Category Archives: Success Stories

Vincent Yancoskie ’13 – CSUF Entrepreneurship Success Story

Next Level Entrepreneurship: Breaking into the Mobile App and Web Design Markets

Vincent Yancoskie '13

Vincent Yancoskie ’13

At Cal State Fullerton, I never imagined I would have the opportunity to delve into the video game industry. The possibility arose when my friend approached me with an idea for a mobile game for the iOS platform and an offer for partnership in the game once it was released. My job consisted of creating most of the graphics interface and marketing the product once it was in the App Store. I immediately jumped on the project in late 2011 and began teaching myself to create graphics in Photoshop.

Meanwhile, I opted to take an Entrepreneurship class which involved a student consulting project. Professor John Bradley Jackson’s “Marketing for Entrepreneurs” class brought on a fresh perspective as to how I could take the business further once the game launched in the app store. Through various presentations and projects, the class raised my levels of awareness as to how I could leverage various avenues to promote the app.

One of the most significant projects in the class opened the door for me to analyze a local business with a team of students in a sophisticated student consulting project. The semester-long project permitted me to garner real-world business experience that later gave me several valuable tools to market the app and also begin contract work designing websites for two consulting groups and a doctor.

The entrepreneurship class challenged me to apply the vast majority of my marketing skills and provided me with a clear vision of drive, passion and the conviction that it takes to start a new business. It also served to invigorate my motivation to finish developing the iOS game and release it to the market.

As the last weeks of the entrepreneurship course began to draw to a close, the iPhone game, officially titled “Lightning Assault” cleared Apple’s approval process and was officially released to the world on the app store. My feelings of accomplishment and excitement when Lightning Assault launched on December 3rd, 2012 were indescribable.

Then came the challenge of marketing the game. Naturally, the first approach was getting all my friends to download the app, a resource that quickly exhausted itself. Within a few weeks of the game’s launch, I had the website LightningAssault.com up and running, as well as several social media channels in an attempt to push traffic towards the website and collect downloads.

However, it was soon evident that I needed to go beyond the most obvious methods of raising awareness for our game. I decided to contact a friend in the journalism industry. She sent my name out, and I soon had an interview scheduled with the OC Register, which resulted in the following article.

Today, Lightning Assault maintains a small yet steady growth in downloads. There is still much room for experimentation in aggressive promotion techniques, yet it has been stated that the game holds potential for massive popularity. Above all, it stands as a beacon of the accomplishments of the three person team that created it, and as an inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Joanne Vo ’11 – CSUF Entrepreneurship Success Story

Joanne Vo

Joanne Vo ’11

I have nothing but great words for the Center for Entrepreneurship. The program was phenomenal and was played a substantial role in my self-growth as the entrepreneur that I am today.

Shortly after graduating in 2011, like all my peers, I was in search of what to do and pondered on what career path I was going to take. During my college career, I struggled between deciding what major to commit to. I jumped from Business Administration to Marketing and then to Finance; all of which I never felt fulfilled in. It wasn’t until I stumbled into my business counselor’s office and discovered the Entrepreneur Major that I subconsciously coveted.

In between juggling a full-time workload of school, I have always been very active in diving into the workplace for experience. I have always been into fashion and have held internships from different spectrums of the industry. I did sales at a fashion buying agency, then at a small independent fashion brand in downtown Los Angeles, a fashion PR company and then as an intern to an established fashion stylist.

At each one of my positions, I was able to excel greatly and make substantial impressions because of the knowledge I had gained while working on the consulting projects and the course work at CSUF. I was able to contribute ideas and solutions to problems that I have worked on with small business owners from our consulting projects. These consulting projects gave me a hands on approach and challenged me to seek more than what was shown. It taught me the most valuable lesson of all: what the essence of an entrepreneurial spirit is.

I am currently a co-founder and co-owner of Shop D∧J, an online women’s retailer specializing in street chic fashion apparel and accessories. We launched in December 2012 and have slowly been progressing and expanding as we are fulfilling a niche and manifesting a permanent and respectable place in this industry. I feel so blessed and grateful for the opportunity and the support thus far.

I owe a lot of what I know and what I have done on my own to the Center for Entrepreneurship. They gave me the tools to be able to pave my own path and follow my dreams. Everything I learned has been my guiding foundation as I set forth on this journey to push this company to a level where it becomes a positive and influential impact to girls all around world.

