The Small Business Journal Business Knowledge, Opportunity and Access Mon, 12 Jun 2017 10:27:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Turning Opportunity Into Millions of Dollars with Amazon Mon, 12 Jun 2017 10:27:59 +0000 Becoming an entrepreneur is about capitalizing on opportunity. After being in the tech world for over 20 years I had worked with many large and small tech companies. With the mobile space continuing to grow, my partner and I realized that we had an opportunity to create our own brand. Quality and reliability were the underlying components that we focused on to achieve our goal and with that in mind, we set out to create Tech Armor. Our motto “You Play, We Protect” sets our standard to our consumers to assure them that they can enjoy what they’re doing without worrying about their phone breaking at any time.
In the early stages, we did everything on our own. From preparing orders for shipping each day and carrying them to the post office ourselves. Like many start-ups, it wasn’t the best way to maximize our time but with limited resources it was the best way to make sure our customers received their orders quickly. After orders began to pick up significantly, we knew we had to find a solution that could help us continue to grow and that’s when we connected with Amazon’s FBA program. The shift was seamless and they took all the heavy lifting off our shoulders. All we needed to do was focus our time and energy to continue to innovate and grow our business. With logistics, returns and customer service being handled by Amazon’s team, the sky has truly been our only limit. Since joining the FBA program we’ve expanded into 9 different countries, recently launching in Mexico, Japan, Germany, France Italy, Spain, the UK and Canada. Since starting in 2012 we’ve sold over 10 million units. We never imagined being able to grow this large at such a quick rate and without the resources, connections and support from Amazon that would not have been possible.

The superiority of the FBA program however, is not in logistics alone. In today’s social media market brands need a tremendous amount of energy and resources to maintain visibility and constantly acquire new customers. With the FBA program, Amazon’s growth is funneled to us directly.

This past Thanksgiving was our fourth holiday season being a part of the FBA program. One of the amazing things about Amazon is that they can completely create the stage. While everyone packs in their deals for Thanksgiving and black Friday, Amazon jumped the gun and had an entire black Friday month! We had no returns to worry about because it was all handled seamlessly by the fulfillment centers. Although we’ve grown tremendously, our team is always available for our customers. In fact, our staff personally handles over 500 emails a day, resolving any technical support issues that arise. The connection we have with our customers is the most important key to our success. We’ve always made it our priority to make sure those relationships never slip away.

What’s interesting about our journey with Tech Armor is that as technology continues to advance our journey continues to evolve. Every time Apple comes out with a new phone we immediately upgrade our products to fit their model. Innovation is the key ingredient in any venture and the fact that our product revolves around the ever-changing mobile space brings a unique sense of freshness to our brand. At the same time, the underpinnings of our success is the fact that Tech Armor is built with the highest quality yet always at a great price. In return we’ve received incredible loyalty from our customers which is the most important component of any brand’s long term success. One of the best investments that we’ve made as a company is the time and focus on user experience. The only way to really know what your consumers are looking for is to hear it directly from them. They may not always reach out to tell you, but we’ve made it our business to ask for feedback and always respond to any comments or requests. Our philosophy was to create a product that we would want to buy from ourselves and that has been our guiding principle which has helped us maintain our quality standard.


In many cases people tend to underestimate just how hard it is to become an entrepreneur and how big the investment of time and energy that you’ll need in order to make it succeed. Looking back at our journey I still remember the first day we launched and we only sold two units. The second day we doubled our sales by selling four only to slide back to selling only two the next day. Fast forward a couple months and we had over $3 million in sales. Success is contingent on many variables that are truly outside of your control, but passion is something that you have complete authority on and it’s the most important element needed for success. At Tech Armor, we’re just as passionate today as we were when we first started the company and we’re excited to see what the future brings. It’s been a terrific journey and our partnership with Amazon has allowed us to turn our dreams into an incredible reality.

Joes Tech Armor HeadshotJoe Jaconi is the Co-Founder and General Manager at Tech Armor  is a leading manufacturer of mobile device accessories including Tech Armor Certified Cables, Wall and Car Chargers, Ballistic Glass Screen Protectors and the new Relax Series of next generation iPhone cases. Tech Armor products are built around the need to protect and connect mobile devices at an affordable price. Based in Redondo Beach, CA and founded in 2012 as a collaboration between two close friends, Tech Armor was conceived as an alternative to the overpriced mobile device accessories available from retail brands today. Engaging directly with its customers, Tech Armor provides higher-quality, better-performing accessories at a fraction of Big Retail prices, all backed by an industry leading Lifetime Product Replacement Warranty.

Bullets of Freedom and the Power of A Mission Thu, 08 Jun 2017 10:25:22 +0000 Bottle Breacher is a business on a mission: a mission to give back to veterans. Former Navy SEAL Eli Crane co-founded Bottle Breacher with his wife Jen in 2012 while he was still on active military duty. Giving back to non-profits, military, and veterans is very important to bottle breacher as a business, which is why the company, which is veteran owned and operated, operates with a 25% veteran hire rate and its staple product — a hand crafted 50 caliber bottle opener — is made by military veterans in the USA. I spoke with Eli just two-and-a-half years after Bottle Breacher scored a deal with Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary in season six of Shark Tank. He shares what it’s like to run a business after the initial Shark Tank success, how mission can and should drive everything an entrepreneur does and also his wildly successful Instagram strategy:

Jay:  So many people watch Shark Tank and think, if I could do that, it would be the be all end all. So, tell me a little bit about what it’s like to have Mark Cuban on your team, Kevin O’Leary on your team and to tap into the tremendous platforms that both of those great guys offer yet still keep up the grind of running your company.

Eli: A lot of people don’t realize this, I know I really didn’t think about it too much, but Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary both have really huge companies that they run themselves and then they have 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, in Mark Cuban’s case, Shark Tank companies and these guys are both family men as well, so you have to be realistic about how many hours these guys have in a day to help you out. Not only do they not have the time to help you out, but you have to be honest, they’re investing in a bunch of different companies and they want to see who is going to work for them. They want their money to work for them, just like every other investor out there. So it’s not like Mark and Kevin are coming down here and helping us strategize and helping us make products at all. We have to come in here every single day and work like someone is trying to take it away from us to continue to make this place grow. We’re happy to do that and we feel very blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity to do that, so we’re gonna keep doing it every single day.
Jay: When you go to bed at night are you satisfied with where the company’s at?

