Who is Sean Wycliffe what are the topics we covered in this interview?
Sean is from a Bangladeshi family which immigrated to the US. He was born in Connecticut but spent most of his life in California, where he attended UC Berkeley. His story is full of inspiring moments where he shared the ups and downs of his early business endeavors, before eventually becoming the co-founder of Dealflicks.
We also had a ton of things we’ve discussed, including:
- How Sean and his brother started raking millions at age 19
- How they lost their millions and what they did to get back into business
- The impact of finding a co-founder to the success of their business
- How he dropped out of school but graduated summa cum laude
- How the Bible changed his life
[5:40] What was the most monumental event that happened to you and what was your tipping point?
Answer: It was tough. I think the biggest thing that impacted us in a positive way is when my co-founder, Kevin, came on board.
[38:57] What tips would you give an entrepreneur who is starting out and wants to hire and build a business on building great teams and a good culture, and what is the most common mistake that you see when they are trying to do that?
Answer: I think what it is that it’s very similar to, I guess, relationships in a way, where if you want to have a good, fulfilling long term relationship, it’s going to take time to develop into the person that you want to be, because you need to be that person yourself first.
[43:13] What book changed your life?
Answer: Of course, the book that changed my life the most has been The Bible. I actually started really studying that in 2006, in 2007, and since then I’ve been studying it and it’s just a great book that is powerful and I believe that it’s alive and that it actually can change our lives. It’s the part that can change our lives in addition to just having amazing information and truth.
Culture According to Sean:
What I realized is, initially, when it’s just the founders, the culture of a start-up doesn’t need to be defined because it’s just who you are as a founder, and about how you like to work, how many hours you work a week, what your attitude is, what your general outlook is with the company, how you like to communicate, how you like to present yourself, and how you like to work together.
Go To Quote for Inspiration
Links and Resources Mentioned in this Interview:
Where to Find Sean:
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FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
John: Sean, how are you?
Sean: Hey, how’s it going John? I’m doing good, yourself?
John: Just short of being twins, and I’d make a lot of people unhappy if there were two of me. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. Before we get started, Sean, perhaps you could share with all of our listeners a little background to your story, about where you grew up. I find it pretty interesting.
I’ve done some reading, some research on you. You’re one of those guys who has been on the East Coast, the West Coast. Maybe you can share with all of our listeners where you came from and how you got to where you are today.
Sean: Yes, definitely. So, my family is originally from Bangladesh, but I was born in the States in Connecticut. Then I moved to Ohio, Chicago, Maryland, and Virginia. I grew up in Virginia for about 10 years, and then I came up to California in my senior year in high school and went up to UC Berkeley after that.
When I was a freshman at Berkeley, I started, on the side, selling long distance phone services to make some extra money. It started going really well. So by the time I was 19, I ended up buying a Porsche and dropping out of school and moving to LA. My brother did this with me, too. So we had these matching cars and we were running the show down there.
About a year later, we actually got the business up to over $1 million in revenue. By the time I turned 21, I ended up getting a Ferrari. My brother and I had this million dollar house. We basically thought that we’re going to become billionaires or whatever it might be.
So we were pretty loose and reckless with our spending. At the end of the year, the company that we were selling for declared bankruptcy. We pretty much lost everything. I actually had to move in back with my dad and start over by selling refurbished cellphones.
It was a really tough year. This was in 2005. So through that experience, it was humbling and I had a drastic change in my character that came as a result of that. I ended up rededicating my life to the Lord, and getting into ministry for two years full time with my church.
After that, I decided to come back to UC Berkeley in 2008. I graduated in the summer of 2010. After that, that’s when I had the idea for DealFlicks.
John: Sounds like the foundation of your family served you very well and that culture- You’ve been through some tough times.
Sean: Yes, definitely. My family is pretty supportive despite all the crazy things that I’ve done.
John: As I like to tell our listeners, everybody has to have a tribe. I’m one of eight. Being the baby boy, in the family I’ve always been taken care of even as I’ve done all my crazy stuff. They always look back at me and say, “Well, it’s him. We’ll let him go on. He’ll come back.” So it sounds like you’ve had some of those experiences as well and they’ve served you well.
I think being part of an entrepreneur and understanding the cultures that drive entrepreneurs- You have done some incredible things; not only has your faith carried you but it’s about understanding people. Can you tell us how and why DealFlicks came about?
Sean: Yes. I’ve always been a huge fan of movies. Growing up, I watched movies in all sorts of different forms, whether it’s in the theater or at home or online, or wherever you want to name it. After I graduated college, I ended up seeing this movie, “The King’s Speech.” I don’t know if you’ve seen it. It’s a great movie and I just saw it a few days after it came out. It was great, but the theater was empty.
It was a little shocking to me and wondering, “Man, why is this thing empty? This is like one of the best movies.” I did some research. I was trying to see whether maybe there was something out there as a customer that I could use the next time I want to go see a movie that’s on in the theater. Maybe I could get a better deal like a price line or hot wire for movie tickets. I figured that somebody hadn’t done something like that yet.
I went online, did some research and I couldn’t find anything. But what I did find was that about 88 percent of movie theater seats are empty. At the same time, over $40 billion are spent on movie tickets, popcorn, and soda every year. So there’s this big market with this big problem, and no one was really doing anything about it. That’s when I put the idea of DealFlicks together.