Joanne Vo, CSUF Entrepreneurship Graduate 2011


#CSUF

For more details on CSUF Entrepreneurship: http://business.fullerton.edu/Center/Entrepreneurship/

For more details on how we help people become entrepreneurs: http://business.fullerton.edu/Center/Entrepreneurship/Incubator

For more details on how CSUF Consulting can help businesses thrive: http://business.fullerton.edu/Center/Entrepreneurship/Consulting

Phillip Stinis ’11 – CSUF Entrepreneurship Success Story

phillip-stinis-csuf-entrepreneurship-success-story

Phillip Stinis ’11

“I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed.” – Booker T. Washington

As a child, my father told me inspirational stories of my grandfather – an immigrant who came to America with nothing and built an empire as an inventor and entrepreneur. He invented Sky Typing, a process that utilizes five skywriters to “puff” out the World’s Largest Billboard in a dot-matrix format; he grew that company to be an internationally recognized advertising media company that is still in operation after 50 years. I knew at that point that I wanted to be successful like him and started to ask myself: “If he could do it, could anybody be a success?”

Like my grandfather, I enjoyed coming up with outside-the-box solutions and was passionate about seeing them come to fruition. In 2000, I graduated with an Electrical Engineering degree and worked for Boeing designing military satellite power amplifiers. All throughout my life I envisioned how things could work better and while I was able to save my employer millions of dollars through innovation in engineering, I still felt my creativity was stifled. I wanted to find a way for my own ideas to reach the public domain and concluded that I needed to learn how to start a business so that I could bring my own ideas to life.

I looked at the best schools for Entrepreneurship and when I found out California State University, Fullerton was both the largest business school in California and provided a world-class education, I was definitely intrigued. Since I went to USC for my Master’s degree in Engineering, I wanted my MBA experience to be comparable. I was sold when I found out I would be the first class to start in the new state-of-the-art Steven G. Mihaylo school of Business and it had the hands on curriculum that would provide me the resources I needed to be successful.

Immediately from the start of the program I grew close to my advisors and the successful business mentors who helped me in my projects, especially during the Venture Creation and Venture Launch courses. While I had many ideas and didn’t know exactly what business I wanted to start at first, I did gain a better understanding of what would succeed and what wouldn’t so I was able to refine my thinking.

Halfway through my program and specifically in my queuing theory class, the mathematical study of wait times; I came up with the idea of ordering drinks through a mobile device to “skip the wait.” In that class I met my business partner who persuaded me to consider including restaurants and introduced me to his friend and our soon to be programmer who later created our iPad and iPhone app. After flushing out the idea for a couple semesters, I then refined our business plan and launched immediately after graduation.

The first six months I literally went door to door talking with hundreds of restaurant owners and they had no interest in changing the way they did business. While we knew wireless ordering would increase table turnaround and profitability, owners were too afraid of the change and I felt a pivot was needed in order to get our solution in the door. I started from the ground up, looking at what restaurants were interested in learning about when I stumbled upon a term called “menu engineering” and learned that people order food based on where their eye looks at the menu. I then noticed our iPad app interface was different from our competitors in the way that we had an array of photos vs. listing items. I felt people would choose the most appetizing photos, especially based on placement from menu engineering, therefore increasing sales on the items restaurant owners wanted to feature on our iPad menu.

This led me to build marketing strategies around our distinct product and sell our system as “menu optimization” software. It was at this time I went back to CSUF and asked my former advisor, John Jackson (JJ), for advice. He had me discuss my plan with his students for feedback and leads and shortly after he found some restaurant clients who had hired the CSUF entrepreneur classes for strategic advances in their businesses and thought they might be interested. One restaurateur in particular told me “no” when I was going door-to-door, then changed his mind and said “yes, I trust JJ’s recommendations and would be happy to try it out.”

That fine dining restaurant was my first beta test and using our menu optimization software, my team and I were able to improve sales for a stellar performing server by 24% and 36% for an underperforming server. In that environment, I personally introduced our digital menu to over 500 end-users (restaurant guests), all which gave me positive feedback, most notably how our menu was easy to use and see in the dim lit restaurants without putting on reading glasses.

