I’ll always be an entrepreneur at heart. I founded my first eBay store at 16 when local restaurants refused to hire me—apparently having zero work experience isn’t a desirable attribute. eBay was my marketplace of choice for the next two years. From electronics to designer women’s clothing, I sold anything and everything I could get my hands on.
I was forced to do business under my dad’s name because of my age (shhh, don’t tell PayPal). I spent most of the profits purchasing inventory, which filled my parents’ garage. Every other cent went straight into my savings account.
At 18, I headed off to USC—majoring in industrial & systems engineering with an emphasis in information systems & operations management (quite a mouthful, right?). I put my eBay business on hold in an attempt to focus on my studies. That didn’t last long as tuition quickly did a number on my savings. Rather than jump back into eBay, I scooped up a few part-time jobs—one on campus as a video technician and the rest as a college ambassador for brands like PlayStation, Monster Energy, and Ubisoft.
I rode that wave until I finished my Bachelor’s and eventually my Master’s. My Master’s was in a much easier to pronounce field: engineering management. With my degrees in hand, I made an illogical decision (in the eyes of many) and chose to avoid a career as an engineer—the thing I had been training to do for over 5.5 years. Instead, I returned to my passion, eCommerce entrepreneurship, and Pawstruck.com was born.
Pawstruck sources premium ingredients providing dog owners the healthiest and most affordable dog products on the web.
How did the concept for Pawstruck.com come about?
In early 2013, I got a Boxer puppy named Tyson. I visited a local pet store to find him some dog treats. My plan was to find him some tasty rewards to incentivize his progress in his potty training. I needed all the help I could get because my carpet was taking a beating! Tyson didn’t seem too picky when it came to the dog treats, but I took a closer look at the various options.
After making my way down the aisle, I noticed a trend. Everything I picked up was made with artificial ingredients. Words on the ingredient lists seemed like gibberish because of all of the complex scientific jargon (hydrogenated starch hydrolysate, ascorbyl palmitate, glucosamine hydrochloride…huh???).
I started searching the Internet in the hopes of finding dog treats and dog chews that were healthy, all natural, and reasonably priced. I wanted simple ingredients with no artificial additives or preservatives. After some serious research, I came to the conclusion that what I was looking for wasn’t available. My options were to spend an unreasonable amount of money on the handful of natural dog treats that were being sold or resort to giving Tyson treats of subpar quality.
Through that frustration came my “aha” moment and Pawstruck.com was born. I decided to leave my career in engineering for something I was passionate about—supplying other responsible pet owners high quality and reasonably priced dog products.
How was the first year in business?
A struggle to say the least. This was my first business. I didn’t know what I was doing. It was months and months of grinding to try and get our website set up and generate some sales. While it was tough, I think I learned the most in that first year. I was forced to do everything myself and learn everything from fulfillment to accounting.
How do you define success?
In two ways—happiness and freedom. Those just happen to be the two metrics I use to define my own success, but they don’t apply to everyone. For me, these two things don’t necessarily mean I’m sitting on a beach drinking piña coladas all day like it may imply. That’s not how I define happiness or freedom. I enjoy my work so that checks the happiness box, and by being my own boss, I have the freedom to make my own schedule and travel as much as I’d like.
What is the key to success?
Success is subjective. Ignore what other people think and clearly define what matters to you most. If that’s money, great! If that’s freedom, great! It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you identify what you want and continue to strive for that goal.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
You can’t do everything yourself forever, even if it seems easier that way. I was hesitant to bring on other people and give up control, but it’s ended up being the best thing to happen in my business. What you give up in control you get back in growth and learning opportunities. Hiring has allowed me to focus on my strengths, which is better for me and for my business.
What are some of your favorite books?
The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber. After three different people suggested this book to me, I finally gave it a read. It’s perfect for new entrepreneurs in any industry and I now recommend it whenever I can. This book contains valuable info for businesses of any size and teaches you to work “on” your business and not “in” it—allowing you to scale from a solopreneur or startup to a self-sufficient business with opportunities for growth.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Key employees leaving any company is never easy. This is especially true early on for small, bootstrapped startups. There’s one situation of this happening to me that comes to mind. It felt like the sky was falling. I thought I would never be able to pick up the slack and find a replacement. Of course, the company made it through perfectly fine, but not without a lot of extra hours and stress. I learned a few important lessons that everyone is replaceable and to make sure all responsibilities are well-documented.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I have my college engineering diploma hanging in my office at home. I use that as a constant reminder of what I would be doing if I weren’t an entrepreneur—slaving away at a desk dealing with all kinds of obnoxious bureaucracy. I’m not willing to go back to that 9-5 daily corporate grind. That small reminder is all I need to keep going even in the darkest of times.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Giving up equity early on can be a big mistake. Obviously, this advice varies depending on what type of business you are in and your goals, but in general, avoid handing it over in lieu of money. Finance your business in a different way and be confident in yourself that you’ll make your new business a success. Years from now, you’ll be kicking yourself for giving up a portion of your business.
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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