Jeff Grover – CEO & Co-Founder, SkyRocket Media

As CEO and co-founder of SkyRocket Media, Jeff Grover leads a rapidly-growing company with a mission of empowering the world to make better decisions by providing consumers clear, relevant and unbiased truth. Under the brand of BestCompany.com, SkyRocket owns and operates in over 125 business and consumer categories. These online resources are instrumental in helping individuals and businesses to research, identify and choose the best company for their specific situation.

Jeff has an extensive history as a successful entrepreneur. In February of 2003, he launched his own marketing agency, Flashpoint Enterprises, which he led and grown for the next six years. He was then brought on by One On One Marketing as their profit center manager over education. Prior to starting SkyRocket, he helped One On One establish itself as the country’s premier marking and lead generation firm in the education industry.

1. How do you define success?
I define success as getting what you really want out of life. Often times, people don’t know what they want out of life, so they don’t know if they were ever successful. It’s important to be very specific in your pursuit of success so not to be chasing a moving target.

2. What is the key to success?
Define your goal and create your definition of success so that you can focus! Without a clear goal or success metric, you’ll never attain it because it doesn’t actually exist in a concrete form in your mind. That lack of focus will lead you down random paths. A laser focus on a goal gives you definiteness and simplicity in decision making. Everything is either supporting your success goal(s) or it isn’t. So you can easily say no to everything that doesn’t support your goals.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
More or less, I’ve always believed, since being a small boy, that I could do great things. In fact, if I’m honest with myself, I have already had all of my dreams come true, but I’ve consciously raised the bar on myself because I’m still learning and I want to have a much larger, positive impact in this world.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I’ve developed an unnatural ability to see problems as learning opportunities to grow and become better. This has been a major key to my success so far.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Failure is never as bad as you think it’s going to be. More or less from my perspective, the price of success is a series of failures.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
There is no such thing as “spare” time because that implies there is time when there isn’t something to do. When I’m not working at SkyRocket, I love spending time with family, reading, thinking, and working out.

7. What makes a great leader?
A deep sense of love for your organization’s cause, and a deep sense of concern for the wellbeing of everyone involved in supporting the cause with you.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Your degree alone will not make you successful. You can never say to your boss, “I failed that assignment, but look, I have a degree.” Your degree is, at best, a foundation of knowledge and theory that gives you a starting point. In the real world, especially in bleeding-edge technology, your value is directly connected to your ability to identify and create solutions to problems within the company and create solutions, where others only saw briers and thorns.


This interview is an excerpt from Never Give Up by Jason Navallo.

Ryan Harwood – Founder & CEO, PureWow

Ryan Harwood is the CEO of PureWow, a digital media company that specializes in women’s lifestyle content. Harwood founded PureWow in 2010 after noticing a void in the digital landscape for the Upper Millennial and Gen X female. PureWow publishes original content that provides unique, under-the-radar discoveries related to fashion & beauty, food & travel, home decor, technology, recipes, health, and more.

Prior to starting PureWow, Ryan worked for Goldman Sachs for five years and was instrumental in the development of the newly formed Goldman Sachs Private Bank. He is a graduate of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Ryan was a two-time captain of the men’s varsity tennis team at Penn and also played professional tennis during the 2003-2004 season.

1. How do you define success?
Happiness. Everyone gets there in different ways, but if you’re happy, then you’re successful.

2. What is the key to success?
Understanding what makes you happy. Self-awareness and a deep understanding of who you truly are.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
I knew that I would die trying. Never giving up is something that makes me happy. Grit. Hustle. Compassion. Integrity. I knew that if I stayed true to myself and those principles, I could hold my head high and sleep well at night.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Everything that was taught to me by my parents at a young age. It’s in my DNA to never give up. Time and time again, it’s proven to be fruitful. When things seem most bleak, go head down and continue working hard. Your defining moment may arrive when you feel surrounded by adversity.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you react to it. I try not to let obstacles affect me for long periods of time. Sulk about it for a few minutes and then forget about it and move on. Also, the fact that indecision is the worst decision. Don’t mull for too long. Gather facts and opinions, go with your gut, and make a decision. You can always learn from your mistakes.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I love the NBA. Going to Knicks games is my home away from home. All stress disappears when I am at MSG. Playing tennis, the gym, making playlists on my 1996 iPod, and spending time with my family and my friends.

