Mike Durant – Founder, President & CEO, Pinnacle Solutions

Michael J. Durant is the founder, president and chief executive officer of Pinnacle Solutions, Incorporated: an engineering and services company based in Huntsville, Alabama. He has a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and a Master of Business Administration in Aviation from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

He is a master aviator, qualified in the UH-1 Huey, MH-6 Loach, and MH-60A, L, and K models of the Blackhawk. He has a total of 3,700 flight hours with over 1,400 under night vision goggles.

A 2008 Army Aviation Association of American Hall of Fame Inductee and the National Veteran-Owned Business Association 2013 Vetrepreneur of the Year, his military awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster, Bronze Star with Valor device, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, three Air Medals, one with Valor device, the POW/MIA ribbon, the Army Commendation Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, and numerous other awards. He is the author of the The New York Times bestseller In the Company of Heroes and the The Night Stalkers. He and his wife Lisa have six children, four boys, and two girls ranging in age from thirteen to twenty-nine.

Pinnacle’s awards and achievements include: WBCNA 2010 Start-Up of the Year, Huntsville Chamber of Commerce 2011 Small Business Award Finalist and 2012 Best Place to Work Winner, MT2’s Top Simulation and Training Companies (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015), 2012/13 Alabama DAV Small Business of the Year, 2012 Inc. 500 (#6 for Government Services), National Veteran-Owned Business Association 2013 Vetrepreneur of the year, 2015, 2016 & 2017 Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing companies.

In nine years, Pinnacle has grown from a home office-based startup to over 250 employees and more than 70 subcontractor personnel operating in fourteen U.S. and international locations with major prime and subcontract efforts supporting the U.S. Air Force, NASA and the U.S. Special Operations Command. Pinnacle’s 2016 revenue is forecast to exceed $70 million.

Tell me about your early career.
In 2001, I retired after 22 years in the military, most of which was spent in Special Operations flying MH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. There’s a lot of good information about my military career in my book, In the Company of Heroes. After retiring, I relocated my family to Huntsville, Alabama to work on a new aircraft that the Army was developing. Shortly thereafter, I opened an office for a small business interested in Army Aviation opportunities and after a very successful five years, the company was purchased by a large business where I stayed until 2008.

How did the concept for Pinnacle Solutions come about?
Although the large business was a very good company, it wasn’t a fit for me. I like the way small businesses operate and decided the best way to get myself back into that environment would be to start my own business. In the early days, we’d often say we were bringing the band back together.

What was your marketing strategy?
It is difficult to get traction as a small defense contractor with no past performance. The key is to leverage your own personal expertise and your network. Within two weeks of incorporating, we participated in a trade show that involved all of our potential customers and the strategy worked. From the contacts made at that show, we received our first subcontract about six months later. In addition to our presence at the show, we also made direct contact with potential military customers and prime contractors in our network to try to ensure that everyone in our space was aware of our new company and our capabilities. Over time, this also led to other smaller subcontracts which ultimately grew into large prime contracts as we built on our capability and established solid past performance.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We grew fairly quickly. We ranked #6 in government services on the Inc. 500 list in 2012, and from 2008 to 2013 our CAGR was 87%, which was well above our target of 18%. We have continued to stay well ahead of our growth target.

How do you define success?
As a company, we are focused on metrics; those metrics define success for us. At our annual off-site last year, we identified the most important things from a performance perspective and then the five things that were most important in support of those primary five (25 is too many to track, so we picked the ones that we felt mattered most and established targets for each). We assess our performance against those metrics every month after we close out the financials for the period. We start with the items that are most important to our customers and/or reflect how they feel about our performance (KPIs, CPARs, CDRLs), we then look at our financials (indirect rates, revenue, profit, backlog, labor utilization), then our proposal win rate, supplier performance (vendor delivery time, vendor quality), our quality processes, employees (retention and manager surveys) and finally training. If we are hitting our targets in all these areas or can explain why we are not (and have a corrective action identified), then we consider ourselves to be successful.

