?” Let me start with what used to drive me, work. What drives me today is the legacy that I want to create for my family, the folks who work for me, and the community.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Learn to listen. Great listeners become great leaders.

Ellen Grealish – Co-Founder & Co-Owner, FlexProfessionals

Ellen Grealish is a co-founder and co-owner of FlexProfessionals, a flexible staffing company specializing in part-time and project-based placements. Since its inception in 2010, it has grown considerably, making Inc. 5000’s 2016, 2017, and 2018 fastest-growing company lists and has been highlighted most recently by the Today Show and covered in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Forbes. Ellen is responsible for marketing and manages business development and account management. Prior to founding FlexProfessionals, Ellen worked in strategic sales, marketing, and consulting. She spent over eight years at Hewlett-Packard where she led the Sales Development Group for HP’s Networked Printing and Digital Imaging Division. Ellen was also a senior consultant for Accenture, working for both the Washington, D.C. and London-based consulting practices. Ellen studied economics and history at Oxford University and has a B.A. from Boston College. She lives in Oak Hill, VA with her husband and three children.

How did the concept for FlexProfessionals come about?
FlexProfessionals is a niche staffing agency that matches growing businesses in need of top talent with professionals seeking part-time, flexible work. Our company was founded in part to change the way businesses hire and re-think what flexibility and benefits mean to today’s workers. We advocate for people that don’t necessarily need traditional benefits but desire flexible work in order to meet family and personal obligations. We have incorporated this philosophy in our own organization by offering ultimate flexibility to our employees who tell us that this is of highest priority.

There was a void in the marketplace where workers faced difficulty in finding meaningful, part-time jobs. My two business partners, Sheila Murphy and Gwenn Rosener, and I launched our company FlexProfessionals in January 2010 out of frustration over a lack of opportunity for people who wanted to re-enter the workforce or scale back from a traditional 9-to-5 job into a more flexible role. At the time, we were all women who had left successful careers to stay home, raise a family, and volunteer in the community and schools. As our children grew, we became interested in going back into the workforce but doing so in a way that afforded us the flexibility to be home at certain times. I remember thinking that given my education and experience at Accenture and Hewlett Packard, combined with the fact that I was willing to work at a very competitive rate and no benefits in exchange for a flexible or part-time role, that companies would jump at the chance to have me back! Well, not only did they not jump, they didn’t even respond. When my business partner, who has a graduate degree in systems engineering and a Harvard MBA began looking for a part-time role, she was told by one headhunter that if she didn’t want to “work hard,” then he couldn’t help her! We realized that we needed to help fill this void that exists for people who want to contribute at a high level, but need the flexibility of part-time. As we began talking to business owners, we also realized the value that this ‘untapped’ pool of talent could bring to them, especially those on a tight budget or ones struggling to compete for and retain talent. Incorporating flexibility into their hiring strategy would give their business a competitive advantage in a market where dedicated and high-value employees are always difficult to attract.

How was the first year in business?
We had a couple of key successes and job placements that first year which solidified our belief that we were providing real value not only to job seekers in need of flexible or part-time work but also to businesses who needed access to a new talent pool of qualified and cost-effective resources. Since our service model had limited overhead and we were careful to invest in only the areas that were essential for growth, we were able to recoup our initial investment of $24,000 and actually made a profit within the first 12 months.

What was your marketing strategy?
Our business model serves two separate audiences: job seekers in need of flexible work and businesses in need of experienced, cost-effective talent. We initially chose a ‘grassroots’ marketing approach targeting both audiences. Due to a tight budget, we did not advertise or pay for contact lists. We leveraged the extensive local network that my business partners and I had. We reached out to everyone we knew via phone, email, Facebook, and other social media sites to let them know about FlexProfessionals and its mission to be a catalyst for the creation of flexible work options. We started receiving hundreds and then thousands of resumes from people (mostly women/moms and soon-to-be retirees) who were looking to opt in or scale back from the traditional workforce. On the business side, we pounded the pavement attending any and all networking events and local Chamber of Commerce events we could find to let people know that we were offering a new kind of service that did not exist before. We reached out to any business owner we knew and requested a 10-minute meeting in order to describe our new business model and solicit feedback. Initially, no job was too small to take on. We slowly built up our base of clients. Consequently, word-of-mouth among job seekers and businesses started to take off. We now have over 16,000 job seekers in the D.C. and Boston Metro areas and have worked with over 500 businesses (and growing)!

