What’s the inspiration behind Gesture?
In my own personal experiences with flower and gift delivery, I was constantly let down by unreliable and over priced products and processes. Having to pay extra for something to be delivered the same day "if ordered by 2pm" was just the beginning. Spending 30-45 minutes choosing the perfect bouquet or gift, then to find out when it arrives it wouldn’t be what I chose to begin with. I knew there was a faster, more reliable and easier way to send gifts and enjoy the moment, versus the next day or hours later when it has less of an impact.
This is not your first time founding a company. What do you think is the most important skill founders need to succeed?
If I had to narrow it down to three things…
- 100% pure hustle. This is your business. Don't expect anyone to work as hard as you do. Don't be afraid to take time for yourself. You don't have to feel guilty because you choose to spend time with your partner, friends or family. We all need a mental reset from time to time.
- Surround yourself with people smarter than yourself. It's okay to not know everything. That's why we need people and help from others.
- Have integrity with yourself and others. This includes being vulnerable with others. 95% of the time the time vulnerability can be our biggest asset. When people can see your true self, they are more likely to want to help because they feel needed and useful.
How have your prior experiences influenced your founding of Gesture?
Quite a bit. I am glad I had prior experience with founding a company. It taught me a lot about everything; what not to do, and what to do in many situations. Everything from managing people, to money management. The goal is to ensure that you don't act like you know everything, and to always be a student in every situation.
How did you meet your co-founders?
I met Daniel Sosunov when he applied for an internship at my last startup. He was actually rejected and turned down for the position. I knew there was something special about him so I hung on to his number and called him 1.5 years later. I asked him if he was interested in being broke and putting his personal life on hold for the next few years while we built a company. He said, “sure why not.”
We met Christian Castaneda when I put out an advertisement on Indeed asking for unpaid interns to help build Gesture. Christian signed up and wrote some of the first lines of code. It wasn't until almost two years later that we made him a co-founder.
How do you handle risk and competition?
Risk is reward. Reward is not possible without risk. I take chances, where some of my other co-founders do not. Therefore it is a great balance. As for competition, well my theory is “without competition there is no game.”
We keep an eye on what they are doing, but we don't obsess over competition. We just focus on what we do best and deliver a great product.
You wear a lot of different hats: coach, director, consultant, founder, mentor, data specialist. How do you see the interconnection of these positions?
Because of these skills, I was able to take advantage of something called intellectual bartering. I went to one of the data science schools and propositioned them to let me build their data science cohorts in exchange for free workspace. I did this for the first year that Gesture was being built. I knew that we needed an attractive space to build a great team. I used my different skill sets to attract great employees while helping another business succeed as well. It ended up working out well. I met amazing, smart people in the data science program who later became employees of Gesture and helped us propel forward.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
Overthinking the product and process. We tried to guess what customers would want, thus building too much, which delayed our launch and cost us extra money and resources. Also, trusting that people would put in the same amount of effort and thought process into caring about the business as you. That will only happen with a few people.
It's imperative that you are careful about how you go about choosing the right people to go into battle with.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
Absolutely 100% without a doubt. I learned that when you step back and let people operate with a sense of autonomy, they will prove to themselves and others that they are capable of much more than they expected. I also learned that I don't always have the right answer.
You sit on a number of boards. What has being involved in that capacity with other companies taught you?
It has taught me a number of things. I learned how each of the companies can help each other succeed, especially when you find a way to connect the dots. This can happen with talent, processes, or utilizing other smart people and inviting them to help.
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd?
To me Republic is like Shark Tank for the internet. They have created a reputation and have quite the reach in terms of investors. I knew that being part of their community would yield positive returns in investors and new customers. They are amazing and I truly believe in what they do for companies like my own.
What’s your team culture like?
Team culture is different from what it used to be back in the day. There is a picture on my Instagram that really shows what things used to be like pre-covid: spunky, fun, late nights, snack runs, coffee time, even team get-togethers in the office where we would crank up the music and just let loose.
We still try to do some of those things over Zoom (haha) but it's not the same. I will say that we have expanded our culture outside of NYC by scouting talent from all different parts of the U.S. As a result, we now have some Nebraskans and other amazing people that we would probably never have seen if it wasn't for the pandemic. Now, we just need to get everyone together for a day at Central Park when we go back to normal!
What is your superpower?
Superpower? I like to consider myself humble and modest…but if I had to choose, it's a split between talent acquisition, sales, and inventiveness. I know how to pick winners and build a team. I have been told by strangers and peers that I am one of the best salespeople they have ever met. I also have the ability to be creative and invent new things or ideas from scratch and make them come to life.
What’s your kryptonite?
Rejection! I hate it. When things don't go my way, I take it rather hard. I do rebound but probably takes a little longer than most entrepreneurs and successful people. I can get really down on myself and clam up.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
Yes! Quite a few. I always stand up and create motion during Zoom calls as if I was in the office in a conference room. I think it drives people crazy. I also read magazines and books from back to front or end to beginning. I think that tells me whether or not the book or article is worth spending the time reading.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
I watch animal kingdom videos before falling asleep at night. For some reason, watching a crocodile eat a lion or vice versa is very interesting. I think it points out that nobody is untouchable or too powerful, regardless of the habitat. I also like to socialize with people. A great night out to dinner with friends and colleagues is very therapeutic for me.
Sunday is my day to rest. I attend church and then usually just catch up on shows and a movie or two, along with a home cooked meal versus take out everyday (cough cough I am a New Yorker).
Are there any apps or gadgets that you can’t live without?
I think about this often. I can honestly say that I can do without social media. I don't game, so I would have to say my Apple TV. I use that to stream videos, books, TED talks and much more. Oh, and I would say Uber. I think about life in 2012 when Uber was like Gesture, climbing its way to market share and popularity. What would I do without being able to tap a few buttons and order a car...how did I ever make it in the past?!
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
Be vulnerable, humble, and modest with everything you do. It's okay to boast and brag when you are with your partner and by yourself. I do it when I feel accomplished and have closed a deal. However, it's important to ensure that you set the example for others when you're trying to create a positive culture that's respected.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
My mom told me when I first started down the path of entrepreneurship “Don't chase money, glam, or fame. Just build a great product that people will use, and everything else will follow--if you want it to”.