Q: Kindly give our readers an introduction to your business. Please include what your business is all about, in which city you are located and if you have offices in multiple locations/ cities.
16 Handles is “Frozen Yogurt Your Way”. Launched in 2008 in New York City, today it operates through its nation-wide chain of stores in different locations such as Connecticut, Maryland, Florida, and other places. It caters to the taste of its customers with sumptuous frozen yogurt and creative desserts. Its mammoth toppings bar offers wholesome berries to decadent sauces. The store provides its customers a nonfat backdrop of protein, calcium and probiotic goodness.
Being an environmental friendly firm, it remains committed in using biodegradable cups and cornstarch spoons and takes measures in recycling. 16 Handles is an active partner of Trees for the Future and each of its locations takes initiative in planting 16 trees every day.
Q: What ignited the spark in you to (start a new business venture) or (to make significant changes in an existing business)? How did the idea for your business come about?
A: I used to be a Director of a hospitality group in Los Angeles and one of the brands in our portfolio was a gelato franchise. Shortly after opening stores in 2005, Frozen yogurt shops gained immense popularity in the market. With all the competition in frozen dessert I noticed a void in one company standing out. This gave me the opportunity to begin my business with the aim to create a brand unlike another frozen yogurt shop. To execute this plan I decided to move to New York, where brands that make it have a greater chance of success and sustainability.
Q: How important have good employees been to your success?
A: Good employees are the backbone of my business. Many people look at 16 Handles being an easy business because of the self serve model. The reality is that, this offers an opportunity to good workers to stand out from the competition. We train our employees to provide an excellent guest experience that has helped in attaining complete customer satisfaction. Owing to their dedicated efforts, we have gained a broad client base. We reward those who take care of our business by offering upward mobility in our organization.
Q: What three pieces of advice would you give to college students who want to become entrepreneurs?
1. Before jumping into an idea, make sure you have identified who your customer is, why they would want to purchase your goods/services, and what makes your product/service unique or better than any other competitor in the market.
2. Get as much help as you can from consultants, lawyers, and other entrepreneurs. Lessen some of the risks by taking account of what other professionals have seen or experienced. With any start up, the most valuable thing is time and resources. Any pitfalls you can avoid will save you time and money, which is essential for a startup venture’s success.
3. Be Hungry, Stay Humble. You are not the first person who thought that they had the “next best business idea”. Often times it is the executor, not the dreamer, who succeeds and gets recognition for a new business. While you should always believe in yourself and not be easily swayed, it is easy to get carried away and think that your business idea is fail proof. There are no guarantees in any business, so preparation and good execution play a significant role in determining the success of the business.
Q: If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
A: I would sit down and create a business plan and have a consultant to review it. I would also have invested in good partners beforehand so that my future plans to expand the business would be a successful one.
Q: What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
1. Be Driven- when you are your own boss you have no one to keep you in check but yourself.
2. Be Resourceful- get all the answers and help that you can get before launching your business.
3. Be Aware- always know what your competitor is doing and remain cognizant that they are watching your every move.
Q: How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
A: Until I can convince myself that it is not worth pursuing. A cost evaluation can show me if the idea is worth taking the risk or if it just isn’t worth it at the end of the day.
Q: How many hours do you work a day on average?
A: 10-12 hours a day
Q: How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
A: Fortunately, I am single so the time commitment does not affect my family or dependents. I am also lucky that my cousin is my business partner who is trustworthy and has helped a lot in taking the business altogether to a new level of success.
Q: What motivates you?
A: Great leaders and great brands. Brands that conjure an emotional connection based on a symbol or a phrase have done it right. I hope that 16 Handles can be one of those brands in near future. This thought keeps motivating me each day.
Q: How do you generate new ideas?
A: I read what is going on in the food industry. I also keep up with latest trends in fashion, music and technology. Ultimately, I want 16 Handles to be regarded as a lifestyle brand so it is imperative that I follow what is happening in other industries. This helps me think of new ideas that may be incorporated into our operations.
Q: What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
A: My greatest fear is letting down my customers. Again, my goal is to create a lifestyle brand that creates an emotional connection with our guests. If customers feel that the brand is stale or that connection is lost, I lose. I manage this fear by letting it motivate me to keep the brand fresh, relevant and to create an authentic experience.
Q: What are your ideals?
Creating a lifestyle brand to which customers have an emotional connection.
Being authentic and ethical to the customer, employees and brand partners.
Q: How do you define success?
A: Customer satisfaction and employee development.
Q: What is the best way to achieve long-term success?
A: Stay fresh, always engage, innovate and remain humble.
Q: Where did your organization’s funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? How did you obtain investors for your venture?
