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SYNC: Stuff You Need Cheap

CEO of SYNC – StuffYouNeedCheap.com, 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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Bill McKendry Helping Nonprofits Do More Good

By the age of 10, Bill McKendry was negotiating home mortgage rates on behalf of his deaf parents. These were the first – and certainly not the last – group of people he gave a voice to in corporate America. Today, his group of choice is nonprofits.

“I have this gift of persuasion,” McKendry said.

“I was born with opportunities to be persuasive and be a voice for brands to help grow their business.”

This idea remains the backbone of McKendry’s renowned advertising agency, Do More Good. More specifically, the agency looks to increase the capabilities of what a nonprofit can do using techniques taken from for profit businesses, and turn them into purpose-driven brands.

Before McKendry started Do More Good, he worked at BBDO based in New York City, one of the biggest agencies in the world. During his time there, he worked with large-scale clients like American Express and Taco Bell.

This was also when he had his first encounter with his business associate, Jim Hanon, who worked across the street as an art director. This across the street relationship was something that would remain constant throughout their business relationship.

In fact, after their careers took them in different directions (McKendry to Michigan, Hanon to Chicago). Hanon lived four doors down from Mckendry’s sister in Chicago. They ran into each other again, but this time, McKendry had a proposition.

“I brought him back to the company I started in Grand Rapids,” McKendry said. “I wanted Jim to do some freelance work for my agency.”

Previously the Vice President of an agency in Chicago, Hanon had been in charge of most of McDonald’s major initiatives and higher-end brand work, as well as work on other brands such as Leo Burnett, Walt Disney, Hallmark and Oldsmobile. His previous work on these impactful projects made him the perfect fit for McKendry’s plans.

He had just landed an account called Wiser Lock; a big account for a small agency in Grand Rapids. “A the time, they were actually a sponsor of a college bowl game. It was a sexy account.”

That was the first account that Hanon did freelance work for.

Things were going well… but not well enough.

“I wanted to make a difference, not just make a living, Jim told me he had that same feeling,” said McKendry. “What started out as a lunch discussion turned into a talk about starting our own advertisement agency.”

“We wanted to be a voice for the non-profit world, for charity, for faith based organizations, and for more human kindness in the way that we were a voice for McDonalds and Taco Bell,” McKendry said.

It was during further deliberation that they found out a key element of their upcoming business: Non-profits were actually not in competition with each other. They were in competition with people’s time and discretionary money.

Armed with this intuitive thinking, they created their company.

“We set out with Hanon McKendry to be the counter balance to help people spend less on Taco Bell and McDonalds and more on non-profits. We had no idea nonprofits would agree with us on that.”

Success grew steadily after that, they tested out their business idea with some nonprofits and their popularity grew. One nonprofit, Mel Trotter Industries, went from $400,000 to $14 million in advertising budget.

Today, McKendry and Hanon work with over 215 nonprofits.

The company is structured to deliver a great product for less than a Chicago agency, according to McKendry. Acting as the counterbalance between non- and for profit organizations, they work to represent businesses like a consumer brand in terms of creativity and excellence.

That’s where Do More Good came from.

“I won an award in 1999 from the American Advertising Association for being the best guy in America doing nonprofit work,” McKendry told us. “Now I speak on nonprofit branding and marketing. They say all you need is a platform that is very sticky. All these nonprofits are doing good but if they invested into their brands and marketed themselves really well and were strategizing like a for profit business, they could afford to Do More Good.”

So the pair did a bit of rebranding themselves and changed the name of their uber successful ad agency to Do More Good.

Their job is to help these nonprofits understand that marketing and advertising is the way of the world these days and is the leverage to actually do more good. Could you do more good with $400,000 or more with $14 million? McKendry believe the answer is quite obvious.

Success was rapid and obvious for Do More Good.

The company grew from 20 employees to 60 very quickly and became one of the top three places in the country doing nonprofit work.