In my next beta test, the owners of a casual dining restaurant recorded samples from 125 random customers – they reported to me they received an average increase in guest checks (sales) of 21.3% throughout the month. My next proof of concept came when a restaurant using our system told me their Margarita Pizza sales were slow and wanted our help. I asked them what was wrong and they told me their Margarita Pizza wasn’t selling because it wasn’t on my iPad menu system – this told me items on my menu system were selling more than items solely on their paper menus. Within 5 minutes of them sending me a photo of their pizza, I was able to have it remotely synced up and placed on their iPad menu. After a week, they told me the Margarita Pizza sales went up 225%!

These were the proofs of concept I needed and with the help of the CSUF staff and mentors who had decades of restaurant consulting experience, they helped me create marketing material that got restaurant owners’ attention. With renewed confidence, I started creating channel partnerships with restaurant influencers. These partnerships became our sales channels which allowed us to reach into international markets and expand Tap Tap Order.


#CSUF

For more details on CSUF Entrepreneurship: http://business.fullerton.edu/Center/Entrepreneurship/

For more details on how we help people become entrepreneurs: http://business.fullerton.edu/Center/Entrepreneurship/Incubator

For more details on how CSUF Consulting can help businesses thrive: http://business.fullerton.edu/Center/Entrepreneurship/Consulting

David Soria ’10 and Billy Becerra ’10 – CSUF Entrepreneurship Success Story

metal institute

David Soria and Billy Becerra, recent graduates of the class of 2010, met in New Venture Creation class. Working with Professor John Bradley Jackson, David and Billy built a business plan for “Metal Institute”. Much like a “school of rock”, Metal Institute had a goal of providing a opportunity for aspiring (as well as working) musicians the opportunity to learn and play hard rock in real life bands. Metal Institute was eventually renamed as “Metal-Society” in Professor Evans’ New Venture Launch class.

We are proud to announce that Metal-Society received funding commitments from investors of almost $450,000.00 and is looking to open in the fall of 2011.

Upon graduation, David and Billy realized two basic reasons why Metal-Society was able to become successful through the class. Aside from the great advisement from Professor Jackson, Professor Evans and the mentors/volunteers that helped them with their projects, their equal passion in music and the required weekly class meetings allowed them to stay focused on the project.

David living in Lake Forest and Billy in Glendora often found that outside of class, the ability to meet on a weekly basis was difficult and often impractical. That was until they decided “well if we’re promoting kids to create bands, shouldn’t we have one of our own?” This was the perfect excuse, if you will, to meet on a regular basis.

David, a guitarist of 13 years, picked up the bass guitar and Billy, with years of experience on drums, formed up with guitarists Sean Hall and Greg Tannourji to create “ROTUS”. Rotus has been hitting the stage at full speed opening for acts such as Great White, having special guest play on stage with them such as Michael Anthony from Van Halen, as well as gaining a headline spot at the brand new University of Southern California music venue “Tommy’s Place”.

Rotus has been reviewed on blabbermouth.net (the CNN of music), various other web sites and has an interview write up in the upcoming MUEN Magazine. Rotus is teaming up with promoters and may get an opportunity to play at this year’s Coachella and gain an opening spot for Chickenfoot at the Greek and possibly even the world tour.


#CSUF

For more details on CSUF Entrepreneurship: http://business.fullerton.edu/Center/Entrepreneurship/

For more details on how we help people become entrepreneurs: http://business.fullerton.edu/Center/Entrepreneurship/Incubator

For more details on how CSUF Consulting can help businesses thrive: http://business.fullerton.edu/Center/Entrepreneurship/Consulting

Steve Schoenhals ’12 – CSUF Entrepreneurship Success Story

metal institute

Steve Schoenhals ’12

Two years ago, I packed up as many belongings as I could fit into my car and drove from Michigan to California for the purpose of finishing my education at CSUF. My plan was to learn as much as I could at CSUF while also starting a company on the side. About half-way through my first semester, I joined my colleague, Chris Brockman, and together we co-founded GamerComps.com. GamerComps.com was to be a gaming network that would enable mobile gamers to compete in tournaments for prizes. We believed in our business idea, but only had a general understanding of the necessary steps to bring it to market.

