Outlier On Air | Interviewing Founders, Disruptors, & Mavens
151: Hasan Mirjan - Connecting Startup Communities

“A failure is a failure when you fail and you don’t get up again.” - Hasan Mirjan

About: Hasan Mirjan- Founder of SpherePad, &  SphereMail

Overview: Hasan shares with us the struggles of immigrating from Iraq to America and the ups and downs of doing what you love. He had to be very patient along the way until he could create the company he was so passionate about. We learn all about SphereSpace and their sister companies, and how a co-working space can help any entrepreneur.

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Hasan Mirjan | Melinda Yeaman

 

Highlights:

Background: Hasan’s story goes back 25 years or so. He comes from a family of entrepreneurs. The first business that he started was a chicken farm located in Iraq. The chicken business didn’t do so well, so he opened up a stationary store, but due to circumstances in the country, it ended. When he came to America, he worked for a company in the tech industry, but wanted to start something of his own. Once he got residency in the country- he quit his day-to-day job to finally start his own company. The company was called capture.com that was related to artists and photographers. However the company soon failed. So, in 2010 Hasan launched SpherePad despite negative criticisms about the company being successful.

Struggles: Throughout the 9 years of working at his tech job in the US, he wanted to leave and start his own company but he couldn’t quit do so because he didn’t have residency. Hasan shares how he had to be completely patient until he could start the company of his dreams. Despite his anxiousness, Hasan shares that his experience at his 9-5 job taught him about corporations, human management, and finances.

What is SpherePad: A co-working space that provides startups with the type of connections and community that a new company needs. Hasan has met many different types of people through SpherePad that has provided him and others with assets at their disposal. It’s not about high revenue for SpherePad, it’s meant to be more like a compliment to a secondary company. Currently there are co-working spaces in the US, the UK, France, and Australia.

Importance of Being Involved in a Co-working Space: You know a lot about the people around you and your community. When you see a company come to your space and become very successful, it’s good to know that they started in your co-working space. You maintain strong connections with many people all across the board.

What is SphereMail: The space at SpherePad was being used, and people using the space wanted an email that they could use while there. It’s a white label application, that SpherePad gives a link to those using the co-space. SphereMail is not a flat monthly fee, it’s all free. They only take 10% of whatever the revenue is for that user in the co-working space. It has been up and running for 2 1/2 years now. It was completely bootstrapped by Hasan himself.

Why is it All Worth It: Hassan shares that he loves building things and being responsible for something great. His passions have allowed him to push through the struggles.

What’s Next: SphereTrack is a mail tracking application and expense reporting for companies.

The Advantage of Being in San Francisco: It's all about having access to startups and funding. If you want to go fast, and be around the right kind of people, this is the place to be. There’s always room for more startups here. Based on his experience of opening their co-working space, they filled up fast.

Advice for Entrepreneurs Immigrating to the US: Stick with it. Even though it is gut wrenching and can throw you for a loop, just stick with it. Don’t take negotiations personally. It’s important for you to understand the US system and how it works. Strive to learn the language, especially if you want to start a large-scale business.

Take Away: Although being an entrepreneur can be a long road, it's worth the wait. Even if you have companies that fail, you are never a failure by continuing to pursue your dream.

Connect With Hasan:

Website SphereMail | Website SpherePad | @HMirjan

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Category:Business -- posted at: 9:48pm MST

150: Melody McCloskey - The Beauty in Technology

 

“Technology is the most extensible and scalable thing that you can leverage to build almost any type of idea.”

“We were the black sheep of startups… in an industry that a lot of guys in tech just didn’t get.” - Melody McCloskey

About: Melody McCloskey - Founder of StyleSeat

Overview: Melody is a young, technology driven entrepreneur. She started StyleSeat to help provide hairstylists and salons a successful platform that will increase their business by 70%.

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Melody McCloskey

Highlights:

Background: Starting in her early 20's, Melody has been involved in the tech for the past 10 years- which began on the product side. After working for a TV network started by Al Gore where she was brought on to focus on helping monetize the network online, she decided to start her own company. Melody felt that after being in the entrepreneurial world for so long, it was time for her to venture off and do something that she was extremely passionate about.

