by Joe Mindak
Small business is a vital economic engine here in Hoboken. As large industry moved out, small business came in to fill the void, making Hoboken a vibrant place—not just to live, but to make a living.
However, as any small business owner will tell you, it’s not without its risks. In speaking with a few of Hoboken’s entrepreneurs, we learn more about what it takes to pull out of the rat race and successfully forge your own path.
Starting a business… with a purpose.
“It couldn’t be a better time to be an Entrepreneur,” says Scott Delea. “You don’t have to wait for the next ‘big idea.’—you just need to execute better than the next guy and go sell something. Everything else will fall into place.”
When Scott Delea created his first company—Odd Jobs—back in high school, the entrepreneurial bug had bitten. He would help homeowners with maintenance and saw the value in a hard day’s work by the payoff at then end. Now 25 years later and on his third business, the formula for success he created in high school has paid off.
After graduating from Syracuse University, Scott started his career selling software and services at ADP. He was both attracted and envious of the company, as it was started by three guys from Paterson who took an idea from nothing and made it the largest payroll company in the country. It wasn’t the business success only that attracted Scott but the way they gave back to the community that inspired him.
Scott would work his way up to eventually becoming president of Adverb Media, a digital marketing agency out of Boonton that grew from a small startup to a true contender in the digital space with over 150. The success of the company lead to an eventual sale to Zeta Interactive, and Scott got his first taste of capitalizing on growing a successful company.
The next two years Scott decided to dabble in other ventures—including investing with a few friends in a Hoboken restaurant called Nine, ran successfully for years, until they sold while the place was hot. He also tried his hand in politics by running a tight race for Hoboken City Council—only to lose by a slim margin.
Scott was always interested in giving back to the community and had a strong desire to help kids in need. Meanwhile residents of Hoboken love the nightlife, so why not put some meaning behind going out. He came up with a simple concept called Party With Purpose, which has now raised over $500,000 to provide funding and volunteers to local children’s charities who need assistance.
“Nothing makes me happier than to build something that makes a difference,” says Scott.
His current endeavor, Inflexion Interactive, is a digital marketing agency that is creating campaigns for Sabra, Rutgers, Dentek and BCB Community Bank. “It’s a special place,” says Delea. “You can expect us to grow and become a bigger player in the marketing and technology space.”
The Doctor Is in… the restaurant business
As a young pharmacist in India, Nirav Patel never realized he would own over a dozen businesses in the United States. After receiving his PhD in Pharmacy, Nirav began working as a pharmacist. He got his first taste of business by investing in P&B Pharm, in his parents’ hometown of Gujrat.
His parents are entrepreneurs themselves, who own several businesses—such as convenience stores, Dunkin Donuts franchises, hotels, and a host of residential properties. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and Nirav was ready to follow in their footsteps.
While attending his best friend’s wedding, his mother encouraged him to open his own business. He couldn’t say no to his mother, and, next thing he knew he had the fastest opening in the history of The Melting Pot franchise.
The first six months of opening the Melting Pot, Nirav learned everything from the ground up. He played host, server, busboy and everything else in between. He explained how learning on the job and learning customer service were what helped him learn the secrets of success in the restaurant business.He soon began diligently building his business empire, opening up Tilted Kilt, followed by World of Beer in New Brunswick, Syracuse and Albany. The success of these businesses brought forth The Counter Burger in Clifton and Smokin’ Barrel in Hoboken, NJ. He is also the exclusive franchise operator for the customized sushi franchise, How Do You Roll. His latest gem is Taphaus in Jersey City, designed by his best friend, local interior designer Hope Webb.
Many say to stay away from the restaurant business but Nirav states, “It’s only hard if you don’t know what you’re doing.” The industry is brutal but can be very rewarding if you’re good at it. Nirav maintains the secrets to success are customer service and putting the right structure in place—planning is key.
Nirav is expanding beyond the restaurant business. He has opened up MetroVet and Club Barks in Jersey City and Hoboken, serving the pet community with grooming, daycare, boarding, training, and more. Beyond the brick and mortar, Nirav is also investing in online companies such as veteranjobpath.com, a website to help our veterans find jobs after service.
