Keeping it Real with Real Estate Investing

As an entrepreneur educated and experienced in both Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Sai Mudigonda looks at the world with an eye toward solving problems. To an engineer like Sai, questioning a problem and seeking answers often points to the obvious – so obvious that the problem may not register to the untrained eye.

“I was taking my son around to different after school activities and started observing that there were a number of real estate properties becoming available, perhaps due to bankruptcy or just going out of business,” said Sai. “I started analyzing the details and saw that it was mostly due to the global boom in e-commerce. There was so much real estate already suddenly irrelevant in the market. And I thought, ‘I think I should do something about this.’”

Sai first explored establishing contracts with small business owners to take over the existing real estate spaces large entities were vacating. But the process would drag on.

After a brainstorming session with a friend and fellow engineer and a licensed real estate agent, Sai honed in on the idea that the transaction could be more like a cooperative where multiple “owners” could invest in a real estate property.

“The idea of having a real estate company was really about wanting to see how the real estate deal closing could be expedited. Generally, it takes a long time to close and during that time, the real estate investment is illiquid [meaning not enough cash flow to meet debts]. If someone has a $5 Million property, they cannot just walk away if they need money,” he said.

That thought process led Sai to realize there weren’t many options for non-accredited investors to invest in real estate. To be an accredited investor in the U.S. market requires having a net worth of at least $1 Million, without counting your primary residence, or a minimum $200,000 annual income for each of the previous two years, among other stipulations.

But Sai knew that the passage of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act in 2012 eased securities regulations and opened the potential of online crowdfunding for real estate investment. He realized that Blockchain, today’s highly-secure distributed computing system, would enable a faster, more efficient means to facilitate such a real estate crowdfunding initiative.

That’s where his new platform, Real Bit$, comes in. The Real Bit$ prototype is similar to any other crowdfunding campaign except that the investment goes into ownership of a real estate property on offer. And it is built on Blockchain.

Said Sai, “Right now, bitcoin and cryptocurrency get all the attention when you hear about Blockchain. But bitcoin is just one currency. There are millions of dollars changing hands in the crypto market right now. When that market goes bust, there will be many people holding crypto that has little value. The idea is to promote that economic value by diverting your funds into physical, tangible assets, such as crowdfunded real estate.”

He added, “For the Millennial market, in particular, this is an appealing way to get into real estate investing. Millennials don’t do real estate, Baby Boomers invest in real estate. But Millennials do crowdfunding and they do crypto. The idea of Real Bit$ is to give the Millennial a taste of the real estate industry through a channel that is already known to them.”

Another aspect of the appeal for Millennials is the opportunity to assist areas devastated by natural disasters. Sai aims to help rebuild these areas by focusing investments on building energy-efficient, sustainable, near Net-Zero, carbon neutral homes so devastated communities can become self-reliant, resilient and environmentally-friendly.

Putting his prior entrepreneurial, corporate and engineering expertise to work has inspired Sai to pursue the Real Bit$ platform.  He recently presented at 1 Million Cups Charlotte’s think tank gathering, which welcomes startup presenters from concept through their first three years. Sai welcomes the additional feedback.

“The past six months have been a huge learning curve and there is still more to learn. Being an entrepreneur, you realize very quickly that it’s not a cake walk. But there are numerous opportunities to learn. And I want to leave a legacy that makes this world a little better if I can.”


This founder looks to disrupt brokerage

“As a teenager being raised by a single mom, I realized the influential power of money. We didn’t always have it and I was drawn to how it works, how it influences culture and, of course, how it could impact what I did in life. When I dropped out of school at 16, it struck me that I really needed to understand money. Without a diploma, people won’t hire you, so you have to always look out for business opportunity. I read everything I could about finance and later became a business journalist.”

That determination to improve his lot in life has served Canadian Julien Brault well. In addition to a notable journalistic career, he founded a publishing venture in Montreal aimed at self-learning and also worked for a venture capital fund focused on fintech. He notes Michael Bloomberg as a source of business inspiration.