“As big as the advertising and marketing word is, there are virtually no brands in the branding business for nonprofits,” McKendry said. “I could ask 100 people who the biggest agency in the world is and they couldn’t tell me. We are notorious as an industry not to brand ourselves. We branded ourselves and stand for something real, which is Do More Good.”

Do More Good encourages their clients to use this way of thinking as a guideline. They also implement it within their own business.

“Today, people want you to be a really good company in addition to being successful,” McKendry said. “It’s not just about the price. Millennials especially want to support companies they feel good about. So companies have to stand for something that makes people feel good.”

“However, this does not mean that people only want to support philanthropies. For example, Costco is known for treating their employees with respect, Starbucks is also known for this. People want to support companies that are good, that have a purpose.”

Though McKendry and Do More Good have seen great success, as with many entrepreneurs and visionaries, there were roadblocks along the way.

“I remember we were about four months into it and I didn’t think we were going to make it,” he said. “We were in debt and couldn’t take on any more. We thought we had made a mistake and that the market wasn’t ready.”

Just days before they were about to close shop, they landed a major client.

“You can call it luck. I’m not a big believer in that,” McKendry said. “We created our own luck and that’s what kept us going.”

McKendry shared a moment he had after visiting The University of Colorado:

“This one time I went to talk about cause marketing to students. I started showing my work and saw a lot of kids leave, so I stopped showing my work. I called out to a kid before he left and asked him why he was leaving. He told me because the work I was showing was crap. I asked him if he was leaving because of the work or the issue [the nonprofit].

He said the work was good but it’s for an issue that I disagree with. I told him that he needed to sit and learn from me because if you leave, then this issue wins. I want your work to be better than mine. You can leave and let me win with my great work or you can learn and create something better an beat me on this issue.”

“I love my work, but I want a public discourse. I want the right issues to win. I can’t be the voice for all issues. I’m open to someone having a better point of view and doing better work than me. Let the public decide.”

This is an important aspect in and out of the professional world for McKendry and Hanon. Growing up as religious Christians, this value of doing good for the community to the best of your abilities is a very important topic.

“It’s been part of our DNA,” McKendry says. “I grew up with deaf parents, I learned that people need a voice. I always saw a need out there. Jim grew up in a poor family and the church saved him. We’ve both been on the receiving side of help.”

In the near future, Do More Good will work with more for profits as a means to double their offices in new markets nationally. It’s a way for them to Do More Good.

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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

www.JewelsByNissa.com, her twitter @JewelsbyNissa, email her at NissaDomingo@gmail.com or call her at 702-644-5200.

 

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we2o Thinking Outside the Box of Philanthropy

Think of the word “philanthropy.”

What springs to mind? Perhaps names like Bill and Melinda Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Bono, Michael Bloomberg? All millionaires if not billionaires who generously give their hard-earned cash to charities or start their own foundations focussing on causes close to their hearts.

Philanthropy can seem like an exclusive “big boys and girls” club doing a lot of good with a lot of money. Not many of us, including this writer, would count themselves among such distinguished company. Sure, we may donate to a friend’s cousin’s sick baby appeal, or soak ourselves with a bucket full of icy water for a Facebook challenge, but to call it philanthropy… would be a stretch.

Michael Vo, CEO of San Jose-based we2o, wants to change all that and allow us mere mortals to join that elusive club whilst making it easy to donate.

“High-tech philanthropic minds” changing the landscape of philanthropy.

With his innovative online platform for individual donors and charities, Vo and his team of “high-tech philanthropic minds” have grand plans of changing the landscape of philanthropy.

They not only want to make donating easier for the individual, but also to improve the online landscape for charities, bringing it on par with rapid improvements in technology. In a nutshell, making philanthropy more accessible and easier for everyone. Armed with experience as Director of Engineering at Tesla, he’s the reason why we2o is hyper-focused on utilizing technology and data to help progress the nonprofit space.

we2o was born from an “Aha Moment” Michael Vo had a little while back. He wanted to donate his vacation time to charity, yet found no suitable platform to do so. After some research, he found that billions of dollars worth of accrued vacation time (which many companies now convert into money) go unused. What if even a small percentage of this cash could be converted into donations…?

