Welsey Melchiorre – Partner, Scotto & Melchiorre Group LLC

Wesley Melchiorre is a partner of Scotto & Melchiorre Group LLC, New York’s #1 fastest-growing private accounting firm on the 2018 Inc. 5000 list. Wesley and his partner, Gregory Scotto, specialize in full-service bookkeeping and CFO services that are custom-designed to assist in overcoming obstacles and achieving business goals. With the support of their team, Scotto & Melchiorre Group provides continuous coaching and offers valuable analytics and financial direction to their clients, management team, and to their investors. Their specialized reporting packages and budgeting analytics have had overwhelming positive feedback and the business insights generates proactive planning for future business decisions among their clientele. Wesley received a B.S. in Corporate Finance from Bentley University in Waltham, MA. Outside of the daily grind, Wesley enjoys spending time with his wife and three daughters.

How did the concept for Scotto & Melchiorre Group come about?
The concept of Scotto & Melchiorre Group came really just from understanding that there’s potential out there to do better than what we have seen and what has been offered. We recognized a major gripe for many business owners – they weren’t getting the proper attention on their books and communication on results, which prevented adaptation to their systems. We took an approach that our team and ourselves would be more accessible to our clients and we would be the business advisory team for them. Most business owners only know what they’ve done, they never trained to be a CEO, which is why we can offer CEO/CFO insights and guidance to help make better and more educated business decisions. Utilizing the technologies available allows us to create an exciting work product that people have been supportive of and can get behind. In working with other numerous employers in the past, we understood the types of products that people were providing; we knew that we were hungry and motivated enough to do it much better.

How was the first year in business?
The first year in business was a tremendous learning curve for us, as we made mistakes and grew from them. There were long hours of hard work and using the bumps in the road as a map to follow and better our business. Family vacations were not an option, and late nights and Saturdays were a necessity as we started out with one full-time employee, and we weren’t in the business of missing deadlines. We hired several key positions to manage and delegate the work and created internal redundancies to prevent oversight and a missed client response, as responsiveness and accessibility are core values to us. We added and adjusted processes as we went through each task to ensure a smooth operation, which is still a key component today – reviewing and fixing processes in your company, as you can always improve.

What was your marketing strategy?
With virtually no marketing budget, we relied on doing the right thing by the clients, setting expectations and over-delivering – CONSISTENTLY. Client referrals were a major factor in our growth. We capitalized on our satisfied customers and leveraged our relationships by requesting them to share their feedback on Google, Facebook and Yelp, which helps validates prospective clients’ concerns. We created strategic alliances with key vendors who have a similar work ethic to ours, vendors that would keep the client’s best interest in mind, who are responsive, and willing to see an issue through to the end. A good referral source that believes in your team, product, and service is a valuable marketing strategy and doesn’t cost anything except great work and time.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We started in October 2015 and growth has been faster than we ever imagined. Scotto & Melchiorre Group was ranked #1191 on the 2018 Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in America. We experienced a 406% revenue growth, generating over $2.2 million in 2017. We more than doubled our full-time staff over a period of a year – going from 6 employees in 2016 to 15 in 2017 – which caused us to outgrow the space we were in, so we purchased and renovated a 5000 square foot office in Islandia, New York. We were nominated by our team and won the HIA-LI Rookie of the Year award, for businesses that have been operating for less than five years, at their 2018 annual Business Achievement Awards.

How do you define success?
We have a vested interest in all of our clients, which means their success is our success, which motivates us to stay proactive and be resourceful to overcome any challenges that occur. As a business owner, success can be measured in different forms. For me, it was about one-and-a-half years in, with a great team filled with positive energy, and everyone enjoying coming to work and knowing their responsibilities, and I personally was able to enjoy a healthier work/life balance and enjoy seeing my kids during daylight.