We decided to take the ‘normal’ route: write a business plan, and then use it to find funding. We did our best and created a plan that we believed would attract investors. When the plan was ready, it was time to inform investors of our amazing business idea and then sit back and let the money flow in. We called and applied to almost every angel, venture capitalist, and private equity group we could find on the West Coast. After two weeks of efforts, we had not received a single response. Three long weeks later we received a call from an investment group who was interested in our concept. This was finally our big break! We met with them and gave what we felt was a great presentation, but the very next day we received a call informing us that they had decided to pass.

We remained optimistic, thinking that our last meeting was only one of many chances to come. After waiting another month or two, there were no more calls, there were no more chances. At this point, Chris and I had used up all the contacts at our disposal; we were dead in the water. As hard as it was at this point, I knew what we had was special and there was no way I was going to give up. I had one last place in mind that could be of help, the CSUF Center For Entrepreneurship.

I grabbed my business plan and headed to the CSUF Center for Entrepreneurship on a mission to find a way to get GamerComps.com off the ground and running. I still remember my first talk with John Jackson, the Center’s Director. I was hungry to succeed, and after months of failure, I was not going to let our meeting be another loss. I explained my concept, past losses, and asked if he could help. I could tell John understood how special our concept was and that he saw the fire in my eyes. John was kind enough to begin mentoring me while also introducing me to the faculty involved at the CSUF Center For Entrepreneurship.

Getting involved with the Center For Entrepreneurship was exactly what I needed. The faculty there are very knowledgeable, experienced, and took the time personally to help me better prepare my business. I learned everything from how to best protect my intellectual property to improving my business plan and much more. Most importantly, the center was a safe place to share ideas and receive very knowledgeable feedback.

After a few months of mentorship, John connected me with Michael Sawitz, who was then starting a new business incubator called Fast.Start.studio in Orange County. Michael informed me that he was offering a scholarship through CSUF for a free year at his new incubator; I immediately applied. I met with Michael on a few occasions to discuss my business and the progress I had made. After a few weeks of agonizing waiting, Michael informed me that I was the recipient of the first annual scholarship to Fast.Start.studio worth over 55k.

As a resident of Fast Start Studio, Michael has provided me with amazing services, workshops, and has opened a tremendous amount of doors. The mentors and advisors at the incubator are incredibly experienced, connected, and helpful as well. Since joining Fast Start Studio, GamerComps.com has now teamed up with three established mobile gaming publishers, our user-base is growing rapidly, and the site is quickly moving down the path to success. If it were not for the base of knowledge I received from the CSUF Center of Entrepreneurship, and the incredible backing of both CSUF and Fast Start Studio, GamerComps.com would not be where it is today!


#CSUF

For more details on CSUF Entrepreneurship: http://business.fullerton.edu/Center/Entrepreneurship/

For more details on how we help people become entrepreneurs: http://business.fullerton.edu/Center/Entrepreneurship/Incubator

For more details on how CSUF Consulting can help businesses thrive: http://business.fullerton.edu/Center/Entrepreneurship/Consulting

Sadaf Salout ’08 – CSUF Entrepreneurship Success Story

Sadaf Salout

Sadaf Salout ’08

I love food. Ever since I can remember I have enjoyed cooking, eating, and dining at different restaurants around the country. As a young girl I remember my father encouraging me to try all different types of food and never to judge food before giving it a taste. I even tasted braised beef tongue sandwich and discovered a new taste sensation.

Sounds interesting right? I came to the realization that it is not what food you eat, but how the food has been prepared that will make you like it, and keep you coming back for more. So I began concocting different dishes in the kitchen for my family at the age of ten. My family really encouraged me to cook different dishes.

By the age of 13 my father let me enter his world of the “restaurateur” by giving me a job at one of his restaurants (Darya Restaurant in Orange, CA). I began by prepping appetizers, but most I enjoyed socializing with the customers. Thus, my father allowed me to begin serving at 16 years old. Both my sister and I (we are identical twins) would serve at the restaurant and the customers would be so entertained because they thought I moved so quickly, until they realized there were two of us.

At 18 years old I began managing the floor staff at my father’s restaurant in Orange, and a couple days a week I would serve at his restaurant in Los Angeles (Darya Restaurant in Santa Monica, CA). My dad showed me the ropes of inventory ordering, staffing, and menu options. I was on my way of learning how to operate a restaurant.