His second “Aha Moment” came off the back of the first one. As he was looking at charitable platforms, he found the user experience to be poor and lagging behind current technology. Surely people didn’t need to fill yet another form just to be able to give. They needed a place where giving was made easy, without all the hassle.

“We help bring that tech to the game and improve the user experience. The result is more engagement and charitable donations”, says Vo.

“We help bring that tech to the game and improve the user experience.”

And how do they manage this?

Well, for starters, by allowing the data to do the talking. By showing users where charities need to make the biggest impact they hope to further enable donors to have a good experience.

“We go to the charities and ask them what they need. The answer we get is ‘We don’t know’. Without data, charities cannot maximize their impact. They are stuck in the stone age. There is no mechanism to improve their impact on the world. What happened to changing the status quo? Of all the organizations in the world, you’d expect that charities would help that cause. The industry is ‘old school’. (…) There’s no sense of urgency, of innovation.”

Vo continues, “Data science and analytics are not just a way to get a leg up anymore, they’re an absolute everyday necessity. Just to keep up in the for-profit space, nonprofits need to up the game, improve technology, and leverage this progress to maximize impact.” This is just one example where the nonprofit space is falling behind and where we2o’s mission is fostering big change.

Part of the problem, according to Vo, is that charities cannot compete with tech companies salary-wise, and therefore a certain stagnation sets in in regards to technological advancements.

But doesn’t that fact make the we2o platform a hard sell? Vo doesn’t seem to think so. “We’ve had a great response (…) The data and the value prop speak for themselves. Our sweet spot is smaller to medium sized (companies) who think innovatively. They are more flexible and want new ways to reach donations and supporters”.

Apart from ease of use, there are further advantages of people using the we2o platform, as explained by the company’s Marketing Director, Will Tang.

According to Tang, converting unpaid vacation leave into donations can help with a company’s accounting, as it reduces the liability of vacation time for financial forecasting. As well as this, the money is tax deductible “and your tax liability is often net positive”.

Changing the way people think. That’s their challenge.

“This is a new concept. Companies like the idea, but are usually risk-averse and want more information or traction. Once we get more companies on board and more employees donating, then our momentum will carry us far.”

According to Tang, this kind of initiative can also have a positive impact on the employer/employee relationship. “The organization gets immediate insight into the core values of their (employees’) beliefs and what they like to donate to. It gives the company good insight to what makes employees happy. It’s also visibility for the company. They can align the work culture and the corporate values with their employees.”

As for charities, the analytics provided by we2o allow them to better shape their messages and appeals while creating powerful messages. “They want continual engagement, not just a one and done. That’s what our platform allows.”

“The UN isn’t thinking about this. Bill Gates isn’t thinking about this. We are.”

Located in Silicon Valley, the heart of tech and innovation, we2o have ambitious yet realistic growth expectations. Tang admits that you don’t become big overnight and that investors and partners usually let a good idea take its natural course of growth. But he’s confident in the company’s ability to expand, partly due to the ease of use of their platform: “We are a for-profit (company) and charge a startup fee to integrate our platform into the company and then take a percentage. The platform right now is integrating with their payroll system, our platform will talk to them. When employees want to donate, it sends a report to these systems and it’s very little work for Human Resources. it’s a seamless process.”

And the future sure seems bright for the company. With over $500K raised in funding, we2o is now shifting gears and going into more tech development as well as selling and marketing to grow their exposure.

On a mission to make the world a better place, better than anyone else.

Tang is confident in the future of philanthropy, in general, as well as that of we2o. He argues enthusiastically that the majority of Millennials (people reaching young adulthood around the year 2000) will choose an employer according to how much good they contribute to the world. “Millennials care about giving back”.

As for the long term, the company wishes to establish itself as the Amazon or Facebook of philanthropy. He hopes that when people think “donate” they’ll think “we2o”, just as when they think “buying a book” Amazon springs to mind.

