It’s always wonderful to hear about someone taking cutting edge technology and making it available to people who might not normally be able to access it. Such is the case with Aron Schwarzkopf, founder and CEO of Leaf.
Leaf is an online platform that aggregates multiple cloud-based functions and makes them accessible to small and medium sized, brick & mortar, storefront businesses via one easy to use tablet. The goal of the business is to streamline the ability of merchants to take payments as well as track inventory, sales, customer satisfaction, loyalty programs and a whole host of other business management tools, using one affordable unit. They’ve recently added their own app store, to make their product even more comprehensive in scope. Schwarzkopf’s goal is to bring the technology of the mobile commerce industry to small businesses.
Although his company is often seen primarily as a mobile commerce company, Aron never imagined himself as headed for the payments industry. When he left his home in Ecuador to study at Boston’s Babson College, his interest was in entrepreneurship and technology. While attaining his business degree there, he began developing the idea for Leaf, even filing some initial patents. Upon his graduation in 2010 during the midst of the economic downturn, he launched his new company as a completely bootstrapped operation, headquartered from his friend’s couch, where he lived for nearly a year.
Leaf was formally incorporated in January of 2011. Shortly thereafter, Schwarzkopf brought in co-founder and COO Sebastian Castro Galnares, who also contributed to the bootstrapped operation. Since that time, they have raised their first million dollars in funding and expanded their operations to include 30 employees. Although they started with clients in the Boston area, they have since expanded their operations nationally, and business is growing so fast that they expect to double their staff by the end of the year.
As a first time entrepreneur, Schwarzkopf likens the relentless challenges to his previous experience training as a boxer. “You let people throw punches at you, day after day, getting hit, knocked to the ground multiple times a day, and getting back up…” Amidst regular 18 hour days and the process of being judged by potential funders, he has learned the essential need for hard work, humility and conviction.
Like other entrepreneurs I have interviewed, Aron has learned the value of creating a close-knit working group of like-minded professionals. Although he has celebrated many successful milestones that have brought great satisfaction to his entire team, the most rewarding moments have been small ones, such as the day he realized just how important his recently expanded group of 15 had become to him. “You detach from your social life and spend so much time and interaction and share so much with your peers, they really become like your family.”
Indeed, Schwarzkopf’s advice to other young entrepreneurs always circles back to just this thing. He notes, “I’ve made a ridiculous amount of mistakes since I started…” clearly adding to the challenge, since, “…when you’re an entrepreneur, you not only have to believe in yourself, you have to convince others to believe in you.” Amidst all of this personal challenge, he maintains that his greatest asset is the human capital contained in the team he has assembled. He advises paying particular attention to the choices you make in this regard, since,“…those are the people you are basically going to get married to for the next five years.”