#MentorSpotlight || Meet Gary Levitt
“Multiply talent around you rather than diminish it by keeping the knowledge and power to yourself.”
How it all began
Founder of email marketing platform, Mad Mimi, and general techie, one would not assume Gary Levitt grew up on a rural farm in South Africa, where he went to elementary school with Nelson Mandela’s grandson. But Gary says that from a young age he was disciplined and driven: first as a professional skateboarder sponsored by VANS, and then as a jazz bassist, earning a scholarship to Berklee College of Music. When Gary moved to the US, his younger brother shortly followed suit. The two then moved to NY to pursue a professional career in music.
While music remained his passion, Gary was forced to take on a side job to make ends meet. He describes how he got hired by offering to work for free — he simply wanted to learn. He approached a small restaurant owner and got a job cleaning the floors of the restaurant, and then helping the cook prepare for the day.
In his free time, Gary started writing jingles for commercials, and tried to drum up business by designing and sending creative emails to artistic directors, offering his tunes. His efforts were unsuccessful until one of the emails scored him a job
composing original music for “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
After his brief mail creation experience, Gary decided to transition into technology and began teaching himself CSS and HTML. He had the idea for Mad Mimi, an application for musicians that would allow them to promote their band through a press kit creation platform consisting of images and text.
Halfway through development, Gary got cold feet about targeting musicians only and pivoted, opening the application up for more general use. Gary prioritized elegant product design and excellent customer support and helped Mad Mimi grow to 40 employees.
In August 2014, Mad Mimi was acquired by GoDaddy.
The next steps
Gary calls his current venture, Pinecone, an exciting challenge. He began working the social driven e-commerce platform with an original component allowing users to share their friends’ posts and offers in 2013. Like in everything Gary does, design and excellent user experience were key.
While Mad Mimi was launched in 8 months and built in a scrappy way, Gary aimed to go about building Pinecone differently, and spent ten times the amount on it as he did Mad Mimi. With Mad Mimi, the code wasn’t as clean as it should and could’ve been. He likens this to building houses. A builder’s first house is never perfect. After building several houses though, he finds better ways of doing it.
From the get-go, Gary set out to build Pinecone as the best possible product. He wanted to get in all features from day one and make it as incredible and pumped out as possible. Gary says, “I spent a lot of money and when it came time to go live, I couldn’t get sellers to sign up because we couldn’t offer the traffic that Etsy could or as affordable shipping as Amazon.”
Gary wanted to introduce Pinecone to users and make a difference in the e-commerce space, but found it extremely difficult. One must provide value to its users and as upsetting as it was for Gary, Pinecone just couldn’t do that; cosmetic value simply wasn’t enough. Being the motivated entrepreneur he is though, Gary is still working on Pinecone and is working on sculpting it into the successful e-commerce platform it has the ability to be.
What he is up to now
After another about-turn, Gary and his team are now working on Yala. This is a bot that does your social media posts for you as well as predicts the best times to post.
You can simply message YalaBot and it’ll analyze your posts and social media habits to best help you post.
#1 tip for founders
Never let anyone push you around. At times you’ll feel that you’re totally dependent on others for your success. You may feel that you have an overwhelming urge to trade equity, cash, even some of your soul to keep certain people in your company because you believe they’re core to the security and viability of the business.
This is an illusion. The “crazy person” (you, most likely) is the key to success, and not those who push the crazy person around. They’re just looking for personal gain. Be sensitive to this.