But when Julien was writing about other business startups as a journalist, he longed to find the right opportunity to venture back into entrepreneurship himself. Today, he applies his life-long learning quest to being a business founder.

“I think information is power. I have always been a self-learner and a huge reader. Some entrepreneurs can use their phone to learn so much. And there are very smart entrepreneurs that learn best by talking to people. And that is important. But many entrepreneurs, like myself, have a natural propensity to read a lot – books, market reports. Entrepreneurs need more information than the average person. With Hardbacon, I get to apply that learning and experience what I wrote so much about.”

Hardbacon is Julien’s latest venture. It is the culmination of his lifelong interest in money, learning, and helping those who do not fully understand money’s ability to change the trajectory of their lives.

So what is Hardbacon? It is an app-based, decision-making resource aimed at disrupting brokerage. Hardbacon makes investing easy for everyone. The name derives from an old cliché referring to money as bacon – and the fact that money is often hard-earned.

In its initial entry-to-market form, Hardbacon is neither a brokerage/financial advisor telling you how to manage your money nor a robo-advisory making decisions for you. Ultimately, Hardbacon provides all the financial data you need to make your own financial decisions. It analyzes your portfolio and provides related educational insight.

Julien and his co-founders raised 68,000$ [CND] via crowdsourcing before the first line of code was ever written. With its early disruptor potential, Hardbacon has garnered the attention of Fintech and its intended target market of 25-45 year-old investors. More than 7,000 subscribe to the Hardbacon newsletter. The app recently launched across Canada.

“Hardbacon is geared toward the young, working professional who is starting to look forward and wants more control in starting and managing their portfolio. It automates a lot of the work portfolio managers and advisors do behind the scenes, so everyone gets the same advantages and has the same information to achieve their dream.

I discovered early in life that the poor pay more fees. When they don’t have enough money, they die poor and their children are poor. We want to democratize financial information and change the brokerage game, just like the travel industry did when ticket information became more readily comparable. We want users to be in the driver’s seat.”

Staying true to the vision of access for all, the monthly fee for the subscription-based service is very low. Because, as Julien points out, the real ‘why’ behind Hardbacon is about empowering people to change their social status.

Just like he did.




This owner wants her clients to be heard and understood

“My story is the plight of the immigrant child. In the beginning of every situation my Mom faced as an immigrant, there was always some form of concern or disappointment or being upset about something that could be resolved by the interpreting function. I quickly noticed, even as a young girl, that her whole demeanor changed when the interpretation happened. She’d literally go from upset to happy.

There were thousands of situations in my youth that had to be dealt with – my mother needed that help and I became her interpreter. Once she learned to speak the language, I had to speak ‘right’ for her. This is the plight of the immigrant. It causes a lot of children to be in an unfair situation. And it happens all over the world. The children just want to play but they become busy helping mom. That personal experience so influenced my life, it became my career.”

Peruvian native Amelia Rodriguez founded Vocalink Global (formerly Vocalink Language Services) more than 20 years ago. She turned her love of language into a much-needed service to help others like herself. But she also grew it into a business-to-business service, meeting the translation needs of corporations doing business around the world.

Starting first as a freelance interpreter, Amelia established her reputation as a Federal Court interpreter. She enjoyed the respect for interpretation work in the courthouse setting, noting it is a very different type of domain. There is a certain challenge in interpreting legal topics, but she also enjoyed that the judges and attorneys knew and appreciated your work.

“Personally, I liked the high stress, high stakes challenge of court work, more so than other interpreting situations. But I soon realized there were others working there who had been at it longer and would always have more experience. That’s when I started looking at how to build a business myself and bring on talented interpreters. I realized there must be translation work out there as well.”

While interpretation is about being a third party liaison for the spoken word, translation services focuses on the written word.

