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SYNC: Stuff You Need Cheap

CEO of SYNC –, Kevin Pluimer looks to make good hygiene a priority through monthly undergarment distribution.

Kevin Pluimer decided to dive into the startup business by targeting the hygiene issues of college males. Each day through his work with his company “Stuff You Need Cheap,” Pluimer looks at boxers, briefs, socks and ideas for how to allow maximum access to these items. At home, it’s a much different story.

Pluimer has five daughters. No college-aged son and no current personal involvement with the college scene. What he and his company do have is a sight for a much needed issue across college campuses and some disturbing feedback from their main demographic in the field of hygiene.

“I was doing work for a sports marketing company for the UCLA athletics basketball team,” Pluimer said. “I was on campus all the time and I started having lunch with some guys from one of the fraternities.”
What he found out from these lunchtime conversations ended up being the muse for SYNC.

“When you started listening to these guys and their lifestyles it was very interesting to me when they started talking about their hygiene,” Pluimer said. “Many of the guys said that they would go commando or wear the same pair of underwear for long periods of time and I was shocked to see that the things I noticed in college were still an issue today.”

With a strong background in apparel, Pluimer set out to find a solution that would fit the very obvious need he saw throughout the twenty-something year old male population.

“I began to connect with designers and worked to come up with a plan,” Pluimer said.

The main thing I observed was that there was a strong element of laziness present and laundry was not something that was being done often.

After some experimental work, Pluimer found that the subscription model was the most encouraging way to put his plan into action. His plan being to create a monthly subscription opportunity for individuals to get fresh, stylish underwear and socks send conveniently to the consumer’s door with a simple online subscription.

The idea took off like wildfire. With over 1,000 subscribers from every state looking to purchase these Southern California “beach vibe undergarments, the company developed a full staff, 6-7 contractors and interns. SYNC proved to be filling an immediate gap in the world of home delivery.

However, the name for the company came before the starting success of SYNC.

“I was on a run and I was thinking about how I could come up with a name that would also be an acronym,” Pluimer said. “The reason we have a broader name is so we can expand. I think this name encompassed what we wanted to express at the time as well as what we could do in the future.”

This broad, more relaxed approach was something Pluimer also wanted to apply to his business approach both inside the company and out.
“We put a lot of emphasis on social media marketing,” Pluimer said. “We are growing really quickly and one of our main goals is to get our name out there and let people know about what we are doing and what kind of a service we can provide.”

Though advertising requires a large chunk of cash, it is not something you can cut corners with Pluimer said.

“I think trying to get your message out in the first place is difficult because you have to push and figure out how to target everyone,” Pluimer said.

Another way SYNC connects with clients is by allowing parents to buy subscriptions for their sons. With an “Ask Mom” button, sons can request subscriptions from a parental figure or those moms and dads can setup a subscription directly on the website.

“We thought that moms were going to be the decision makers but the guys wanted to be in control. The problem was in the funds,” Pluimer said. “We targeted moms and the guys responded overwhelmingly.”

Over 100 people have forwarded us to their moms.

Subscribers also have several options to customize their orders online so that they get exactly what they need sent to their residence without ever having to leave.

Though Stuff You Need Cheap hasn’t seen any large-scale issues yet, Pluimer acknowledged that there is always an element of risk.

“We’re working with factories overseas for production,” Pluimer said. “Any day there could be an issue with delivery or unexpected costs.”

One way SYNC is working to save their customers money is through their distribution model. Products are not going to retailers during the distribution process, instead, SYNC has total control of their products and can, in turn, get products to consumers for a competitive price.
All underwear and socks are made with comfort and durability in mind Pluimer said.

“Everything is very branded,” Pluimer said. “All underwear have the same charcoal waistband and all socks have the same cuff and heel toe inserts. People seem to love the designs and styles.”

Though the brand currently only focuses on male undergarments, they have plans to expand to female garments and other hygiene necessities such as shampoo and other personal care items.

“I would love to do a girl’s line and ship other products to college kids without them having to go to the store,” Pluimer said. “I think this is something that would benefit a lot of students in a convenient way.”
As SYNC continues to grow and provide more and more resources, Pluimer reminds those looking to start a business endeavor to believe in their idea but be open to outside ideas.

“If you have a great idea, listen, don’t just assume that your idea is amazing,” Pluimer said. “Take feedback and concerns into account and work through them instead of avoiding them. There are going to be issues, what defines your company is how you push through and overcome.”

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Why Tech Startups Are Migrating to the Cayman Islands

The idea of running a company capable of earning 100 percent tax-exempt revenue on international business seems more fantastical than plausible. Through the work of Cayman Enterprise City (CEC), companies now have the opportunity to maintain cheaper capital and increased shareholder value.

The requirements? A three to four week time frame, about $4.5k, and at least one employee willing working in the tropical conditions of the Cayman Islands.

Located just a direct flight away from Miami, New York, Texas and London, CEC looks to enable companies from across the globe to easily, and cost-efficiently, have a genuine off-shore presence to generate an active business income. An income that can enjoy the professional perks of the Cayman Island’s zero percent corporate tax rate.

Chief Executive Officer of CEC Charles Kirkconnell saw the opportunity to create a world class knowledge-based special economic zone that brings together new industries. Kirkconnell launched CEC in February of 2012 and with more than 170 companies already on board, he’s not looking back.

We are a full-service moving company. If the process is hard and stressful, companies will not move, so we make that seamless and pleasant.

