Adversity has been the prerequisite for success for many in history. That holds true for Marcus Samuelsson who is one of the most celebrated chefs today. Samuelsson has worked at some of the most prestigious restaurants in the world before opening one of Harlem’s landmark restaurants, Red Rooster Harlem, which sits right on the corner of 125th street. The journey hasn’t been easy, but it looks to be worth it.
At age 3, Samuelsson and his sister were adopted after their mother fell ill to tuberculosis. Her death would take them from Ethiopia to Sweden to live with their new family. Though Samuelsson admits his adopted mom was horrible in the kitchen, it was his grandmother who exposed him to good cooking. “Her cooking came out of poverty,” he said. He had short dreams to play soccer professionally, and soon changed his focus to cooking. From age 16 to his early 20s he traveled the world to learn the art of cooking. “Cooking on the line is brutal. It’s a young woman and young man’s game,” Samuelsson said.
After finally making his way to France, Samuelsson worked at Restaurant Georges Blanc where people travel from all over the world to dine there. This served to be a very important training ground for Samuelsson.
Samuelsson made his next stop in New York. “When I came to New York, being the only black person in a room was something I was trained for,” he said regarding the lack of black chefs.
“I was trained to be the only one in my room. I was trained by my parents,” he added. Aquavit, a Scandinavian restaurant nestled in lower Manhattan, would be his home for some time. When he was offered the job to be the head chef, he was a little nervous. “It’s a famous restaurant. I didn’t want to be the guy to close it,” he said jokingly. Well he did take the job, and became the youngest chef to ever receive a 3 star review in the New York Times.
The tragic events of 911 left many devastated. Samuelsson knew a lot of chefs, servers and cooks who worked in those buildings. He began to think of what he truly wanted in life. “I started to think about what am I doing? Is this going to be my life to cook for the richest people in the world every night? I started to think what is it that I can do next,” he said. He then decided to move to Harlem. He set his eyes on opening a restaurant, but he took 7 years to learn the culture of the community.
“The most emerging markets are inner city America,” Samuelsson said. He wanted to bring aspirations to the Harlem community. “The purpose was to create something to inspire and aspire. The purpose was to create jobs of the trade. We hire from the community,” he said. “I don’t measure a restaurant on how busy it is. I measure it on the reason and the goals I put the restaurant there,” he said.
Samuelsson offered advice to those looking to make their mark in the restaurant industry. “The value of being a chef is because you want to express something,” he said. “To be a chef you have to have a good sense of ambition and aspiration to always push forward. You have to know yourself, where your roots are and your strengths,” said Samuelsson.
Having no experience as an entrepreneur, Katrina Lake’s success is one that is inspirational. Lake is the founder and CEO of Stitch Fix, an online styling service where customers receive a curated box based on their personal style. They currently ship in all 50 states. Since launching in 2011, Lake went public with the company. Entrepreneurship was not on her radar, but her journey has been an interesting one. MillionaireMatch got the scoop on how she has been able to achieve so much.
Lake wasn’t a fan of the glorified tech startup life where entrepreneurs would spend their days and nights coding in a basement. She worked at a venture capital firm and for a retail consultant group before heading to Harvard Business School which she says was a necessary step. It was in school when she came up with the idea for Stitch Fix. Lake had been searching for the right company to join after graduation that was working on innovative ideas in the retail space. She realized that she could create that, and she did. She shipped out her first Stitch Fix box while still in school.
She loves the fashion industry, and how it affects your daily life. “It can impact all the touch points in your day.” Stitch Fix allows customers to create a personal profile with their fashion preferences. A stylist then selects items for the customer. Those selections are shipped to your door for you to try on at home for just $20 a month. Whatever items you don’t want to buy, you just ship them back for free. The ones you decide to keep, you have the choice to purchase.
