Wings & Wall Street


On August 13th, 2007 Rick took a leap of faith and opened his take-out style restaurant, “Wings Plus.” In an effort to once again make a decent living, he invested every last dime from the sale of his house, after downsizing, into a small storefront in Port Washington, NY, located on the North Shore of Long Island.
At the time of opening, Rick was also in process of selling his family sports bar, located in Bayside, Queens, which had been in the family for over 60 years.
“It was a tough time. I had no income. My brother and I were selling our family bar, which at one point had been the pride of my family, and I was pouring every last one of my pennies into a new business. Not to mention that the economy wasn’t looking too hot.”
But Rick saw a hole in a community filled with just pizza parlors and Chinese take out.
“The Buffalo Wings were the claim to fame at our bar. People went crazy for them. I figured, why not bring em to the island?”
This was at a time when Buffalo Wild Wings had not reached the east coast quite yet, and chicken wing chains were not really on the radar yet. He came up with “Wings Plus,” meaning they of course had chicken, but also a whole lot more. Hence the “plus.”
It seemed like a win-win. Keeping a piece of the old family business alive while creating a new legacy to start supporting his wife and child again.
“It was a bittersweet time. I was sad to have to lay my father’s business to rest, one that I had run with my siblings for over 20 years. But it was what needed to be done. And I was excited to venture into something new with a long-time friend, who I was able to secure as an equal partner. Together we put in about $250,000 to create Wings Plus.”
The first six months of being open went extremely well. He hired a decent staff, pulled over some cooks from the old sports bar and within a month, he felt they had found their groove. The fall season brought in all of the football fans ordering for their Sunday games, and Super Bowl Sunday brought in unimaginable sales. The community seemed to like the new establishment, and Rick noticed quite a few repeat customers coming through the doors.
By the end of the first year they were closer than projected to breaking even. Rick and his partner were very pleased, and if things had continued the way they were going they would have made back their investments by the end of the second year. But unfortunately things did not go as planned. The fall of 2008 was rough for Wings Plus.
“The only thing that carried us through that fall and the beginning of winter, was football Sundays. Even with those, cash flow was extremely low.”
Rick noticed a major change in how people were paying. Customers were starting to use their credit cards way more frequently then before. He said it went from being about 50% cash business to around 25% cash business. Not to mention that sales seems to be declining each month.
Discouraged after a less than stellar year, Rick and his partner were left wondering if they had made a big mistake. Part of the reason they chose to open up in Port Washington was because of the amount of wealth in the community. The median household income in Port Washington is approximately $109,000, a little more than double the national media household income. It is an extremely wealthy community, with many of its community members being business people who commute and work in the Financial District in Manhattan. But that does not mean they weren’t feeling the effects of the 2008 recession.
“It was clear that something was going on. People were not spending money. Average order amounts were way down. Customers began questioning prices. And on top of all that, the price of chicken was going up.”
By the end of year 2 they were forced to raise prices, which definitely turned off some people, but it was essential to their survival at that moment in time.
Rick and his partner decided to invest in some marketing and promotions at the start of year 3. They put out various coupons in local papers and pennysavers, tested out some deals on Groupon, and created an email rewards program. While year 3 was still pretty slow, their investments in marketing paid off, and they decided to go for year 4. By this point, they were extremely close to breaking even, and mid-year 4, Rick and his partner finally saw the return.
Currently Wings Plus is doing just fine. Of course it has not been completely smooth sailing, but Rick is proud to have made it through such a horrible recession, and has come out with a profitable business. He is hoping to open up a second Wings Plus in 2016.
But Rick is a little worried about the future. New York seems to be pushing for a $15 an hour minimum wage. This would be catastrophic to Wings Plus.
“Most of my workers are part-time students. I pay my cooks well, but there’s no need to be paying my counter people who work 5-hour shifts at a time, $15 an hour. I already pay them above minimum wage. That would be the end of Wings Plus.”
In the meantime, Rick is planning to move forward with opening a second location, and looks forward to creating a Wings Plus legacy.

Starting a Small Business During the Wake of the Recession

The sun is beaming brightly as a few clouds lay scattered throughout the brilliant blue sky. Even as California enters the autumn season it’s a beautiful day that can certainly boast weather conditions that would cause our friends residing on the east coast to become envious of during this time of the year. Faring at around 80 degrees it’s the perfect weather to be enjoying the outdoors. It’s California dreaming at its finest.

