As the founder and owner of Emma’s Premium Services, LLC, Anton Kogan embodies the very principles of growth and ingenuity which leverage his company as a valuable and influential asset.
Emma’s Premium Services, LLC is a company that provides inmates and their families with easier ways to purchase care packages that meet federal prison requirements for all 60 NYS Corr Facilities.
Kogan used a small loan from his uncle to start his enterprise in his mother’s kitchen, creating the organization’s website and app that allows inmates’ families to seamlessly select and send fresh food, clothing and electronics that met prison guidelines. As his business grew, Kogan started packaging supplies out of his mother’s garage while serving as the company’s communication contact, answering all calls directly for the first three years. After winning $20,000 in a Rutgers business plan competition, he was able to move further expand his operations to a 3,000-square-foot warehouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 2017.
Today, the company helps over 210,000 families and offers a wide selection of fully-cooked, manufacturer-sealed items to inmates from brand names including Hillshire Farms, Tyson, Perdue, Polly-O and Pepperidge Farm and Nabisco. Emma’s has sent over 13.8 tons of food to inmates in NY state prisons.
Anton Kogan holds an MBA from Ohio State University, earned online during his sentence. In May 2020, he will have completed his MBA from Rutgers University. With an ambitious focus toward achieving $1 million in 2020 sales, Kogan is a living testimony of how the power of ingenuity and growth, coupled with access to the right resources, can help people thrive; a mindset which he intends to pay it forward for years to come.
Where did the idea for Emma’s Premium Services come from?
Emma’s Premium Services was created when I realized how many families in the United States faced difficulties when caring for their incarcerated loved ones. The safety regulations put forth by the department of corrections make it very difficult to find approved items. Even the process to shop for the items at multiple stores, then package and ship them is time consuming and stressful so instinctively I felt there was an opportunity to help this segment. I saw existing vendors failed to adapt to today’s customer trends and immediately created a mobile platform to ease the burden millions of families face. Today we have reached nearly 1 million families.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
A typical day begins at about 8am and ends at 3:30am. It consists of handling the most pressing issues before business operations begin. By 9am I aim to resolve ‘quick fix’ problems, whether related to staff, supply chain, or clients. Mornings usually consist of coordinating with teams and ensuring each is on track for the day. Once each group has direction for the day’s tasks, late mornings are to focus on goals that are related to overall growth of the business. We are working to become a national competitor so scaling the company is a priority. Early afternoons are typically dedicated to reviewing tenants and property performance. I currently own and manage 10 properties housing a total 32 families. Due to how unpredictable a startup business and property management are, it is nearly impossible to follow a strict schedule or have a “typical” day. I feel it is best to adapt to each day and be flexible in response to each day’s obstacles.
I keep days structured by creating a list of immediate tasks the night prior. This has become a habit that allows me to wake up each day with clear direction. The list is typically 5-10 tasks that can be completed quickly, have urgency, and for the most part align with the larger long term goals. I found that the momentum built in the morning by completing a to-do list, or portion of it, sets the pace for the rest of the day to be highly productive.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Trusting myself. I feel great ideas come to many, but few possess the confidence to pursue them. Many of my business ideas have been brought to life by not being deterred by a fear of failure. From a young age society teaches us to avoid failure, but as an entrepreneur I feel failure is essential. Thinking back, many if not all of my ideas have been met with doubt and skepticism from family/friends. Bringing ideas to life ultimately happens when your belief in yourself is stronger than your fear of failure. I would go as far as to say, if you are an entrepreneur and people around you do not meet your ideas with doubt, skepticism, or the all too typical “you’re crazy” – then you should be thinking bigger. Ultimately the key to bringing ideas to life is the blend of confidence and ambition. These two elements will push a million dollar idea, into a million dollar business.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The trend that most excites me is innovation, specifically for entrepreneurship. Years ago if you wanted to build a website, or get a specific function coded on the back end of a site, you had very limited, high priced options. Today, platforms like Fiverr and Shopify have innovated the e-commerce landscape and made it possible for anyone with an idea to build it and monetize it without investing $25,000 on a custom site. This excites me because competition is what shapes markets and industries. Today you have many people who can launch their idea from home and compete with larger businesses through innovation and that excites me.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I believe the one habit that has allowed me to accomplish a large number of my goals in a short time is just sheer ambition. Ambition in my eyes trumps Intelligence. I can comfortably say that I launched a company knowing very little and growing it to a multimillion dollar company has been more the product of ambition than intelligence. Sleeping very little, sacrificing very much, and the ambition to learn along the way. Removing the option to fail or quit from your mind is a power in itself. Circumstances that would merit failure or quitting are viewed differently when your mind is forced to search for possible solutions instead of knowing it may default to quitting.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If I was able to speak to my younger self I would advise myself to weigh my decisions better. As a 17 year old kid I made a string of bad decisions. Being brave and naive, I assumed that situations would result the way I imagined them to and not fully understanding the consequences. I would advise my younger self to think more about my future and make decisions that would help create a foundation for the future. I would ask myself to understand how much the decisions I make then will affect me today.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
It is difficult to think of an idea that holds true yet is disputed by all but work ethic is an area that I found is met with disagreement. Since launching my company I have lost friends, girlfriends, and other relationships in my life because they could not accept the demands that come with entrepreneurship. At times I found myself working 18-20 hour days only to fall asleep in my fulfillment facility, waking up only to continue working.
