6 entrepreneurs shaking things up in Ottawa

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WHEN PEOPLE THINK OF CANADA’S CAPITAL, Ottawa, their first thought probably veers in the direction of government, though it’s small businesses that are the heartbeat of the city. While many don’t solely contribute to a transformation in Ottawa’s economy, collectively they are the positive change-makers in the community. In a city chock-full of hard working-visionaries here are some who are making an impact on Ottawa, for Ottawa.

1. Mike Pilkington and Mark Othmer from The Odds n Sods Shoppe.

With a sturdy backbone in music Mike Pilkington and Mark Othmer have revamped the idea of the “nostalgia shop.” Owning and operating an independent record store is a difficult feat to say the least, but Mike and Mark haven’t just opened a record store, they have created a happy place for Ottawa locals. These two dudes, with 35+ years in the business opened The Odds n’ Sods Shoppe in April 2015. Since then, Odds n’ Sods has proven to be a worthy place to find new or used music or movies, awesome band tees, and sweet nostalgia novelty items. Aside from shopping Mike and Mark create an atmosphere of cool where a person can feel comfortable grabbing an in-house coffee, chatting with the resident music gurus who could discuss about anything from classic jazz to metal to new and old school hip-hop to obscure indie rock and beyond. The Odds n Sods Shoppe is one of the few places in Ottawa to also celebrate Record Store Day, offer listening parties for select new releases, and is good to catch a live performance on occasion.

2. Andrew Szeto from Maru the Circle Brand.

This self proclaimed “kooky Asia” is keeping Ottawa’s photographers fresh. Andrew Szeto, the main man behind Maru the Circle Brand, with roots in skateboarding has created a company that believes in sourcing and creating products locally. “Circle” represents the lens of every photographer and videographer in the Ottawa region and beyond. Any product from Maru, whether it be a camera strap or moto jacket, will be personalized. Maru the Circle Brand is all about sharing experiences and growing together as a community.

3. Aaron Cayer from Antique Skate.

Aaron Cayer is the owner of Antique Skateshop, a skateshop by skateboarders for skateboarding. Antique came about as a way to communicate with the community and to create a safe space to build a skate scene in Ottawa. Antique has a purposeful goal to create social change within the community. Their aim is to continue to be apart of a growing movement of brands, politicians, city workers and businesses that are changing Ottawa for the better while doing what they love.

4. Regine Paquette and Katie Frappier from Victoire Boutique.

Victoire Boutique, started by best friends Regine Paquette and Katie Frappier, can be best described as a “rock and roll tea party”. They favour well made Canadian and independent designers who make timeless pieces. Victoire aims for attitude and oozes character. Regine and Katie put effort into creating the type of boutique that is accessible to every kind of girl, for any kind of occasion. Ottawa is a big part of the Victorie inspiration, its community is in the DNA. Regine and Katie are in constant collaboration with other businesses hosting Q&A nights to inspire other entrepreneurs. They have been involved in various artist installations, lots of parties and varying initiatives in celebration of Ottawa.

5. Paul ‘Yogi’ Granger, Mark McHale and Kevin Berger from House of Targ

There is nothing cooler than hanging out at Ottawa’s abiding classic arcade, House of Targ. Targ started out as an underground warehouse on Main st. by Paul ‘Yogi’ Granger. Yogi, eventually joined by two partners, decided to make the space public and accessible. Since then House of Targ has turned into a true Ottawa favourite. Targ has been well crafted with over 100 titles available to play including a lineup of 20 pinball machines (old and new) plus an overwhelming selection of classic video game cabinets. By day, Targ is a family friendly pierogi house that features 6 varieties of handmade pierogis including vegan and dessert options. By night, Targ transforms into a live music venue highlighting an array of local and international touring acts ranging from punk to jazz. Paul, Mark and Kevin have put together a business model that revolves around good times in an inclusive community — a commonality oriented, musician owned and operated business.

