Avi Zolty got started in entrepreneurship early on, founding his first company at the age of 16. Shortly thereafter he graduated from the Y Combinator accelerator which gave him an excellent foundation to grow as an entrepreneur. He went on to serve as a senior marketing executive for four different companies.
In addition to his business acumen, he also has a passion for helping others to succeed and become entrepreneurs. He has taught classes General Assembly, a leading training source for professionals, as well as founded the Teen Startup Academy. The Teen Startup Academy was a nonprofit business accelerator for at-risk children that was operational from 2014 to 2017.
Today Avi focuses on his business, EarFleek where he is the Founder and Head of Marketing and Strategy. Earfleek which provides a low-cost subscription earring service to its customers.
Where did the idea for Earfleek.com come from?
The value in Earfleek, the low-cost subscription earing service, is in its price points. By having a very low price point, it allows people to give it a try. It is a lot less scary than signing up for a $50 subscription as there is less to lose. It also encourages people to stay longer because it is less of a drain on their wallet. Our success is grounded on the belief that people people are really buying an experience when they purchase online. Receiving something in the mail and getting to open is fun. This is true whether you’ve spent $500 or $3.50. We focused on being able to deliver that same feeling, that emotion, that experience, albeit at a low price point.
From a business model, it makes sense because if more people are willing to try it out, you have more customers. If people stay longer, you have more revenue and more cash flow. You can scale quicker. You can optimize better and provide a better service for your customers. For us, some of those scale gains include being able to rely on our customers to place purchase orders. Our customers vote on what product they like and that allows us to stay a little bit ahead of the curve in a fashion sense. We have millions of votes on our product, so we are able to see what customers like and how the industry is trending. We are able to place purchase orders much better than an individual buyer could, and obviously the savings gets passed onto the customer.
The more software we build, the more scale we have and the more we’re able to add different features and automate our business. We are very automated now, so we can spend as much money as possible into getting the greatest product and providing the experience for our customers.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I make every day productive with coffee, Red Bull, and Adderall. I position my bed to have the sun wake me every morning. Currently that’s around 5:30 am. I cook a low carb and a high protein breakfast and then I often do not need to stop for lunch. I work from around 7:00 in morning and sometimes I am still working until about 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening. Then if I don’t still need to finish up any projects I will watch Netflix. I try to be in bed by 10, unless I have to be on to be on business calls with our team in China. Due to the time difference I may schedule calls around 11pm- 1am before I am able to go to sleep.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The trick to bringing ideas to life is to focus on the ‘bringing ideas to life’ part more than the ‘how. I believe anything that is truly worth doing is worth doing poorly to start.
When I have taught classes on entrepreneurship, I noticed that many of my students where there, taking classes or fixating on business books on entrepreneurship because it is actually a great procrastination technique. The best thing you can do to avoid that procrastination is to just launch. Just get started. Don’t be scared. Once you have something built, you can then focus on improving it, and you can constantly improve it, but until you have something there, you have nothing to improve upon. You don’t even know if it is going to work.
A lot of the business is around answering the question do people actually want this? Not, are you presenting this to people in the best way possible? Even if your presentation is not the best, some people will get it. You should be able to get one customer before you get 1,000 customers.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I am very excited about the future of virtual reality. I think that, like the internet in the early 1990s, we are barely scratching the surface. I think there is infinite potential and possibility, and I’m excited for what that will look like in the next several decades.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Drinking coffee and Red Bull and taking Adderall.
What advice would you give your younger self?
A business is worth nothing until you have a user or a customer, so it’s important not to procrastinate. It is important to launch quickly. While I said, anything worth doing is worth doing poorly, but I also think there is an immense amount of value in doing things perfectly once you have proven out the model. The difference between a great presentation and a perfect presentation is the difference of raising money and not. I think the difference of a good brand and a perfect brand is the difference of failure and success.