Over the last few years, we have invested more in marketing (i.e. marketing automation software, digital marketing, SEO, etc.) but still heavily rely on that ‘face-to-face’ and relationship building to grow both our job seeker and client base. One of the best examples of the value of tapping into the part-time workforce is when we hired a re-entry PR candidate (at a rate significantly lower than a traditional PR consultant) who had taken time off from her career to raise a family and now wanted to rebuild her resume. She was able to secure us a spot on the Today Show, which led to great national exposure for our company.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We realized 60% year-over-year growth for the first five years in business. For the last three years, we have been named to Inc. Magazine’s fastest-growing company list and have realized growth every year since we launched in 2010.

How do you define success?
Success is creating value for your customers and exceeding their expectations while creating a great internal company culture and helping everyone within the team to achieve their personal goals.

What is the key to success?
Surrounding yourself with smart people and empowering them to do their job well. We also practice what we preach and empower everyone on our team to CHOOSE when, where, and how they do their best work. We are a completely results-based organization so we do not have set schedules and offer unlimited vacation time. As long as our clients are being serviced in a timely manner, our staff can create their own work schedules. This leads to the creation and retainment of the most hardworking, loyal, and committed team you can find, which has been the key to our company’s success.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Integrity breeds trust and loyalty and that is the most important professional asset one can have.

What are some quotes that you live by? 
“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.” – Henry David Thoreau

Love this quote because if you focus on your passion and always try to do the right thing, you will have greater success than focusing merely on ‘success’ itself. Success should be the byproduct of accomplishing your goals rather than the goal itself.

What are some of your favorite books?
For professional growth, I tend to read books around flexibility in the workplace and achieving work/life balance, particularly for caregivers.

Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter
Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte

Personally, I love historical fiction. Currently, I’m reading The First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer about a secret and obviously failed plot to assassinate George Washington.

I also reread Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived by Laurence Shames and Peter Barton every year to remind me of what is truly important in life and to remember to live in the present. Peter Barton was the founder and CEO of Liberty Media (Discovery Channel, BET, QVC, etc..) and died in his early 50’s from stomach cancer. His book is more about living than dying – truly inspiring.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I really can’t think of one in particular. I guess I am extremely fortunate!

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
What keeps me motivated during both good and difficult times is my passion for the mission. It would be far more profitable for FlexProfessionals to move into full-time staffing. The same amount of work goes into placing someone into a 10 hour a week role as it does a 40 hour a week one, yet in that scenario we only receive a quarter of the revenue (which is the primary reason we don’t have almost any direct competitors! However, I strongly believe in the mission of creating flexible work options for all people. We do not advocate that people should stay home while raising children or they should work…we are about giving people a third option that historically has not been offered before and one that allows more people to either stay in the workforce longer or return into the workforce after a break. While this applies primarily to women and moms, we’ve seen dads and soon-to-be retirees benefit from this model as well.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Every day ask yourself, “What problem am I solving for my customers and is it a problem that people are willing to pay me to solve?” Regardless of whether a new technology or service may be cool or exciting, don’t be swayed by emotion or a gut feel. Keep asking yourself that question with every decision you make. Stick to your niche and don’t try to be all things to all people.

Larry Sutton – Founder, RNR Tire Express

Larry Sutton is the founder of RNR Tire Express. Founded in 2000, RNR has grown to be the 17th largest tire dealer in the U.S. with over 120 locations (15 corporate locations and 105 franchise locations in 26 states). After a long career in the lease purchase industry, Larry sold his 30-store chain in 1997, and after a brief retirement, decided to try the concept in a new sector. Visualizing the potential of using the lease purchase transaction in the tire and wheel industry has proven to be a very successful idea. RNR has another 200 locations under contract with multi-unit developers in several markets.

How did the concept for RNR Tires come about?
I had sold my first company and retired. However, in my late 40s, I discovered I was missing a sense of purpose so I tried several different business opportunities but failed to fall in love with them! Heard about some folks that had begun using lease purchase for custom wheels and tires so I went to see it. Fell in love with the idea and opened our first store in October of 2000.