Meanwhile, to bolster my business skills I studied Entrepreneurship at CSUF. I thrived in the creative yet practical field of Entrepreneurship where I met other like-minded students. It was comforting to find others like me who preferred not to go to work for a large corporation, but who wanted to create their own new company.

Additionally, the applied learning experience with the student consulting projects was the highlight of my studies. I actually got to consult with a small restaurant Mexican about branding and advertising; this was an exhilarating experience.

I was so enthralled with the CSUF Entrepreneurship experience that I continued my study and completed my CSUF MBA. Finally, I was ready to venture forth and create my own restaurant.

Since the start of my father’s restaurant in 1985, which was one of the 1st Persian Restaurants in Southern California, there have been many competitors who entered the market. So at the age of 26, I decided to open a Persian restaurant with a more Modern twist in Encino, CA (far from my father’s restaurants and in no way direct competition to him). I named the restaurant “Sadaf Restaurant.”

Immediately we saw a new wave of customers who enjoyed Persian food with a modern twist: no more large plates, and huge dishes of rice. We now served our meals (with the same great taste and high quality as the Darya Restaurants) in triangle, rectangular, and asymmetrical modern dishes, with a side of garlic-parsley French fries accompanied with a yogurt cucumber dipping sauce. Our signature dishes were our new kabob wraps and salads with the customers’ choice of protein. Our most popular item on the menu is our “Juicy Chicken”, and the name says it all it is extremely succulent pieces of chicken breast marinated and grilled, served with your choice of rice or salad.

Sadaf Restaurant displays flat screens on the walls, and designs of paintings of different types of seashells, which is what the name “Sadaf” means – Seashell. The restaurant has now been open for 8 months and we have already been given the name of “Home of the Juicy Chicken.” It just goes to show you, how we can prepare boring plain chicken into such a delicious dish.

My journey has just begun. Yet, with the support of my family and the great preparation at the CSUF Entrepreneurship program, I am ready for the challenge.

Sadaf Salout
CSUF Entrepreneurship Graduate, 2008
Founder and Owner of “Sadaf Restaurant”

www.sadafencino.com

Alex Rigo ’09 – CSUF Entrepreneurship Success Story

Alex Rigo

Alex Rigo ’09

The CSUF Entrepreneurship Program bridged the gap between textbook business examples and seeing the real day-to-day human condition of a business owner and operator. It was refreshing to finally get out in the field and begin to immerse myself in the realities of what it’s like to run a small business.

The consulting projects were of paramount importance to my education and provided me with a more thorough perspective of risk taking and how business owners balance their responsibilities in different ways. The program tested my comfort level in a positive way and I am truly happy to have had the experience of working with business owners, teachers, and students that all shared my passion for challenge in life. Above all else, the main things I learned as a CSUF Entrepreneurship Student is that entrepreneurs must have tremendous patience, planning, and they have to understand the true meaning of calculated risk.

My venture, filtersformycar.com, is a retail offshoot of an existing family wholesale automotive parts/supplies business I currently work for and have a stake in. We have never sold to the public, and this project would be something completely new to us. Although, this business has an existing inventory backbone I can draw from as far as products, it has been only one small piece of this intricate puzzle that is known as the “Internet.” Yes the Internet is not only a place to check status updates, share pictures of your recent meal, and remind everyone about the quirky things your dog does.

There is an infinite depth when it comes to e-commerce and choosing the right path to develop a solid and reliable website backend as well as a user friendly and visually appealing frontend. The only metaphor that I’ll choose to use under protest is to be prepared to fall deep down the “rabbit hole” of website development. This is almost an understatement considering all the variables to consider when building the right site for your product offerings.

I knew nothing about e-commerce site development and decided that this was the path I would take (In retrospect, I may have had a little too much confidence after graduating, go figure.) It was a bold and unsettling path, but I figured being computer savvy that I would somehow dissect everything to more manageable chunks that I could allow my mind to digest. Well, fast-forward 3 ½ years later, I’ve finally launched my website and have become confident about all of its inner workings and reliability. My patience was tried again, again, and again to the point that my hair was beginning to gray far faster than I expected. It doesn’t help that your girlfriend is pointing out each new “wise sage” hair on a weekly basis, but that’s why we love a women’s persistence!

