Mooney: Meet the April entrepreneur of the month

Entrepreneur of the Month Andrew Zalasky (right) was the featured entrepreneur for April. Photo courtesy of Andrew Zalasky

Building any business takes time. If you were sitting there, contemplating taking the entrepreneurial plunge on your idea, would you feel better or worse if someone told you it’d take 10 years to see the vision you’re envisioning?

It’s tough to be so long-term minded, but any successful entrepreneur will tell you that building your venture takes time more time than you’d think.

So if you’re serious about pursuing your idea, start now…You can figure out everything else you need to know along the way.

This is a chapter of Andrew Zalasky’s story…

It was 2007. Andrew was in his early thirties and at a point in life where he knew if he were going to break out on his own, to begin his entrepreneurial journey, the time was now. He gave up a comfortable salary at Mary Greeley Medical Center and has since been a fulltime founder. 

I first met Andrew when our paths crossed for Young Entrepreneur Convention in late 2015. We both enjoyed the marketing and branding around a venture and Andrew’s easygoing attitude helped turn more stressful situations into moments of comedic relief; something I greatly appreciate when reflecting on the highs and lows of life.

Nowadays, Andrew and I collaborate far more often; he helps add professional design and aesthetics to presentations I’ve given across the United States and we often run together around Ames—while we’re training for our own races, I’m sure I’ll be there for one of his pinnacle race moments, and he’ll be there for one of mine.

Andrew Zalasky is an entrepreneur of Ames. Here’s part of his story:

What venture(s) have you founded, and when?

AZ: I co-founded TAVi Health in 2007 and hung my shingle out for Hazel Creative simultaneously. I am a co-founder of the Young Entrepreneur Convention, Blockchain Gospel and IowaBlockchain.com. I have held ownership stakes in marketing brands Live to Grind, Accelerant Media Group, and Keys to the Crowd and have helped found a couple “zero capital” companies that died on the vine.

What value did/does the venture(s) create?

AZ: TAVi Health serves an interesting niche in worksite wellness. From Day one, we have focused completely on developing challenges to be deployed in the workplace, while our competitors typically provide a much broader range of services.

Essentially, we are bringing gamification into businesses to help them incentivize their employees to adopt healthy behaviors. Our challenges focus on a specific behavior—or sometimes more than one—by weaving a creative theme around it and offering a mechanism—either paper and pencil, or web-based—to track. When we entered the market a decade ago, there were only a couple businesses that did what we do. Today, it has become ultra-competitive and there are very, very few businesses as small as ours (still just two founders doing all the work) out there. Despite our (lack of) size, we have sold challenges to organizations as large as Shell Oil, and have clients in all 50 states and a few international accounts.

At Hazel Creative Services, I am a jack-of-all-trades in the communications space. My primary skill is in developing creative messaging for use in ads, on social media and in other collateral items. I also have a background in graphic design, which allows me to serve as a single contact point for things like magazines, where I can do everything from storyboarding a publication to conducting interviews, writing articles, providing the desktop publishing and facilitating the printing.

In the other ventures I’m involved in, I serve as the communications point person. The Young Entrepreneur Convention is designed to share actionable information with young entrepreneurs exploring the space. Blockchain Gospel and IowaBlockchain.com are focused on delivering a 101-level explanation of the emerging blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies. Among my duties at Live to Grind, was to develop, manage, and deploy the social media in advance of the release of the motion picture, ‘Think and Grow Rich: The Legacy.’”

What emotions were you experiencing, as you began to build your venture(s)? Can you share a high point and low point?

AZ: No matter how much planning you put into your first venture, you don’t know what you don’t know. In starting TAVi Health, we knew it wouldn’t replace the incomes we were leaving behind, but I was not prepared to go 30 or so months before we generated enough income to pay ourselves anything. That is hard to wrap your head around when you’re in the enthusiastic launch phase. It is not a reason to avoid pursuing your passion, but it is something you must prepare for as best as you can. There are some tough times when you don’t know if another check is coming.

To that point, I was fortunate to have had some specialized knowledge of healthcare marketing and a lot of good contacts when I left my full-time employment at Mary Greeley Medical Center. I was able to parlay that knowledge and those skills to get freelance work right away to help make ends (kind of) meet.

My low points came very early. Launching two businesses in 2007 proved difficult as the Great Recession was just about to take hold and many businesses began to pull back on spending for non-essential things… like wellness challenges and marketing services.

I cannot think of a specific “high,” but will say that leaving the corporate world was the right decision for me. I am much more productive when I have a wide range of projects to work on. I enjoy the variety and the challenge of learning a little bit about a lot of things. I don’t necessarily view it as a high, but it cracks me up that I would end up with an IMDb page for my work on “Think and Grow Rich: The Legacy.”

Why is Ames an ideal location for an entrepreneur?

AZ: I think the benefit that Ames provides is that it offers a small enough ecosystem that you can connect with virtually anyone, without being so small that one or two people pull all the strings. For the type of businesses that I have helped found, it’s been a bonus that the cost of living is so reasonable. That allows for being able to be very competitive on price, without sacrificing the quality of the product or the level of support offered to the user.

How do you give back to the community?

AZ: I have served as the volunteer director of the Ames Basketball Club since 2011. The club is affiliated with Ames High School, and it offers a level of basketball that falls somewhere between the ultra-competitive club programs and the more recreational offerings. We serve about 150 kids a year. I also provide a handful of local non-profits with in-kind communications and design work.

Where will 2018 take you?

AZ: I learned during 2017 that there is a limit to the amount of work I can take on, so I’m committed during 2018 to taking a step back and focusing on those things that are most important to me professionally. That’s not to say I won’t continue to explore interesting opportunities, but I won’t take them on if they don’t fall in line with what I’m passionate about.

Clayton Mooney is the co-founder of the Ames-based companies Kinosol and Nebullam and a familiar face in the Iowa startup ecosystem.