What is the key to success?
Success comes hand in hand with having a great job you enjoy coming to every day, mixed with satisfied customers who you consider your friends or partners. For our office, we keep a positive, high-energy working environment, where our staff is continuously growing, training, and able to ask questions which has been a key component for us. For our clients, accessibility, responsiveness, and informing our clients regularly has maintained strong relationships with our clients who entrust us with their business and personal information, plans, and goals.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
It’s not always going to be perfect. We’re going to constantly have bumps in the road, but it’s really how you react to those bumps in a positive or negative way. A big reason why we have been successful is because we’ve been able to react quickly to them. Because you put your heart and soul into something, when there is a mishap, I take it very personally, but I have to realize that’s just the inevitability of business. As business owners, any mishap in the company from any department, we analyze how the mistake occurred, and we identify what “we” could have done better to train or communicate with our team to fix and avoid that mistake from happening again. This lesson helps allow our team to feel comfortable with acknowledging errors which enables us to fix the process in a positive way.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Remember why you started.” – It keeps me focused and makes me remember that it’s not just about financial achievements. I have a family at home, including three little girls. I don’t want their only memory of me to be just at the office.

“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” – Not letting the success get to your head. Understanding that the team you have surrounding you is a big reason why you are where you are.

What are some of your favorite books?
US Master Tax Guide – Once you start this light read, it’s nearly impossible to put down; we highly recommend it.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Our first day. I was petrified. I was scared, and I didn’t know what was going to happen. At the same time, I was excited and ready to face whatever adventures were coming. I had no idea what clients I was going to have and what was going to happen with the business. Day one, you set a budget on paper or in your mind, on what your personal finances are and what you need to make to cover your monthly expenses. Without a set number of clients, it was very uncertain, and a fearful day. It was the fear of the unknown. Within a day, I would say, those fears dissipated. Once I was confident that this was going to work, then everything kind of fell into place.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Luckily, I have a great partnership, and my business partner is my sounding board and we are able to collaborate our ideas and thoughts as a team. On a personal level, my family and my kids. Making sure that they have a future and that they seek whatever adventure fulfills them.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Nothing happens fast. I feel like with the younger generations, everything has to be a waterfall. For me, it was consistent hard work and adding experiences to my repertoire, and building a presence and a name in the industry. Building a good rapport with clients, as well as understanding that it takes time to develop those skills in order to hold a conversation and be confident in what you’re talking about. It takes time to build a good team. Nothing happens overnight. You have to put the work in. For me, it took 15 years of hard work before the opportunity opened up for me to own my own business. So, just grind. Get out there and grind, because nothing is going to be given to you.

Josh Collins – Co-Founder, PresPro Custom Homes

John Sears and Josh Collins’ business partnership goes back to 2004 when they teamed up to start a small property servicing company. Throughout the course of the following two years, they operated the company themselves and grew it to a substantial enough size to get the attention of another local businessman who offered to purchase it. They used this business as a stepping-stone to being a face in the community and began to get involved with networking organizations and prominent businesses in the area.

Sears and Collins both have backgrounds in business, so they decided to expand their partnership into investment real estate and both completed their real estate brokerage certifications. Once licensed, they launched their real estate partnership under Benham Real Estate Group, a well-known local real estate company. Through hard work and dedication, Sears and Collins helped Benham Real Estate Group grow into the largest foreclosure real estate brokerage firm in North Carolina, and eventually the largest in America.

As Benham Real Estate Group grew to prominence, it began to franchise under the name Benham REO. Since Sears and Collins had been with the company throughout its development, they were a natural fit to open the first franchise locations. They selected Tallahassee, FL and Wilmington, NC and began their real estate operations. Over the next three years, they opened an additional 16 franchise locations in major cities across the U.S., including Atlanta, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, Houston, Kansas City, Orlando, Tampa, and many others. At their peak, these offices were listing over 3,000 bank-owned properties simultaneously and generating over $285 million per year in real estate sales.

