Nelson Nahum – Founder & CEO, Zadara Storage

Nelson Nahum brings over twenty years of experience in the storage industry. He is known for creating innovative products and successfully bringing them to the market. Prior to co-founding Zadara Storage, he was a Fellow and Vice President of Software Engineering at LSI Corporation, where he was responsible for an engineering team of over 250 people. Previously, he was Co-Founder and CTO of StoreAge Networking Technologies, which was acquired by LSI in 2006. At StoreAge, he invented the out-of-band storage virtualization system, which led to a successful product that was adopted by HP and led to the acquisition of StoreAge by LSI. Nelson holds multiple patents related to storage systems. He has a BScEE from the Technion, the Israeli Institute of Technology.

Tell me about your early career.
I started my career as a software engineer and my first project was to develop software to diagnose and test disk drives, back in the days when there were special labs that could fix failed disk drives. Very quickly, I got promoted to develop the firmware for an AS/400 compatible Disk Array (called DASD by IBM). Since the beginning, most of my career has been involved with storage – first as a developer, then as a team lead, R&D manager, to founder of companies.

How did the concept for Zadara Storage come about?
I’ve been working in enterprise storage my whole career, but when I started looking at the AWS cloud, I thought there was a great opportunity to change the game of enterprise storage. Instead of building monolithic storage arrays that cost a lot of money to buy (Capex) and also to manage (Opex), we created an enterprise storage service that has the security, performance, data protection, and manageability of monolithic arrays, but also with the elasticity fully-managed and all the good things of the “as a service” model, even when it is on premise, at the customer site. Our software creates a cloud storage solution that is unique in the way that we separate the different tenants and workloads into a multi-tenant cloud. In our case, every tenant has the same capabilities as they would have with dedicated storage arrays but totally as a service. When you bring a new and unique technology, it is very powerful, but when you also bring a new business model, that is a game changer.

What was your marketing strategy?
Marketing is key for the success of a startup, otherwise nobody will know about your idea. In today’s world, in order to compete with the established companies with known brands and large marketing budgets, it is necessary to innovate in marketing all the time. We focused in the beginning on having good SEO for certain keywords and to generate enough content and distribution so people would know about Zadara. Most of our initial customers were enterprises, but they came to us. For example, our product is really good for people that need file storage in AWS, so we refined our messaging in such a way that anybody who searches for file storage in AWS will find us. It is very important to optimize organic search before you start spending a fortune in Google Ads. We always try to use the latest marketing techniques – the sooner you can use them the better because the big companies cannot move fast and this is where you can have an advantage.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We launched our product eighteen months after starting the company. We saw immediately that this will be a hit based on the number and size of our beta customers. In the first year of sales, we sold $300,000. By the second year, we were at $2.2 million.

How do you define success?
Success for me is building a company where its employees, customers, and investors are happy and share the same vision. It is a three-legged stool. You cannot succeed without having all three legs. Over time, these three groups of people may have different interests but it is the job of the entrepreneur to align the three of them around the same vision and expand these groups as you grow.

What is the key to success?
First, build a really good team. Second, build a culture where customer satisfaction is a must. If the customers are happy, then it is a good base to start growing and attract the best talent and investors.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The initial decisions at the beginning of the company are the ones that are harder to fix. The co-founders, business model, product, and initial investors are among those key decisions that are best to have right from the beginning.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“How to succeed? Think big.” “Better to be smart than right.” “It takes 100 smart people to solve a problem that a dumb person created.”

What are some of your favorite books?
I like Malcolm Gladwell’s books. David and Goliath is my favorite, but I also like The Tipping Point.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The toughest part of this job is when you come to the conclusion that somebody you hired early on, and who did a good job for you in the very early days, is no longer capable of doing a good job during the company’s growth phase. It is easy to let go of somebody who hasn’t performed well, but it is very hard to let somebody go who believed in the vision and worked well early on, but became an obstacle for the company’s growth. Unfortunately, these tough decisions need to be made or else it can compromise the rest of the team who also believe in the vision and bet their careers on your success.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
During adversity, it is always good to step back and look at the particular adversity and think that there are other things that can be much worse. Family and friends are the best possible support system. Fortunately, most of the problems in business are reversible (as opposed to health issues), so the best thing to do is to keep calm, stay healthy, and start thinking about how to reverse the problem, even if it takes time.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Try to solve real problems and come up with a differentiated product. Even if many people don’t believe that this is the right thing to do, all you need is enough early adopters to get going. The early adopters should be the investors, new hires, and the first customers. If you succeeded to convince a handful of people that your idea is good, then it is probably good. Don’t be afraid to pivot if needed. New ideas typically require adjustments according to external feedback. And most importantly, don’t let the naysayers doubt your idea. Build a great team and focus on customer satisfaction.

