The Founders Desk

Life On The Startup Roller-Coaster

October 7, 2013

How to always WIN even when you lose

We all want to win, but unless you’re Charlie Sheen, winning all the time can seem impossible.  It’s easy to beat ourselves up over any little setback.  I, however, have learned that every day I am winning, even if I don’t feel it at that moment.  It’s all about perspective.

I realized that losing was actually the way to winning last year in 2012.  Let me set the stage for you:

-       In January, I was invited to be a top 25 candidate for Techstars NYC

-       In February, I’m rejected by Techstars NYC

-       In March, my girlfriend rejects my “startup” lifestyle and breaks up with me

-       In April, my cofounder splits, but not before stealing ~$50,000 in company funds and assets

-       In May, my first company’s warehouse is robbed of $60,000 in goods

-       In June, angry buyers who had not received their merchandise (thanks to last month’s warehouse robbery) slammed us with chargebacks and caused our merchant account to shut down

-       In July, the stress gave in and my body gave up on me

Obviously, the first six months of 2012 were a little unpleasant.  By the end of June, my family was pretty worried about me, not only financially, but emotionally, too.  I’m a stoic at heart, and my response turned into a mantra: “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine”.

Except I wasn’t.

My monthly income was severely affected and a good part of my net worth was depleted in previous months. The main thing I kept telling myself was that I was young and I have the rest of my life to make up for  If I go broke. Regardless, the stress caught up to my health.

Before I knew it, I was bedridden and barely eating.  In a little less than a month, I lost almost 38 pounds.  I started getting migraines and fevers.  I visited various doctors who couldn’t seem to pinpoint the problem; not exactly what you’re looking to hear from a “specialist in viruses of unknown origin”.  Instead, I was prescribed lots of medication, which only served to bog me down with horrible side effects.  I began to seriously think that I must be dying.

As humans, we are quick to take things for granted, especially our health.  But it isn’t until your health is stripped away from you that you realize how even the simplest things can make you happy.

Eventually, I got out of my rut.  2012 was the hardest year of my life, but it ended up becoming the period I am most thankful for.  I grew mentally, spiritually, and even financially (the last one is a work in progress :) ).

 I took away 5 key lessons from this experience:

It could always be worse

No matter how many obstacles life throws at you, stay positive and don’t take things for granted.  By May of last year, I thought it would be impossible for my life to get any worse.  Little did I know July would make the month of May look like a cakewalk.

Take each setback as an opportunity for growth

No one wants bad shit to happen.  But in life, that’s inevitable.  Instead of siting around feeling sorry for yourself, always take it as a lesson.  Learn from it, grow from it, and prevent similar issues from arising in the future.  You will grow as a person and will find it easier to live with yourself when things don’t go your way.

Be accountable for your mistakes

This is an admirable quality that will make you a better leader.  Too many times when we face setbacks, we are quick to point a finger.   Instead, we should be holding ourselves accountable.  I could have blamed May’s robbery as someone else’s fault, however, what I should have done was implement higher security controls and mitigate potential losses with an insurance policy.

You’re not alone

It’s common to feel a sense of solitude at our lowest points in life.  It feels like everyone else catches the big break while you’re getting shafted.  You read the articles and don’t understand why it isn’t your company being featured on Tech Crunch or why Investor X isn’t responding to your emails.  The truth is, everyone else is in the same boat.  People are always quick to talk about their successes while completely ignoring their failures.  Just keep on keepin’ on and know that you’re not the only one experiencing failure.

Life works in mysterious ways

In our darkest hour is when we see a light at the end of the tunnel.  If all my setbacks from 2012 hadn’t occurred, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  If I hadn’t been denied from TechStars, I wouldn’t have started my current company or met my amazing team.  If I hadn’t been robbed, I wouldn’t have ventured into a new industry; which by far has the highest chance at becoming a “big” business for me.  If all these mishaps hadn’t occurred, I would likely have taken the backseat and become complacent. I am thankful for everything that happened, because now, every setback only serves to push me forward.

So I challenge you, next time you are faced with a setback, think twice before getting down on yourself!


September 20, 2012

“Getting Your Money’s Worth”




Value, value, and more value


I was sixteen years old when I started my first company, Elekteks Inc., which specialized in the import and export of consumer goods.  I began with about $1,000 and some knowledge of foreign markets.  I focused my business on the reselling of high demand items that were difficult to find overseas.  In about six months, my company was doing so well that we were approved for some credit accounts with electronic distributors and banks.


Here is how I was able to turn $1,000 in startup funds into $2 million as a high school student.