A: Initial capital came from family members. Fortunately, I never had to seek help from outside investors or banks to capitalize my dream.
Q: How do you build a successful customer base?
A: I stayed true to my core values and mission statement. 16 Handles is “Frozen Yogurt Your Way”. I always turned to the customer to tell me what they wanted and how they wanted it. I then made my decisions and implemented changes based on their feedback. As simple as that seems, many businesses try to impose their products on customers and hope it sticks rather than molding the business around their customers wants and needs.
Q: How did you decide on the location for your business?
A: The first location came as a result of many miles of walking and a lot of research. I had to figure out who my customer was, where they lived or ate and how easy it would be for them to access my store. I never had the mentality that if I built it, then they would come. I went to them and sought their attention meeting their requirements.
Q: Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
A: Although I don’t believe that there is a formula to have a successful business but there are certain common practices that can help avoid costly mistakes that most people make. This is certainly a valuable tool to those who follow them and enhances the chance of becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Q: If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?
A: I would talk to Jesus. He came to spread a message of love and made the ultimate sacrifice- his own life for others. There is no one who was more humble yet wise. The opportunity to listen to someone like that would be life changing and inspirational.
Q: Who has been your greatest inspiration?
A: My greatest inspiration has been my future family. Although I am single now, I want to provide a good life for my future wife and children. When they see me and think about me I want them to feel proud of me as a successful entrepreneur, who can do anything he puts his mind to. I believe this is the mettle that real men are made of and should be judged by.
Q: What book has inspired you the most? (OR What is your favorite book?)
A: The Holy Bible. It reminds me that I am a human, a sinner, but that I have saved through grace by God who loves me and calls me His own.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
A: Seeing my dreams becoming a reality. Knowing that the results that come from my labor are mine and that every 16 Handles sign that gets put on a building is an extension of my work and my name.
Q: To what do you most attribute your success? What would say are the five key elements for starting and running a successful business?
A: I attribute the limited success I have attained over the years to working with great people. One person cannot create a successful business and I have been fortunate to build a great team that has helped my business grow leaps and bounds.
According to me the 5 key elements would be:
1. Great Idea
2. Strategic planning
3. Reliable team
4. Enough capital to cover costs for 1 full year
5. Energy- Be prepared to work long hours.
Q: What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
A: When the first franchised store was opened. This proved that someone else believed in my idea to the point that they took a huge risk in becoming a “brand partner” (aka franchisee).
Q: What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?
A: The major difference is that an entrepreneur is willing to try. Win or lose, pass or fail, they go for it.
Q: How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?
A: Marketing is a tool for sales. A tool should always be sharpened and/or well maintained. The best form of marketing is word of mouth. It is the most cost effective and viral (internet). This means that you have to always try to deliver the best guest experience possible so that you don’t get bad word of mouth.
Social Media has been our most successful marketing strategy. We have a social media agency that manages our accounts and responds to guests in a timely manner.
Q: What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?
A: We work hard to be the best and we all want to be recognized as the best in our industry. This tone is set by me, starts with me and filters down to everyone else. I only hire those who care enough to want to be the best. There are too many individuals who work to simply collect a paycheck. I look for passionate individuals who care about the brand and want to see it succeed.
Q: In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.
Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?
A: I have wasted time and resources on trying to cut corners initially. It is very tempting to focus on costs but creating a business is an investment and needs to be observed that way right from inception to execution. I purchased used machines in the beginning to save money and switched vendors solely based on price.
Q: How can you prevent mistakes or do damage control?
A: Learn from others mistakes and try to avoid such mistakes. Create systems and policies. Then manage the people who are responsible for following those systems.
Q: What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
A: My greatest passion is traveling and learning new cultures. I live to eat and not eat to live. I get a thrill out of adventure sports and in the winters I enjoy snowboarding.
Q: What makes you happy?
A: Knowing that my friends and family are healthy and safe.
Q: What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
A: I had to leave my friends, family and the familiar place that I lived most of my life to come to NYC to pursue my dream of a successful business.
Q: Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
A: I admire Apple. They have not only redeveloped a brand but also managed to win me over as a long term customer.
Q: Where you see yourself and your business in 10 years? 20 years?
A: I see the business being recognized as an international brand in next 10 years. Run by an executive team with a lot of experience, the company is sure to carve a niche in the industry and gain a edge over the market competitors.
I plan to maintain involvement in the brand for the entirety of its life. In next 20 years I would have started other brands. The end of my career will be in the form of a public speaker, professor, or consultant.
Q: If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask?
If you had to work under someone, who would that be?
If you were not an entrepreneur which company would you be working for and what would your position be?