During the past few years I’ve had many moments where I questioned my work ethic, my own sacrifices, and if it’s “worth it” when I see friends enjoying free time, parties, and beaches. Sometimes making these sacrifices is not easy, keeping disciplined is not easy, but I can comfortably say that creating a multi-million dollar company was worth every sacrifice along the way. A few years of consistent hard work, and absolute focus in your 20’s or 30’s can free you for the next 40 years.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
One thing I do consistently is self-evaluation. I built a habit of measuring myself against myself instead of others. I try to identify my own shortcomings, whether reducing certain distractions, or learning a new set of skills that I feel will help me grow into a better leader. Reflecting every 60 or 90 days to see if I am making personal progress is something I recommend everyone try. I found that sometimes growing a company requires so much of our focus and effort I sometimes lose sight of personal goals and growing myself.
I recommend every entrepreneur invest in themselves just as much as they invest in their company. Dedicate the time to work on your flaws and weaknesses, be self critical. Invest the time on learning new skills that will allow you to in turn better manage your company and your employees. The same way we evaluate Q1 and Q2 sales for example are the same way we need to evaluate our own performance and ensure we are on the right track.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Innovation. At no point since launching the company have I left an area complacent or fixed. I am constantly looking at reevaluating every element of the company. From details like “are we sourcing our shipping materials as cost effective as possible?” to “is our facility organized to maximize the space available?” I try to review each step of the business cycle as well as the customer experience. Any owner/entrepreneur should take themselves through the customer buying process to see where their company can improve. As I watch my company operate I am constantly thinking where can seconds be saved or how can tasks be completed easier. I think that is one of the most important strategies because once a company stops adapting and innovating it stops growing.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One failure I have faced as an entrepreneur is failing to grow with my business. What I mean by this is when I began a business, it was organic and small scale, I was fortunate to have help from family or a friend during the beginning stages. You naturally learn all of the processes, the methods, the specifics of your business. One of my failures, and something I am still working on till this day is delegating. Someone recently put this failure in perspective for me when she said “this isn’t the same company that you started on the kitchen table, and you’re still treating it like it is”. Even when the company was grossing sales of over $1 million I was still attempting to handle much of the operations myself. The failures came when it became impossible to manage all areas of the company. I was unprepared for the growth and did not have the trained staff to rely on.
I overcame this by being more forward thinking. Today I look 6-12 months ahead to prepare. I forecast growth and adjust the operation to sustain it. I delegate any role that doesn’t require my personal attention to allow me to focus on the direction and growth of the company. I have been fortunate to have a great team that is willing to work just as hard as I am. Scaling a company is one of the most difficult processes. Everything must be restructured, from employee roles to the supply chain. But what often gets overlooked is the mindset and skills of the owner. Growing from a kitchen to a warehouse to a national company requires the owner’s mindset and skills to shift just as much as the business functions.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Every business isn’t for everyone, I would like to give the readers something other than a business idea they may or may not be able to actualize. I would like to give the readers a business approach that has created more success than any other. Do not aim to create a business that will make money. Aim to create a business that will help people. Find one thing in your life that is “annoying” or “time consuming” and create a solution for it.
Successful businesses are ones created to help people, not profit from them. Once you create a business that adds value to people’s lives, you will generate profit. Profit should be the by-product, not the sole focus. My company has alleviated difficulties that millions of families face by replacing, driving, shopping, packing, shipping with opening an app and placing an order within 2.5 minutes.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I’d have to say the best $100 I spent recently was on a bottle of Merlot. Working nearly 18 hour days 6 days a week growing a company will make you appreciate the moments you find to not think about business. The more I think of it I realize that while the $100 Merlot was worth it, what made the night special was the person it was spent with. My advice to any entrepreneur reading is this: Starting a company will require almost all of your energy, time, and effort. Make sure that you spend your small amounts of free time, and in this case- “$100 dollars” doing something that genuinely gives you a break from the constant pressure of entrepreneurship.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Trello. This is a great app to keep organized, for both personal use and for team projects. I use the platform to handle multiple businesses. I created one Trello Board for personal goals and tasks, one to assist in managing my 40 rental units spread across 10 properties, and another to handle team tasks for my startup company. I suggest anyone who’s day consists of shifting between multiple tasks throughout the day give this app a try, last time I checked it was still free.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Getting to Yes” by Robert Fisher. This book teaches you valuable lessons in negotiation. I feel that this is not only important in business and entrepreneurship, but in every aspect of life. Every relationship we have involves some degree of negotiation. Whether handling a conflict with my girlfriend, or closing a commercial property deal, negotiation skills are useful in any dynamic. Understanding how to negotiate, how to achieve your goal, how and when to comprise are all skills we use daily. I think being a strong negotiator has allowed me to create more opportunities for myself than any other skill. This book is definitely a great place to start for anyone who is looking to sharpen this skill.
What is your favorite quote?
“We don’t have to be smarter than the rest, we have to be more disciplined than the rest”
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.