Pushing the philanthropic adventure even further, we2o are developing an “Altruism Index” which would demonstrate in clear data where the biggest needs in aid are at any given moment, thus helping people choose how and where to help. By providing social engagement through testimonials, pictures and reviews, they wish to completely revolutionize the experience of giving.

“The UN isn’t thinking about this. Bill Gates isn’t thinking about this. We are. We are upping the game of philanthropy and changing the charitable donation industry”.

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Chef Sam Marvin: Good Life, Good Slaughter, Good Everything

The American steakhouse has long operated with a business model that reflects the simplicity of its name: offering dinners with a modest, repetitive selection of beef and not much else. Restaurants have historically let their profits come from the long-accepted expenses of their menus rather than variety or originality. It would seem as if there is no room for growth for such an established sector of American cuisine. Sam Marvin, aka Chef Sam, owner of Echo & Rig in Las Vegas, disagrees.

Trained by world-renowned chefs, equipped with an education from the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts School in Paris, France, and sporting an intimidating work history at some of the world’s best 3-star Michelin restaurants, Chef Sam is not satisfied with the state of the steakhouse.

“They can’t change their concept,” Sam tells us, speaking above the echoes of his buzzing, two year-old restaurant, referencing the group of famed steakhouses that includes Morton’s, Ruth Chris, Luger’s, Mastro’s and a slew of others. “They’re stuck at ribeyes, New Yorks, porterhouses, and filets. And as [beef market] prices go up they have to keep increasing their price, so now the steaks are $60, $70, $80.” How does he respond? Counter-intuitive though it may seem, with affordability.

You cannot buy a better hanger steak than the hanger steak I’m selling for $26. It’s impossible.

That’s no small claim, but for a 9 oz. piece of USDA Natural Prime beef (ranked among the top 3% of all USDA-graded beef in the country), Chef Sam’s confidence has a stronger backing than most. The hanger steak, once known as the “butcher steak” as it would go home with butchers and their families rather than getting sold, is only one of the extensive list of beef varieties on the menu at Echo & Rig, which vastly exceeds the group of mainstays that anchor most steakhouses. Sam takes pride in offering culottes, spencer’s, ribeye caps, tri-tips, flat irons, skirts, outside skirts, bavettes and more. Having an in-house butcher in the restaurant easily allows these plentiful options, not to mention providing meat from quality sources to the community.

“[Most steakhouses] are slaughtering all these great animals, but these people want only what they think is the good part. And because we’re a butcher shop and we’re offering you great steaks, there are some you’ve never even heard of!”

Sam’s history as a restauranteur is defined by his craving for variety and the individuality of his menus. When he opened his first restaurant in Los Angeles at 28, he took the same approach. At the time, the market was flooded with salmon-heavy menus. Chef Sam, knowing of at least 300 varieties of fish worth serving, asked himself: “why are these idiots all serving salmon?”

Not only was his menu constantly evolving, but Sam knew no other way to run the restaurant then to play exclusively by his own rules.
In Chef Sam’s own words: “it was my restaurant and I could do whatever I wanted.” This included auctioning limited menu items to eagerly bidding tables, moving tables to the center of the dining room so his staff could ride their skateboards as they worked, using cold smoke machines so diners appeared to be floating on a cloud, and hiring mariachis to provide a soundtrack.

Why are these idiots all serving salmon?

“I just killed it,” Sam fondly recalls of his critical reception. “I won every award possible, Chef of the Year, this and that.” Not bad for a restaurant started entirely on credit cards and money borrowed from his brother.

While perhaps not as heavy on showmanship, Echo & Rig continues Chef Sam’s tradition of breaking the mold. In addition to his ever-growing menu, he is fervently dedicated to using only the best beef he can find. A primary source for the beef is Double R ranch in Wyoming, which Sam excitedly describes as “Western-style beef at its best.” It also happens to have the greenest footprint of any ranch in the US.
“It’s all organic, fed correctly, no hormones, no anything,” he tells us. “They have their own wells that bring the water, they have their own slaughterhouse, they grow their own feed. Everything about their footprint is amazing and the way [the cows] are raised and bred and treated is off the charts. It comes from there because I like supporting that farm and the quality of the cattle is amazing.”

