Jim Prendergast – Founder & CEO, 317 Ventures

Helping others realize their full potential – whether as an entrepreneur, a young person in the business world, a father, a husband or a friend – Jim Prendergast admits that his favorite moments are those spent coaching, guiding and inspiring others. Leading with experience, heartfelt inspiration and a desire to share his life’s most teachable moments, Jim founded 317 Ventures in January 2017, marking a new chapter in his long business career.

After founding HealthiestYou, an innovative digital health company in 2011, that he sold in June 2016 to Teladoc, the nation’s leading provider of tele-health services, in a deal exceeding $155 million, Jim is now taking his experience as a serial entrepreneur and his personal passion for improving people’s lives to a new level. By helping position young, startup companies for success, Jim started 317 Ventures to use the business lessons he learned along the way, and is channeling his penchant for personal and professional coaching to fulfill his lifelong dream of helping others fulfill theirs. The company also leverages Jim’s 20+ years of building his own businesses – in financial services, insurance, employee benefits, and healthcare – to connect
innovative health and wellness companies with investors and financial opportunities to help them grow and prosper.

Throughout his years as a budding entrepreneur, Jim built his companies by focusing on creating a positive company culture and shaping entrepreneurially-minded teams that were invested in their own success to help the company succeed. That approach, a key factor in his business success strategy, is one that he applies now to help grow his clients’ companies. Along with building a people-first workplace culture, Jim’s personal investment in the success of others has built his reputation nationally as strong and compassionate business leader.

In June 2016, Jim was named a finalist in the Consumer Technology category in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards for 2016. His company was also recognized with accolades, such as the Arizona Central “Top Company to Work for in Arizona” award and the Phoenix Business Journal “Best Places to Work” award. He also took HealthiestYou’s national ranking from #846 in the Inc. 5000 list of America’s Fastest-Growing Companies in 2015, to #397 on the Inc. 500 list in 2016, as well as to #34 on the exclusive 2016 Entrepreneur360™ list of the Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America as determined by Entrepreneur Magazine.

Jim speaks at health industry and leadership events nationwide. He has been featured on an episode of “Men’s Health Live,” the Radio Network of Men’s Health Magazine, and was a guest on the ShiftShapers’ podcast hosted by industry thought leader, David Saltzman. He previously was a speaker on a national, business success tour, as well as a regular on the “Extreme Money Makeover Tour,” and the co-host of a major market radio talk show.

When he’s not inspiring leaders or building businesses, he is busy coaching and mentoring youth, and is a board member for the National Center for Fathering, an organization that was created to respond to the social and economic impact of fatherlessness in America. Jim has been involved with Little League, and the youth organization, Ambassadors of Compassion. In addition, Jim serves on the Northridge Community Church Board in Scottsdale, Arizona. To help the church raise funds, Jim purchased Saddlecreek Coffee Company that he operates for the church. In addition to donating 100% of the proceeds to the church, his other goal with the coffee shop is to help teach entrepreneurship to the church’s youth. He also supports and works closely with Partners in Action, a 30-year-old Scottsdale, Arizona-based nonprofit organization operating orphanages and other humanitarian projects in 27 countries.

Tell me about your early career.
I started my career in finance: mortgage banking, investments, and insurance. I sold my first company in November 2006.

How did the concept for HealthiestYou come about?
I was introduced to the concept when a start-up, tele-medicine company was raising money in 2007. The more I got involved, the more I realized that the future was bright for tele-medicine, but that their model was not going to change healthcare.

How was the first year in business?
The first year was exciting, optimistic and energizing. What could possibly go wrong? 🙂 It’s after the first year when you’re hit in the face with reality. Businesses take time and lots of pivots to find the right product, pricing, messaging, and market fit.