What is the key to success?
People. No question about that one. Success is gained or lost based on an organization’s ability to hire and retain quality people.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Don’t make emotional decisions. Take the time to think through important decisions and base what you do on the values you set for yourself and for the organization.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

What are some of your favorite books?
My interest in reading has evolved over time. The first books I would call favorites were The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I also read a lot of Stephen King books, Ken Follett, The Right Stuff, Tom Clancy of course. Lately, I’ve read a few Malcolm Gladwell books which I liked, then the Killing (Kennedy, Lincoln, etc.) books are also a pretty good read for my taste.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I think the toughest days are when you find out a key person has decided to take a job elsewhere or when you’re told by the customer that your proposal was not selected. On the first, I believe you have to let them go on good terms. People have aspirations and families to look out for. If in their mind, those priorities are better served elsewhere, then we haven’t done the best job we should have to retain those people. I can remember three specific occasions where that philosophy has paid off because those three people realized the grass wasn’t in fact greener and asked to come back. We took all three of them back. Two have them have matured into rock stars.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
From a personal perspective, it’s all I know. I don’t remember a time in my life when I thought quitting was an acceptable alternative.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Read the quote. If it doesn’t inspire you, you can reach your own conclusion.

Danna Korn – Co-Founder & CEO, Sonic Boom Wellness

Danna Korn is co-founder and CEO (chief energizing officer) of Sonic Boom Wellness in Carlsbad, CA – a software company specializing in stimulating, innovative corporate wellness programs that improve employees’ daily health habits.

Leveraging behavioral economics, motivational psychology, game theory, and evidence-based research, Korn teamed up with fellow co-founder, Bryan Van Noy, to revolutionize the corporate wellness industry in 2007.

Pioneering what’s now known as the “engagement” category of well being, Sonic Boom is constantly innovating ahead of the pack. Korn and Van Noy have grown Sonic Boom into a comprehensive, holistic, worksite well being solution that brings together the fun and socially engaging elements with the more clinical and measurement-driven initiatives, all under one automated and easy-to-use system.

In her other life, Danna is a motivational speaker and bestselling author. She has written several bestsellers:

Living Gluten-Free for Dummies
Gluten-Free Cooking for Dummies
Wheat-Free, Worry-Free: The Art of Happy, Healthy, Gluten-Free Living Gluten-Free Kids
Kids with Celiac Disease: A Family Guide to Raising Gluten-Free Children

Danna has paved the path for the worldwide gluten-free initiative since 1991, when her then two-year-old son, Tyler, was diagnosed with celiac disease. With decades of experience in what was then a nascent industry, she is renowned as the “Gluten-Free Guru” – the name People Magazine gave her when they featured her life’s work and passion in 2007.

An aggressive advocate for the gluten-free community and consultant to many national testing and food companies, Danna is also the founder of the world’s largest support group for kids on a gluten-free diet, Raising Our Celiac Kids (R.O.C.K.), and speaks around the world.

A serial entrepreneur, Danna started her first business when she was eight years old. Her several subsequent entrepreneurial endeavors include a successful marketing firm and recruiting agency. An adrenaline junkie, Danna enjoys thrill-seeking adventures that involve high speeds and helmets.

Tell me about your early career.
I guess I was always destined to be a serial entrepreneur, since I started my first business when I was eight years old! Each weekend, I set up a little table with a colorful, homemade sign that read, “Bouquets – 25 cents!” Then I’d go pick flowers to create the “bouquets.” What didn’t occur to me was that I was picking them out of the yards of people I was then selling the flowers back to! Most were elderly, and I’m sure they realized what I was doing, but they typically smiled warmly as they paid and took their flowers back. When I was ten, I started a dog-training business. For $15, I’d teach your dog three tricks. I put myself through college with two ventures: one was taking and selling notes for my hardest pre-med classes, and the other was giving windsurfing lessons and selling windsurfers at a mark-up. After college, I worked in TV and radio, and then I worked for a public relations agency. After a couple of years, I started a successful advertising/PR firm, and after that a recruiting agency. When the first dot-com bubble burst, most of my clients evaporated and my business was doomed. It was about that time that I was shoved head-first into the world of “gluten-free.”

In 1991, my then-toddler son was diagnosed with celiac disease, and I was told he needed to be gluten-free for the rest of his life: one molecule of gluten was like feeding him arsenic, they said. I was terrified to feed my own child! Having spent plenty of time in med-school libraries, I buried myself and learned everything I could about celiac disease, gluten-sensitivity, and gluten itself. Keep in mind, this was 1991, LONG before gluten was a household word like it is today. Typically, I’d go into a store and ask if they had any gluten-free products, and people would stare at me as though I had three eyes. “You mean glucose? Is he diabetic?” Ugh.