The company turned a profit just after three years. In 2017, Stitch Fix went public making Lake the youngest woman to take a company public. It’s accurate to say that she has learned a lot from taking an idea from her college days to a unicorn company. “Surround yourself with people who are smart that you will learn from,” she said. She made sure to surround herself with people who challenged her. “There’s nothing worse than staying the same. When was the last time you really changed your mind about something that is important?” Lake asked. “I had a lot of exposure in my family to women who had done amazing things,” Lake said about being influenced. One other point she shared is that you really have to love the company you are building. The long hours, headaches, disappointments, down moments have to be worth it in the end. As far as getting funded, your investor needs to believe in you. “I don’t think I had the typical traits of an entrepreneur,” Lake confessed. It wasn’t easy raising money, but one investor knew she was the right one to lead the company. The initial offering was just $750k and after she went out to raise more and everyone said no, her investor decided to invest anyway.
The company plans to expand beyond shipping in the U.S. and they are happy to see plus size, an underserved market, grow within their brand.
One meeting with a Neiman Marcus buyer was the gateway to becoming a self-made billionaire for Sara Blakely. Her disruptive line, Spanx, changed the way women from all over the world would dress. It all started with a pair of white pants and a little bit of frustration that led Blakely to cutting off the bottom of her hosiery. Today, you will find Spanx at Macy’s, Nordstrom and even their own retail store. MillionaireMatch got the scoop on how Blakely created a brand for all women.
Blakely worked for a company selling fax machines. Her days were filled with cold calling and in-person appointments. Day after day it was the same. One day, she realized she was in the wrong “movie” and that this couldn’t be her life forever. Blakely, who is big on visualization, made a huge decision that day. She decided that she would create a product that would be for millions of people to use, and that she would wait for the universe to present that idea. “I like providing people with something they didn’t know they needed, and changing their life,” Blakely said in an interview. “I pay attention to what things haven’t evolved and why,” she added. After purchasing a book from Amazon on how to create your own patent, Blakely got to work. The first prototype was held together by duck tape and paper clips.
A trip to North Carolina to find a manufacturer seemed to be a door closed shut. Blakely pitched her idea of Spanx realizing that one of the challenges was that she was pitching to men. Everyone said ‘no’. Two weeks later, she received a call from a man named Sam Kaplan who was encouraged by his daughters to make Blakely’s “crazy idea”. She then found herself in a pitch meeting with a buyer for Neiman Marcus who couldn’t quite grasp the need for this product. Blakely took the buyer, a woman, into the bathroom and showed her exactly how Spanx works. She got the deal and Spanx was in stores everywhere.
In her journey, Blakely has a few key things she feels made her successful and can help other entrepreneurs. “You gotta differentiate yourself. I always ask myself how am I different? Why am I different?” There wasn’t a product quite like Spanx, and it took the world by storm. When asked, very quickly explain the problem and why you are the best option. Blakely also says, “Soon as you can afford to hire your weaknesses, do it.” Two of her first hires included Head of Public Relations and Head of Product. Even though both hires came with no experience for the job, Blakely had a gut feeling they could do it.
When excited about a new venture or business, you may want to tell everyone you know. Many would advise hanging onto the idea a little longer. “The reason I’m not still selling fax machines is because I didn’t tell anyone for a whole year,” Blakely said. You don’t want the doubt from family and friends to kill dream before you take solid steps. The infancy stage of an idea is delicate. Once you are solid on your idea, got a foot in the door and generating money there is still work to do. Neiman Marcus first put Spanx in the store, Blakely made it her job to educate the staff and anyone who would listen about her product. “I feel like if I didn’t go to the stores to make this happen on the ground level, then I feel like my product, as great as it is, would have been shipped to the store and shipped back to me,” she expressed. She traveled from store to store for two years making sure her product was known.
Hard work, consistency and dedication is what made Sara Blakely a self-made success. As she says, “Failure wasn’t the outcome. Failure was not trying.”
There are many tools these days that allow entrepreneurs to run their businesses with ease. MailChimp is one of them. Founded in 2001, the marketing platform allows you to automate email campaigns. Ben Chestnut, co-founder of MailChimp, gives the scoop on how to run a creative business that was once a failed project.
Chestnut worked in web design in his early days and set his hopes on being a cartoonist among other things. With his parents being entrepreneurs, he decided to start his own business during a layoff. Chestnut had the option of taking another position, but felt the time was right to go off on his own. His intuition was right. First, Chestnut started an e-greetings business. It failed miserably, but the coding for that business lead him to start MailChimp.