Amelia secured her first major account by attending events with businesses she targeted. That opened the door to the Iams Company while it was still independently-owned. Even then, the pet care and animal nutrition company needed translation services for marketing and sales materials being sent all over the world.

In recent years, Amelia has seen a major shift in the language services industry, driven by technology. Remote video interpreting is coming into vogue, allowing a much more simultaneous interpretation session. But some of the more exciting facets involve changing point-of-service dynamics, the impact of cloud technology and the massive amount of content many large enterprises are trying to manage.

“In the early days, when you needed translation services, you requested whole translation files sent via email. With today’s cloud-based platforms, we no longer need to use the slow email process. Today’s file exchanges are very customizable and include status notifications. You can now have centrally-located files which can be easily accessed with password verification.

That really changes the world for both the client and the translator. You know the status of any piece of work immediately and you can also have a searchable pipeline. For example, we can include data intelligence that will let the client know to reuse already interpreted material that may fit a new project and avoid duplication. There are significant benefits for the customer to have that kind of access and availability.”

That need for access and availability in language services has helped Amelia transform her own immigrant child’s plight into an engaging, state-of-the-art business where every client can be heard and be understood.




Move over anthropology: Its time for cloud-based bookkeeping

“To me, bookkeeping is simply anthropology for business. I am determined to take what seems like a dirty word [bookkeeping] and turn it into an essential part of business. Great record keeping can show you how everything works, all those details that make your business successful.”

Jessica Myers is a founding partner for Digit Keeper, a cloud-based, California-grown digital bookkeeping service. Jessica approaches her business from the unusual lens of her education in Anthropology, which involves the study of everything a culture or individual does, and why.

“What we do for our small business customers is first determine what they value and what they don’t, and then what can we do to make their life easier. Looking at the detail behind the accounts puzzle really is like the study of anthropology. That resonated for me and is what got me so excited about helping small business owners.”

So how does an anthropologist end up in bookkeeping? Well, that is a study in culture and ‘why’ in itself.

“I graduated in 2009 at the height of the financial crash. Jobs in my major were few and far between. After a side adventure to Montana, I returned to California and began a whirlwind time where I got married, had my daughter and found myself suddenly living as a military mom adjusting through three deployments.

 Frankly, I didn’t adjust well. I went through an identity crisis and eventually realized that being a mom wasn’t enough for me, personally. So when my Dad, a practicing CPA, approached me with this business idea, I saw the enormous potential. I am determined to help it grow.”

That sense of determination wasn’t born through Jessica’s entrepreneurial venture, but rather, is something innate that was cultivated throughout her life, despite periods of adversity.

“My parents taught me a lot about the importance of knowing who you are and where you draw a line in the sand with your core beliefs. Yet, I never understood when people said to ‘know your why.’ As an adult, I finally realized I had already been given the key.

It is about being true to your core. And it is applicable to your business, too. We help our customers get back to business – the core of what they do best. For me personally, that means doing something that I would work on no matter what. Bookkeeping – and growing this business – is that something for me.”

Jessica also supports that core belief by spending precious downtime focused on actions that help her as an entrepreneur. She reads extensively – often two books a week – to learn more about topics that ultimately help her customers even more, like customer service, leadership and even mental capacity.

“Entrepreneurs and small businesses are vital to the American dream. We need to value and support them. That’s why I love this work and see the potential for Digit Keeper to grow on a national scale. We really want the customer to feel we’re there for them. We are simply an extension of their team.” 

And so Jessica, the anthropologist, now works in and on a business that uses the very latest technology to decipher the small business culture. And that helps her answer the ‘why’ behind her customers’ bookkeeping needs. With her husband set to leave the military in just a few months, she is putting it all on the line for her business and her customers.

Yep, true to her core. Again.


Want to tell your #BizBeginnings story? Contact tigPR!


Launching a business when you don’t know anyone

“I’m fascinated with people and how they respond to ideas. What drives them, what upsets them, why are they happy. That’s why I like marketing, because it puts people and their needs first.”