Eli: Personally, I’m never really satisfied with where we’re at. I think there are so many areas that  we are underperforming in that we could be doing a better job in. It’s a constant game to improve every single department. Try and really work with and train your staff and team members to be more productive, be more efficient, just pitch in and help out more.

Jay: I’ve read a lot about the great things that you guys do at Bottle Breacher. And I know that you’ve said a lot about the mission that you guys are on aside from just running the business. Can you tell me about what that mission at Bottle Breacher is about and how important is it for other businesses to really intertwine business and mission?

Eli: I obviously feel that having a mission is so important. It’s so important to have a mission because I personally feel like if you’re not using your skills and talents to bless other people than you’re just plain wrong. You really don’t start living life, in my opinion, until you start blessing other people and trying to take care of other people. Every entrepreneur knows how hard it is. They know that their goals are to provide for their company, keep the lights on, grow, take care of their team members. Sometimes it’s so difficult. And sometimes you long to walk away from it, turn out the lights, and just go back to a 9-5. And sometimes having a mission really gives you that extra motivation: “Hey, if I don’t go to work today, and if I don’t grind and if I don’t keep working at this, not only am I not going to be able to provide for the people that count on me and depend on me, but I’m not going to be able to bless these other people.“ And so I think giving yourself one more reason, one more motivation, to succeed today is very important.

Jay: Tell me more about what that Bottle Breacher mission is about. What are consumers supporting beyond just the company?

Eli: At Bottle Breacher our main focus is to raise awareness about veteran causes and charities. I noticed as I was getting out of the military how hard it is to make a transition from the military to the private sector so we want to make sure that we’re coming alongside veteran organizations that are either helping active duty veterans or that are helping veterans in general.

Jay: Let me shift to marketing. Social media can be such a great tool. I’ve seen your social platforms and they blow up, what is the message that really resonates with your audience and gets them engaged?

Eli:  For me, my strategy on Instagram is to give people the raw, uncut, unedited non-photoshopped version of what’s going on here. That’s what I like to see when I follow other people, when I watch other companies. I don’t like all the photoshopped stuff. I want to see behind the scenes. We want to show people the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Eli & JenEli & Jen Crane are the owners of Bottle Breacher and have been married over 10 years. Eli is a former Navy SEAL turned entrepreneur and Jen has had a passion for business ever since graduating from the University of Arizona Eller College of Management in 2005. Bottle Breacher began in a 1 car garage while Eli was Active Duty and aired on Shark Tank a year and half later. They love to hire vets and reinvest in those that have served. Open your next cold one in style!

Being The CEO of Your Company and Having Kevin O’Leary on Your Team Thu, 25 May 2017 14:50:53 +0000 Surprise Ride designs activity kits and toys aimed at keeping elementary school aged kids entertained away from screens. The company was founded in 2013 by sisters Donna and Rosy Khalife. The women wanted to find a way to give moms a break but also keep kids away from screen time. Their idea was inspired by the DIY activities their dad would make for them as kids. Surprise Ride was featured on Season 5 Episode 9 of Shark Tank where the Khalife sisters turned down offers from the Sharks but later accepted a surprise offer from Kevin O’Leary on an episode of Beyond The Tank. I recently caught up with Donna Khalife, the Co-Founder and CEO of Surprise Ride. She talked to me about what her day-to-day currently looks like at the company, how to deal with burnout, and her work-crush on Sheryl Sandberg, among other things.

Jay: So what’s it like at your position now with Surprise Ride what is it like on a daily basis for you?

Donna: Right now it’s really about reaching more people and reaching more families.  I spend a lot of my time on growth, dreaming up partnerships that could be mutually beneficial and also thinking about what type of hires we need to make to be able to support our growth.
Jay: What role does Kevin O’Leary play at Surprise Ride? Is he pretty hands-off as an investor or does he play a more active advisor role?

Donna: There are two things we love about having Kevin on our team. First, he is a brilliant entrepreneur. It’s wonderful — pun intended — to work with an investor who is not just financially minded but also has experience with operations. I was on a call with him yesterday and I had a very real operational question and I knew that there would be no one that could answer it better than Kevin. Because he’s been there and he can speak from his personal experience. The second thing is, he is just a good person. He really embodies the values of Shark Tank, encouraging and empowering people to be entrepreneurs, to create jobs, to create products that consumers can love and enjoy.

Jay:  There’s a tremendous value that investors like Kevin bring, as you mentioned, but there’s so much work that you guys do that he trusts you to execute. So, how do you find that balance between what’s on your shoulders and what you can ask of him?

Donna: It’s a balance for sure, but the bulk of it is on our shoulders, it’s really not half-and-half. It’s more like  95-to-5 or 98-to-2. Having mentors like Mr. Wonderful is really all about helping you fill in the gaps and get guidance more than anything but you have to ask the right questions for it to be fruitful. That relationship can not carry you: you really have to carry yourself.

Jay: What’s been the happiest or most awesome piece of feedback that you’ve ever gotten from your customers?

Donna: One thing that really stuck with me was a question from a little girl named Sophie. she asked  us, “from the thousands of questions that you could be covering in your Surprise Ride kits, how do you choose the themes?” This was an amazing question because adults often ask us things like, “don’t you think you’ll run out of topics to cover? Is this sustainable?” Children really see the world in this very curious way and they’re trying to absorb as much learning as possible. And they’ve got that thirst for learning. Sophie’s question reminded me why we do what we do: to feed children’s curiosities, to get them off of screens and get them fascinated with the real world.

Jay:  If you got stuck in a window seat on a three-hour flight and you could choose anyone in the world to sit next to and pick their brain who would that person be and what would you ask them?

Donna: If I could go back in time I’d probably pick Albert Einstein. Learning to see the world with that childlike wonder is something that I think more and more adults need to do and that’s one of the things that we try to foster through our activity kits for kids,  just nurturing that curiosity. I think that’s something that Albert Einstein really embodied. Today, if I had the honor to sit next to someone, I would probably pick Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook. She’s an amazing human being and woman in the workplace, (where are all my #LeanIn ladies?).  There’s so much I could learn just chatting with her both on a professional and a personal level.