What was your marketing strategy?
I was heavily influenced by blue ocean strategy. We looked to go where no one else was going. We essentially did the opposite of our competition. They had a low utilization, low priced (commodity) product focused on large employer groups. We built a high utilization model with a price that could sustain that utilization and focused on small- to mid-sized groups. No one could on board and administer small groups efficiently, so they were forced to focus on large blocks of business. We set our sights on the ten million small businesses and how we could make a difference for them through employee retention, reducing health care premiums, absenteeism, etc.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Year 1: $300,000
Year 2: $700,000
Year 3: $1,300,000
Year 4: $3,000,000
Year 5: $10,000,000
Year 6: $20,000,000

How do you define success?
Professionally: When a company’s core values are represented by every employee in every situation, resulting in consistency and profitability.

Personally: The choice to use your time how you want and not how others want you to. For me, it’s about truly living out my priorities of God and family, before chasing power and wealth.

What is the key to success?
Persistence, Passion, People and Pivoting. I believe everyone can be successful if they stay in the game long enough, surround themselves with good people, and are willing to listen to what the market wants and needs, and make those changes, no matter how many there are.

What are the greatest lessons you’ve ever learned?
There are two:

1) EVERYTHING happens for your own good, if you view it as a learning experience and not as a distraction or failure. Every time we had a setback, we realized it was a set up for something bigger. That mindset is critical to surviving as an entrepreneur.

2) Money doesn’t make you happy. The day I saw my bank account with all the zeroes in it, I felt nothing. Although I have a large home and can do/buy whatever I want, there is little to no joy in that. People should never sacrifice time with their loved ones for material wealth.

What are some of your favorite books?
Business: The Four Agreements, all of Patrick Lencioni’s books, Blue Ocean Strategy, Traction, and Three Feet from Gold.

Personal: Shadow Divers, Endurance, Unbroken, and Confidence Game.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
1) Many times, I could not make payroll. Having to tell your team that you will be late paying them is gut-wrenching.
2) Being told by investors that promised to send money that they changed their mind.
3) When a large payer made an offer to buy us at a time when I was dead broke. I had to turn it down, although it would’ve been good for me personally/financially. The deal didn’t make sense for my investors or employees. I was devastated, but believed something better was coming in the future. We sold two years later for 10x more.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
1) Belief – You have to KNOW that you will make it. I have a mantra, “The harder the struggle, the bigger the reward.”
2) Family/wife – I believe your spouse must be 100% behind you, at all times.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
1) It’s all about the story. Figure out your story and then find a compelling way to tell it so everyone can easily understand it.
2) It will take a lot longer than you think and cost 5x more than you think, but you can do it.
3) Everything happens for a reason.
4) Don’t lose sight of your priorities.
5) 99.9% of all your large deals will fall through. Don’t count on any of them.
6) Find the blue ocean and hit a lot of singles. The homers will come in due time.
7) Don’t quit. You’re three feet from gold.

David Ellenwood – Founder & President, Sunny Days In-Home Care

David Ellenwood is a dedicated husband and family man. He has been married to his wife, Evelyn, for over ten years. He is the proud father of two daughters, Erin and Tina, and is proud to be called father by his stepdaughter, Ashley. David also has five granddaughters through these three young ladies. He has just recently added a third great-grandchild to his growing list of family members. He and his wife started a business called Sunny Days In-Home Care in 2011, that was created to serve seniors and disabled people in their own home. It is now one of the fastest-growing businesses in the United States.

David is also a dedicated servant of the Lord. One of his lifelong dreams was to be involved in missionary work. The seed was planted many years ago, but only in the last six years has he been able to see some of those dreams come to fruition. He has traveled to Guatemala on two separate, short-term mission trips for medical and building projects. David also began traveling to the Mathare slums in Nairobi, Kenya. There he found purpose in serving the children at AIC Zion church and school. In 2015, he became executive director of the board of directors for this mission field. He and Evelyn lend major financial support to help feed, clothe, and send to school 550 children in this ministry.

Tell me about your early career.
I have done a lot of searching in my life, as far as careers and earning a living. I could go on and on about the jobs I’ve had. One thing that has always been consistent has been my entrepreneurial spirit. I owned a plumbing business in the 1990s and into the early 2000s. I have been in medical sales positions, as well.

