FORBES: How To Know You Are Ready For The Next Big Step In Your Business

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In my time as one of the investors on CNBC's Cleveland Hustles, I had the opportunity to see dozens of businesses that were seeking investment. Business owners from all over came to pitch to me and the other investors. It was a unique experience: to seek out and find the best businesses to help revitalize a neighborhood, create jobs, and ultimately impact our community. While I was only able to pick a handful to negotiate with, I was able to catch some common trends.

The investment process of every business varies depending on company size, needs, vision, goals and other factors. Immediately reaching out to an investor might seem like the logical route, but are you prepared to do so? It might be a good idea to take a look at your current operations and decide if you really are ready to take your business to the next level. While investment helps, it's best to ensure that you fit the following criteria below to assess if it's the right fit for you.

You’re suffering from growing pains. No matter the size of your business, as you scale, it is inevitable that you will deal with growing pains. At that point, it might be necessary to seek out investment options, especially if months go by and you’re still spending more time putting out fires rather than working towards your company goals. As your company grows, you may see an increase in sales, but is that manageable with your current business model? Whether it's assistance on providing working capital, guidance and mentorship or helping seek out strategic partners, investors can help relieve the growing pains of your business.

You need more people. If you’re doing everything on your own and are ready to build a team of people, working with an investor is probably the next step you want to take. Perhaps you’ve spent months wearing several different hats but realize hiring more employees is inevitable for moving forward. An investor would not only be giving you the capital required to hire additional employees but also help assess who is best fit to work alongside you. Not only that, but chances are they’ve been in your shoes before: An investor most likely has been through the hiring process and understands how to go from being an owner to delegating duties.

You can’t keep up with demand. Do you find yourself struggling to keep up with the needs of your business? Often you will know you are ready for your next step when you are unable to maintain the balance of supply and demand. Human capital isn’t the only component investors can assist with -- they can also help you get funding for expansion opportunities to allow growth for your company. Remember, a company cannot be a single-handed effort; bringing in key partners or investors to help further your goal can push your business to new heights.

You need a mentor. A majority of investors want to do more than just fill the financial constraints of a growing business. They are looking to mentor and create a mutually beneficial partnership. It is understandable that you might be apprehensive about giving up a part of your company to an investor, but often you will receive a plethora of secondary benefits that might be more meaningful than just the investment itself. Apart from giving you savvy advice, investors can help train your team members, offer various services and open doors for networking opportunities. It's important to me to provide in some capacity to my investments rather than just sitting back and not taking some sort of active role.

Overall, while they may be basic, these are the foundations to guide you on your way to seeking investment. While it is a long and arduous path, it's often one that many entrepreneurs must face when it is time to grow.

Tory Burch Foundation: Investor Kumar Arora

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Ahead of the Game: Investor Kumar Arora

Kumar Arora calls himself a serial entrepreneur and investor, and rightfully so. He is an entrepreneur and investor behind many notable business ventures including Rogue Eyewear and Ilthy. When he isn’t advising companies on the Fortune 500, he is a key investor on LeBron James’ CNBC show Cleveland Hustles.

The moment I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur…

When I graduated during the recession in 2008, finding a job wasn’t easy. My college advisor told me, “If you can’t find a job, you’ll have to make one.” At first, I was in shock, because I spent my time in college working towards the corporate ladder. Years later, I realized it was actually a blessing in disguise.

The most surprising thing I’ve learned from being an investor on Cleveland Hustles

Entrepreneurs in Cleveland come in all shapes, sizes and ages. We work with anyone from an eager high school student looking to start a floral décor business, to an elderly man who wants to expand the vineyards on his winery. It is amazing to see such unique ideas come from all over.

You believed and invested in the entrepreneurs from Old City Soda because…

As soon as I tried Old City Soda for the first time, I was hooked. Their level of detail to the product, their vision, and brand story convinced me that not only could the product be manufactured right here in Cleveland, it could help kick start change within the existing soda market. I love their mission to create a handcrafted product using the freshest ingredients, while still staying close to home.

What I admire most about LeBron James…

LeBron James is far more than just an athlete: he’s a philanthropist, a role model, a superstar, and a prominent businessman. Not to mention, his economic impact to the city of Cleveland exceeds over half a billion dollars. LeBron is a reminder that reaching success is more than just perfecting your craft. It is finding ways to contribute to your local community, going above and beyond for others, and doing as much good as possible.