Jay: What advice can you offer to budding entrepreneurs?

Donna: Don’t forget to have fun! I wish I had more fun when we first started the company. When we first came up with the concept I had a blast but once we launched it things just got stressful. As the owner of a business it’s easy find yourself lost in the weeds worrying about every detail can be very stressful and really keep you up at night, which is an easy way to burn out and I think I got close to that at one point and when you get close to burnout it really doesn’t serve anyone, it doesn’t serve your company it doesn’t serve your customers, your employees or yourself. So I think I would just remind anyone who  is launching a company to take breaks, have fun, celebrate the victories don’t feel like this is the end all be all, give it the best shot and see where the journey takes you.

Donna Khalife isDonna the Co-Captain & CEO of Surprise Ride. Donna’s experience has spanned both the business and creative fields. After leaving a career on Wall Street, Donna became fascinated with social enterprises and the collaboration between the business and non-profit worlds. She completed her MBA at Harvard Business School, where she published a case study on Social Entrepreneurship currently taught in classes. Instead of accepting lucrative job offers, Donna vowed to build an organization that would make a positive impact on the world.

Over the years, her career has taken her from the high rises of New York to the theaters of Hollywood. She has witnessed first-hand the immense potential of individuals who exercise both their reasoning skills as well as their imagination. Through Surprise Ride, Donna hopes to help kids play and explore the world creatively, and make the lives of parents a tad easier along the way.

Building A Multi-million Dollar Company Around A Cupcake! Thu, 18 May 2017 15:00:09 +0000 In today’s technology driven world Silicon Valley is viewed by many as the capital of ingenuity. It’s where many of the game changing companies are born, where innovation bubbles and where the future is born. On the other side of the coast is a company bursting with the same energy, creating the same type of game changing products, and they are the phenomenal company Kevin O’Leary invested in on season 4 of Shark Tank- They are Wicked Good Cupcakes. I had the opportunity to speak with Tracey Noonan about how they’ve built a multi-million dollar company all around a cupcake! Take a look and hear what she had to say:

Jay: Kevin O’Leary has spoken so highly of Wicked Good Cupcakes and the great work you’ve done to grow the business. How are things going now?

Tracey: Being part of the Shark Tank family is an incredible experience. Like many entrepreneurs who score a deal with the Sharks, there’s a “tsunami like” burst that takes place that drives sales to an amazing level. That’s when the real work begins. It’s up to us to make sure we continue to deliver to our existing customers as well as connecting with new customers. For a while after our pitch on Shark Tank aired I remember feeling, “ok, millions of people just saw our product, is there anyone left for us to reach out to?” Much to our delight our sales have continued to rise month after month and we wake up every morning knowing that there are so many new people to reach out to and the sky is truly the limit.
Jay: That’s an incredible achievement to see such strong growth, Tracey! What are some of the things you do that has enabled you to continue to see such strong growth?

Tracey: I think the one principle that has really been the bedrock of our brand is that we’re always looking for ways to improve and get better. Everything from better dry goods to better packaging, we know there’s always room for achievement and witnessing the continued growth has motivated us to stick to our core and constantly improve.

Jay: How do customers place an order for Wicked Good Cupcakes? Is it only available online?

Tracey: Most of our orders are placed online. While we do have one brick and mortar store in Boston, we opened that one because there are an amazing 8-10 million tourists a year who come to that area. However, the success of Wicked Good Cupcakes is not because we’re located in a storefront on a busy street. Our success is because our cupcakes are truly wicked good. When we fill an order for a corporate client who is sending them to hundreds of their customers we know they’re going to fall in love with them. We’ve done our best to make sure they are so good that they literally sell themselves. Initially, we thought we were a baked goods company but quickly realized that our niche was more in the gift category and because we’re small we’re able to pivot, change direction and put our focus in that market.

 Jay: What’s so incredible about you guys is that you’ve taken a simple product and created an entire company around a cupcake!

Tracey: So true, Jay. So many people think that to achieve success you’ve got to be the next Facebook, or social media related app and we’ve seen how the real recipe for success is value to your consumers. Not only are we a commodity product, but there’s absolutely nothing proprietary about cupcake! Our success is because we make sure to provide the best customer experience, which includes our ability to give our customers that nostalgic feeling of enjoying cupcakes their mom or grandma used to bake for them. It goes beyond the cupcake itself as well. We’ve put in a tremendous amount of focus into our website to make sure the entire purchasing process is simple and easy. We’ve even set up a call line so we can help older folks who have a hard time ordering online, and the dividends have clearly paid off. We’ve had so many people comment on how pleasurable it was to order with us and that has generated a strong sense of loyalty with our customers.

Jay: The need to innovate is paramount in every industry as air is to life. What are some of the new initiatives you’re working on at Wicked Good Cupcakes?

Tracey: So true, Jay and we take that very seriously at WGC. Just a week ago we launched Wicked Good Cupcakes birthday boxes, giving our customers an entire birthday party in a box. Each package includes candles, blowers and stickers which our customers love! After that we’re going to roll out a baby gift box which will include cupcake jars for mom and dad, and a cute assortment of rattles for the baby. While there are plenty of other brands who offer similar packages, what separates us from the rest of the pack is that we’re constantly listening to our customers and changing our model to fit their needs. For example, we’re going to start a video messaging opportunity where you can go online and order one of our baby packages for a friend. Then you can record a video message for them. As soon as UPS confirms that the package was delivered, the customers gets an email with the video message. Small but meaningful touches go a long way!

Jay: If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice, what would that be?!

Tracey: For me I struggled with the feeling that I had to do it all myself, which I think many entrepreneurs experience. But the truth is that trying to do everything prevents you from focusing on the things that are truly unique to your skills. In order to grow you need to hire other people and put your trust in them that they’ll be able to do just as good a job as you can. The best advice I could have given myself and that I continue to give myself is, in order to grow you need to let go.

WCGK BioWhat started as a way for a mother and daughter to spend quality time together, quickly became a nationwide phenomenon. With very little business experience and very little money, they set out to create the world’s best tasting cupcakes with the goal of being able to ship them to any household in the United States.

Their story of hard work and perseverance serves as inspiration to anyone looking to follow their dreams. You can learn more about their journey below.