Starting StyleSeat: Melody sat on the idea for a couple of years before launching because she felt that the platform she wanted to develop was almost too obvious of a need that there was sure to be some competition. Eventually, it got to the point that Melody was so obsessed with her idea, that her fears faded away. Finally, she didn't care if the idea didn't succeed, She just had to do it. Despite the hard times, she shares how rewarding it’s been for her to start this company.

What is StyleSeat: The beauty industry is one of the fastest growing industries out there. StyleSeat is a business platform and tool for hairstylists and salons. StyleSeat grows their clients' revenue by about 70% in the first month just by helping things run smoother. It's a great resource to help discover, book, and pay for online beauty appointments.

How is StyleSeat monetized: There is a premium package that StyleSeat offers that does more than just help with small tasks. Currently, StyleSeat has 3 Millions users. Loreal is now using StyleSeat as their preferred partner and is really excited about the free services they offer and the easiness of the platform.

How it all got Started: The first thing Melody did was build a working prototype with an engineer she found on craigslist, based on designs that a good friend of her’s created for equity in the company. Melody then bootstrapped the company for the first year and a half. After that point, their numbers started to show that the business was becoming successful. Since then StyleSeat has received funding and has raised a total of $14 million. StyleSeat has now been in business for 3 ½ years.

How StyleSeat Secures Users: Word of mouth is by far their most successful way of adding users to their platform. They made sure that the experience for each new user was one that they wouldn’t forget. They continually focus on better supporting their users, and expanding their platform.

Future for StyleSeat: For the first couple years, StyleSeat spent their focus on being a valuable business tool for stylists and salons. Now, that they have created just that, they've launched their first consumer app that consumers will be able to use for booking their appointments, etc. In the coming months they are focusing on becoming a true marketplace for their clients and consumers.

Success on the First Try: Melody states that even though this is her first startup, she had some great mentors that taught her life lessons that have shaped the way she’s created this company. She felt that by having such influential mentors, she had a leg up on what to do to create success. Each piece of advice she was given motivated her to keep going and take risks. She was taught to have the right kind of attitude and be positive.

Advice for Startups: Don’t let what’s out there, or the rules; stop you from doing what you’re passionate about. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help, and seek out those who have the knowledge that will help you go further. Figure out your distribution as fast as you possibly can. When you can figure out how to speed up that wheel as it turns, you’ll be more successful. Having a co-founder that you have a great relationship with is also one of the most important things you can have when you’re starting a company. Melody and her partner have set long term and short term goals that have helped them come to where they are now. Melody also states that having good friends that you really trust and will support you no matter how many bad days you have has been helpful. She says it’s important to have an outlet outside of the company.

Take Away: Melody teaches us to take action on our good ideas, even if we're afraid of the competition or what might already be out there. During the interview she said she knew that if she didn't start this company, and someone came out with her idea months later, she would have hated herself for it. Don't wait around- just start it now!

 

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Connect With Melody:

Website | @MelodyMcC

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Category:Business -- posted at: 11:55pm MST

“Technology doesn’t create new behaviors, what it does is it facilitates and accelerates behaviors people already have.”

“Technology changes fast, and people change slowly.”

“The only reason we succeeded, is because no one took us seriously.” - Peter Horan

About: Peter Horan – Founder of Horan MediaTech Advisors

Peter C. Horan is an entrepreneur with a history of building successful media and internet businesses. He has played a role in five major revolutions in media and technology including: home video games; personal computers; cell phones; Windows computing; and the internet.

Overview: Throughout this interview, Peter walks us through his entrepreneurial journey and how he became involved in the tech world. He discusses the ups and downs of technology, what is valued today, and how he learned to spot potential even when it seemed dim.

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Peter Horan

 

Highlights:

History: Back when Peter got involved in technology, it was very risky to do so because of the unknown. In the early days, Peter was selling kit computers and at the time the general population was uninterested in personal computers, but he was determined to see all of these technological innovations through. Peter was never afraid to ask questions. Throughout the interview, Peter walks us through all the changes that he was apart of over the years. He explains how he was able to grow and how the knowledge of technology has become widespread.

