Arman Motiwalla – Founder & CEO, One Concierge

An accomplished entrepreneur and hospitality executive, Arman Motiwalla founded One Concierge, a global luxury concierge and lifestyle management company based in Utah. One Concierge has been recognized as one of the fastest-growing companies in the United States by Inc. magazine. Today, One Concierge, and parent company Aurae Lifestyle, are the producers of the world’s only bespoke solid gold MasterCards. Members are provided access to the world’s most exclusive and sought-after events, elite concierge services, and a dedicated team of global experts that span 115 countries. A recognized leader in the luxury and lifestyle industry, Mr. Motiwalla holds a degree in Aeronautics and Business Aviation Administration from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Tell me about your early career.
Growing up in an entrepreneurial family in Dubai, innovation and creation were always around me. From an early age, I watched both my father and grandfather build their businesses with tireless dedication, passion, and perseverance, and this had the largest impact on me as I ventured into my professional career. When I was in college, I noticed an advertisement in the mailroom, where an alum of the university was looking for interns for a private jet company. As an aviation geek majoring in aeronautics, this was the perfect internship opportunity. However, I had no idea how much this opportunity would change my life. The company I was interning for at the time was comprised of just two alumni and myself. We had a small office above a bar in Daytona Beach, Florida, and after class, I would head over there in the afternoon and stay until 11:00 PM/12:00 AM at night. As their first intern and hire, I got to watch and help them build their dream, and the lessons I learned stayed with me as I built my own company, years later. Being in that environment, I quickly realized that I was taking away so much more from my ‘internship’ than I was sitting in class each day. Pretty soon, I was working for them full-time and going to college, part-time. I watched as we went from a small office above a bar to a nationwide company with sales representatives in multiple states. Today, they are one of the largest private jet charter companies in North America.

I did eventually leave the company and took on my first ‘corporate’ job working for an aviation company that bought and sold aircrafts, engines, and parts. Going from an entrepreneurial environment to the ‘corporate’ world was a big change! There were rules to follow, nobody took risks, the focus was always on the bottom line, and there was a very rigid corporate hierarchy. The collaborative team environment I thrived in was no longer there. Everyone reported to someone, and orders came from the top down. You weren’t asked for your input or expected to try and solve problems. You were expected to simply do what you were told. I soon realized that working for a corporate outfit was not for me, and that is what spurred me to focus on my own dream.

How did the concept for One Concierge come about?
As you can imagine, with people asking us for private jets each day, the requests we started to receive soon spread to other areas, such as tickets, yachts, VIP experiences, and access to events. Seeing my mentors’ success and growth, I thought I could capitalize on these other requests and started building One Concierge while working for the private jet company. At the time, there was no centralized source that offered clients access to everything in the lifestyle space, on a global level. There were local ticket companies, local errand running companies, yacht charter companies, etc., but no companies that offered a one-stop shop for anything the lifestyle connoisseur was looking for. Hence, the concept of One Concierge was born: one centralized resource for everything you need in the world of luxury.

How was the first year in business?
Our first year in business was exciting and there was so much that we learned about the business world, people, and ourselves. At that time, we were still building the business and I was still working a full-time job. Every spare minute went into building the infrastructure, the website, the phone systems, and building our network of partners. The focus wasn’t so much on making money. We knew the money was there. We were just so focused on building a great service and making sure that we delivered on our promises. As we started to get our first clients and close sales, we knew that all of the work we were putting into building the service was working and that validated that we were on to something!

What was your marketing strategy?
When we first started out, there were many who did not understand our service. The most common question was, “Why would people be interested in a concierge service?” However, having been in the private jet industry, I had seen and experienced firsthand the pain points that some of my clients had, and what constituted value to them. In today’s world, we often find that our most precious commodity is time. Regardless of net worth, we all only have 24 hours in a day. Many of our clients started utilizing concierge and lifestyle services precisely because we are able to give them back their time. We were essentially creating a niche. There was no prior model that we could follow. No other business that we could look to as an example. So to market effectively, our goal was to educate and explain to people what they could accomplish with us. We weren’t trying to sell them anything. We were just pointing out how we could do what they are doing, only better! We became curators, advisers, and knowledge experts. People started coming to us for our expertise and our ability to get things done. We soon established a loyal client base and word started to spread. Our web presence was a very large part of us expanding our reach, especially globally. I cannot tell you how many countless hours we all spent writing content for the website! As we continued to invest in our web presence and expand our website, our business started to grow too.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We were never afraid of growth. One of our biggest goals from the start was to expand our services to as wide of a client base as possible. As the number of requests started to increase, we needed more people behind computers and on the phones, so we were constantly investing in our staff. It worked, and in 2016, we were recognized by Inc. 5000 as one of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in the U.S. and #15 in the travel and hospitality space.

