eCommerce entrepreneurs can be a misunderstood bunch. Sometimes it’s the people that know us better than anyone else who can’t figure us out – our parents.
Today on the show, we talk to a few eCommerce entrepreneurs and their mothers to really dig into how well their parents really know their kid’s business. What they say might surprise you!
Lucy: My technical knowledge is, let’s say making a graph, is still below zero, but is going higher.
Freddy: I think it’s better than some of our customers. She can figure out how to open applications or send an email. It’s not that bad.
Lucy: Hey, come on, I’m far more advanced than that. At least partly.
Andrew: Welcome to the eCommerceFuel Podcast, I’m Andrew Youderian. We e-commerce entrepreneurs can be a misunderstood bunch and sometimes most so surprisingly among a few of the people that know us best in the whole world, our parents.
If you asked your parents to describe what you do, how close or perhaps comically off the mark would their answer be? Some of them would have no problem describing what you do fairly accurately while others probably couldn’t find your store’s website online if they had to. So today on the show, how well do parents of e-commerce entrepreneurs really know their kid’s business? And it’s brought to you by our podcast producer here, Laura Serino.
One quick note, despite my handing the reins to Laura much more frequently over the last two to three weeks, not planning an early retirement on my side. You will definitely be hearing more from Laura in the future. But I’ve been on the road the last couple of weeks and we’ll be back in full force next week and hopefully with an upcoming episode about I’ve been up to on the trail. Here’s Laura with today’s episode.
Lucy: This is Lucy Lansky. I’m Freddy’s mom, I’m originally from Argentina after 36 years I’m still talking…I sound like a newcomer.
Laura: Freddy Lansky is the co-founder of iChess.net, a chess enthusiast website that specializes in digital chess products and videos. His mom Lucy is not surprised that he ended up running an online business.
Laura: Does he ever talk to you about work and what he’s doing? And when he does, do you understand what he’s talking about?
Lucy: Well, the first question as far as sharing with me what he’s doing, the answer is not too much. And as far as understanding what he’s doing, the answer is again partially. I used to know more about or understand more what he was doing. Right now, I know very little as far as what he actually does.
Freddy: I think as business grows, there’s more aspects and elements and things that I’m doing that, if you’re not a marketer or an online business owner, it’s kind of hard to explain. So I’ll have to just say it in general terms like, “Business is good,” “Business is not so good this month.” I don’t get into marketing nerd talk with my mom because I don’t think she’d really know what I’m talking about.
Lucy: Why don’t you try?
Freddy: Okay, I can try.
Lucy: Just to see how stupid I can be.
Laura: I have a feeling you’d catch on quickly, Lucy.
Freddy: Yeah, maybe we’ll train her. [laughter]
Lucy: I still hope that eventually he’ll settle somewhere. That’s all I have to say about that.
Ana: When he started Project Repat, he told us he starting to help this guy he met at graduate school. It was, “Oh, okay, fine.” We just listened and learned pretty quickly that we needed to just listen. And now yes, of course, we ask questions, but we couldn’t really express any judgment at all about what he was doing.
Laura: That’s Ana Karchmer. Her son Nathan Rothstein is the co-founder of Project Repat, a company that creates custom quilts from t-shirts that customers send in. As Nathan was trying to get Project Repat off the ground, he and his partner got into an accelerator program out in San Francisco and they needed someone to run the ship while they were gone. Guess who they called?
Ana: He said, “Mom, we have to go to San Francisco. Can you pick up the packages at our office and them bring them to…for awhile,” they had another group doing the quilts and, “Just for a couple of months while I’m gone.” And at that point, I was in transition between jobs, I said, “Okay, fine, I’ll do it.”
So I called myself the VP of errands because I had to go to the post office and he told me, “Use this credit card for this and then use this credit card for that,” and I was so confused and I realized actually a long time after that that what happened is they didn’t have enough money in any one account that he was managing all these credit card accounts to pay for the postage and stuff. So I went away for two weeks with my middle daughter and when I came back my husband said, “Don’t get scared, but the living room is full of boxes.” And at that point, we had to tell Nathan he had to come back home because it was out of control.
Laura: Here’s the moment Ana knew the business was going to take off.
Ana: So when Nathan said, “I’m moving, I’m renting a place.” I said, “Oh, so you can rent a place?” That was a sign that things were coming along a little better, that both Ross and Nathan could actually rent an apartment, each of them separately outside the office. I think that Nathan has introduced both my husband and I to a new world, for sure. And he always recommends new podcasts for me to listen to, like StartUp and others.