Definition of Disruptive Technology

Changing Environments: Since technology is rapidly evolving, we must learn to adapt and change with it. Peter says that people have a hard time envisioning what a new type of technology is going to do for them. He explains that when something new is coming to the market, that it must be presented in a way that people can relate to. They must show how technology is going to help them accomplish that thing in a much simpler way.

What Peter Looks For in Technology: How something is accomplished, from daily tasks, to others finding information with that technology. Peter states that in the last 10 years a lot of value in technology has been created from what used to be the fact section in the newspapers. For example, finding out what’s playing at the movie theaters, looking for a house, buying/selling a car- all of which made a lot of money in the newspapers. There must be value in what each new piece of technology offers.

How to Work a Niche Business: Starting a niche business can be tough, there are a lot of ups and downs involved with doing so. Peter uses Starbucks as a good example of starting something niche. Starbucks did more then just sell coffee, they sold an environment where people could sit down, talk, listen to music, and eventually added food to their menus. Every couple of years, they come up with something else to add to their business for their consumers. Peter explains that whenever you’re starting something new, especially niche, you need to know your consumers. You need to know what you can do to add to your business every couple of years to engage those loyal customers.

What Peter Does Now: Peter sits on the board of directors of several companies, and also advises tech companies on how to excel. He is also an avid blogger where he shares thoughts and insights, and educational information for his followers.

Advice for Tech Entrepreneurs: Let’s not learn all the wrong lessons from the history of Silicon Valley. For Peter, he started in the tech industry because it was fun and interesting, and so he could change the world even though it seemed like a dodgy career at the time. He says often times for tech entrepreneurs, the future is always number 8 on the list of top priorities- be willing to be part of that future even when it’s not obvious. The why, the how, and the what next is what’s valuable to people.

Take Away: Peter is an excellent example of believing in something small. He has been apart of the tech world since the 1970’s and has grown immensely with it. He teaches us that as entrepreneurs, the future needs to be top on our priority list.

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Connect With Peter:

Website | @PeterCHoran

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Category:Business -- posted at: 10:41pm MST

"The most rewarding experience that I've had is the chance to know some of the young people when they started in their first year working for us [DDD], and to see them through the 4 years of work, and to have them go on to better things." - Michael Chertok

About: Michael Chertok- Co-Founder and Chief Business Development Officer of Digital Divide Data

Overview: Michael shares his experiences with DDD, which is a technology company that focuses on providing high quality services to companies large and small. He discusses with us the benefits of having employees in developing countries and how DDD is helping these young people become better educated and self reliant.

Highlights:

Background: Michael's drive started when he was in college. He was struggling to figure out how to pay for college, and over the summer, he got a job doing back office work for a medical supply company. It was tedious work, but it was his first job in an office that taught him great communication skills with his co-workers, and managers. When the opportunity came to do work in Cambodia, he saw the need to help and eventually DDD evolved.

What is DDD: Digital Divide Data provides a set of outsource business services to all sorts of businesses from small startups to Fortune 500 companies. They mainly focus on content conversion, digitization, and research services. For example, if your company has a data base of client prospects with multiple errors, DDD can go in and clean things up. DDD strives to provide a very high quality service to their customers. In 2001, DDD started with 40 young employees in Cambodia, and now has 1,200 people working for them around the world. DDD's current earned revenue is $5.5 Million.

Labor Force: Currently, DDD has a workforce in Kenya that will provide services all over the world. They are able to help these young people attend college, and typically these employees can work for DDD for about 4 years. They require their employees to be high school graduates. DDD's goal is to provide a stepping stone for these young employees to attain a higher level income and eventually be able to support a family. Many times, these employees go on to be involved in other tech companies, in non-profits, become teachers, and even work in government.

DDD's Mission Statement: Provide an opportunity for young people, particularly from very low-income families in developing countries.

Type of Business: Hybrid organization- U.S. Non-profit that owns a set of for-profit organizations.

Michael's Role: He is there to support DDD with marketing and financing. Most of the partners are based in San Francisco, which is why Michael is there, but the majority of the work for DDD happens overseas.

Technology Providers: DDD has partnered with Cisco systems and Microsoft to provide reliable technology for their employees overseas.