Sam takes pride in serving responsibly raised food because he’s aware of the difference in quality it makes. He describes it in a slogan-worthy mantra: “Good life, good slaughter, good everything.” Not only do his menu items come from his own butchery in the restaurant, but his dedication to the purity of his product is so strong that he places mirrors along the ceiling so you can see the kitchen from the dining room.
“It’s all about transparency in the restaurant business, 100%. If you don’t have that then it’s a little scary, right? You don’t know what people what people are using. And there’s some scary stuff in this industry that goes on. Especially in the production of food. I don’t let my family eat chicken outside of our house unless I know where it’s coming from.”

What makes the experience of Sam’s restaurant especially remarkable is his value for the guest. This comes naturally to someone whose been cooking for his family since he was six years old. He wants to share this friendly and open style of eating with diners from all walks of life. “I cook the same way I would for $150 a person as I would for my son at home,” he says.

With Echo and Rig opening new locations soon, Chef Sam will have plenty of opportunities to keep sharing.

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pHin.co CEO Justin Miller: Tech-Driven Pool Maintenance

Photo credit: Internet Marketing Association (IMA)

pHin.co is the first product of ConnectedYard, with a simple goal: to make pool maintenance simple and easy via technology; an ingenious way of keeping the hassle out of pool maintenance.

Author Laurence J. Peter once said, “The best intelligence test is what we do with our leisure time.” For ConnectedYard CEO and co-founder Justin Miller, his business was created out of a leisure time activity. “Before starting our company, I was running an innovation center for Comcast. One day, I was chatting with my good friend Mark, about what he was going to do next in life. We just happened to be sitting by the pool at the time and began starting to talk about the hassles of maintaining a pool,” Miller explained.

Miller’s background created a perfect fit for his current position. “I have a product and user experience background. I was at Apple, eBay, and eventually I joined Plaxo, the online address book, which was acquired by Comcast,” Justin continued. “I converted Plaxo into the Comcast Innovation Center. We started taking on single-digit million dollar products and eventually took on product worth upwards of $750 million, as part of the transition from Plaxo to the new Comcast Innovation Center. We were operating at start-up speed and building new things to try out.”

The story of any great company begins with a complex idea and makes it simple. Maintaining water-quality control is a difficult task for homeowners all over the world. In June of 2014, Justin Miller, along with co-founder Mark Janes, took this complex idea and combined it with the simple solution of utilizing technological advances to make pool maintenance simple. And so, pHin.co was born.

“We are selling more than a product, it’s an experience,” explains Miller. “The genius is taking the elements that make maintaining a pool difficult, and making them simple – Monitor, Notify, Drop. For example instead of manually testing your water every week, a sensor does it for you;  instead of having to remember to go out to your pool regularly, pHin notifies you if you need to add any chemicals; and instead of pouring chlorine and acid into measuring cups (and splattering them on your clothes), we send you color coded, water soluble, pods, all you have to do is drop them in.  And for those situations when you want professional help, we offer a network of pool service technicians. It’s like Uber for your pool.”

We offer a network of pool service technicians. It’s like Uber for your pool.

There seems to be two camps of pool owners according to Miller. “25% of people just pay for someone else to take care of their pool.  The super wealthy (a subset of that 25%) often don’t care about the expense, they just pay and don’t want the hassle.  The other 75% take care of the pool themselves, and most of them just want it to be easy. pHin makes taking care of your pool or hot tub easy and convenient, but also gives customers the confidence that their pool is safe.”

Using smart technology, pHin uses WiFi-enabled sensors along with pre-measured chemicals to take the inconvenience out of pool maintenance, allowing the owner to let their mobile app do most of the difficult work. “Our technology uses lab grade sensors,” Miller explains. “We didn’t want to just create a better product though, we wanted to create a better experience for our customers who take care of a pool or hot tub.