I went through three developers and countless opinions about the path I was taking. There were many pro/con discussions of different web platforms and determining which one will ultimately give me the most flexibility in the future. It is difficult to commit to choosing an e-commerce platform when there is a plethora of reviews/comments all over the Internet in which people seemingly have completely different experiences. Patience is your friend, as reading people’s experiences do, in fact, help with the decision process. Never disregard an opinion/review just because you feel that it “couldn’t happen to me.” Expect that EVERYTHING will happen to you.

Web developers are like lawyers in some aspects, their time is valuable and they are anxious to begin work with little conversation. My venture started and I experimented with a few platforms for the first year. The experimentation and testing phase of my venture revealed to me the true nature of the people I hired and worked with on my website. It is important to note that just because someone makes less money per hour and is willing to talk to you, it doesn’t equate with the real value you perceive it to be. Entrepreneurs need to be able to show their planning with those they hire and watch carefully how these companies/individuals respond and move forward.

I’m not saying to reveal your company’s secret Coca-Cola recipe, but it’s important that those that work with you understand your “vision” for the project to prevent problems from occurring later down the line due to misunderstandings or false assertions. Once you detect a “rotten apple,” or in my case a “dirty filter,” you have to be able to let those companies/individuals go before they cause a festering mess later on that you have to pay someone else to fix… do you catch my drift? I eventually found a great development company that has everything I’m looking for (patience & great work task comprehension) and has been working with me for the last year to clean up and present my site in a manner that accurately reflects my needs.

Development of the site and reaching a satisfactory goal of presentation was a great first step for me. The next parts were a bit easier, but still required lots of paying attention. Planning ahead can be difficult when your first inclination is to try and think about everything at once, this irrational thinking will ruin you. I found that decent planning can and will suck the vigor out of your spirit. It is important to set forth tasks in an approachable way so that you can internalize that you have a starting point and eventually a finishing point that results in an applied resolution.

It destroys me if I feel that I have too many unresolved goals, no matter how insignificant they may seem to others. Setting forth goals in a manageable way at least helps me sleep better at night. That is, what little sleep I already get.

I still had to determine solutions for online inventory management, how to pack and prepare orders, simplifying shipment-tracking management, what features to implement moving forward (extensions and plugins), and marketing on the web. These are still all things I’m actively working on and improving on a week-to-week basis. There is still a lot of room for improvement and I view this venture always as a work in progress. I am happy to report I’ve made sales after marketing the site for a few weeks on Google products (I launched in Dec. 2012.) It’s hard to explain how happy you can feel making the first sale on a website that for a long period just seemed like an insurmountable task after building and listing over 13,000+ skus.

Finally, is the concept of calculated risk. Entrepreneurs are going to have to determine how much risk they are willing to take on when starting a new venture. This risk though, is not only something you can see, such as money. Funds can be easy to quantify when it comes to budgeting. This is not what I was initially worried about. The calculated risk is also the time and strain it can put on your relationship with your family, friends, and significant other. I can say with 100% certainty that you do have to “wear many hats” when it comes to running your own venture. And because you are delegated to all of these tasks, you will have to determine when and where you decide to risk things. Do you stay late talking to a developer about a problem? Or do you shuffle aside a meeting to make sure you make Grandma’s birthday dinner?

Although my example may seem silly, how you decide to plan your days and risk things such as attention to detail on a particular task will always compete with family life in the back of your mind. All entrepreneurs seek the right balance of work and family; the key is finding the right amount of risk that doesn’t make you feel empty inside for missing out on things that are important to others. You are going to miss on some things, that’s a fact, but pick and choose wisely what situations you put others in. You are going to want those you care about to be around and supportive when you do in fact meet your goals and taste some success is this bizarre and surprising life of ours.


#CSUF

For more details on CSUF Entrepreneurship: http://business.fullerton.edu/Center/Entrepreneurship/

For more details on how we help people become entrepreneurs: http://business.fullerton.edu/Center/Entrepreneurship/Incubator

For more details on how CSUF Consulting can help businesses thrive: http://business.fullerton.edu/Center/Entrepreneurship/Consulting