I try to get something done towards my goals and dreams every single day.
Dieter is a seasoned technology entrepreneur who thrives on the successful execution of visionary ideas as well as building and leading the various teams required to make it happen. He started his first business when he was 14 years old and truly enjoys working with other entrepreneurs to facilitate brainstorming, form a cohesive execution plan, make an investment, or provide positive energy to help take that first step and get through the inevitable difficult times.
In 1997, Dieter co-founded his first technology startup called HyperMeals.com, which allowed customers to order food online from local restaurants for delivery. In 1999, Dieter saw an opportunity in the electronic futures trading space when he noticed a small Chicago floor brokerage firm that didn’t so much as have email, let alone any meaningful technology whatsoever. Dieter pitched the CEO of Gelber Group, LLC to fund the building of an electronic trading division inside the firm. Over the next decade as CIO, Dieter’s incessant entrepreneurial drive and technology leadership evolved Gelber Group to become a highly profitable global algorithmic trading firm with over $100 Million in capital and more than nine data centers in three different countries. Dieter sold his ownership stake in 2011.
In late 2013, after experimenting with a number of different projects, Dieter co-founded and provided seed funding for ReallyColor, LLC, which built patent pending technology that lets you turn your photos into coloring pages. The company’s heaviest users are teachers, moms, people who are into crafts, speech therapists, autism therapists, Alzheimer’s therapists, the patients’ family members, as well as businesses and non-profits using ReallyColor technology for their own marketing and fundraising projects. As of June 2015, the business generates thousands of coloring pages each week and this is quickly accelerating. ReallyColor has a global user base, with paying customers in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Denmark, Mexico, Poland, Netherlands, France, South Africa, and more. Dieter credits his now 7-year old daughter with sparking the idea in his head and being the inspiration that led him to fund the first prototype.
In addition to other various business interests, Dieter has published a number of book chapters and articles touching on his experiences and vision of technology management and leadership. He is also a singer-songwriter having released a handful of songs under his own name and under the name of his band, O.I.S. Digital copies of his music have been sold on iTunes and other digital retailers in over a dozen different countries.
Where did the idea for turning your photos into coloring pages come from?
The idea for ReallyColor was sparked during a Friday night pizza party. My daughter was 4 years old at the time and in a goofy mood. Fully aware that I’m a neat freak, she was finding art supplies (among other things) and throwing them on the floor in front of me laughing and running away before I could catch her. She started pretending to use her crayons and markers on tables, chairs, floors, clothes, walls, my hair, her friend’s dog (but he got away), her shoes, and then explaining how she simply wanted to change the color of…well…everything! She then pretended to start drawing on the wall, and I dove in head first to stop her. Needing some peace to finish cooking dinner, I took a picture of the wall, printed it out, and told her that she could go ahead and draw on the wall, but only on the piece of paper with the printed image. I thought to myself how cool it would be for her to be able to color real things instead of the constant barrage of fictional cartoon characters. There were a few nervous sleepless nights spent staring at the ceiling, which ended in the morning with my laughing little girl jumping on me cannon ball style. SHE may have been laughing, but that wasn’t the sound coming out of MY mouth! After some time researching and collaborating with my colleagues, I decided to fund the building of our first prototype to see if coloring real photos could even be done well enough for at least my daughter and her friends to have fun with. As an entrepreneur who is equally as passionate about being a Dad, I also saw ReallyColor as an opportunity to combine an ambitious career with being a good parent. The rest, as they say, is history.
At ReallyColor, we sell photo credits. A single photo credit can be used to download one completed coloring page made from a selected photo using our patent-pending conversion technology.
ReallyColor Photo Cards with a 20-Page credit code behind a scratch-off on the back of the card will soon be for sale at retailers and other venues. We’re very excited about the cards, because they make great stocking stuffers for birthday parties or other celebrations, are a better gift for your child’s teacher than an unwashed apple, and can be found in multiple store sections such as school supplies, photography, toys, crafts, games/puzzles, or in the checkout line. ReallyColor Photos Cards are like a gift card but are not a gift card. They are a product for education and entertainment.
