Most of the young entrepreneurs Zachary Miles encounters at UNLV’s small business development center have can-do attitudes.
That’s not surprising given the emerging tech scene in Las Vegas.
But some, Miles said, take that confidence a bit too far — to the point of not being able to take criticism. Miles, the center’s director, calls it the “baby syndrome.”
“ ‘This is my child. How dare you say he needs braces?’ ” he said. “It’s better for entrepreneurs to hear that an idea is not going to work. … Just because the baby is ugly, doesn’t mean you can’t pivot. Usually, in an idea, there’s a nugget that can work.”
VEGAS INC recently spoke with some young entrepreneurs about the ideas they’re making work. Some are established and having success; others are in early stages of entrepreneurship. Many share a bootstrapping theme. Here’s what they had to say.
While attending UNR in 2011, River Jangda and his now business partner, Brad Cabanilla, created the website raverswag.com. Initially, the only item for sale was a fanny pack, developed by another company and geared toward electronic music festivalgoers.
“We were in college, and we loved going to music festivals. … People get all dressed up and crazy,” said Jangda, now 25. “One of our first products was a bra … that could blink to the beat of the music.”
The early incarnation of raverswag.com won a $5,000 grand prize from a UNR-sponsored website-building contest. Initially content to spend their winnings, the pair opted to hold onto the money when, after a month, several fanny pack orders came through. They expanded their product line to grow the business.
Jangda and Cabanilla also entered business plan contests, earned roughly $15,000 in winnings and invested it into the business. Raverswag.com, now with headquarters in Las Vegas, carries about 2,000 products and is projected to hit $1 million in sales this year. About 90 percent of its products are developed by other companies. The rest are custom T-shirts and tank tops that Jangda and Cabanilla print locally.
“The biggest lesson is working with a partner,” Jangda said. “It’s like a marriage, and you have to figure out how to use each other’s strengths to the company’s advantage.”
A former artist development executive for Universal Music Group, Stacey Dougan’s first foray into vegan cuisine was as an investor in an Atlanta restaurant. But Dougan quickly found herself learning the business by stepping into the kitchen.
“I just kind of got in there and did it,” she said.
That venture, however, failed and she lost $80,000 in the process. “I had business partners who were not good people. … That pretty much taught me what to do and what not to do.”
In December 2013, Dougan, 38, opened Simply Pure Vegan Cafe in downtown Las Vegas’ Container Park. She uses recipes she helped create in her previous venture. This time around, she has invested about $20,000 and hopes to franchise the concept someday.
“Make sure you get good advice,” she said. “I wish I had gotten better advice on my opening. I was flying by the seat of my pants. … A lot of this setting-up-a-business stuff was new for me. … Now, after a year, a lot has come together.”
Dougan also has learned the power of social media in her business.
“I monitor everything. I respond to everything, good and bad,” she said. “I always tell people if they tell us, we can correct it. … It (social media) will make or break your business.”
A ‘Revive’-d Brand
Jonathan Santos never met his Mexican grandfather who farmed and successfully sold livestock in his native country. But Santos, 23, credits his grandfather’s story for instilling in him an entrepreneurial bug.
The CEO and founder of locally based Revive Brand Co., a travel gear maker targeting the urban dweller and college student, created his company in 2010 after taking a basic business course at College of Southern Nevada.
The instructor, Kevin Raiford, challenged the local vo-tech graduate to build a business plan around an urban backpack concept he and fellow founders, brother Cesar Santos and friend Medin Gebrezgier, created.
By 2012, the three were ready to pursue Revive Brand as a real business concept. They invested $15,000 and sought ways to design and manufacture their evolving travel gear line. This year, Revive will likely hit $60,000 in sales and is lining up distribution channels that should lead to revenue topping $250,000 next year and $2 million to $3 million within a few years, Jonathan Santos said.
The local group’s biggest lesson came in learning how to efficiently manufacture the product.
“The cost of materials to get from California to here really brought costs up,” Jonathan Santos said. “There are a lot of manufacturers (in California). Everybody is competing with each other.”
Melvin Brown wants to use technology to motivate high school students to stay in school — and he’d like to make a living doing it. Mark Johnson, a graphic designer whose specialty is branding and digital user interfaces, is looking for a cool project. Both are young minds whose businesses are in the early stages.
Brown, 25, from New Jersey, came to Las Vegas about a year ago with his mobile app concept, Prezent. The geo-location app tracks high school students and gives them points for going to class. Points can later be redeemed for prizes.
Brown, who earned $5,000 in seed money from the Vegas Tech Fund, is testing the idea at Valley High School and hopes to launch it next fall. After fine-tuning the technology, he will look to partner with national brands for the student rewards and hopes they advertise on his platform to generate revenue.
“I’m fully committed to this,” Brown said. “I’ve made the leap to come out here and fully immerse myself in Prezent. … I don’t have huge overhead, just college loans and rent,” he said.
Meanwhile, Johnson, 26, launched his graphics and branding firm, Motel, about six months ago. A Las Vegas native who left for Savannah College of Arts and Design in Atlanta after graduating from high school, he found himself gravitating back to Las Vegas’ growing tech scene. He admitted that growing his business in the valley could be challenging.
“Sometimes, with design, there’s low expectations from a cost perspective and high expectations for yield,” he said.
But Johnson also says money is not his primary driver.
“Overall, my goal is to work on cool stuff with cool people,” he said. “It could be more complicated than that, but that’s not really what I want.”
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