From weight lifting to…Rocket Man
“I’ve been an Entrepreneur forever,” says Aaron Price. In high school, he and his brother had an idea for a weight lifting device, so they sold mountain climbing clips to raise enough money to patent their invention and next thing they knew they were at trade shows selling their device.
Aaron learned his first lesson in starting your own business—know your audience. Back in 1999 it was inconceivable for people to order their food online but Aaron was a little ahead of his time. He and his college roommate started DeliverU from their dorm room and made a business out of it. He learned his second lesson in the fact that there were very thin margins in this business so it was tough to keep it going. He had to find a business that would create bigger margins to become more profitable.
And he did. He graduated and took a job as the head of marketing for a company that was backed by 18 million dollars in seed money but would only go bankrupt a year later. He learned a great deal and put that knowledge into starting his next business, Effordables, which was the precursor to Overstock.com. Aaron saw the value of excess inventory retailers had and began selling this excess online with great profit margins. He found a niche market in excess motorcycle parts and the company took off. It took off enough for Aaron to sell his first business to private investors.
Meanwhile Price took a year off and moved to Shanghai for his wife’s job. When he came back he was ready to start again, but realized he needed others to share his ideas. A simple idea turned into the largest Tech Meetup group in NJ with over 4,200 current members. They meet once a month at Stevens Institute of Technology, where techies get together to share ideas, pitch their start-ups and investors come to potentially back them.
Rocket Fuel is Aaron’s new startup, which takes the lessons from Tech Meetup and brings them to the corporate world. Aaron explains how Rocket Fuel “helps inspire employees through technology and entrepreneurial events.” They want to teach these employees to think differently. Corporations can hire Rocket Fuel for coaching, training sessions and will bring big speakers in like the founder of Vonage who shook up an entire industry by thinking differently.
Aaron’s advice to young entrepreneurs looking to start their own business is to “share your ideas freely” and “work on things that solve a problem.” He suggests attending as many events as possible to meet people and learn what else is out there. He also warns to be careful who you bring on as partners.
I could have been a… Stockbroker
Growing up in Toms River, Cory Checket never imagined owning one of the hottest restaurants on the Hudson River. He started his career after graduating from Rutgers and getting a position as a stockbroker in training. He was smart enough to know he didn’t need a big apartment, as he’d be working all the time—so he got a tiny Hoboken one-bedroom with a hot plate (this would prove important later in life). He lasted only 4 days as a broker in training.
He wound up taking a job as a server at The Madison Bar & Grill and stayed on for the next two years. He then took another shot at finance but it just wasn’t in him and he was back in the bar business. He would bounce around for a couple years, gaining experience at places like 10th and Willow and 340 Grill. Then fate came into play as he went to hang out at The Madison and Dave Carney asked him to come back and manage the place. He would spend the next six years learning the business from one of the best. Cory admits, “if anyone was a real mentor it was Dave Carney.”
During those years he realized what a network he had built up and how much money he was bringing into the bar from that. He and his roommate at the time Dave Honensee would stay up after they both came home from their bar jobs and have a few drinks talking about opening their own place. Dave happened to be at the right place when he overheard the owners of the bar he was working, The Goldhawk, discussing potentially selling the place. He jumped right in and told him he was interested. It was a big risk, but as Cory remembers, “We didn’t want to live with regrets; we were young and said let’s take a chance.”
With Turtle Club, they built an incredible bar with great atmosphere with a superb wine list at reasonable prices. They have no room for a full kitchen, so they buy fresh everyday (all their meat comes from Truglio’s) and cook most of it on hotplates—just like in that one-bedroom apartment.
Cory always had the idea of a great wedding venue on the Hudson. He and his wife were out for the day in Jersey City when they happened to spot Michael Anthony’s in the Newport Yacht Club & Marina. They stopped in after for a drink and Cory could almost see his vision come to life immediately. Soon after, Battello was open—serving as one of the most exquisite waterfront restaurants and event spaces on the Hudson.
Cory’s advice is to “Believe in yourself, but know yourself.” It is important to believe in yourself and know your strengths, but more importantly know your weaknesses. Then find someone to partner up with whose strengths cover those weaknesses.