ReallyColor photo credits can also be resold digitally by executing a digital wholesale or affiliate deal with us. For example, Groupon noticed the potential and called us out of the blue asking if we would let them feature ReallyColor photo credits nationwide on some of their heavier campaigns. We cut a deal, Groupon sold them successfully, and both parties made some money. On top of it, our customers got an incredible deal…more than 60% off!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Well…I don’t have a typical day. Being an entrepreneur is a roller coaster ride. You deal with anything from feeling the positive energy of possibility while battling towards the distant horizon that only you can see, to dealing with setbacks and negativity from people or situations around you, to listening to your own doubts and fears whispering in your ear, to sleepless nights worrying about what you would do if you couldn’t do this, to suddenly being back on track and feeling great about everything, to watching miracles unfold around you that allow you to suddenly leapfrog obstacles and be closer to achieving your goals. There are also days where you can do nothing but wait on everybody else to get back to you and not move forward significantly until that happens…on those days, I go watch a movie.
Every single morning when I wake up, and no matter how I’m feeling, I say to myself “Ok…let’s see what the day has for me.” I drink a tall glass of water, have my first cup of coffee, take some vitamins, make a shake, eat some almonds and maybe a bowl of cereal, get caught up on emails, plan what I need to get done that day, and then start the process of executing that plan. It is very important for me to be and feel healthy. I try to get enough sleep, drink a lot of water, eat nutritious food, and get lots of exercise. I’m Type A, so when I say exercise, I mean that I go tear it up in a boxing gym and lift weights 4-5 days a week before lunch with rock music blaring in my ears. The rest of the day is filled with writing emails, writing copy, analyzing ReallyColor usage data, phone calls, text messages, planning of my daughter’s schedule with her mom, some swearing under my breath, some jokes, some meetings, being a salesman, and lots of driving and singing in the car. There are also days when I spend time mentoring young entrepreneurs and helping others build their own businesses and execute their own ideas.
Some days I am more Dad than business man. I pick my daughter up from school a couple days a week, take her to swim team practice, soccer practice, birthday parties, games, and meets. If I still have ReallyColor work to do but can’t get it done during the day, I’ll finish it at night. My phone is also always at my side. Rarely do I have a “day off” but I do rest when I feel it is necessary and when I start to feel off-balance.
Every so often, you can find me writing songs and lyrics. When time allows, I’ll be in the studio recording with my guitarist phenom cousin, Eric Dominik. I digitally distribute music in my own name or, when working with Eric, in the name of our band O.I.S. Our most recent O.I.S. collaboration is called “Do It” and can be found on iTunes and other global digital retailers. While copies of our songs have sold in over a dozen different countries, for me it is mostly a hobby. It’s a great creative outlet that gives me the necessary positive energy to direct towards the building of my businesses like ReallyColor and life in general. Of course, Eric and I would be more than interested in hearing our tracks in a major motion picture or TV show, but that phone call hasn’t come yet.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Every business idea has countless little steps and decisions that need to be made on the way towards its successful execution. There are things you know you don’t know and there are things you don’t know that you don’t know. For me, the execution of an idea is seeing it in front of me, and then solving every problem that I know about at any given moment, which stands in the way of the completed picture I have formed in my mind. Maybe I don’t know enough about the industry…I read about it and talk to people who do. Maybe I need somebody with a very specific kind of engineering skill to bring something to life…I go find that person and convince them to do some work for me. Maybe I don’t have access to enough money to pay this person to do the work I need…I try to then convince somebody to do it at a large discount or for free under certain circumstances. Maybe I’m feeling tired and crabby…I drink a veggie shake and go for a walk outside and listen to some music. Maybe I need to come up with some creative copy about my new idea…I relax, close my eyes and let the creative pieces come to me. The problems to solve are endless, but they need to be solved. It’s like a game of ‘whack-a-mole’, except only I know which mole to whack since it’s my vision being executed. This is how I get a boat out to sea when a new idea is formed. Once the boat can float, though, the game changes, and once a business can stand completely on its own, the game changes again with a side order of growing pains. I love growing pains!
I like to say that when building a business or bringing any idea to life, you are sometimes in the middle of a hockey game or in the middle of a baseball game. The hockey game has non-stop excitement that includes fast, unpredictable, exhausting action with emotional ‘fistfights’ and blood every single day just to move forward one inch at a time. The baseball game phase has some sprints and some exciting plays, but they are more predictable and there is always time in between to prepare for the next play or just to enjoy the success of the last one and eat a hot dog loaded with hot peppers and relish.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m noticing how more and more entrepreneurs, writers, speakers, public personalities are finding great success in touting positivity, health, goodness, faith, self-confidence, spending time with the people you care most about, sacrificing for the right reasons, owning your own mistakes, doing the right thing, and acceptance. There is evidence of this in the more diverse types of movies being released in theaters, TV shows, bestselling books being published, and businesses being built. It’s my opinion that we will see this trend continue to grow. The world has grown tired of superficiality and selfishness. This is a trend that has me hopeful and excited.
