By: Eric Elliot
On Tuesday, February 13, the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship hosted the second event in our Robert G. Hisaoka Speaker Series, a Young Founders Panel which featured four successful entrepreneurs who launched their ventures as students. In a panel moderated by Robert Hisaoka, Ali von Paris ’12, Evan Lutz ’14, Brandon Deyo and Bradley Deyo shared some of the insights they learned along with the challenges they faced turning their dorm room ventures into thriving businesses.
Ali von Paris ’12 – Route One Apparel
Route One Apparel is an apparel store that sells original and trendy Maryland clothing and accessories. Ali started Route One Apparel as a junior in 2010 when she designed a jersey to commemorate the closing of a bar she worked at. The jersey design quickly took off, and after leveraging her social media platform, Ali managed to secure 600 pre-orders within a few weeks.
One of the major issues Ali faced was in the timing of launching her business. Ali started Route One Apparel right in the thick of midterm exams and projects, and she had to balance capitalizing on a huge opportunity along with managing schoolwork.
Additionally, Ali faced major space constraints operating an entire apparel company from her dorm room. She often didn’t have room to store products and would instead have to fill pre-order quotas before being able to order a design for her consumers.
Key Quote and Advice:
“If you can pay someone to do it cheaper, outsource it.” – Ali Von Paris
Ali’s biggest takeaway was how valuable her time was as an entrepreneur. It simply wasn’t feasible to spend all of her waking moments on Route One Apparel, and she couldn’t always dedicate precious hours to less important tasks. Ali surrounded herself with motivated team members so she could dedicate her time to the aspects of her business that would lead to growth.
Evan Lutz ’14 – Hungry Harvest
Evan started Hungry Harvest as a senior in 2014 from the basement of his dorm room. Hungry Harvest is a delivery box service that purchases surplus ‘ugly produce from farmers and wholesalers and then distributes them to weekly subscribers. For every box they deliver to a customer, they donate a healthy meal to someone in need.
During the panel, Evan likened launching his startup to a relationship—everyone seemed to have some sort of opinion on it and a piece of advice they wanted to share. The main difficultly was finding the advice to listen to. People had plenty of things to say about Hungry Harvest and were always quick to dismiss the premise of his business or who he was as a person. However, Evan believed in his vision and worked on implementing advice that was both relevant and constructive.
Key Quote and Advice:
“It’s important to stay humble. Give credit to your team, and always take responsibility.” – Evan Lutz
As the CEO of his business, Evan had to learn leadership and management skills to lead his team of 40+ employees. Not growing complacent and always placing the needs of the overall business ego was something that Evan took to heart and was one of the major driving factors that lead to Hungry Harvest’s growth.
Brandon & Bradley Deyo – Mars Reel
Brandon and Bradley Deyo started Mars Reel eight years ago in 2010 when they were sophomores playing basketball at Richard Montgomery High School. Mars Reel is a fast growing sports media platform that features highlights of high school and amateur athletes in order to help them get recruited by colleges.
Fundraising was difficult for Brandon and Bradley. While it was both exciting and fun for them, talking with investors was incredibly stressful. Often, fundraising came down to a numbers game; there was a plethora of back and forth communication, and the Deyos had to develop thick skin to deal with rejection.
Key Quote and Advice:
“Always be learning. Develop a 360 understanding of your business, and learn as you go.” – Brandon and Bradley Deyo
The Deyos stressed the importance of learning your business inside and out. It was through getting their hands dirty and always seeking opportunities to improve that they were able to fully understand their product offering in the market. Today, through keeping an open mind and willingness to learn, Mars Reel has over 25 million unique viewers a month, and they’ve signed deals with investors such as CustomInk CEO Mark Katz, LeBron James and Rev Software founder Jerry Hall.
The Robert G. Hisaoka Speaker Series was created through a generous three-year gift from Robert G. Hisaoka MBA ’79, who aims to bring business leaders and startup founders to the University of Maryland that will inspire students to explore entrepreneurship by providing real-world context for business and venture creation. Learn more about the series and see upcoming events on our website.