Most Rewarding Experience Working at DDD: Seeing these young, employees growing exponentially from start to finish. And to see these people become leaders in their own countries.

Challenges: Michael states that one of their greatest struggles at DDD is the need to balance their goal of serving their clients and providing opportunities for their young employees. DDD focuses a lot on providing a high quality product and educating those that work for them.

Advice for a Company Wanting to Give Back: One of the things DDD offers is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to be able to leverage their resources to help them grow their businesses. Right now, they offer a back office to help these entrepreneurs have quality infrastructure. Michael suggests that by giving a part of your resources to help others is a great way to give back.

Take Away: Although there is a lot of back and forth about work done overseas, we learn that when it is done right, it can be a great opportunity for families in developing countries, and a helpful resource for clients here in America.

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Connect With Michael:

Website | Facebook | Google+ | Youtube | @DigDivData

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Category:Business -- posted at: 10:59pm MST

 “There are no losers in innovation.” -Kym McNicholas

About: Kym McNicholas - Emmy Award Winning Journalist

Overview: Kym is a feisty go-getter and long-time broadcaster. She has worked as a journalist for Forbes and PandoDaily. Currently, Kym is involved as the Executive Director for the Extreme Tech Challenge.

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Kym McNicholas | Melinda Yeaman

 

Highlights:

Kym’s Background: Kym has quite the resume, from professional water skier, to executive director of the Extreme Tech Challenge, Kym takes the cake on diversity. She graduated with a Communication Studies degree from Sacramento State University. Kym grew with a love of sports, and originally went to school for sports, but got a taste of broadcasting and ended up heading towards that direction. Throughout her life, she has been involved in many different types of broadcasting positions.

What is the Extreme Tech Challenge: Kym has been involved with many entrepreneurs and has worked with Richard Branson on the Extreme Tech Challenge. To learn more about what the Tech Challenge is and all those who have contributed, you can find it HERE.

Bucket list: Watch to find out what's on Kym’s bucket list. Hint: It includes Richard Branson

Struggles: Kym shares an experience where she drove out of her way to a TV station that asked her to come out, and upon arrival was denied in a big way. She’s also had other experiences that have attacked her personally. Kym has learned to have thick skin and to not let what people say get inside of her head. Through her trials, Kym has learned that everything always works out the way it is supposed to.

Advice for Entrepreneurs: Just do. Don’t listen to the naysayers. Don’t go to media too soon, because they often times rip apart your ideas. Don’t rely upon the media to promote your business. If your business can’t stand on its own, then it’s not a good business. Create a community, get on TV, and pay for advertising. Look for people who are going to offer positive criticism. You don’t have to get investment, you can bootstrap! You don’t always have to go the conventional route to be successful.

Take Away: Kym is an inspiring individual who hasn't let negativity drag her down. She teaches us that with will power, and a strong determination you can do and become whatever you want.

Connect With Kym:

Website | @kymbee

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Category:Business -- posted at: 12:08am MST

“For me, the health benefits of doing training, vs not doing training have been tremendous, both in terms of confidence and how I carry myself. If I could get half of that to people who train with us, I think it’s a successful business.” – AJ Shewki

“Working for someone is nice, but creating something from scratch can be a roller coaster, but at the same time it is very exciting.” - Yorgos Stavropoulos

About: AJ Shewki, Yorgos Stavropoulos, and Bjorn Wanbo - Co-Founders of FYTNS.

Overview: FYTNS is currently a locally based company in San Francisco. The goal at FYTNS is to connect people to great personal training. It’s also a platform for personal trainers to find a pool of clients who are looking for trainers. FYTNS allows trainers to become their own entrepreneurs where they don’t work for "the man" at the gym who takes a large percentage of their revenue. With FYTNS, these trainers get to structure their own workouts, and create their own schedules.

FytnsApp Entrepreneur Interview
FYTNS

 

Highlights:

What is FYTNS: A platform for personal trainers. Specifically, AJ & Yorgos are testing their platform in San Francisco because they feel that if they can get a startup off the ground in the bay area, then they will be able to take it anywhere.

Monetization: Currently: FYTNS simply takes a percentage of what clients pay to their personal trainers through the platform. Eventually, they’d like to have a monthly subscription fee that clients can pay to be involved in a variety of sports as well.