ConnectedYard plans to combine smart technology with the difficult task of maintaining most things in one’s backyard, starting with pHin.co. In recognition of their innovation, they received the 2015 Internet Marketing Association (IMA) “Innovator of the Year” award. We can expect a long line of consistent and reliable products created by co-founders Justin Miller and Mark Janes of ConnectedYard.

Miller has a resume riddled with success and triumph. The guidance Miller would give anyone starting in the business world is simple, yet brilliant. “My advice would be for someone to surround themselves with great people. Not just employees to do the job and go home. You want true entrepreneurs, who can be innovative and take ownership in what they are doing and make the company better.”

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Rufus and Jenny Triplett Surviving Entrepreneurship

It has been said that a good marriage is not just about marrying the right person, it is about being the right person. For entrepreneurs and authors Rufus and Jenny Triplett, this absolutely holds true. Having been married for over 25 years they have mastered the art of taking what others would consider a difficult situation and turning it into a learning experience with the goal to help others. “We were honored asEbony Magazine’s Couple of the Year in 2012, which brought our marriage to light in this country that has a high number of divorces,” explained Jenny. “People always look at us and wonder how we did it. So we have a book out called Surviving Marriage in the 21st Century and we put that out in 2013, since then it has been translated into three other languages.” This book alone would go on to sell about 10,000 copies and would stay on the best-sellers list for its entire year.

The Tripletts success would only grow from here as they went on a successful 16-city speaking tour across the country trying to help couples in need of guidance. This lead to a discovery that would in turn help many others than originally anticipated. “This was the first book in the series, the second being Surviving Parenting in the 21st Century. We found that when we traveled the country speaking about the first book there were way more single people with kids showing up then married people,” said Jenny.

Writing books on marriage and business

Like any successful couple, Jenny and Rufus Triplett work together with a common goal in mind. “We decided to write a book to tell about our relationship and our businesses. Even if we did a keynote speak at a prison, most of the questions related back to our marriage and our businesses,” explained Rufus. Jenny continued, “There’s only two of us, our book has a wealth of knowledge from our own experiences to help those in need.”

The Tripletts do not operate with a one track mind as they are diversified in their endeavors, “We have a multi-media company called Dawah International, and we publish a magazine called Prison World. This magazine is for inmates and their families and we have been doing this for about eight years now in order to educate people from beyond the walls, in order to educate people about the prison system, criminal justice, prison reentry and all kinds of different things.” Jenny used her own experience as having been an inmate after experiencing some legal troubles. The Tripletts took what would have shaken others to their very core and built on this, to only make their marriage stronger.

Along with authoring multiple books and publishing a magazine, Jenny and Rufus have branched out in more ways. “We also have a weekly radio show called Prison Wall Radio Hour, we also bring awareness by speaking on the causes of various social issues. We have been doing this for about six years.” Jenny continued, “We have our blog as well and we are currently working on Prison World TV. We would like this web TV to be distributed within the prison system in order for us to do the same thing that we are doing on the outside and bringing it to the inside.”

Embracing their Muslim religion 

Being a successful couple both personally and professionally, the Tripletts hold onto their faith as devout Muslims. “This is a huge obstacle in this country, we are very grateful for the people that do support us. We know there’s a lot of negativity that surrounds Muslims,” explained Jenny. Rufus continued, “we have overcome this by being real. There are those out there that try and scale back their religion in fear of what might be said. I am who I am.”

Successful, selfless, faithful, devout are some of the many adjectives that can be used to describe Jenny and Rufus Triplett. For this power couple, this is merely the beginning of their story. “By 2016 we hope to have an entrepreneur book out our experiences as authors and business owners that have made a million dollars and overcoming the challenges that come with this,” explained Jenny. There will be much anticipation behind this book as they have built a following both online and on social media circles. For more information on Jenny and Rufus, please visit, www.survivingmarriagetips.com

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Nanxi Liu Looks to Make Enplug a Billion Dollar Company

“I once heard that you are the average of the five people you hang around the most. It made me very happy of the friends I have.” – Nanxi Liu

As a child, Nanxi Liu (now cofounder and CEO at Enplug), was very dedicated to playing the piano. She didn’t have a professional coach or even the best piano when compared to some of her friends, but Liu was always able to get into the finals. Her mother was the motivation behind her success. Liu remembers being told, “You’re not any less talented than the other piano players. You could have won. The reason you didn’t was because of the amount of time you put into practicing.”