How did the concept for Sunny Days In-Home Care come about?
I worked in marketing for a large home healthcare company for a few years before starting Sunny Days. I was let go from that company, and because I was 58 years old, I felt like my market value was diminishing. My wife was working full time as a bookkeeper and we felt like there was something else we should do. When we were evaluating all of our options, starting our own business seemed to be the obvious choice.

How was the first year in business?
My first year was exciting, scary, BUSY, and full of new experiences.

What was your marketing strategy?
I had a lot of previous contacts that I revisited. I did quite a bit of personal advertising on social media as well. I went knocking on the doors of doctors and hospitals and senior living facilities. I did all of this while also doing all of the hiring, scheduling, and even a lot of caregiving for clients until I could get the people hired to do that job.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We did around $500,000 in the first year. We doubled our business each year for the next three to four years, so year two was $1,000,000, year three was $2,000,000, and year four was approximately $4,000,000.

How do you define success?
I define success on how well we are serving the people that depend on us to take care of them. I also define success on what kind of reputation we have developed as a company. Our growth is due to these parameters.

What is the key to success?
Hard work, honest, and integrity.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
That I’m not really in control. We believe that this is a God-given and God-directed business and He is in charge. I am the vehicle that needs to be open and obedient to His direction.

What are some of your favorite books?
Most books that I read are fiction. I am on the computer so much during the day that I do not have the time or energy to read like I used to. I hope to pick that up again when I cut back on my involvement in this business. I am trying to build something that is long-lasting for the future generations of my family.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The hardest times for me are when I, or my company, am wrongly accused or treated by disgruntled individuals, whether that be an employee or a client. We treat everyone with respect and dignity, and hope they will do the same in return. That does not always happen.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My family, my responsibility to my clients, and the 300+ people that depend on me to give them a paycheck every week.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
There is no substitute for hard work. You have to build a solid foundation so that it will withstand the storms that will inevitably come your way. I worked harder than anyone else, so now I can point to that whenever someone comes to me and says it is too hard. The example that I set forth has also set the standard for all others to follow.

Jorge Villalobos – CEO & Co-Founder, Sports Marketing Monterrey

Jorge Villalobos, Sports Marketing Monterrey’s CEO and co-founder, is an international entrepreneur and a noted Latin American expert in sports & entertainment, talent management, and marketing. Sports Marketing Monterrey represents and consults over forty-seven athletes, coaches and elite teams, including Cruz Azul F.C. & Pumas UNAM, representing their rights for touring, licensing, sponsorships and media distribution. His company has helped global brands, such as Coors Light, Pepsi, MoneyGram, Splenda, and Starbucks, engage the Hispanic market through sports.

Mr. Villalobos successfully promoted the largest Hispanic professional club competition in the USA, with an impressive attendance of over 200,000 people in cities like Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, and Chicago, with a live broadcast in the USA and 20+ countries, via ESPN.

Sports Marketing Monterrey was recognized in 2015 for its impressive 1,031% revenue growth on the Inc. 5000, a prestigious list representing the fastest-growing private companies in the United States. The company ranked #450 in the Inc. 500 group, and was the only agency in the sports industry featured on the list.

Mr Villalobos and his company are actively involved in the community, with children as their principal focus. His commitment to battle school desertion, diabetes, and child obesity has driven him to organize free soccer clinics with professional athletes, youth soccer tournaments, as well as hiring international players and athletes as speakers to motivate and improve leadership skills.

Sports Marketing Monterrey also provides thousands of free tickets to an important number of schools and nonprofit organizations across the country, including the Dallas Independent School District (ISD), to maintain children and parents’ engagement in school, while also providing unique sporting experiences with their idols and public figures, and developing programs of school attendance.

Jorge studied international marketing at the University of Monterrey in Mexico and began his professional career, in 2001, in the consulting industry with Villalobos&Asoc, Ad2GO (a digital outdoor advertising agency), and JV Entertainment Group (producing and promoting concerts and live shows with “A-list” acts, such as Kiss, Motley Crue, Black Eyed Peas, etc.)