Over the next year, I got a team together. There was a ton of ups and downs. I was working with a team to talk to a bunch of theaters. We talked to about 100 theaters before my co-founder, Kevin, signed up our first theater. From there, we built a product and ended up launching in summer of 2012.
John: What was the most monumental event that happened to you and what was your tipping point?
Sean: In terms of the early days getting to launch?
John: Yes, getting to launch.
Sean: It was tough. I think the biggest thing that impacted us in a positive way was when my co-founder, Kevin, came on board. Before he came on board, I had actually gone through – let me count them – one, two, three, four, five- About six or seven different co-founders. Some of them were technical co-founders, some of them were business co-founders.
By the fall of 2011, none of those relationships had worked out for one reason or the other. I found myself by myself. At that point I decided, “You know what, I’m just going to learn how to program myself, list all the websites up and hack at it and see what I can do on that front.” Because my background before had been Biz Dev. That was the missing piece that I had.
At that time, my co-founder, Kevin, got back in touch with me. He actually was running with me way back in the day when we were selling long distance phone services down in Southern California. So we got back in touch and one thing led to the next. He ended up starting to help me with some side projects and pretty soon, he ended up quitting his job and jumping on board and became one of our co-founders.
It was a really big deal, because once he came on board, we really started to have a lot of momentum. Both he and I went full time in the business at the beginning of 2012. We ended up recruiting a bunch of interns. We went through a number of other co-founders as well. From there, he actually was able to get our first theater to sign on, too. Then we finally threw the website together and launched the thing.
If he hadn’t come on board, I’m not exactly sure if there’d be a DealFlicks today.
John: I don’t think there’s anything better than sharing success with your family. My wife of 30 years is my business partner. I refer to her as my moral compass. I read where you talked about being the pitch guy and you like to pitch, but it’s nerve wracking. She likes to say, “Nobody knows what you don’t know, so why do you have to tell them?”
John: So you got through these processes, but for me the fundamental grounding piece is that you’re surrounded by people that care and love for you that want to make a difference in the world and all the metrics follow behind it. I read early on where you had worked, I believe, in Merrill Lynch and did some investing and trading and made some money doing that early on. I’m correct in that, isn’t that right Sean?
Sean: Yes. Let me elaborate on that a little bit. It didn’t work out exactly like that. What happened was that after my freshman year in college, I had lined up an internship with the Wealth Management Group at Merrill Lynch. This was in the town of Revlins, California, [0:08:16], California, and Southern California.
I was really dead set on becoming a star trader. When I was in high school, when I moved out in California, I didn’t have any friends here. It was in my senior high school, so I started really getting into the stock market. I started watching CNBC. Everyone’s a stock market genius when you have CNBC up on your big screen.
So I was at my dad’s house as a high school senior, and watching this online, just doing these things. So I made some money at Shell gas station. I was able to convince my parents to let me loan a little bit of money, put it into an account. I started investing it, and did very badly. Then I was able to impress my parents enough to the point where they wanted me to trade some of the money that they had. I did that, and lost them some money.
I also had a couple of my uncles, I think, who were interested in helping me trade with them as well. I also lost a little with them. It was a, pretty much, big time failure because this was in 2001 and the year 2000, which was the worst time ever to be investing long in the stock market. Anyways, that was my experience personally investing at that time. Although at the same time, I had been really trying to get this internship.
When I came up to Berkeley, none of the companies wanted to hire freshmen as interns. So at this other place in my hometown, I just kept bugging and bugging but I finally did get in there for an internship. So I was doing that at the same time as I was selling long distance, and the internship was kind of being a glorified secretary. They didn’t really need me or care that I was around.
After about a few days to a week, I actually just quit that. That was my stint in the finance world. I was a pretty unsuccessful financier.
John: Sean, having seen the environment from a corporate world, having been and lived the entrepreneurial dreams, help my listeners understand what you define a company culture as, because I think you have the ability and you have the bandwidth where you’ve seen quite a few different environments. So what do you call a company culture?
Sean: Yes, that’s a really great question. It’s actually something that, as a founder, I had not thought about at all for a long time. This concept of culture didn’t really come up in DealFlicks until we started to do quite a bit of external hires. We started to hire not only our first or second employee, but we started getting to fourth, fifth, sixth employee.
What I realized is, initially, when it’s just the founders, the culture of a start-up doesn’t need to be defined because it’s just who you are as a founder, how you like to work, how many hours you work a week, what your attitude is, what your general outlook is with the company, how you like to communicate, how you like to present yourself, and how you like to work together.
Those are the things that matter as a founder. So with my first year at DealFlicks, even once Kevin came on board, in total I think we went through something like over 10 different founders.
The reason why some of the other ones didn’t work out was because there was a difference maybe in work ethic or there was a difference in dedication, or there was a difference in outlook, or there was a difference in commitment.
So our culture was different than some of these other “co-founders’ cultures” and so it just didn’t work. It’s like oil and water at some point. So that’s what happened. Then actually my co-founder, Kevin, and I – my other co-founder actually joined later – we came together and we ended up having the same belief system and the same work dedication level and commitment etc.