7. What makes a great leader?
Confidence, conviction, honesty, and a very high emotional IQ.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
You’re not supposed to know what you want to do forever, yet. Try something you think you may like and go from there. The process of elimination is sometimes the best way to the answer. I started my career in one area of finance, quickly moved to another area of finance, and now work in media and technology. Work hard and be nice to everyone, and it all works out the way it should.


This interview is an excerpt from Never Give Up by Jason Navallo.

Nick Kovacevich – CEO, Kush Bottles

Nick Kovacevich is a former college athlete who now excels at the entrepreneurship game. After graduating summa cum laude from Southwest Baptist University in 2009, Nick connected with former high school teammate and fellow entrepreneur, Dallas Imbimbo. After buying into Imbimbo’s PackMyDorm, a college moving and storage solutions company he founded in his dorm room, Nick helped secure an exit by selling to a California-based moving company. The pair then moved to southern California to embark on the next venture, Kush Bottles, a packaging solutions company targeting the emerging legal cannabis industry.

In 2012, the pair was introduced to Steve Jesson, who needed some work space to launch a new venture that sourced construction equipment rentals from rental yards nationwide, all under one roof. The Travelocity-like venture grew from 2 employees to 25 in just over a year, and Dallas Imbimbo left to run the re-branded BigRentz.com in its new Irvine, California headquarters. Nick took the helm as CEO at Kush Bottles shortly afterward and has been instrumental in the company’s rapid growth, which includes doubling in revenue from 2014 to 2015 and earning the highest ranking of any marijuana-related organization on Inc. Magazine’s “Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America” list. Nick still sits on the board at BigRentz.com, a company with over 120+ employees that was voted “The Fastest Growing Private Company in Orange County” by the Orange County Business Journal in 2014.

Today, Nick runs Kush Bottles and is considered an expert in the legal marijuana industry. He received an “Excellence in Entrepreneurship” award in 2015 for his innovation in the compliant marijuana packaging industry. A true entrepreneur, Nick is passionate about all things business, from founding successful companies in various spaces to investing and managing residential and commercial real estate, to consulting and mentoring.

1. How do you define success?
I believe that success is reached when all the important aspects of a person’s life are working well. This includes relationships, financial matters, health, intellectual pursuits, leisure time and recreational activities, and goal achievement. Only when all those pieces of the puzzle are aligned and tuned, can one be successful.

2. What is the key to success?
As alluded to above, I believe that the key to success is to have balance. You may have the greatest company (or bank account) in the world, but if your relationships with those most important to you are suffering, then you are not a success. Or, if you don’t take the time to pursue healthy activities, then you won’t have the stamina or longevity to reach other goals. Accordingly, balance in all things is the key to a successful life.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
I believe I did always know I would be successful, and I attribute that to my parents, both of whom amassed a wonderful balance of achieving personal, financial, and spiritual goals.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I remind myself that the journey to success is more important than the ultimate result. Adversity is part of the journey, and it should be expected and embraced. Using that mindset, I can take on challenges with excitement, instead of fear. Although easier said than done, this tactic of shifting one’s mentality usually results in better outcomes.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
There is no such thing as “perfect,” and if you wait for perfect in business, you’ll be waiting forever. The way it was shared with me is, “Today’s good plan is better than tomorrow’s perfect plan.” In other words, taking action is better than waiting for the “perfect” opportunity. The fluidity of business makes it impossible to “perfect” something. It is the constant execution, in the best way possible, that will build something excellent.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I enjoy playing basketball and spending time with my wife.

7. What makes a great leader?
I think there are many traits to a great leader, including empowering team members so they can contribute and not be micro-managed, and creating a culture so that everyone feels they are an integral part of a larger goal or vision.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Listen and learn. There are a lot of smart people around you, and you can soak up a lot of valuable life lessons if you are open to new ideas. Do not be confined to what you learn in college, as you will quickly find out, the most valuable learning takes place while on the job.


This interview is an excerpt from Never Give Up by Jason Navallo.

Greg Schaefer – Founder & President, SEI New York

Greg Schaefer, founder of SEI New York, has been licensed in the insurance field for over 15 years. He holds licenses in Property & Casualty, Life & Health and has obtained distinguished designations as a Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) and a Certified Professional Insurance Agent (CPIA).

Greg founded SEI New York to help business owners save money on insurance without compromising coverage or customer service. His business model has always been successful because it is based on a deep understanding of the needs of customers, both personal and commercial. This is true from the initial inquiry to long-term relationships.

1. How do you define success?
I have a tremendous drive to achieve whatever I set my sights on. As a young person, I remember observing my dad and his reactions to people, as well as to situations around him. In doing so, I learned all I could about the world at large, including business etiquette, what it meant to be a man, a father, and a worker among workers. Success, for me, is about being content, having fun, following my dreams, being responsible, and not hurting others while making my place in the world.