Key elements I look for in the businesses I invest in…

I look to see if the business is viable, if it’s doing something different from the industry, and if the founder/partners show a lot of passion. I try to make sure those ingredients are there before I jump in and help a business.

Tips for pitching investors…

Lately, it’s been important for startups and companies to put their best foot forward. But I’d love to see more businesses talk about their challenges, problems, and things they need help with. That shows their true character and allows investors to see the business without their walls.

How the city of Cleveland has shaped my approach to entrepreneurship…

Being an entrepreneur is hard. Being an entrepreneur in Cleveland is even harder. We may not have as much accessibility to certain resources as big cities, or a large talent pool to work with, but Cleveland is an excellent destination for young start-ups trying to find their way to success.

Ohio, as a whole, is a great place to be for business development. With much of the U.S. population within reach, it allows businesses to recruit top talent from other big cities and institutions in the area, offer the opportunity to do market research on a local or national level, and also make it easy to deploy services or products within the Midwest. If you are thinking about starting a business, now’s the time and place to do it!

How I identified the opportunity for Rogue Eyewear

The concept came about because I was angry. Everywhere I would go, I would see so many brands doing great things, in much bigger cities, and always charging such high prices for luxury. I wanted to change that. Rogue Eyewear is a departure in every possible way: from materials, to cost, to being homegrown, without compromising in any way.

How Rogue differentiates itself from other eyewear brands…

The word Rogue is actually in our DNA. We try to do everything we can differently: from unique materials like leather and stone, to a more competitive price point, to hailing from Cleveland. I try to ensure that our identity and focus is present throughout our company in as many ways as possible.

Tactics we used to generate excitement and awareness when we launched…

Our early marketing was focused on a combination of local advertising and awareness, combined with strong social pushes towards advocacy of our brand and how we fit into the market. We spent a bulk of our energy and efforts harnessing the power of social to cross into new territories.

Where I get design inspiration from…

For us, design is in our everyday lives. From print, to nature, to our habits and experiences. We use those same inspirations to craft our storytelling.

Strategies I’ve used to build my personal brand…

My brand has continually evolved over the years, but there are some things that remained throughout. I made sure my aesthetics, photography, and web presence all have a consistent theme alongside my social media. For me, I believe that a product should be ready before releasing it to the world – and that applies with my personal brand, as well.

My approach to time management is…

I’m a huge fan of productivity and finding ways to maximize time. I try to focus on the more complex problems early on, try to allow others to handle more operations and day-to-day, while automating any processes that I can. I’m split in many different directions, so I’ve had to find my own rhythm to stay above water.

3 must-read business books…

Some great essentials to start with are:

  1. Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers
  2. Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why
  3. Steven R. Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

My favorite leadership quote…

“Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.”  – John Maxwell

What I’m looking forward to this year…

I’m excited to continue pushing the boundaries for young investors and entrepreneurs through media, as well as move into new markets and industries with some exciting investments.

FORBES: Four Reasons To Prioritize Branding When Building Your Business

Even in the early stages of starting a business, building a brand should not be overlooked. If forgotten, you will find that you may have difficulty engaging with customers and fostering loyalty later on. A brand is not just a logo; each part serves as a chapter to your story, and you will want to convey that message in a concise and professional manner.

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate enough to spend much of my time mastering branding in a variety of fields. From musicians to fashion labels to athletes, each has their own identity and purpose. But across industries, all of these professionals have one thing in common: They want their brands to be extensions of their goals and visions.

Even some of the biggest companies often have difficulty in creating brand value and identity. We see this every day with certain projects crumbling because they did not reach a level of consumer acceptance. Poor branding can lead to a variety of problems, from distrust and confusion in the marketplace, to looking outdated or unprofessional.

You want to make sure that before it is time to decide on your brand direction, you spend ample time understanding its importance and how to differentiate yourself. Your brand should be consistent with your company vision, authentic, relatable to your potential audience, and recognizable. Below are a few reasons why building a memorable brand is of vital importance:

Your brand name rings a bell. Business owners should carefully consider the name of their company. The name you choose is just as important as naming your own child. It is going to define your company for years to come. When someone hears it, they will think of the brand story -- and that is a key factor in customer loyalty.

