Joe Altieri – CEO Interview
When did you know you wanted to start your own company?
After I figured out the technology for flexible window screens and applied for the patents, I got a very attractive offer from someone who wanted to buy it. I would get a nice sum and move on with my life.
I wasn’t sure what to do, so I sought the advice of Andy Virostek, a respected businessman with extensive investment experience who also happened to be a friend. To this point, he didn’t know anything about my invention, so I laid out all of the details. He told me to give him the weekend to look at everything, and then he would offer his best advice.
When he got back to me a few days later, he was convinced that I needed to hold on to what I had and start my own business. He added that he was so impressed with the idea that he took the liberty to reach out to some of his fellow investors, and they all agreed that they would be willing to partner with me to help make it happen.
That’s when I knew that I was going to do this.
What was your original idea for this company, and are you still doing that (or did you pivot, if so, what is the new focus & why)?
My original idea was to make FlexScreen a household name by convincing window manufacturers and dealers to abandon the constant problems and customer complaints associated with the century-old technology of traditional window screens for our innovative, sleek, and simple design.
That is still where we’re headed. The only thing that changed was a B2C move several years ago. Through our partnership with global Fortune 500 giant, Saint Gobain, FlexScreen is now sold directly to homeowners as well.
How long did it take you to finally take the leap, and what was it that pushed you over the fence?
Once my friend and trusted advisor, Andy, expressed his belief in my idea and the willingness to back it along with other investors, I didn’t hesitate to go all in.
Who inspired you to pursue your dream, and why do you think they believed in you?
Without a doubt, my family – particularly my wife, Alisha. She believed in me the whole way – even when I wasn’t sure that I still believed in myself. It’s a huge ask to leverage everything you have to start something new with no crystal ball to know if it will succeed or not. The hardships of business startup and ownership would be, in my opinion, impossible to navigate without the support of your family.
Who is your favorite mentor and why?
On the business side, Andy Virostek – my friend, partner, and original investor. His influence has been the difference between FlexScreen being a small niche product to a company with global aspirations. His know-how and business sense, as well as his friendship, are invaluable.
What was the hardest thing about starting your company, and what did you do to make it through the first stage?
Overcoming the uncertainty and feeling alone. Even though I had the full support of my family and partners, sometimes it still felt like I was on an island with the full weight of success or failure solely on my shoulders.
Entrepreneurs can never be sure if the risk will pay off or not, but we have to inspire confidence. I had burned all of the ships – quit my job, leveraged all of our family savings, etc., so there was no going back. I had no choice but to press on with the mindset that failure was not an option.
What has been the hardest lesson to learn?
That speed and patience can work together. I need to have my foot on the gas at all times and go as fast as possible, but still be OK and not lose hope when things don’t happen on my ideal timetable. I’m still learning this one!
What has been the most amazing thing you have experience while running this company?
The whole Shark Tank experience by far. The way that it propelled our business and product is amazing. To see FlexScreen on Home Depot’s website is crazy to me – to look at the big box displays. I don’t know many inventors that get to experience that.
What is the weirdest thing you have experienced while running this company, and how did you react to it?
The weirdest things seem to happen during travel. Driving at 3 am down Bourbon Street with a 20 ft. trailer filled with gear for a presentation the next day – that was weird. The street was crawling with half-naked drunk people. There was no parking, and we ended up over a mile and a half away from our destination, taking countless trips to the venue on foot, rolling our display cases down the street weaving in and out as we tried to steer clear of the curious and overly-friendly partiers. The young man who is now my assistant got quite an eye full – and an education – that day!
And, of course, it was so weird to be contacted by Shark Tank. We thought it was a joke. It’s very rare for Shark Tank to come to you.
What is the best decision you’ve ever made while running this company?
Going all-in on digital marketing. We simply couldn’t afford traditional TV, radio, billboards, etc. But we could create social media accounts for free and spend a few dollars on ads. This ended up being the move that got us on Shark Tank.
What is the biggest mistake you made while running this company, and why do you think it happened?
Not anticipating the “slow yes.” I had all of the excitement about the product and lots of “we want that” affirmations from industry professionals, so we moved ahead and built large capacity manufacturing plants based on initial reaction and positive affirmation. But I overestimated how quickly people would come on board and underestimated our industry’s tendency to move slowly and resist change. I ended up with many big bills, very few orders, and a fair amount of anxiety.
But on the flip side, this “mistake” led to our B2C and digital marketing move, which ended up paying off in incredibly unexpected ways.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your company?
Keeping the plants running has been the biggest challenge. Fortunately, we were able to stay open and mitigate all the issues that came up – but we also exploded during that same time. We’ve had explosive growth along with manufacturing challenges, but I am very grateful that these were all good problems to have.
What keeps you passionate about your company?
The fact that I know that we’re just starting. The snowball that is our growth took a while to get rolling, but I can see the avalanche coming. And growth leads to so many positive things like job creation and our ability to be generous and make a difference.
What daily routine have you developed to help you take care of your mind, body, and soul?
Nothing daily, but I build margin into my life in some healthy ways. I spend a lot of time outdoors, hiking and biking. We have a family cabin that we escape to regularly, which is one of the only places where I truly “turn it off.” Our kids and grandkids come over each Sunday for dinner, and – at my wife’s wise insistence – there’s a moratorium on working during those times. I realize that down time will never present itself to me – I have to actively build it into my life.
What one thing would you like people to take away from this interview?
Tenacity and passion are not optional, and you’ll need to have both in spades. Starting a company is not easy and certainly not fun all the time. Sometimes I compare it to voluntarily putting yourself in shackles. You wouldn’t do that for anything if you didn’t have a passion for it. And seeing it through when the going gets tough is the difference between failure and success.
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About the Community
On the podcast, Sean talks with entrepreneurs about the reality of their struggle to succeed, as well as answering questions from the community, and sharing nuggets of wisdom from his own life.
Discover through these amazing episodes the courage to open your mind, heart, and soul to the world so you can be the best entrepreneur possible, respect the people you work with, and improve the world with your company while not hurting others or yourself in the process.
Sean is an entrepreneur, investor, and advisor based in SE Asia for over 12 years. He is passionate about Psychology and helping others improve themselves.