Tell me about your early career.
I graduated from the University of Monterrey with an international marketing degree. Ten months prior to graduating, I started my own advertising agency, which was a one-man shop, with no office. The main idea was to provide consulting and marketing/advertising services to small clients and accelerate their growth. Five years later (in 2002), I added the media side to the agency and developed outdoor media on plasma displays in the subway, shopping centers, and in other high-traffic areas. We added the entertainment side to expand and drive my clients to new adventures, by promoting live events (mainly, music concerts). Football (soccer), and sports in general, are my passion, so I’ve had the opportunity to meet great players and I ultimately decided to also start a sports marketing department, leading to what Sports Marketing Monterrey is today. We started representing the commercial rights of our clients, providing “full shop” representation by fixing their contracts, moving them between teams, and finding new business opportunities.

How did the concept for Sports Marketing Monterrey come about?
There was a strong need for professional advisement in the sports marketing world, particularly in Mexico and for soccer teams. Observing what the industry leaders were doing with the World Cup, Olympics, and other leagues like the NFL, inspired me to not just represent the talent, but the institutions and the teams as well.

How was the first year in business?
Our first year was amazing. We were profitable and received a lot of attention. It was a fun year. However, our second year was a difficult one. Our clients had very high expectations, and there was also a huge overhead increase in an abnormal and aggressive way. Looking back, I would’ve gone a different a route, and would’ve chosen to build a good foundation to keep the growth steady, instead. So there were a few bumps, but a couple of years later, we created a healthy, fully operational agency.

What was your marketing strategy?
Hustle. That was it. It was getting things done, signing clients, offering the best service, making 200 phone calls a day, making great pitches, and delivering great results. That is what a sixteen-year-old overnight success looks like when it’s going in the right direction.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Fast, not just in revenue, but also in building relationships and getting the word out, with no advertising at all. I believe we’ve had over 1,000% growth in the first three to four years.

How do you define success?
It’s different for everyone, but money is always involved in the equation on how people measure your success, which is the easier way to do it, but I believe success is just a lifestyle. Success, to me, is a balance with your family, your profession/career, yourself, and the way you positively impact on others.

What is the key to success?
Hustle. It’s not just having one thing. I think it’s a recipe that works different for everybody, but you have to believe in yourself and use your ingredients (love, determination, perseverance, and passion). Then start using the right tools, such as be focus and flexibility, and surround yourself with the right people. And like someone once told me, “You have to take the stairs. There is no elevator to success.”

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I have hundreds, with all of them having something in common, because I’ve learned the hard way by making mistakes and, sometimes, making bad decisions. So it’s okay to fall, or fail, but you have to get up, learn, and keep going until you make it happen.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
When you think you’ve failed. When you ask yourself that question if you should continue with the endeavor. It’s hard when you get to that one minute in your life when you doubt yourself about being able to achieve your goal. And I have to say that having or working with unethical people is also hard to digest.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My family and love for what I do. I really enjoy it and believe that I will be a game changer when the time comes, so I have to be ready.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Be brave, treat others as you want to be treated, and never lose focus on what your goals and objectives are. The community, the country, and the world need good people, so no matter what you decide to do with a new company, product, service or technology, do it with your heart and be kind.

Patrick Flynn – Founder & CEO, Northeast Suites

Patrick Flynn is the founder & CEO of Northeast Suites, the award-winning furnished housing company based out of Boston, MA. Mr. Flynn founded Northeast Suites out of his garage in 2012, and in the years since, they have won multiple CHPA Tower of Excellence Awards, including “Company of the Year”. Most recently, Northeast Suites placed #706 in the country on the prestigious Inc. 5000 list of “America’s Fastest-Growing Companies”.

Mr. Flynn is a Certified Corporate Housing Professional (CCHP), as awarded by the Corporate Housing Providers Association, recognizing his expertise in the industry. Mr. Flynn was also the recipient of the Boston “40 under 40” award in 2015, an honor bestowed upon the leading businessmen and women in Boston who exhibit entrepreneurial and civic leadership.

In addition to Northeast Suites, Mr. Flynn also owns a dating app startup called dipity, and is an investor in CandyClub.com, a silicon valley-based startup specializing in high-end curated candy boxes sent to customers worldwide.