Writing is cathartic for me, so I began to take note of everything I was learning. Word spread, people asked for my notes, and they began asking me to speak at gluten-free conferences. My notes became a book, but everyone said it would never be published, and I had no desire to self-publish. I didn’t let the cynics stop me. I sent four proposals and got four acceptances. My first book became a reality. That one was geared toward kids, and soon a large publisher asked me to write one for adults. Before long, the prestigious “For Dummies” publishers found me and asked me to write not one, but four editions of their books. That same year, People Magazine did a feature on me, donning me “The Gluten-Free Guru.”

For a long time, I led a dual life, simultaneously managing my gluten-free adventures and a software company I co-founded 10 years ago, Sonic Boom Wellness.

How did the concept for Sonic Boom Wellness come about?
While speaking at a gluten-free conference many years ago, I met Bryan Van Noy, who had started a company selling gluten-free products online. His “day job,” though, was as director of sales for a large corporate wellness company. While I was in the wellness world, I had no concept for what corporate wellness was, and he explained that companies hired them to get employees healthier, and the way they did it was through telephonic coaching, biometrics, and health assessments. All I could think was how BORING that sounded, and I asked how on earth those things would make people improve health habits. He agreed – participation was dismal, and they rarely saw actual health improvement. It seemed so obvious to an outsider: You’ve got to FUN IT UP! And that’s what we did.

Sonic Boom was the first corporate wellness program to “gamify” wellness and focus on engagement rather than traditional clinical activities. Because it was a radically different concept, it was met with skepticism and people who just didn’t “get it.” Our challenge back then was first to convince employers that they needed a wellness program, then to help them understand why our approach – energized, fun, and social – would be more effective in producing long-term health improvement. It turned out to be a bigger challenge than we anticipated.

How was the first year in business?
Agonizing. We were building the program, but without a platform. We had nothing to show, and we were essentially selling air, passion, and a concept. While people seemed to understand that “funning up wellness” was a good idea, few were willing to take the chance on such a radically different approach. Without revenue, we tried to get angel funding and other forms of financing, but we failed. We were running out of money fast, and at one point had about four months of savings left before we wouldn’t be able to pay our bills. In the meantime, we were living together and learning that working with your significant other poses its own – ahem – challenges. Oh, and remember the global collapse of the economy in 2008? Yeah. That was the year we launched our program. Let’s just say I cried a lot during that first year!

What was your marketing strategy?
Fortunately, Bryan had several years of experience selling corporate wellness to insurance benefits brokers and consultants, who then presented the program to their clients. It was a good distribution model, and we decided to stick with the formula, pounding the phones day and night. With his gluten-free business, Bryan had experience with SEO and made some wise investments in Google AdWords, giving our marketing site some great exposure. We had no money, so advertising, trade shows, and traditional marketing efforts were out of the question. We were literally dialing for dollars, while trying to get the business up and running. We couldn’t afford sales reps, and in fact, never did invest in a real sales team until only recently.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We launched the portal January 1, 2008 with three tiny clients. Within about three years, we had exceeded the $1 million mark in revenue with growth of approximately 40%/year. Without a sales team, we relied on our own efforts, word of mouth, and reputation.

How do you define success?
As far as the business is concerned, success for me is creating programs people love and want to engage in – programs that improve morale, camaraderie, and teamwork while driving improvement in daily health habits. Of course the bottom line is critical – without profits, we wouldn’t be able to support our “Boomers” and their families, but I think that goes without saying.

I define personal success as living your passions, overcoming fears by facing them head-on, and never being constrained by “in-the-box” thinking. I ooze passion for lots of things, and am fortunate to be able to weave them into my professional life. For instance, I’m passionate about helping people improve their health in ways that are fun and social. Creating programs people love and hearing their success stories is a huge high for me. My gluten-free life has been rewarding, as well. For 26 years, I’ve been excited about helping people live, and LOVE, a gluten-free lifestyle. I enjoy helping people understand the many medical conditions that benefit from a gluten-free lifestyle, and most importantly, to navigate the sometimes-challenging lifestyle while understanding how this can be a great thing in their lives.

Personal success for me is also about living life to its fullest. Typically, that means doing things that generate adrenaline and endorphins, whether it’s professionally or adventurously. I love embarking upon something terrifying and conquering the fear.