“We are a startup. And like many tech companies, we are creating this from scratch,” he says. “We were involved with the creation of the special economic zone. There was no structure. We were also involved with work that allowed governments to put laws and regulations in place and identify the right people to push the project forward. We did this all while finding the funding to do so.”

In fact, the key to this business endeavor is the special economic zone. In this zone, there are no corporate, income, sales or capital gains taxes. There are also minimal government regulations regarding reporting and filing requirements making for an easy and profitable business plan. The main goal of this special economic zone is to make it more cost effective and time efficient to set up physical companies in the Cayman Islands. The purpose of setting up this structure is so that companies are able to move quickly and actually have employees working within three to four weeks.

“White listed” by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Cayman Islands have some of the highest compliance requirements and are considered a safe place to do business. It is the number one hedge fund jurisdiction and the 10th largest global financial center in the world. Seems obvious location for this new and emerging tech hub.

In the beginning, CEC was looking to exemplify an idea seen in other areas of the world, including Dubai. The idea was to replicate the tech success seen around the world and have globally recognized brands in the Cayman Islands.

By establishing within CEC, businesses can have access to the following benefits/concessions granted by the Cayman Islands Government:

  • 100% exemption from income tax
  • 100% exemption from corporate tax
  • 100% exemption from capital gains tax
  • 100% foreign ownership permitted
  • 100% exemption from import duties
  • Guaranteed ten day fast-track set up of operations
  • Five year residency granted for employees and their dependents
  • A cost effective strategic base of operations
  • Easy access to the lucrative North and Latin American market


It was Kirkconnell’s job to lead that initiative. He decided to focus on efficiency.

“You have to think about what your footprint in the Cayman Islands is going to look like,” he says. “How many people and how much space? From there, we come back with a space and agree on commercial terms, then we engage the Cayman legal counsel. While that happens, the applications are sent to the regulator and proper authorities. CEC files them on your behalf – specifically the trade certificate.”

This entire process, including submitting work visas for employees, takes about five working days each to submit. A very quick process in the business world. After everything is arranged, the next step is simply to get on a plane and move to the Cayman Islands. “We have reasonably significant companies that have already chosen to do this.”

Perhaps the most significant thing they do, the relocation process easy – and is one less thing a growing tech company needs to worry about. Once a company joins their team, CEC works to find information, walk clients through specific issues such as housing and schooling and, ultimately, make the transition to the Cayman Islands as easy as possible.

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7-Year-Old Nissa Domingo Starts Her Own Jewelry Business

This Creating Genius story written by 12 year-old writer and editor, Iyahana Baltimore.

Nissa Domingo is a 7 year-old jewelry designer and the CEO of Jewels by Nissa. Her entrepreneur journey began when she saw the rows of beautiful diamonds gleaming in a store window. As she watched their brilliance shine in the light, she couldn’t help but to think to herself, “I want to design something like that; something that will make everyone happy.”

Having come upon the idea to start her own business, she begged her mother to buy her supplies. After all, being given the chance to create something while doing what she loves – and getting to do it forever – is an adventure she just couldn’t turn down. After only a few months, her business and her work have only gotten better; putting smiles on anyone who wears her jewelry. “I want to see a smile on everyone’s’ faces when they see or wear my jewelry,” Nissa says.

I want to see a smile on everyone’s faces when they see or wear my jewelry.

Her toughest struggles have been staying focused. Being a kid, often times all we want to do is play and, well, be a kid. Lucky for Nissa, her mother is very motivating and supportive, and coaches her step by step about running business and all things jewelry. Running a business – not matter how young you are – is no easy task. Nissa tells us that she surrounds herself with people who can teach her new things and help her stay focused.

Entrepreneur, jewelry maker and self-proclaimed artist

It’s not all work and no play for Nissa, however. She nurtures her child-like spirit and spends a lot of time in a hobby that originates all the way from Japan – anime art. Following in her older sister’s footsteps, Nissa developed the desire to draw at such a young age. “My artistic side is non-stop. I need tor release my creativity – whether it be drawing anime or making jewelry”

Nissa continues to develop her skills and her passion for both jewelry and anime. Having her older sister and mom give her an obvious advantage to reaching her goals, but Nissa says the best part is getting to meet new people who share the same interests. “It makes the experience ten times more epic – especially if you get to make new friends.”

It makes the experience ten times more epic – especially if you get to make new friends.

In the near future, Nissa plans to hold several auctions for her beautiful art and fabulous jewelry that are surely making a lot of people turn their heads. “I love what I do and plan to continue for as long as I can,” she says. Perhaps one day she’s realize her dream and find herself on the streets of New York or Paris for the famed Fashion Week.

What’s certain, is that Nissa’s attitude and unwavering determination will take her far. In my final judgment, this little girl is going to rule the world with an iron fist. And just wait until you see her army.

You can contact Nissa at her website, her twitter @JewelsbyNissa, email her at or call her at 702-644-5200.


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Chalkrow CEO Destroying the Spreadsheet

Chaney Ojinnaka is creating a bridge between European startups and institutional investors with an algorithm to score their success rate.

Successful business plans include sacrifice, a creative and ambitious plan and most importantly, a passion for what you do. Chaney Ojinnaka’s desire comes from his love for startups and the path he has taken to ensure that they are given every chance that they are brave enough to take.

Ojinnaka is currently founder and CEO of Chalkrow, a platform where companies enter their data and use KPI’s to benchmark it. The idea around the company is to ensure growth in their Europe ecosystem.