We ended up working pretty well and things started to turn. We didn’t think about it too much about it. It’s just that we’re all in the same page. When we started hiring people and bringing people in – initially, our first two hires, we hired them and it’s working out really, really well.
He’s actually really good at what he does. But the culture was a little different.
This is first when we started to think about culture because “He’s a great, great guy, a really great worker. It’s just a different culture.” This is in terms of how we like to work through the day. Do we care about actually working together in the same office, or is that not a big deal? Do we care about being on time, or is that not a big deal? Is it super flexible and you can go around and do whatever you want, or is it not that? Is it “Let’s blow a bunch of money on lunches at fancy places because we’re a start-up and who cares?” or is it “Let’s be thrifty and let’s hustle and make every penny count?”
So those are the two different company philosophies, and some people have one side of it. Some people have others. Some people can change, and some people can’t. What I started realizing at that time is that we definitely needed to bring people on board who value the same kind of things that we value at DealFlicks. Not that other values are wrong; they’re just different. DealFlicks, and the values of our company, especially at that stage were defined by who the founders were.
As time has gone on, it’s actually become a more defined thing. So there are certain things that have come up over the last year, and it’s just through working with different people internally or externally that we’ve realized how it’s important to us, and that we’ve also realized that others who worked with us need to have it. This has everything to do with how transparent you are, how hard of a worker you are, how willing to go the extra mile you are, and how thrifty you can be.
Things of this nature define somewhat what DealFlicks is and our culture. People coming on board – in addition to being a great skilled worker, whether they’re engineer, designer, biz dev, sales, whatever they are – in addition to that, they also need to fit the culture because if they don’t, there are just some rifts and we’re not in the same page at all times. That’s what I think has become what is DealFlicks’ culture.
John: I heard you talk about beliefs and you talked about culture. You talked about how we get along in that culture depending upon our belief systems. For me, 12 years ago, we started our business and we only have one rule in our company which is that you must treat people the way you want to be treated.
You have to be the change you wish to see, which is the mantra, Kyra, our CEO, lives by. It’s on her license plate. We’ve raised our kids that way. We run a business that way. So we go through a process when we go out and see clients. We see people get their series A funding and we see the start-ups. We understand the value of a dollar.
My wife and I both come from very humble beginnings. So you don’t come up from where we came up from and throw money around like a drunken sailor.
I sit with people every day in our interiors business and I say, “You can buy $150 chair and you can buy that chair six times in the next five years, or you can buy one chair for $350 with a lifetime warranty. Which is the best to do for your investor?”
Sean, I can’t tell you the puzzled looks I get from entrepreneurs. Did they really think they’re doing the right thing creating basically a crappy environment? And then they want to retain employees. They want employees to come to them, and I just shake my head and I wonder. How do you get that message across?
What would you share with people? Is there a difference in your mind between maintaining an appropriate culture but also doing what’s right for everybody?
Sean: Yes, absolutely. That’s definitely part of our culture. What we realized and this is something that one of my co-founders – Kevin and I; we actually sat down. We had never bothered to do this because we just figured “How important is this? Let’s just do our thing.” We started to realize, “Okay, it’s probably a good time for us at some point to sit down and think about our culture a little bit.”
I believe this was only just a few months ago. We actually sat down. I started to think and he started to think a little bit about what matters to us. Then, we started to think why it matters to us. What we realized is that our culture is the product – a company’s culture, almost generically speaking, is the product of the priorities that they have due to what market they’re in and what their company’s mission is.
So for instance, you have somebody like Google, just to use some examples. So Google is known for having a great environment for their engineers, and they have their buses and they have all their perks and they have all these different things. It’s like a Disneyland, essentially, when you go there for work. It just seems like that from what I’ve seen.
In any case, that’s what they’re about. We started to think about and realize: “Why is everything revolving around their engineers?” Because their engineers are the most limited resource for them that they have to cater to. So that’s priority number one for Google.
Investors almost come below engineers. I don’t know this definitively, but I would almost assume that based on the way things are going over there. It seems like investors are a lower priority, shareholders are lower priority than engineers, because they’re not as hard to get as engineers are. Therefore, Google probably needs to cater first to the engineers.
Below that you might have biz dev team members, and below that you might have even users because Google has so many users. It’s like, “Who’s not going to use Google and the internet?” So I don’t know exactly how their prioritization ranks, but it’s interesting just thinking about what the hardest thing is for them to get. It seems like engineers are the case, because they can’t get enough of them. Everything revolves around that first and foremost.
So with DealFlicks we started to realize, “Okay, why do we do the things that we do and why is our company the way that it is?” A lot of it is because of the way that our company actually has to be to actually get into this market and have success. So one of the things that we value most is our theater relationships because such a huge part of what we do is maintaining and building good relationships with our theater partners.
If we have those good relationships, at least more theater relationships than others and more partnerships and better partnerships, that’s a big part of DealFlicks. It’s having that supply side. So a lot of what we do revolves around that. Then, our users, that’s another big huge priority for us as well.
A lot of things revolve around that and our investors. A lot of things revolve around that as well in our team. So we’ve structured this out and realized that “Okay, what’s at the bottom of this?” It’s basically the founders because we’re in on this. So nobody has to cater to us, honestly. We’re just going to get up and do this no matter what. It’s because we’re in. We’re all in.
