Gabriel Quintela, 21, cofounded EnvoyNow at the age of 18, an on-demand food delivery startup that focused on the college market. He and his team managed to raise $1.5 million in funding, completed the 500 Startups accelerator program, expanded the service to twenty college markets nationwide and employed over 1,200 college students.
Gabriel, who is currently a student at University of Southern California, left EnvoyNow a few weeks ago and started his own startup called LitFit, which is still at soft launch. It’s an e-commerce store targeting women on a budget.
In this interview, Gabriel shares his experiences leaving the first company he co-founded and how it paved the way to building his new e-commerce business. Gabriel also shares the toughest decision he’s ever made, the biggest milestone he’s ever hit, and the struggles he’s encountered as a founder and student at the same time.
His advice to fellow college students who want to start a business:
My advice to students who want to start a business is simply to just do it. The Internet is an amazing resource and businesses can be started without much of an initial financial investment. Make sure to talk to customers first to validate that the product you are selling or the service you are trying to run is of interest before anything else.
LitFit is an ecommerce store focusing on trendy and affordable women’s clothing. Adding to what was said above and stating it most bluntly, I was initially motivated to start LitFit because I’m about to graduate college and don’t want to work a standard desk job. I love the idea of being a digital nomad and want to find a way to sustain my travels while making a passive income online.
I also wanted to start LitFit to stray away from the ultimately inefficient model that EnvoyNow operated on. What I mean by that is Envoy had too many moving pieces. As a three-sided marketplace, we were selling to and managing three different customers bases all at one time.
Having to manage so many people, not only were operational costs of the business very high but it took a significant amount of time and effort just to stay afloat. Not to mention the stress it was causing me as a founder.
Now there is nothing wrong with a labor intensive business or one that involves a lot of human capital or even hard work, the issue then becomes the return on that work. When as many resources and individuals are committed to a project as was the case with EnvoyNow, the expectation is that there will be a massive return.
However, because margins of the business were incredibly small (nature of food delivery and inefficiency on our side) all this effort was still amounting to significant burn within the company.
Lit Fit, for that reason, is an effort at doing the exact opposite of what EnvoyNow did as a business. The site operates on a dropshipping model meant to be significantly low cost and low contact. The hope is that the business can generate profits without a substantial initial investment or much time spent working on it week to week.
My favorite part about being an entrepreneur is the motivation I feel when going to work. There’s nothing like being able to genuinely say that you love your job.
The moment I was most proud of was hiring our Sales Lead at EnvoyNow as our first full time hire. Jason had years of experience in the food delivery space and had been recruited by some of the top companies in the industry.
The team were obviously young and inexperienced but we were able to convince him of our vision for EnvoyNow and bring him aboard. I remember negotiating the contract and realizing that we had created something that was now supporting a family. That was really special.
The decision I made to ultimately leave EnvoyNow after spending three years nurturing the business and dedicating myself to it was definitely the toughest one I made as a founder.
Leaving the company gave me the opportunity to step back and reflect on my time at EnvoyNow. After spending just a week removed from the business, I began to think of inefficiencies in the model that I had turned a blind eye to. I learned that it is very easy to get lost in the moment when operating a business and to ignore fundamental issues in favor of getting through the immediate tasks of the day.
My biggest business mistake was scaling EnvoyNow before fully locking down product market fit or unit economics on each order. We were so concerned with “growing” the business to show numbers for existing investors and potential new ones that we ignored some seemingly minor inefficiencies at the scale we were already at.
Therefore, when we added more campuses, more drivers, more managers, these inefficiencies became massive issues within the business, draining a lot of cash and a lot time.
Throughout this entire entrepreneurial journey of mine, I’ve somehow managed to also be a college student. So aside from running Lit Fit at the moment I’m finishing up my Public Relations degree at USC.
Also, although not quite entrepreneurial in essence, I’m also writing a book about my experience running a business while being in school, raising venture capital funding, and my lessons learned throughout. It’s in its early stages but stay tuned on that.
My day to day fluctuates a good amount and that’s how I intend for it to be. Primarily, I spend Mondays and Wednesdays working and Tuesdays and Thursdays focusing on class. Friday I try and spend mostly doing things for myself: reading, writing, being with people I love, exercising.
This is a habit that has helped me de-stress and be more productive throughout the course of the week when I’m working hard.
One of my greatest influences in business thus far is Chris Nolet, who was EnvoyNow’s mentor at 500 Startups. While I haven’t contacted Chris about Lit Fit specifically, he taught me a lot about how to handle being an entrepreneur, focusing specifically on the turbulence I described above. We would always approach Chris in distress presenting him a new competitor or solution that we thought was going to end our company.
Chris taught us not to worry about competition and to always take a step back and focus on the work that we were doing as a business. Worrying about competition is a distraction and radiates a lack of confidence to the team when expressing it. In the market of women’s clothing that Lit Fit operates in, this is an important mindset and has helped me stay focused.
One of the biggest personal struggles I’ve had with entrepreneurship is the overall turbulence of running a company. Every week is an emotional roller coaster and there’s no knowing what fires will have to be put out that day when you come into the office.
Over time this can become tolling and as an entrepreneur you have to learn to put the emotional aspect of the company aside. Know that every high you experience running the business will be matched by a low and vice versa.
This is a tough question and something that certainly all entrepreneurs struggle with. My scenario is slightly different than most as I live with 13 of my best friends in college housing. Therefore, it’s easy to be around them regardless of if I’m working or not.
Additionally, as I mentioned earlier it’s important to set aside time that you can dedicate to yourself and being with loved ones.
Better question might be – what advice do you have to our student readers who want to start a business while in school? Where should they start?
My advice is primarily for students so I’ll answer the second question.
I strongly believe that being a student on a college campus is one the best possible times and environments to start a business. I believe this for a few main reasons. First, college talent is brilliant and VERY cheap. It is very easy to find qualified students to help build out your company for affordable rates. Students just want to be given work experience and it is easy to provide that.
Second, the classroom is the best focus group. Through my experience these past years, we’ve found that there are a number of ways to make just about any class, on any subject, a platform to improve and grow a business. For example, I’ve done all my assignments and projects in class on EnvoyNow.
Our company press kit which includes fact sheets, press releases, founder bios etc., were all class assignments that got reviewed by a professor who helped us tell a compelling story. And it works, EnvoyNow was featured in INC. Magazine, TechCrunch, USA Today and more while I was there.
My advice to students who want to start a business is simply to just do it. The Internet is an amazing resource and businesses can be started without much of an initial financial investment. Make sure to talk to customers first to validate that the product you’re selling or the service you’re trying to run is of interest before anything else. Once that has been confirmed, commit to it, work hard, find a strong mentor and don’t give up.