When Zev Lapin founded his first business as a junior in college, he went from dorm to dorm packing and moving green bins stuffed with college accessories that needed to be stored over the summer. Years later, he found himself rising early to deliver breakfast sandwiches to offices in New York City in support of his second company. Bootstrapping not only defined his strategy for success, but became an ingrained habit, a mindset.
“My mentality was that you just had to rough it, you just figure it out. You just have to have grit and go at it.”
Zev turned his collegiate project into a full-fledged business, Storage Bucket, spreading throughout universities across the country. Two years later he was brought on as the first employee at MakeSpace and helped grow their team from one to thirty before leaving to found his second business, Parachute. Zev designed business infrastructure, outlined acquisition strategy and even raised significant capital with an untamed energy. He embodies the word grit in his unparalleled work ethic. But he discovered that sometimes determination isn’t enough.
“I think that one of the more valuable lessons for me is really sad because I learned it too late. My first business was bootstrapped and I didn’t really lean on anybody.”The term ‘bootstrapping’ comes from the phrase of “to lift oneself up by your bootstraps”, referring to an impossible feat. No matter how hard a person tries, they’ll be unable to lift themselves off the ground by pulling on the straps of their own boots. Yet, the absurd meaning of the word hasn’t stopped it from becoming a popular term among founders and entrepreneurs who bring their ideas to life using limited resources and stretching them as far as they can. Like many entrepreneurs, Zev’s insatiable desire to create and ideate led him to leave Makespace in 2014 and start his second company, Parachute.
Parachute was a technology platform designed to aggregate food orders. With this idea, he was accepted into AngelPad, a top-ranked seed accelerator program, where he and his co-founder worked tirelessly to get the company off of the ground.
“The idea that I applied with was basically based on the first business mechanics - the way we were able to offer something convenient that was cheap. This whole idea of like batch delivering and batch pick-ups. We were aggregating consumer demand and we would work with the top restaurants in the city that did breakfast.”
During this time, Zev not only managed product development, growth initiatives, recruiting and operations, but he raised $250k of funding off of cold e-mails. His tenacious bootstrapping mindest kicked in once again, and Zev’s small team was able to take limited resources and successfully turn a profit on the restaurants they worked with on this entirely new concept. Yet, with food-centric companies like Bento, Dinner Lab and a few others going under, raising a new round of funding to take the business to another level was proving more and more difficult even with a different approach to the industry. Eventually, they had to shut down Parachute and Zev was forced to learn a valuable lesson he still carries with him today.
“I think that for me, with Parachute, when things were tough, I didn’t go back and lean on investors and try to ask them for help. I think that only after we made the decision to shut down did I see how supportive everyone was.”
When Zev talks about asking for help, he doesn’t mean asking for more money. Instead, he wishes he would have asked for advice from others who had faced similar problems before him.
“We had a really strong group of backers. A group of investors who were all operators - people who have started businesses, people who have really grown businesses - very experienced people and I didn’t want to come across as not knowing what I’m doing or lacking confidence in our decisions and direction. But sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and when you need help ask for it.”
It’s cheesy, but it’s true. Even interns sometimes miss out on valuable experience because they’re nervous to speak to their managers about something they don’t understand. But according to a study by Scientific American, “when you ask for advice, people do not think less of you, they actually think you’re smarter.” Asking for advice tends to make us feel small, incompetent and embarrassed. But Zev says that tapping into those who have experience or even just a different perspective is crucial.
“I don’t think it’s about having to be vulnerable or anything like that. It’s more of a practical approach to what you know and what you don’t know.”
Valuable experience is formed through undeniably tough situations. Some might even say that the experience of a failed startup is ten times more valuable than one that works because you know what to do differently and what mistakes to avoid. Zev found his next adventure on the Vettery platform where he was hired as a Product Manager at Social Media Link, an exciting company changing the way influencers work with large brands.
As their lead product manager, Zev will be working on revamping the product and streamlining the way influencers and companies work together. His analytical mindset will be an asset to the team.
“I’m super excited! It’s the future of marketing for sure.”
Even with the new skill of tapping into valuable resources and asking for advice, Zev won’t lose his bootstrapping work ethic. In fact, it’s what makes him and so many other founders like him appealing to larger companies. Instead, he’ll pair the ability to grind in tough situations with a new skill of tapping into the resources surrounding him. This time, the Social Media Link team.