It is important to distinguish yourself so make sure your name, logo and even color choices are well thought out. If not, you are looking at more work later down the road to create a cohesive brand. Do your research early on so damage control is unnecessary.

One method I've used is to always make sure that your brand name can explain your business concisely, without being overly complicated. Does your brand evoke an emotion? Do your company's services relate to any unique metaphors or synonyms? If so, you are on the right track on finding a memorable brand name.

Your brand builds customer loyalty. Your customer is the main reason you need a brand story. It is a way for them to identify with you and understand who you are in the market. Your most loyal customers are likely to tell their family and friends about your brand, and in our age of Yelp and Amazon reviews, the stronger your brand, the more likely people will be to go out of their way to write a positive review of your business.

But getting that word-of-mouth loyalty can be tricky. Don't be afraid to ask for those reviews; we often encourage feedback on social media and Yelp by simply asking for them through our promotional materials or in direct conversation with our customers. While that can be difficult, as you're giving customers a platform to say exactly how they feel, more often that not, they love how transparent we are. It's an easy way to identify those who care, and helps you find ways to give them an even better experience.

Your brand is a source of inspiration. Creating a strong brand is vital to inspire not only yourself through any rough patches, but your employees as well. It is your reason for being and creates clarity and focus for everyone involved. These days, the consumer is more conscious than ever before; they take pride in their purchases and want to know that their companies have other interests beyond profits.

Inspiring your customers can be a challenging, but rewarding, aspect of brand building. Companies can do this by reinvesting back into your local community, donating to a charitable organization, or even finding unique ways keep employee satisfaction high.

Your brand sets you apart. Your brand story can be a competitive advantage: The story you create will differentiate you from your competitors, as well as provide unique opportunities to showcase your brand in a new light.

A good way to establish that competitive edge is to think about how and why you got started. It is your own origin story that provides a great starting point on why your brand stands out. The best part is that your customers can feel the authenticity of it, too: You will find that your most loyal early adopters are not only your first customers, but they will also be the ones to spread your purpose.

Remember, building a brand should be a fun and exciting experience. It allows you to create a voice for your business, as well as a stake in the ground for something you believe in. It's one rare aspect of your business that you can truly put your heart into and develop something that will leave a legacy in its own right.

Forbes: Five Ways to Prepare Your Business For High Growth

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There will likely come a point in time when your company undergoes changes at an exponential rate and you consider additional resources to continue building your business. Adequately scaling your business and enduring hyper-growth are not obstacles all entrepreneurs may encounter, of course, but if there is potential for momentum to be gained, you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity.

After all, time is of the essence. Financial preparation and standardization will be key to keeping your business afloat.

I’ve been fortunate enough to experience hyper growth from something as small as Lebron James sporting one of my brands (breaking six figures in online sales in just a few days) all the way to increasing production overnight on my craft soda business by 10 times our previous capacity. But scaling wasn’t easy in the beginning; there were plenty of missed opportunities where I didn’t leverage my situation or capture my audience.

In each business experience, there have been a handful of growing pains and I’ve learned that in order to prepare yourself, you need to make sure you are ready on all fronts. Below are some ways to effectively scale and withstand these brisk changes:

Become foolproof. Before customers begin flocking to your gates, ensure things at home are taken care of. Take precautionary measures to guarantee your business is presentable on all fronts, has a strong online presence, and that standard operations are smooth. It is important to have a strong foundation built before a whirlwind of events takes you by surprise. In doing so, you can make sure you do not miss out on lead generation, overall growth and potential marketing opportunities.

Prepare your finances. Managing current expenses while securing additional funding for new resources can be difficult. However, being prepared is extremely important for small businesses, particularly during hyper-growth. A great way to acquire financing apart from investors is through crowdfunding and loans. Securing these investments prior to gaining traction is crucial for your business to survive because you must be able to meet customer demands. How do you expect to meet them if you don’t have the money upfront to deliver whatever it is you are selling?

Hire the right people. Building the right team is crucial for the growth and success of your business as the people you hire can either help or hinder the development of your company. Factor in the amount of time it takes to train someone, their ambition levels, background etc. Keep in mind that while experience is important, are they ready to roll with the punches that come with a business gaining traction at rapid speed? All successful businesses have a common element: people who are 110% dedicated and committed to seeing the company prosper. It is particularly vital to have dependable team members for support during hyper-growth.