But for the other parties expanding outwards, we have to start to cater. A lot of our culture is based on that in terms of what matters to us – when a situation arises, how to deal with it and whatnot. It’s an interesting thing – culture. It’s something I’m still learning about.
John: Sean, the story you just shared with us, I’d like to dig into that just a little bit if we could. Could you share with our listeners how culture has helped accelerate DealFlicks?
Sean: Yes, definitely. I think when you have a certain culture, what it can do is a couple of things for you. First, just going back to my original story and my personal background and writing off of what you mentioned in terms of where you came from and where your wife came from.
I definitely came from a background of a normal, average middle class family. But when I had made a lot of money, I got very cocky and then I lost it all and had to start over. Ever since then I’ve appreciated the value of $1 and 10 cents, essentially. I don’t take it for granted, trust me.
That’s just part of who I am now. This current start-up, DealFlicks: everything I do is about that. It just naturally comes out because that’s just a part of who I am. My co-founder, Kevin, is very much like that as well because he was also with the ups and downs with me with the first company that we had. He appreciates that.
We have had different people who not only work here but people we considered having work with us. They just don’t have that background. Their background is a little bit different. Maybe their background might have to do with essentially coming from a place where money was prevalent and maybe they never had to deal with scarcity, or maybe in the start-up world, they’ve been working with companies that are super well funded and things just grew really quickly, and if they didn’t work out, they just packed up and started something else.
I mean, I don’t know. People come from different backgrounds. What we realized is the people that are going to like to work here with us are going to be the people who understand the value of money and appreciate it. So that’s what we’ve seen. Those people tend to be attracted to DealFlicks, and we tend to be attracted to them as well.
We don’t have free lunches at DealFlicks right now. We don’t have some of the Google perks. We don’t have a bus that’s going to pick you up. A lot of our guys sleep in the back of minivans when they’re traveling. If we do stay in a hotel, it might be a Motel 6 or something like that.
We’re kind of that nature right now. Maybe things will change when we get to the point where we have surplus money. But we don’t have all those “Silicon Valley perks”. For those who are looking for that, there’s nothing wrong with that, definitely, but DealFlicks is not necessarily in your company.
On the flip side, we do have some really cool things going for us. As a result of the hustle and doing whatever it takes to be successful, we’ve been all together to a lot of press, and it’s kind of fun. There’s a lot of opportunity to shine here. You can be on the front lines when it comes to what it is that’s moving the company forward, whether it’s our mobile app and websites if you’re on the product side or our theater relationships and users if you’re on the business or marketing side.
So you’re right there on the front lines, pushing the company forward and you can feel everyday, every week, what it is that you’re doing that’s contributing to that. There are some definite things that might be awesome perks and other things that might not be as awesome. But the people end up wanting to work here and the people who do well here are the people who fit well with the values that we have and the culture that we have.
John: Sounds pretty exciting. You talked about work ethic. You talked about the belief systems. One of the things for us – myself, I worked in corporate America for 20 years and my listeners have heard me say that I was a round peg in a square hole. It took me 20 years, I’m not that smart Sean, so it took me a while to figure out that I didn’t belong. I have been very fortunate; I have my best friend and my partner, better known as my wife, who helped guide me.
As we went through this entrepreneurial experiment, one of the things that drove me was to make the world a better place. In doing that, I realized not only did I have to work very hard at what I wanted to achieve, but I had to make time to give back. Because God has given me a great gift. Unless I share it with other people, I would have been rather selfish.
For the last 12 years, I’ve worked with an inner city AAU program called the New Jersey Roadrunners. We send very talented basketball players off to college – kids like Kyrie Irvine came out of our program, Randy Foy, 34 NBA players, over 1,000 Division 1 NCA players – and it’s the oldest AAU program in New Jersey, and has been around for the last 40 years.
I met the guy, Sandy Payan, who runs it. We’re not signing a sneaker contract; he doesn’t want his kids ever, ever to be exploited. So 12 years ago, he hooked up with me, and he said “I have the greatest basketball mind in the world, but I know nothing about business.” I said, “Well, all I’ve got is a 6’7″ kid. That’s all I know, but I know a lot about business. I’ll help you.”
These have been the single most rewarding moments in my life, to mentor these young men and to see them go off to college, to help make a difference in a child’s life so that he can make a difference in our world.
I was just wondering from your perspective, because in March we begin our AAU season. I’m out doing our independent fundraising for people and saying, “Would you help these kids?” People look at me like I’m nuts like, “What have you got to do with it?” It’s the fiber which binds me to who I am. I wonder is there anything like that for, Sean?
Sean: Yes, definitely. Absolutely. My experience has been pretty interesting. I was extremely selfish and self-centered when I had my first company signed: the long distance phone service. The whole world, in my eyes, revolved around me. I was a very cocky person, a very “self-filled” person.
When I had my conversion experience, I ended up getting into ministry for a few years. That actually was great for me: just studying The Word and helping people’s needs. That really is what it’s all about.