Seeking to understand people is nothing new for Belarus native Igor Gorlatov. After moving to Charlotte, NC in 2016 with his wife and young son, Igor connected by offering his expertise to a diverse cross-section of the community.

That includes helping the Russian-speaking community in Charlotte, founding a local chapter of Successful Negotiators Club, presenting his negotiation tactics as a component of organizational learning programs, co-leading TorchBearer Fractional CMOs, which lends in-depth marketing strategy expertise to mid-sized companies, and most recently, becoming a lead community organizer for 1 Million Cups Charlotte, a Kauffman Foundation initiative for early stage entrepreneurs.

Igor has the background to make it all work. He first came to the United States under the highly-selective Fulbright Scholar program, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State. His exceptional curriculum vitae shows experience in languages, high-stakes negotiation, teaching, digital marketing and business.

He was a founding partner of a digital marketing and web development firm in Belarus, fractional director of an MBA program and also worked as a part-time interpreter for high-level talks with such organizations as the World Bank, United Nations, the Trilateral Group on Peaceful Resolution of the Conflict in Ukraine, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the EU Commission.

All of which sounds complex. But the ever-entrepreneurial Igor assures it is not. Or at least not as complex as it is to integrate into the entrepreneurial community in a new place as an immigrant who does not know anyone!

However, there is a tried-and-true shortcut that Igor was able to take.

“I was very lucky to join Advent Co-working, which I have found to be the most community oriented co-working space in Charlotte. It was my way to plug into the bigger Charlotte community and start building my network and my business.”

At Advent Co-working, Igor met his now business-partner, Adrienne Craighead, who’s networking skills are a solid match to Igor’s big picture approach to marketing.

“A lot of businesses gravitate toward complexity, especially with regard to marketing strategy. They tend to focus on so many tactics and metrics that it becomes harder and harder to see the big picture. We listen and look for the misalignment between what they do and what they say they want to do. Figuring out inconsistencies and casting a bolder vision allows companies to grow to the next level.”

Igor has found some differences in the approach to business between entrepreneurs here and in his home country.

“The business environment here is more open to experimentation, more optimistic and opportunistic. I enjoy that. It is one of the reasons I fell in love with America.”

But it is the similarities that he finds truly inspiring.

“I have found people have many shared experiences, hobbies and interests. Everything is coming full circle now between my interest in understanding and helping people, our business approach and the ability to quickly get connected in our new home.”

Launching a business when you truly don’t know anyone locally is a challenge. But Igor is proof it is not insurmountable. Especially when you have a bold vision to put people and their needs first.


Want to tell your #BizBeginnings story? Contact tigPR!


Where does the entrepreneur’s mind wander?

“It was totally unexpected, but after graduating in 2016, I managed to seriously injure my knee and found myself basically bed-ridden for eight months. All of a sudden, the job I just moved for fell through and I had no idea what to do. Laying there, I decided to just start something. Within a month, I came up with 42 ideas – and all of them were really bad. 

But during that time, literally 40 friends texted me asking for travel advice. And it hit me. I wondered why there wasn’t any where to share that kind of experience-based expertise. That’s when I decided to develop Rayka.”

Landon Sanford has traveled to 38 countries and 42 states, thanks in part to his Dad’s job. But a semester abroad in Spain really solidified his wanderlust.

“During that one semester, I traveled to 17 countries. It is so easy to get cheap flights in Europe so I would sleep in airports or hostels – anything to be able to afford to keep the adventures going.”

So, it might not seem unusual that this globe-trotting entrepreneur turned that passion into a business named after the Icelandic word for “wander.” After all, Rayka  taps into Landon’s wealth of first-hand expertise – and that of more than 50 participating world wanderers (so far).

As of August 1, 2017 Rayka is live in the APP store! Initially focused as a resource for foreign exchange students living in Europe, Landon points out that Rayka taps experienced travelers who have ‘been there/done that,’ not a star rating system that often becomes bogus.