However, even with suitable weather conditions, one small business owner remains frustrated as he struggles to bring in customers to his carwash despite his best efforts. One would think that if the forecast predicated sunny days ahead and an individual had a dirty car that he would probably head to the carwash this week to get it cleaned. The logic behind that thought seems simple enough, and that would have been the likely scenario a few years ago. However, unfortunately, that is not the case anymore, and Chol Shinn of Los Altos Carwash in Long Beach has experienced this downward shift firsthand.

It has been less than eight years since the economic crisis ended in 2009 that economists have deemed “The Great Recession”; and it would appear that our economy is finally humming along the road to recovery. It’s no surprise that the recession hit Americans hard as our national unemployment rate skyrocketed to an unsettling 10 percent in 2009 according to the United States Department of Labor. Yet, for small business owners, such as Shinn, they have upheld determination to hold onto their business and the hope that the economy will turn around soon.

As a means for both small and large business owners to sustain the operation of their companies during the recession and these few years following the economic crunch, they have had to adjust and make changes to the way in which they manage their establishments.

Shinn has shared that he also had to make some significant changes to the way in which he operates his carwash. The first major change that happened to Los Altos Carwash would be the large but gradual cut in the size of its staff. Shinn revealed that when he first purchased the business in 2007 during the wake of the recession that he carried over the same staff that had been employed with the previous owner. However, as the economy weakened he was forced to cut his staff’s work hours, which eventually lead to many individuals quitting. Currently, Los Altos has a total of seven employees, which is a huge difference when compared to its 2007 staff numbers of roughly around 25 employees.


Furthermore, Los Altos Carwash has also had to cut local advertising costs and provide special offers and coupons as a way to generate more customers. Shinn has being working vigorously with nearby shops and the California State University of Long Beach to craft special discounts for residents.

There have been both secular and cyclical shifts that have affected Shinn’s business. A particular shift that Shinn has observed in the carwash industry is the transformation of hand carwashes becoming express washes as means of cutting labor costs. The monetary benefits of running an express carwash is great and would be appealing for that matter solely. However, Shinn rationalized that express washes, which are simply the machine operated ones that customers would experience at a gas station, do not perform the same job as a hand carwash would and would not achieve the same sense of “clean”. Express washes are quicker and cheaper, but are not nearly as efficient as a hand wash. Therefore, this transition could be seen as a secular shift that has caused a loss of revenue and customers to hand carwash owners that refuse to give into the change.

In addition, other factors, such as gas prices and minimum wage, have affected Los Altos Carwash. Shinn has shared that the rising cost of gas prices have caused many people to drive less. Therefore, if an individual does not drive his or her car then there would be no need to have it cleaned.

“I don’t understand how customers expect me to keep to same prices and make a living when the cost to operate my business is on the rise,” explained Shinn. The rise in minimum wage has impacted Shinn’s business because he has had to raise his prices slightly to meet the new cost of minimum wage and still make some profit. By raising the price of his carwash packages to even a dollar more, Shinn has received numerous complaints from his customers.

Certainly, factors such as interest rates have also played a role on the challenges that Shinn has faced. For example, during the recession interest rates were at a historic low. However, it was difficult for individuals to qualify for these loans. If citizens were unable to qualify for a loan then he or she would be incapable of making large purchases such as a new vehicle. Shinn has noted that individuals with new cars seem the most concerned with the cleanliness of the vehicle and would come in more frequently.

Shinn has also disclosed that he believes that the carwash industry in itself is in a downward spiral. Prior to purchasing the business, Shinn revealed that he was under the impression that getting a carwash was a typical necessity that one would do often. However, he has come to the realization that getting a carwash is a luxury and if an individual does not have a disposable income then getting their car wash will not be on the top of his list of priorities. While many of the car washes in the surrounding area have gone under, Shinn explains that he believes he has been able to survive due to the fact that he and his wife purchased the property that the business is on and that has made all the difference.

Timely storyteller


Erin Germain, 34, is a media innovator who gets clients from other innovators. The changing economic landscape has made old media companies fall apart while newer and smaller entrepreneurs profit from each other.

Tuija Pallaste


One o’clock Wednesday afternoon Erin Germain, 34, sits on a sunny patio at the campus of University of Southern California. On the table in front of her she has her laptop and a plate of falafel.