After that, I wasn’t really sure where God wanted me to go, honestly. So through prayer and seeking counsel from some others, I decided to go back to school. I was not even sure if Berkeley would ever let me in. Honestly, when I had dropped out of school, I literally just left one day. It wasn’t like I finally went up there and was like, “Hey, I’m thinking about…”
I just left. They called me for a month or two and I never picked up, and then I don’t know what happened. Then I called them back and they said. “Okay, yes. It looks like you have your last semester. You ended up getting two failures and a C, but technically you’re in good standing. So you can come back next month if you want.”
So I was so thankful. I was like, “Let me do this, let me see what happens.” I went up and I was getting involved in my local church ministry up there. One of the things that I felt compelled to do was to try to just do something to actually help people again. I had an idea to do a mission trip.
So I couldn’t find anything that actually was keeping me from going on. I realized, you know, why would I fly to Asia or Africa or Europe or wherever it may be and pay $2,000 on plane for a round trip to do such a trip, when I could just go to Mexico. So I started looking and started going to Mexico and bringing a team down, and realized that we can get a trip down there for maybe $200 a pop.
We put a program together called Project Pueblo and we decided that we were going to do a trip to Mexico. This was right when the whole drug war really broke out. This was in early 2008, early 2009. We said, “I don’t know if that’s going to work.” One of my pastors at the time had a friend at the Navajo reservation.
He said, “Hey, I’ve got a friend down there. He’s always wanted me to come. Maybe you should go there. So we decided to do a trip down there. So at the end of 2009, we did our first trip down there. There were about 20 people from our church group. It went really well. It was really fun. We actually were demolishing a youth center, which sounds really bad, but the goal was to put it back up.
So we went there over the next year and help build it back up. Now, it’s kind of a boys’ and girls’ club type thing. It’s pretty awesome. From there, we just kept going back. We ended up going into a part of the reservation called the Bennett Freeze, the former Bennett Freeze, and in this area it’s very unfortunate as only about 25 percent of the people have adequate shelter. Only 10 percent have running water and only around three percent have electricity. A lot of this is because there’s a 44-year ban on building or rebuilding due to an apparent land dispute.
There are all sorts of issues there. There’s a lot of uranium issues and uranium contamination of water because of the uranium mining. It’s just full of issues. There’s a lot of need. We started going down there and focusing our trips around there. I looked at the exact number of trips that we’ve done so far. I think I’ve been on maybe 12, and the organization itself has done maybe about 20 or so.
But yes, that’s something that I was really involved in especially when I was in college and my first year in DealFlicks. Since then, the organization is still going. I haven’t been able to be as involved just now, because now we have a certain amount of vacation days that we can take. I ended up getting married last year which is awesome.
Sean: Thank you, thank you. But that was all my vacation days. I haven’t been able to go back as regularly now since I started DealFlicks, because DealFlicks has been going well, which is great. Mostly now, in terms of what I do outside of DealFlicks on the weekends, we’re super involved in our ministry up at the Grand Avon Church in Oakland.
Yes, I’m just doing a lot of work with the college unit stuff. We have a college ministry at the Berkeley campus now. What we do is – we actually have a couple of things that we do. So when I had gone back to school at UC Berkeley, I ended up really doing well in school. I believe that this was in large part due to the change in character I had and in my priorities.
My IQ is the same as it always had been, but when I came back, I had been doing really well and I’m getting like 5 A’s and 5 A+’s in my first year back. I ended up finishing with summa-cum-laude in my major economics. Totally by God’s grace, it was awesome.
Since then, while I was a student there, I ended up teaching a class on how to get A’s. Now that I started DealFlicks, I’ve been continuing that through the ministry. We did it last semester and also this semester. We’re doing it again right now on Saturday evenings. So that’s really cool because a lot of these students will come. It’s unfortunate because they get so stressed out with school.
I was actually one of those people as well before. I was just getting so stressed out trying to climb, climb, climb, and move up and get to the point where 10 years from now, I’ll be successful. I’ll be happy. But right now, I’m going to sacrifice my happiness for later. I just learned in my own personal life, it doesn’t work like that. If you’re not happy now, you’re probably not going to be happy later.
John: Amen. The younger we learn that, the better off we’re going to be.
Sean: Yes, I learned that thing young, relatively, when I basically lost everything and it just didn’t work out, and what happened is that we started doing this, and mostly these kids that come to these seminars are super stressed out and they feel like they need to get an A because if not, the world is going to end.
It’s unfortunate and we definitely help them with strategies and in terms of how to approach classes and study and take test and things like that, but we also stress a lot of, “Look guys, it doesn’t really matter as much as you think it does.”
I mean honestly, when I graduated at CAL, myself, I had really good grades the second time around, and I thought I was going to get a job really easily so, my last semester I applied for a bunch of consulting jobs and didn’t get any. And then, I actually took the GMAT, did really well on that and applied to grad school right afterwards, and didn’t get into any MBA programs. And so this was like the first six months of Dealflicks, and it was like a really bad time and so this was terrible.
One of the things I’d like to know is like just because you get really a good grade, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to set you up. You shouldn’t do badly, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get good grades. And if you get great grades, it’s not like you are set. So, it’s just not as important as you think, although you should do your best. We try to help them just have a perspective on life. In terms of its not being as important as you think it is.
So that was one of the bigger things that I’ve been involved in, as well as some other things in my community. But I’m excited, I’m just excited, that God has blessed me enough to even get to this point where people like yourself are even inviting me talk on podcasts like this. I listen to podcasts all the time and I never thought I’d be on one.