“We are serving venture capitalists and financial institutions, private equity funds and hedge funds and giving insights to startups using a data driven approach,” Ojinnaka said. “We are a platform where they can sign up and see data snapshots of companies using key performance indicators, sales data, marketing data, revenue worth, and burn rate in a visual format.”

Beginning as an outsider to the world of startups, Ojinnaka is no longer a stranger. Before diving into the creation of Chalkrow, he received his MBA from Chicago BOOTH in entrepreneurship and marketing. Shortly after, he decided to launch a business venture of his own. Though the pieces did not fall into place for this idea, it opened the gateway to finding his passion.  “I took that as a sign that my time hadn’t come yet,” Ojinnaka said. “I took a job in mergers and acquisitions and innovation integration and my job was to scout startups that fit their portfolio.”

 I took that as a sign that my time hadn’t come yet. I took a job in mergers and acquisitions and my job was to scout startups that fit their portfolio.

While working in mergers and acquisitions for an established company, working with startups and using a lot of excel spreadsheets, Ojinnaka would look ahead to see if there was an innovation pilot partner or acquisition target down the road based on data. He was working with a spreadsheet of over 100 startups and developed an algorithm on how to score them.

However, a chance for a risk came shortly following Ojinnaka’s original work with startups. “My boss calls me into his office and says, ‘I’m moving from NYC to Kentucky to do more reporting.’ A week later I resigned my job,” Ojinnaka said. “I realized I was completely smitten by startups and more specifically accelerators.”

Ojinnaka applied for an Entrepreneur in residence role at an accelerator in Berlin. “I didn’t think it was possible I would get this job,” Ojinnaka said. “They don’t usually like corporate people. There was also a big visa problem. So I said, ‘even though I don’t have a visa or the experience working at accelerators, I would move over there and make next to nothing. And even without the visa, just get a chance.” He was asked to move from NYC to Berlin in one week, and that’s just what he did. Ojinnaka was with the accelerator for 4 monthsThe accelerator takes 8% off each company in the program.

“It gave me the two sides of the coin that I needed to start Chalkrow,” Ojinnaka said. Chalkrow operates using a similar algorithm to the one applied in his earlier work with mergers and acquisitions to ensure maximum success for clients. “When investors sign up, they select their own preferences based on what they want to see. Only companies that are a certain standard or score are made available to the investor,” Ojinnaka said,

Working with associations between companies is key. As business interaction continues to expand farther and farther across the map, this digitalization of mergers seems to make the gaps smaller. “We are digitizing an industry built on relationships. You can reach out to VC or firm through an introduction,” Ojinnaka said. “You can’t walk into their offices or email them directly, it would take a very long time. We are disrupting this industry and using technology and data.”

Chalkrow immediately became popular with European startups because the view of startups is different than in the U.S. “In Silicon Valley, there is large amounts of risk and VC’s are open to deploying capital without hesitation. They are open to the notion of failure,” Ojinnaka said.

In Silicon Valley, there is large amounts of risk and VC’s are open to deploying capital without hesitation. They are open to the notion of failure.

However, in Europe, the ecosystem is much more focused on data and excel spreadsheets and less risk before deploying capital.

Ojinnaka is looking to destroy the spreadsheets and change the mindset. “We want risk,” Ojinnaka said. “By digitizing the industry, the first step is allowing the European industry to take more risks.” So Chalkrow started matching U.S. investors and startups with possible partners in Europe. An idea and effort that they wish to expand upon in upcoming years.

“That opened a lot of doors for us,” Ojinnaka said. “Startups loved it which turned the coin on European investors, they started to become open minded but in order to do that, they needed more data.”


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Diego Vida Combines Storytelling Intuition with Technical Know-how

Honed creativity and infallible client dedication make Diego Vida a visual effects star.

The new entertainment industry demands people who know how to fill several roles at once and can operate effectively at every stage of production. For Diego Vida, with a deep and diverse background in film and video production, this is no challenge.

Born in Sicily in 1979, Vida had an ever-growing passion for visual storytelling. After starting work in video editing and animation, he wasn’t ready to stop. “I decided to try as cameraman, director and writer, sound designer, music composer, [and] recently I began to work as a producer,” he told us. A look at his LinkedIn profile gives an even lengthier account of his production chops, listing his experience with stop motion animation, fully CG features, and every aspect of effects from rotoscoping to digital compositing. These may sound like minor technical flourishes, but like most aspects of filmmaking, if they aren’t done precisely right in every frame, everyone can and will see it. If you’re watching the characters and action without noticing the environment or background, that means the job was done right.

You may or may not have seen Vida’s work in the backgrounds of Fast & Furious, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in the forms of fully rendered digital spaces or detailed matte paintings. This is where Vida feels most at home. He described visual effects as a “magic world, everything is possible. Changing the background with a digital environment, animating 3D elements inside the footage, shooting in live action or on a virtual set in green/blue screen…this is what I provide in my daily life.” Not only is Vida prolific in his effects work, but he is also an executive producer at Viacom and the director and producer of several documentaries and other shows for major networks like MTV and Fox, not to mention his work on video games like the Castlevania franchise.

One of the few things that match Vida’s pride and love for his creative works is addressing the needs of and ceaselessly providing for his clients, regardless of the countless issues that surface when working in digital media. “A videogame company assigned to me a pilot for their game,” he recounts. “Unfortunately one of my crew had a problem with his PC bringing it to the assistants.” This is no different from the faulty projector in the conference room or the corrupted Powerpoint, but when a high-budget project is being presented to a major game company, the stakes are raised. Rather than spend time starting from scratch on another system or scrapping it entirely, Vida instead turned to his most powerful production tool: his creativity. “I decided to change the subject and rather than produce a full CG movie, I just made a live action video combined with CG in some segments and the game company liked it a lot.”