Scott Wolfe Sr. – Founder, President & CEO, Melba’s Famous Poboys

Founder, President and CEO of Melba’s Famous Poboys, which has been declared by Inc. 500 magazine as the #1 fastest-growing company in Louisiana (2016) and recognized by GQ Magazine as one of the BEST restaurants in America.

President and CEO of Wagner’s Meat (Est. 1980). Wagner’s Meat was a chain of convenience stores in the New Orleans Area from 1982 to 2003. In 2001, Wagner’s was slated as one of the 100 Fastest Growing Inner City Companies in America (#31) by Inc. Magazine and listed in City Business as one of the Top 100 Private Companies in New Orleans (#77).

President and CEO of Chicken Box (Est. 2001). Chicken Box was a chain of restaurants in the New Orleans Area. In its first six months, it raced to become New Orleans’ #2 Fried Chicken Company.

Owner and Chairman of the Board of Wolfman Construction Company (Est. 1999). Wolfman Construction is a commercial contracting company that does work throughout the New Orleans Metro Area. The company was listed by New Orleans’ City Business Magazine as one of the city’s “Top 25 Construction Companies”.

Together as the owner of Melba’s Famous Poboys, Wagner’s Meat, Chicken Box, Wolfman Construction and American Amusements, Scott Wolfe, Sr. employed over three hundred employees for more than thirty years.

Tell me about your early career.
My wife Jane and I are statistical parents of teenage pregnancy. She was 15 and I was 17 when we had our first child in 1980. High school sweethearts and high school dropouts. Both GED-certified with three mouths to feed.

Working for Jane’s dad at a small inner-city grocery store at $3.50 per hour, Jane and I saved up $10,000 in two years, enough to parlay with a partner ($20,000) to purchase a bankrupt grocery name Wagner’s in the poorest and highest crime section of New Orleans. 40% unemployment and 50% welfare. We were on welfare and foods stamps ourselves!

Determined and perseverance, we bought out our partner within six months, and within a year, we had that store up to $100,000 per month in sales. That community embraced the courage and determination of two white kids with a kid coming to their neighborhood to earn a living. Within the next five years, we would have grown the Wagner’s Meat brand to ten high-profile locations throughout New Orleans, and for the next 30 years, Wagner’s Meats became a New Orleans icon.

Retired at forty-two (2004), selling all the Wagner’s locations while retaining the real estate. Diversified with ten locations across town enjoying significant passive income. However, Hurricane Katrina had other plans. August 2005, Katrina destroyed all ten locations leaving us with $125,000 per month in mortgages and no tenants or customers to pay it.

Chicken or the egg…who would be first? Neighbors coming home, redeveloping their homes or businesses hoping that customers would soon ensue? City officials quarantined everyone out of New Orleans for two months following the storm which meant I already owed the banks $250,000 in payments. Electricity would not come back for four more months. Now due? $500,000.

It cost $200,000 just to clean the stores out and board them up ($20,000 per store). It would cost millions more to fix them, and still no neighbors to sell to. Our insurance policies would not pay for another four years! Scary times.

It was my own roots that would save us. While Jane’s father was in the grocery business, my father was a general contractor. I actually grew up on job sites helping plumbers and carpenters and watching my dad make deals. Prior to retiring in 2004, I acquired my contractor’s license in 1999, as I had planned my retirement career as a property developer. I have been developing property since 1999. So, while Katrina took away my retirement and my nest egg, it also provided a path to recovery. This is where preparation met opportunity.