6. Tim and Steve Beauchesne from Beau’s Brewery.

If you are a beer drinker in Ottawa or visiting Ottawa you will undoubtedly come across Beau’s, Ottawa’s most talked about microbrew. Tim and Steve, a father-son team, started Beau’s in 2006 with they help of family and friends. It has since taken off and become one of the capitals greatest craft beer providers. Beau’s takes pride in cultivating unique, organic beers with consideration for the environment and local communities, and has won awards for its’ sustainability. Beau’s describes themselves as being “fiercely independent”, everything that comes out of Beau’s was put into it with great care. To the Beauchesne family local means community. Hosting a yearly Oktoberfest, involvement in community and various charitable organizations while actively supporting local arts and music scene are just a few of Beau’s attributes.

11 Entrepreneurs, Marketers, and Coaches to Follow in 2021

The year 2020 has been an interesting one for the business world. An unexpected pandemic wreaked havoc on many industries and businesses, with multi-national powerhouses having to furlough staff or shutter operations altogether. The business world was forced to get creative and navigate the tricky waters of a global pandemic while testing their own innovation.

As 2021 draws near, players in the business world are already gearing up to make a splash in their respective markets. As the world is on track to recover from the devastating effects of COVID-19, it will be interesting to see which ventures soar in its aftermath. Consumers, as they receive vaccination against the virus, will likely begin spending more money and revitalize industries like travel and entertainment.

As we usher in a new year, here are some of the marketers and entrepreneurs to watch in 2021.

1. Elon Musk, Business Magnate, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX

Regardless of whether you are an entrepreneur, marketer, or even a casual worker who is not really interested in business, you have probably heard of Elon Musk by this time. The incredibly successful entrepreneur is known for thinking outside the box and building up disruptive businesses in record time. Musk was co-founder of the popular payment processor PayPal, the world's highest rated car manufacturer Tesla, the space company SpaceX, and the futuristic transportation company Hyperloop, among others.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is literally rocket science! Photo: SpaceX on Unsplash

Despite the ongoing global health crisis, Musk managed to increase his net worth significantly in 2020, as his numerous businesses flourished despite coronavirus restrictions and declining consumer spending. In fact, as of December 2020, Musk is considered the second wealthiest man on the planet based on Bloomberg’s Billionaires list, only trumped by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. This achievement becomes even more impressive when looking at Musk's' increase in wealth since December 2019, which amounts to a whopping 500%. Given this rate of growth, it would not be surprising if Musk surpasses Bezos' wealth in 2021 or in the following years.

2. Arne M. Sorenson, CEO of Marriott International

Very few industries were hit as hard in 2020 as the tourism industry. Due to global lockdown measures, the millions of people who would usually travel and make use of airlines, hotels, taxis, and other tourist-based products and services were forced to stay home. Hotels around the world were forced to furlough staff, cut costs, or shut down altogether.

However, the end of 2020 has seen a number of vaccines for the COVID-19 virus announced, and the administering of these vaccines is expected in 2021. This means that the travel and tourism industries are set to recoup some of the losses made this year.

It also means that Arne M. Sorenson, the CEO of Marriott International, the world’s largest hotel chain, will have his work cut out for him. Hotels around the world will have to battle it out for consumers who will be eager to spend money and catch up on the activities missed out on due to the virus. Sorenson has been in his role since 2012 but this year, almost a decade into his career at Marriott International will be the true test of his leadership and ability to steer the company to safe harbor after such a trying time.

3. Michael McCann, Attorney, Law Professor, Sports Illustrated Journalist

McCann’s resume is perhaps one of the most interesting of the bunch. He is both a law professor, an attorney, and a sports journalist. In terms of the latter, his work has appeared in such publications as Sports Illustrated in which he discusses legal issues related to sports. In a similar vein, he serves as the director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.