Laura: Oh, you like StartUp huh?
Ana: Yeah. So I think I understand more. Lately he’s been writing articles and my husband and I are saying, “Okay, he’s just gone over the threshold. He’s writing about things that we can’t understand anymore, that they’re getting a little more over our heads.” Yeah, I like technology a lot and I always follow news about technology and of course I’m a consumer of e-commerce so I understand it a little bit, but I never thought Nathan was going to basically make a living from that.
Nathan: She’s always been pretty savvy when it comes to technology. I remember her designing thank you cards on Adobe, early versions of Adobe that I didn’t even know. So she learns quickly.
Nathan: They would always ask me what I learned or what was I learning versus what grade I was getting. And then if there was a problem with something, I was taught to advocate for myself and figure out a solution. I think a lot of people deal with these challenges of going to their parents and them wanting to follow a more traditional path. But I probably set my parents up for this when I left school early in high school to take some college courses. I dropped out of business school. I think they’ve come to realize that I’m not going to take a traditional path. But it’s nice to not feel like they’re pressuring me to go down one route.
And I know other entrepreneurs who, when they tell their parents at first, they’re not supportive at all. And when you’re just starting something off the ground, you need as much support as you can get because you’re going out in the world with this new idea and people’s first reaction is usually to say no and that’s not a good idea because there’s not proof behind it. And for so long, we were told that this was never going to be a real business, you can’t really make any money off of it, and now we’re probably one of the fastest growing consumer goods businesses in at least New England in the last couple years.
Laura: And now that Nathan’s a successful entrepreneur, he’s able to teach his parents things, too.
Ana: Nathan has taught us so much, has introduced a whole new world that we wouldn’t have known, so it’s really exciting to follow along with what your kids are doing and learn from it.
Kevin: The thing that cracks me up, Laura, sometimes as a kid…I loved TV, I really did. I’d watch movies on HBO five times, six times or probably even more. And I played with my He-Man guys all the time and they’d be on the floor in the room or whatever it would be. The fact that my mom bought me a Nintendo for my birthday one year and at the time, those were not cheap. And unlike most kids probably, where the toys and everything that they buy don’t really have a direct ROI, for my life, they did. I laugh whenever I think about that sometimes, how what if they hadn’t spoiled me a little bit with the He-Man guys or hadn’t gotten me the Nintendo for my birthday? That kind of stuff.
Mary Stecko: I do have to break in there. He bought a lot of the He-Man guys himself. He did get an allowance and he saved his allowance.
Laura: Kevin Stecko is the founder of 80sTees, whose mission is to, “Delight and amaze the kid in us all.” For Kevin, having parents that were supportive of his TV and superhero addiction as a kid wasn’t just nice to have, it actually helped him launch his business. Once Kevin started his full-time job, however, his tees started to take off pretty quickly. Like all young adults that need help, he turned to mom.
Mary Stecko: I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention at first. He did his thing and then after a short while, I said to him…at that time I wasn’t working anywhere…and I said, “Well, if you show me what to do, I’ll print the orders up and take them.” I’m a golfer and I used to do them before I went golfing and take them to the post office and go on my way for the day. I would go over there while he was at work and answer emails and take care of the orders and…
Kevin: Phones. You’d do the phones.
Mary Stecko: I did the telephones yes.
Laura: And were you starting to think that maybe this business was going to really become something?
Mary Stecko: I guess yes would be the answer to that. I didn’t at any time think it would get to the point that it is now.
Laura: At this time, Kevin’s parents’ house was also doubling as the office for 80sTees.
Kevin: My mom, in a very friendly way, made it clear that the business was no longer welcome, the size it had become, dominating a couple of rooms in her house. And one of them being the dining room.
Laura: But as many of you might have guessed, 80sTees took off in a big way. And Mary never really doubted that it would.
Mary Stecko: I wasn’t as nervous as my husband was. And I wouldn’t call it nervous. He was just a little skeptical that he would be able to juggle everything that was going on with the house and all.
Kevin: Yeah, he was skeptical I could make a mortgage payment basically…and still live, have enough money for a vehicle and all that stuff.
Mary Stecko: I was there every day seeing what was going on. And my husband wasn’t, so…which goes on today.
Laura: So are you still there on a daily basis?
Mary Stecko: Basically yes.
Laura: Are you still answering the phones, too?
Mary Stecko: I try not to. Truthfully. I do but unwillingly.