What is the key to success?
Oh boy, I don’t think there’s just one. Maybe that’s why entrepreneurs have to be so good at juggling lots of balls at once! I focus on tenacity, optimism, being a good leader, and acknowledging others. Stay true to your mission, your passions, and your ethics.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
One big mistake we made a few years ago is we took our eye off of our core competency and started diving down a rabbit-hole thinking it would be “fun” to have an activity tracker of our own (like a Fitbit). We learned the hard way that you should never deviate from your core competencies, and you should never outsource them, either.

What are some quotes that you live by?
I have a few! “The fear of losing what we have is what keeps us from having what we want” goes back to facing fears and challenges head-on. “Good deals get better and bad deals get worse” has always proven to be true. “Fail fast and fail often” seems to be the way we roll at Sonic Boom, “The rear view mirror is always clearer than the windshield,” and “Live your life in a way such that if anyone ever says anything bad about you, no one will believe it.” And one more, “An entrepreneur jumps off a cliff and builds the airplane on the way down.” I love that.

What are some of your favorite books?
Is it fair to name the ones I’ve written? 🙂 For years, I was so busy writing books that I didn’t have time, or a desire, to read them. But now that I’ve sworn off authorship for my future, I enjoy reading books about habit formation, motivational psychology, behavioral economics, leadership, and entrepreneurialism, but will admit that I get bored when it seems there’s too much of a “duh” factor. I’d rather read books about adventuresome activities I need to add to my bucket list. 🙂

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Bryan and I were on our honeymoon in Cancun in September 2008, nine months after launching the program with our first few clients. We had a term sheet for $500,000 in funding that was waiting to be signed when we got home. While we had sworn off TV for the honeymoon, we decided we needed to check the news “just once,” and when we did, we saw breaking-news headlines of the global economic collapse. Within seconds, our lives were changing. We knew there would be no term sheet – would our clients leave us? Would we return to an economy that couldn’t afford a “luxury” like wellness? We had no idea what was in store for us, and the dread, on the heels of the high of our honeymoon, was tortuous.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I’ve faced a LOT of adversity in my life, even as a young child. It wouldn’t even occur to me to run or hide from it. I’m big on conflict resolution, and feel uneasy if I don’t deal with those things head-on. I’m not good at hiding or smothering my emotions, so I really have no choice but to work through it. It’s not hard for me. The adversity itself is what pushes me to move through it. “Bad” things don’t just go away. The only way to get them out of your life is to deal with them.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Follow your passions, and don’t ever give up. That doesn’t mean every idea is a great one, or that every endeavor will be a success, but passion is real, and it’s important to let yourself experience it to its fullest. And don’t ever let the skeptics or naysayers get you down. Everyone told me no one would ever publish my book. Everyone told Bryan and me that no one would buy Sonic Boom’s programs. Don’t be afraid of risk, and don’t think you have to know what you’re doing 100% of the time. Entrepreneurs jump off a cliff and build the airplane on the way down. You may not know how to build that airplane, AND you’ll figure it out. Never stop having fun.

Sabina Gault – Founder & CEO, Konnect

Sabina Gault is the CEO of Konnect, an award-winning communications and marketing agency with offices in Los Angeles, New York and Austin, TX.

A seasoned and passionate PR and marketing practitioner, Sabina’s approach to client service, strategic communications, and measurable results are apparent in Konnect’s rapid rise from a startup to a mid-size agency with an average annual growth rate of 60 percent. With more than 50 employees across its 3 offices, Sabina leads a team of dedicated staffers who provide a boutique-level personalized service combined with an adept ability to effectively build brands that has resulted in a long list of legacy clients.

As a working mother and the entrepreneur behind a WBENC-certified, women-owned business, Sabina has a passion for the challenges and rewards that stem from successfully balancing family and career. This passion is evident in Konnect’s relationships with brands that serve families and children, as well as its work with clients in the franchise space and the artisanal “better-for-you” food and beverage industry.

Since founding the agency in 2009, Konnect has been named the #1 PR Agency on the Inc. 5000 “Fastest Growing U.S. Companies” list, three years in a row, and was included on the Los Angeles Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work” listing among many other accolades.

Running a company in an ever-changing environment (where magazines close their doors weekly, social media channels come and go faster than anyone can keep up with, and marketing strategies are constantly evolving) brings on some serious challenges.

However, Sabina applies her scrappy attitude to running the company on a tight budget, always looking at the bottom line and keeping track of the numbers. She started the company with the philosophy that she needs to surround herself with intelligent people that have experience in running successful companies. She built a culture where people love coming to work and enjoy putting their best foot forward on a daily basis, rather than clocking in and out. But most of all, she worked the hardest. She set the tone for a culture of leading by example, and that example was that hard work pays off!