With billions of dollars in destruction in New Orleans, my construction company, Wolfman Construction, quickly grew into one of the top 25 construction companies in New Orleans. Providing jobs and income for me and my extended family, it provided the cash flow desperately needed to pay $125,000 per month in mortgage payments as well as new renovation costs of my real estate empire as each neighborhood survived one by one.

Ironically, it was Wolfman Construction and my retirement plan of property developing that caused Melba’s to be born. The year was 2012, when I stumbled over a blighted, closed building on a major corner of New Orleans across the street from one of my other developments which leases to Family Dollar. I usually look for high-profile corners located with intense rooftops nearby. This location fit my appetite and the price was right – $850,000.

I gutted it and developed it into a two-bay commercial space available for my next commercial tenant. Asking $10,000 per month, triple net lease. Six months elapsed and no one even called. Because of my retail experience in groceries/deli’s/gasoline and laundromats, I always develop sites that I can start the business in case I can’t secure a tenant. This was such a location.

Therefore, I planned the development of a laundromat and an ice cream shop. I also needed to develop the name and menu. Melba’s it was. Why? Melba’s was one of those old time names famous in New Orleans for an ice cream shop which went out of business in the late 70’s. I knew it would resonate with many locals and give us a head start. So, we opened as an coffee/ice cream shop with a laundromat attached. Out the gate, the laundromat did well, but no one purchased ice cream. We couldn’t even cover the labor costs. Trying to overcome the low sales, we stuck it out for more than a year. Then, we knew we had to close it or change the concept. So I said, “We know these neighborhoods when we had Wagner’s. We need to sell similar products if we want to turn this place around. That meant more investment in equipment and renovations as well as much more labor to run it.” Our experience told us we should do it.

While losing $10,000 per month in profits and infusing another $10,000 per month in redevelopment, $200,000 later we rebranded Melba’s as a po’boys shop. From the beginning, sales jumped to $1,000 per day. That’s when I hit my stride because I now knew we had a marketplace that would respond. All I needed to do was deliver a good product with great service and ADVERTISE! Our specialty.

We purchased local TV commercials and created a celebrity chef out of one of our longest-employed cooks, Mama Lois. Soon, everyone was talking about Melba’s. 1,900% growth over the next two years causing Inc. Magazine to take notice. Now we’re already a New Orleans institution with tourists flocking to see America’s busiest po’boy shop. We are now working on developing our own trolley tour company, Melba’s Trolley Tours LLC, which will bring tourists from the French Quarter to America’s busiest po’boy shop for a taste of authentic po’boys as the highlight.

What’s the secret to our ability to rise to the top of any business we invest in? I think it is a few simple tricks.

No matter how slick the ad or how much advertising we do, the food and service needs to be paramount every time. Our employees are well-groomed with uniforms and the facilities and restrooms are clean and festive. All the things any prudent business owner should do. Beyond the obvious, we have always spend a lot of money on marketing. Much more than our peers.

My last piece of advice is to “listen to the land.” I’ve always listened to the land…my customers. They will tell you everything if you listen. For example, I have one general manager and four shift managers who run Melba’s. Every Tuesday morning at 8:00 AM, we have our managers’ meeting. A pre-scripted agenda which covers all important topics, from security to housekeeping. Each week, I can barely get my team to tell me what we do wrong and how we can be better beyond my experience and earned knowledge. Thanks to technology, we use a cloud subscription service that records all of our telephone calls which I personally listen in the comfort of my remote office where I “listen to the land.”

My customers who call Melba’s for phone orders or other requests always tell me what’s wrong. Wrong with our food, or what we should sell and how was our service. Refunds, spoilage, complaints, attitudes, compliments, and atmosphere. They will tell us the unvarnished truth. All you need to do is listen.

What was your marketing strategy?
We are a fan of outdoor marketing – signs on our buildings, neighborhood billboards, and television ads.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
The first two years were flat. Very flat, barely paying the labor and losing $10,000 per month. We changed the concept and returned to our successful roots, calling back some of the Wagner’s Meat staff while pouring in marketing dollars. From 2015 to 2017, the growth was vertical. Almost viral.

How do you define success?
If this is a financial question, as it usually is in business, the answer is turning a profit. When you beat your industry with sales per square foot, gross margins, labor costs, and opportunity, then you have a roaring success.

