Three Adelphi alumni talk about their experiences launching and growing start-ups in today's economy.
Whether entrepreneurs are born or made is up for debate, but there is no doubt that starting and running your own business takes an extra level of energy and tenacity. We spoke to three Adelphi alumni about their experiences launching and growing start-ups in today’s economy.
“I knew I could never work for anyone else,” said Celestina Pugliese ’01, founder of Ready Check Glo. The business, which last year had $ 195,000 in sales, provides illuminated check presenters and cocktail menus to the hospitality industry. The concept was born in 2009 when Pugliese and a friend were out to dinner and the server repeatedly asked if they were ready to pay the bill. “The waiter was hovering over the table, waiting for us to pay,” she recalled. An indicator light on the folder that holds the bill, she realized, would solve the issue.
Pugliese spent the next year working to bring her concept to market—verifying that such a product was not already patented, using the Internet to line up an engineer and a patent attorney and, after a misstep, finding a suitable manufacturer. With samples in hand, she headed across the country to industry trade shows to drum up sales.
The first years were ones of sacrifice, said Pugliese, who warned that entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. “I would go to conferences with a hundred dollars for three days to eat. Most people do not have the courage to do that.”
Even today, she is careful about her spending, looking at every dollar as a potential investment in her business. The former Wall Street broker and trader quipped, “Guess what? You can’t go shopping. You can’t buy those expensive boots anymore. That $ 400 in boots, you’re going to have to put that money into your company.”
Pugliese is a proponent of face-to-face sales and said that the sacrifices she has made to attend trade shows and conferences across the country have paid off. At one trade show, a beverage company representative who saw her product asked if she made illuminated cocktail menus. She didn’t, but she got to it, and that product has since taken off.
To date, Ready Check Glo has created more than 30,000 branded menus and check presenters for national and international brands, such as Jim Beam, Ciroc, Jameson, Bud Light, W Hotels, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Holiday Inn and Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
Ready Check Glo is not Pugliese’s first foray into entrepreneurship. While pursuing a degree in business management and communications in Adelphi’s ABLE Program—now known as University College—she ran Server Solutions, an agency that supplied servers and bartenders to private parties. Later, after a decade on Wall Street, she launched Just for the Weekend—a packet of six essential clothing items (a tank top, a little black dress, etc.) for a weekend getaway. The product caught on with cruise companies that stocked it as a lost-luggage-replacement kit. Pugliese sold a few thousand units, but cash flow was an issue. When “another huge order” came in from a cruise company, she couldn’t fulfill it, and ultimately the business failed.
From the experience, she learned that “you need to have enough to operate and you must always deliver.” She added, “At Ready Check Glo, every order I get, I deliver.”
“Everybody has an idea. Most people don’t have the courage to do it. Being an entrepreneur, you have to self-motivate.”
For Jesse Rosenthal ’15, becoming an entrepreneur has been about following a personal passion. He worked part time as a personal trainer while pursuing a major in sports management at Adelphi. “I really had a passion for fitness and helping people in that aspect,” he said. Soon after graduation, he launched Rose Fitness NY, which offers tailored in-person and online personal training programs for clients.
Rosenthal has invested his own savings in the business. “Growing up I was not a big spender,” he said.” While still a senior at Adelphi he realized he had enough money to start a business and “figured now is the time to do it.” So far, his biggest expenses have included marketing and payroll. He has a couple of part-time employees, including a group fitness instructor who teaches a “boot camp” class close to Adelphi’s Garden City campus and a trainer who works in Westchester. Rosenthal pointed out that, unlike fixed-facility gyms, he can keep his capital costs to a minimum.
He sees his business as an attractive alternative to traditional gyms. “Gym membership fees go to waste each year because people simply don’t use them enough or they don’t know what they’re doing when they go to the gym,” Rosenthal said. He considers personal fitness training a way for clients to benefit from tailored advice and plans. Unlike other personal training programs, Rosenthal said that he doesn’t limit session times “because everyone needs a different amount of time to work out.”
The business is still in its infancy. Rosenthal said that he has a handful of clients. Much of his time is spent on marketing. He admitted that “though it sounds weird for a fitness company,” he devotes most of his time to computer work—editing the website and posting on social media. “That takes more time than I imagined” it would, he said.
Still, he is enjoying the work so far. “The best part for me is that I get to take charge of something and start something that I truly believe is a great option to help people.”
Like Rosenthal, entrepreneur Charlie Lee ’92 is passionate about helping people, and, like Pugliese, he was motivated to launch his business, Bizzshout!, when he encountered what he saw as a common frustration. He noticed a lack of a social media platform that truly bridged social interactions with professional ones. On Facebook, he observed, his friends were annoyed by his promoting his business and professional news. LinkedIn, meanwhile, “leaves little room to trade-down for socializing or sharing creative developments to promote.”
Lee described Bizzshout! as a social media platform that offers a “business-casual” environment for companies and individuals. He has invested significant time and resources into developing the brand and preparing for its launch. A video at bizzshout.com describes the company in depth, and he has gained more than 860 likes on the company’s Facebook page.
Lee said that Bizzshout! will offer a number of services for students, professionals, hiring managers and companies, such as a creative résumé and database feature, a forum where brands can earn and connect with customer testimonials and a commercial, or bizzmercial, service. Lee has recruited a team of engineers and a graphic designer to build out the platform. He has been road-testing the concept and has sought advice from experts, including administrators in the Robert B. Willumstad School of Business.
Asked about his role models, Lee cited his father for “the way he raised me” and his professionalism, and social media entrepreneurs Mark Zuckerberg and Gary Vaynerchuk. Like any social media mogul, Lee acknowledges the power of networks—virtual and real—to promote success, and he is eager to build on his Adelphi connections. “I hope the students and alumni experience the platform early to become influencers and inform their social circles,” he said.
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