“I realized that with design I could see customers interact with it immediately,” Chestnut spoke of his love for design. MailChimp became so successful that he was offered $1 billion in cash to sell the company. What did he do? Well, he didn’t want to see the hard work of his team and the creativity behind it to go to someone on the outside of this creative establishment. “I only hire weirdos and I let them fail all the time. It just makes sense to me,” he said.
Today, Chestnut and his co-founders still own 100% of the company. That is definitely something you don’t see often. And though many may say that email is dead, the company has continued to grow in revenue. Chestnut has learned a lot about running a creative business. “Too much order is horrible. You have to balance it out with disorder and chaos,” he said. He learned how to delegate as the company grew, but he was aware of how it changed the dynamic of the creative nucleus that he created. Delegation is both good and bad, but there must be balance. He doesn’t want to create an environment where everyone is a manager and new employees don’t feel they have the room to creatively fail. “A beautiful office space doesn’t make people creative,” he added. Though he would prefer bean bags and whiteboards for brainstorming around the office.
He admits that entrepreneurship is a stressful journey, with turns and twists. “Most entrepreneurship is survival-making a living,” Chestnut said. He admits to being the happiest along this unexpected journey. To keep up with the changing times, his team releases a new version of their platform every four weeks. This may add to the stress, but it brings out the creativity he deems to be important for a newsletter platform.
The company continues to grow and add features like the abandoned cart tool which has helped spike business for e-commerce. Sellers have seen a jump in sales with this one feature. In addition, Mailchimp added a product recommendation feature. This has helped push sales up over 30%.
If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon, be sure to check them out at mailchimp.com. There’s also their mascot Freddy, who you can find on the site having fun and sometimes with quirky messages as you build your new online campaign! Good luck!
Silicon Valley is not the only place for startups to launch anymore. Los Angeles has become the home of many such as Happy Returns, Earny and Dollar Shave Club. With the presence of tech companies in Los Angeles, incubators and venture firms have grown as well in the city of angels. And that’s where the company Science comes in which handles acquisitions as well as development and funding stages for startups, and it’s based in Los Angeles. Peter Pham is one of four founders. MillionaireMatch got the scoop on how this founder has helped raise $400 million dollars.
Science is still pretty new being founded in 2011, yet has an impressive portfolio. Already, the company has led six companies to acquisition including Dog Vacay and FameBit. “We’re always thinking about what’s next,” Pham said regarding looking out for new sprouting companies. Pham is experienced with being on both sides of the table, as the entrepreneur and the advocate. He helped lead the Dollar Shave Club to a $1 billion acquisition with Unilever. “We tell entrepreneurs to treat us like founders,” said Pham. Having that close relationship with investors is key.
Pham knows from experience. Before Science, he had companies that were successful and some that failed. “We were too early. We didn’t execute the product at the time of the launch. In that nine months, I learned a lot,” he said about his last failed business. “Raising money is okay if you execute on it. We failed on the execution,” he said. That wasn’t the only reason things did not work out. “ We fell in love as co-founders and then we fell out of love as co-founders. Things went really sideways,” he continued explaining the fail in partnership. He soon found himself unemployed. He ran into an old friend who had once talked about creating a company. Lucky for him, he was also not working on a project. Pham and Mike Jones began to lay the groundwork for launching Science.
With much experience from his past attempts, Pham understands what makes a good product when entrepreneurs come into pitch. Pham likes to know, “Would you recommend it to a friend? Would you tell a friend to also download the app? We live in a world where Facebook and Twitter give people the ability to have a voice and be loud about how much they love or hate a product. You have to deliver on a great product. Then you can focus on growing,” he explained. “Startups die because they aren’t generating revenue or they run out of venture funding,” Pham said.
Pham and his co-founders made the interesting choice of opening up shop in Santa Monica. “L.A. is an interesting market where a lot of folks haven’t gotten there yet,” Pham said regarding raising money. “There’s so much innovation in the L.A. area, but there is no money,” he said. As a result, Pham keeps one foot in Silicon Valley in one in Silicon Beach. Pham added, “We’ve been there. We’ve seen it. We’ve raised the money.” Pham also mentioned how hard it gets to raise funds after series C.
To check out more information on Science and to scope out the next big startup in their portfolio, head over to www.science-inc.com.