I started my first business at age 25. Growing up in the restaurant business, I always thought that I would eventually own one. After working in enough of them though, I realized I didn't like that lifestyle. But I had developed a core competency for making great food. So I decided to start the Fabulous Food Store and Fabulous Food Caterers in New York.
The first year was great. We grew quickly, gaining more business than we could handle. I had everything you desire when you write your business plan. What I didn't have was a life. I was working 16 hours a day, seven days a week. After the second year I was seriously questioning my sanity. By the third year I thought I was the biggest moron on the planet.
By year four I wanted out of the food industry, and took an opportunity to sell the business. My next move was to earn my MBA at the University of Maryland. I wanted to learn whatever I could to keep me from having to work so hard with my next business. I had enough money from the sale that I could afford to go to school full time and not work.
An 'intrepreneurial' stepping stone
In my last year of school, opportunity called. I was hired as a consultant for a specialty food retailer in the DC market. It was a small, two-store company that was trying to expand. I told myself it was just short-term until I finished school, but by my last semester, I was a vice president. I was sucked back into the food industry.
It turned out to be a good gig, though. I was a key decision maker in the organization and instrumental to its growth through my "intrapreneurial" efforts. Most importantly, I learned how to raise capital to expand, something I never learned in school.
I went on to found or co-found four other businesses, including a chain of grab-and-go meal stores that was acquired by a supermarket chain, a product marketing firm focused on developing organic consumer products and a natural skin care line with a famous supermodel.
Then I founded 800razors.com, an e-commerce shaving company selling American-made shaving products for men and women, comparable to national brands, at up to 50 percent off the retail price. It was a hot category with some entrants that raised large sums of money. We had some well-known investors. We had found our niche. Our business metrics were strong, and our path was focused.
We found creative ways to use PR to garner awareness for the brand. SF Giants pitcher Brian Wilson had been traded to the Dodgers and was going to pitch for the first time in over a year. Baseball fans know he has an epic beard, so we offered him $1 million to shave it off with our razor. What better way to prove the razor quality than to shave off a beard like Brian Wilson's?
Well, the media picked up on the story. Everyone thought we were stupid to offer someone so much money just to shave! Our social media blew up with people sending in images of their own hairy body parts, with a price for shaving them. It was funny. It got people to the site and it got orders. Eventually things died down. Then TMZ caught Brian coming out of a gym in LA and asked him if he was going to take the million dollars. When he said he wasn't shaving his beard off for any amount of money, things started up all over again. Now people were outraged that someone would turn down a million dollars to shave their beard. It was a great way to kick off a new business.
In 2015, we provided Michael Phelps with some of our razors and shave cream to try. Since swimmers shave their entire bodies, it was another great way to show the quality of our products. He loved the product, and since we were a Baltimore-based company and he was a Baltimore-based athlete, he got involved, becoming an investor and spokesperson.
An unexpected spark of inspiration
We sold 800razors.com in July of 2016. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next. All of my prior startups began with an idea, leading to building and executing a business plan. This time, I didn't have an idea.
Other entrepreneurs found out about the sale and started asking me for help marketing their businesses. Since I was still unsure of my next venture, I figured why not? I love marketing, and some of them were friends. Besides, it might spark an idea for my next business.
Within a month I was helping four different businesses, and had to bring on three people to help me. Within two months I had eight businesses. Suddenly, I was looking at my next venture without even planning for it. It just happened organically. By the end of August, I had formed my digital marketing agency, ClicBlox, and now we're doubling our revenue every month.
I've had the best time growing ClicBlox. I enjoy it immensely, and love seeing the results of helping our clients with their marketing initiatives. I still work hard, but try to keep it under 60 hours a week. All of my prior businesses taught me how to manage the growth and still have a life.
About the author: Phil Masiello is a serial entrepreneur and currently serves as the Founder and CEO of ClicBlox, a digital marketing agency. Prior to starting ClicBlox, he founded and sold 800razors.com and co-founded Raw Essentials Skin Care with supermodel Carol Alt.
Edited for length and clarity by Nicole Taylor. Have a great entrepreneurial story to tell? Contact Nicole at email@example.com with your pitch.