It is really easy to cut corners as a startup, especially if you don’t have a lot of funding and especially when it comes to design. It is very, very important to get that done perfectly. Oftentimes that means paying more than you want for a designer or more than you want for the right brand.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I don’t get Twitter. I think the limitation of characters works in a lot of areas. I understood Vine. I thought Vine was a brilliant idea. If Twitter is trying to be a social media company, Facebook does that way better. If Twitter is trying to spread and propagate information, Reddit does that a lot better. If Twitter is a way to discover content, Google does that a lot better. I’m obviously wrong, there is value. People love twitter. They’re worth almost 30 billion. Despite all of their success, I still don’t get Twitter.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
In trying to solve problems and force myself to rely on what the data says, and not what I want the data to say. It’s very easy to run a campaign or to run a test and you think one design is going to work better than the other, especially with Facebook ads. Oftentimes you have a really great looking ad that everyone else on the marketing team loves, and you have another ad which everyone hates. You launch it on Facebook and you find that the one you expected to be the poor performing ad does way better. I think a lot of people will try to force the other ad or waste time trying to force the ad they prefer into performing as well, but sometimes you have to admit that the data knows better than you.
The data even knows better than your customers. Your customers will lie to you. They will think they want something, but really, they will engage better with something else.
Let the data drive your decisions. Don’t let what you want the data to say drive your decisions.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
As I mentioned earlier, launching fast and then striving for perfection in every possible way once you have a working model to optimize your business. Rely on data to guide your decisions, not what I want the data to show me.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I have had mostly failures. Most people fail most of the time, and the best way to overcome failure is to accept that almost everything you do will fail. I think it’s important not to get stuck in the mindset of constantly trying to force what you want to work to work. Instead, accept the data and fail fast.
The way I approach marketing challenges or business is not, “this is what I want to achieve” but rather I look at it as, “If I do this, and it doesn’t work I’ll be confident enough to write this off”. I want to get to the point where my conscious is guilt-free. Either this idea is bad, or if someone else gets it to succeed it will be by doing something I could not have done. I am buying my freedom from thinking “If I only had done this or that”. I look at focusing on what can I do to fail as quickly as possible. If I don’t fail, then I can figure out how to improve or how I can succeed.
But my first gut reaction is, how do I fail? What can I do to write this off? What can I do to find a fatal flaw and move on to the next opportunity?
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
There is a lot of opportunity in what I call grifter industries. That is not to say that the industries themselves aren’t valid, but they are filled with people that are trying to take advantage of this industry because they are good at sales and not necessarily an end product. I think people should build businesses where they obsess at being good at what they’re selling and charge customers on a cost per result basis.
To be more specific, with public relations or any sort of marketing campaign, if you are truly confident in your ability to provide value, you should charge the business per result or per a predetermined key performance indicator, and you can charge more money. Even if you charge more money to justify the number of times that it will inevitably fail, it should still net positive. Plus, with the additional time you save will allow one to focus on the benefits of the end product, instead of focusing on getting really good at selling the product, which is a different skill set and one that ruins the ability for some of these campaigns to work.
I think this is very true for influencer marketing. Because influencers are good at being influencers and not good at selling a brand, a lot of people that are really good at selling stuff are taking over that market and that it has driven up the price that people are willing to pay. With some minor exceptions, I think the vast majority of influencer marketing is a scam. It does not help influencers because it breaks down. It does not help the brand long term. It is a waste of money. It does not help the middleman in the long term because they are not building a scalable or a really valuable service. They are just monetizing their ability to convince people to give them money based on a sales pitch.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Allbird shoes. They are extraordinarily comfortable. It makes you feel like you are walking around in slippers all day.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I only use Gmail and not even the app, the desktop version. I don’t use a mail provider. I don’t use Asana or Trello, or any of those programs. I just have Notes on my Mac and Gmail on my desktop. These are the most productive programs for me.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recommend Antifragile by Nassim Taleb. He gives an interesting perspective on the way markets and the world works. A lot of people would think the opposite of fragile would be something that is resilient, but really there is a different concept in Antifragile, and I think it is something related to a lot of different industries and a lot of different aspects of business.
I am skeptical about business books in general. I do read a lot. I just don’t read business books. I can recommend a nonbusiness book. I would recommend Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series. I am working my way through those. I am thoroughly enjoying the series.
What is your favorite quote?
“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your source.” This quote is often attributed to Einstein.
● Focus on data, not what you think the data should say.
● Launch quickly, fail fast
● Strive for perfection