What is the key to success?
As corny as it sounds, it is primarily product and service, in that order. Once you master that, then you can broadcast it to a wider audience to achieve more than your market share of customers.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Integrity is everything. In business, it is NORMAL to have shrinkage, especially from employees (which means theft). While it breaks your heart that people you employ and emotionally-invest in would pilferage from you, it almost seems like human nature. However, as the owner and leader, you can never reciprocate, meaning you cannot get caught stealing or cheating an employee out of one cent, because once your integrity as a boss/owner is tarnished, it can never be recaptured. Bankers, suppliers, employees, and family are all holding you accountable at much higher levels than anyone else. You have to be different.

What are some of your favorite books?
Positioning by Jack Reiss and Al Trout. After reading this book in 1985, it prompted us to create one message (“You can’t beat…Wagner’s Meat”) and the rest was history for us. The same is true with “Melba’s Old School Po’ boys”.

Now that circumstances have changed at Melba’s, whereby we are Louisiana’s fastest-growing company in 2016 according to the Inc. 500, we’ve changed our slogan to “America’s Busiest Po’boy Shop”. Listen to the land.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
At the height of Wagners success, the U.S. Department of Labor audited our books, a three-year history. I wasn’t worried. Heck, we hired Paychex Corporation to handle our payroll and everything was on the up and up. “Give them the records,” I said. It took them three months and cost me $20,000 in CPA fees to oversee it.

Results day: They called us to their office to tell me the results. “Mr. Wolfe, the good news is over the past three years we only found about $15,000 discrepancies. The bad news…you have about 25 violations of child labor laws. Each violation is a $10,000 fine.” $250,000!

What child labor? “That 17 year old high school kid you employed who uses the slicer to cut ham for Mrs. Jackson…thats a violation.” Only 25 times? That should be a million times. Turns out, 17 year olds cannot use any motorized machines. “Are you serious? You are going to fine me $250,000 for employing inner-city high school kids?” That meeting was held at 3:00 PM that day.

At 8:00 AM the next morning, I received phone calls from every TV station in town asking me my comments on the child labor violations? Stunned, I asked “How did you know?” Turns out the DOL had their press release all typed up for broadcast the next morning. We were set up as the poster child to show how government bureaucrats are doing their job. Publicity stunt.

Because of our success, we were worthy of statewide exposure, making the front page of every newspaper and the teaser commercials for the upcoming newscast, along with the talk of every radio show. Our hard work and success made us a target. It would take us another six months for the DOL to accept a $10,000 settlement and a contract that says neither party is guilty of anything. From $250,000 to $10,000. However, it cost me $65,000 in CPA and legal fees for being a target of my own government. I’ve never trusted my government again.

My customers? I can trust. We never lost a penny of sales from that bad press, as all of our customers rallied to our side, telling us we appreciate what you do for our neighborhoods and our kids.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
With 300 employed for more than 30 years and 20,000 customers per day, I’ve ran the equivalent of a small city. I call myself a 51% batter, which means I’ve succeeded at 1% more than the number of things I’ve failed at, yet I’ve learned from each of them. I’m as seasoned as Gumbo which means I can recognize adversity and problems in advance and I’m experienced enough to know that consistency and persistence will overcome them all.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
It takes twenty years to become an overnight success! True for actors and entrepreneurs. Focus on one goal and work 24/7 to accomplish it. Write down your goals and chip away at them. I look at all problems as an iceberg. I chip, chip, chip, and occasionally, I break off a chunk. Business is like that.

Robin Smith – Co-Founder & CEO, WeGoLook.com

Hailing from a rural Oklahoma town of just 300 people, Robin Smith is an unlikely startup founder and tech entrepreneur. But her business savviness, unique voice, and expertise as CEO and co-founder of WeGoLook — the world’s leading provider of on-demand workforce solutions for the enterprise — have skyrocketed her to success.

Robin founded WeGoLook in 2009 as a way to increase confidence in consumers purchasing online. It quickly became apparent that WeGoLook’s inspection and verification services were not only useful for consumers, but also a revolutionary solution for various industries. The B2B world has been WeGoLook’s focus ever since.

