It’s silly to try to do and learn everything yourself, learn to surround yourself and rely on others to help you along the journey!
Ian Chen was born and raised in the suburbs of Potomac, Maryland. Growing up, Ian was always a bit of a geek. He always had an affinity for the sciences, and was actively involved in his High School’s different science teams and math competitions. He feels partially redeemed by the fact that he also played sports as a kid, and was able to start on his high school’s tennis team, which won the county title all 4 years he was on board. After high school, Ian moved to California to attend UC Berkeley where he would earn degrees in Business and Industrial Engineering. Upon graduating in 2008, he started his professional career as a management consultant at Bain & Company’s San Francisco office. While at Bain, Ian spent half his time working on corporate strategy cases for large Fortune 500 Tech companies, and the other half working in Bain’s Private Equity Group. Upon finishing two years at Bain, Ian moved down to Los Angeles to join The Gores Group, a $4B AUM Private Equity Firm focused on leveraged buyouts and operational turnarounds. While at Gores, Ian looked at over 100 different business opportunities across a wide sector of industries, and also beefed up his financial modeling skills. After performing due diligence for a year and a half, Gores deployed him to work as an Operator at two of the Fund’s most struggling portfolio companies. While at National Envelope and Scoville Fasteners, Ian would gain first hand operational experience working directly under each company’s CEO to turn around their business.
It was during Ian’s stint working in Private Equity that he became exposed to the world of bottle service and nightlife. While going out with his co-workers, Ian would ask himself why it was so difficult to make a reservation for bottle service at different clubs in LA. Despite the fact that customers were trying to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars, they still had to spend an inordinate amount of time and effort to get pricing information and to submit a reservation request. When he realized that no one in the space was doing a good job of solving this problem, he decided to team up with two of his close friends from UC Berkeley to start Discotech. He currently lives and works out of an apartment in Hollywood with his Co-Founders. Together, they are disrupting the antiquated nightlife market and bringing transparency and efficiency to the space.
Where did the idea for Discotech come from?
The idea for Discotech really came to us from the customer’s perspective. When I was working in the Finance Sector in LA, it was somewhat common for me and my co-workers to venture to different nightclubs in the city. It always boggled my mind how difficult it was to get information about different clubs and to make reservations for bottle service. For starters, a customer needs to personally contact a human promoter, then text/call back and forth to negotiate on pricing for his party. The other problem with promoters is that they are incentivized to up-sell the customer, and they are often unprofessional to work with. I figured that there had to be a company on the web or in the app store that was addressing this glaring inefficiency, but was shocked when I came up empty handed. After talking to two of my close friends from college, I realized that this was a real problem that we could tackle, so we began working on Discotech.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Since the Discotech team currently works out of our home office, my typical day starts with me rolling out of bed, getting ready, then sitting down right at my computer. (My average “commute” time from getting out of bed to work is about 5 minutes) Since it’s a small team and we are a hustling start-up, everyone including myself has to wear a lot of different hats, so my days are very busy and never the same. My typical day will involve elements of customer service, business development (on-boarding new nightclubs, exploring partnerships with other companies, etc.), fund raising (we are currently raising our Series Seed), and other operational management. I try to keep myself as productive as possible by prioritizing my time and having a clear schedule of what needs to be done every day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The most important part about bringing ideas to life is prioritization. There are NO shortages of ideas or things we would like to build out, but we are a small team with limited time and resources, so we have to make sure that we are always working on the most impactful ideas. The first step of any project is to scope it out and determine if its worth doing. Assuming we decide to engage on a project, we try to break the task down into smaller, shorter term pieces called “sprints”. We then scope out the estimated time and resources required to accomplish each sprint, and then we get to work. The team has daily check ins to see how we are tracking relative to our expected progress, and we adapt and respond as necessary.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Just a general shift towards automation. I am really excited for self driving cars.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I think maintaining good health and exercising is key to being productive. Each individual only has so much energy to expend per day, and being healthy and fit is a good way to increase your focus and overall energy. Plus, I find that after taking a break in the day to go work out, I feel better and am re-invigorated, which lets me get back to work in a more productive manner.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I have learned a ton and am grateful for every job opportunity I have ever had. That being said, I would probably say that my job working in Private Equity was the worst job I have had from a work/lifestyle balance perspective. I certainly learned that I was capable of working long and arduous hours every week, but that to be happy in life you really just have to love what you are doing. Its a basic principal you hear all the time, but I think everyone has to kind of learn it for themselves.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Hard question to answer because you never know how things would turn out differently. However, right now, I really wish I learned how to program in college.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Find smart, experienced people, and get their feedback and mentorship whenever possible. It’s silly to try to do and learn everything yourself, learn to surround yourself and rely on others to help you along the journey!
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Be really really nice and over-deliver to your early customer. Growing by word of mouth is super valuable and it will also instill a good culture of customer service which will always be valuable to the company / business.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One failure that I ran into multiple times was getting clubs in San Francisco to sign up on our app. They had worked with other companies that have tried to offer them a similar services as ours but none of them ever panned out for them. (There are so many half baked start ups and mobile app companies in San Francisco). I then pivoted and started reaching out to clubs in Los Angeles – they were very excited about the prospect of being on our mobile app and they were impressed by the product that we were building. After getting the clubs in LA on board and getting customer traction in LA, it was a synch getting clubs in SF to sign up when we approached them again.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
There should really be a pricing engine like kayak / priceline that takes into account airline miles and the value of the miles in addition to just the price of the ticket. Nowadays, you have so many airlines offering similar priced flights, but not all airline miles or rewards are worth the same. (Some airlines require more miles to get a free flight, etc). This engine would provide recommendations based on price + the value of the reward miles / promotions.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Amazon Prime.. makes my life so much easier.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
We currently use Zen Payroll to manage our payroll functions and its super easy to use and saves us a ton of time. We also use Asana to help ourselves track our projects and manage our work flow. I also think its a great interface and it definitely helps us improve our productivity. Lastly, we use Slack for our internal team chats, and it has been good as well.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Martian. Its not really a book that can help with start ups, but its a great fictional story and they are adopting a movie from it. Im just recommending it here because it was such a good book / fun read. The character in the book is super resourceful and never gives up.. in a way its a good way to show how important it is to be scrappy and resilient. (Two of the most important characteristics I think that are necessary for making it in a start-up.)
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
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