How do you define success?
I would often joke with people that entrepreneurship feels a lot like getting punched in the face, repeatedly. As entrepreneurs, we tell ourselves that we will live a few years of our life like most people won’t, so that we can live the rest like most people can’t. It’s that vision, relentless passion, and perseverance that drives us to keep moving forward in the face of adversity. So, success to me is not so much about the outcome, but rather the journey and not giving up on it.

What is the key to success?
Having a belief system and the courage to follow your convictions paves your path to success. Failure is inherently a part of business, but it drives innovation. It makes us stronger and challenges us to not accept defeat. Every entrepreneur faces fear and doubt, but having the guts to follow your beliefs in spite of fear, is the reason why some of the world’s greatest business leaders are where they are, despite their failures. When I had my first corporate job, we were still building One Concierge. I would get to my corporate job at 8:00 AM every day, work until 6:00 PM, and then from 6:00 PM to midnight, I would go to our own small office and continue working on building the business. My corporate job was very steady. I had a great salary, a 401K, health benefits, tuition reimbursement – the whole package. However, as our own businesses started to grow, it became almost impossible for me to continue working my corporate job, and the time had come to dive in head first. I knew I would not be able to match what I was earning with my corporate job. I knew I would lose my 401k and benefits. I had no clue how I was going to make all of my bills and make ends meet. Quitting my corporate job was one of the most terrifying and defining moments in my life. The day that I quit, I walked into our office, minus a paycheck and $1,000 in savings. As terrifying as it was to not know where my next paycheck would come from, I never believed that we would not make it, and true to that, we made ends meet by the end of that month.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Being a business owner has been both the best and worst thing to ever happen to my personal relationships! Like most entrepreneurs, I learned early on that dedication and hard work would end up paying dividends, and like most, I was passionate about my work, emotionally-vested and fully dedicated to its success. In the early years, my work became my life and central focus for a while. Being an entrepreneur is not a job, it’s a lifestyle, and once you start to see results, it becomes an addiction! There is nothing wrong with hard work or passion for your business, but you have to make sure it does not come at a personal cost. I have lost countless relationships, with friends, family, and loved ones, in the pursuit of building my dream, and it would not be unusual to work 16 hours a day, 6-7 days a week. If there is one lesson I have walked away with, it is that business owners do not put enough value on free time, and often we are so focused on our work that we end up burning out. Setting boundaries with yourself, at the office and at home, is useful in helping to maintain a work-life balance. It’s helpful for your health, your sanity, and your business!

What are some quotes that you live by?
Steve Jobs was to me an inspirational visionary and I certainly take some of his words to heart:
“Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”
“It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.”

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The day that my business partner and I parted ways was a difficult transition. Working with someone for many years, there’s a lot that goes into a business break-up. Honestly, it’s probably the closest to a divorce that I’ve ever had to endure! It’s hard not to let things get personal or allow emotions to get in the way, but the lessons learned from that experience will stay with me forever.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I have met countless people in my life who have told me that they are great at starting things, but not so good at finishing them. My response has always been the same: if you are tired of starting over, stop giving up! It’s ok to feel beaten, and adversity will never go away. There will always be something that stands in the way of your success. However, I know that the things that I regret most in life are the risks I never took. My greatest personal asset is my self-esteem. It’s what pushes me to keep moving forward even when challenged with the impossible.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Don’t complain about the results you didn’t get from the work you never did. Put in the time now, work hard, know what is driving you, and always follow your compass, even in the face of failure.

Pete Gabrione – Co-Founder & Managing Member, Midwest Equity Mortgage

Pete Gabrione is co-founder and managing member of Midwest Equity Mortgage, a leading mortgage lender based in Oak Brook, IL. He has a B.S. in Kinesiology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and lives with his wife, Jana, and four children in Naperville, IL.

Tell me about your early career.
I started out in the mortgage industry as a loan originator in San Diego, CA. Coming from Enterprise Rent-A-Car, I was totally comfortable selling and finding solutions to make the customer experience as positive and stress-free as possible. I think that background gave me a HUGE advantage because many clients I worked with have never been treated that way before. It was just in my DNA. I didn’t think of treating them any other way.