Standardize your processes. Regardless of company size, having the proper procedures in place from the get-go will make scalability that much easier. Having the right systems, tools and processes is a surefire way to manage workflow. When business owners disregard process standardization, they struggle to keep up with the ever-changing business environment. In the early stages it might be easy to get by without systems in place, but as time goes on it can have a detrimental effect on your company. If you see your most productive employees struggling to stay afloat under the current processes (or lack thereof), it might be time to step it up.

Stay relevant and deliver. Publicity in any capacity is powerful and the longer you can stay relevant, the better. The longest periods of hyper-growth are likely attributed to good marketing and high customer satisfaction ratings. Even when working on scaling your business, meeting customer demands should remain a top priority.

Most Interesting People 2017: Kumar Arora

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The local entrepreneur and investor showed us the true meaning of hustle on the LeBron James' reality show Cleveland Hustles.

Why He’s Interesting: The local entrepreneur and investor owns Innovation Chemical Technologies and Rogue Eyewear — just to name a few of his notable startups — and is co-owner of the popular streetwear brand Ilthy. Arora was one of four investors on LeBron James’ CNBC business reality show Cleveland Hustles, which helped aspiring entrepreneurs such as Cleveland Bagel Co. and Old City Soda secure funding to open storefronts. 

Home School: A first-generation Indian, Arora lived in Little Italy and then North Royalton with his father, a chemistry professor at Case Western Reserve University and his mother, an artist. “Growing up, I got the best of both worlds. That required me to think abstractly with the art side but analytically on the science side. And I think I bring that mentality to business.” 

Tech High: In high school, Arora considered a career in medicine. “I wanted to be a doctor, but my inner passions were always in tech and video games.” He learned programming on the side, built robots and dreamed of making enough money as a doctor to eventually open a video game studio. But as a pre-med major at Ohio State University, he started doing marketing for events and nightclubs. “The quiet kid in the back of the room became the center of attention, throwing parties and being that guy to tell you what party to go to and what club to be at.” 

Up and Running: By 21, Arora was promoting a dozen events a month, drawing 1,500 people to parties and bringing celebrities and artists to Columbus. He believes passion and hard work can make anything possible. “That’s
been my biggest motivator. Just this idea of being curious and seeing how far can I really go.” 

Do the Hustle: On Cleveland Hustles, Arora took hands-on roles from cleaning bathrooms to shooting photos for the website. “If you’re in the trenches, you should be able to pick up anything and everything for the success of your business. And that’s kind of my mentality. If someone’s got to do it, and no one can, I’ll do it myself.” 

Forward Thinker: Arora admires other entrepreneurs who dabble in diverse fields and aren’t afraid to shake things up. One of his favorite innovators — Elon Musk, who founded Tesla Motors — is known for doing just that. “Every industry he’s gone into, he’s always revolutionized what he’s done and he’s always forward thinking.” 

Living Legend: Arora has been playing The Legend of Zelda titles since he was 4 years old and still busts out his Nintendo 64 every now and then. “I love its puzzle-solving. I love its history and its inventiveness in each iteration.” 

Major League: Arora’s favorite Ilthy shirt is a white baseball jersey with red shoulder stripes and red lettering inspired by the Cleveland Indians uniforms. A script Ilthy is subbed in for the word Indians. “It’s a classic.”

LeBron James Calls in Business Leaders for CNBC Show 'Cleveland Hustles'

Successful Local Business Leaders Kumar Arora, Kathy Futey, Alan Glazen and Jonathon Sawyer Tapped as Investors and Mentors with C-Suite Exec B. Bonin Bough to Host

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. — June 24, 2016— Today, CNBC announced LeBron James' and Maverick Carter's selection of local judges and globally recognized C-suite host for the network's highly anticipated unscripted primetime series, "Cleveland Hustles," premiering‪ Wednesday, August 24 at 10pm ET‪/PT. The series teams four successful Cleveland business leaders with local entrepreneurs looking for an investment to launch their own brick-and-mortar stores. The series is set in the Gordon Square Arts District, a once troubled neighborhood that's working to rebuild.

"This show is special to me because it's about giving hard-working people a life-changing opportunity to make their dreams a reality while creating real change in the Cleveland community," said Maverick Carter. "I'm proud that SpringHill Entertainment is behind a project like this that is more than a TV show – it's a transformational series that can lift up all of Northeast Ohio and one that will resonate with people across the country."