Germain is having a meeting. Another two participants are her business partner and a client with whom she plans a video shoot. All three are on their phones miles away from each other wearing earphones.

Germain has one hour to manage her business and have lunch before her lecture at journalism school starts at 2 pm. She is a journalism graduate student who knows for sure that there are job opportunities in her field of study. She is creating those opportunities herself.


Media environment is in turmoil and economic situation has long been uncertain and that is exactly why Germain has for two years now ran her own production company called For Example.

“I would not have my business if the current landscape would not be what it is.”

For Example is specializing in producing documentary-style videos for companies and non-profit organizations. “Branded content” it is called. Her videos are beautiful stories of ordinary people sharing their life experiences or attending events.

“For us it works best if there is a good and authentic story that includes the brand,” Germain explains.

Sometimes there is just a story and the brand is integrated into it.

Companies and non-profits use the videos for their PR and marketing. For Example creates ideas, finds the right people and uses its’ distinctive visual style to match clients needs. They have worked for small non-profit campaigns and huge brands like Neutrogena, Lenovo and LEGO.

The idea of documentary-style branded content is Germain’s own. When she started two years ago there were not many companies doing that kind of videos.

Now branded content has became a big trend in the media business along with “native advertisement”. No wonder it has. After many profitable decades the advertisement revenues of traditional media companies dropped in 2010s to the level of 1950s, Brown Institute of Media Innovation counts. Print adds nearly disappeared, and banner advertising turned out to be a poor replica of traditional advertising in the internet.


Germain finished her undergraduate studies in media arts 13 years ago when the bubble had recently burst and many old media companies were losing their wealth. Social media was getting a stronger hold of the media ecosystem.

Germain did not have specific career expectations. “I had no idea what I wanted to do.”

Her uncle had an empty apartment in Chicago. As she was promised a free place to stay she applied for an internship at Oprah Winfrey’s Chicago-based Harpo.

She got in. Harpo is a success story and Germain loved her job at research department, but she missed her family in California. With her work experience at Harpo it wasn’t difficult to get into Los Angeles’ TV industry. She ended up producing reality TV shows, medical shows, travel shows and documentaries, as a freelancer in LA.

“Every three to six months I had a different job.”

She even went to teach English and video production in Ecuador.

“When I was in between jobs, I started to do some thing for non-profits.”

All these works proved to be significant when she finally set up her own company. She had learned to cope the uncertainty and to connect with a lot of different people. Most importantly: she had what good storytelling required.

“I learned how to tell a great story from some of the best people in the industry.


First assignments For Example got through a pitching site called Tongal – which itself was a sign of changing media economics. Companies worked on tight marketing budgets and this new internet service helped them to find freelancers and productions companies in a new money-saving way.

Tongal explains its’ idea like this:

“1. Businesses like LEGO post projects to Tongal. 2.Tongal community goes to work generating ideas. 3. Winning ideas are chosen.”

”Tongal community” means professionals interested in sending their work proposals via Tongal to realize a project.

For Example immediately gained success on Tongal. They were chosen to be The Tongaler of the Month in November 2014.

The site ranks the “Tongal community members”, and For Example is currently nr 21 in production (having earned $259,725)

“Tongal allowed me to start” says Germain.

Budgets can still be tight. Germain needs a crew of 2-15 people for the videos.

“On our biggest shoots we have a cameraman, a sound person, a make-up person and a technical person and more.”

“It is always balancing with the budgets. I was working on documentaries where budgets were never big so I know how to do it. We are not relying on special effects but on a good story. A million dollar idea does not work out well with 10,000 dollar budget.

Thanks to her numerous freelance jobs she knew a lot of freelancers.

“I knew good ones that I trusted. If they can not do it they always recommend someone else.”


Germain has finished her phone meeting and falafel lunch on the patio.

For Example is a limited liability company and a partnership. One thing Germain did not know when she started: how to ran a business.

“I still have no idea about that side sometimes. I am always learning as I go.”

She asked her college friend to be a co-founder as she had experience of marketing. They both work where their laptops are. Laptops, software and internet connection are all they need. Other technical gear comes from the people they hire.

Germain is often at campus. She got a fellowship to do post-graduate studies and decided to go for it. As an entrepreneur she can arrange her timetables and eventually she would like teach branded content.

“Now everybody is doing it,” she says.