In late 2009, Sears and Collins began development of a property service technology company known as PresPro.com. PresPro launched in March 2009 as a company that came alongside banks, asset managers, and capital groups to renovate and preserve their Real Estate Owned, known in the industry as “REO.” They quickly found success and grew their contractor network to over 4,000 vendors who handled up to 70 full renovations at a time in over 25 states. They got the attention of companies like Chase Bank, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and others, which continued to fuel their growth.

At its peak, PresPro.com serviced over 35 corporate clients on a nationwide scale, as well as the largest hedge funds and capital groups in America, such as Blackstone’s Invitation Homes, Colony Homes, Progress Residential, and American Residential Properties.

After the foreclosure boom ground to a halt in 2012, Sears and Collins reinvented their company and launched in the Charlotte market as a local home builder called PresPro Custom Homes. Although the new construction industry was virtually nonexistent at the time, their foresight of a changing market paid off and they became Cabarrus County, NC’s largest home builder by January 2013.

Each year, PresPro Custom Homes has grown to triple the previous year’s sales volume, with its pinnacle achievement to-date being named Charlotte Business Journal’s #1 fastest-growing company in 2017. They have additionally been recognized by Charlotte Business Journal for their rate of growth in 2014 (#8) and 2018 (#5). Inc. 5000 has tapped them on their list of America’s fastest-growing companies in 2014 and 2018, ranking #223 and #2101, respectively.

Sears and Collins are also involved with global humanitarian efforts through a business process outsourcing company they started in Davao, Philippines. Named The O-Link, this company serves as a business center in the Philippines that helps locals get out of poverty and become gainfully employed and redirects profits to help establish other local businesses that are run by local individuals. The O-Link trains its employees in many modern business skills, such as word processing programs, English proficiency, data entry, etc. Sears also serves as an adviser for a largely-successful business process outsourcing firm called Flatworld Solutions, which has grown to employ over 1,000 Filipinos.

Among their other ventures, Sears and Collins have founded multiple private equity groups (Journey Capital, Journey Investment Group, Venture Partners), coaching and training companies (Involusion, The Short Sale Blueprint, REO Web Summit), a marketing and branding agency (Moose Mojo), a business process outsourcing company (The O-Link / Virtual REO), a property management firm (MFP Management), and several technology companies (PresPro.com System, Home Value Agent).

How did the concept for PresPro come about?
PresPro was born out of necessity. We were listing foreclosure properties for banks and asset managers across the US and they required the real estate broker to “GC” complete property renovations. Real estate brokers aren’t contractors, but we saw an opportunity to create a platform to manage the process of connecting banks with contractors to get competitive bids on the work they wanted done at their foreclosure properties. We became the middle man and handled the service for a fee that was charged to the contractor. As a result, we grew a contractor network of over 4,000 vendors and were handling up to 70 full renovations at a time in 25+ states. After the foreclosure boom ground to a halt, we redirected our focus to local home building and reinvented our company. After doing so, we pushed hard and became the fastest-growing company in Charlotte (stat by Charlotte Business Journal) and the 8th fastest-growing home builder in the U.S. (stat by Inc. 5000) within just three years.

How was the first year in business?
It was a lot of hard work. We were managing software developers who were writing code for our management system, and at the same time, we were taking new business as fast as we could sign contracts. It was hectic, but it paid off. After reinventing the company in 2012, and becoming a home builder, it felt like we started over again, but this time with a great deal more knowledge of our industry. It still took long hours and dedication, but we had tasted what it was like to grow and knew how to do it.

What was your marketing strategy?
We leveraged relationships that we already had established through our real estate brokerages. Through owning an asset management service company, we became peers with the directors, CEO’s, and owners of the companies that we were working with, which helped get our foot in the door with new opportunities. When we started building homes, we spent quite a bit of time cold calling and emailing past contacts who we thought would be interested in buying smaller houses for investment purposes. We found a small amount of success doing that, but quickly realized that the housing market would be coming back shortly and that the homes would sell themselves. Since we own a real estate brokerage, we used that company to list and sell our homes.