Mentor and Investor Panel from the Heart of Cleveland

LeBron James and Maverick Carter have enlisted the help of four successful local business leaders to give the fledgling entrepreneurs the chance of a lifetime –financial backing investing their own money, expert guidance, and a storefront to launch their enterprise. The panelists have a wide range of experience, but share common ground in the Cleveland marketplace. The business leaders include:

  • Kumar Arora – CEO Aroridex, Ltd.

Serial entrepreneur and investor behind many notable Cleveland startups and brands, Arora has mentored over 500 startups and works with the Cleveland LauchHouse and Jumpstart Cleveland to consult and mentor local businesses.

  • Kathy Futey – Certified Private Wealth Advisor®, CPWA®

Futey advises high net worth individuals, business owners, and families throughout the United States; serves as a Director on many boards throughout Cleveland; and additionally is a mentor to fellow investor Kumar Arora as well as an investor in a Jonathon Sawyer restaurant. She is also an owner of a Napa Valley winery called SonkinCellars making nationally renowned Syrahs called Persona and Unmasked since 2009.

  • Alan Glazen – Founder of GlazenUrban, LLC/Neighborhood Developer

Born and raised in Cleveland, this former advertising innovator is often referred to as the "Mad Man" of his time. In recent years, this AAF Advertising Hall of Fame inductee has shifted his talents toward revitalizing the urban neighborhoods of Cleveland.

  • Jonathon Sawyer – Team Sawyer Restaurant Owner

A James Beard Award Winning chef, whose company is all about training chefs and giving them the tools they need to run their own successful businesses. Team Sawyer has graduated at least 12 chefs, who have moved on to start their own endeavors.

Cleveland Entrepreneurs Competing for a Chance of a Lifetime

After a local search, eight up-and-coming entrepreneurs were selected from a group of 25 who pitched the investors. Each investor has chosen two businesses to investigate further. They'll put these eight businesses through a series of tests before ultimately deciding on the four small companies they want to invest in and support as they take on the enormous challenge of opening storefronts in an underserved neighborhood.

Over the course of the season, viewers will see if the entrepreneurs have the ambition, creativity, and hustle necessary to succeed -- and in so doing, help a neighborhood rebuild.

The eight Cleveland-based entrepreneurs include:

  • Old City Soda - Sean Adkins & Mike Gulley
  • Randy's Pickles - Andrew Rainey
  • Styles of Success - Chareen Fountain
  • The Cleveland Bagel Co. - Geoff Hardman & Dan Herbst
  • The Proper Pig - Ted Dupaski & Shane Vidovic
  • Groundswell - Anne Harnett
  • FOUNT - Jaclyn & Phillip Wachter
  • Akron Honey Co. - Brent Wesley

"Cleveland Hustles" is produced by SpringHill Entertainment and Magical Elves with LeBron James and Maverick Carter as executive producers for SpringHill Entertainment and Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz as executive producers for Magical Elves. Jim Ackerman and Marshall Eisen are the executive producers for CNBC.

About CNBC:

With CNBC in the U.S., CNBC in Asia Pacific, CNBC in Europe, Middle East and Africa, CNBC World and CNBC HD, CNBC is the recognized world leader in business news and provides real-time financial market coverage and business information to approximately 386 million homes worldwide, including more than 100 million households in the United States and Canada. CNBC also provides daily business updates to 400 million households across China. The network's 15 live hours a day of business programming in North America (weekdays from 4:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. ET) is produced at CNBC's global headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., and includes reports from CNBC News bureaus worldwide. CNBC at night features a mix of new reality programming, CNBC's highly successful series produced exclusively for CNBC and a number of distinctive in-house documentaries.

CNBC also has a vast portfolio of digital products which deliver real-time financial market news and information across a variety of platforms including:; CNBC PRO, the premium, integrated desktop/mobile service that provides live access to CNBC programming, exclusive video content and global market data and analysis; a suite of CNBC mobile products including the CNBC Apps for iOS, Android and Windows devices; and additional products such as the CNBC App for the Apple Watch and Apple TV.

Members of the media can receive more information about CNBC and its programming on the NBCUniversal Media Village Web site at

How Five Entrepreneurs Overcame Their Toughest Emotional Challenges (Forbes)

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"Searching For Purpose"

For Kumar Arora, the biggest hurdle of entrepreneurship was finding meaning.