Want to Start a Business? Try an Alternate Path

Entrepreneurship is such a trending word it seems anyone can start his own business. But not everyone is lucky enough to obtain an entrepreneurial opportunity. The owner of Home Brite Cleaning Services, Siraj Mirza, is part of an alternate trend which people buys an existing business and makes smart modifications to help the business prosper.

Home Brite Cleaning Services is a professional cleaning services company started in 2009 that provides private home cleaning, pre move-in and pro move-out cleaning, office cleaning and post construction cleanup services. The owner of Home Brite, Siraj Mirza, currently in his mid-40s, used to be a banker working with foreign banks; he was laid off during the recession in 2008, leaving his wife, Tess Zaidi, under heavy financial pressure. After changing jobs for a few times, Mirza decided that he didn’t want the stress of managing credit portfolios anymore, so he purchased the national franchise and canceled original contract deals restricted to cleaning services in Beverly Hills and Studio City areas. Instead, Mirza and his wife created their own brand, Home Brite, and started serving personalized home cleaning services to multiple areas within LA County.

Mirza recalled that when the business first started out in 2009, sales kept going down for a year because of the downturn that entire U.S. economy was undergoing back then. “Life was very stressful in 2009, we had lost one of the properties we owned to foreclosure”, said Tess. Thanks to the recovery of overall U.S. economic conditions and Mirza’s hard work, Home Brite has been able to double its business sales every year since 2011. In addition, Home Brite improved its service quality, and it started its marketing campaign, as well. As a result, Home Brite is able to reach steadily growing annual sales of 200,000 dollars in 2014.

The most dominant change that Home Brite made to its business is personalizing its services. Mirza knows his customers very well in person and remains accessible to his customers through text messages and phone calls daily. For private home cleaning service requests, Home Brite is able to respond very quickly and arrange timely services for its customers. By maintaining its high quality of service, Home Brite is able to maintain its loyal customers while increasing the number of new customers. Another factor that helps Mirza with increasing sales is diversifying the projects his team works on. For example, he himself would work on smaller apartment cleaning, and his other team of 6 people would work on larger projects such as post construction cleaning for an entire house.

According to Home Brite owner Mirza, he refers the housing market and national unemployment rate as two broader economic data that impact his business. Since the service Home Brite provides is essentially a discretionary service, the demand for home cleaning services depend largely on people’s economic conditions. When unemployment rate is low, people can afford discretionary services; however, when unemployment rate rises, people are losing jobs and thus are less likely to afford discretionary expenses. Another factor Mirza concludes that affects his business is the housing market. A robust housing market creates more demand for house cleaning services, yet a weak economy reflects a low level of investment that results in less demand for services.

The biggest challenge Home Brite faces with currently is to find reliable employees due to the nature of service it provides. “It makes me nervous”, said Tess, “we have not experienced anything bad, but I always want them [the cleaning team] to be extremely careful with expensive items”. Indeed, many people who use cleaning services worry about the same trust issue. In order to maintain the loyalty of both its employees and customers, Home Brite owner Mirza says he would choose to grow the business at a controlled manner. He notes that he does not want employees who are “constantly not available or constantly changing jobs”; it is not the size of a cleaning team that matters but really the quality of its service that matters.

In general, the lowering of interest rates has allowed investments pour into construction, which creates more jobs in post construction cleaning for cleaning services such as Home Brite. “When more buildings are being built, it increases our sales”, said Mirza. One may think that access to capital is a requirement for starting a business, but for a smaller business like Home Brite, Mirza used his savings to finance the initial stages of the business. Once the business is up and running, there is little capital they had to acquire from banks.

The major competition for Home Brite comes from independent workers who are not registered with residential apartment buildings. Another competition comes from national cleaning franchises such as Merry Maids and Molly Maids, because these companies are capable of much stronger marketing campaigns, especially their powerful online presence. On the other hand, Home Brite holds its own advantages. Mirza and his team are flexible in time scheduling and they always respond quickly to customers. Besides, their services have no territory restrictions. “When I talk to people who used to use other larger maid service companies, customers have complained that they never answer the phone or response to text messages, and they keep changing the times”, says Tess. Although Home Brite has not been able to raise prices for the past 5 years, it has not yet had to offer discounts to attract customers either.