His opinions are very well-respected within the industry and he has weighed in on everything from the Mike Tyson/Roy Jones Jr. exhibition fight to his famous 2011 piece on the Mayweather Jr. plea deal.

4. Troy Portillo, Head of Growth, Studypool

2020 was, globally, a big year for online learning. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, millions of students were forced to learn via remote video classes or through online resources. One of these resources is Studypool, an online learning platform with millions of student users, cracked the “on-demand” model for education.

During this time of growth and expansion, Portillo steered the Studypool team to make invaluable learning tools available to their users. The site boasts of thousands of tutors as well as millions of study documents made easily available 24/7.

“We strive to make Studypool as easy as ordering delivery or getting an Uber,” says Portillo. While the pandemic was a challenging time for many businesses, he saw an opportunity to help students make the switch to a new way of learning with as much ease as possible. In 2021, the company plans to keep its operations running and growing, even as the world adapts to a post-COVID world.

5. Jamil Abiad, Professional Basketball Trainer and Entrepreneur

Jamil Abiad is a serial entrepreneur but most notably known as a professional global basketball trainer. Abiad is based in Ottawa, Canada, and is currently working on building his basketball empire for athletes of all ages. At the age of 30, he has established 3 companies and continues to grow. His first company Next Level was created to help athletes promote themselves to coaches around the world to which would help them hopefully land a spot on a college, or university team. His second business NL-Fitness helps athletes develop their basketball skills and offers various services from private training, group training, camps & clinics.

Jamil Abiad promotes Canadian basketball. Photo: jamil.abiad on Instagram

Through NL Fitness, Abiad has been able to travel around the world to train players and has had the opportunity to learn from NBA/WNBA Players, other global trainers, NBA Scouts, and high-level coaches. With his experiences over the years, he decided to start his most recent business, which is a basketball organization called 613believe. This basketball organization started with two teams with the end goal to grow and reach many other age groups in the years to follow, while giving basketball players the opportunity to receive high-level coaching, training, and many other services that will help elevate their basketball game.

As things continue to grow for Jamil we know it will not stop here for this young entrepreneur. Basketball is on the rise in Canada and around the world, which brings endless opportunities.

6. Eric Yuan, CEO of ZOOM Communications

If you’ve been paying attention this year, then you’ve definitely heard the term ‘Zoom call’ a few hundred times. As most of the world was forced into lockdown when the pandemic hit, there was still the need to communicate, whether it was for professional or personal reasons. Zoom Communication’s flagship service is its Zoom call feature. In many ways, 2020 was the year of Zoom as students all over the world took classes via Zoom, working professionals had their meetings over Zoom, and countless people had Zoom weddings, parties, and all sorts.

Zoom became one of the most used platforms in the world, even surpassing tools like Skype that had been dominating the market for a long time. Helping the company navigate this explosion in use was Eric Yuan, their CEO.

Zoom belongs to the great winners of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Yuan founded the company back in 2011 using funds borrowed from friends and family. He played several roles during its inception, including that of a Zoom customer service representative. In 2020, he helped steer the company following a 1,800% increase in use as well as a number of cyberattacks.

As 2021 dares near, the company will be tasked with maintaining its momentum as countries try to get back to normal and eyes will definitely be on Yuan as the company moves forward.

7. Kirill Petrov, founder, and CEO of Just AI

With over 20 years of experience in the tech field, Krill Petrov is a techie through and through. One of his notable achievements was founding the i-Free group which has 17 companies in its roster that range from video games to media. He is also the co-founder of Russia’s first Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Conference (AINL).

Currently, Kirill serves as the founder and CEO of Just AI, a company that creates Conversational AI tools and technologies. The use of AI means that the systems created can adapt to practically any industry and service the needs of its users.

With the increased focus on specific business needs, we can expect to see his company soar to greater heights in 2021.