Women In Leadership Series: Janet Schijns and Elaine Tan Comeau Thu, 11 May 2017 18:45:51 +0000 The fact that #LadyBoss is a trending hashtag in the year 2017 shows just what kind of inroads women have made in the workforce in the past century. In fact, according to the US Department of Labor, women comprise 47 percent of the total U.S. labor force and even own close to 10 million businesses, accounting for $1.4 trillion in receipts. Yet, for some reason, women across America still face adversity in their pursuit to achieve success either as an entrepreneur or in the corporate world.
Janet Schijns, the Vice President of Verizon Business Markets, along with Canadian entrepreneur Elaine Tan Comeau can speak from first hand experience when it comes to the challenges women face.

“I think there comes a point in every female’s career where they consider dropping out, and where all of their friends and family are pretty supportive of that,” Janet told the Small Business Journal. Janet considered leaving her corporate job to help care for her sick mother, had she done so, she would have joined the 43% of women with children who exit the workforce each year.

Luckily for Janet, her mother — a lifelong business women herself — gave her daughter a pep talk and convinced Janet not to quit her corporate job.

“I can still remember, because my mom grabbed my hand and said, ‘Are you going to drop out?’” Janet recalls. “And she said, ‘Don’t do it, you don’t need to do it…’ Everybody was trying to be supportive of me but, in fact, they were talking me into a bad decision. Mom was absolutely right. I would have regretted it.”

Janet stayed the course with Verizon where she was promoted to her position as Vice President of Business Markets and where she shows off her #LadyBoss skills everyday managing a multi billion dollar operation. Over the years, while she carved out her niche in the tech community as the SMB channels expert (a field where she is outnumbered by men 4-to-1), she has identified three major hurdles that women in business face: confidence, community and experience.

“The first was probably the hardest one which was believing that I could do it,” explains Janet. “And the other things I think are a little harder to fix because they are external. Because there are not a lot of women in tech, I had to create my own community and find my own virtual tribe of women that I could turn to. As far as gaining experience goes — sometimes women have to find unique ways get the experience they need to climb the ladder.”

One solution Janet implemented was to create a facebook group called Tech World’s Half: just for women like her, working in tech and looking for career support. This lack of community and support is also something that Elaine Tan Comeau experienced when she first founded her company Easy Daysies. Elaine initially conceived the concept of her product, a magnetic daily schedule for kids, while she was teaching elementary school.

“One of the greatest hurdles women entrepreneurs face is a lack of community and support,” Elaine told the Small Business Journal. “Thinking that you’re going into this all on your own and the lack of know-how, because I was a school teacher with no business background, and often a woman entrepreneur is coming from a different career background.”

Another hurdle Elaine identifies is a lack of capital. Elaine self-funded the initial capital for her business by tutoring in the evenings and selling products she made right off her kitchen table. Fortunately, Easy Daysies was featured on Season Six of Dragon’s Den (the Canadian version of Shark Tank) where Elaine struck a deal with investors Kevin O’Leary and Jim Treliving.

“Someone said that the definition of an entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and then builds the airplane on the way down,” said Elaine.

Building that airplane got much easier with the help of her new investors. Elaine explains that having Mr. Wonderful as an investor was critical because, “He values your time and he values your money. He’s very much about family and the most important people at the end of the day is your family.”

Another advantage to having O’Leary on her team is the fact that he knows just how effective women entrepreneurs are.

“In all my years of investing, almost all of my returns have come from companies either owned or run by women,” O’Leary told the Small Business Journal. “It’s remarkable how good they are at business. As the saying goes, ‘if you want to get something done give it to a busy mom.’ and it’s true — the numbers don’t lie.”

For all of those aspiring #LadyBosses out there, Janet and Elaine have a few final words of advice:

Janet: “The best piece of advice I can give anybody is, ask for more. Is it more money, is it more time, is it more customers, is it more growth? You have to define your more.

Elaine: “I always tell my class to reach for the stars and don’t be afraid to fall. Because when you reach for the stars, you’re reaching so high that, when you fall, you’re going to land higher than where you started, so don’t be afraid, just reach high.


The Power of A Mission In Business Thu, 11 May 2017 15:09:53 +0000 Sand Cloud is the ultimate spring break/summer celebration company offering Turkish Beach Towels – predominantly online. They are a company created by millennials, for millennials, with a phenomenal purpose to improve marine life. They offer unique, hand-crafted designs that will get you noticed on the beach – but more importantly they’ve found a way to resonate with their target demographic by donating 10% of net profits to protect marine life. I had the opportunity to connect with Brandon at Sand Cloud and learn how their brand is sweeping across social media with the power of a mission. Here’s how it went:

Jay: After watching your episode on Shark Tank, I noticed how impressed the Sharks were with your sales. Just crushing it! What is the key element that you’ve incorporated into Sand Could that resonates so well with your customers?

Brandon: The journey with Sand Cloud has been amazing and what we’ve begun to see is the power of incorporating mission into business. We are laser-focused on saving marine life by doing what we can to contribute to organizations that can really make a difference, and millennials are completely locked in. When they hear about our brand, it’s not so much about the product as it is about the mission. Millennials are socially conscious and they support ideas that they believe in. We see so many companies that are trying to appeal to the millennial generation knocking themselves out trying to be up on the latest trends and let everyone know they are the coolest thing around. The problem is, once that trend dies or someone else “outcools” you, the game is over. For us, it’s all about our mission; that builds loyalty and generates more and more long-term customers.

Jay Amazing point! You and your team have done a tremendous job to recognize that and build your foundations around it. Was the value of a social cause something you guys understood right out of the gate or something that you realized over time?

Brandon: To be honest, Jay, we knew about it from day one, but didn’t realize how important it was until the end of our first year. We began to notice customers passing up on other companies who sold similar products but had no mission other than to be cool. When we noticed how customers were literally flocking to us because of our mission to give back to the environment, we doubled down our efforts and recently got involved in a project where we saved seals off the coast of San Diego, which you can see here

We’ve since launched other apparel products and our customers love it! If we stay true to our mission, our followers will come along.

Jay: You’ve built an impressive fan base on social media who are in love with your products. How were you able to connect with them in such a way that has made them such loyal customers?