“We are currently bidding for a few larger projects over 100,000 dollars per job”, Mirza says. “We now show up as the No. 1 post construction cleaning team in LA County.”

Diversification of jobs has increased Home Brite’s competitiveness in the market. In the mean time, by maintaining good relationships with its current customers, Home Brite is taking the purchased franchise onto a fruitful path.

The Current Econo-meat Status of PSC


                      Photo Credit: PSC Website

“Would you like to have some coffee before we get started, Kevin?” Meghan Fink, owner of Pasadena Sandwich Company asked me with a gleeful smile on her face. That’s what it’s all about here in the Pasadena Sandwich Company, customers first.

Pasadena Sandwich Company (PSC) is a family-owned restaurant that has been operating in the town of Pasadena, California for over 20 years. This family style restaurant is a costumer-oriented company, placing customers’ satisfaction at the core of their business mission, and treating each one like a family member. After their dad passed away 5 years ago, the Fink siblings decided to keep the restaurant that their dad has built from the ground up by running it together. Jonathan, the youngest of the 4, comes in to work every day at 6:30am just to roast the meat that they would serve later in the day. I had the blessed opportunity to have a little chat with Meghan, who was very happy to help me, about the economy and how her company works.

PSC has been described by Meghan herself as a company that is impacted by a secular shift. Since food is a necessity good, and is inelastic in economic terms, business has been steady for the past few years. Since the Pasadena community is rather small, as compared to big cities such as Los Angeles, people are always around to drop by for a quick lunch break. “The only time of the year where business is slow would be in August,” explained Meghan. “People go to vacations in August so that’s the only real impact we see on our sales.” However, since the pattern happens every year, the company knows what is coming on every August and hence are not impacted in a significant way. Also worth mentioning, was Meghan’s own little theory of how more people would come in to the restaurant at the second day of the day when there’s a weird weather pattern. “On a rainy day, the restaurant will be quiet, however, a day after that the restaurant will be crowded with customers!” Meghan laughed as she explained her theory.


                         Main Counter of PSC

When asked about whether the 2008 recession did a major impact on the restaurant, Meghan explained how in 2008, which was when her dad was still running the restaurant, they did not see a crazy hit on the company. Because of the reasonable price that they have kept for many years, and the great quality and quantity the restaurant served, people were still coming in the restaurant regularly amidst the recession. The only impact they see during the recession was to their catering business, which slowed down as compared to previous years.

The company, which is impacted most by the retail trade sales and food services sales has faced a few challenges over the years. One of which was the recent drought that the state of California is facing. Due to the recent drought, there has been a shortage of the supply of roast beef. This is a challenge for the company as beef is one of the core ingredients they use for their sandwiches. Another factor that affected their supply is the bird flu. To my surprise, Meghan revealed to me that the bird flu, is in fact happening right now! Due to the bird flu, there have been changes to the price of poultry meat such as chicken and turkey by the providers of PSC. However, Meghan also explained how the company has been loyal to their providers, whom they have been in business with ever since PSC is opened and hence even if prices were to increase, it will increase by only a little amount.

“Being a small business in California is also becoming more challenging,” Meghan explained. “The state is passing fewer and fewer things, and recently, they only declared 3 days of sick pay for the whole year!” That impacts the business as man-power is one of the company’s main resources. Since PSC is a small business, they do not have that much of a resource. There’s a total of 10 employees, including the 2 siblings, Jon and Meghan who are running the store. “If they raise minimum pay to $15 an hour, that will be what impact the business the most.” Explained Meghan. When asked if rising rates play a role in their business, Meghan simply replied, “Not really, tax goes up, and people go upset! But they still come in regularly, it is what it is.”

Being a part of a community that has a close relationship with each other have also helped PSC to become the successful company that they are today. PSC does marketing locally, they support schools and non-profit organizations and company by giving gift certificates. PSC is very big on the “Community for community” service, proven by the recent “Gobble Tournament” they did for a local high school where they fed football teams. Moreover, Cal Poly Pomona has just recently used PSC for one of their marketing class as an example of a company that helps the community by serving them, and in turn, the community helps them back. The customers of PSC have gone as far as helping them set up their social media, without even being asked! PSC’s popular social media sites such as Yelp, Facebook, and even their own website were set up by their own customers. Their customers do it for them as a part of the strong community support that they have for one another.