Having a diversified skill set in entertainment means a marriage between storytelling intuition and technical know-how, which Vida has clearly demonstrated with his history in the industry. His dedication to his clients, however, is what sets him apart as an artist. His approach to problem solving is always mindful of his audience and what they need, like any successful business. “To reach success, every company needs to pursue the needs of the clients,” he says, and his resolve on this is unmistakable. “Empathy is extremely important, and to prevent any risk just make sure you are doing the right thing.” While his production work is diversified, Vida has also worked in marketing and public relations for several companies in Europe, which explains his ethics when it comes to client needs. As if his work history weren’t varied enough, he also served 1 year in the alpine regiment of the Italian army because, according to his LinkedIn page, he is “very good at skiing.”

Even with the responsibility of managing his staff and meeting the needs of his clients, Vida seems to relish these challenges. “I’ve had a lot of issues in my way, but I’ve solved them every time,” he says. “Indeed I think issues help you to improve your work. I’m the kind of person, when there is a problem, [who] drops inside it immediately because I want to fix it as soon as possible.”

The image is incredibly telling of Vida’s approach to his work, be it in the studio, on set, or in the office. His projects involve crafting detailed backdrops and environments, the very things an audience could “drop inside.” And when interacting with clients, he wants nothing less than the same level of effectiveness.

With several projects yet to come, including a TV movie for SCI-FI, Vida seems only to have just started making a name in media. However, if he’s doing his job well enough, you may not see it in the background.

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From Technically Unskilled to a Coding Master, Mike McGee

Here’s what it’s like to go from consumer to creator, from technically unskilled to a coding master, from employee to entrepreneur.

Like many entrepreneurs, Mike McGee started Starter League to address a problem he himself was facing: he wanted to start a web-based business, but he didn’t know how to code.  After he and a business partner taught themselves the skill that they needed, they realized that the better business opportunity was not in following their original idea, but in meeting the need that they had experienced.  In the process, Startup League has become not only a leading source of code training, but a crucial element of the startup ecosystem in Chicago.

I spoke with Mike to learn more about Starter League’s plan of action, its relationship with its startup community, being a for-profit startup in a world typically dominated by nonprofit organizations, and what they’re discovering about the future of education.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Della: Hi Mike. There’s a lot of folks out there nationally who are trying to do some kind of “Teach people to code.” There’s the “Girl Develop It” groups that are all over the country, and a variety of other kinds of platforms. It seems like you guys have been doing it a little differently, and with success. Tell me about Starter League.

Mike: The Starter League was born out of a frustration that my cofounder and I had back in 2011. We have always been consumers of tech. We used great products, whether it’s hardware or software. We, like many other people, had our own ideas. “How can we build the next startup?” or “How can we solve this problem?”

The problem was we didn’t know how to create the solutions. We didn’t know how to code and how to design. Instead of just being the idea people, we wanted to be the developers and designers of our own products. That forced us to learn.

We spent about a year (April 2010-March 2011), trying to do that. We were beginners in every sense of the word. We weren’t computer science majors. We weren’t math or science wizards. We were just two guys who were really passionate about making this happen.

It was a lot of trial and error. There weren’t any bootcamps out there – online or in person. We would use Google, a few online resources and a lot of old programming books. There was no direct path for us to figure this out.

After a year of stumbling around we had learned a lot, but we also learned that it’s extremely hard for a beginner to learn. That’s when we started to think, “Hey, it would be great if there were an in-person place for beginners to learn how to build web apps.” And we couldn’t find any.

In Chicago, and ultimately around the world, there was no short-term (about 3-6 months) program for beginners to learn how to build web apps. That’s when we decided, “Hey, instead of trying to build a singular web app, why don’t we actually try to solve the problem that we faced for the past year, which is trying to learn how to code?”

Hey, instead of trying to build a singular web app, why don’t we actually try to solve the problem that we faced for the past year, which is trying to learn how to code?

That was the seed of the idea, to build our own school. To design a school that we would’ve attended. We wanted to make this school the most effective and fun place for someone without any experience, to learn.

Starter League - Creating Genius Magazine

Della:  You guys were really set up to work with the complete beginner?

Mike:  Definitely.

Della:  Who takes your classes? What types of people end up getting involved with Starter League?

Mike:  It’s a very diverse group in terms of age, professional background, educational level, city, state, country, etc. The common thread is that our students typically are those who want to transform from consumer to creator.

The common thread is that our students typically are those who want to transform from consumer to creator.

They’ve worked in other industries and they’ve gone to school for another focus entirely, whether it’s history, education, law, retail, real estate. Every professional industry you can imagine. They’ve experienced problems in those areas and they’ve talked with their family and friends about them.

They often say things like, “Oh, it’d be great if I could solve this problem”, but it stops right there, because they don’t have the skills necessary to solve those problems with technology. It’s been festering and boiling inside of them. It’s like “If I could only do this…or if I only had these skills, I could build this app.”

That’s the thread that ties all of our students and graduates together, is that they are just sick of using someone else’s solution, or they’re sick of not having a problem solved. They want to take matters into their own hands and build a solution for it, or just to change their career.

Della:  Walk me through the typical classes. What are the modules or the courses that you’re teaching? How long do people spend in the program? Give me a sense of what the typical experience is.