John: I’m glad you took the time to visit with me. I want to bounce back to Dealflicks for a moment again. As my listeners know, I do bounce all over the place because I think that’s what life does, it bounces you around. And as soon as you realize you are not in control, that there is a higher power, that the guy has his hand on your shoulder, guiding you, though you just don’t know it some days. So that being said, let me bounce back over to Dealflicks for a moment and ask you a facilities question which relates to culture. Does your office design and layout match your culture, and if so, how is it helping you with regards to attracting and retaining staff?
Sean: That is a great question. Our office set-up was really interesting. When we first launched the company it was pretty much just the co-founders working in our different homes, and then we actually ended up getting into [32:04 inaudible] start-ups which are one of these tech incubators, and this was in Fall 2012. And so they kind of had a set-up where there are about thirty companies all working in one office, and you kind of have your own space but you collaborate and do some things together. So we really enjoyed that, and then after that we ended up getting a small office in San Francisco, where there are maybe about ten other start-ups there.
After that, we ended up getting some investment money from Warner Bros. and that brought us down to LA. And one of our investors in LA has an amazing office space on the twenty first floor in the 1500 Wills Street building, which is right over there in the Miracle Mile of LA. And so he said “Hey, you know you guys are here, why don’t you just come and work in my office for the summer while you’re down here?” So we did that and it was great, and after that he said “Why don’t you guys just stick around, and you guys can work out here as long as we are here.” And so we ended up working in there for the last couple of years, about a year and a half or so, and it’s been awesome.
And our product team came back from San Francisco after the stint in LA for the Summer 2013. And we ended up joining our co-working space up here called the Runaway. So now we actually have about half our team, a little bit less than half our team up in San Francisco, and a little bit more than half our team down at LA. And both of the spaces are super nice buildings and there are maybe anywhere near between ten to thirty start-ups, depending whether it’s the SF or LA branch. And we have our own little pod and our own little area that we work in, and at the same time there is kind of a buzz in the community going around.
So I think for us, in terms of people coming and working for us, they liked it because the building was super nice. The amenities are super nice. At this stage in our life cycle we probably couldn’t afford to have our own space in a building as nice as the Twitter building in SF or, you know, that building in LA. But because of these co-working spaces, it enables us to participate and still have super nice amenities, while at the same time not paying as much on bills for it.
So I think the people who are attracted to Dealflicks and who fit with that enjoy, kind of, being in a team environment. I don’t have my own personal office. My co-founder, Kevin, doesn’t have his own personal office. We just kind of work on the floor with everyone else. We are just there and not only are we, kind of, out there with the rest of our team, we are actually out there with other start-ups as well. And so, we are pretty transparent in terms of our thoughts on how we are doing things, and we are always freely available to give advice or to receive it if people are willing to help us out. And I think just being out there in the open and being available, being transparent, that’s kind of embodied in the office environment that we are at right now.
John: I think that is a great move. I hear a lot of entrepreneurs embody exactly what you are talking about from the physical facilities stand point. I think that the common denominator is exactly what you are talking about; it is being amongst your people and in the mix with everybody else.
I recently saw that you received an amazing amount of funding. How did that make you feel? What was it like when it happened? Was that a huge milestone? Did you expect that to happen?
Sean: Definitely, so. I mean it was an interesting experience. I think it’s very similar to having an experience of going to the gym and you think it’s going to be tough but you go there, and you’re there. And it’s like you are constantly getting pushed while you are there, and it feels great when you’re done and you are walking out as opposed to when you are actually there. This is at least me. I’m not the biggest gym guy, but that has been my experience so far. And so I think when it comes to fund raising, it’s definitely something that was tough.
It’s definitely something that continues to force us to evolve and get better and iterate and try to do whatever we needed to do.
We did raise a good amount of money, but it’s ironic because I think our success rate, in terms of the number of investors we talked to versus the amount of people who came in, was very low compared to some of our peers who are friends of mine. So a lot of my friends are able to talk to small handfuls of investors and get a couple of investors and they are set.
For us, you know, there was period of time when we had to go out there and knock on doors and, essentially, I’ve literally just in 2013 alone talked to hundreds of people, and since then I’ve talked to hundreds more people. So I don’t even know what the number is of potential investors who I’ve talked to now: it’s probably hundreds of hundreds, literally. This is kind of crazy, but I probably know them and they probably know me at this point.
It’s been an experience. It’s definitely a skill set that I think has been rewarding in hindsight, in terms of just being able to learn how to interact with these types of very wealthy individuals or VC managing director, managing partner types, who are very sharp. They really know what they are doing and will ask you very detailed, tough questions and, just to be able to answer the questions distinctly and transparently but also explain why you were excited, that, I think is the whole experience of it. And it’s about just constantly getting rejected, constantly having people get you really excited for a couple of weeks about how they’re probably going to come in, and then all of a sudden they are not going to come in. And you’re sitting there thinking “Oh, man.” And so there’s a lot of ups and downs.
Every entrepreneur has their experience with it, but I definitely think in the end, for me, it’s been a good experience. It’s just one of those experiences where going through it, you know, whether it is college graduation, it’s something that is tough, or it’s kind of accomplishing anything in terms of something. Fundraising has definitely been one of those things for us in Dealflicks.