Lesson #1: The Value of Age


As a young entrepreneur, the business world will have doubts.  Often, they are unsure if they should take you seriously, but if you prove that you mean business, you will lead the pack.


The upside to being young is that people genuinely want to help you out.  During my time at Elekteks, inc., I received help from older, more established entrepreneurs in my industry.  One generous supplier gave me a $50,000 credit line within only a few months of business simply because he believed I reminded him of his younger self.  Another supplier was giving me the same price cuts as their major buyers, even though I was buying only fifty units versus the major buyers’ 10,000.


I credit much of my company’s growth to the people who were more than willing to extend a helping hand to a young and ambitious entrepreneur.


Lesson #2: Get a Lot for a Little


I graduated high school two years later still in charge of Elekteks, inc.  During that time, I learned how to efficiently run a company so well that my revenues were on the verge of breaking $1 million.


I was debating hiring an assistant due to the mass amounts of e-mail I was now receiving, but I couldn’t justify hiring someone for such a menial task.  This is when I discovered how to outsource.


I went to an outsourcing hub (think or and hired a virtual assistant that worked 30 hours per week.  At only $1/hour, I had someone to answer tedious e-mails, do file work, and even download new music.  An assistant allowed me to focus on the bigger picture: growing my company.


Make sure you only spend your time doing things that are worthwhile.  Efficiency is the name of the game.  If you spread yourself too thin, you will only serve to bog yourself down.


Lesson #3: Make 20 cents look like $20


Even though my competitors were selling iPhones at cheaper prices, people still bought from me.  You might be wondering how I accomplished this, and it was actually quite easy.  All it required was getting a little bit creative.


Hypothetically, let’s say you’ve just bought an iPhone.  You don’t want your new purchase to get wrecked, so you need a case.  The average price for a case is around $25 USD, but, strangely enough, they cost only about 20 cents to manufacture.  In fact, you could buy your new hypothetical iPhone 10,000 cases directly from China for less than ten cents apiece.


My company took advantage of this deficit by raising our prices only slightly and then throwing in a free case with our phones.  When selling, we placed an emphasis on this “deal”.  Our customers preferred this setup, even for a few extra dollars, because in their eyes it was a giveaway.



Take advantage of people’s perceptions.  All it requires is a little thinking outside the box.


Lesson #4: Get FREE Labor – the Ultimate Value


I graduated from college in May 2011.  While at school, I learned people are more than willing to work for free.  All what they ask for is a good company name and filler for their resumes.  This summer, I had seven interns working on my media website, and I used the same rules that I use for all of my interns:


1.     1. Treat them like equals – be aware of their wants and needs.  When your interns are confident, you will be shocked at how much better quality you get from their work.

2.    2.  DO NOT call them interns.  I called my interns from the summer “media relations specialists”.  It just looks better.

3.     3. Nobody wants to be the “coffee guy”; these are human beings that want to learn from you – oblige them.

4.    4.  Give them freedom to express their ideas.  You might be surprised at some of their insights.

5.     5. Help them get a future job – look over their resume.

6.     6. Cultivate a relationship – college students like to drink, why not let loose a bit?


Lesson #5:  Monetary Value


Here is a list of what $5 can buy you.  Which gives you the most bang for your buck?


·      A Big Mac meal

·      A lottery ticket

·      A promo video that boosts your company’s profit


Well, if you haven’t eaten anything in 24 hours or you’re really lucky, you might pick 1 or 2 respectfully, but it’s apparent that the third choice is our real winner.


Last week, I submitted a startup idea video to a BloomBerg contest to be a participant in next year’s TechStars incubator and, to my surprise, my video was picked as one of the finalists.  Even more suprising?  I only paid $5 USD to make the video.  Normally, a video like this could cost in the ballpark range of $3,000.


I was able to achieve it for much less with a little creativity, some scouting, and a willing worker on  Oh, and five dollars.


Video link: WizOra.Com Promo Video For BloomBerg


Frankly, you don’t have to have deep pockets to look professional.


I have gotten basic iPhone apps made for $5 and entire websites coded for $50 simply by using sites like Fiverr, Odesk, and Elance to my benefit.


In conclusion…


By now, I’m sure you can tell I’m really into getting my money’s worth.  It takes a lot to get ahead, and every day I try to take my value thinking to a higher level.  In today’s world with competition on a global scale, it takes a lot to get ahead.  You will stand out in the business world if you prove you can make something out of nothing.  Implement a sense of value into everyday thinking and you will end up saving yourself financial headache in the future.


- DN