2. What is the key to success?
To always keep moving forward and to learn from every setback. The greatest entrepreneurs did not become successful overnight. I like to dream big!

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
I always knew that I “wanted” to be successful, that I was willing to work at being successful and that when I want something, I am willing to stay the course, no matter how arduous the road toward attaining the desired objective becomes.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I love the “chase” and I also love strategizing about how to achieve my goals. For me, it is similar to solving a puzzle. As I build on each success, I can see the entire picture taking shape. At that point, I know what I must do to achieve the success I am longing to acquire.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
In 1998, my father gave me a secretarial job at our family’s insurance agency. He paid me a very nominal salary and encouraged me to learn the business from the ground up. Once I garnered an understanding of the value of our products, I started quietly selling policies on my own. When my father saw what I was doing, he became my greatest supporter. He promoted me to the role of producer and paid me a commission on all my sales. He encouraged me to open my own business. In 1999, on the premise that it would broaden our family’s sphere of influence in the insurance industry, I opened Schaefer Enterprises, Inc. Never once did my father worry that I might become his biggest competitor. To his credit, and my hard work, within five years my organization created a $5 million book of business, much of which I have managed to maintain despite the ever-changing and challenging insurance marketplace. We also have been recognized for the last two years (back to back) by Inc. Magazine, in 2014 and 2015, as one of the “Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America.”

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Spending time with my wife and family, watching my boys grow and develop, working out at the gym, socializing with my friends, bantering with my staff, laughing, and generally enjoying life!

7. What makes a great leader?
Someone who never asks anyone else to do what they, themselves, wouldn’t do. Someone who is loyal, has integrity, and recognizes these traits in others.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Take your time, do a lot of different things before you settle on your choice of a profession and make very sure that whatever you do, you love doing it!


This interview is an excerpt from Never Give Up by Jason Navallo.

Adnan Derrani – Founder & CEO, American Halal Co, Inc.

Adnan Derrani is the founder and CEO of American Halal Co, Inc., which markets the Saffron Road brand line of all-natural and antibiotic-free halal cuisines. Saffron Road is the first halal product to be sold nationally in the U.S.A. Whole Foods, the #7 ranked U.S. food retailer with over $14 billion in sales, has noted Saffron Road as one of the most successful brand launches, nationally, in their 30-year history. Saffron Road is now sold in over 12,000 retail food stores. According to A.C. Nielson/SPINS Scantrak, Saffron Road is the fastest-growing natural frozen entrée brand in the U.S.A. and nationally ranked #2.

In its Spring 2015 issue, Profile Magazine featured Adnan on its cover story regarding CEO leadership, and how he is delivering record growth in the, otherwise challenged, frozen foods category. In January 2015, The Specialty Food Association (the largest trade group globally of specialty and gourmet food brands, with over 50,000 attendees at its Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, California) awarded Adnan with its coveted “Business Leadership Award.” In April 2014, Social Venture Network awarded Adnan with a “Lifetime Service Award” for his 30 years of devotion to socially responsible business and giving back to the community. In December 2013, at the Global Islamic Economy Summit in Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Al-Maktoum gave American Halal an award as the “Best Halal Company in the World.” And in 2012, at the World Halal Forum, His Excellency, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, gave Saffron Road the award as the “Best Halal Product in the World.” Adnan and Saffron Road have been the featured in numerous publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The New York Times, Fortune, and CNN.com.

Adnan has been an entrepreneur and investment professional for almost 30 years and is president of Condor Ventures, Inc., a venture firm devoted to strategic investing in natural food companies. His entrepreneurial ventures have resulted in a successful track record of scaling and growing niche beverage and natural food product lines into mainstream-branded companies that also deliver disruptive social impact.

Adnan founded Vermont Pure in 1991. Today, Vermont Pure/Crystal Rock is the 2nd largest bottled water company in the northeast. Adnan was also a partner in Stonyfield Farms, Inc., which was sold to Groupe Danone in 2001. Stonyfield, today, generates almost $400 million in sales annually. He was also a principal of Delicious Brands, Inc., which he scaled, with the financial backing of Carl Icahn, to become the 5th largest cookie brand in the U.S.