I believe we all have a responsibility to play our part in making the world a better place. There is nothing wrong with making a lot of money for yourself…I believe it’s a great thing and the more the better. Once you make it, though, and you’ve made your life comfortable, bought your dream car or whatever else used to be out of your reach, and taken care of all the people you care about, my opinion is that you have a great responsibility to do ‘good’ with it. Doing ‘good’ doesn’t just mean giving it away to somebody else or blindly donating to a charity managed by strangers just so you get a tax credit. I view money as gas in the tank that frees you to follow your passions and something that gives you the resources to help others follow theirs.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I try to get something done towards my goals and dreams every single day. Even a day of rest consists of quiet brainstorming, forming questions that need answers, creative problem solving, and coming up with the next step without anybody around me knowing my mind is working overtime. You should grind away every single day, and every so often great things happen. No matter how small, not a single day goes by without me making some kind of forward progress…ever.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
There is no such thing as a worst job. If you need a job, and you have one, you should be grateful and be the best at it while you are doing it. If you don’t like it, find another one you think may be a better fit, give the new job your all and do the best you can while you are being paid to do it. You should never be too good for a job if you need it because it sure doesn’t need you.
I’ve had many jobs over the decades. Growing up, I was a competitive national tennis player and spent a summer traveling the pro satellite circuit and playing for Northwestern University. Because of this, I spent my younger years teaching tennis privately and ran some tennis camps for young kids. When I was 14 years old, and with the help of my parents, I started a tennis racquet stringing business that was relatively successful and gave me all the spending money I ever needed as a teenager, as well as a swelling savings account that I took with me to college. One summer, I also worked as an evening checkout cashier for Brown’s Chicken. As a grown up, I did some network engineering consulting to pay the bills and was building my first real startup called Hypermeals.com in 1997.
In my life, there wasn’t a single job I hated. There were some that weren’t a great fit for my wide-eyed view of the world and there were some that exposed me to toxic personalities, but I found a lesson in each and every job and person I’ve met in my professional life. I learned to not take things so personally…I learned how working long hours doesn’t mean you’re working hard…I learned how to turn the tables on a corporate bully…I learned how to be a salesman and control a room…at 14 years old I learned how buying inventory in bulk lowers your per unit cost…as I got older I learned what being honorable really takes when a metaphorical gun is pointed at your head…I learned how important it is to inspire the people that work for you instead of just barking orders and exerting power…I learned how indescribable it feels to positively change another person’s life financially and how that affects the future of his or her entire family line…I learned how lonely it can be at the top and how hopeless it can seem at the bottom. I’ve always loved working with people, solving problems, creating something from nothing, and depositing a paycheck. Molding my life and the world around me to be something better, something I admire, and something I can change if I want to, was what drove me then and still drives me today.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Given who I was on the day I was born, I wouldn’t do anything differently and have no regrets.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Work out. Don’t know how? Invest in a trainer. It’ll be the best money you’ll ever spend. Can’t afford it? How much do you spend a month eating out and drinking with your friends?
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Your customers are your best source of information and ideas. They are also your best evangelists. At ReallyColor, we spend a lot of time communicating with our customers and we do whatever we can to provide responsiveness and good service. Social media is a great tool for engaging your customers. Our strategy has been to make our customers part of the whole experience. We tell them when our volumes go up…we ask them questions and get answers straight from the source…we feature works they’ve created using our technology…we read emails about how our last Facebook post inspired somebody to take the plunge on a project she was afraid to start…we read emails from teachers talking about how they adjusted their lesson plans to incorporate ReallyColoring pages or how ReallyColor helped save somebody’s job…we receive compliments from parents with autistic children or people with a family member suffering from Alzheimer’s and how they will incorporate ReallyColoring pages into the treatment plan. Our business is nothing without our customers, and our strategy is to make them part of this exciting ride.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When I was building Hypermeals.com, I was 21 years old and didn’t have enough confidence in my own instincts yet. My good friend to this day and still the smartest man I know, Paul Silevitch, was my business partner at the time and even younger than me. We ended up bringing older partners on board who we thought the company needed. These partners ended up taking advantage of our youthful naivety, and we found ourselves in a twisted world of arrogant decision-making and a reality-bending version of what really happened. Long story short, we were never able to take back control. I left 6 months before Paul did, and 1 year later, the business was run straight into the ground. Today you have the same business concept in GrubHub, and it is a public company worth a couple billion dollars. So, we know we had a good idea, but our execution was flawed. It was a good lesson for both of us. Who you partner with is the most important choice an entrepreneur makes.