8. Hussein Abdelkarim, CEO of Bussr

As a former Rocket Internet CEO and co-founder, Hussein Abdelkarim is undoubtedly an experienced entrepreneur that has the skills and knowledge to grow businesses of any size. Since 2005, Abdelkarim founded and led four different highly successful businesses, including Jumia, EasyTaxi, and the UAE based Altibbi. With his most recent venture Bussr, Abdelkarim and his partner IM Shousha, a veteran technology consultant who led large digital transformation projects for global top tier consulting firms, are aiming to revolutionise mobility and transportation in Southeast Asia.

The startup, which is backed by a number of high profile investors from companies like Facebook, Thiel Capital, Siri, and PayPal, develops various software solutions for Mobility providers in Southeast Asian countries. Bussr is often discussed as the “Shopify for mobility”, as it provides its partners, such as cities, operators, schools, hospitals, and enterprises, with a full-stack mobility platform that includes a complete omni-channel ticketing and payment solution, and a white-label passenger and driver app.

9. Jon Fisher, President-Elect Finance Team, Entrepreneur and Speaker | CEO, CrowdOptic

It’s no surprise that Fisher had inspiring words for the graduating class. His professional resume includes his current position as the co-founder and CEO of CrowdOptic, as well as his role in the creation of companies like Bharosa (acquired by Oracle), NetClerk (acquired by Roper Technologies), and AutoReach (acquired by AutoNation). He also has significant political ties, having been on the biggest Silicon Valley fundraisers for incoming US President Joe Biden. His attitude towards the business world is unconventional in itself as he determines success by family and not money.

“We named our daughter after Emerson who wrote, ‘do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail,” he says.

If you’ve been on the internet, chances are that you’ve come across Fisher’s commencement speech to the 2019 graduating class at the University of San Francisco (USF). It went viral after it was posted, garnering over 5 million views.

10. Chase Alley, CEO at Push AMZ

Push AMZ founders, Luis Millan and Chase Alley, establish and manage Amazon Seller businesses for their clients. This includes every part of the process from product evaluation through fulfillment, with the ultimate goal of a 10-30% passive yield for their clients.

Amazon has proven to be a reliable platform in times of crisis. Photo: Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

The team has built, scaled and managed 70 Amazon Seller stores utilizing a unique blend of Amazon and FBA methodologies. What clients enjoy about this model is that the fully automated process is virtually “hands-off” and provides an alternative investment strategy for the modern investor’s portfolio.

11. Andy Cheung, Founder & executive chairman of ACDX cryptocurrency derivatives exchange

The cryptocurrency industry has seen quite the year in 2020. PayPal announced the rollout of cryptocurrency transactions, JP Morgan launched its own stablecoin and China is testing its own national cryptocurrency. Cheung knows all about this as he is the founder of ACDX, a platform for cryptocurrency derivatives trading. The products offered by ACDX are unlike anything currently on the market.

He previously worked as the COO of OkEx, one of the biggest cryptocurrency exchanges in the world. During this time, he helped the exchange claim the number one spot in a record one-year period. His professional career also includes executive roles at Groupon Inc., Alibaba Group, and iClick Interactive. Besides his work at ACDX, he is also the CEO of Bitwork, which is one of the biggest blockchain consultancy firms in Asia.

The next generation of showrooms is shaking up the multiline model

The multiline showroom hasn’t evolved much since design centers and large-scale corporate showrooms first proliferated throughout the design industry decades ago. Until the internet infiltrated the design trade, there wasn’t much of a reason for it to change. Now, as a generation of digitally native designers comes of age—and the pandemic adds a sense of urgency to the mix—a new crop of entrepreneurs are looking for a way to freshen up the multiline model. Their goal isn’t to reinvent the wheel, per se, but to forge more efficient, personal and experiential exchanges within the spaces.