How do you define success?
Success is being a blessing to others around us and in our community. We don’t measure success by what we have, but rather by what we can give. We are grateful that we are the main source of income for over 30 families and a large part of the income for 100’s of others.

What is the key to success?
Two-fold answer: 1) Ultimately, prayer is the key to success. You have to know what God’s will is, and you can’t know that without connecting with Him through a real relationship. The Bible says that a man plans his course, but the Lord establishes his steps. That means that I can daydream all I want about where I would LIKE to be, but it is ultimately the Lord who causes my feet to successfully walk in that direction. 2) Hard work. When you have vision and purpose, you have to push as hard as you can toward achieving that goal. We are goal setters and also believe we should be brutally honest about areas we fall short of reaching our goal. Sometimes, we do that to avoid things that have wasted our time in the past. Other times, it is simply to ensure we don’t get distracted from the goal.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Don’t let your emotions get involved with your business deals in a detrimental way. Always be willing to walk away from a deal. No deal is so important that it should cause you to compromise on reaching your objectives. Being an emotional person usually goes hand in hand with being an entrepreneur. Without that raw emotion, you wouldn’t have the drive to reach your goals, but that emotion can also cause you to enter into a bad deal if you don’t keep it in check. Maybe it’s the excitement of putting a deal together, or maybe the hatred of losing. But whatever the case, you have to be willing to walk away when the deal isn’t right.

What are some quotes that you live by?
Be a fountain, not a drain. Work harder at what is smarter.

What are some of your favorite books?
The Bible, Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, Think Big by Donald Trump / Bill Zanker, The Alchemy of Growth by David White, The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, and The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
When we were listing properties for Fannie Mae, there was a day in 2010 when the government passed some red tape regulation that said Fannie Mae had to diversify their listing brokers and no individual broker would be able to list over 25 properties. At the time, we had just over 225 Fannie Mae properties in our inventory and a staff of 28 that had already been handling the pre-marketing service of these assets for up to six months per property. At around 3:00 PM that day, we were notified that we would be losing 200 listings without any type of compensation for the time we had already put in (when you accept a listing of a foreclosed property, you agree to perform services without compensation until the property has sold, at which time you earn a commission.) Our average listing price at the time was $150,000 and we were working to earn a 2.5% commission at sale. So that means we would be looking forward to an average $3,750 commission per property, or over $800,000 total. We were able to salvage around 100 of those listings, but still watched as over $450,000 was wiped off of our plate by the government (I think it was right around tax day to boot). Thankfully, we managed to not lay off any employees, but just kind of took it on the chin and began to rebuild.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The love and challenge of the game. An entrepreneur who doesn’t love adversity won’t last too long. There has to be something innate that drives them to go forward despite hard circumstances.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Think through what you are about to do. Read The E-Myth Revisited and be honest with yourself about which category you fit into. Don’t be afraid to fail…if you are afraid to fail, you aren’t the type of person that will make it as an entrepreneur. The fact is there aren’t a lot of true entrepreneurs out there. There are a lot of people who are “self employed,” but not many of them will establish a wildly successful business (I like to try to scare people out of starting a business, because the true entrepreneur will be motivated instead of scared…it kind of separates the wheat from the chaff, so to speak). If you decide to move forward and start a business, make sure you are thinking LONG TERM and you plan to give it 150% for as long as it takes. Take risks…it will be the difference between growth and stagnation (Think Big is a great book to read for this topic).

Mike Burgett – Founder & Executive Advisor, CIO Partners

With over 25 years of experience in the technology sector, Mike Burgett brings a wealth of hands-on experience to his global clients and to his local community. Clients and colleagues cite his ability to build solid, sound relationships and process-oriented approach as his hallmark qualities of success.