Mike:  We have classes ranging from 3 to 9 months. Our three-month courses focus on one topic. There’s a three-month backend Web Development course, which is our flagship course. We also have part-time courses that focus on user experience, visual design, and front-end development (HTML & CSS). Our classes focus on the major components you need to build a website or a web application.

A good number of our alumni, probably 20 to 25 percent, have taken more than one class at the Starter League. They’ll start in one area – whether it’s a design and development class – and then go to the other side.

We just launched a new nine-month program called Starter School. That’s our full “Navy Seals” program for people who want to learn it all – from development to design to entrepreneurship. We’re in our second year of doing that program with 12 to 14 students. It’s a brand new way of doing in-person training for beginners.

Della:  It sounds like in addition to teaching the technical skills needed to either launch your own thing or to maybe be more entrepreneurial within your industry, you’re also teaching skills on how to be an entrepreneur?

Mike:  That’s what Starter School represents. To teach our students the process of shipping a real product. How that idea goes from just a thought in your head, to out on the Web and people are using it. Strangers are using the product.

That’s what Starter School represents. To teach our students the process of shipping a real product.

The goal of Starter School is not to just turn everybody into an entrepreneur immediately after the program, but to learn the process of how to build a product and start a company. Whether they do that or not is up to them.


Della:  You’re focusing on the technical steps for, “I’ve built this thing. Now how do I get it to market?”

Mike:  Yes. It’s one thing to build a web application, but that’s only one part. The students are also learning entrepreneurship, product development, and decision-making skills. They’re learning marketing and sales. They’re learning all the things they need to get an idea off the ground.

And Starter School instructors are people who are leading companies – CEOs, founders, executives, business owners, etc. They are the ones developing and designing real products, and they are giving practical education.

Della: People in some parts of the country, may not think of Chicago as a tech center of activity, but there’s so much that has been going on, especially coming out of the 1871 Accelerator, which is one of the big accelerators in the city, and lots of other resources. How does Starter League end up relating to the rest of the whole system of the tech startup world within Chicago?

Mike:  We started our school right in the renaissance period of the Chicago startup scene back in 2011. That was right when we were starting to get more energy in the startup environment ecosystem. We wouldn’t have been as successful as we were without the rise of the Chicago startup scene.

We came up with our idea right around the same time of the 1871 project. Back then it didn’t even have a name! We were a part of those decisions, and because of that connection we were the first startup to announce that we were moving into the space.

Della:  You’re pretty deeply embedded in that whole environment and you’re a startup yourself. Are you structured as a nonprofit, or a for-profit?

Mike:  For-profit.

Della:  You’re essentially providing a service to the entrepreneurial community, but you’re entrepreneurs yourself. How are you able to scale upwards? How did you navigate things like charging? What revenue streams you were able to draw on to get to the point where you could start with an 1871 accelerator, and get out on your own?

Mike: When we started, the 1871 idea was developing, but it didn’t have a space yet. We had to wait for construction on 1871 to reach a point where we could move into our classrooms. We bounced around for the first six months. We actually started in Groupon. Then we moved to downtown to the John Hancock Center. They weren’t ideal environments, but they were a place we could hold classes.

We started off wanting to be a non-profit, but from the beginning we wanted to charge for tuition. We didn’t want to be a nonprofit that had to rely on grants or foundation money. We believed that students should put some skin in the game, and if they paid tuition, it showed they were serious about taking the program.

Originally our name was Code Academy, and it was, not to be confused with Codecademy, the online thing, which was a fun story for us for the first year.

We bootstrapped the Starter League with tuition from the inaugural students. We were trying to get venture capital money, but the timing didn’t work out so we had to make a decision. It turned out to be a great decision because we didn’t have to worry about dealing with other people in the decision-making process. Neal or I would say, “Hey, you wanna do this? Ok, let’s do it.” That’s the exact amount of time it took to move forward. For the past three and a half years, our revenues have been from students’ tuition.

We bootstrapped the Starter League with tuition from the inaugural students.

It goes to show that the emphasis is on the product. If you do a great job delivering exceptional experiences, students will keep coming, and our graduates will say good things about us. We stay in business. It’s great to have it that way.

Starter Leage team - Creating Genius Magazine

Della:   One of the things that you must encounter is that good quality education is expensive. How do you keep it affordable? The flip side of that is do you have any strategy for dealing with somebody who would be a great addition to the larger ecosystem, but they can’t afford it out of pocket?

Mike:  That’s a great question. What we’ve been doing, is to get more financial aid options available for potential students, who don’t have the funds up front. I know that I wouldn’t have been able to go to college, without financial aids and loans. We’re trying to create the same thing here.  Instead of just making the classes so cheap that we can’t run the program effectively, we ask, “How can we use a partner or third-party companies to give students financing options, instead of just credit card, or check, or bonds with their family members and friends, to try to get the money?”

It’s becoming more successful; the ecosystem of loans and financial aid has grown. We’ve started a lot of positive conversations over the past year. We have a financial aid partner right now, Climb Credit. Students can apply for financing after they get accepted.

Della:  What are you going to tell folks at Collide? Are you going to be focusing on just telling the story of the Starter League, or are you focusing on a particular issue there?

Mike:   The primary event that I’m doing is a panel about technology and education. As always with these panels, it will focus on the future.

Traditionally, we think of learning in that if you’re lucky it stops at college. And then you switch to the professional world and you learn some new things. You are in your job, but it’s not learning. You’ve done training, but solely for your specific job.