After being the top-producing loan originator for two different mortgage banks in San Diego, the idea to start this company with my high school friend really blossomed.

How did the concept for Midwest Equity Mortgage come about?
I was working for my current business partner and co-founder, Dave Hansen, in the mortgage industry. We both felt we could do it better and were eager to try it out on our own.

How was the first year in business?
The first year was 2007, the start of the “housing meltdown.” To say there were days of worry would be putting it mildly. However, we started the business with one saying in mind: “Failure is NOT an option.” We didn’t care what road blocks or challenges were placed in front of us. We were going to figure out a way to succeed.

What was your marketing strategy?
Mainly direct mail.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Not much. During the meltdown, we like to joke that we were “in the fetal position.” We were small and knew we could take care of ourselves, pay all the bills, and have a decent life if we both delivered.

How do you define success?
Being faced with a challenge or problem, being forced to come together with your co-workers to figure out a solution, working HARD to put that solution into place (the hardest part by far), and then being disciplined enough to see it through when problems arise.

What is the key to success?
Never feeling like you are “working” while doing things 99% of the population would dread.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
No matter how much you think you know, there is ALWAYS more to learn.

What are some of your favorite books?
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill is my all-time favorite. His concepts were documented a century ago and still apply today.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I honestly can’t recall any specific days I would view as “the toughest.” I’ve had PLENTY when I drove home and collapsed from mental exhaustion or just the feeling of being over-burdened. I’ve always felt starting this business was a blessing for me and I’ve been lucky to be a part of it.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My family. I have a wife and four young children. I am motivated to provide an unbelievable life for them. I want to be the person in my family who changes the generational trajectory of everyone else.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. If you pick a business partner, choose someone who balances you out and excels in areas where you may struggle. If you aren’t happy with what you are doing, then it is work and you are in the wrong field.

Jordan Kivelstadt – Co-Founder & CEO, Free Flow Wines

Jordan Kivelstadt co-founded Free Flow Wines in 2009 and has been leading the growth of the wine on tap category since its inception. Jordan was trained as an engineer at Tufts University, before moving on to management consulting. In 2006, Jordan began his career in the wine industry at The Donum Estate and Copain, which in turn led him to make wine in four countries. In 2007, he founded Kivelstadt Cellars, a small, Sonoma-based winery. Today, Jordan not only leads the wine on tap movement, but focuses the wine industry on alternative packaging and sustainability.

Tell me about your early career.
I was an engineer and pre-med in college, and after deciding that medical school was not for me, I spent three years at a small management consulting company in Boston, where I also went to school. I learned a ton about business, pricing, and market disruption. After burning out, I moved back to California (born and raised in San Francisco), and wanted to do something different, more tangible. I met with a friend, Dan Donahoe, who helped me get my first harvest internship at Copain. This was a total blast, and so radically different from the conceptual business world I was in. That led me to Australia for a harvest (Vasse Felix in Margaret River), and then back as an associate winemaker at the Donum Estate in Sonoma. After two years there, I was offered a harvest winemaking position in Argentina (O. Fournier) which aligned well with me personally, and also gave me the time to plan Free Flow.

How did the concept for Free Flow Wines come about?
The genesis for Free Flow arose from a bad bottling day at Donum. We simply had every problem in the book – bad labels, bottles, line went down multiple times – and I went back into the winery frustrated, and kicked one of our topping kegs, asking “Why can’t we just sell wine in one of these?!” For reference, every winery in the world uses kegs. We use them to store small portions of wine that are too little for a barrel. I wrote the business plan while in Argentina, and then came back and pitched Dan (my business partner), and we started the company in July 2009.

What was your marketing strategy?
​Initially, we were a branded company called Silvertap Wines. We launched the first nationally-distributed, premium wine in keg. We focused on demonstrating to restaurants and consumers that you can get a great glass of wine on tap. This continued for three years (2010-2013) as our focus, but by 2012, we saw a bigger need for restaurants to offer more brands by the glass, and more wineries came to us asking for help. We started pivoting the company in 2012 to what Free Flow is today: a packing and logistics company that is the category engine for wine on tap in the U.S. Today, we use a variety of methods, both direct sales through our Biz Dev team, and in partnership with our more than 200 wine brands, to grow the market.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We grew Silvertap rapidly (in the wine world), in 2010-2012, to around 10,000 cases a year. But the real growth started in 2013, once the company pivoted to Free Flow and became the category engine. Since then, we’ve grown more than 40-fold, and now are looking at almost 200,000 kegs (450,000 cases) this year.