Operating a business by yourself might be a very challenging and risky thing to do, considering the roller coaster pattern of our economy, but with the help of family and a strong community, a small business can soar to great heights, as evidenced by PSC’s on going success.


A picture with Meghan Fink, Co-Owner of the Pasadena Sandwich Company

An Economy-Agnostic Startup?

In the mid-to-late 2000’s, a number of college students might have lamented graduating into the worst economy since the Great Depression.

Not Brenton Sullivan and Kai Sato—they launched a business in the face of a crashing financial market in 2008.

The 2007 USC graduates’ concept for what would become FieldLevel had been named “Best Business Plan” by the Marshall School of Business’s Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, and the pair had even received an offer of $1 million for an 80 percent stake in the company but we unmoved. Instead, they took the more difficult path, opting to bootstrap through the early part of their existence.

Numerous sleepless nights and pivots later, FieldLevel was accepted into the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Sports and Entertainment Accelerator—a distinction that came with $20,000 in funding—last month.

Sullivan and Sato maintained a cash flow positive business well ahead of being accepted into the accelerator. While cash flow positive and profitable are two very different distinctions, and the company still has a ton of work to do, the fact that FieldLevel has taken off in the face of a horrific economy is impressive.

Both entrepreneurs attribute their success against the adverse economy not only to their passion and flexible business model, but also to the generosity of friends and family, who provided them the initial funding that enabled them to avoid the typical path of venture capital (and reject the early offer to cede 80 percent of the control in their business).

Sullivan and Sato have always been leery of traveling down the VC path and seemed almost thankful that it’s nowhere near as established in this half of the state as it is up north in Silicon Valley. The tech industry, as a whole, has numerous stories of VC’s either making small investments as a means of basically stealing entrepreneurs’ ideas and putting them out as their own or as a takeover (the initial overture FieldLevel received).

Perhaps what makes this story most interesting, though, is the fact that at no point were economics a driver for this business. Ultimately, the business needs to transition from cash flow positive to profitable, but the duo is in no real hurry to make that happen.

To these two former high school athletes who were largely invisible to recruiters, it’s more important to get it right.

“Finding the right fit is the key,” Sullivan said. “I was probably a guy who should have been at a DIII school somewhere, but they had no way to find me. I would have had to go to them.”

FieldLevel is a free service that aims to bridge this disconnect, enabling coaches at all levels to have the same access to prospective players.

One major differentiator, though, is that college coaches would be connected to high school and travel team coaches—not to the players themselves. This (theoretically) shields college coaches from being spammed.

The other? It’s free.

“This is where the economy, I believe, worked in our favor,” Sullivan said. “Recruiting services are outrageously expensive and, generally, get minimal returns. College coaches we talked to hated them.”

The combination of frugality, recruiting service fatigue and use of prep coaches as a buffer enabled FieldLevel to amass the largest network of coaches in the industry quickly. But instead of rushing to “monetize” or “maximize valuation” like venture-backed Silicon Valley companies, Sullivan and Sato are looking to continue refining their business—a process aided by the Dodgers Accelerator.

“Developing this business has been an evolutionary process, and we’ve had a number of pivots along the way,” Sato said. “We needed a partner that understood that, which is why we chose to do the Dodgers Accelerator. We didn’t need the funding, but the collocation space with other entrepreneurs and the corresponding added brainpower are invaluable.”

The heavy focus on product and willingness to proceed in the face of a negative economy have been key to FieldLevel’s growth, but that doesn’t mean the entrepreneurial team behind the company hasn’t paid any attention.

“We grew our business in the face of an economic downturn, and sure our [friends, family and business model] made it possible, but there was also a lot of chatter on Capitol Hill about helping small business as the economy was at its worst point,” Sato said. “But even as we hired, we never saw any of it.”

True to startup culture, though, they refuse to spend any brainpower on it.

“It sucks, but we’re too busy building our business to worry about it,” Sato said. “We’re not taking the company public or anything like that, but we firmly believe that the best is yet to come for us.”

The economy and a couple high-profile flops have made the IPO market essentially stagnant over the last few years, but hopefully his optimism is not in vain. While he company will still face the dilemma of how to monetize a network of users, it can look to the successes (and failures) of predecessors like Facebook and Twitter (albeit on a much smaller and more targeted scale).

The economy might not have factored heavily into its growth to this point, but now that FieldLevel has taken on capital and is looking at adjacent business opportunities, it is unlikely that the company can continue to ignore it.

