Why Founders Should Keep Their Businesses and Friendships Separate: Startup Tips With Darren Dzienciol

By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner

“I wish someone told me the importance of understanding the difference between business and friendships. Especially in the nightlife industry.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Darren Dzienciol, co-founder of 1 OAK LA and president of Bartelier Group.

What is your backstory?

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I have always had an interest in fashion. At a very young age, I started designing and customizing shoes for a few musicians and trendy stores such as Fred Segal. The shoes garnered a lot of attention and ended up in some of hip-hop’s most popular music videos at the time. I even had job offers to design shoes from major brands including Tommy Hilfiger. At 15 year’s old this was pretty exciting, however, I declined because I was still in school.

I found myself wanting to be more engulfed in the fashion scene, and it so happened that around that time my parents moved to Paris, giving me the opportunity to spend a lot of time traveling around Europe. I soon realized that the fashion and nightlife industries were parallel. By the time I was 21, after working for many fashion brands in LA, I prematurely launched my own clothing line and received orders from all of my favorite stores around the world. I ultimately failed, as I ran out of money and could not even produce my first collection.

However, I was fortunate enough to meet Guy Starkman, and through a partnership with him I bounced back and was able to tap into my fashion sensibility and knowledge from the nightlife industry that I sustained in Europe. We reopened a legendary nightclub that had been closed for some time in West Hollywood, and after achieving success, we opened a few more successful nightclubs and restaurants. Fast forward 10 years, and I am now a co-owner in 1 OAK, among other places, and the president of Bartelier Group, a boutique hospitality company that operates a handful of restaurants and nightclubs in Los Angeles.

Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

I am currently working on a few restaurant concepts. One is a Greek restaurant with one of the best chefs from Mykonos. Construction kicked off about six months ago, though I can’t disclose exactly where just yet. It will have a romantic patio lined with olive trees and will be open for both lunch and dinner. This will give Angelenos the opportunity to experience a beautiful and sexy Greek concept without having to travel so far to enjoy authentic Greek food.

Additionally, my partner Guy Starkman and I have just started construction on a three-story, 12,000sq ft. restaurant and lounge with a rooftop. It will be our rendition of what membership clubs should be — as opposed to where they are right now. We will start with about 500 founding members whose names will be carved in gold into a marble entry wall. I can’t tell you much more about it, but our membership waiting list is already overwhelming.

Then of course, Inside of 1 OAK LA, I have a 120-person underground nightclub that has yet to be seen. I am going to start construction on that in the next few weeks. It will be called Forever and Ever. What makes it even better is that the entry is via the alley of 1 OAK. Imagine soft, pink velvets, vintage floral rugs, brass drum tables with pink onyx marble tops, subtle illuminated led strips flushed against the red suede French-inspired wall panels, and Art Deco style tufted banquettes. I’ve been designing this for the past twelve months and couldn’t be more excited to see my vision come to life.

Is there a person or company that you admire, and why?

Tesla. I’ve watched a lot of Elon Musk’s interviews. For someone to singlehandedly break into a market that has been owned by conglomerates like Ford and Toyota for almost a hundred years is incredible. Tesla is literally changing the way we drive, the way we live, and the way we consume energy. I find it intriguing that someone who didn’t have a background in the automotive industry has designed the fastest and most efficient car in the world. He is making the world a much better place while building an empire, which I find extremely inspiring.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Some people see the nightlife industry as a negative contribution to the world. Its frowned upon in a lot of communities. I beg to differ. I view the hospitality industry as a form of therapy—a method in which people can forget about their hardships and whatever catastrophes are happening around the world. They get to immerse themselves in a world that allows them to escape their real lives for a few hours. So, I think if I’m bringing joy and happiness to people even for just a few hours, then my job is done!

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I became CEO,” and why?

Watch his “5 Things” video here: https://vimeo.com/249568037

  1. Keep your business and friendships separate. I wish someone told me the importance of understanding the difference between business and friendships. Especially in the nightlife industry. I learned early on that there needs to be a fine line between the two.
  2. You have no days off. When I started out, I thought that being self-employed meant that I would have the opportunity to make my own schedule. That wasn’t the case! I wish someone told me that as a business owner, you have to be available at all times. It is more than a nine to five job—it’s a 24/7 position.
  3. Seek experts in your field. I wish someone told me the value of surrounding myself with experts! Mentors and experts in your field are the best teacher you’ll ever have.
  4. Surround yourself with a strong team. I wish someone told me how imperative it is to surround yourself with a strong team. Being a successful business owner and entrepreneur isn’t a one-man show. It is very important to work with credible individuals who are passionate about their craft.
  5. Never be afraid to ask for help. As a CEO you have to be aware of when to step up and when to step back and allow others to shine. If there is something that you don’t know, it’s okay to go to the person that you hired for that specific reason and ask for insight so that you can make an executive decision and efficiently run your company.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Mark Zuckerberg. He and I are similar in age, so in that sense, I would consider him the most relatable CEO. I am genuinely interested in hearing about his life after starting Facebook, and his mindset on how he was able to stay so determined and prove everyone wrong. I’m not sure if I would have resigned and hired someone with more experience or stayed put like he did with all that pressure.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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