Sabina is a graduate of Berkeley and currently resides in Long Beach, California with her amazing husband and two children who keep her grounded and contribute to the motivation that drives her success.

Tell me about your early career.
I started my career in PR in Romania (where I am originally from) and moved with a job (also in PR) to the United States about 15 years ago. I’ve never done anything else other than PR, and I’ve been lucky enough to experience a wide range of industries, from TV and film to entertainment and consumer. All these have helped me understand the field better, allowed me the opportunity to cross between the various channels of communications seamlessly, and ultimately to become a better communicator myself. For the last ten years, I have been working with entrepreneurs in the consumer-packaged goods arena. I’ve seen the rise and fall of businesses and have had an intimate knowledge of what makes a brand succeed. That’s been extremely exciting and interesting, and it’s helped me have a better understanding of what to do in my own business.

How did the concept for Konnect come about?
Where I come from, the concept of entrepreneurship was not something you learned about in school or saw people in your circle do. So unlike many, I did not necessarily start out by having a dream of building a successful company or growing a thriving business. I started out with a job, but found myself enjoying the business part of things. I also realized I wasn’t the best employee – I was opinionated and strong-willed and relentless when it came to what I believed in. So, rather than planning to start a company, I quit my job and was followed by two clients who had no interest in working with anyone else. And thus, Konnect was born.

How was the first year in business?
Compared to now, easy! I had one or two employees, several clients, and a good amount of time! Growing the business was fun and I was able to have personal relationships with everyone (from the team or client side). I was lucky to have close friends (and clients) who had been in business for a long time act as advisors on my own business growth. That made all the difference and thanks to them, I made less costly mistakes and learned to run a business efficiently.

What was your marketing strategy?
Same as today. Put people first. Strong, truthful relationships with clients and business partners make all the difference. Clients don’t leave the company – they leave the people in it! So, beyond ensuring that we provide the best service, we always build a long-lasting relationship with the people based on trust, understanding, respect, and results.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We have doubled in size, year-over-year. Last year, we did about 40% and this year we are probably going to do 20% or so in growth. It’s obviously harder the larger the company gets. Next year will mark 10 years since I hired my first employee (who is still working alongside me today).

How do you define success?
In any business, there are so many facets that one can define success by. For me, it’s the client and staff tenure on one end, tight financials on another, as well as overall personal happiness. Obviously, the first two are much easier to measure – how long do people stay, and how good are our numbers. The third one is tricky. But I’d say that feeling good about what I do and who I do it with on a daily basis, is a good measure of happiness.

What is the key to success?
Well, it all depends on how one measures success. For me, the key is hard work and putting people first – that’s what accomplishes my first two measures of success. The key to happiness lies somewhere within and quite frankly depends heavily on the people I surround myself with, and the filter I choose when I look at the world. For me, success is much more than money, notoriety, and running a good business. It’s about the memories you create for yourself, your family, and the people around you while you are in that business.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I have to think about this one. I have learned so many. But one of the greatest is that no matter what, truth should always come first. In my industry, we are used to changing perspective, to make people think the way we (or our clients) want. We are always filtering information and choosing what people should and shouldn’t see. And while truth should prevail in all business, it is that much more prevalent in PR.

What are some quotes that you live by?
There are many, but “Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars” is one of my favorites.

What are some of your favorite books?
I’m a huge fan of Simon Sinek and Jim Collins, among others. Just finished reading Simon’s Leaders Eat Last and loved it. I’m actually making the entire company read it because I think it speaks so truly to the climate we live in. Jim’s books Good to Great and Great by Choice continue to inspire me and are shining beacons of how businesses around the world should run.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
It was about two years ago. We had opened two offices, one in Texas and one in New York, and my entire executive team was focused on them. We wanted to make sure they will succeed (oh, and this “open two offices in one year” should probably go up there with lessons learned – don’t do it!). So, that year our lives were spent on the road. What we didn’t realize then was that we took our eye off of our home office, and things started to crumble. What had been a strong, collaborative environment, without leadership in place, became a mad house. We lost 60% or more of our LA team in a matter of two months. We couldn’t hire fast enough and we couldn’t seem to keep people long enough. The culture was suffering and the business started to suffer. As things got frantic, and the battle between keeping people on board and clients calm, and me finding piece of mind and continuing to grow, the business came to a head. I realized that nothing more than the people mattered. That day when the storm finally stopped and quietness rolled in was the hardest. Looking at the aftermath and deciding how to start putting the pieces back together (as well as realizing the time it was going to take to do so) was incredibly hard!