Brandon: Social media is an incredible tool for so many reasons. For us, it was a way to connect with our audience and listen. Rather than sell them on ideas we thought were cool, we let them tell us what they were looking for and then we delivered. Social media has allowed us to go straight to the consumer and find out exactly what they want before we even start manufacturing, totally eliminating the guess work. By putting ideas, designs, and styles up for our audience to vote on, all we need to do is look at the data and execute. We’ve had people send us pictures using the Sand Cloud towels as shower curtains as well as women in Germany using them in the winter as scarves! When the audience is keyed into your mission, they’ll find a way to use the product.

Jay: You guys made an incredible pitch and wowed the Sharks with the impressive amount of sales you’d achieved. What’s it like having Robert on your team and what dynamic is most valuable to you guys?

Brandon: What we have found so remarkable about Robert is how much he puts his trust in us. It’s up to us to run the business, which gives us responsibility as well as a tremendous amount of pride in our work. As Robert commented on the show, “I don’t fully understand your product, but I love what you’re doing!”. Robert has an incredible platform as well as the connections to magazines, shows, and PR channels. His expertise in business is such a valuable resource and it’s a privilege to be able to pick his brain on what we’ve accomplished and what we can work on moving forward. We’re extremely appreciative of the partnership we have with Robert and the advice he’s given us so far. We’re excited to continue to launch new products and continue to use our success to make positive contributions to our environment.


Why This Shark Tank Company is Partnering With Chase Tue, 09 May 2017 10:34:11 +0000 For every small business owner, ‘cash flow’ can prove to be their greatest challenge and one that induces countless sleepless nights.  No matter how proficient your business model is or how profitable you are, it is impossible to continuing growing your business if you are unable to manage your company’s cash flow.

Chase for Business offers an incredible variety of innovative business banking solutions that can help small business owners focus on doing what they do best while leaving the financial burden to the experts.  In an upcoming marketing campaign, Chase for Business is celebrating small business owners by showcasing their extraordinary vision and innovation.

 One such company being highlighted is Pipcorn, a business featured on Shark Tank that was started by a brother-sister duo that is revolutionizing the popcorn industry as we know it. (We will be featuring Pipcorn in an upcoming edition).  Brent Reinhard, head of marketing and product for Chase Business Banking, talks with us about partnering with Pipcorn and why Chase for Business is the perfect business partner for any small business owner.

Jay:  What is the mission behind Chase partnering with a company like Pipcorn for this upcoming campaign?

Brent:   We are incredibly excited about this partnership.  At Chase, we pride ourselves on being an innovative brand and we saw that in Pipcorn as well with their approach the popcorn snack industry and their small kernel sizes. The genesis of it is: we are always looking for really innovative, wonderful companies to showcase in our messaging and advertising, because at Chase, we have the very fun job of serving these incredibly energetic and energizing small businesses owners. What we hope to showcase through this partnership is how we provide services, tools, features and functionality that help these small business owners grow their businesses.  The reality is that any small business owner is the star of their show; they have the passion, the drive, the energy – they bring all of that to their small business, every day.  Our job is not to get in the way of that, our job is to help give them a platform that makes it easier to focus on their business so they don’t have to focus on their finances. That’s the reason why we partner with our small business owners when we tell our story, because you get to hear, not just from us, but from them how the services and products that we offer actually work for a business owner.
Jay: How do you determine what services and products a small business owner may need and how does this campaign highlight that initiative?

Brent:  This campaign and our messaging platform for the year is really based on listening to our small business owners.  As any major financial institution or any major business does, we spend a lot of time listening to our customers, whether it be in focus group research, customer satisfaction surveys, customer service phone calls, or through our branches and our relationship bankers who get to meet with them one-on-one, we get a ton of great information about what our clients’ needs are and what our clients’ pain points are in running their business. And so, this campaign hit on such a great idea because as we were talking with Pipcorn,  they expressed their desire to get out of their factory and think about new and innovative ways to think about their product.

Jay:  What are the top 3 practical and useful examples of what your app will allow business owners to do — with the convenience of just simply using an app?

Brent: First and foremost, basic functionality.  It allows you to stay on top of your balances, cash flow, money in, money out, on the go, wherever you are.  Additionally, you can initiate payments to suppliers and vendors from the mobile app and you can do a wire transfer if you need to get money ‘real time’ to someone.  Within the app as well, if you’ve set up delegated access, you can view and control what employees are spending on what.  You’ll be able to see if someone tries to make a large purchase or authorize a particular transaction, so there’s a lot of functionality that allow business owners to get out of the office but stay in control of their business.

Jay: The ability to provide small business owners with that re-assurance and sense of security is a fundamental component in securing a relationship that will grow with the business.  How does a large company like Chase make that connection with a small business?

Brent:  What’s really wonderful about Chase is we serve 4 million small businesses across the firm, so we have a tremendous understanding of our clients. But additionally, because we offer all the products and services from a financial standpoint that a small business needs to run their business, we can really be a one-stop shop for them.  For example, our business checking account provides that foundation and that hub that any smart small business financial plan is built on.  That hub account allows you to watch the money in, the money out and allows you to see how your business is doing from a cash flow perspective – and cash flow, as you know, is the number one concern of every small business owner.

That’s the reason why we have really focused on how we make our products work better together for small business owners so that we can serve them.  If you take it up the spectrum  – why come to Chase – we want our business owners to be successful and grow with us and you can’t outgrow Chase.  We take you up to our middle market banking, Or if you want to take your business public, we have businesses that serve you all the way through and you’ve kept one bank relationship that understands you.

Jay: Entrepreneurs know so well, the value of relationships  — the value of relationships is everything. How is Chase able to connect with small business owners and convince them know they won’t outgrow your company and that they’ll get that personalized service that will make them feel comfortable and secure?

Brent:  The beauty of working with a bank like Chase is we’ve got 5,200 branches nationwide and so there’s a misconception that we’re not a local business, but the reality is we’re also on “Main Street”, and one thing we know about small business owners is they love to support the community in which they operate.Small business is inherently local and inherently personal to the person who runs that business; they love it if they can source their supplies from down the street and that’s incredibly important for us.  Also, we have 10,000 specially trained bankers who serve small businesses.  They’re trained in what make a business different than a consumer and they’re trained in how businesses financial needs are different so they’re always ready to serve our customers.

