Last week, we spoke to two members of the 2017 Accelerate Baltimore cohort — Angel Rich, CEO of Wealthy Life, and Eric Niu, CEO of Swaggle — about how they started their companies, and what they do as CEOs.
AB: Angel, tell us more about your background before you started WealthyLife.
Angel: I was global market research analyst, and I come from a family of life insurance agents. Growing up, I was bothered by the fact that people couldn't manage their own money. I had this burning passion within me when I was young to become an inventor. I wanted to create a solution to this money management problem, so first I worked in research to learn more about the problem, and then I started WealthyLife.
AB: What is WealthyLife for people who don’t know?
Angel: It’s a way for people to get financial literacy through online games and testing. We were actually named the Best Learning Game by the Department of Education in December when we competed for 6 hours against other up and coming educational games. It was crazy — I almost fainted! But it’s one of my proudest moments.
AB: What are some other recent accomplishments?
Angel: We recently got a $3 million contract with the Department of Health & Human Services. We’re going to be working with people who are on probation so that instead of just picking up trash, they do something meaningful by downloading our game and being educated on finances. I was also invited to the Top 30 Women in Tech conference by Google in New York, and I won that pitch competition!
AB: As the CEO, what’s your management style?
Angel: I’m very detail oriented. With my team, I always try to find the balance between being nice and still being detail-oriented. What I mean is my attitude with everyone will always be positive, but I want to make sure that people are being productive and completing their tasks correctly. I’m currently trying to build my communication skills as a manager so I can help everyone be accountable for their actions.
AB: What does your average day look like?
Angel: At the moment, it’s hectic. As soon as I wake up, I’m back to work, answering emails. Then I like to create around 3-5 to-do lists, re-prioritizing throughout the day as necessary. And I have set the goal of having at least one or two big accomplishments per day to move my company forward. I always want to be working hard! I have a couple of meetings throughout the day, and towards the end of my day, I like to learn something. Sometimes I watch gamification talks on YouTube, and sometimes, I research on how to improve my company. I want us to be the best.
AB: Eric, tell us more about yourself.
Eric: I’m the founder and CEO of Swaggle. I was born in China and raised in California, and I came to DC after college. I was one of the youngest political appointees in the Obama administration, and I worked there for two years innovating. I consulted with Deloitte for a while, and then I started Swaggle 2 years ago. I feel like my immigrant background really made entrepreneurship a part of my life, as well as fashion. It gave me grit.
AB: Did your political background influence the creation of Swaggle?
Eric: It did. I didn’t have much money to spend on clothes when I was working for the Obama Administration, let alone professional clothes, so I wanted to solve that problem. I realized at that time that the consignment shop industry is mostly for women, so I started trading clothes with my friends. Our goal with swaggle is to create a personalized shopping experience for men, and we want to save them time and money.
AB: As a CEO, what inspires and motivates you?
Eric: Matthew McConaughey said something that really resonates with me. He was asked who his hero is and he said, “It’s me in 10 years,” and I think similarly. I think of everything as a possibility. I do have some audacious goals, but I have them because I know I’ll figure out how to achieve them. I just surround myself with positive energy — that’s why I listen to so many Ted Talks and read so many books.
AB: Do you have a particular management style yet?
Eric: [Laughs] I think that’s an overstatement for startups. I think of it like we’re a team. We just hired a new intern, but I’ll never introduce her as our intern — she’s another member of the team. The thing is, you can never be the smartest, so you should aspire to surround yourself with smart people. I’m the type of person who wants to be collaborative and approachable, but I also enjoy setting ambitious timelines.
AB: What’s in the works for Swaggle?
Eric: We just got an amazing partnership with Reddz Trading — they’re a DC based consignment shop. I guess we have two goals right now: we want to make clothes swapping easier between customers, but we also want to make trading between brick and mortar stores and customers easier. We also had the idea of working with dry cleaners so when someone doesn’t claim their item in the period of time that the cleaners allow, we could take in those items. That way we can help create a new revenue stream for the dry cleaners too.