Prior to founding CIO Partners, Mike was the CIO for RTM Incorporated, a $1 billion Fortune 500 organization. There, he led technology services from an operational perspective and was able to customize and implement a process-based approach and customer service within a corporate IT organization. Mike began his career as a systems engineer with the global technology consulting company Electronic Data Systems (EDS). As a technology consultant within the automotive engineering and manufacturing industry for General Motors, he honed his technical ability and developed a strong sense toward process and project management that defines him to this day.

Mike is an active volunteer with Kidz2Leaders, which provides mentorship, training, and programs for at-risk teens. He is also a member of Roundtable CEOs, a faith-based organization of CEOs and entrepreneurs. His other entrepreneurial endeavors include Talentric®, The National CIO Review®, CxO Professional Networks, and Burgett Enterprises, LLC. His companies have been recognized multiple times as an Atlanta Business Chronicle Best Place to Work, and as a five-time honoree on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies. All corporate entities tithe 10% of company profits to charity.

How did the concept for CIO Partners come about?
After graduating from Florida State University with a degree in computer science, I joined Electronic Data Systems in 1990 as a technology consultant with General Motors in Detroit, Michigan. I had the opportunity to move from individual contributor roles to leadership positions at a very young age. After a move to Atlanta with the company, I was recruited to become the chief information officer of RTM Restaurant Group, an $850 million company. Transitioning from supply chain technology to the restaurant industry was an interesting and rewarding move. After serving in my first CIO role for 3.5 years, the entrepreneurial bug hit me. I knew there was a gap in the executive search business and that there was an opportunity to create a niche, executive retained search firm that focused exclusively in the technology leadership sector.

What was your marketing strategy?
While not formally trained, sales and marketing has always been one of my interests. I also knew that CIO Partners, with a defined niche, would resonate well within the marketplace. Over the past 18 years, we have continued to cultivate talent networks of technology leaders and build direct relationships with companies that are in need of these types of leaders. It’s actually rather simple: continue to promote the brand as the top niche player in this space, cultivate relationships with the folks who perform these roles, and then interact with the buyers who hire this talent. In essence, we know the best marketing is to be known as an influencer in the industry and serve well all who play in this space.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Our company has had the privilege of being recognized on the Inc. 5000, six times. In short, we grew fast from 2001-2007, learned a great deal through the downturn of 2008-2009, and re-accelerated the growth of our company from 2010 to present day. Growth can be challenging, but continuing to reshape strategy to align with an evolving market is the fun part of being an entrepreneur.

How do you define success?
Success for me is having an idea, launching an offering, staying in the detail to refine the idea in the marketplace, building a values-based team, and then giving them the keys to take the company to a new level.

What is the key to success?
One of the companies that I worked for in the past had a great side of guiding principles that still guide me to this day. Work Hard, Play Fair, Get Things Done, Make a Difference, and Have Fun. From a personal note, having a strong family and friendships are key, and continuing to develop my personal relationship with my creator and becoming the man that he knows me to be.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The greatest lesson that I ever learned was taught to me by a former high school teacher who gave me my first technology job as a freshman in college. He had asked me, as I was moving to a new town in order to attend a new college, to find a synopsis of a book that he read a long time ago. He was purposely vague about the name of the book or how I was to find the information, but set me on the task. As a young buck in that day, I promised to get to it, but alas, he had to remind me a few times of his request. A few months later, on my last day of work, I went to the local library and found the book, A Message to Garcia. As I read the short text, I quickly learned the message he sought to instill. In brief, the book is about a man being tasked with an important mission, and that those who are quick to take action and complete a task are those who are most valued. As I delayed on completing what I deemed a trivial, non-urgent assignment, the message of the book hit me directly and further instilled in me that I want to be known as someone who can relied upon to get things done for the sake of all involved.