“We’ve been conditioned to think that you’re starting a business or becoming an entrepreneur to give yourself the lifestyle you’ve always wanted, but what happens after that? Are your goals truly accomplished? Will you truly become happy at the end of your first major goal? I was overtaken by the idea of becoming successful that it blinded key decisions that could have taken me down a path of true happiness.”

After realizing that real success wasn’t defined by the success of his business, Kumar began questioning whether every step he took was a step towards who he wanted to be.

“I try to make sure I have a stronger focus and always see the big picture plan with my endeavors. Is my work unique? Is what I’m putting out in the world impacting other people’s lives? Are the services I’m offering bettering someone else life? By giving myself an opportunity to do what fulfills my needs, it allows me to paint the best version of myself for myself, my colleagues and my own happiness.”

Kumar’s advice for other entrepreneurs? Don’t let your business define who you are.

“All in all, when one takes on the challenge of becoming an entrepreneur, it truly is no different from venturing out in an unfamiliar jungle. You must use your skills to navigate the terrain as well as the tools you have to survive. But once you have fulfilled the most basic needs for yourself and your project, you must try to look beyond and try to find unique and novel ways to keep yourself from being consumed by business.”

One to Watch: Kumar Arora (Inside Business Magazine)

HIP POINTER: Kumar Arora is cool. He hosts parties at hip downtown Cleveland clubs through his Black Rose Entertainment. He is a co-owner of the popular streetwear brand Ilthy, which sells shirts, hats and jackets designed in-house. So when it came time to market Rogue Eyewear, his new, affordable brand of designer sunglasses, he created a slick campaign featuring 19 Action News entertainment reporter Chris Van Vliet and others that would fit in high-end fashion magazines. But Arora didn’t want the brand to stray far from his Cleveland sensibilities. “Rogue’s blood comes from Cleveland,” he says. “I felt that achieving a price point is probably the No. 1 thing. It might even go higher than design.” So all the shades are priced at about half of what luxury frames might cost. 

FAMILY TIES: Rogue is rooted in the skills, lessons and ideals that his parents, natives of Delhi, India, instilled in him from an early age. His mother, Anu, an artist, would spend days with him drawing or painting, while his father, Pramod, a chemist who worked with lens coatings, would come home from work with examples of different lenses. “Growing up, my parents always pushed me to learn as much as I can, do as much as I can,” Arora says.

REFLECTING LENS: Arora is also fueled by his parents’ immigrant story. The couple came to the United States with very little, eventually securing jobs at Case Western Reserve University and settling in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood. “I feel like it’s something I have to prove to the world,” he says. “I can continue my parents’ story.” 

We talked to Arora about balance, style and striking out on his own. 

IB: How have your parents’ experiences affected you?
 My dad leaving his job opened my eyes. I was in ninth grade when it happened. He was head of R&D at a company. He left his job to start his own thing. He worked so hard for another company and never got credit and realized that he had to do it on his own. So he went from being a scientist to being a businessman. It’s similar on my end where I was studying premed [at the Ohio State University], and I thought, Business is the answer here. I can do more.

IB: What have you learned about being an entrepreneur in Cleveland?
 It’s hard. It’s best to never give up. Any entrepreneur in any city is going to struggle. Bootstrapping is something any entrepreneur has to do, but it comes down to how hard you are willing to work and how far you are willing to go.

IB: How do you manage your time and energy with several different ventures?
 It’s almost like playing chess. But you can’t do it alone. You have to have a strong team in order to be able to jump in and jump out.

IB: What new trends are you seeing in Cleveland?
 People are wanting to experiment and experience new things. With the accessibility of Instagram and different social media platforms, people are paying attention to style — maybe not necessarily fashion. But they are developing their own style. It’s all about having the experience. Food or fashion or entertainment, Cleveland is more open to things now than they were five years ago.

IB: Do you have a favorite inspirational quote?
 It’s from Simon Sinek’s TED talk: “People don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it.” That line has always stuck with me. There is always a story behind everything. You can’t just open up a business and expect to tell them what you do. Tell them why you do it. That’s the foundation of everything I do.

The True Test of a Great Business Idea (Huffington Post)

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People often ask me how I figured out what type of business I wanted to start. Unfortunately, I have to tell them that I didn't figure anything out. All of my previous endeavors have just sort of happened. However, that's not to say I didn't enable them in some ways.