“I think we need the traditional showroom, and it’s always going to be there,” says Brittney Forrister, founder of Nashville, Tennessee–based multiline The Lot. “I really respect that model. What I am trying to do, though, is give a little more exposure to brands that are either new or smaller—in a way that reaches cities that don’t necessarily have that traditional model showroom.” Forrister’s fabric showroom is actually a van that she has been driving around the Southeast for the past year, clocking 30,000 miles in 2020. The idea for a roving operation struck her after nearly two years running designer Sarah Bartholomew’s retail shop and showroom.

“[Bartholomew] had said there was a need for a micro-batch showroom with boutique textiles,” says Forrister. “There’s a constant conversation [around] the showroom model changing, and it’s not so much that showrooms need to change, but you have outlying cities like Nashville, Birmingham and Charlotte, with growing design aesthetics—but they’re four hours away from a [design center].” While many designers are able to visit design centers regularly, still more rely on trade shows and periodic travel to see new product. But since the pandemic, that freedom has been stifled. Forrister’s solution? Hit the road.

“I got a fold-up table, some bamboo chairs, and began pulling up in designers’ parking lots and presenting fabric that way,” says Forrister. She applied that same personable attitude to other touch points: For designers who were memo-sampling through her website, she tied each bundle of samples with a vintage ribbon. “There isn’t anything that goes to the mailbox where we haven’t tried to make it feel special,” says Forrister.

In Los Angeles, Emma Holland Denvir of Denvir Enterprises has also been experimenting with a personalized approach. She sends out monthly Birchbox-esque packages to designers and firms to expose clients to her vendors, each one with a gift object that showcases a given material—eye pillows from knit soft goods manufacturer Bläanks, or perforated steel bookmarks from RAD Furniture. “We wanted to provide a distraction that made people a little bit happier when it was hard to find moments of joy, but we [also] wanted an effective marketing tool, not just to keep us top of mind, but to introduce a brand, product or material,” she tells Business of Home.

Holland Denvir officially launched the digitally native showroom last July, reluctantly letting it fall under the label of “multiline.” Having spent several years on the other side of the equation—first as a woodworker and furniture designer, then at the helm of U.S. business development for Swedish design studio Hem—she has experienced firsthand the ways that vendors can get lost in the hubbub of larger showrooms.

“When I left Hem, I wasn’t planning on doing a multiline,” she says. “I loved feeling really passionate about one brand, and since I had been on the client side, I hadn’t felt that same passion from multiline reps typically. Brands didn’t necessarily coexist—they felt disconnected but just happened to be represented by the same showroom. [After Denvir Enterprises launched], everyone kept calling me a multiline, and I was like, ‘Please stop calling me that. I don’t like that word. It doesn’t evoke anything positive to me.’”

A similar sentiment drove Anderson Somerselle to launch his digital showroom in the New York tri-state area. Somerselle spent more than five years working in traditional showrooms with the likes of Holland & Sherry and John Rosselli & Associates. It wasn’t long before he identified a number of designer pain points. “I could tell there was a shift in the way interior designers are working today, and the multiline showroom as it stood didn’t lend to that,” he says. “If a designer needed to know the net price of something or if it was in stock, they had to reach out to their rep in the showroom and hope that their rep got back to them in time.”

In response, Somerselle debuted his digital showroom on January 1, featuring 14 fabric and wallcovering lines, with clearly stated product details—from stock availability and pricing to minimum order requirements and lead times—all run through Shopify. “The stock component is the most challenging part because everyone manages their stock in a different system,” he says. “We’ll let [designers] know when something is in stock because everyone’s inventory feeds into our back-end system.” Not only does the Somerselle showroom streamline and provide that information around the clock, but it brings it to designers where they are—online.

The instant, anytime-anywhere appeal of a virtual showroom is hard to pass up—which is why Austin, Texas–based brand Supply invested several months into bringing their sampling service to the website. “Two years ago, we put all memo sampling online, and we were among the first to do so,” says co-founder Callie Jenschke. “It’s exploded since COVID. We’ve seen our customer base double in the last year because of the website.”

