PVCC students were in for a real treat as they got to hear five PVCC Alumni Entrepreneurs share their insights and perspectives relative to their role as entrepreneurs.
The inspiring Panelists and their current areas of career focus:
- Anthony Braslavsky, Documo, Inc.
- DeLonne Escoffery, Prolific Media Group
- Aaron Poll, The Neighborhood Bug Guys, LLC
- Massimo Sommacampagna, Trinity Development Partners, LLC
- Amber Wong, Rockstar Workforce, LLC
How did the idea for your business come about?
Amber - My husband and I worked for small to medium-sized companies and noticed a skills gap in people who were getting promoted. They didn’t have leadership experience and the skills to manage people.
Massimo - Building real estate has been done for centuries. I learned the ropes and found the niches. Over the years, I have grown my company when it felt right to start and run projects successfully and look for opportunities in the marketplace.
How did you build a successful customer base?
DeLonne - I started out using my own personal network. I utilized relationship marketing and the power of marketing to expand my client base. I also attended trade shows.
Aaron - I started small, I’m not a salesman or “closer.” I let my friends and family know and little by little it started to snowball. I take care of customers like I want to be treated, with integrity and sincerity. Also, word-of-mouth referrals and networking with other pest control companies has been productive. They trust me to take care of their customers for specialty jobs as I offer services that they do not offer.
How does an applicant who wants to ultimately open up their own company but wants to get experience in a job for a few years handle the five year career outlook question?
Anthony - 1) It gives you the opportunity to find out what you like and don’t like to do. It provides you the experience to know what you need. I like to talk to people of all backgrounds and businesses. 2) Do everything. I worked as a bartender while also working full-time in an office. Say yes to everything, it will be worth it.
What was the key driving force to become an entrepreneur?
Amber - Deep down I knew I wanted my own business so I could control my own destiny. A huge driving factor was how we were going to raise our family. My husband and I wanted to offer our children the family time we didn’t have as children.
Massimo - In high school I worked at a community center. I worked too hard and kept getting overtime and because of that I was laid off. As an entrepreneur, I can work as hard as I want. An entrepreneur is an honorable role in society and the economy.
How did you market your business and what tactics have been the most successful?
DeLonne - Focus marketing efforts on family, business contacts and relationships. I don’t do much online marketing, but I'm starting to shift to utilizing social media.
Aaron - I’m not spending anything on online marketing. Paying referral fees is getting me more customers. I do have a Facebook page, Instagram and Google Business page. I ask customers to talk about how much they love me. Reviews give me online credibility.
How can an entrepreneur feature their entrepreneurial side in a job interview?
Anthony - The definition of an entrepreneur is being a problem solver. What can I do that others are not doing? An entrepreneur is an independent, critical thinker who creates his or her own direction and solves the problem. In the job interview, share what problems you have solved that would be advantageous to the overall success of the potential employer.
What worried you the most as you started your business venture? What excited you most about starting your business venture?
Massimo - Just getting started and maintaining and sustaining my business. Make sure you have a capable pipeline and know where the cash flow is coming from. Every day is different, I accumulate knowledge and apply it to my business. I focus on what I can control.
Amber - It was a “leap of faith”. The timing will never be perfect. Both my husband and I had executive level jobs. We had great transition plans and our employers were supportive. Watching it grow and the impact we are making is super rewarding.
Who helped you most along the way?
Aaron - My wife works and provides the stability which takes some of the pressure off my shoulders. She was supportive in taking that jump. On the business side, Bill Hoover who has his own pest control business opened up his network to me and has acted as a mentor.
DeLonne - My first mentor helped me believe I could do it. It has been almost a spiritual journey to take that leap of faith, to prepare mentally, emotionally and financially. My mentor helped me see the side of things you don’t think about and helped me navigate and prepare for the pitfalls and how to make better decisions. My son was a huge part of my motivation to step out and go it alone.
Amber - I didn’t need to raise funds. We did planning and organizing ahead of time. We planned to live off my salary. My husband’s employer was very helpful in the transition plan. We did everything, had to be a jack of all trades. Our transition plan was two years but ended up being nine months.
What suggestions and/or considerations do you have for someone aspiring to be an entrepreneur?
Aaron - Find yourself a mentor in the industry to take you under their wing and teach you all they know. You need to be self motivated and be your #1 fan and have an unshakable belief that you will succeed. I allowed fear and doubt to paralyze me in 2018; preparation will ease your fears. Also, set goals.
DeLonne - 1) Discipline and time management are key. There is lots of work involved. You will have to make sacrifices, like sleep. You will have to shave a few minutes in your day to make calls and talk to clients. Being an owner is not just golf and lunches. 2) Maximize the power of referrals and relationships. Utilizing referrals will save you time. 3) Make a commitment to lifelong learning. Invest in yourself, the most successful people continue to educate themselves.
What can an entrepreneur look for in the company culture that would make it a good match?
Anthony - I looked for a company that allows me independence and freedom and a company that supports the “lay of the land” in 2021. Consider what type of atmosphere and boss you like and what type of environment, such as an office or remote. Be aware of all contributing factors of a culture. Fears and doubts paralyze a person into inaction. Set expectations and set goals for yourself.
Did any of you use the Small Business Development Centers?
Massimo - I graduated from the Small Business Association’s MBA six-month course. I learned how to create a business and marketing plan. It’s a great way to meet other small business owners. The office is at Thomas and Central.
What are some of the challenges that keep you awake at night?
Amber - We started hiring employees, their livelihood is in our hands. Other people’s lives depend on us, which is also a huge driving force.
Massimo - I try to not be too worried about the things I can’t control.
Aaron - My studies at ASU keep me up late at night.
DeLonne - I try to stay ahead of the curve with new ideas and concepts.
Anthony - Thinking about revenue keeps me up at night. I will fly out to get signatures on contracts when deadlines are approaching.
How do you manage a work/life balance?
Anthony - I work fully remote. I’m not good at putting my computer down. It’s been a learning process, some days I want to work 18 hours a day.
DeLonne - I want to always build and grow but you have to be able to turn it off and put it down, it will be there tomorrow. Be intentional about separating work and life, so it doesn’t overwhelm you.
Amber - I worked 70 hours a week for someone else. I did it to learn everything I could. Planning and learning will set you up for success. Learn when to say “no.” Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. We have narrowed our focus and are being intentional. I learned in the corporate world to use my calendar to task block. My time is intentional even in 15 minute increments.
Massimo - Ask yourself, “what is my time worth?” I can take an hour to focus on myself and my family.
Aaron - I haven’t mastered the work/life balance yet. I feel overwhelmed at times.
What are your long-term goals and what steps do you take to achieve them?
Aaron - I’m good at pest control. I want to grow to about 5 employees. I want to establish my company and be a mentor and leader to my technicians.
Massimo - I want to continue what I love. I love the mentorship and fellowship I receive from working with others. I want to make sure I’m here for a long time.
Amber - Our BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is to help over 10,000 individuals through our program. Our focus this year is to take all our content online. We plan to grow our team, grow our impact and grow leaders in organizations. Investing in our company and our people has to be intentional and focused.
DeLonne - My goal is to have leadership and financial education taught in our schools. These are pivotal skills that I want to see as a part of our education curriculum in the next 10 years. I also want to see them taught in the prison system. I plan to work with and build relationships with school superintendents and legislators.
Anthony - I have equity in Documo. I plan to grow the business to the greatest lengths I can. We are capable of showing businesses the way. You just have to stay ahead of the curve and know where the “ship” is going and how to steer it.