The Next Best Thing

The first thing I recommend to people looking to start their first business is to stop hunting for that million-dollar idea. Instead, give yourself time for an idea to actually come to you. If you're volunteering, working out four times a week or pumping your time into a hobby along with a full time job, you may want to scale your schedule back a little bit. If you want to think of a business, your brain is going to need a little down time. There's nothing wrong with taking a long walk or relaxing on the couch with a glass of wine. Set aside some time to meditate and figure out what you think about when not under stress. You could have a great idea floating around.

Or even better: just live your life. If your routine has prevented you from taking a vacation, sporadic trips to the corner store or even going out for drinks with your friends, you have eliminated a great source of inspiration: day-to-day problems.

After being out in public for a few days, you will have a ton of business ideas you think are brilliant, and there's a good chance some of them are. There's also an even better chance they aren't. Ask yourself these questions about your brain child:

  1. Does my idea solve a problem someone else may have?
  2. Is my solution replicable? Could my answer be someone else's answer? Is there a specific market I am going to ultimately appeal to?
  3. How much do I actually know about the field I might be entering (you're going to want to know a lot)?
  4. Can I see myself spending the majority of my time selling this idea to everyone I meet?

If you can make it through those questions without needing a huge explanation, you could be onto something.

Finding Your Harshest Critic

The final step when testing your new product is to reach out to your pickiest friend. Think about the friend who always special orders items from Starbucks with absolutely no shame. Think about the friend who steals your stories, and who is always tells you what you should have done better without being asked.

Pitch your idea to this person and really work through it. Keep pushing the subject and get ready to be criticized. There's a really good chance you might not be friends after this process because he or she is going to point out everything that's wrong with your new fake company.

If you make it through that conversation and don't hate your friend too much, you might have a legitimate idea. Be prepared to go through that process several hundred times during the infancy of your new concept. You may get worn down, but if you are able to reason through all the problems you're made aware of, you'll be closer to having a viable business concept. And, if you abandon your idea or can't get through the constant criticisms, just try again. Eventually you will either have a great concept or you will have reasoned through the project enough so that you can execute it in the best way possible.

Think beyond necessity for the idea that gets marketplace traction (Smart Business Magazine)

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Being a serial entrepreneur, my mind is constantly searching for the next best idea.

I am consistently pushing the envelope on design and innovation, and much of my work centers on the idea of creating novel products and household brands.

While my concentration lies in a variety of industries including fashion, tech, nano-science, entertainment, marketing and design, my newest project, Rogue Eyewear, uses experimental materials combined with bold designs for a new perspective in a stagnant industry.

Here are some tips I have found useful in finding new ideas.


If one is seeking to develop a product or offer a service, it’s always important to research the market. Without the proper knowledge, understanding of the market or background, it can be tough to get an idea off the ground. It’s best to thoroughly devour anything and everything you can to bring your business to life.

Always seek to make a problem easier to solve

A different approach is not to seek the idea, but to locate the problem. Paul Graham once said, “By far the most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has.” And it’s true. Some of the greatest inventions, best business ventures and disruptive ideas stem from solving a problem with which customers or ourselves are dealing. By learning what problems people have, you can begin to formulate solutions.


If you are having trouble fine-tuning your project, seek help from others. Any good idea always needs to be supplemented with the right business plan, marketing campaigns and so on. While you may have your idea, it’s always best to allow it to flourish by getting feedback from mentors and friends who are better suited in various aspects where you may not be.

Think beyond necessity

A great way to uncover or broaden your idea is to always think beyond necessity. One of my own personal beliefs is that if you think in the “here-and-now,” you may not be thinking about how you can grow your company in the long run. If you are able to envision your direction five to 10 years ahead, you not only are thinking beyond its current stage but you can also plan for it. That’s equally as important as the idea itself.

The idea book

Not all of the ideas I generate are good. So in order for me to filter between the good ones and the bad ones, I write about each one in an idea book. Write as much as possible until you cannot write any more on the subject. The trick is to not look at it for at least two to three weeks. Do not discuss it with friends. Try to allow this break to happen so you can come back to it and see if it’s a strong enough idea. This allows you to look at it in a new perspective, and lets you see it without the rose-colored glasses you were wearing when you started writing.

This “filtration system” is a method I’ve been using for many years as every day is a new idea.