Jenschke launched Supply in 2014 with a focus on artisanal textile lines. The showroom itself is decked in patterns and colors, with its various lines unified by a bright aesthetic. Behind the rows of pretty samples, though, is a robust memo system that has further grown to bring a personalized touch to sampling. “We’re not a Schumacher or Kravet with endless memos to hand out,” says Jenschke. “We’re very conscious of how much our vendors have to spend on that, but at the same time, our sales staff will send inspo decks to the memo department, [who will] curate a box based on the project.”

The personal touch that showrooms like Supply and Denvir Enterprises bring to their design clients is fortified by their keen awareness of how Prime shipping has indelibly changed consumer expectations. “The Amazon mentality has changed the world,” says Jenschke. “Everyone expects two-day direct shipping.” For Supply, lightning-fast sample fulfillment has become a keystone of its customer service—designers in Texas metro areas can expect sales reps to hand-deliver memos on the same day, and with an ironclad shipping department, the showroom’s newly broadened out-of-state client base swiftly receives their samples, too. At Somerselle, every shipment has a tracking number, and clients can expect email updates everytime the package changes hands. “Tracking was my number-one thing,” he says. “This is where Shopify comes in—they have great negotiating power with UPS and USPS and we reap the benefits.”

For all the expanding digital capabilities of these new showrooms, a physical space to go, see, touch and feel is still an enticing proposition—one that Nancy Evars is investing in. A designer for 15 years, Evars has a firm based far enough south of San Francisco that weeknight showroom events in the city are unrealistic to drive to. That fact combined with her own line of upholstered furniture and an itch for a local design hub led her to launch Evars Collective on the San Francisco Peninsula. The brick-and-mortar, to-the-trade showroom will not only serve as a destination for sourcing and inspiration, but will focus on community, incorporating a membership component with social and professional networking opportunities.

“When we can gather again, I want to provide a space exclusive to designer events and workshops,” Evars tells BOH. “The membership [will host] workshops on charging strategies, bring in outside sales reps for presentations, book events, and [offer] additional trade discounts if members reach a certain threshold of [sales].” The notion of showrooms providing community isn’t lost upon the digital showrooms, either. Not only are all these smaller-scale showrooms developing close vendor relationships, but through their eclectic takes on the multiline model, they’re cultivating a sense of brand loyalty that comes organically through customer engagement.

“The end goal is, of course, sales, but I always saw creating an authentic community as the best way to get to sales,” says Holland Denvir. “You can be super transparent about that. We’re a sales agency, our goal is to sell things, and designers’ goal is to create beautiful spaces—how can we do our jobs and also create connection?”

One thing all five showrooms have in common is their readiness to engage with social media. As smaller companies, they’re interacting with their follower base more conversationally than a corporate account might—for Denvir Enterprises, that means weekly product videos where Holland Denvir can communicate the touch and feel of a product, Forrister generates excitement for The Lot’s brands by assembling mood boards of fabric samples, and Supply uses its Instagram grid as a place to inspire designers (and funnel them to the website).

“The beauty of social media is that it’s social—having a conversation with the people that have chosen to follow you,” says Somerselle. “I always say, ‘Stop talking at the people, let’s talk with them.’ Social media, used correctly, can educate designers.” For Holland Denvir, social media is a way to have a dialogue with her target demographic. “The multiline [model] doesn’t cater to the people who are actually specifying this furniture, who are typically younger because it’s a more entry-level, midlevel start to this industry,” she says. Her approach is helping her forge that connection—not necessarily with the designer whose name is on the door, but with the junior designers on their team who do the bulk of the specifying.

Making multilines an exciting place to source product is the name of the game for these new showrooms. “It’s an aspirational visit where [designers] are coming in to see this world that we’ve curated,” says Jenschke. “[Supply’s] web abilities will keep growing, maybe even adding an app to make things easier—digital is only getting bigger.” And these young trailblazers are at ease continuing to break the multiline mold. “I’ve always been comfortable doing things that weren’t expected, and because I [don’t] come from this part of the industry, I didn’t realize I was breaking any rules, which made it easier to break them,” Jenschke adds. These new showrooms aren’t about sacrificing process for style—but the storytelling and personalities behind them certainly feel different. And that’s the goal.

