On this episode of Bootstrapped, we interviewed Pam Rothenberg, partner at Womble Bond Dickinson and member of the Dingman Center Board of Advisors, and Chris Finlay, Founder and Chairman of Shelters to Shutters and the founder and principal of Middleburg Real Estate Partners, a multifamily real estate development company. Pam became an intrapreneur within her law firm by founding the firm’s Impact Business whose mission is to “Power Commerce in the Impact Economy.” Through the Impact Business, Pam and her colleagues work with high growth startups, stabilized Impact operating companies and legacy businesses that are all engaged in both pursuing profit and addressing endemic social challenges through their core business activities. Through this work, Pam encountered Chris and his non-profit organization, Shelters to Shutters, that partners with apartment community owners to provide full-time employment and discounted housing to the situationally homeless. In this episode, Pam and Chris discuss their backgrounds in real estate, the growing evolution of the impact economy, and how Chris is developing Shelters to Shutters into a scalable, self-sufficient nonprofit through implementing a sustainable business model that provides value for the clients it serves, as well as for the multifamily developers that partner with the organization in providing jobs and housing to its clients. Pam works closely with Chris and the Shelters to Shutters team to support the organization’s mission and objectives.
On this episode of Bootstrapped, we interviewed former Dingman Center Angels and co-founders of Legends of Learning, Josh Goldberg ’03 and Vadim Polikov. In 2008, Josh and Vadim launched their first business, Astrum Solar, and together successfully anticipated trends in the market and grew the company until its acquisition by Direct Energy in 2014. Utilizing their background as founders, they then launched the Panther Angels with the aim to invest in and mentor Baltimore and D.C. area entrepreneurs. It was in 2016 that Josh and Vadim co-founded Legends of Learning, a platform which uses gaming as an educational tool to foster stronger subject mastery and engagement among K-12 students. In this episode, Josh and Vadim explore their shared experiences as both founders and funders and share some of the challenges in being entrepreneurial in the K-12 education space.
On this episode of Bootstrapped, we interviewed Hillary Berman, a Smith School MBA alumna and the founder of Popcorn & Ice Cream, a marketing and consulting firm designed to cater to the needs and budgets of small businesses and startups. Hillary encourages her clients to see their business in the eyes of their customer, then builds them a customized marketing strategy that both attracts customers and meets measured goals and objectives. After six years in business, in 2016 she published Customer, LLC: The Small Business Guide to Customer Engagement & Marketing to provide a resource for entrepreneurs looking to find the most efficient marketing tactics for reaching their customers. In this episode, Hillary discusses the benefits of marketing automation technology, common startup marketing pitfalls and her three pieces of advice for entrepreneurs looking to boost their business.
On this episode of Bootstrapped, we interviewed UMD alumnus and co-Founder and CEO of Compology, Jason Gates. Compology provides the only image-based container monitoring hardware and software that allows for increased revenue generation, efficiency, transparency and sustainability across the waste and recycling industries. Compology streamlines the waste and recycling collection process for waste haulers, generators and regulators. The idea for Compology started in 2012 when Jason thought to join his passion and background in waste management with his co-founder’s experiences in sensor technology. While Compology initially focused only on monitoring food waste, through customer feedback and market analysis the founders decided to pivot their initial idea to encompass all streams of solid waste. In this episode, Jason discusses how his startup evolved over time and how his hands-on approach and flexibility with customers allowed him to build extensive brand loyalty.
On this episode of Dingman Bootstrapped, we interviewed UMD alumnus and serial entrepreneur, Paul Capriolo. Throughout his career, Paul founded and led a multitude of technology startups to successful acquisitions. In 2009, Paul noticed the explosive growth in the social gaming industry and the lack of a monetization method to capitalize on its user base. Paul started Social Growth Technologies to serve as a flexible platform that allows companies to monetize the social gaming market through in-game advertising. After seven years of growth and expansion, Paul recently secured an acquisition of Social Growth Technologies by Kiswe Mobile in 2017. In this episode, Paul details his initial motivations behind being an entrepreneur, the challenges he faced as a computer science major with no background in business and the process of growing a business in an emerging two-sided market.
On this episode of Bootstrapped, we interviewed University of Maryland alumnus and co-founder & CEO of Rybbon, Jignesh Shah. At his previous position as CMO at Metalogix, Jignesh experienced frustration with the outdated physical gift-giving model; marketing was shifting to digital platforms such as email and social media, and sending a physical gift card in the mail was too slow and cumbersome. So, Jignesh founded Rybbon to streamline the digital gifting process and to serve as the digital gifting platform for marketers and researchers. In this episode, Jignesh speaks to the struggles Rybbon faced being a bootstrapped company, the unique strategy they implemented to acquire their first customers, and their the role they play in the digital marketing industry.