How was the first year in business?
Outstanding! Lots of learning on my side but the concept took off beyond our most aggressive models.

What was your marketing strategy?
Get the word out to as many potential customers as possible and build new business from continuous promotions and referrals.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Doubled revenue and store count every year.

How do you define success?
How many lives you have touched and changed due to what you created.

What is the key to success?
Hire the most motivated and talented folks you can find and share the proceeds with every associate.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Allow people to fail and teach them how to learn from every failure.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Success is not a destination, it is a journey.”
“If you spend time motivating an idiot, all you have is a motivated idiot.”

What are some of your favorite books?
Anything [Stephen] Covey, early Tom Peters, and my absolute favorite is The Energy Bus by Jon Gordan.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The decision to sell my first company!

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The fact that hundreds of families are relying on our success.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Find something you love to do! Find a few mentors and listen to them. Young entrepreneurs tend to believe they know all the answers. You have to fail at some things to truly learn.

RJ Williams – Founder & CEO, Young Hollywood

RJ Williams is the founder and CEO of Young Hollywood. Started in 2007 by Williams, Young Hollywood has become one of the most innovative digital media brands and the leading celebrity and lifestyle network for millennials; which is available on digital, social, and mobile in over 160 countries and in over 120 million homes. In addition to financing, producing, and distributing over 500 hours of original programming annually, the company’s activities include owning and operating several leading entertainment digital platforms, a 24/7 OTT Network, and licensing the Young Hollywood trademark for a range of consumer products and services.

How did the concept for Young Hollywood come about?
In 2003, I started a production company that was producing celebrity and pop culture-focused programming for a lot of the big media companies like Fox and Showtime. All these media companies skewed older and I thought there was a void in the marketplace to create this type of programming targeting the younger generation. Figured if I was going to target that demo, I should focus on the platforms that were interesting to them. The idea was to create the first lifestyle media brand that would be built from the ground up digitally. The plan was to let the legacy media brands respond to pop culture and let Young Hollywood be the one driving it.

How was the first year in business?
We launched YH in 2007. Everyone thought I was crazy and that nobody would watch streaming video on phones or video on the internet. Keep in mind when we first launched, the iPhone wasn’t even created yet, so the notion of watching content anywhere other than traditional television was just too hard of a concept for anyone to grasp.

What was your marketing strategy?
Word of mouth. We did grass root campaigns at schools, and then a few years into it, social media became a thing so we fully embraced that. We always honed in on our demo and kept our content authentic so it was things they could relate to.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
It took around three years to really hit its stride. I’ve never been after rapid growth, but rather sustainable growth. We avoided VC financing because they want returns in 5-10 years and we wanted to be able to grow at a more careful pace and execute on long-term ambitions.

How do you define success?
Doing what you want, when you want it, and how you want it. By building the company from the ground up, I’m in complete control of my destiny and have the luxury of being able to reinvest in new initiatives and to continue feeding the business.

What is the key to success?
Maintaining your vision and only doing things you are passionate about. You also want to learn from the mistakes of companies that grew too quickly and then encountered real growing pains. You want to build infrastructure as revenue grows, and as opportunities arise, you don’t want to do it just for the sake of doing it.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Going with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, chances are its not. There were times going into things I had hesitations, and over time, they ended up being right.

What are some of your favorite books?
The Art of War. Every entrepreneur should read it. The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood, Who is Michael Ovitz?, Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency, and The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the Hidden History of Hollywood are some other great ones.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Would be impossible to isolate to one. Every day brings its own set of challenges and as an entrepreneur it comes with the territory. Our second year of business, the global financial crisis hit, and when people saw we could weather that storm, they realized we were the real deal and here to stay.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
You can just never give up as every major career has its ups and downs. I can’t think of one successful person who hasn’t faced adversity. Today, as I write this, Tiger Woods just won his 5th Masters. He was on top of the world for a long period of time and then had one setback after another and everyone said he was done. Today, he proved everyone wrong. He had over a decade of challenges and most people would give up, but he kept at it and now he’s back on top.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Stay humble. As quick as you rise, you can fall. I’ve had way too many friends who have had tremendous success only to lose sight of reality and not realize their full potential. Always stay humble.