What are some quotes that you live by? 
“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” – Luke 12:48

“It’s your attitude, not your aptitude, that will determine your altitude.” – Zig Ziglar

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
This is a hard one! There are tough days, but tough days are a part of the journey…the shaping of me as an entrepreneur. As a hiker, who has been hiking the Appalachian Trail in sections for many years, with only 300 miles left of the 2100 miles, that journey has provided me a perspective that shapes me in my daily walk. When the elements are tough, you keep moving up the trail. Adversity is a part of life, and we should glorify GOD in each and every step, in both good times and bad. Because even as you walk during a difficult stretch, you can still experience joy, and when you reach the top, the trials and tribulations are ultimately rewarded.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My family, my faith, and my desire to meet all challenges head on, and growing through each and every experience.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Whether you decide to take the leap to be an entrepreneur early in life or later in your career, know that your individual journey will continue to shape you for that right moment. Seek mentors, become a voracious reader, and continue to develop your personal toolbox and capabilities. In the end, have the confidence to believe in yourself and take the leap! In the end, the journey is the reward.

Ronald Burgess – Founder, RBJ Foundation

Ronald A. Burgess Jr. is a former professional athlete, inspiring motivational speaker, and founder of the RBJ Foundation.

Growing up in Miami’s Opa-locka and Deerfield Beach, Florida, Ronald understands the need for resources aimed at not only strengthening communities, but also empowering the youth within these communities. Having substantial understanding of the impact addiction, mental health, and trauma can have on youth, Ronald speaks at DYS (Department of Youth Services), churches, and schools to help minimize the stigma of addiction and mental health.

How do you define success?
My definition of success is positively-changing and impacting, not only your life, but also the lives of others. Success is bigger than the individual. That’s why I emphasize on the “positively-changing and impacting the lives of others.” When I think of success, the one word that sticks out the most is “prevail.” Success is measured by growth. Success is measured by a decrease in the stigma of addiction and mental health. Success is bigger than the individual.

What is the key to success?
1) First, and most important, is consistency. Consistency is the key to anything in life, especially when we talk about success.
2) Chasing failure. Understanding that everything you may feel you can’t do is indeed everything you can do.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The greatest lesson I learned is to always remain humble. Remaining humble and understanding our circumstances doesn’t define us, nor does our past. Also, to be more mindful of the things I have versus the things I don’t have. That’s pure gratitude.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Faith without works is dead.”
“One community, one goal.”
“We didn’t come this far, to come this far.” – William Hollis

What are some of your favorite books?
Uncommon – Tony Dungy
The Bible
The Man in the Mirror – Patrick Morley

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as a professional athlete.
When I visited an elementary/middle school and chose to discuss the importance of “saying no to drugs.” Reason this is considered one of my toughest days is being, at the time, I was working with teens/adolescents who struggled with substance abuse and mental health disorders. I’ve lost many young teen/adolescent clients to addiction. Therefore, there are a lot of emotions that come into play when talking to elementary/middle schools about the importance of not engaging in any of these addictive behaviors. It’s always difficult to discuss this topic, because of all the funerals I’ve attended as a result of teen/adolescent addiction.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My faith and knowledge of my purpose in life. I understand I have a job to do and that’s to strengthen our communities and empower our youth. Also, understanding that God is bigger than my adversity and circumstances.

What advice would you give to young athlete?
The advice I would give is to always remain humble and consistent with everything you do. Take something from the game, because this can’t last forever. All sports come with life lessons that we can take and implement in our daily lives. Incorporate God in all you do.

Shannon “Peacasso” Seip – Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Bean Sprouts

Shannon is the creative force behind Bean Sprouts. She created the award-winning Imaginibbles menu, including Do-Re-For-Me, the winner of the Best Kids’ Meal in the U.S. She leads the direction of the Bean Sprouts brand, including menu development, store design, and merchandise. Shannon oversees all licensing programs and partnerships. She has an extensive media background, including years on television, and is an award-winning author of American Girl publications (including multiple food features) and parenting books.