Tell me about your early career.
My first job was with a company called DS-Max, which involved loading my car up in the morning and heading out to various businesses, offering products for sale to people, while they were waiting in line for lunch or walking out of grocery stores, etc. It was a very humbling experience where I learned to deal with people saying “no” to me over and over again, or to “get a real job,” etc. All in all, it ended up being priceless training that laid the foundation for my ability to sell. Once I decided that this wasn’t going to be a viable career, I walked into the leasing office of the apartment community I lived in and was offered a job as a leasing consultant, renting unfurnished apartments to people in the Orlando area. That was my first foray into real estate. About a year into that job, I saw a job opening back in Boston with Equity Corporate Housing, a division of the company I was working for. Equity specialized in furnishing apartments for companies in the area who were looking for an alternative to staying in hotels for extended periods of time. I flew to Orlando for that interview and was hired doing inside sales and customer service, and started my career in the furnished housing business, which I’m still involved with today.

How did the concept for Northeast Suites come about?
In December 2011, I was laid off from my job and it was a devastating experience. I immediately started looking for a new job in the same industry and received a few job offers from companies looking for me to start a business for them in Boston. I took all of them into consideration, but couldn’t help but feel unsure about the future if one of these new companies were to lay me off again, five to ten years down the road. In March 2012, I started Northeast Suites out of my garage, using a loan from my 401k. My thought process was that if I was going to start a business, this was the best time to take the chance considering my age, thinking if for some reason it didn’t work out, I could always go out and get a “normal job.”

How was the first year in business?
My first few months started off very slow. I was able to work out of a friend’s real estate office in Brookline, MA, and I had built my own website with some furnished listings that I didn’t really have. I’d post these links on Craigslist and market them as aggressively as possible on Google and Facebook. The first two months, I didn’t bring in one dime of revenue and morale was a bit low. So I decided to put my money where my mouth is and rent an apartment, furnish it myself, go out to area businesses, and fill it. That strategy paid off as I visited some hospitals near the apartment buildings who had patients staying for extended periods of time in nearby hotels. I was able to get them to check-out of the hotel and into my furnished suites at a cost savings (over the hotel). Not to mention much more space and the ability to cook in a full-size kitchen and do laundry as well. I would flip the profits from the first apartment into a second, third, fourth, and so on. I was able to carve out a niche in the Longwood Medical area of Boston, where I started to build a name for myself with area hospitals.

What was your marketing strategy?
I learned that paying for Google ads was a waste of money in the beginning because I was up against companies that had much deeper pockets than I had. So my next option was to go to some old clients of mine I had met over the years at various companies, thinking they would want to help me out and push some business my way. I was quickly shut down by many of them, as they all wished me luck in the new endeavor, but weren’t ready to start working with a new business that had a very little track record, so they would tell me to come back to them in a couple years once we had built up a reputation and had more financial security. As disheartening as that was, it was the catalyst that caused me to hit the ground running and walk into new businesses dead set on filling my apartments, however I could. There really was no other option. If I didn’t fill them, I’d go out of business in a flash. That’s where my direct sales experience at DS-Max came in handy and helped me keep positive spirits, despite constant objections and hurdles in finding new clients and guests.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Once I landed a few clients and showed them the level of service we could provide, things took off. We did $1.3 million in revenue from April to December 2012. In 2013, it shot up to $4.6 million, and in 2014, we pulled in nearly $7 million. In 2016, we made the Inc. 5000 list as the 706th fastest-growing company in the country, with 558% revenue growth over our first three years! That was a goal of mine since I opened our doors, so I flew out to the conference with my right-hand, Michelle Leonard (Northeast Suites’ General Manager), who has been with me since the beginning and who has been instrumental to our success, every single day.

How do you define success?
I think, every day, you have to set goals in the morning about what you want to accomplish that day, week, month, etc. Attainable goals, yet still things that challenge you. To me, success is achieving those personal goals that help define your ability to win and stay a step ahead of the competition.

