OwlSpark | Rice University Startup Accelerator | PeopleWise: Rich Winley
20189
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PeopleWise: Rich Winley

Why have a slice when you can devour the whole pie? Rich Winley, serial entrepreneur and sales guru, learned at a young age that making a full profit is a lot better than taking a commission. Rich, Vice President and Partner at GUI Global Products, started building his business acumen at a young age.

Growing up in Greenville, South Carolina, Rich was raised by his father who served in the military, and his mother who was the Director of Sales at Toshiba South. Early on, they pushed Rich to be independent and self-starting, forcing him earn things for himself. When Rich wanted the newest pair of Jordans, his mom handed him a box of printer accessories and told him if he wanted to buy the sneakers, that he would have to sell the accessories and make the money himself. After making the rounds with one of his mom’s associates, Rich collected his “spiff” and beelined to the nearest FootLocker to buy his new Js. However, Rich quickly learned the value of a dollar from the endeavor and how overpriced the sneakers were. That was his first and last pair of Jordans.

Seeing his potential, Rich’s mom set him up with her boss, the President of Toshiba South, to teach him basic business practices. Creating a financial plan and learning about such intricacies as compound interest, Rich began to build business knowledge and skills that far surpassed his peers. He further refined his sales acuity at Circuit City when we became a cell phone salesmen at 15. Cell phones were Rich’s, as he called it, “gateway drug.” Since then, the hustle has never stopped.

On the side, Rich was finding entrepreneurial opportunities opened up to him with the power of the internet. His first venture was photoshopping the faces of celebrities onto one-dollar bills. He then hopped on eBay and sold them for three dollars, turning a two-dollar profit. Next, Rich saw a market in sneakers. Although he would never buy Jordans again, he sure sold a lot of them. His next move was Kicks-and-Chicks, putting famous female celebrities on the insoles of sneakers and reselling them.

All the while Rich was still selling cell phones, exceeding his quotas left and right. In fact, Rich was so successful as a cell phone salesmen that at 18 years old, he was recruited as a sales manager by Sprint to direct a store in Atlanta. With a fat check on the table, it was an easy decision for Rich: he took his talents to Georgia. Rich stayed in the cell phone business for several years picking up key lessons along the way, the first of which was never letting a ‘no’ deter you.

There’s a lot of ‘no’s’ before you get to a ‘yes.’ The ‘yes’ was what was feeding me. I was so hungry for that ‘yes’ I didn’t care how many ‘no’s’ I got. (This) applies in the dating world too—you can ask 10 women out and get 10 ‘no’s’ but eventually you’ll get to that one ‘yes.’

He also learned how important it was to treat everyone the same, regardless of appearance. “Never judge a book by its cover, I’ve had millionaires and billionaires come in wanting to buy a phone dressed in their tank tops and overalls; these people had enough money to buy Sprint themselves,” he said.

Along with his love for the hustle, Rich developed a love for meeting new people while in the cell phone industry. He met a diverse group of people. from former President Jimmy Carter to the Atlanta Hawk’s Director of Operations.

You never know what kind of people you are going to meet and what kind of value they are going to add to your life—so try to treat everybody properly.

Wanting more of the pie for himself, Rich left the cell phone industry to pursue his own ventures. Just like selling phones, Rich had to fail over and over before he found success. First, he founded a social media website similar to LinkedIn called Business Exposure, that allowed professionals to build and maintain a network of their connections. He recruited a talented developer whom he met serendipitously to build the platform. But just as they were gaining traction, Rich lost him to an attractive offer from Google and the venture quickly fizzled. Next, Rich and a friend bought and ran a gas station. However, after experiencing too many overhead costs, they weren’t able to maintain their supply of gas for the pumps.

When you have a gas station without gas, you’ve got a problem.

They held on for as long as they could, but Rich realized it was time to let go. As the age of the internet was approaching, he saw an opportunity to create online presence for businesses that didn’t want to spend upwards of $10,000 on an enterprise website. Rich tapped into his web development skills to create websites for brick-and-mortar businesses under the name Fix The Glue. Everything was a learn-as-you-go process and he realized how quickly you had to move in order to survive in the tech world. He also learned how easy it was to fail.