How did the concept for Beansprouts come about?
When each of us had young children, we realized there was no place to eat that was healthy AND fun, that appealed to both kids AND adults. Even at places that were wholesome and family-friendly (think Panera Bread), our kids showed off their rambunctiousness while businessmen and women tried to hold meetings at the next table over.

We created Bean Sprouts by taking every challenge we could think of when dining out with kids (there were many!) and finding solutions. Bean Sprouts offers both a playful menu that encourages children to try new tastes, and an experience that appeases parents (hello, organic espresso bar, fabulous sandwiches, and extreme attention to allergies).

A few years after opening our first location in a strip mall, we started getting inquiries from family destinations, asking if we would consider being their concessionaire. We discovered that many destinations – from children’s museums and science centers, to zoos and amusement parks – had amazing experiences at their locations. Unfortunately, their current food offerings did not reflect the missions or imaginations of their exhibits.

We switched our business model to solely serve family destinations and soon discovered that our proposals were beating out some of the biggest fast food places in the country. And as a small business, we didn’t need to spend big marketing dollars getting people in the door of a new concept. We were planting Bean Sprouts where we already knew there were plenty of visitors!

How was the first year in business?
Our first year in business offered a steep learning curve. First of all, we opened alongside the recession, in 2007. So the odds were stacked against us. Plus, we had little to no food service experience.

What we did know, especially from being parents of youngsters, is that we had a dynamic concept and could brand and market extremely well. We knew that our first year was crucial to rely on others’ knowledge to fill in our gaps.

What was incredibly encouraging from the beginning was that the country seemed ready for our wholesome kid-focused concept. Many fast food brands were under heavy criticism. Michelle Obama was inspiring families to get fit with her Let’s Move! campaign. Audiences were primed for Bean Sprouts.

The best part was that because Kelly and I were scrappy and did not have a chunk of extra change in our bank account, we learned the ins and outs of every aspect of our business. We had to. From fixing ice machines and working the line, to booking, catering, and hosting countless birthday parties, we know the hard work it takes to keep Bean Sprouts thriving.

That has helped tremendously when we hire new team members, especially leaders. They know that we’re not afraid to get our hands dirty, and can offer insights based on experience.

What was your marketing strategy?
As mentioned, by planting our cafés where our target audience is already coming, we haven’t had to spend lots of resources on traditional marketing. Instead, we put our efforts into researching, experimenting, and sharing how to make healthy food fun (and profitable) in our industry. Our new cookbook, Bean Sprouts Kitchen, is a great tool to show others how to succeed in that realm.

This has led to being featured experts in major national media, such as Good Morning America and The Today Show, and in nearly every major parenting publication and parenting blog.

We also serve as speakers at conferences, both on this topic and on the advancement of women and minorities in our industry, as Bean Sprouts is one of the only exclusively female-founded restaurant chains in the U.S.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Our growth took some time. For many years, we just had one location. We hammered out all sorts of kinks, tried new menu approaches, different customer service elements, cooking school classes…everything. We just needed to see what would stick.

Once we changed our business model to serve only family destinations, and honed our menu and offerings, our confidence grew exponentially. And then, when we completed our capital raise, we finally felt free to aggressively pursue new locations. Bean Sprouts has doubled its size in the last two years and plans to double again the next 18-24 months.

How do you define success?
That’s an interesting question. There’s obviously the success of seeing your number of locations grow, and sales increasing.

That’s certainly exciting, but what’s more encouraging is to realize the reasons behind that. Families are more aware of what foods they put into their bodies, and are turning to wholesome food as a lifestyle choice. What really means success to us is to see children loving our Imaginibbles menu – trying new ingredients and flavors, and surprising their parents with what they’ll eat, just because the dish is presented in a playful way.

And personally, success comes from showing our kids that you can build a business that helps people and provides you flexibility for your family. We’ve made sure to share the ups and downs so that they understand the challenges and rewards of creating your own opportunity.

