Alex is the co-founder and CEO of OceanTech, an IT asset disposition company established in 2005. OceanTech has been featured on the Inc. 5000 twice, in 2015 and 2017. Other companies include Ocean Holdings, a real estate firm established in 2011 that operates 50,000 square feet of commercial space, and OT Hardware, an enterprise IT hardware brokerage business. The latest venture Alex helped co-found is WipeOS.com, a data sanitization solution.
Tell me about your early career.
Started OceanTech within the first year out of college, so not too much there. I was always looking for ways to make money. In the early days of eBay and PayPal, I was selling unlocked cell phones, which was my intro to online sales that contributed to founding OceanTech.
How did the concept for OceanTech come about?
I worked at an electronic recycling company towards the end of college that did mainly scrapping and had a small retail store for resale. This was right when eBay was getting big and we quickly realized that certain items listed on eBay will sell much faster and for more money than scrap vale or waiting for someone to come into a retail store, so we started an online resale department for them which was quickly doing $30,000 per month in revenue.
At the same time, I was interviewing for corporate jobs and all I could think about was how I did not want to work for any of them. I continued to run the eBay operation at the other company throughout the summer, then in the fall, after graduating, I started OceanTech with my business partner in his parent’s basement. We started out by selling all the electronic recyclers’ equipment online.
How was the first year in business?
The first year was filled with uncertainty. I had no idea if we would be able to turn OceanTech into a real business, but the thought of having to go to work for someone else was a great motivator. In the beginning, we spent our time scavenging for items to sell, mainly from other electronic recyclers, auctions, Craigslist, etc.
Our initial idea was to just do resale without the recycling. However, we quickly realized that they go hand in hand. When an organization wants their old stuff gone, they want it all gone. So, towards the second half of the first year, we accepted that we will need to offer recycling as well, and not long after that, we hired two cold callers and started to offer an IT asset disposition service. At the end of the first year, we moved into a 10,000 square foot warehouse.
What was your marketing strategy?
Apart from the usual, reputation, we always want to under promise and over deliver.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Not fast. We started with $300 and did not borrow any money, so all of our growth was 100% organic. Although our growth was slow, it was sustainable. We had to make all the money we re-invested which left little room for error.
How do you define success?
Not having to work anymore if you don’t want to.
What is the key to success?
Putting one foot in front of the other and following through on your vision for the long haul.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I have seen many businesses fold that seemed so big and impressive, so sustainability is key. Otherwise, you are building a house of cards. Learn from failure, preferably other people’s.
What are some quotes that you live by?
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill
“Never, never, never give up.” – Winston Churchill
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – Dr. Seuss
“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” – Richard Branson
“An idea is only worth what you are willing and able to make of it, or someone else is willing and able to pay for it.” – Alex Sumetsky
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I remember the first lease we signed; it was only $500 a month for one year, but it seemed more stressful than buying our latest building for over $1,000,000.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The idea that something should get in the way of reaching my goals seems like an affront that should be dealt with accordingly.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Keep your business sustainable! With all the hype about raising money, I really don’t feel like sustainability gets much attention, even though at the end of the day, that is all that really matters. It amazes me how much some business owners care about growing revenue and their balance sheet without considering their bottom line for the years to come. Most likely, you are not going to be a unicorn, so don’t think about huge numbers. Prove that your concept will fund itself.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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