The Number Matters

“September and October of 2008 was the worst financial crisis in global history, including the Great Depression.”, the former head of federal reserve, Ben Bernanke, said. Although seven years have passed since the country has broken out of the crisis, many companies are constantly affected by the fickle health of the economy.

Richard Martin, who is a publicly certified accountant, founded Martin & Associates in 2003. The company provides accounting and financial accounting services such as business consulting, investment review, and tax planning to individual and business clients. For example, it calculates the gross profit percentage for its customer and gives advices on whether its customer needs to adjust production quantity or the pricing. Moreover, Martin & Associates analyzes businesses from a financial perspective, often resulting in financial advisements. When their customers are in debt, Martin & Associates evaluate the financial health of the company and make adjustments necessary to return to a healthy cash flow. What differentiates Martin & Associates from other accounting firms is its commitment to establish valuable relationships with its client base customers. The company truly believes that the success of their clients impacts the success of Martin & Associates significantly.

Further, Martin correlated the state of the economy to his firm by insisting it is all a “chain effect.” The prosperity of Martin & Associates depends on the financial health of its clients. When its clients are financially healthy, there is a more rapid rate of payment and a steadier flow of consulting appointments as they seek advice with investing their surplus cash; however, during times of economic hardship, more effort is required on part of Martin & Associates to ensure that payments are made within a feasible period. If one of its customers is not performing well, it affects Martin & Associates directly because the customers do not have the means to pay the company for its financial services. When their clients file for bankruptcy and go out of business, Martin & Associates feel immense pressure d to actively seek out more clients by going through additional service providers and networking. Interestingly, a large amount of their new client base comes as a result of referrals.

Besides the broad economic environment, the movement of the federal interest rate impacts the client of Martin & Associate the most, inversely impacting them. “The lower the interest rate, the less interest expenses for my clients, resulting in more liquidity. In times of notably high liquidity, my clients seek additional financial consulting”, stated Mr. Martin. When Martin & Associate’s client owns greater amount of capital, they tend to invest in capital goods therefore demand more financial advices. For example, a client with additional cash flow for any given time period, may want to invest in additional land or equipment, and seeks advice from Martin & Associates as to what the financial return of those investments may be.

Additionally, government regulations are one of biggest challenges Martin & Associates is currently facing. Every time a new law or act is put in place, its clients must reallocate their budget breakdown to meet the needs of the change. An example of this may be additional health insurance costs as a result of the Affordable Care Act, or a change in minimum wage. In addition to these widespread regulations, there are also additional changes that vary from industry to industry (being that their client base varies from insurance brokers, to tech companies to restaurant chains). For this reason, it is important that all the employees at Martin & Associates stay up-to-date on changes within various industries and have the knowledge to respond to those changes.

Furthermore, Martin & Associates is an outstanding company because of their personal ethical decisions within their own firm. Since the 2008 global financial crisis, many businesses have made changes within the company in order to survive and remain its status within the market. Some companies offer discounts to its customer in order to maintain its competitiveness. However, instead of lowering the price, Martin & Associates decided to maintain its original price but provide added service. “Once you lower your price, you are competing with other companies on the price level instead of competing on service. Lower price may imply lower quality, and competing on price alone does not build loyalty with customers”, Martin said.

Another significant obstacle that Martin & Associates have strategically conquered is the growing popularity of the Internet. The Internet era not only affects the way people communicate with each other, but also affects the competitive landscape in the accounting field. With the convenience Internet provides, instead of seeking financial advices and services from traditional accounting firm, people turn to online software. In order to raise its company’s competitiveness, Martin suggested that his company understand the trend and further provide extra services to its clients. He mentioned, “Online software servers are able to reach a huge amount of audiences. Technology brings competition, therefore companies have to keep up with the technological innovation to provide added value services.”

Starting a business of your own might not be easy task but keeping the company running through economic hardship is certainly harder. By maintaining relationship close relationship with its clients, creating added value services, and constantly monitoring the economical trend of the market, Martin & Associates is able to withstand through the ups and downs of the economy.