What is the key to success?
You have to realize that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and you are going to have some failures. What you need to remember is to not let those failures discourage you from pressing forward and constantly trying to innovate, learn, and adapt. If you can keep your head up and always move forward, blocking out the negative and always staying true to your goals and yourself, you will succeed in your own right, no matter what.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
A couple of years ago, we were growing and I started looking towards expanding aggressively into other markets. I had registered some new domain names, interviewed people in other major metro areas, and started to setup apartments in cities I didn’t know much about. In short, I got a bit cocky. I was so confident that “If I build it, they will come” and didn’t take the time to research thoroughly the competition in a few of these new cities. I learned the hard way that expanding too aggressively without doing your homework translates into service issues and quality control issues, which can damage the brand you’ve worked so hard to build. Since then, we’ve scaled back to focus on our core “bread and butter” markets and ensure our quality levels and response times stay in line to where they were in the beginning, and that strategy has brought us back to where we need to be in order to prepare for our next expansion.

What are some of your favorite books?
My favorite business books include Winning by Jack Welch, The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump, and Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. Other books that pique my interest are A Brief History of Time and The Grand Design by Steven Hawking, and Cosmos by Carl Sagain. Currently, I’m reading A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The day I decided to scale back sticks out in my mind to this day. We had still been growing in our main/core markets, but having to admit to myself and the team that expanding to certain other markets was premature was very difficult, as we had gotten so used to winning most major decisions. It was a learning experience though, as everything is. I learned that it was okay to be wrong, but even worse to stick with a poor decision in order to prove a point, which I see other entrepreneurs do quite often.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My team and my family are always on my mind whenever making business decisions. Every move that I make directly impacts not just my life, but everyone that works for me. That motivation drives me every day to ensure we stay on a path to provide a career for my employees and a livelihood for their families.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
One of the things I encourage to every entrepreneur who is bootstrapping their startup is to ask for advice and look for mentors. Starting out, I visited my local chapter of SCORE in Boston, who paired me with a retired executive who was volunteering his time to help entrepreneurs with advice and support in their business. That meeting proved to be exactly what I needed to make a more educated decision, in the beginning, to make my first hire to free up my time to grow sales and build the business.

Ron Berger – Chairman & CEO, Figaro’s Italian Pizza

Ron Berger is an entrepreneur and franchising industry leader. He has served as chairman and chief executive officer of Figaro’s since June 1, 2001, when he, his wife (Carol), and Mr. Bill LeVine acquired Figaro’s. From August 1989 to September 2000, Berger served as chairman and chief executive officer of Rentrak Corporation, a publicly-traded (NASDAQ: RENT) information and payment processor in the home video industry.

Berger conceived of the Rentrak concept: a method of sharing revenues between video rental shops and the Hollywood motion picture studios and other program suppliers. Under his leadership, the business grew from $6 million (1989) to $113 million (2000). During his last four years as CEO, Rentrak earned over $16 million in net income on revenues of $476 million.

While at Rentrak, Berger presided over the acquisition, management, and subsequent sale of The Pro Image, the nation’s largest chain of licensed sports apparel retail stores with 240 units and system-wide revenues of $80 million. Rentrak also developed several chains of retail video and game shops. One operated within Wal-Mart shopping centers, Kmart, Fred Meyer, Ralph’s, and other mass merchants. Under Berger’s management, the business (Blow Out Entertainment) grew to over 200 stores and was spun off as a separate, public company in a dividend to Rentrak shareholders. The other was focused on outlet malls, with its flagship store generating $3 million in annual revenues.

Prior to building Rentrak, Berger conceived of, founded and served as chairman and CEO of National Video, Inc. from September 1980 to September 1988, when the business was sold. The business, which started with a single store in Beaverton, Oregon in February 1981, grew to 746 stores in all 50 states and all 10 Canadian provinces. It became the largest chain of specialty retail video stores in the world in 1986, and held that number one spot until passed by Blockbuster in 1992, four years after Berger sold the business. In 1986, Berger took National Video public in a $5 million financing. The company completed a $21 million secondary offering, several years later.