On this episode of Bootstrapped, we interviewed Jennifer Lee-Harrison, a Smith School MBA alumna and the founder of Perfect Hair International. Jennifer spent 16 years working in corporate America before she was struck with entrepreneurial inspiration. As Senior Director of Marketing and Advertising at Choice Hotels, she was encouraged to complete an MBA to pursue a position as Vice President of Marketing at the company. During her entrepreneurship class, Jennifer got the idea to disrupt the $13 billion hair-extension industry with branded products targeted to African-American women. That business, Perfect Hair International, went on to achieve $1.3 million in sales in just one year. Listen to the episode to hear how she leveraged her network to orchestrate her rise to success and learn her three pieces of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
On this episode of Bootstrapped, we interviewed UMD alumnus, serial entrepreneur and President and CEO of ThreatQuotient, John Czupak. Before ThreatQuotient, John worked at Sourcefire in a variety of roles from 2002 to 2013, until he ultimately engineered a $2.7 billion acquisition with Cisco, the 3rd largest pure play cybersecurity acquisition ever. In this episode, John discusses the approach, mindset and key factors that cybersecurity startups must implement to be successful in a competitive environment.
On this episode of Bootstrapped, we interviewed venture capitalist and UMD alumnus Gary Swart. Gary operates out of Silicon Valley as a general partner at Polaris Partners, a Boston VC firm that invests in technology and healthcare companies. Prior to his role at Polaris Partners, Gary was CEO of oDesk, a job-search platform that aimed to be the number one destination for job-seekers looking to work remotely. During his eight-year stint as CEO, Gary gained keen insights on customer acquisition, global expansion and staying ahead of competitors, lessons that as an investor he imparts to the entrepreneurs he works with. In this episode, Gary describes the challenges of being CEO, the key factors a startup needs before seeking investment and the differences between the startup ecosystems of Boston and Silicon Valley.
On this episode of Bootstrapped, we interviewed Kathryn Stewart, an investor in private and public equity and a member of the Dingman Center Angels and Board of Advisors. After spending 10 years working as a partner at Alex.Brown covering healthcare and technology, Kathryn wanted to give back and help others by creating jobs, so she started to invest in companies that utilized technology in order to make an impact. In this episode, Kathryn discusses her personalized approach to how she invests in entrepreneurs, and reveals the attributes a startup needs to draw angel investors.
On this episode of Bootstrapped, we interviewed veterinarian Dr. Mark Olcott, co-founder and CEO of VitusVet. After losing a pet patient because he couldn’t access their medical records on a weekend, Mark started VitusVet to electronically connect pet parents and their care providers to improve the health and safety of all pets. VitusVet capitalizes on the two-sided market of the vet industry by creating a platform that streamlines the customer service experience, keeping pet parents happy and practices in business. While researching his business model, Mark looked to other industries suffering from similarly outdated, paper-driven customer service practices and found some unexpected parallels.
On this episode of Bootstrapped, we interviewed academic turned founder, Dale Nirvani Pfeifer. Less than 4 years ago, when Dale recognized there was a need to bring philanthropic giving to the next generation, she started Goodworld. The company allows non-profits to receive donations through hashtags and shares on social media sites. Dale's first VC pitch was brutal but it taught her to think bigger about her potential market reach. After raising nearly $3 million in VC funding, Goodworld has successfully bridged the funding gap between non-profits and Millennials.
In this episode of Bootstrapped, we spoke with serial entrepreneur and CEO of Halen Brands, Jason Cohen. Cohen walks through his journey from being unable to pay his phone bill to selling 5 companies worth over $500 million, including brands like Sensible Portion Veggie Straws and SkinnyPop, the two fastest growing “better for you” snacks known today. Dubbed as the 'club king' of packaged foods, Jason highlights the importance of targeting high quantity distribution channels such as Costco to augment your reach toward popular outlets like Whole Foods. Tips on how to hire top talent with no startup capital is also covered.
On this episode of Bootstrapped, we spoke with Brian Taff, serial entrepreneur and President of Streetsense, an experience-focused strategy and design collective. Brian talks about the changing face of retail and the need to create a personalized experience for customers. The goal of brand marketers is no longer about authenticity as people see right through that, Brian claims; it's about making the brand approachable and meeting customers' expectations. Brian discusses how to get customers to be not just promoters, but defenders of your brand.
On this episode of Bootstrapped, we spoke with former NFL Cornerback and former NFL Players Association President Domonique Foxworth. After seven years in the NFL, two of which he served as NFLPA President, Foxworth pursued his MBA at Harvard Business School. While enrolled at Havard Business School, Foxworth discusses how he went from investing in bonds to investing in startups. When evaluating whether to invest in an entrepreneur, he cites soft skills as key to the decision-making process. Understanding an industry and coming up with a viable idea is the easy part, according to Foxworth. Your level of self-awareness, coachability, and motives can make the difference between a venture’s success or failure.
On this episode of Bootstrapped, we talk football with Grip Boost founders Matt Furstenburg and Chanda Arya. As a former NFL player, Matt was familiar with the shortcomings of football gloves. After receiving half a million dollars in seed funding through organizations such as TEDCO and VOLT, the founders iterated for almost 2 years. With NFL's enormous budget, they appeared the segment to target. Instead, Matt focused on the less famous segment of sports teams—high school athletics, which makes up 95% of the market. Five years later, Grip Boost is sold in 70 stores across the US, selling apparel for football, baseball and golf.