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I personally have a strong desire to not let anything stand in my way. It’s part of who I am and how I was raised, but also where I come from. But I also think about the people in my life and how me not moving forward will affect them (and their families). When you own a business, it’s no longer about you (contrary to popular belief). It’s about the people you lead and how you are impacting their lives on a daily basis. So, wanting to do well by others is an equally strong force.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Buckle up! It’s a wild ride. From the day you make your first dollar to your hundredth million (or more), you are challenged to an extreme, pushed into situations you would never get yourself into (in your right mind), and asked to constantly weigh the good and the bad against the status quo. The choices you make impact you (as well as others) in ways that you cannot always control, but it is the most fulfilling thing you will ever do.

Zachary Harrison – Co-Founder & President, Platinum Drive Realty

Zachary Harrison is the president of Platinum Drive Realty, a full-service real estate firm assisting clients with properties located in Westchester, Manhattan, and Connecticut.

Zach founded Platinum Drive with his wife, Heather, and her grandmother, Sunny, who has been in the real estate business for over 40 years. The firm was created out of a belief that real estate should be a rewarding, professional and first-rate experience, with highly personalized, outstanding client service. The market has responded to the firm’s energetic and innovative approach. In 2015, Platinum Drive was honored in Inc. Magazine as one of the 1000 fastest-growing private companies in America and the fastest-growing real estate firm in the tri-state area.

Zach grew up in Westchester and attended Scarsdale High School, where he met his future wife, Heather. He went on to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania with a Master’s in Government Administration, and Fordham Law School, where he graduated in the top 20% of his class and was recognized as a four-time member of the dean’s list.

Prior to founding Platinum Drive, Zach worked in the investment banking division of one of the world’s largest banks, and as an attorney for an international law firm, where he handled substantial transactional matters, including the sale and financing of real estate and other assets. Zach also successfully litigated various complex commercial disputes on behalf of major clients in state and federal courts in New York and other jurisdictions throughout the United States, and served as an in-house counsel for an industry trade association. He has successfully closed over 500 transactional matters during the course of his career, and ensures that Platinum Drive agents handle all matters promptly and professionally, with the utmost care and discretion.

Zach has a strong belief in giving back to the community, and is involved in various philanthropic causes including the Four Diamonds Fund, which supports the fight against pediatric cancer, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

In 2015, Zach along with two colleagues were recognized in the REAL Trends/Wall Street Journal “Top Thousand” as one of the top real estate teams in the United States and the #1 real estate team by sales volume in Westchester County.

A broker committed to achieving the absolute best results for Platinum Drive clients, Zach is a member of the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors, the Connecticut MLS, Greenwich MLS, and the National Association of Realtors. Zach resides in the suburbs of New York City with his wife, Heather, and their children, Hayley and Jack.

Tell me about your early career.
I worked for an international law firm performing transactional work, litigation, as well as intellectual property law. I like to work in different areas and job functions, which really helps as an executive and business owner. I’ve always been interested in owning a business as well as public service. When I was growing up, it seemed that my friend’s parents, who had the most freedom, were successful business owners and that really made an impact on me. Also, my grandfather was friendly with President Kennedy in Boston and I heard a lot of stories about him growing up.

How did the concept for Platinum Drive Realty come about?
My wife and I purchased a home in the suburbs of New York City and we really shocked by how behind the times the real estate industry seemed to be. It was almost as if we were in a time machine back to a different era. We saw a real opportunity in the market for an exciting, cutting-edge real estate firm.

How was the first year in business?
It was really exciting and the support of friends and family was really special. I think a mistake some entrepreneurs make is thinking you can hide in a room somewhere and create a great business. You can’t do it alone. You need to be out there talking about your business, especially in the early days when you don’t have a large marketing budget.

What was your marketing strategy?
Our marketing strategy was to do everything possible to deliver outstanding results to our clients and simply outwork any others competing for the business. One happy client would tell two friends, and they would tell four friends who would become clients, and so on. Word of mouth is how to build a business with staying power.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We started carefully because the general market started to turn a few years after we started. We reinvested in our business and really stepped on the gas after the market began to rebound. We have been named in Inc. Magazine’s list of America’s fastest-growing companies for many years since.