Jay:  So many people have an idea or are not sure about an idea and think they must be the next Facebook or Twitter — but to take something as simple as popcorn and turn it into a multimillion dollar business, how inspiring is it to see Pipcorn’s growth and work with them to come up with innovative ways to continue that growth?

Brent:  I come from a family of small business owners.  On a very personal level,, I don’t have the courage to put my family on my back and say that I’m going to go out and make my own money. So, I am in awe of small business owners every day. It’s one of the reasons why I gush and love what I do because we hear every day fantastic business owners that have these amazing companies that you may not have ever realized were a business.  It’s popcorn through our Pipcorn folks, and then we have businesses that make things from dental chairs to huge shipping containers. We have businesses all across the spectrum, and they all got into business because they had passion for their idea or they believed they could do something better.  If we can support that in some way by having really solid financial products for business owners, then that is really the reward at the end of the day for me.

Jay:  What is the best advice you’ve ever given to a small entrepreneur?

Brent: The best advice I’ve ever given to a small business owner is to surround yourself with a really good team.  They don’t have to be employees, but it should be people willing to tell you the truth.  Sometimes passion can be blinding and the reality is you need truth-sayers around you who are willing to say, ‘you need to take a step back and think about how that idea is really going to play out.’  I think it’s imperative to have a really solid team of trusted people who will tell you the truth around you.  You see that sometimes on Shark Tank when people don’t have truth-tellers around them and they go on Shark Tank and suddenly their dreams are dashed because no one said you should have thought about your idea this way. Having that team of trusted advisers is really critical for small business owners, in particular.  Small business owners don’t sit in a giant office where they can knock on the door next to them – they run it through their passion and what they believe is correct and so you need someone you can bounce ideas off.

Brent ReinhardBrent Reinhard is the Chief Marketing Officer and Product executive for Chase’s Business Banking organization, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s products targeted specifically at the Small Business population.  Brent leads a diverse organization of Marketing and Product professionals managing Branding and Advertising, Product Development and Management, Client Communications, Digital Strategy, Social Media and Innovations efforts.

Brent has been with Chase since 2003 and has held a variety of roles including several roles on the Chase Ink team, Chase Sapphire team, as well as roles in eCustomer marketing, operations, and product development areas.

In 2011 Brent was named to the Advocate’s 40 under 40 for his work with the LGBT community as well in driving change within JPMorgan Chase, specifically championing the first ever marketing campaign for Chase targeted to LGBT customers.

Brent holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Delaware Valley College and an MBA from Penn State University.  He and his husband of 20 years live with their two dogs in Lansdale Pa, a suburb of Philadelphia.


The Potatoes Catching NBA Stars by Surprise! Thu, 04 May 2017 14:46:34 +0000 Innovation is the key for success in every business and Riad Bekhit, CEO of Potato Parcel recently took his innovation to the NBA! Riad and his team sent out 150 potatoes to mega stars like Dirk Nowitzki who was the first NBA player to post to social media that he had received a potato after scoring 30,000 points in his career. The hilarious photo sent fans on Twitter into a frenzy trying to figure out who sent it. Shortly after players such as Kevin Durant and Hassan Whiteside also began to post their own potatoes they had received. I had a chance to speak with Riad who crafted this brilliant campaign and see how it went. Here’s what he said:

Jay: Just a little while ago NBA players like Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant and others began posting pictures of potatoes with various inspirational messages on them which stirred up quite a buzz. So, you’re the potato fairy after all! Where’d you get the idea?!

Riad: Like every entrepreneur I was looking for an innovative way to let people know about Potato Parcel harnessing the power of social media. Looking back, it was the best marketing campaign I’ve ever done, and the key was how organic it was. In today’s social media driven world, so many people think that marketing is about reaching millions of people and they end up just blasting their message through as many social channels as they can. However, the reality is that consumers are extremely smart, especially millennials, and they want something that is authentic. We didn’t ask any of the players to share the potatoes online, they did it because they liked it!
Jay: What made you chose such high-profile players like Dirk and KD?

Riad: Truthfully, we weren’t looking to target high profile players specifically at all. Our focus was to send a message that would relate to whatever was going on in their lives at the time. We knew Dirk had just achieved an incredible milestone of becoming only the 6th player to reach 30,000 points and Kevin Durant was working through injury, looking to get back on the court and help his team win. So many people wonder what they can possibly do that will make a huge “splash”. After seeing the staggering results of our “potato mail”, I think the best way to create a successful marketing campaign is to simply find something simple that relates to something the audience will recognize and relate to. We paid attention to what was going on in their lives and tapped into it on a personal level with a very positive message.

Jay: What were the immediate results once players started posting pictures of their potatoes?

Riad: They were absolutely mind blowing and to be honest it blew up even bigger than I had anticipated. At first nobody knew who was sending these mystery potatoes which created that initial craze on social media, simply to find out who was this crazy guy sending these potatoes! Once they realized it was from Potato Parcel our Twitter, Instagram and other social media channels began to blow up. We were featured on Sports Center, USA Today and I had done interviews on multiple radio channels including Serious XM radio and even landed on the front cover of the Wall Street Journal! This turned into such an incredible amount of publicity which was so valuable. There is no financial budget or marketing strategy available to craft such an opportunity, and the key to it all was that it was 100% organic.

Jay: When you pitched on Shark Tank, multiple Sharks including Mark Cuban thought you were crazy. Looking back, it seems so ironic that Dirk Nowitzki who plays for the Mavericks, owned by Mark Cuban was one of the biggest names who promoted your potato. Was that a shot at Cuban?

Riad: I’ve had many people make that comment and there wasn’t a trace of ill intent when we sent that potato to Dirk. We didn’t take Mark’s criticism personally and it didn’t cross our minds even once that this was somehow a way of taking a shot at him. The truth is Mark is absolutely right, we’re a crazy company but that’s what makes us to intriguing. During the half time show of a particular NBA game ESPN anchors were showing potatoes on camera, talking about the potatoes that the players have been receiving. Think about that, millions of sports fans were looking at pictures of potatoes during half time! No one is holding up a cool apparel company’s jacket at half time because no one cares. The fact that it’s so crazy is what drives the attention.