John: So you’ve raised this capital. Now what do you do with it?
Sean: We had raised some money last year. We actually had raised some money the year before as well. And what we’ve done with it, is we’ve hired some people and we spent some of the money pretty much on marketing. And then we spent some of the money on travelling for the sales purpose of partnering with theatres.
Most of our money has been spent on paying our team. So that is our biggest expense. That’s just our employee and contractors expense. And so that’s most of it and then nowadays, we have started to spend more and more money on marketing. And our sales have always been pretty constant, just in terms of travelling across the US and gas and registering for any event that we might need to go to or whatever that might be.
Our business is pretty straight forward, a pretty simple business. We partner with theaters. We do marketing and then we have our team which kind of builds our products and supports our user base, and it works on marketing and sales as well. So that’s pretty much what our business is about and what we do with our funding.
John: Sean, what tips would you give an entrepreneur who is starting out and wants to hire and build a business on building great teams and a good culture, and what is the most common mistake that you see when they are trying to do that?
Sean: I think it’s very similar to, I guess, relationships in a way where if you want to have a good, fulfilling long term relationship it’s going to take time to develop in to the person that you want to be, because you need to be that person yourself first.
Essentially for instance, I just got married so I wanted my wife to be beautiful and smart and loving and kind and all these things and then some, but before I could even attract someone like that and even have them have any kind of interest in me in that way, I needed to essentially allow God to make me into that person for myself before I could even become eligible, I guess you could say.
And so I think that one of the first things is, you know, if you are a product co-founder, if you are a product entrepreneur who designs or who builds, how good are you at designing? How good are you at building? If you are a biz dev co-founder, how good are you at biz dev? How good are you at sales? How good are you at recruiting? Because you are going to need all those things? How good are you at understanding numbers and business and spreadsheets? You don’t need much of that stuff, but you need to be at least familiar with that.
Who are you? Are you the kind of person who can hold the load in terms of being the co-founder that you need to be? And then, let’s say if you are, and you might be, then the next step is actually finding that kind of significant other in business, whoever your co-founder might be, whoever your partner might be. It’s possible to do it alone, but more than likely it’s going to be tough, because most investors don’t like solo founders and it’s honestly hard to build a company. Even with founders it’s hard, but if you are by yourself then it’s even harder.
And so attracting that partner who’s going to be with you – again if you want someone to be super committed to the business who is going to be willing to go fifty, sixty, seventy hours a week when you are trying to get the business off the ground, how willing are you to do that? Are you going to be willing to be the first person to actually do that so that you can attract that other person and lead that other person?
So that I think one of the toughest things is getting to that point yourself, and then having the patience to find those other people, because honestly, with Dealflicks, I had that idea pretty much in the beginning of 2011, and we didn’t actually have our co-founding team of the three of us until May 2012. So it was well over a year before I was able to get my co-founding team together. In the meantime, it was just like we were sitting in no man’s land, in a kind of purgatory, just swirling our thumbs and paddling our feet and not really going anywhere. And so it does take time to become that person and it does take time to find that other person.
I would say that shouldn’t sell yourself short though, because I have seen some other start-ups which were one person going for it, and then they brought someone else in who was not that into it. I had done this like five times when we first started, so I’m speaking about myself too. And it just drags the whole thing down. It’s demotivating for everybody. There’s conflict that arises because you are running a hundred miles an hour and the other person is going five miles an hour. And so it’s just not going to work out.
And so it’s kind of like someone who is trying to enter into a dating relationship where one party just wants to casually date and they don’t really care, whereas the other person is just looking for a long term serious relationship.
Even coming into those views, generally speaking, it leads a lot of conflict that might not work out. And so, you know, just kind of make sure that you are out there, that you’re networking, and you’re doing what you need to do to really have that core founding team, because, ultimately, that founding team is going to be what it takes to build your initial product, your MVP.
Get your initial few partnerships, launch, do some marketing and get some traction, and then go out there and talk to investors and show investors that “We have the team to make it happen because we got this far. If you give us some money then we can get this far.” So it really revolves around, you know, the founding team and who you are, first and foremost, and then who are you going to attract based on that.
John: I couldn’t agree more. Sean, we are going to move to the lightning round here. We are coming to the end of our time together. I really appreciate you spending so much time. I know you are a busy man. So let me jump into the lightning round. What book changed your life?
Sean: That’s a really great question. There’s so many books that I’ve read that have been instrumental in my life.
I remember I read this book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, when I first was a college student that got me to start thinking about entrepreneurship and business. “How to win friends and influence people.” Those are great books. Of course the book that changed my life the most has been The Bible. I actually started really studying that in 2006, in 2007, and since then I’ve been studying it and it’s just a great book that is powerful and I believe that it’s alive and it actually can change our lives and that it’s the part that can change our lives in addition to having just amazing information and truth. So I mean that is what, I would say, is the biggest book that’s made the biggest impact in my personal life so far.
John: What is your go-to quote for inspiration?