Our focus at Starter League is to promote long-term learning. The most successful progressive skill you can have is learning, and to continue learning. The rate of change is so fast that if you just think that you can be an expert at some current web framework or current web technology, then you’re making a risky move.

There are alumni that I run into 3-9 months after and I am like, “How were they able to do that?”  They’re building iOS and Android Apps, and we don’t teach mobile development here. When they came to the Starter League, they knew nothing!

That’s what we embody with the Starter League. We believe the “Start” part, is the hardest thing. Once you get your “Start,” once you get that network, you can do pretty cool stuff.

Once you get your “Start,” once you get that network, you can do pretty cool stuff.

Della: I moderated a panel discussion for the University of Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago. It was on workforce, and the future of workforce. The session was focused on educators – superintendents, principals, and administrators in public and private school districts. A huge amount of the conversation ended up falling around, “How do you teach people to be able to learn, and to be able to learn on an ongoing basis?”

Mike:  [Laughs] Yeah. Education, at least formal education, is a slow moving boat there. The way that you learn in K-12, even in college, the focus is not truly learning the subject but it’s getting the grade.

There are so many ways that I was able to get an A in class and not know what I was doing. [More laughs]. Sometimes I liked a subject. If I didn’t, I just found a way to try to get the good grade and move on.

That’s not learning. A lot of education is learning things that are not going to help you move forward. I didn’t realize that until we started Starter League.

I hope that the small things that we’re doing have already impacted formal education. We’ve taught at Northwestern, University of Chicago, MBA students, undergraduate students, even computer science students. Hopefully, the trend keeps going in a positive direction. These types of classes are offered to five-year-olds in some schools today. You don’t have to be in high school, or in college, or an adult to learn.

That’s the hope, in the next 20 years – that a kindergartner or first grader will be building their first website instead of building it when they’re 30 or 35. That’s the vision.

Della:   Anything else you want to tell folks to be thinking about?

Mike:   Even though we run a beginner-focused school, you wouldn’t believe how many times people would email us, or call, or apply to our program, and say, “Hey, I don’t know anything. Will I be able to get into the course?” I’m like, “You’re the perfect person! That’s what beginner means.”

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Jord: Wood Watches That Tell More Than Time

Always being fascinated with trendy fashion and products with distinctive accessories, this group of friends found common ground and combined it with their business smarts to eventually share ownership of Jord watches. Now seasoned watchsmiths, this collective hopes to make their trendy timepiece an indispensable wearable in the world of fashion.

“Jord was derived from our desire for a timepiece that modeled our modern lifestyle. Sustainable, efficient, simple, and influenced by experiential living.”

Timing can be everything in business. To come along at the right moment with the right product for the right consumer is a scenario not afforded to all visionaries. For the Jord (pronounced Yode) co-founders, they’ve managed to put a new spin on a traditional product and tailor it for the most basic need for their perfect customer: time.

By no coincidence, Jord watches tell time with a timeless style. Guided by a deep appreciation for natural elements and modern design, their wood design forms a distinctive classy tone around your wrist. Wood is not just a component of Jord watches, it’s the main feature.

Co-founder Paul Saitta explained, “We wanted to take the traditional watch and make it more fashionable while at the same time make it ecofriendly.” Saitta also explained to us that this is accomplished with a certain precision and fine tuning of their wood watches as well as the production process. “We are trying to go the higher-end route for our wood watches,” he says. “We use more exotic wood and a better glass, which result in a richer movement.”

The name Jord is a Swedish word meaning earth, land and soil. The natural feel of the wood watches depicts this meaning with an added grace and style. “Every watch down to the grain is as unique as the individual wearing it. We want to put a product on our customers that tells a story, rather than just tell time.”

“Jord owners don’t just have somewhere to be, they have somewhere to go. We believe our watches tell more than time.”

The Jord co-founders eventually decided to quit their 9 to 5 jobs and take their chances going at it on their own, now grinding away until they share their product with the world. Armed with a dream and backgrounds in business, they’ve found their recipe for success with these wood watches. Saitta painted us a picture of what that looks like in his mind. “I define success as waking up every morning with a smile on your face and enjoying what you do.”

Saitta’s definition of success and happiness also seems the ideal scenario for many entrepreneurs, as was the way Jord watches began. The company was formed with a group of friends (some of them brothers), who took their knowledge of business and their passion for fashionable watches and turned into a profitable enterprise. Today, they enjoy the benefits of a relaxed and open company culture that produces a product they truly love and appreciate.Not only that, people have been seen wearing Jord wood watches on all seven continents via Instagram. #JordWatches

The biggest struggle for the team was breaking the mold on a traditional market. “A lot of people told us that it couldn’t be done,” Saitta said. “That it would never become profitable or even catch on in the market. It was heartbreaking. But we took that criticism with a grain of salt and proved them wrong.”

He continues, “Not everything will take off in the blink of an eye. It takes time. You need to be patient and willing to put in the hours,” said Saitta. “What gets us excited is realizing that we are actually accomplishing our goals. We get to see the designs we create on peoples’ wrists all over the world. It happened through an understanding that if we put in the work it will pay off.”

For more product information on Jord watches, please visit or

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CEO Brianna Michelle Finding Art In Beauty

A luxury boutique hair and makeup business specializing in bridal and makeup lessons, Beauty by Brianna is an inner transformation being delivered to others.

“To capture a woman’s beauty you have to be more than just a makeup artist, you have to bring out her inner beauty,” says CEO Brianna Michelle. “It’s more than makeup. It’s about making the woman feel good about herself.”