Jay: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from all of this? And if you had the opportunity to give someone who was looking to start their own company today, what would you tell them?

Riad: I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this experience is the power of influencer marketing. If you can ride on the shoulders of other great people it will propel you in an amazing way. Find people who connect with your brand and your message and find creative ways to bring them into your campaign. As far as advice goes, I think it’s incredibly important to trust yourself despite what others may tell you. There’s a fine line between ignoring constructive criticism and trusting your gut. Always listen to others who critique your work, because that will inspire you to constantly work on becoming even better, but never let them persuade  you into thinking you can’t do it. So many people in the Tank as well as friends and others told us we were crazy and there was no way this was going to work. At the same time, we had seen the reaction our previous customers had and felt extremely confident that millions of other people would connect with our product. Was is risky? Sure, it was, but if you truly believe in what you’re doing you need to take that risk to become successful. We’re extremely glad we did it and look forward to using our creativity to find new ways to continue to grow!

Riad BekhitRiad Bekhit is the CEO of Potato Parcel, a service that allows you to send a custom message to anyone…on a potato. Thinking of sending a Birthday, Congrats, or Get Well Soon card? This is a quirky and hilarious alternative to the traditional card. Your friends, family, and others will get a kick out of it!

As seen on Shark Tank!

New Serves Up Small Business Owners with the Tools and Expertise They’ve Been Craving Wed, 03 May 2017 15:15:11 +0000 Doug Llewellyn is the President and Chief Operating Officer of Purch, a New York City-based digital publishing and marketplace platform that helps more than 100 million users make better buying decisions. Purch is now relaunching, a platform that allows Purch to develop an ecosystem for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). The new provides entrepreneurial expertise, products and services, all of which are crucial for SMBs to navigate complex buying decisions and gain a competitive advantage.I had the opportunity to hear from Doug and learn what value is bringing to growing businesses. Here’s what he told me:

Jay: Why did Purch want to expand further into the small-to-medium business (SMB) space?

Doug: Purch is a next-gen digital publishing and marketplace platform with 25 brands across lifestyle, technology, shopping and small-to-medium business categories that help intent-based buyers make purchase decisions. Purch already had a robust community of 5.7 million SMB members and so it made sense to capitalize on what we do so well – serving large markets and topics which naturally bridge to product interest and purchase intent – in an expansion further into the small business category. The SMB community is the backbone of the American economy, but, up until now, we have failed to give them the resources they need to succeed. With, Purch has built a platform to serve those businesses throughout their lifecycle, from budding start-up to global expansion.
Jay: What does the new offer small businesses that it hadn’t been able to before?

Doug: already was a site with a large membership, but through a combination of acquisitions, partnerships, and integrations, the new is a revolutionary disruption of the small business model.

There is no other SMB site that has the scale and combination we do with connecting expert content with an active community while providing membership tools and services to grow and manage their business as a benefit of participation.

There are big news sites, big communities, and sites that offer tools, but nobody has brought this together to truly integrate content and commerce and then connect them to  customers in a powerful and vibrant marketplace. And we aren’t stopping there. In the coming months, we will announce an array of new features, functionality, and integrations on

Jay: What feedback is getting from small businesses about the tools they need and the expert advice they seek?

Doug: The combined team has been in the SMB space for a long time and understands how challenging it can be to run a successful small business. While small business owners are experts in their area, they are unlikely to be experts at all the things it takes to truly succeed: human resources, finance, operations, marketing, etc., nor do they have the time or resources to become one. That’s where steps in. When it comes time to figure out the best phone system, save money on credit card processing fees or take out a business loan, for example, streamlines the decision-making process with in-depth content, access to experts in these fields and the tools to make purchases. With nearly two decades of experience helping to facilitate billions in purchases, the feedback is clear that SMBs are raising their hands for a single, go-to resource to help them manage and grow their business – and that’s why we’re introducing the new

Jay: What industries are being served by and why did Purch decide to focus on those industries?

Doug: will focus initially on 15 key industries, including restaurants, construction/general contracting, retail, healthcare, manufacturing, advertising/marketing/public relations, financial services, real estate, travel/hospitality, transportation/logistics, insurance, media/entertainment/publishing, and agriculture. Purch decided to tackle the biggest industries where we could make an immediate impact based on our experience, the size of our membership within these industries, and the alignment across these industries with our existing partners. While these industries are the immediate focus, will expand across even more areas so we can address the needs of all small business owners.

Jay: How does the new platform enable each industry to get specific information and tools that pertain to that industry?

Doug: offers a first-of-its-kind combination of expert content, in-depth advice and Q&As, reviews and tools; an innovative SMB marketplace that connects small business owners with the right products and services specific to their business needs all the way down to what kind of business they operate.

For example, helps restaurant owners understand the nuances of running a successful business. A restaurant owner can expect to read a review about the best POS System, learn helpful information from industry experts about optimizing portion size and how to promote special menus for holidays, and compare prices on products and services critical to running a restaurant like credit card processing and time tracking systems.

Jay: What’s on the horizon for

Doug: Purch is continuing to work on this platform to serve small business. We’ll be announcing more partnerships that provide the tools, expertise and membership benefits that small business owners will find valuable in helping to evaluate their businesses, make improvements and grow their businesses, and find the tools and other necessities they need to strengthen their businesses. We also plan to conduct a series of surveys of small business owners, the results of which can help us identify how we can better serve and provide for them.

We have an aggressive road map for the rest of this year and beyond that will continue to build and amplify the value SMBs can get as members of our community. One way to do that is to join – membership is free – and follow and Purch on Twitter at @businessdotcom and @purch. We plan to make our next announcements in the next few weeks, all better to serve small business owners in a way they haven’t been served before.

Jay: recently conducted a survey of small business owners. What does the survey reveal about the small business landscape?