Adnan has been recognized by BBMG and SVN as one of the entrepreneurs who engineered, “20 Ideas that Changed the Way the World Does Business.” The select list of inductees includes Ben Cohen (Ben & Jerry’s), Gary Hirshberg (Stonyfield Farms), Muhammad Yunus (Nobel Peace Prize, Grameen Bank), and Steve Case (AOL). He has also been hosted by the Vatican, Pope Benedict, and the White House, as one of only two American Muslims to be a speaker on “Interfaith in Business” in October 2010, at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy. Adnan is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, where he is the chairman of the board of visitors and is also chairman of Columbia’s SEAS entrepreneurship advisory board. Adnan is also a trustee and on the board of directors of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California.

1. How do you define success?
I think startup entrepreneurs have to be very careful not to define success in the classic one-dimensional terms taught in business schools – solely by profits, sales, or scale. I define success as creating a viable, yet, disruptive enterprise that adheres to a triple bottom line philosophy – i.e. delivers on a mission of social responsibility, has a positive & measurable impact on meeting a critical need for humanity, a disenfranchised community, or the environment, as well as, meeting traditional Proforma sales or profits goals.

2. What is the key to success?
This is a very broad question and, unfortunately, there is no one answer. Over the decades, what I have personally observed is that the most successful entrepreneurs I know had grit (resilience, staying power) in the face of enormous obstacles, and against all odds, they never gave up. They are a breed of irrationally, passionate leaders who believed undeniably in their idea or enterprise. The biggest mistake young entrepreneurs make (indeed, I did in my first venture as well), is to not believe in themselves or waver in their conviction due to being young, inexperienced and told by alleged “experts” (e.g. investors, executives at large companies, competitors, or by business consultants) that their idea or venture was doomed to failure or impossible. Albert Einstein famously once said, “If any idea is not at first absurd, then it has no chance of success.” Also, it helps to really do your own research. Be skeptical of the status quo or conventional thinking out there, but back up your ideas with new, exceptional original sources and your own insightful marketing, demographic insights. Big companies, consultants, investors (Wall Street), and venture funds sometimes miss the boat by looking through the rearview mirror and using stale knowledge. Especially with the Internet and social media, today’s disruptive entrepreneurs have amazing opportunities to do astute original research like never before and click the refresh button. So the keys to success, to me, are having both “street smarts” and “book smarts,” and then having unwavering conviction to believe in yourself, regardless of the odds, to never give up.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
No, of course not. In fact, I have had many more failures along the way than successes. Indeed, I did always have an unhealthy dose of overconfidence. But what has changed over the decades, as I got more successful with each venture, is that my mindset was transformed from a fear of failure (most common among almost all entrepreneurs) to a methodical confidence about setting reasonable and achievable goals that lead to ultimate success.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Goes back to question #2.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
To believe in myself and the conviction of my ideas, in spite of negative voices all around me to the contrary, and to make sure I don’t follow conventional thinking, but rather stay true to my values. It’s also critical to surround yourself with good mentors that believe in you, from your board to your advisors (lawyers, consultants, investors, etc.), and to seek out business communities as support groups, where you can benefit from the best practices or learn from colleagues (CEOs or entrepreneurs) in a safe environment.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I love to spend time with my family, golf, skiing, deep sea fishing (including freshwater fly fishing in Vermont), as well as connecting deeper with Muslims or other religious groups on community or faith-based initiatives. I also mentor a number of young, socially conscious entrepreneurs and am active with a number of nonprofits that share my values.

7. What makes a great leader?
Being able to set discipline among the company’s team and employees, being accountable to all employees and all stakeholders, as well as being able to recognize your own weaknesses and readily admit when mistakes are made (learning to live in the solution, not just harboring on the problems). And hiring stellar managers, team members, and collaboratively delegating authority and key decision powers to them. Vision and strategy are also critical, and it is up to the leader to always keep these in focus. Of course, the key to leadership is also recognizing what motivates your employees or partners and inspiring them to excel to new levels of achievement in pushing those interests that are also passionately aligned with the company’s interests.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
There is a huge movement among college students today to jump ship and not complete their degrees, or even if they are graduates, to just leap cold into being an entrepreneur. This has now become very trendy in today’s era, and I want to caution this millennial generation to not follow the herd here. Stay in college, finish your degrees, and then seek full-time employment opportunities. Only after you have had meaningful employment for a couple of years, either at a large corporation, venture capital or finance firm, consulting company, or in a business that has a skillset you want to master, then if you still want to pursue being an entrepreneur, make the leap, assuming you have done all your original research for your idea and that you have gained some work experience in the field you want to delve in.


This interview is an excerpt from Never Give Up by Jason Navallo.