Nowadays, Paul is putting his own razor sharp mark on the world of technology out in Boston. He inspires and is beloved by all the people who work for him, which is all I need to know. We still plan on building another high-tech business together again one day when our lives can allow it or lightning just strikes with an idea of which neither one of us can let go. When that happens, we will be giving it a real and more mature shot. In the meantime, we regularly consult each other about our current professional projects as well as share and laugh about our daddy duty experiences.
The ReallyColor Team is truly a group of rock stars with track records, a belief in bettering the world, and always aim to do the right thing. Besides myself, there are two other early founders of ReallyColor. Our CTO, Matt Klein, came from the digital advertising world and invested in and joined ReallyColor shortly after selling his agency, FUOR Digital, and searching for the next big thing while building Barn Star Ventures, Inc. Our Ph.D. having Chief Scientist, William Rozzi, designed and built the patent-pending algorithm which powers the photos to coloring pages conversion tool. He also designed and built our photo-scoring tool. He owns more than 20 of his own issued patents, which was recognized a number of years ago when he attained Kodak Distinguished Inventor status.
There are more people involved and you can read all about the firepower driving the success of ReallyColor right here:
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A voice recognition algorithm as a mobile app that recognizes conversations occurring in loud places, like a bar, and then automatically pulls up info about what is being discussed. This could be useful for somebody who, for example, isn’t into sports, but wants to participate in a conversation with friends who are. The app just listens, and then automatically pulls up relevant stats, recent scores, comments about last night’s game, something cool to say, etc. The non-sports fan could take a quick look at his/her phone and contribute to the conversation. The algorithm is the most difficult problem to solve. If somebody out there has solved the tech problem for this and can prove it, find me on LinkedIn and let’s talk!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently saw Foreigner in concert with a few friends. The old guys still got it! The old songs brought me back to my younger years where Rocky Balboa was my man, and I never doubted that anything was possible. Admittedly, the years have jaded me a bit, but this concert reminded me that comebacks are inevitable and we only get a certain amount of time to be here doing our thing. I’m almost 40 years old now and while I still have time (God willing), for me, the clock is ticking. What’s the point of life if you don’t at least try doing something remarkable…and then keep doing it over and over again?
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Rackspace is our primary infrastructure provider and they have proven to be reactive and work well with us. We also use things like Basecamp, Dasheroo, Wufoo, Google Analytics, MailChimp, 123Together (mindSHIFT Online), and so on for our analytics, email, and other services.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recently read the book “OPEN” by Andre Agassi and didn’t have many expectations. It was very well written, endlessly entertaining, and I really enjoyed how Andre used his life story to demonstrate the lessons he’s learned throughout the years; both the good and the embarrassingly bad. This guy had times when he was brilliant and times when he whined too much and made moronic choices. In the end though, he learned the lessons he needed to learn, and with the help of a loyal team that he deliberately put together and inspired day after day no matter what, he found who he truly is and left his mark on the world in a way very few people ever have, and he continues to do so.
It’s my opinion that every entrepreneur should read this book since we are also wading through constant uncertainty. Sometimes we nail a decision and are on top of the world and sometimes we embarrass ourselves and play the clown. In the end, though, we thrive because we never ever give up on bettering ourselves.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
This is a hard one to answer because I learn something from every single person I spend time with or read about. Listing all of them here would be way too big of an undertaking. I’m a sucker for inspirational stories about overcoming impossible odds, or stories about following your own intuition, doing the right thing when it’s difficult, stories of redemption, and stories about doing everything you possibly can and trusting fate to come knocking. The people that have touched me in my life have been entrepreneurs, athletes, teachers, musicians, artists, preachers, and close personal friends who are always honest with me and who inspire me to be better when I wake up every single morning wondering what the upcoming day has cooking for me.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.