Robin has an extensive background in sales, eCommerce, and enterprise solutions that helped her develop WeGoLook. She is a thought leader in the gig economy, insurtech, and the startup/tech world. She speaks to audiences around the world, inspiring them to pursue their dreams, no matter how humble their beginnings.

Tell me about your early career.
My early career path took me down a curvy road. It was not defined from the beginning.

I started working for the Washington Post in sales for their cable division, CableOne, while in college. I ultimately did not complete college, as I had my first son in college and chose to focus on work and baby. It didn’t take long for me to realize my income was based on results and I quickly grew to a regional sales manager (moving to Joplin) then sales manager for a newly-acquired system in Columbus, MS. I was with Washington Post for almost six years then accepted a position with Cumulus Media as sales manager for NE Mississippi for a few years. My husband and I found out we were expecting my second son and moved back to Oklahoma to be around family. He passed away from a car accident eight months after my youngest was born and I chose to go back into direct sales versus management due to bandwidth. However, after a few years of working as a single mom with two sons, I decided I needed to step out on my own and create additional flexibility in my schedule in order to accommodate basketball and baseball practices, homework, etc. I started a consulting company (which was hard…taking the risky step of guaranteed income versus an idea). This was a good experience for me. I worked primarily for auto dealers and helped them set up their business development centers. This allowed me to learn about CRM tools, platforms, internet leads…it was knowledge I was able to apply to my thought process of how the workflow could happen when the idea of WeGoLook took shape.

How did the concept for WeGoLook come about?
I had a friend wanting to purchase a high-end projector on eBay and thought the seller was possibly misrepresenting the item. My friend stated, “I wish I had someone to go look at that for me.” After researching online, I couldn’t find a company providing those kind of services. Keep in mind, this was back in 2009, when everyone was buying on eBay. I thought it would be a great way to help people mitigate their risk when purchasing online.

For example, let’s say you wanted to purchase a pinball machine located in Kentucky but you are located in California. I wanted to allow people to: 1) order a report online 2) dispatch a “Looker” nearest the pinball machine in Kentucky to meet with the seller 3) have the Looker take current photos, video a working demonstration, take measurements, answer custom questions, even take possession of the asset to ship, etc. 4) deliver the report electronically to the customer to provide current information otherwise unavailable, allowing for a confident purchasing decision.

I launched out of beta in December 2010 with high hopes!

How was the first year in business?
My high hopes were somewhat dashed after realizing that I would need a multi-million dollar marketing campaign to get the word out about services WeGoLook provided. I traveled to eBay Motors in February 2011 but learned (appropriately) that I was too small and did not have the business or platform needed to partner.

The first year was quite challenging – focusing on a true business model. As you can imagine, there are a million things WeGoLook could do! Verify online dates, vehicles, heavy equipment, check on grandma in the nursing home, take photos of a grave site or vacation rental property, check to see if puppies were in a puppy mill, etc. WeGoLook can literally work for any industry, asset, and in any country. It keeps me up at night, in a good way!

What was your marketing strategy?
I had to revisit my thought process. I was putting too much energy into many buckets versus focusing on a few (hard for me to do). I began to focus on commercial property inspections (bulk orders/same template), auto inspections, and heavy equipment inspections and courier services. I created press releases, blog articles, SlideShare presentations, and more focused on headlines including keyword searches so others may find me. It was an all-out guerrilla marketing tactic but eventually began making traction.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
The company did not grow very quickly during the first few years, in my opinion. Others think that it was decent growth, as the business model was proven and we worked through software development and processes. Real growth began occurring in late 2013 and early 2014. Since then, we have hit a hockey stick and keep growing. I started with one employee along with myself and 4,500 Lookers. Today, I am at 135 employees and 36,000 Lookers across USA, U.K., Australia and Canada.