Berger has served as a member of the board of directors of the International Franchise Association (IFA) on three occasions, once as CEO of National Video, as CEO of Pro Image, and as CEO of Figaro’s from 2004 to 2010. In 1985, National Video won the most prestigious award the IFA bestows for excellence in franchise relations, competing against industry leaders including Subway and Marriott Hotels. Today, Berger serves on the IFA Diversity Institute Board of Directors and as a member of the IFA VetFran Committee. While chairman of Rentrak, Berger was nominated to serve as a member of the board of directors of the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) board the maximum three times for six years of service. He served as chairman of the VSDA Scholarship Committee and the VSDA Revenue Enhancement Special Committee.

With actor Jeff Bridges, Berger was one of the founding directors of the video industry’s charity organization, “Fast Forward to End Hunger”. He has also served as a member of the board of trustees of The Nature Conservancy of Oregon, as a member of the board of directors of American Contractor’s Indemnity Corporation (ACIC), a leading insurance company focused on surety, and as a member of the board of directors of the publicly-traded National Lampoon. At Figaro’s, Berger led the creation of H.E.L.P., the charity, in 2009, and serves on its board. Today, he also serves as president of the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee, and chairman of the board of a charity called The Desert Tortoise Conservancy.

Tell me about your early career.
After several stints as an executive at a number of businesses, including serving as director of purchasing and then as a business unit manager at a New York Stock Exchange-listed firm before the age of 21, I started a camera store chain which grew to become one of the largest in the nation. However, as interest rates hit 21%, the business went bankrupt and, as a guarantor of much of its debt, I personally went bankrupt.

How did the concept for Rentrak come about?
In the 1980s, the video cassette rental business was experiencing explosive growth. However, the motion picture studios artificially inflated the wholesale cassette prices because they felt they couldn’t share in the retail rental revenues being captured by video stores. I developed a solution, in which studios leased cassettes to Rentrak, and Rentrak in turn leased them to the retailers. Experts, years later, estimated that our system helped grow the industry by as much as 20%, or $2 billion annually. Over the course of its first ten years, Rentrak grew to over $100 million in domestic revenues. A licensee called Rentrak Japan grew to over $250 million in revenues as well. By the year 2000, Rentrak’s eleventh year, it was tracking for its studio partners all video rental revenues generated at over 10,000 locations including all of the industry leaders, like Blockbuster and Hollywood Entertainment.

How was the first year in business?
We lost a fortune. Survival required obtaining millions in additional capital.

What was your marketing strategy?
We showed retailers that their business would grow if they carried greater copy depth on the hits and a wider selection of titles, and leasing cassettes facilitated that.

How did you come across the opportunity to buy Figaro’s?
I had retired in 2000 and was happily playing lots of golf, when I realized the game was boring me and that I really needed to get myself involved in a business. As a lover of franchising as an institution and business model, I began searching online for franchise opportunities and settled on Figaro’s as having an appealing business model.

What were some of the challenges you initially faced with building the business?
There have been numerous challenges. We were faced with a 1980s retail model and design, so we updated it. However, upgrading and/or relocating long-time, entrenched franchisees can be problematic, and Figaro’s has struggled to take full advantage of the opportunities available. There had been only print marketing, primarily direct mail. We introduced radio, television, and social media marketing. The franchises were limited to Oregon and Washington. We expanded nationally, as well as to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Cyprus and Mexico. We introduced low-carb, gluten free, thin crust, and New York-style pizzas. We added home delivery. These are only a few of the innovations we implemented.

How do you define success?
Achieving objectives.

What is the key to success?
Persistence. I think all other “keys” pale by comparison. Entrepreneurs are often innovating concepts everyone around them consider to have little to no chance. Without persistence, most would fail.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
When everyone around you raves about a direction you intend to take, rethink it. It will likely fail.

What is your favorite book?
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Persistence, not giving up (sometimes even when you should), and PASSION for the project.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
There is nothing so sweet as taking an idea from concept in your mind to an operating, profitable, successful business. You’ll encounter seemingly-endless opposition, hurdles, naysayers, but if you overcome them all, it will all have been worthwhile.