How do you define success?
​For me, success has always been a double bottom line. I believe that it is incumbent upon my generation (funny enough, I just learned I am an Xennial) to build successful, scalable businesses that also do something to further the planet. Therefore, success for me includes building a highly-profitable business, but also making a long-term impact. Thanks to the sustainability of kegs, we will have removed 20,000,000 pounds from landfills this year, and saved (through our innovative water recycling system) more than 5,000,000 gallons of water. To me, the combination of these two metrics (business and planet) is how real success should be gauged.

What is the key to success?
Focus and grit. Staying focused on our mission to change and improve how people consume wine, while helping the planet, informs our decisions and drives the company forward. In addition, like may entrepreneurs, this path has been very challenging at times. Always believing you can get there, and never stopping, is critical. I have stared at the company folding at least half a dozen times in nine years, but always knew we could get through it.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Innovation is hard, and when you are dealing with real things (not like the tech industry), it can be even more challenging. However, perseverance and great people make it possible. Today, we have 75 employees, two facilities, and are growing very quickly. None of that would be possible without determination and a great team to execute. ​

What are some quotes that you live by?
“In Vine Veritas” (“In wine there is truth”)
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”
“There is no ‘I’ in team”

What are some of your favorite books?
Tough one, as with the company and two small children, reading is not a luxury that is much afforded to me right now. Most of my reading these days are kid’s books 🙂 I do read Inc., NPR, CNBC, and my news aggregators (both local and industry) every day. I have also become a huge fan of podcasts, as they are great on the move. Love the TED Radio Hour, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, and How Stuff Works.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
​A couple of years ago, right after the pivot to Free Flow, we were raising capital. I had a term sheet from a family office in place, and we were finalizing the deal. We hit some speed bumps and it was during our company holiday party that I got a call from the then-chair of the board of the family office that they were pulling out. We had less than thirty days of cash, it was the holidays, and I had to go back into a room with twenty employees and keep a smile on for another two hours.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The knowledge that what we are doing is right, changing the world, and improving people’s experiences with something (wine) I am passionate about. Plus, I wouldn’t give up the challenge, ups and downs, and gratification of a job well done, for anything. Being an entrepreneur is what I was born to do.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?​
​It is harder than it looks, but if you are passionate, hard-working, and willing to never give up, you should always chase your dreams. For the rewards, and there are many, outway the sacrifices. The other crucial one is that family comes first. Too many entrepreneurs lose site of this due to the success or stress of running a company. Your family, or partner, is the rock that keeps you grounded. Never forget that, lean on them throughout the process, and keep the dialogue alive. Long-term, this is what really matters.

Brian Hayduk – Co-Founder & CEO, 5

Brian Hayduk has been in the deregulated electricity industry since the late 1990s. Prior to launching 5, Brian served as president of First Choice Power (FCP), where he was responsible for all of the company’s operations, and led the business to record growth. His background includes corporate strategy, business development, marketing, M&A, portfolio management and development of deregulated energy businesses throughout North America.

Prior to FCP, Brian served as co-founder and president of Juice Energy, a retail electric provider in multiple states, including Texas. He also served as a senior vice president at Constellation NewEnergy, where his responsibilities encompassed half of the company’s revenue, and he grew the North American businesses fourfold, while serving a majority of the Fortune 100. Brian is on the board of the Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County and is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO). He encourages sustainable practices at 5, and he’s the only partner at 5 who can claim pizza-making and fishing boatmate on his resume. He has a M.S. in Environmental Science from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and a B.A. in Economics from Lehigh University.

Tell me about your early career.
Coming out of Lehigh University with a degree in economics, I thought I wanted to be a Wall Street banker. Being Bud Fox or Gordon Gekko would’ve been fine. Well, I didn’t get a job on Wall Street, but I did get a position at a bank. I spent my first day listening to my colleagues making collection calls to people who were sold severely-overpriced debt consolidation loans. I quit on the commute home.

In my next job, I found myself performing energy audits for homes and multifamily housing complexes in and around New York City. Despite having to creep around sleeping bodies in crack houses in the Bronx and hacking through hundreds of spiders in a basement that had been unopened for years, I found my passion. Energy and the environment turned out to be my calling.