Sean: My go-to quote is from The Bible for inspiration, definitely. Recently it’s been in Matthew 6. Christ Himself, He actually says “Do not worry about what you will eat or drink for the Heavenly Father will know you need these things. Even the birds in the air don’t worry about these things and our Heavenly Father takes care of them, the grass in the fields, he takes care of them, and so if you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all these things will be added unto you, and don’t worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will take care of itself”.
So that kind of passage at the end of Matthew 6, I’ve actually been going there quite a bit because, as you can imagine and as I’m sure you’ve experienced, there’s so much stress that often can pile up when it comes to doing a business or start-up or venture or whatever it might be. And so just leaning on that as a promise that no matter what, there is no reason to really worry because God has brought me this far, and He is going to continue to bring me there, and look at who He is and what He has done for others. So I don’t need the stress. I can just give it to Him and have faith that He will take care of it. So that has definitely been something that’s really helped to carry me in a big way in the last year, I would say, even.
John: Great quote. I love it. What companies do you admire the most with culture and why? Other than yours. No fair; you can’t say yours.
Sean: There are a lot of great companies out there that have amazing cultures and you know, especially from our stand point just being a company, that it is all about getting out there and getting our hands dirty, getting our feet dirty. I know AirBnB, the founders of those guys, of that company, actually had quite a bit – went out there and got their feet, got their hands dirty, and just had to hustle and basically do whatever it took to kind of make it happen. There’s a lot of that they had to overcome in the beginning to make it happen. So I definitely respect their culture.
I would say I admire Google’s culture. It is not necessarily a culture that we might be able to duplicate at Dealflicks but I love it in terms of just what they are being able to accomplish with their culture. And there is just a host of other companies and other cultures that I think have been amazing.
I think, pretty much nowadays, I would say if you’ve been a company that had a ton of success, you probably have to have gotten there by having an amazing culture. And so we are kind of a weird company in that, we are Silicon Valley in that kind of way because we do have a tech element to us, but we are also very LA, very kind of just street small business normal kind of thing, when it comes to a start-up company.
We have some of both, and companies that are in that mix, companies in that middle ground are companies that I definitely admire for being able to pull that kind of stuff off. The AirBnBs, even companies like Groupon, in terms of being able to ride that line and make sure that they have a culture that fits with their product team as well as their biz dept. team, and making an environment that’s really great for both sides. So, definitely.
John: So that leads me to the next question. Why should people work for Dealflicks?
Sean: I definitely would say that if you are out there and you are looking for work – why would you want to work for Dealflicks? It’s a fun company; you get to work directly with a small handful of people who are super passionate about what they do. We are in a unique situation in that we are a tech company, which is always fun, but we are also in the entertainment world. So we are constantly immersed in film and we’re constantly going to different events that allow us to network with people in the industry, and to see films even ahead of time and film screenings and whatnot. That is always really, really fun. I think it’s great because there are a lot of opportunities for advancement here at Dealflicks.
A number of our people are working with us now in leadership positions who got started fresh out of college; they don’t really have experience whatsoever. But Dealflicks is a place where, if you come in, you work hard and you’re willing to learn and you’re willing to get out there and put yourself out there and try, there is a lot of room for improvement.
We are also in kind of a nice stage right now, where we are somewhat stable because we’ve raised the money. We have some revenues coming in but we are not quite there yet. We still have some ways to go. We still want to get to raising our Series A sometime later as well as getting to profitability.
So there is a lot of work to do. There is a lot excitement that comes with that. There is a lot of reward that comes when we get there, and so, if you are looking for a company at that stage then Dealflicks is definitely the company that you should check out and take a look at to see if it’s a good fit.
John: I think you should. Sean, if you had to describe the culture of Dealflicks in three words, what would you like them to be?
Sean: I will say that at Dealflicks, you want to be transparent; we really are into being honest and being transparent. I would say be a hustler, as that is a big part of working here and making things happen. And be positive because, ultimately, in the end, everything is going to be ups and downs but you’ve got to have fun doing it. So be positive.
John: That’s great. Sean, I can’t thank you enough. You know one of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou is “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel.” And I just want to thank you today because you made me feel like we are sitting in a coffee shop having a conversation. You shared so much with me and our listeners, and I would love to have you back later in the year to check in with us and just, thank you so much for your time. It has just been a blessing having you on our show.
Sean: Absolutely, thank you so much for having me on and the same to you as well. It has been such a huge blessing for me as well. I absolutely would love to come back on. So just let me know and we will be around.
John: So Sean, how might our listeners contact you if they want to write you an email or Twitter. Can you share with our listeners how to contact you if they have a question for you?
Sean: Definitely, Twitter is great. So if you just go and you can mention me or Dealflicks. Dealflicks is just @Dealflicks or you can find me on Twitter @SeanWycliffe, my name @SeanWycliffe or @Dealflicks.
John: To all my listeners, I will tell you, Sean is very approachable. We just reached out to him and asked him to join us and he couldn’t be more accommodating. So again, Sean, thank you so much for you time. We wish you the best of luck and we will be checking in with you.
Sean: Alright, thanks, John. I appreciate it. Let me know the next big MBA star that’s coming out because I’m a huge MBA fan also.
John: We’ve got a couple coming up. There’s a sixteen year old right now that you’ll want to see.
Sean: I want to get in early. I want to come in early.
John: You and I will talk.
Sean: Alright, Thank you. Bye.