How do you define success?
My definition of success is such that very few ever achieve it – companies and leaders that have changed people’s lives for the better on a massive scale and transformed the world in ways that no one thought possible. That’s the kind of success I’m referring to.

What is the key to success?
To achieve success on any level, you have to work extremely hard and be extremely persistent. I have seen some people just give up so they can do other things, which is fine, but to succeed in business, you have to focus like a laser on growing your business and making clients happy.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The United States, for all our challenges, is still the greatest country on the face of the earth. Take advantage of the opportunities and don’t be afraid to fail. If you have a great idea you think can make a positive impact, go for it!

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Just Do It” – Nike
“We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world or to make it the last.” – John F. Kennedy

What are some of your favorite books?
One of my favorite business books is Start Small, Finish Big by Fred DeLuca.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
At the bottom of the real estate market in 2009, deals were challenging because it was difficult to get financing. On one day in 2009, we had a very large deal fall through because the buyers were unable to get financing, even through they had good jobs. That was a tough day. Some firms were not able to make it through those times, but we were very blessed to be able to make it through and thrive in the years that followed.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Some people look at successful people and think it was a smooth road that happened overnight. There are going to be challenges as you go. I know we had something when the high-end firms approached us hoping to acquire us, and the low-end firms starting getting upset and tried to play games to slow our success. It only made us work a thousand times harder and grow our business even more. You have to take it as a compliment. If you weren’t accomplishing anything, no one would care. The key is to recognize it for what it is and fight very hard.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Have a bias towards action. Don’t only think about it, but take a step forward every day on the path to the objective you are seeking to reach. Keep costs in check in the early days, especially if you don’t have capital. When making big company decisions, use conservative projections. If it still looks good with careful projections, then you’ll know the answer.

Brandon Fishman – Co-Founder & CEO, Internet Marketing Inc.

Brandon Fishman has over ten years of experience in the online marketing and advertising industries. He has co-founded five Internet companies and currently serves as the CEO of Internet Marketing Inc. His primary role is to oversee all U.S. and international sales and business development opportunities.

Brandon received his Bachelor’s degree in Finance from Emory University, his Master’s degree in Real Estate from the University of San Diego, and he also spent some time studying at The London School of Economics. Brandon is heavily involved in his community and works closely to help several charities and the San Diego Food Bank.

Brandon Fishman leads the sales team in their efforts to continually design the perfect strategy for each client. He coaches the IMI team in client selection and strategic planning in order to create a winning ROI for the client from the beginning of the campaign. Brandon works closely with the executive team to ensure that sales and operations are aligned and producing positive results for all clients.

Tell me about your early career.
I started at Deloitte Consulting in 2003. In 2004, I got my Master’s at the University of San Diego. I started an online advertising website for new high-rise condo buildings called NewCondosOnline. I grew it to $5 million a year within two years. The real estate crash hit and I knew I had to start something new so I used the Internet marketing skills I had learned to start IMI.

How was the first year in business?
2007 was a tough year. I was flying around the country meeting with anyone I could to stir up new clients. I had to do all the pitching and all the work myself most of the time until we hired people. I never slept but I kept on grinding and it paid off.

What was your marketing strategy?
We did SEO for ourselves. We got to #1 on Google for “Internet marketing company” and “Internet marketing agency”. A lot of business came to us and I used my network to get more, new clients.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We grew from $0 in 2007 to over $10 million by 2011.

How do you define success?
I really enjoy employing people. I feel successful that I get to employ over 100 people and that keeps me going every day. It is also nice to make a profit too 🙂

What is the key to success?
Passion and hard work. Entrepreneurship can be like a roller coaster and you have to stay strong during the swings.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I tend to rush to make decisions and I have learned I need to think first. I have made a few mistakes by rushing into businesses.

What are some of your favorite books?
Running Scared: The Life and Treacherous Times of Las Vegas Casino King Steve Wynn by John L. Smith.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
In 2010, I had to fire one of my very best friends. I don’t recommend hiring friends. While it can be fun on a daily basis, it is devastating if you have to part ways.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My 7-year-old son Dylan. I want to build my company and sell it in a few years so I can spend more time with my family.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Expect to work 100-hour weeks. Expect to fail a lot. Always keep going.