That childhood advice stuck with Liu and she’s been practicing that advice in her entrepreneurial pursuits. She learned that she could control the outcomes of certain things if she put in the time to make them happen; that she could control her own luck. And that’s exactly what she’s doing.

“I knew what to say, what not to say and who to talk to. That’s why it’s so good to start companies as soon as possible. People are also much more forgiving when you are young. I never revealed my age to investors until they gave me money.”

Liu, aged 25, runs Enplug, a company she cofounded that creates software to transform all public displays into intelligent displays. The goal being to get every public display running on their software and then networking them all together to enhance the experience for users.

The backing behind Liu’s accelerated success has been present in every stage of her life. Liu’s parents were immigrants; professors in China. They came to the U.S. and worked as waiters until they received successful career options.

“My parents encouraged me to do whatever I wanted,” Liu said. “My friends had famous piano coaches and it seemed like I was at a disadvantage, but I always got into the top 3, so I feel that the underdog stands a chance.” Fast forward to college and Liu figured out that by winning scholarships through piano competitions and beauty pageants, she was able to pay her way through UC Berkeley.

During her senior year, Liu meets “a cute guy at a dive bar” and ends up cofounding a successful startup that develops polymers to enable vaccines to survive without refrigeration. They named their new venture Nanoly. Liu stayed up night after night applying for every grant she could find. By the time she was finished, sources estimate that she had raised more than $3 million. “We got our work published in a bio trade journal and that was reviewed by other scientists,” Liu says. “It soon turned into a company and I became the CEO.”

She went on to win the 2014 Young Innovators Award sponsored by Microsoft and Nokia, during which time, she also joined the youth advisory board of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation – all before the age of 25.

With all that Liu accomplished during her time at college, her experience level was far beyond the normal amount for a college senior. Her ambition and strive for success are what Liu truly makes a part of her entrepreneurial endeavors that pull her to the top.

“I always just did ten percent more than everyone else and I stood out,” Liu said. “I helped me prepare for the rigor of leadership roles.”

The fast-paced startup lifestyle Liu upholds is also very real when choosing partners or cofounders for her projects. “All major decisions about cofounders I have made within 30 minutes of talking to them,” she says. “There is a mutual admiration for each other. It means we are respected and on the same page. A lot of times, people question whether a person is good enough. There has to be a mutual respect and that’s rare to find. Once you see an opportunity you have to grasp it. If you let it go, then you’ll lose that momentum.”

Liu packed her books and piano, and took her seemingly innate entrepreneurial skills to work in Los Angeles where she’s currently building a team of talented people and investors for Enplug. “My goal is to build a company worth a billion dollars by the time I am 30,” she says. “It was very difficult to do in biotechnology with Nanoly, so I wanted to give it a go with a software company.”

The Enplug startup team she put together was a diverse group with a lot of experience, passion and ambition. For the first several months, all five co-founders (four guys and Liu) shared a one bedroom, one bath apartment, but not because they had to. In fact, one of Liu’s roommates drove an Aston Martin at the time.

“I believe you have the most growth when you’re uncomfortable, when you’re in scrap mode,” Liu said. “If there is one way to get to know your cofounders, it’s for all five of you to live together in a tiny apartment.”

Enplug has become the premier software for businesses to use to show interactive content like social media on digital display. As for Nanxi Liu, she is focused on achieving the milestones she has set for herself and plans to follow any and every opportunity gets her closer to her billion dollar company.

“When you’re worth a billion dollars, it means that a lot of people are using your product and a lot of people care about what you’ve built. That’s why a billion dollars is cool.”

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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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