How do you define success?
Tricky question! Success to me is associated with contentment. Many people would say I’m successful, and, to an extent, I am. But I’ll not be completely content nor consider myself truly successful until I’m satisfied with where the company is. I have always “seen” WeGoLook in a global sense, running with a very robust and contingent workforce of Lookers (I have licensed drone operators, CAT adjusters, realtors, licensed diesel mechanics, notaries, etc.) which I can dispatch on-demand for our enterprise clients and individuals. See, my true goal is to provide the world with the greatest gig-economy pool of workers which are accessed through the WeGoLook platform and mobile application. We can match any task with any Looker. For example, if a bank is needing finance documents executed for a bank customer who speaks only Spanish, WeGoLook will solicit only a bilingual Looker who is also a notary and they can quickly (same day) meet with the bank customer at their home, place of business, or at a place like Starbucks. This is a very powerful service and I won’t be successful until this is in place.

However, in other areas of my life, I feel quite successful but I do believe success is associated with a certain level of contentment within yourself. Others judge success by how much money someone makes, what they look like, how successful their company is, how many people follow them on Twitter, etc. It’s important to understand how you define success for yourself and only work to attain that level of ‘success.’

What is the key to success?
#PureHustle is what I believe is the key to success. You can’t take a blank piece of paper or computer screen, an empty warehouse or office space then bring it to life without real thoughts, products, services, and people. And the hustle has to be a grinding, every day hustle. It can be exhausting and wonderful, all at the same time! There are days when you are on cloud nine and then there are days when it’s hard to get out of bed. Finding outside sources of motivation has always helped me. If thinking of my kids and our future isn’t enough motivation, I turn to my employees and Lookers…knowing that my decisions and hustle affect their daily lives. Being responsible for so many families is a lot to shoulder and there is a lot of motivation to continue the hustle surrounding these responsibilities.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I finally learned to TRULY believe in myself. Things were going good and others were always believing in me but one day it dawned on me: I didn’t have to be an industry expert to be an industry leader. I had been doubting my experience within the insurance industry, the auto industry, the heavy equipment industry…talking to leaders within these verticals was sometimes intimidating. But I realized the founders of Uber and Airbnb did not have backgrounds in transportation or hospitality. However, they were able to create a much better consumer experience which was faster and cost less by utilizing technology. They turned big industries upside down almost overnight. I began believing that I could create better solutions utilizing technology as well – that I could be an industry leader with my product.

It’s a powerful feeling, when you truly and completely believe you can do something.

What are some of your favorite books?
I grew up reading autobiographies…real stories about real people. I still love learning.

I also really love movies – particularly those based on real events and war (Hacksaw Ridge, Braveheart, Gladiator, Dunkirk). It is inspiring for me to see how people are able to overcome adversity during times which display the very worst in people – to be able to conquer and display the very best in people. I find it motivational!

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Ugh. It was definitely early on when my silent partners came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to ever let go of control (not true – I work consistently to delegate. I love to delegate) due to disagreements with a few leaders. One of the partners placed a person to be ‘in charge.’ This was really hard, because they were not involved with the day-to-day operations at all. They thought I didn’t know what I was doing because they were much more ‘successful’ at business than I was. I really hit a wall of depression – seeing the company taking steps backwards was really hard and I had no support. I almost just left it all. However, after several weeks of the person ‘in charge’ deciding they did not know what to do and losing our largest client due to continued poor report delivery, they asked me to come back and finally left me completely alone. That is when I was able to actually move forward quickly, but it was a very disheartening experience.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I think being widowed really put a lot in perspective for me. When I face adversity at work, I try to compartmentalize it and decide how critical it is. There is really nothing that compares with dealing with the loss of someone so I kind of take challenges and issues with a grain of salt. It takes a lot to keep me from not moving forward – it has to be truly critical. Then I stand back and break it up into pieces.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
I would tell young entrepreneurs to be resilient and persistent. Those are two of the keys to my success. I would also challenge others to NOT be so hard on themselves. We do NOT have to be experts in a specific area or industry to be a leader WITHIN that area or industry. It is our job, as entrepreneurs, to build the teams with diverse talent and experience. Building a successful business is definitely a team effort, so relax knowing that your talents are to build, coach, and lead this team to adopt your creation/vision. Just do it! I love that Michael Jordan is remembered for his many wins and not for the many losses or missed shots. I love that Babe Ruth is known for a historic home run hitter…yet he also struck out many more times!