Fast forward through multiple internships, a M.S. in Environmental Science, and a few years doing environmental consulting in DC, in 1997, the first states began deregulating their electricity utilities. This was a multi-billion dollar industry that interested me and seemed much more hands-on than consulting. I quit my job in D.C. and moved back to New York, as New York was one of the states testing the deregulation waters. I applied for a trading job at one of the electricity suppliers (i.e. the company you can switch your electricity to in deregulated markets) start-ups, but was offered a sales job, instead.

I stayed nine years with that company, today’s Constellation Energy, and its subsequent owners. We went into every deregulated state, and even a few countries, as they opened up. We made every mistake possible, but survived and l learned an enormous amount along the way about how energy markets work, commodity risk management, and business in general. We grew that business into the largest deregulated energy company in North America, with revenues reaching $5 billion. The owners were foolish enough to give me responsibility for about half of that business.

One lesson during those early years that has stuck with me was delivered by the large multinational corporation, AES. AES was one of the owners of today’s Constellation Energy, back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. AES was not what I expected from a large corporation with thousands of employees across the globe. They were nimble and empowered employees, more than I have ever seen before. AES spawned multiple books and business articles about their culture. I was barely thirty and they gave me incredible responsibility and a multi-million dollar budget that I had not yet earned. They believed, at their core, that if you trusted in people and truly gave them decision-making authority, those same people would surprise you with their capacity for growth and success. It’s a lesson that sticks with me today, and a gift I hope 5 continues to pass along to young professionals.

I spent five additional years on the electricity supplier side of the industry, two of those years being with a renewable-focused start-up in which I was a co-founder. That company, Juice Energy, was financially tied at the hip with Lehman Brothers. When Lehman went under, we had to wind the business down within a short period of time. The other three years, those prior to starting 5, were spent leading a large electricity supplier in Texas called First Choice Power. We were owned by a public utility holding company out of New Mexico. It was my first effort at a turn-around situation and a cultural shift by moving from the northeast to Texas. The team at First Choice was able to turn the business around, pay off all of its debts, and push record profits back to the parent company. At the end of 2011, we had a very successful sale of the subsidiary. I not only learned a lot, but was also able to meet a couple of my future partners at 5.

How did the concept for 5 come about?
After we sold First Choice Power, a few of my current partners and I were sitting together trying to determine what to do next. Eric Plateis, a long-time friend, colleague, and partner in 5, was the first to point to the huge value gap in the broker/consulting side of the deregulated energy industry. We experienced it firsthand during our long run as suppliers, since the vast majority of commercial energy contracts written today run through a broker or consultant.

Because there’s virtually no regulation of the energy broker/consultant industry, there was a tremendous range of ethics, analytics, experience and ultimately advice. We thought people deserved much better, so we started 5.

How was the first year in business?
In a way, this was really my third time in a start-up environment and it was by far the easiest. This was probably due to a combination of incredible partners and initial employees, as well as a better business plan and more experience. We generally hit our first year goals and had a great time doing it.

What was your marketing strategy?
Our marketing strategy was less about targeting end-user clients, but rather targeting the salespeople who had those relationships. Like most salespeople, those in our industry want to deliver the best service to their clients and make a good amount of money along the way. We offered to bring to their clients a suite of services and solutions from some of the brightest and most experienced minds in the industry.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We grew sales at a compounded, annual growth rate of around 60% over those first few years. In 2016, we were #1180 on the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing companies.

How do you define success?
Impact on employees and customers, and value of the company you’re building, in that order.

What is the key to success?
Grit or determination. Over the last twenty years, I have interviewed and worked with hundreds of people, from Harvard MBAs to those self-taught through experience alone. Everyone who has a measure of success must have the foundation building blocks of moderate, intellectual capacity and communication skills. However, people who clearly rise above seem to have a drive, determination or grit that drives them to fulfill tasks and goals. That determination pushes them through obstacles and objections that causes others to quit.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Hard work. Reinforced multiple times by multiple people. I grew up in a household without a lot of money. My mother always held multiple jobs. When I was very small, my mother cleaned hotel rooms in the resort community where I grew up. She would bring me from room to room as she cleaned. That was one of three jobs she had at any given time. Every one of my siblings and I were expected to work at an early age, and to do it well. My dad always said he didn’t care if I was “digging ditches,” but if I did, I better be the best ditch digger there was.

That lesson of hard work was reinforced by some early bosses. When I was thirteen or fourteen, I started working at a restaurant as a dishwasher. I spent some of the best summers of my life working in that restaurant and watched my bosses work 15 hours a day, 7 days a week. No complaints and never forgot about the team, and always recognized others’ hard work.

