‘Trep to ‘Trep: February Edition

February’s ‘Trep to ‘Trep features Case Coolie’s Nick Niehaus and Lumate’s Michael Orlando, as they discuss the hows and whys of entrepreneur life.

NN: Why did you first decide to start your business? MO: I was tired of being held back. I needed a job where the only factor holding me back was how hard and smart I worked. Starting a business was the only way I could do that.

NN: What advice would you give an early stage entrepreneur? MO: Ask everyone you can for advice on what to do, but don’t follow everyone’s advice blindly. Collect and analyze, then do what YOU think is best. Trust yourself; you’ll either win big, or fail. Either way, you’ll know if entrepreneurship is for you.

NN: Why did you decide to shift the focus of your company, and how did you do so successfully? MO: We had early insight into an industry that was essentially spinning off another one. We wanted to get in early because it was non-obvious, we had a lead in it, and it had far less risk and far more upside potential. From the outside it seemed like a big shift, because our consumer facing product changed (or went away), but the way we generate revenue didn’t change at all.

NN: What are the highlights of your time working in T-REX? MO: The time we saw water dripping from the ceiling. After exploring, we found that it was a leak spanning seven stories of the building. Talking business at 3am with other startup founders. Holiday parties. Fast and reliable internet.

NN: What are your goals for Lumate this year? MO: Raise money, move to an awesome office with tons of space, triple the number of engineers on staff, get the top mobile players as partners. Oh, you said 2014?

MO: What do you hope to achieve for your company in 2014? NN: 2014 will be the first year we can really focus on sales during the right season. We missed opportunities last summer as none of us could focus full time on the business at the time. Now we'll be able to start growing a college campus representative team and start selling Case Coolies in several lake towns. With the orders already lined up for the Lake of the Ozarks area, I think we'll get off to a fast start as soon as it warms up this spring. I think this could be a huge year to grow our brand and build a customer base around the country through continued attention online.

MO: What makes you most excited about growing your business? NN: Ever since I was a kid, I've always tried to find ways to work for myself. I think growing a business is exciting for the chance to build something from the ground up, provide myself with an income, and eventually provide jobs for others. I also love the idea of invention. I studied engineering for a while in school and always dreamed of creating something new that others would want and use! Adding to the product line and creating more products that people want is a big part of what keeps me motivated.

MO: What are the key objectives and metrics for success for Case Coolie? NN: With only one product for now the numbers are pretty simple. Obviously we want to sell them as quickly as possible, but a key metric in my mind is how many we can sell online. We saw a big surge in sales through our website last year after having an article written about our product on NPR.com. We plan to continue pursuing this type of attention. Pushing online sales also allows us to develop the brand nationally and build up enough cash to quickly expand our product line (compared to wholesale).

MO: What has been the highlight of this month for Case Coolie? NN: After sales slowed following Christmas, we shifted our focus to getting our next 2,000 units. We only have about 20 Case Coolies left so I'm happy to say we've finalized our order, and the significantly improved Case Coolie 2.0 is on its way!

MO: What advice do you have for start-ups in Saint Louis? NN: I think that the start-up scene is changing and growing very quickly now. Compared to even a few years ago, it feels like the opportunities and support around town are plentiful. My advice would be to take full advantage of it all. As an introvert, I never liked the idea of networking, but after a couple of years as a member of a BNI chapter and now the president of the group, I can say that it's an absolute necessity for most businesses. Aside from selling over half of our product through connections I've developed through BNI, networking also builds a support system for your business that will step up and help you out whenever things get tough. That can be an absolute savior in the challenging start-up stage.