Doug: We polled our membership and heard back from almost 1,000 members around the country across a variety of industries and the major takeaways from the survey are that many owners feel their business growth is hindered by regulation, taxes and political uncertainty. Small business owners said President Trump’s promises of deregulation would foster growth of their business and the majority said they felt optimistic about their business future due to the new administration. Details on the survey are available at

Doug Llewellyn headshotDoug Llewellyn, President and Chief Operating Officer of Purch a next-generation digital publishing and marketplace platform that is driving the future of publishing by connecting high-intent buyers and performance-driven marketers in consumer and small-to-medium business markets. Doug joined Purch in 2013 and, as President and COO, he is responsible for the company’s three core business units, strategic planning, corporate development activities, and Purch’s business metrics and operational framework. As such, he has overseen the relaunch of

From My Dorm Room to Shark Tank Thu, 27 Apr 2017 15:11:46 +0000 Evan Lutz is the  CEO and Co-Founder of Hungry Harvest. Evan had always dreamt of becoming a social entrepreneur, with a dream of changing the food system. With  six billion pounds of produce going to waste every year and 50 million people hungry in the US Evan was encouraged to create a company that would change that, and that’s when Hungry Harvest was born. What started out of his dorm basement in University of Maryland, quickly grew thanks to a tremendous amount of hard work and perseverance. Then, in season 7 of Shark Tank scored a deal with Robert Herjavec. I had a chance to catch a few minutes with Evan and hear what the company is up to now. Here’s what they’re up to:

 Jay: Back in season 7 of Shark Tank you scored a deal with Robert Herjavec for your company, Hungry Harvest, which brings delicious fruits and veggies delivered directly to your customers. How does your system work?

Evan: We work directly with farmers all down the east coast who are left with excess produce which they can’t sell. Our customers sign up on a subscription basis for a specific amount of fruits and veggies. Depending on the amount of orders we have each week, is exactly how much they deliver directly to us. We have no overhead costs and we know exactly how much inventory we need. Once the produce arrives, we deliver it directly to our customers through our own independent contractors. Before we brought this opportunity to these farmers, they were literally throwing all of it to the garbage or leaving it for the compost, so it’s 100% profit for them. We work directly with different freight services that the farmers use to get the produce to our warehouses and we handle everything from there.
Jay: How do consumers make their orders?

Evan: Our business is built on a subscription basis, where customers can sign up to receive fresh produce delivered directly to their door. What’s unique about our model is the fact that you can always modify your subscription at any time. You have the ability to choose if you’d like to receive a weekly or bi-weekly supply of fruits and veggies. If at any point you decide to cancel, you can do so at any time with no charge.

Jay: The concept is brilliant, where did you get the idea?

Evan: Back in my college days I worked for an organization called Food Recovery Network. Their mission is to save all the food in dining halls that was going straight to the garbage. I set up a stand in my dorm room to start selling surplus fruits and veggies that were unable to be sold due to logistics inefficiencies or aesthetic imperfections. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the fruit, and it was all just being thrown out. After a little while, I had between 500-600 customers and I quickly understood that people were very willing to pay a price for surplus fruits and vegetables. If we had enough surplus to feed 500 college students, I knew that the farmers must have tons of it. After extended research and many phone calls I set out on a mission to stop all that food from going to garbage and sell them at a lower price than you’d pay in the supermarket. At that point Hungry Harvest was born in May of 2014.

Jay: You’ve tapped into an incredible opportunity. Why do the farmers themselves throw perfectly good fruit to the garbage?

Evan: The farmers can’t sell them because the stores won’t sell them, and it’s an incredible concept that is so revealing to how much presentation affects sales. Next time you’re in any supermarket you’ll notice that all the fruits and vegetables are displayed beautifully. They’re all around the same size and have a similar look. If the store notices one that looks a little funny, has a couple of bruises or even if one is a lot smaller or larger than the others they’ll toss it to the garbage. In order for stores to maximize their sales they need to make a beautiful presentation; each fruit is literally part of their sales team! Fruits that don’t sell are fired. This is precisely why our online subscription model works and why it would never work in a store.

Jay: To your point about having a subscription based model, what are some of the ways you keep that growing?

Evan: Great question and like everything else, if you can’t innovate your business is going to die. We’re constantly spreading our mission on social media and more importantly engaging with our audience. Customers often send in pictures when they open their boxes and we come up with incentives to keep it exciting. We’ve been moving into other areas like adding berries and allowing customers to customize their orders. I think Amazon prime has made buying everything online a commonality for so many people that we’ve been able to tap into that trend especially with millennials. The grocery market is an amazing $650 BILLION a year with food delivery at only $18 Billion a year, so there’s tremendous room for growth.

Jay: What are some of your plans to grow the business moving forward?

Evan: What’s great about running Hungry Harvest is that I leave work every day knowing that I’ve taken a tremendous amount of nourishing food which would have been sent to the garbage and is now on people’s plates. Did you know that  a startling 6 BILLION pounds of fruits and veggies are thrown out each year?! That’s enough to fill 4 entire football stadiums from top to bottom. Those numbers are staggering. At this point we sell 50k pounds of produce each week and so as our business grows we know we’re diminishing the amount of veggies that are going to waste, which is in itself very fulfilling. Additionally, we’re currently delivering to Pennsylvania, Northern Virginia and Washington DC. We’re finalizing plans that will expand our reach to New York and Pittsburgh which we hope will then get us to reach as far as Miami as well as Atlanta. Our main warehouse in currently located in Maryland and we’re going to add another warehouse in a way that will allow us to continue to execute efficiently. We’re just getting started and we’re excited to spread this across America.

Evan LutzEvan Lutz is the CEO and Co-Founder of Hungry Harvest. My whole life, I’ve dreamt of becoming a social entrepreneur, with a dream of changing the food system. My senior year at the University of Maryland, Hungry Harvest was born in my dorm basement. We began delivering to our first 30 customers, 15 of which were free trials, in June 2014. The beginning was excruciatingly difficult, as we knocked on doors in the sweltering DC summer desperately trying to convince anyone to get a free trial. The problem was that nobody knew what ‘ugly produce’ was at the time. This company was in danger of failure at least two times when we had less than $200 in our bank account. We worked 18 hour days to get our customers the right orders. We had doors slammed in our face, and investors laugh at us. In those tough times, the reminder of six billion pounds of produce going to waste and 50 million people hungry in the US encouraged us to persevere along our journey. We currently have a team of 14, with a HQ located in City Garage, Baltimore. Everything we do is driven with the belief that every person has the right to eat healthy, and every fruit and veggie grown deserves to get eaten.