What is the key to success?
First of all, you definitely need the support of your family! Entrepreneurship is an exciting and gut-wrenching adventure, and your family needs to be on board for you to be able to go full-steam ahead.

Above all, everything we do filter through our HIPP core values. If our employees, vendors, partners, etc. aren’t in line with Health, Innovation, Positivity, and Playfulness, we typically don’t work together. We want to ensure that Bean Sprouts is an incredible experience, whether at our order counter or behind the scenes.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Surround yourself with people who know a lot more than you do. Don’t try to do everything yourself. You can’t be an accountant, lawyer, manufacturer, marketer, creative director, etc. Focus on your strengths and fill your gaps with people who have experience. When people believe in what you’re doing, they will often want to help.

Make sure to listen to their feedback, both positive and constructive. Some ideas thrown your way will not make sense for you to undertake, but you will discover nuggets of truth and wisdom that you can apply.

Keep that circle close…they will be invaluable!

What are some of your favorite books?
Kelly and I LOVE sharing books and podcasts, and make sure we’re constantly opening our eyes to new ideas and proven practices.

We’ve used many of Patrick Lencioni’s tools, including the “Playbook.” It is how we set our company goals and what we use to structure our meeting agendas.

Some of our faves when it comes to books/podcasts:

How I Built This
The One Minute Millionaire
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Pour Your Heart Into It

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Eesh…we’ve had a few. I remember hearing that the key to a successful marriage is not to fall out of love…at the same time. The same could be said for business partners as there will be times where the energy, efforts, and excitement aren’t always equal.

I remember when Kelly and I were in New York during the holiday season for an investor presentation, which I do not believe went well.

We’d also just closed one of our locations and were working to open in the Southern California market. We were in the midst of a big capital raise and were still overseeing all of the operations, marketing, food and beverage…you name it, ourselves.

We desperately needed to hire a COO because we couldn’t build a business if we were stuck in the day-to-day operations, but we didn’t have the funds yet to hire.

So, Kelly and I sat in our hotel room at 5:00 PM during Christmas time in NYC. We were exhausted and emotionally-drained. We didn’t have any motivation to even go outside and look at the beautiful holiday decorations in NEW YORK, which didn’t even cost any money!

I don’t remember who said it first, but we basically said it might be time to shut down Bean Sprouts, and then it was silent. It was the first time one of us didn’t object to the idea of closing the doors.

Thank goodness after a long while, one of us escaped that funk and motivated the other outside to see the big tree and ice skaters in Rockefeller Center. That’s one of the BEANefits of taking a trusted business partner along this incredible journey.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Kelly and I are both incredibly perseverant—you have to be when you come from a broadcast news background.

I think our unwavering belief in the Bean Sprouts’ mission to “spark children’s appetites with yummy, good-for-you food; and delight grown-ups with a happier mealtime” and the overwhelming positive response keep us going.

Plus, we love a good challenge. So when faced with what seems impossible to overcome, we’ve stretched our thinking in ways we never could have imagined.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
I don’t believe that you need to have spent your entire career in an industry to become successful. That lack of perspective can allow you to think outside the box and approach the industry in innovative ways.

That said, it’s crucial to surround yourself with experienced individuals on whom you can call for advice. People who will share their successes and failures and who will also give you their honest opinions.

When we were in the planning stages of Bean Sprouts, we wrote a huge list of anybody we knew who might know anybody who could help us. At first, we were hesitant to share our business idea, for fear that someone would steal it. But we realized that if we didn’t share anything, we’d never get anywhere.

We had a lot of coffee meetings, letting people know what Bean Sprouts was, and asking if they had any connections to people who were passionate about health and food. That led us down many windy paths to our current major investors. They are wonderful, supportive, smart professionals who challenge us to think bigger. If we had to guess, we probably had around 30 coffee meetings to get us to one investor. Good thing we like coffee!