More than just Marihuana, It’s a Business

The Medical Marijuana industry has been a controversy in the United States for years.  It is a touchy subject that maybe an old man and his son would get in an argument about because of the interesting changes that have taken place through the generations. However, many are making an entrepreneurial leap of faith and creating Medical Marijuana as a business that thrives. This is the case for Nate Taylor who is a Seattle native and has spent the last five years in the industry with his Medical Marijuana Company called Fweedom Collective. Nate has done more than create Fweedom Collective as a well-known million dollar business in Seattle. Fweedom Collective has benefited consumers, the city of Seattle, and influenced the legal changes that are being processed today.

Three years ago recreational Marihuana was legalized in Washington State. Since then, the government has started to regulate the Medical Marijuana by joining it with Recreational Marijuana and push it all into one system. Before the law was passed, Medical Marihuana was only loosely regulated. Though this may seem beneficial for Nate’s business, it has definitely takin a toll on the company.

On Sunday, September 13th, I gave Nate a call. It was 12 P.M. and Nate answered to the sound of a football game, Seattle Seahawks vs. St. Lewis Rams, which was playing in the background. Nate is an avid Seahawk fan who attends the games frequently.  The Seahawks were down by nine points, It was the third quarter, and when asked if the Seahawks would come back he said, “Oh, for sure!” While the game was still playing he was more than willing to answer the questions I had for him, with an occasional burst of excitement or dismay from the game.

Many economists are probably wondering: has the Medical Marihuana industry been impacted by cyclical or secular shifts? When Nate was asked this question he said that the answer was most likely secular. If the economy goes down, people don’t stop spending money on the product, it is a necessity to them. However, they may buy less of it at a time.

With the economy changing and new technology constantly being developed, businesses have to adapt. Nate said that over the last few years Fweedom Collective has had to make some beneficial changes. It increased its Search Engine Optimization, worked on improving and creating more online orders, and developed different apps that profit the company. The business also increased its hours of operation due to demand. Nate noticed early on that people get off work later and by creating longer hours improved sales. These changes helped Fweedom Collective stay on track with today’s basic needs for consumers.

Seattle is a booming city, and many businesses have either expanded or moved there for better opportunities. Some of these big local businesses are Amazon, Expedia, T-Mobile, and Microsoft. Nate mentioned as long as these companies are prosperous, steadily growing and no economic down turn, the city benefits, including his company. “As crazy as it sounds”, Nate said. “When professional teams in Seattle perform well, spending has increased at Fweedom Collective.” After the Seahawks won the Super bowl in 2014, sales dramatically went up at Fweedom Collective.

Of course being in the Medical Marihuana business is not easy, especially since it is loosely regulated. Mentioned earlier, Recreational Marihuana was legalized in 2012, though this might seem like it would benefit Fweedom Collective right away, it actually has presented many challenges. “My industry is at the end of an area, the probation of Marihuana, therefore making it a grey area,” Nate continued, “a lot of changes are being made.” Even though the law was passed over three years ago, the government is still in the process of making regulations for recreational Marihuana and should be resolved by 2016. With no heavy guidelines, many smaller recreational businesses have entered the market and have changed the prices of products. He elaborated on how he has seen products that were priced at $13 drop to $10. “We constantly have to change prices and adapt to the environment around as more businesses are evolved,” Nate said. He also believes many of these stores are in it for the money and only want to be open for a short period of time. In July of 2016 Recreational Marihuana should be fully regulated.

In some cases today, the economy does not look at Medical Marihuana as a legitimate business. Therefore interest rates or access to capital do not play a major role in Fweedom Collective, for consumers anyway. The company only takes cash or credit cards. Nate mentioned that he could get a loan through his business if necessary. However, what affects the company the most is business loans because banks and financial institutions will not grant them to a business like Fweedom Collective. Nate said its loans come from private investors. Most likely when regulations are officially submitted for Recreational Marihuana, banks will be more willing to loan money.

The most surprising news that can be learned from this interview is the impact Fweedom Collective has had on the community it operates in. Nate elaborated on the positive impact the company has on its small location north of Seattle. “With our business being there it has helped the neighborhood out a lot, cleaning it up, put illegal deals off the streets and into a legal business, and crime rates have dropped.” Nate also mentioned his business has brought money to an area that was demolished and made it more commercialized.

After eight years, Nate Taylor and two of his coworkers, Sky Nielsen and Tyler Godfrey, took an idea and brought it to life. Now at 28, Nate is a successful business owner who is looking to expand in other areas. Though his business is succeeding, the Seahawks are not. They lost 31-34 to the Rams.