Alex White – Co-Founder, Next Big Sound

Alex White co-founded Next Big Sound with David Hoffman and Samir Rayani in 2008, while in his last semester at Northwestern University. Next Big Sound raised $7.4 million dollars across two venture financing rounds (2009 and 2012) from Foundry Group, IA Ventures, SoftTech VC and other notable angel investors.

On July 1, 2015, Pandora Media (NYSE: P) acquired Next Big Sound, Inc and White is now the Head of Music Recommendations and Curation Programming at Pandora.

White and his co-founders have been featured in Fast Company (#1 most innovative company in the music industry, 2015), Forbes (30 under 30) in the music category three times, Billboard (10 best music companies), Bloomberg BusinessWeek (25 under 25), Entrepreneur Magazine’s 30 under 30 list and in the New York Times, CNN, Fox Business, Washington Post, TechCrunch and many other publications. White is an adjunct professor at NYU, sits on the NY Board of Little Kids Rock and enjoys playing soccer, reading, skiing, and traveling for work and pleasure. He lives in New York City.

How did the concept for Next Big Sound come about?
I’ve been fascinated with collective intelligence since I read The Wisdom of Crowds in college. The idea that we can see emergent behavior by tracking the listening of millions of consumers around the world to understand music trends has always been alluring. I knew from my time in the music industry that there was a big lack of “data literacy,” and that if we could take all this data and make it actually useful to artists and their teams, that there was a big opportunity.

How was the first year in business?
Like everything, the beginning is always the most fragile. We were living in a six-bedroom house with the first three people we hired so there was zero work/life balance. That was fine since we were in our early 20’s and couldn’t think of anything we’d rather be doing, but definitely was not sustainable long-term!

What was your marketing strategy?
We launched nextbigsound.com on August 6, 2009 and let anyone sign up for free weekly email reports on the artists that they cared about. The first sites we tracked, which gives you a sense of the time period and what people cared about, were MySpace, Last.fm, iLike, and iMeem. These free email reports became the best way for us to build our distribution and gain the trust of the industry since we were in their inbox every week with numbers that they had previously been collecting by hand or not at all.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
In the first few years, we grew from three co-founders to nine people and $1 million a year in revenue. We raised $860,000 in 2009 and a $6.5 million Series A in 2012.

How do you define success?
Success is the journey and not a destination. I think many people get wrapped up with “if only” – if only we are able to get into Techstars or YC, if only we are able to close this seed round, if only we land this one client, then we will be successful. Success to me is being able to define work that is meaningful to you and being able to pursue that to your best ability.

Rather than thinking about success like a degree, I now think about it much more like fitness. Unlike a degree, where once issued it cannot be taken away from you, success is not a permanent state of being but a constant, fragile struggle requiring ongoing effort.

What is the key to success?
I think the key to success is to focus on the inputs and not get wrapped up in the outcome. Bad things happen to good people and good things can happen out of the blue. Both of these are largely out of your control. All you can do is show up, fully present, and work on what you think is most impactful.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The secret to life is running, reading, and coffee. Now you know.

The first two I stole from the great modern-day philosopher, Will Smith.

Allow me to explain. The reason why running is one of the secrets to life is because it’s hard. Every second on a treadmill there is a little voice inside your head telling you to slow the speed down, lower the incline, or run a shorter distance than you were planning on running. A big part of life is overcoming that voice in your head and pressing on to completion of your goals. Studying when you want to be watching TV. Finishing a project when you want to be drinking with your friends. Or saving money when you want to go shopping.

The reason why reading is one of the secrets of life is because you aren’t the first human being to ever live. A lot of human wisdom has been collected, consolidated, and bound into books over the last hundred years. Learning at the speed of life is too slow and reading is one of the best ways to accelerate that learning curve.

Finally, coffee. The reason why coffee is the third and final secret of life is not for its obvious caffeinated properties but rather the way a 30-60 minute chat over coffee can forge a new relationship, change your perspective, or connect you to a life-changing opportunity. In the same way that reading about the journeys of other human beings can accelerate your learning, nothing important in this world happens without other people. Whether you drink tea, water, or a delicious cortado, meeting people over a beverage to listen to their experience and get their advice is invaluable.