Brianna Michelle has always been drawn to beauty. As a child, she was bullied in school and found makeup as a way to feel beautiful and confident. “I often used makeup as a crutch to feel good about myself and handle being around others,” she told us. “I was trying to make myself confident through makeup. I went from feeling horrible to putting on makeup to feeling great about myself.”

Today, Brianna provides services to women that do exactly that – make them feel more confident and beautiful. As CEO and creator of Beauty by Brianna, an award-winning boutique hair and makeup service, she is on a mission to spread beauty throughout the Las Vegas valley. Known widely for its wedding hair and makeup services, her company also provides makeup tutorials that teach clients how to prepare themselves for a special event.

Tailoring makeup lessons to women’s lifestyle

Not only does Brianna have the opportunity to help woman feel beautiful, she also gets to know her clients on a personal level, creating a unique look every time. “That’s what makes us different. We’re not a one-look-fits-all kind of beauty company. We have a customized process based on many variables – like the shape of your face, the dress you will be wearing, and the budget of your wedding or event,” she says.

And then, if they want to re-create the look on their own, Brianna offers makeup lessons according to their individual lifestyle. “If my client is a stay-at-home mom with five kids, I’m going to tailor the lesson to that type of lifestyle.” Beauty by Brianna is more than a makeup company. It’s a full-service lifestyle brand that thrives on real human connections.

“That’s my job. To make my clients feel beautiful inside and out.”

Steering away from her background in broadcast journalism and acting, she started doing freelance makeup and eventually moved to Las Vegas. Her former business partners persuaded her to brand herself more as a beauty expert and less an actress and aspiring writer. She eventually built a website and went at it full time.  She explains the transition as “a lot of self-preservation,” and that to reach success “you have to completely keep going at it one hundred percent.”

A personalized approach to client services

Early on, it was about teaching people how to do makeup through tutorials on YouTube. However, Brianna found the online market was completely saturated with other YouTubers doing similar tutorials and the business model wasn’t structured how she wanted it to be. It was more of an informational magazine site and less of a training hub. And it was a lot of work for little return.

So to make some real headway with her business, Brianna started doing one-on-one makeup sessions with her clients – face to face. “We need that personal contact with people for this business to be a success,” she says. It soon became an in-suite service that potential client can sign up right on their mobile smartphones. In-suite means that Brianna and her team will go wherever you are – your hotel, home or office.

Marketing, branding, and just getting the Beauty by Brianna name out there was also one of her biggest challenges. Sure, going the extra mile for her clients brings her many referrals, but having such a customized and personal approach to customer service leaves little time for setting up processes and gaining exposure. Brianna’s biggest client base comes from the signups on her website and a strong presence on social media.

A luxury “in-suite” brand looking beyond makeup

Strong client relationships and quality work earned Beauty by Brianna needed credibility. Last November, Brianna and her team worked with Sony Latin America doing makeup for the Grammys executives. “That was an AHA moment because The Grammys, of course, are a very prestigious organization,” explains Brianna. “And they hand-picked us because of our credibility and exposure online.”

Looking ahead, Brianna and her growing brand are adding more style to their selection of high quality beauty services. “We are looking beyond makeup and into clothing,” she told us. “We just recently started offering personal styling.” Not only that, but she is expanding her makeup and skin care product lines. Clients will now be able to purchase the same products Brianna used on them in their one-on-one sessions. Visit to check out her makeup lessons or services.

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Fashion Entrepreneur Brooke DaSilva Creates Wearable Conversation Starters With 9 Pockets


Quirky habits and a fashion statement combine into wearable conversation starters. 9 Pockets is on a mission to create conversation in unique ways – not to mention you’ll have 9 times the holding power.

“As a dreamer, rebel, and newly found pocket lover, I thrive on creating something out of ordinary things found in our daily lives. I’m a super awkward human being and I want to help bring people together in quirky ways.” – Brooke DaSilva, Founder/Creator of 9 Pockets

9 Pockets is the brainchild of Brooke DaSilva and her aversion towards college. “Rather than paying attention in class, I would stare at things and imagine them in different ways,” she told us. “Someone was wearing a shirt with only one pocket on it and I thought, ‘What if that shirt had 8 more pockets on it? That would be an amazing conversation starter.’”

DaSilva embraced her inner creative genius and ran with the idea, first creating a prototype using fabric and a chic material called glue. “I took this first 9 pocket shirt to Stitch Factory, a fashion and creative co-working studio located in Downtown Las Vegas, to make it a reality. The amazing people at Stitch Factory were able to help her bring it to life. Since then, more samples have been made to perfect the pocket in numerous styles.

Overall, the idea of wearing – or at least creating – a 9 pocket shirt has been well received from friends and family. The main struggle though was and still is, having a 9 pocket shirt seem like a normal thing in society. Most people don’t even use the 1 pocket they have on their shirt, so having 9 pockets seems equivalent to owning a useless paperweight. “That’s the irony though,” continues DaSilva. “Having 9 pockets on your shirt makes you feel like a rebel walking through society. You’ve got a cape on the front of your shirt,” — a cape that holds stuff.

It’s a social riot in rousing fashion.

To combat this impending social ineptitude, 9 Pockets has launched a Kickstarter campaign. “There’s this saying that people won’t wear a brand unless they see others wearing it first. But how do you get those initial people to wear it? The answer is early adopters—people who want to own the newest and greatest things first.” Luckily for DaSilva, is saturated with these awesome early adopters. “That’s why we are using this amazing platform to launch our brand.” The shirts have also already been featured on YouTube personality channels such as Jenna Marbles and Hannah Hart.