In this episode of Bootstrapped, we interviewed Ursula Mead, founder of InHerSight.com. The website easily appealed to users eager to rate their experience as a female employee. Unlike other job sites, InHerSight.com gathers data on the female perspective and became a prime location for companies looking to recruit women. Ursula monetized her company by selling data insights back to the companies rated on her site. Now three years old, InHerSight.com has over 170,000 users and 30,000 companies on the website.
In this episode of Bootstrapped, we interview Elise Whang, CEO and Co-Founder of SNOBSWAP. As an avid consignment shopper, Elise got the idea for SNOBSWAP while working late hours as an attorney unable to access second-hand finds online. With brick & mortar only consignment stores losing approximately 30% of their potential revenue, Elise found an 'in' to this traditionally winner-take-all market. Supply-side customer acquisition was as straightforward as googling "best consignment stores in LA" then pitching their idea to a select target list. Now 5 years after their launch, SNOBSWAP is turning down about 50% of the stores that apply to be on their site.
In this episode of Bootstrapped, the Dingman Center's Entrepreneur-in-Residence and 1776 Startup Mentor Bob London discusses marketing. During a time when there is a constant 'war for customer’s attention,' London advocates for listening. If your start-up is not getting customers, try asking someone, "what would make you a customer for life?" Starting with a customer’s 'elevator rants' or complaints about a product or service makes for a solid foundation for a new enterprise.
Imagine you are in front of a venture capitalist, what are you going to say that will convince them to invest in your start-up? In this episode of Bootstrapped, we interviewed Terp alum and executive coach Glen Hellman. Serving as founder, mentor and venture partner for multiple organizations, Glen knows a lot about getting funding. Glen explains that using story-telling to engage the reptilian brain in your audience helps move people toward action and increases your chances of wooing investors.
On this week's episode of Bootstrapped, we talked with Aviva Goldfarb, founder of the Six O'Clock Scramble. This online meal planner offers busy parents health-conscious solutions for the daily scramble of cooking a family dinner. Aviva admits "my biggest competitor is free." Aviva monetized her idea through a membership model, offering dietitian-approved recipes that can be made quickly, along with a mobile grocery list. By requiring customers to submit a credit card to activate their free trial, Aviva has managed to gain a sizable following with a 60-70% customer retention rate.
In this episode of Bootstrapped, we spoke with Brad Sayler, co-founder & CFO/COO of Spotluck. The app is an asset for both restaurateurs and foodies alike offering up discounts to customers while driving foot traffic to restaurants. One might ask-- how did a lawyer get into app development? Brad says, "you don't need to have a computer science degree" to get your product going. He stresses the importance of separating form from function when developing prototypes. He turned to knowledgeable friends and family for the initial bootstrapping of Spotluck. Brad admits satisfying both sides of a 2-sided market is challenging but knowing that there is an ever-changing formula keeps the customer base growing.
Ann Yang and Phil Wong, the co-founders of MISFIT Juicery, started their cold-pressed juice company in their dorm room at Georgetown University with a hundred pounds of peaches and a borrowed blender. A social venture, MISFIT transforms "ugly" fruits and vegetables into visually appealing, delicious juice that disguises its "misfit" origins while combating food waste. Through bootstrapping and a scrappy willingness to ask for help when they needed it, they managed to grow MISFIT into one of the hottest local food startups. After graduating from Halcyon Incubator, they secured funding from angel investors including the Dingman Center Angels, and are currently one of six food startups around the country accepted into the Chobani Food Incubator. In this episode, MISFIT founders Ann Yang and Phil Wong discuss the passion and tenacity required to run a social venture, the secrets of their strong branding strategy and the power of asking for help.
Micha Weinblatt founded his first company, Crooked Monkey, in college at a bar. While sitting at legendary bar Cornerstone, just off campus from the University of Maryland, Micha considered how the traditional college t-shirt could be re-fashioned. Like any true entrepreneur, he started a company that produced cool, graphic t-shirts and called it Crooked Monkey. The shirts are now sold at Bloomingdale's, Urban Outfitters and other chic retailers. Seven years into the venture, Micha got what he calls the "7-year itch" to start something new. That something is Betterific, a platform where ideas and innovation can be crowdsourced. In this episode, Micha talks about how he funded his startups and the one thing every investor or entrepreneur should know before investing in or launching a startup.
Whether you are the sole founder or co-founder of a start-up, equity can play a major role in the growth and direction of your company. Andrew Sherman, Partner at the Seyfarth Shaw law firm, began his career with a successful start-up in aerobic tennis. Today, he advises entrepreneurs on the brass tacks of drafting stock options, exit strategies and aligning managerial responsibilities with equity. Accustom to asking hardball questions like, how to value sweat equity, what are the income needs of the various stakeholders and how to link expertise to equity, Andrew encourages entrepreneurs to do an (often free) preliminary attorney meeting in the early stages of a start-up.