What are some of your favorite books?
One of my favorite books is The Fountainhead. A recent, easier read that I enjoyed was Living with a SEAL by Jesse Itzler.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
One Sunday in the fall of 2008, I watched as CNN reported that Lehman Brothers had declared bankruptcy. About six months prior to that day, we had essentially tied our company’s fortunes to theirs through a complex credit and banking facility. I instantly knew we couldn’t survive and would have to tell our 40 employees that our run as a start-up was over. Those 40 people were some of the most passionate and talented people I ever worked with, who believed in the vision the founders had laid out. That was a painful day.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Confidence. I have always had confidence in myself and my decisions. I think this was another gift from my mother who always reinforced her belief in us. Because I am confident and believe in my decisions, I see adversity as simply a hurdle on the road to success, not some dead end or sign that I chose the wrong path.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Your communication skills are not as good as they need to be. Learn how to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and practice selfless communication where it’s not about you. Learn how to tell better stories. Embrace hard work. Trust your people.

Keren Kang – CEO, Native Commerce Media

Keren Kang is a tech entrepreneur in the mobile platform space. Today, she serves as CEO of Native Commerce Media, a top content marketing agency headquartered in Austin, TX. She specializes in technology operations, content and direct response marketing, and rapidly growing companies from startup to maturity.

Tell me about your early career.
My early career started with editing articles for a video game review website called Games Radar. That internship led me to becoming a writer for another video game review site, Game Almighty. Obviously, I was into video games. After graduating from college, I found a small, pre-funded, startup game publisher named True Games. I worked unpaid for four to five months, on the development side of video games, while the founders were securing funding for the company. When funding was secured, I rose through the ranks of game development.

How did the concept for Native Commerce Media come about?
It was a long time coming. Our main property, Survival Life, had been around for six years. It was a guinea pig in many ways: testing conversions and theories of SEO and content marketing. We finally developed a system that worked effectively in gaining massive, organic traffic in a short period of time, and replicated this system across different niche interests, such as home and garden, beauty, politics and finance. Since that success, we’ve been asked to handle content marketing for outside brands, countless times. At the time, we weren’t ready to become an agency just yet. After developing the domestic and overseas infrastructure over the last three years of working here, this year, we are finally ready for this new agency endeavor.

How was the first year in business?
I joined two years after the company was founded, but came at a time of major shift. The core management team had left and disorganization was everywhere. After taking control of their web development across several sites for a year, the founder of the company asked me to run it. I was hesitant, at first. I had seen three other folks leave the post, so it seemed like a revolving door. But I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge and I ultimately accepted the offer.

What was your marketing strategy?
It was to execute. This was a problem when I took over. There were so many excuses and reasons why something couldn’t happen. This doesn’t always make friends, but it yields results. The actual marketing strategy was to build congruent sales funnels starting with a free offer at the top of the funnel. We made a sales funnel for each of our products and related products.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
In the first year I took over, it grew from a projected $10 million to $26 million.

How do you define success?
Being able to support my family, comfortably. I grew up in a household that struggled with money, so this is by far my biggest achievement.

What is the key to success?
Work hard, don’t expect things to be easy, and execute. Also, don’t be an asshole. Nobody wants to work with an asshole.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Every man has his breaking point. Things can always get worse. Pick yourself up, deal with it, and march forward.

What are some of your favorite books?
I’m a huge fiction reader. I’ve read the Harry Potter series over twenty times (yes, the entire series). A Game of Thrones was incredible. I love anything written by Chuck Palahniuk and Kurt Vonnegut. But in terms of nonfiction, I absolutely adored Tina Fey’s Bossypants, How Google Works, and The Dan Sullivan Question.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The toll on family and friends. It builds up and gets worse as you become more successful. I would often lose sight of my true and important priorities and put work above all else. I learned the hard way (like most people) that mentality is a one way ticket to depression. Do something about it. Change it. Life is not work. Life is everything, outside of work!

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Great question. Most entrepreneurs are like me: super-competitive. I simply won’t go down without a fight.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
1) Prepare for the hardest time of your life, and don’t wallow in failure when things don’t go the way you planned. Trust that things will NEVER go as planned, and there will be more disappointments than wins. But that’s okay, celebrate every little win you can because you’ll need that to motivate you toward your next little win.

2) Also, work your ass off during work hours, but make sure you have a personal life.

3) Seriously, surround yourself with people you love working with. Don’t cause yourself unnecessary stress.