In our talks with DaSilva, she told us her WHY is starting conversations. It became quite clear that 9 Pockets is not the first unconventional idea she’s had. In addition to creating the first 9 pocket shirt, she’s also created a line of eccentric greeting cards that are sure to spark some rather interesting dialog. “I would say most of everything I do is to strike up conversations,” she says. “I loathe doing normal predictable things. Instead of saying ‘Hi, I like your smile,’ I’ll say ‘Hi, I dig your face – especially the angle of your eyebrows.’

The usual culprit was some sort of conversation starter.

DaSilva says her favorite aspect of life is finding herself in some crazy situation and trying to recall the events that led up to it. The usual culprit was some sort of conversation starter. With 9 Pockets, she hopes to increase the amount of fun and quirky experiences in peoples’ lives.

One day while staring at her Converse shoes she had an idea. A few hours later she had  weaved extra shoe laces through the laces that were already on the shoes into a big stupid mess of a knot on each shoe. BOOM! Conversation starter. That’s not all. DaSilva has also been seen carrying a mannequin arm at the airport to greet a friend flying in. Instead of holding his name up on a piece of paper, she taped the paper to the mannequin’s hand and held the arm up. Several people giggled as they walked by and asked why in the world she had a mannequin arm.

“There are so many missed connections in the world where something amazing could have sprouted by simply complimenting someone’s shoes.”

Actually, DaSilva will be the first to tell you that her quirky habits are what started her entrepreneurial journey. In a very short period of time she finalized her design, started manufacturing and taking orders on a brand new self-published website, and brought together a group of friends and supporters to help her create a killer Kickstarter campaign.

“I’m actually not very social at all, but my mind is always churning with ideas and sometimes I’ll say them out loud.” 9 Pockets became a reality because as she developed the idea, it became so natural and in-tune with her personal mission – and now the brand’s mission – of wanting to bring people together.

If you’re interested in contributing to the 9 Pockets Kickstarter campaign or if you’d like to “rock a 9 pock” and join DaSilva on her mission to create conversation, you can do so by searching “9 Pockets” on Their goal is to raise $9,999 (how appropriate, I know).

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How to Launch a Business in Panama: Q&A with Rob Harper of Panama Vacations

Travel lovers planning to holiday in Panama are smart to call Rob Harper of Panama Vacations, a customized tour operated based in the heart of Panama City. Originally from Marietta, Georgia, Harper moved to Panama in 2007 and has been there ever since. Today, he handles business development for Namu Travel Group, the umbrella company for Panama Vacations, which also oversees Costa Rican Vacations and Nicaragua Vacations.

Creating Genius Magazine sat down with Harper to hear about his background and advice for launching a business in Panama.

CG: Many Americans dream of living abroad; why did you choose Panama?

Rob: It kind of chose me. Back when I was a kid, my family got involved with Sister Cities International. Marietta was a sister city to Heredia, Costa Rica, so we started hosting a family from there. After graduating from college, I wanted to move abroad for a year and my host family encouraged me to come to Costa Rica.

I landed a job with Costa Rican Vacations, which had been down there for a few years at that point. I lived in Costa Rica for about 18 months, selling vacations, and then moved back to Georgia to figure out what I was going to do with my life.

Pretty soon, Casey, one of the founders of the company, called and asked me to open an office in Panama, full-time. I moved down in 2007 and really love it here.

CG: What challenges did you face in opening a Panama office?

Rob: Wow, how much time do you have? (laughing) Panama was our [Namu Travel Group’s] first jumping off point. We’d started in Costa Rica where tourism is the top industry.

Panama, on the other hand, didn’t have that existing tourism infrastructure. People weren’t really interested in it. We had to create a market and generate interest.

People weren’t really interested in it. We had to create a market and generate interest.

CG: How did you do that?

Rob: We started by talking to the clients who’d already been to Costa Rica—people who had a passion for the culture and the region. It was slow at first. Panama didn’t have the same tourism mindset with regard to service and language. English isn’t spoken here nearly as much as it is in Costa Rica, so we adapted by hiring bilingual guides for our trips—people who would provide exceptional levels of service.

CG: What type of hiring challenges have you faced? 

Rob: Panama is one of the fastest growing Latin American countries, which means it is easy to find a job here. This has been difficult for us because people don’t always stay in jobs very long. Over the years, we’ve cycled through several people for a single position.

Over the years, we’ve cycled through several people for a single position.

CG: What advice can you offer Americans who’d like to start a business in Panama?

Rob: First, make sure you are passionate about the region. It takes a special soul to be an expat; you have to generate a new set of friends every three to five years because people leave.

Second, you must have patience—with a capital “P.” On paper, you are still in the Third World. The pace is slow, such as the start times for meetings. They don’t call it “Latino time” for nothing.

Third, come down and live in the country for a couple months before launching your business. Spend time here, see if you like it, then pick a place.

Fourth, look up every single person you might have a connection with in Panama and set up a meeting. Establish your contacts early, pick a few people and nurture relationships for years to come. Look on LinkedIn for associations that you are part of and connect that way.

I graduated from the University of Georgia, so I will go on the UGA alumni network and look up graduates wherever I go. Before a recent trip to Peru, I looked up UGA grads in Lima and ended up meeting a nice couple that took me out to dinner one night. Making those connections is essential.

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