Homepage image: Inside the Supply showroom in Austin, Texas | Courtesy of Supply

Brian Kelly, founder and CEO of The Points Guy

What his company does: The Points Guy is a travel website covering travel and rewards tips, reviews and more. The site publishes pieces ranging from how to maximize your credit card points to travel guides for different areas.

How he got his start: Kelly’s father was a consultant, and work required he travel frequently while his son was growing up. They often bonded over using the miles he stacked up to book family vacations, which sparked Kelly’s love of points and their ensuing travel possibilities. After graduating, he snagged a job at Morgan Stanley traveling half the year for recruiting -- meaning he raked in hotel and airline points, earning elite status. Soon after, the financial crisis hit, and although Kelly wasn’t laid off, he saw the window for growth opportunities disappearing. But another business idea was brewing. Co-workers often came to his cubicle for help planning trips.

“I was known as ‘The Points Guy’ at work,” Kelly says. The first incarnation of his business plan was more “travel agency” -- people would pay Kelly $50 to help them make the most of their points -- but it wasn’t scaleable. After friends’ suggestions, he bought a blog domain with hopes of making some money on the side. In June 2010, a co-worker’s developer husband showed Kelly the Wordpress ropes, set up his site and told him to blog consistently every day. “I didn’t know what Wordpress or SEO was,” Kelly says. “[This] was never in the realm of possibility when I started out.”

How he turned a profit: Kelly balked at putting ads on his site at first because he didn’t want to sacrifice quality on his passion project. He finally caved after a friend’s urging, then began making $100 or $200 a month. But the real turning point came after the site hit 20,000 readers in February 2011. Chase Bank expressed interested in working with Kelly as an affiliate, offering him the chance to make $150 for every Chase credit card a reader signed up for via one of Kelly’s links. He made $5,000 the first month.

Momentum spiked in April 2011, when a feature piece on The Points Guy in The New York Times coincided with one of Kelly’s credit card blog posts going viral -- leading to $100,000 in profits that month and him quitting his day job. Kelly later sold the site to Bankrate, which was then purchased by Red Ventures, a company that combines data science with brand marketing. Kelly maintains creative control of the site, and since the sale, The Points Guy has redesigned its app and made changes to how it serves up content.

His secret to success: Kelly says that harnessing the power of social media was what set him apart from the other older blogs focusing on the same topic. It’s important to be flexible, and you’ll need to evolve with the times and seek out potential in platforms that might not have yet caught on. “You never want to be completely reliant on one platform,” Kelly says, who recently put The Points Guy on Flipboard, a news and social network aggregator.

What he wishes he’d known: Kelly was hesitant to hire at first, so he brought people on to perform multiple roles each. But people don’t often perform as well at multiple jobs as they do at just one -- even worse, it can lead to burnout or set employees up for failure. Good people management -- and hiring the right people -- is vital to success, Kelly says. “I was in recruiting and came from HR before this, but some of the biggest mistakes I take responsibility for are hiring the wrong people in the wrong roles.”

Top consumer tip: Consumers looking to make the most of their points should know that “they’re not frequent flier programs anymore -- they’re frequent spender programs,” Kelly says. In order to be smart with points, you’ve got to be smart with your finances -- so it’s important to work on your credit score and pay off any credit card debt before embarking on a goal such as racking up travel rewards. If you’re not paying off cards in full every month, the interest you’ll accrue will essentially devalue any rewards you earn. “Understand where you spend your money, and then align your spend with the right credit card or credit cards,” Kelly says.

Watch the video: 5 Things Smart Entrepreneurs Never Do


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