If you’re not moving at the speed of light you’re going to fail. But if you’re moving at the speed of light you could miss something and fail.

After working on Fix The Glue for about five years, Rich took a trip to Australia and decided to clear his mind before moving on to the next venture. As most great stories go, he of course had his epiphany while wandering through the Outback. When he got there, his hosts ironically attempted to take him to Outback Steakhouse. “You’ve got to be kidding me. You have got to take me to somewhere local,” he told them. And local it was. Rich’s hosts took him down a river in the Outback to a treehouse restaurant where they were met personally by the shoeless, shirtless chef. As he was eating the most delicious burgers of his life, made from kangaroo and other wild game meat, Rich knew there was value to be captured in this market.

When Rich returned to the states he founded the startup No Chains, hoping to spread the word about authentic places like the treehouse he had visited in Australia. With an idea and vision clearly laid out, Rich hit the ground running participating in The Iron Yard accelerator. He raised capital, built the product, and was able to garner media attention from sources like the The New York Times, TechCrunch and Entrepreneur.com. However, Rich once again learned how easy it was to fail in the tech industry. The product had a couple of bugs and their servers crashed when they were flooded with downloads upon the release. No Chains lost traction and Rich was not able to rebound.

At a certain point it was time to let the baby go. That’s a lesson learned that a lot of entrepreneurs have a tough time letting their baby go. You gotta let it go.

After No Chains fizzled, Rich decided to bring the program that gave him such great opportunities to Texas, founding and directing a branch of The Iron Yard in Houston. From there, Rich moved on to his current position with GUI Global Products as VP and Director of all marketing efforts. Working with an inventor, it is Rich’s job to bring his products to the market to see if they scale or fail. Most recently, GUI Products has developed the Gnomad Network, a project in which they are trying to bring mobile, on-demand advertising to ride-sharing services like Uber. They plan to launch this October for the Super Bowl in Houston.

Along with his current work at GUI Global Products, Rich is also a contributing writer for Forbes.com. Once again, the power of Rich’s networking ability landed him the spot. He happened to meet an editor at the NY Times while he working on No Chains. Rich stayed in touch, and developed a relationship with the editor. On a recent visit, Rich was told that the editor had moved to Forbes—he told the editor frankly that he felt Forbes’ content was lacking, and was extended an offer “to be the change he wanted to see in the world.” Though he reluctantly agreed at the time, Rich has gone on to meet a number of interesting people through his work at Forbes, and will be interviewing Chris Sacca, one of the most prolific investors of our time, in a few short weeks.

Rich recounts that his success is largely attributable to several unique experiences. As a young salesmen, Rich walked across the hot coals in a seminar with Tony Robbins. He said the experience helped him become self-aware and understanding (so much so that he called his girlfriend at the time to break up with her on the spot). Even though he may have made the right decision, they were living together so he got to return home to all of his stuff in a pile on the sidewalk. However, Rich claims that the most life-changing experience he’d ever had was the time he took a trip on the Summit Cruise. The cruise held a group of some of the most influential people Rich had ever met. He noted, “If that ship went down, the world would be f*cked.”

It has always been his ability to meet new people and maintain his network that has set Rich apart from others. Keeping up with such a large network challenging—to do so, he makes an effort to check in with those closest to him at least once a month, and his more distant connections at least once a quarter. “Always maintain your relationships. Always check-in.” Though his most important connection is his wife, “she’s the most ambitious person outside of myself that actually gets it done.”

When asked for his advice for OwlSpark founders, Rich had a couple of pieces of wisdom to share.

For any early founder (my advice) is to just keep throwing sh*t at the wall and see what sticks; but if it stops sticking, you need to go start something else.
You don’t have to be everybody’s friend. Build the relationships that are going to push you and challenge you. I always surround myself with people who will call me on my bullsh*t.
Always follow-up with mentors and people who can help you because you never know where that relationship might take you—you could end up writing for Forbes.


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