Kevin: She’s actually has for quite a while she’s done our fraud reviews. We’ve done a lot of it with software now, so it’s more managing the software whereas it used to be a lot of investigations. But that’s her main area of responsibility and pitches in in other places, too.
Laura: Mary’s modest about her early role with 80sTees. But Kevin’s quick to point out that she was one of the driving forces behind their early growth.
Kevin: She played a huge role. And it’s funny to think about this, but our very first legitimate vendor…so obviously buying from a guy who has a store in a college town isn’t a sustainable business model and so we needed to find legitimate suppliers and back in early 2000s, this was all done via sales reps and trade shows. And I didn’t even know what trade shows to go look up or that there were trade shows. I really didn’t have any background in this business or any business.
My mother actually found, using Google, our very first vendor. They had a website and they were not easy to find and to this day, I wish I knew what her terms were that she used to find it. But I had tried plenty and never did. And so once we found them, then from there we learned who else we needed to talk to. But yeah, her web savviness extends way back to the point where it was critical to finding our vendors.
Laura: What’s it like working for your son?
Mary Stecko: Good and bad. I’m sure he’d say the same.
Laura: What’s the good and the bad?
Mary Stecko: Well, he brought me lunch today. That was good. I can’t say there’s for me been a whole lot of bad. But if it’s been real bad, I don’t remember it. Now that’s one of the better things of getting older.
Laura: Since Mary’s been there for Kevin and his business since the beginning, I had to wonder if she’d ever be able to get some vacation time in.
Mary Stecko: I don’t golf as much as I used to. Right now of course we’re in the dead of winter and there’s no golfing around here. But I usually take with my Monday…I get out of here in time for my Monday night golf league. And this summer, I want to do more. Somebody else will have to take the ball.
Laura: I’m glad your son gives you time off.
Mary Stecko: I take it. I don’t know if he gives it. I don’t know how happy he’ll be. Or the person who’d have to do my job.
Mary Youderian: I used to have to send him walking around the block in the winter to get the energy out of him. Like 10 laps. That was my mother’s idea.
Laura: Mary, are you pulling my leg or is this true?
Mary Youderian: Oh, no. Andrew, when he was not quite two, I dressed him up as the devil for Halloween because if you didn’t know what was doing every 45 seconds, you were in trouble as a mom. And so he just was very high energy and he knew what he wanted to do and he said, “Mom, I never really tried to please you guys.” It was like, “Yeah, Andrew, we figured that out.”
Laura: I knew that if I was interviewing parents of entrepreneurs that I had to talk to one very, very important person: Andrew Youderian’s Mother.
Mary Youderian: We had a hammer over his head from birth until he went to college and then we had to obviously give up all control. And he’s a wonderful son and dad and person, but it was not easy. He had too much energy.
Laura: So what’s your understanding of eCommerceFuel? Does he talk to you about it?
Mary Youderian:Not very much. I’ve heard a few of the podcasts. I was thinking, “What a bad mother I am. I should probably listen to all of them.” But we’re busy here and so he tells us a little bit, but he really doesn’t talk too much about it. When he told us he was going to sell CB radios, which was Right Channel Radios, his first company, his dad and I both said, “Andrew, no one uses CB radios anymore.” And obviously he had done his research and we were really out of touch because a lot of people use CB radios. We were absolutely wrong about that and that turned out to be a very good business. So it’s nice when you get to the point where your children know more than you do.
Laura: I don’t know if you know this, but Andrew’s actually considered a celebrity in the world of e-commerce.
Mary Youderian: I didn’t know that actually. Well, I was surprised a few years back, maybe two or three, when I Googled him and found that there were…I don’t know, I think I got to page 55 of the Googles and gave up. But unfortunately I’m about as low-tech as he is high-tech and finally I have a little iPad mini that connects me to the world so I’ve started using that a lot in the last three years. But I can tell I’m going to have to listen to more of these podcasts.
Andrew loves what he does and he’s able to do it on his time-frame and there’s that adventure and that creativity and I think he’s very happy. I can’t really see him having stayed in an investment banking environment. So yes, and what he wanted…one of the things he wanted was the freedom to spend time with family and friends and to work hard, but to also have the flexibility for things that are even more important than work. And I think he’s achieved a pretty good balance.
Laura: A big thanks to all the store owners from our community and their awesome mothers for joining us on today’s episode. If you’re not a community member, we’d love to have you. We’re a community of six and seven figure store owners and if you’re interested, you can learn more and apply for membership at ecommercefuel.com/apply. Thanks to Andrew for letting me hop on the mic and thanks so much for listening. Appreciate you tuning in today and we’ll see you next week.