The entrepreneurial journey is never the same for every founder: it is generally full of mountains and hills that must be consistently climbed over. These issues are never the same either, but there are principles that can be applied to each problem that can help someone find the best solution. Earlier this month, we had the chance to sit down with entrepreneur David Zamarin to talk about the challenges he has faced as an entrepreneur, how he goes about solving them, and the goals that he has for the future. David is the Founder & CEO of DetraPel: a company that creates non-toxic protective coatings in sustainable packaging. He was also awarded Forbes 30 under 30, featured on Shark Tank, and as a TEDx Speaker!
EKOS: We would love to hear more about your career and what led you to pursue DetraPel.
David: "I started the company when I was 15 years old. It came from this idea when I got into my freshman year of high school: I was a sneakerhead at the time and hated getting my shoes dirty, so I wanted to come up with a film that could be peeled off whenever it got dirty. The issue was that I knew nothing about chemistry at the time, but I was in a youth entrepreneurship program and they told me to pivot the idea to clean shoes. At first, I really didn't want to do that just because I didn't want to clean other people’s dirty shoes. But eventually, I swallowed my pride and took that opportunity and pivoted the idea to clean shoes for university sports teams, which actually proved to be a really smart decision that ended up being one of the more successful startups that I ran. What we did was on a biweekly basis we cleaned and conditioned local university sports team's shoes on a subscription model basis. Six months into it, I got an opportunity to sell the company to someone who was working with me. At the time, I just didn't see the scalability in the shoe cleaning business. After selling the business, (the summer going into my sophomore year in high school) I started looking into what we used as part of the conditioning service in the previous business. The conditioning service at the time was a competitor of DetraPel. Specifically, this particular competitor was an incredibly carcinogenic chemical product that you had to buy a full body suit and a respirator mask when applying it. I didn't understand until after I sold the company what fluorochemicals were. I started going down the rabbit hole of chemical manufacturing and the century-long battle that it's been for many organizations similar to ours, where you've got some of the biggest players in the world doing some questionable things with their manufacturing practices. Ultimately, I started DetraPel that summer transitioning into my sophomore year of high school, and the rest is history."
EKOS: What were some of the serious roadblocks that you encountered and overcame? What steps did you take to solve those?
David: "There's a roadblock every day and I think you'll have that as an entrepreneur. For me, I think the biggest one I could probably point to is that early on I was in a bunch of youth entrepreneurship programs and for a very long time, we struggled with our R&D (Research and Development). I was the only one doing the research on my team, but I did not have a chemical background despite taking classes in high school and becoming a part-time undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania while I was in high school. There I got to do some polymer chemistry studies which definitely assisted in product development. I would say that at one point, I wish that I would have reached out and been vulnerable and honest about the help that I needed around the research and development. I refused to really acknowledge the fact that we had an R&D issue, and that was what we couldn't solve for almost six years as we struggled to get a proper formulation together and get the proper R&D in place to be able to support a lot of our scalability efforts. It wasn't until we brought chemical engineering in-house when that really changed. Now, our CTO has 38 years of experience in the industry. When we brought him on, it really changed the game for us, but up until then we really struggled. It makes a lot of sense because what we make is so unique and now we have a bunch of intellectual property around it. I guess at the time we didn't understand why it was unique and as a result, we ended up not having the right support systems in place and the right R&D actually taking place."
EKOS: Do you have any common first action steps you take when solving a problem?
David: "I think every problem deserves its own set of eyes, but ultimately when you're solving a problem, you're coming up with a solution. In that solution, you fundamentally need to ask why about everything which means you have to question almost everything that you're hypothesizing or that you've seen in the results. It first starts by questioning the problem and really getting to the root of what it means to have this issue and what a solution looks like. When you really start to understand the “why”, is when you understand why something really needs the solution in a specific proposed manner, or why that problem exists and may create market opportunity. That's, I think, the first and foremost step that you must take. You need to question the hell out of whatever you're doing."
1) Take chances. You never know when an opportunity will turn out to be something great, even if on the surface, it seems invaluable.
2) Be honest about the help you need in expanding your company. Don’t put aside an issue due to the fear of not wanting to be wrong or being seen as “less than” because it can hurt your venture in the long run.
3) Always ask “why?” in order to begin to solve problems. You must understand the root of the issue and question potential solutions.
EKOS.AI is designed to help you talk to people that aren’t like you. The platform has markers that define your interests, experiences, roles, and hobbies. You can utilize these markers to find individuals with similar interests like cryptocurrency, fintech, blockchain, and more that may be in a different job function. By joining our platform, you can meet different people to expand your entrepreneurial ecosystem and overcome your next challenge.
We want to thank David for his time and for sharing his insight into the challenges of being an entrepreneur.
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