Tech entrepreneurs and investors learn G.R.I.T. at Splash LA

Bambi Francisco, Vator CEO, brought Splash LA to the Loews hotel in Santa Monica on October 14, 2016. It was an event for tech entrepreneurs and investors to absorb knowledge from speakers that are “living the dream.” And while Mark Cuban’s presence as a judge and panelist packed the Loews hotel; there were two entrepreneurs in particular that made an indelible impression on me because of their grit, humility, and self-awareness.

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A Calculated Risk Pays Off

Toni Ko moved to the United States from Korea when she was 13 years old. Toni didn’t speak English, but she knew the cosmetics industry from experience gained through her family business.

Ever heard of NYX? Toni started that cosmetics line in 1999 at the age of 25. In 2006 NYX’s growth suddenly plateaued. What she did to jump start sales takes lots of guts… She withdrew $800,000 in NYX’s bank account, went all in on a marketing campaign to stimulate growth, and then “prayed for a good outcome,” she told SPLASH LA audience.

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It wasn’t a random plan though; her campaign “heavily targeted the Hispanic market.” She knew her customer and how to reach them, and her bet turned into a major exit that put her on the cover of Forbes-America’s Richest Self Made Women edition.

Humility pays off

“I don’t cook meals, and neither does my wife.” Tri-Tan explained to Bambi when she asked him why he started Munchery. He went on to say that he and his wife wanted high quality convenient meal solutions. (Munchery is an online food ordering and meal delivery service.)

Tri-Tran was solving his own problem, which is a good motive. What makes his story interesting is that he wasn’t following the obvious career path of an individual with a bachelors and masters in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT.

So, Tri-Tan had to shut out lots of commentary regarding his career path. “I have a son in-law that has an MIT degree and now delivers food.” Tri-Tan shared this with the audience. His family’s sentiment was likely amplified by that fact that Tri-Tran came to the US at the age of 11 as a Vietnamese refugee, and his family made many sacrifices to give him a “better life.”

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Rolling up his sleeves has paid off for Tri-Tan. He explained to Bambi that his experience delivering food was a good way to meet his customers, refine Munchery’s value proposition, and ultimately raise approximately $210,000 in seed capital from them.

Tri-Tran has infused humility into Munchery’s culture. He shared that all employees walk in each other’s shoes for at least one shift to have a better understanding and appreciation for each other’s role.

Tri-Tan’s grand vision is to become his customers primary meal source, i.e., not a special occasion or backup plan. So, Munchery is laser focused on segmenting customers and finding ways to increase margin as the company grows. What may surprise you is that Tri-Tan is willing to bring in a CEO to achieve success. Tri-Tan explained that he knows his strengths and what it takes to get Munchery to the next stage.

Grit, humility, and self-awareness are traits that can help entrepreneurs take strategic risks, attract investors, and grow the pie for all. These characteristics paid off for Toni, who sold NYX for $500million, and for Tri-Tan who had venture capitalists courting him to fund his series A. Although time will tell what the final payout for Munchery’s investors will be, I wish I were in that seed round.

Carmen Palafox

About Carmen Palafox

Carmen is a Partner at Make in LA, an accelerator and early stage venture firm that specializes in technology enabled hardware (e.g., internet of things, robotics, wearables, VR/AR/MR, etc.). She is also a management consultant with Propina focused on strategy, business development, and operational efficiency engagements for US, and Latin American firms. She was formerly Vice President, of Dimensional Fund Advisors LP, overseeing investment operations, new markets, and managing vendor relationships for the company’s non-US jurisdictions, including Europe, Latin America, Australia, and Canada.
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