Funding: Private funding has been provided to FYTNS through close friends and family.

Background: Yorgos is originally from Greece and came straight to San Francisco where he met AJ. He enjoys the open community in America. AJ was born in a refugee camp in Sweden and later moved to the UK to work on his Bachelors degree. He then came to San Francisco to work on his Masters degree. For AJ & Yorgos, immigration has proved to be a major challenge in their quest to become entrepreneurs in America, but they're not giving up.

Advice for International Entrepreneurs in the US: If you’re not pushing the business forward, no one else will. As an entrepreneur, you are the only one accountable. So, make sure that you are constantly pushing your company forward.

Take Away: Although there have been challenges for AJ & Yorgos along the way, they are very passionate about fitness as a lifestyle. Their platform, Fytns, is here to help personal trainers become better entrepreneurs, and for those seeking a great personal trainer, to find the right match.

Connect With FYTNS:

Website | @FYTNS | Facebook

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Category:Business -- posted at: 9:25pm MST

“The best part about my job is bringing ideas to reality, and being able to see that manifestation.” - Kalin Kelly

About: Kalin Kelly- “Founders Broker”- Founder of The Connector Habit

Overview: Kalin Kelly is a talented young woman with a strong background in sales, communication, startups, and real estate. She shares the relationship between landlord brokers and what the commercial real estate is willing to give them. Kalin explains the troubles behind real estate in San Francisco and how having a “founders broker” can help so many young companies. Ergo- The Connector Habit.

Highlights:

Kalin’s Experience: She graduated from Berkley College and became a part of two startup companies that have given her the knowledge to know what founders actually need to begin. In her second startup, she became a marketing director, but later became interested in really changing the commercial real estate world. She realized there really is a disconnect and wanted to help solve the problem.

How It Works: Kalin’s job is to help tenants find the right space, negotiate a flexible lease, and make sure her clients are not going to be taken advantage of by the landlord.

Why You Need Kalin’s Help: Not only to not be taken advantage of, but to be educated on the market and to manage your expectations. She works with founders, non-profits, and more. She is determined to help her tenants find what fits their specific needs.

Cost: There is no cost to her clients. Her fee is actually paid for by the landlord.

Future Goal: Kalin has a passion for connecting, and is currently working on connecting people very humanly, in a disconnected social world. She is still working on the platform, so stay tuned for more information on that.

Guidelines for Entrepreneurs Choosing a Space: Start early! Focus on your team, don’t focus on your space- grow your idea. Be aware of the environment you’re looking to be a part of. Call a tenant rep.

Take Away: Choose to have a tenant rep, or a "founders broker" like Kalin, when searching for the perfect space for yourself, or company. There is more out there than what a landlord broker might be advertising. Kalin can help you find what best fits your needs, especially in a hard area like San Francisco.

Direct download: Kalin_Kelly.mp3
Category:Business -- posted at: 10:27pm MST

"I've essentially bootstrapped my entire racing career to date...It was the most 101 in Business I've ever had...The whole struggle financially, and having to put my business hat on at a young age is what has made me so passionate about entrepreneurship." Collete Davis

About:  Collete Davis - Racecar Driver, Co-Founder of TechDrive, & CEO of Collete Davis Racing

Overview: Young female Indy race car driver, Collete Davis, wows us with her amazing accomplishments, entrepreneurial skills, and involvement with co-founding TechDrive. She shares the ups and downs of competing in a highly dominated male sport and how TechDrive came about.

Highlights:

Getting Started: By the age of 12 years old, Collete Davis was professionaly go-cart racing. By the age of 16, she started college to become a mechanical engineer. Although she was outnumbered in her classes and career, she didn’t let being the only girl make her nervous or shy away from her dreams. She is currently pursuing Indy racing and aspires to win the Indy 500.

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Collete Davis | Melinda Yeaman

 

Struggles: For Collete, racing has been an uphill battle. It was hard to find sponsors or financial backers to get behind a female racer. Collete bootstrapped her entire career from the age of 15 to raise the funds needed to race. At a young age, she had sell her potential to investors which has taught, motivated, and driven her to form a company around her racing experience.