Together with the advice and relationships built over coffee, the knowledge from reading, and the drive to see things through to completion, that’s all you really need to live life to your full potential.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Days should be rigorously planned and nights left open to chance.”

“Confidence and composure in the face of complexity and uncertainty.”

What are some of your favorite books?
I love history books. SPQR, Mayflower, and The Island at the Center of the World are some recent ones I’ve read. The Wisdom of Crowds, Shoe Dog, The Black Swan, Hit Makers, and The Obstacle is the Way are some that I find myself coming back to repeatedly.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
So many tough days. I always had heard the analogy of startups being like a rollercoaster with big ups and downs. I didn’t find that to be accurate for me. It was more like a six-dimensional rollercoaster where every day or week there were lots of good things happening (new clients signing on, top candidates accepting their job offers, new products being shipped) and lots of bad things happening (needing to force a board member’s resignation, employee performance issues, clients threatening cancellation, etc). It made it impossible to say how things were going. They were going great in some ways and horrible in other ways!

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Staying focused on the bigger picture. The purpose of what you are doing, the “why” needs to be so compelling to you personally that it carries you through all the adversity. I see people chasing the latest trend or starting a company since it is “cool” – these folks are destined to stop pushing forward when the going gets tough, which it always does.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs? 
I wrote about this on my blog recently. You can read my post here.

1. Find an area of the world that you are instinctively excited and curious about. Even better if it is a unique intersection of interests that you and your team share. Music analytics was not something people were asking about or searching for several years ago, we were creating a new market.

Each day at Next Big Sound, rather than getting more routine, it gets more interesting as we go down the rabbit hole gathering more data, signing on more customers, understanding their questions better, and providing answers which lead to more questions. This is only possible because of our innate curiosity and excitement about finding the Truth in this arena.

2. Start talking with as many other people as you possibly can about your idea and the part of the world you are most interested in. You never know who has a cousin/friend/classmate who shares a similar fascination and you want to expose yourself to as much serendipity as humanly possible. The famous saying is “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I don’t think that’s entirely right. I think it’s more about who knows you. If you are the guy or gal always talking about bitcoin ten years before it’s all over Techcrunch or the person obsessed with photography five years before Instagram’s sale makes headlines, opportunities will find you.

3. Once you’ve found the sector and others who share your enthusiasm, it is time to run as fast as you possibly can. This means real validated learning with customers and users. In the early days, don’t be too obsessed with A/B testing (since you have no users, this will take weeks to run and provide questionable data) – build product, put it in front of people, get their feedback, rinse and repeat. At Next Big Sound, we are twenty-five people and still trying to speed these cycles up no matter the cost. We moved the entire company from Boulder to New York City to be able to put new product in front of end customers in the music industry in half the time from when we were in Boulder. These cycles can never be fast enough.

Sabina Keil – Founder & COO, Xcaliber Solutions Inc.

Sabina Keil is Chief Operating Officer at Xcaliber Solutions Inc. which was created in 2009 to help merchants mitigate fraud and navigate the merchant processing waters. Sabina is a nineteen-year merchant processing veteran and has worked in all areas of payment processing and risk management. Xcaliber Solutions has taken that expertise and created a technology platform to help manage and maintain long-term profitability in the continuity space.

Tell me about your early career.
I have been in the payment processing industry for twenty years. I started out as a receptionist for a small processor and worked my way up though various jobs in the industry. In 2009, I started Xcaliber solutions.

How did the concept for Xcaliber Solutions come about?
A lot of merchants were in the dark about online fraud and how merchant accounts worked. So we built a platform to bridge the learning gap.

How was the first year in business?
The first year in business was great. We took on a few clients and quickly realized we need to expand our system if we were going to grow.

What was your marketing strategy?
We did not do any marketing. All of our clients were organically sourced through old relationships.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We doubled in size each year.

How do you define success?
Success to me is being able to spend time with my family, and especially be there for my kids for events and lunches. Being able to be a part of their lives is the best success I can think of.

What is the key to success?
The key to success is not making excuses. SO often I see people do the same thing over again and not adapt then make excuses for why it didn’t work out.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Family first, work last.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
General business stress and a hard industry make for a lot of hard days.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I move forward to provide a great life for my kids.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Just work. Don’t listen to the noise.