“This is the time to take risks. Do it while you’re young.”
I just got off the phone with a C-level sales executive at a software behemoth and that’s what he told me. With the goal of being accepted at a crème de la crème internship, I’m constantly on the phone – networking, making connections and seeking my footing for the next step. In searching for advice, I hear one consistent theme: take risks.
My name is Danilo Vicioso and I am a junior at the University of Delaware. As a result of my tireless curiosity, I stumbled upon the unique underworld of celebrity memorabilia. I took what began as a hobby and ultimately transformed it into a company, Authentic Ink Graphs, which sells autographed celebrity photos, scripts and more. I left school last year to grow my startup, not knowing if I’d ever return.
During the summer of 2015, I flew to California to meet three University of Delaware students who I had hired as interns to spend over two months helping me open an 800 square foot office in Los Angeles. Since we sold celebrity memorabilia, it made sense to be near Hollywood to make it easy to acquire inventory.
At the time, I had never had a real job. I babysat, but that was about it. Everything from establishing order processing systems, reviewing financial statements, insurance policies, contracts, choosing a payroll system — we did it all. It was the definition of learning on the job. I also ventured offshore for additional support and hired a team in Lahore, Pakistan to do work like social media and analytics, data-entry related work and order processing. The team in Lahore handled it at a fraction of what the cost would be to hire a U.S. team. The combination of these efforts increased revenue by over 700 percent. I had no backing and no partner – this was and still is my business alone.
(Editor’s note: Authentic Ink Graphs made its name on selling, like it sounds, authentic autographed items. The company would sometimes post videos of celebrities signing items. Watch one with Jessica Alba below.)
The months that followed the interns’ departure were rife with challenges, but results were positive. Revenue was increasing. I hired a second full-time employee and my independent contractors were given an increasing amount of work. I was 19 years old. But it wasn’t going to stay like this.
Through quantitative analysis, I began to fully understand the financial ceiling of my niche market. As a result of my distaste for the industry’s culture and of reading Timothy Ferris’ “The Four Hour Work Week,” I subsequently made the decision to scale back my business. I let go of the majority of my staff, one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I closed down the office in Los Angeles and Lahore and spent the summer removing myself from all activities. The business still thrives today, but without my daily involvement. I didn’t walk away from my business, I just figured out a better way to run it and allocate my time. In the fall of 2016, I re-enrolled at the University of Delaware.
Now, I’m working on some new projects like ecommerce shop Christmas Sweater World and a social network app called Caboodle, but the growth, maturity and knowledge that I attained in the last year have altered my perspective. Although the places that I visited and people I met through my journey helped me become who I am today, they also provided an awareness of how furthering my education would contribute to future success. I will be graduating with a unique set of skills and experiences simply because I took the risk of taking the year off. The residual income is a plus. I’ve been asked if I felt left behind since my friends will be graduating ahead of me. This definitely is not the case; I am grateful for having the courage to take advantage of the unique opportunity I had and now I know to keep on taking risks.