Collete Davis | picture via colletedavis.com
Collete Davis | picture via colletedavis.com

What is TechDrive: The brand around TechDrive is starting as a new source to focus on everything from green to mobile startups, companies like Tesla, and focusing on the innovation in racing. The short pitch for TechDrive is: More techy, talkier, 2.0. Collete is currently working on a new initiative with Richard Branson- be sure to stay tuned.

Collete's Goals: In racing: winning the Indy 500. In business: providing easy access for startups to go mainstream.

 

For her consumers: Collete wants her consumers to know that TechDrive is a place where you can find niche content on all things travel. She also feels the importance to provide more and more content for consumers to be educated about going green.

Take Away: Collete teaches us that regardless of your age or gender, it's possible to pursue your dreams in entrepreneurship and create something more through your struggles. She is a great example of persevering to accomplish your goals.

Connect With Collete Davis: 

Website | Facebook | @ColleteDavis | @TechDriveCo 

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Category:Business -- posted at: 10:40pm MST

“We are disrupting the negative behaviors and dynamics that aren’t conducive to a healthy relationship. – Matthew Arrington

About Forte Strong:  Co-Founders: Matthew Arrington, and Brook Price. St. George, Utah.

Overview: Forte Strong is a powerful startup company helping young male adults ages 18-26 overcome their failure to launch. They work with an average of 8-15 students on a 6 month basis to help break bad habits, teach them social and practical skills, boost confidence, and lead them to the path that will bring them success in the real world. They are driven by their pure desire to help build the next generation of strong men.

Highlights:

Why the need for Forte Strong: Failure to launch is a growing problem that consequently is affecting men more than women. Matt and Brook are determined to help build this next generation of strong men.

Reasons for Failure to Launch: Social anxieties, technology, parenting styles

Details of Forte Strong: It is a 6 month program for male students ages 18-26. They provide guidance and structure while teaching their students social and practical life skills. A typical day at Forte Strong includes: a series of assessments, learning more about their student one-on-one. Forte Strong provides their students with therapists, coaches, and mentors for all aspects of their life. Students come from all over the world to create better lives for themselves.

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Ever Gonzalez | Brook Price | Matthew Arrington

Hiring process at Forte Strong: Hiring the right coaches is key at Forte Strong. They need people who are driven, empathetic, who can see the type of help that somebody needs; not what the world wants, or the expectation, but what somebody really needs. They need employees who are team players and are invested in their students.

Why Brook and Matt chose to work together: Brook has a resume of experience working with young adults, and Matt has great business experience that give them a good balance in creating a successful company. With their forces combined, they felt very strongly that they could do some good in the world with Forte Strong.

How they overcome disagreements: Transparency. Despite their differences, they focus on honesty and accept that they will make mistakes along the way and use it as a teaching moment for both the students and parents. They trust one another. “We’re trying to emulate what it means to be a real person. For us not to make mistakes is not realistic. But what we can do is use it (our mistakes) as a teaching moment.” They don’t allow their disagreements to get in the way of their real goals.

Profit: Matt and Brooke discuss the ups and downs of striving to become a profitable company. For 2015, they are possibly considering the non-profit route to help as many families as they possibly can. They are also working towards getting insurance companies to help pay for students’ tuition. By the end of 2015, if they do become a non-profit, and are accepting insurance, it should increase their revenue by about 450%.

Goal for Growth: Forte Strong would like to get to the point where they have a large number in St. George, but not too large that they lose the quality of their service. Once they can maintain the right level of students here, they want to open other programs around the country.

Advice for those thinking about a startup: Have a savings. It’s going to be a risk. Don’t do it alone. Understand where your weaknesses are and find someone who will help you fill in the gaps. Educate yourself as much as possible, read as many books as you can, and talk to as many experts as you can to have a base level of knowledge that will give you the platform to move forward. And don’t be afraid.

Take Away: Forte Strong is a much needed company determined to help change the future generation of men by giving them the tools to overcome their failure to launch.

“What’s the path you want to take? Let’s help you get there.” – Brook Price

Connect With Forte Strong:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Youtube

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Category:Business -- posted at: 11:07pm MST

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