Three of San Diego State’s most successful young entrepreneurs met and became fast friends as students in the Fowler College of Business before they founded their successful companies. We caught up with Kevin Gelfand of Shake Smart, Alex Ringle of EddieWorld and Griffin Thall of Pura Vida Bracelets to learn more about the routes they’ve taken toward success and the impact they’ve had on each other’s businesses.
Q: How did you first meet?
Thall: I first met Alex at Agoura High School [Agoura Hills, California]. We became friends our freshman year and best friends our sophomore year.
Ringle: No doubt Griff’s and my friendship started due to our shared interest in cars. We loved chatting about cars, driving our cars, washing our cars, and even helping each other research future cars we’d like to buy. I first met Kevin when I was considering joining Sigma Chi fraternity at SDSU.
Gelfand: Griffin was already with Sigma Chi and Alex and I were part of the same pledge class. While our friendship was prompted by being part of the same organization, the three of us naturally meshed due to our mutual love of finance and business.
Q: When did you decide to become entrepreneurs?
Thall: During high school, I was fired from my first job of selling shoes, so I decided to start my own eBay business. I set up an eBay account and sold everything in my room. One day, my dad walks in and asks “Where is all your stuff, Griff?” I simply replied “I sold it all on eBay!” I couldn’t tell if he was proud of me or really angry with what I had done, but either way, I knew I figured out my next gig.
Ringle: I was heavily influenced by watching my father’s work ethic. One summer, he was building a Motel 6. He had his own contractor’s license and I saw him build the entire motel from pouring the foundation to installing the plumbing, framing and appliances. It was a great learning experience and it was my inspiration to build EddieWorld.
Gelfand: I switched my major to entrepreneurship/management during my second year at SDSU. I had a passion for building and being able to control my own destiny. After a few failed ideas, I eventually landed on Shake Smart.
Q: Do the three of you share business ideas with each other?
Ringle: Most definitely. Of the three of us, I was the last to build my business, so I really lean on both Griffin and Kevin for great advice and insight. Right before I was set to open, I called Kevin to help me create packets for the employees I wanted to hire. I was in a panic because California requires your documents to be perfect due to liability issues and I knew what I had would not suffice. Kevin shared his hiring packet with me and I was able to modify them to fit my business. His generosity saved me many hours of research if I would have had to create these documents myself.
Gelfand: Griffin was the first to the entrepreneur party with Pura Vida. I would always go to Griffin for advice because I knew he was extremely skilled, especially with design, branding and marketing. I’d spent $2,000 on an agency to create seven renditions of a logo for Shake Smart, none of which I liked. I spend 30 minutes with Griffin and he came up with the logo that I still use to this day.
Thall: The three of us are still extremely close friends, share business ideas and all want each other to succeed. This all started at the one place we call home: San Diego State University.
Q: What is your advice to students thinking about starting their own business?
Gelfand: Dream big, push hard. Grit is the strongest skillset you can ever have. Be ambitious, be creative, but also be adaptable. The world is changing so fast around you and you must continually enhance and grow or you will be left behind.
Ringle: Starting a business requires complete dedication, devotion and understanding of your specific market. Also, I can’t stress enough the importance of doing your research. You have to understand what the competition is doing right and wrong. You can implement the things that are working for them, but you should find their weaknesses and improve on them to gain that competitive advantage.
Thall: For students starting their own business, I would tell them a few things which, on the surface may sound like a lot of work, but in the long run will drastically pay off with ANY sort of creative idea.
- First, learn how to shoot and edit photos. We live in a world where brands with strong imagery win hand over fist, so grab a camera or an iPhone, download Adobe Lightroom and get to work.
- Second, I would suggest signing up for a Shopify store, pick out a theme that you like and start playing around with it. Watch the videos, read the hundreds of amazing blog articles they offer and just TAKE IN as much information as you possibly can.
-Third, find a partner who perfectly matches your weaknesses. Don't ask your best friend, don't ask your roommate, ask someone who FILLS the gaps where you are weak. This type of partnership will add massive value as you encounter growing pains and need to allocate tasks accordingly.