What’s unusual about this entrepreneur’s story is what Landon says his college friends find most surprising about his latest start-up.

“My friends would never guess that I would start a business that involves social media. I actually quit social media altogether in college. I wanted to experience life, not live it online. Rayka is different. It doesn’t draw you into your phone, it pushes you out into the world.”

Landon had no experience in app development, but he started his first business at 15 and put his past negotiation skills to work to hire an app developer. Still, he quickly discovered that his preconceived notion of keeping everything as secret as possible until launch was all wrong.

“You have to talk about the idea and talk to as many people as possible to get feedback. I talked to everyone I knew who traveled and I surveyed 5,000 foreign exchange students. My sales background also helped a lot in dealing with rejection and push back. I know not to take it personal.

Every comment helps you understand where you can be different. Everyone kept asking if I’ve heard of the Untappd app for beer because it sounded similar to them. Now I use that to tell our story. We want Rayka to be the Untappd of travel.”

So when a traveler wants to know the best places for fun, or food or entertainment, someone like Landon will be there (via a smart, social app) to welcome fellow wanderers.

All because during Landon’s unfortunately-timed medical emergency, his mind wandered. And just look where it took him!


Want to tell your #BizBeginnings story? Contact tigPR!


Coffee with a mission: that’s Mokafe!

“We’ve seen first-hand what can be done when you think of someone else in front of yourself. Our father started Haitian Christian Mission in 1974. He taught us that if you do for others, your blessings in life will come at some point. So philanthropy is within us. It is who we are. But we have also always had a mind for business.

Marcus and Edwens Prophete adopted the sentiment of teaching a man to fish verses providing a handout with their Mokafe Cup of Hope initiative, a partnership with the inventor of Mokafe, Stephane Martin.

“We want to empower the Haitian people and show the beauty of Haiti. Every 25 bags of Mokafe that are sold supports a local farmer for an entire year.” [Marcus]

Since the late 1800s, Haiti’s coffee crop was considered among the best in the world, comparable to Jamaican Blue for premium, top-of-the-line coffee beans. But due to political turmoil, embargoes and devastating natural disasters, Haiti now exports only two percent of its coffee production. Edwens and Marcus are determined to change that.

“The best we could do for the country is to impact the economic condition of the people. Coffee is Haiti’s legacy. And our research tells us global demand is expected to double over the next 30 years. So we set up a coffee growers cooperative which gives our local farmers five to 10 percent over fair trade market value. With the extensive needs in Haiti, we knew that the standard fair trade rate wasn’t universally good for everyone. It differs by country.

Revitalizing Haiti’s coffee industry is critical to helping the country and its people. We now have 8,000 small-holder farmers participating and will soon add 6,000 more. Our goal is to reach 40,000 small-holder farmers in three- to four years.” [Marcus]

“What we were put here for is to add value to people’s lives. We’ve seen the impact of the economic struggle. We know we can empower Haiti by offering this crop, this fruit that people love all over the world. Each cup, one cup at a time, creates economic impact.” [Edwens]

These two brothers, raised and living in the U.S., hope to soon crack the biggest barrier of getting into retail so they can bring this taste of Haiti to grocery stores worldwide. On-location sales are already going strong in Boca Raton, FL and Charlotte, NC (Enjoy free samples at the monthly 1 Million Cups Charlotte events!). Online sales are available on Amazon and via the Mokafe website.

These Mokafe founders are confident the exquisite taste will keep customers coming back. They want everyone to experience that first sip, when you are left thinking, “This is magical.”

Because it is. Driven by a passion for people, Edwens and Marcus are making magic happen for Haiti’s farmers – and in your favorite coffee cup.


Want to tell your #BizBeginnings story? Contact tigPR!


It starts with a spark

What compelled your entrepreneurial leap of faith? How did you do it? To the humble entrepreneur or solopreneur, your business beginnings story may not seem much different from others getting started. And yet, it is!

True, there are common themes in all start-ups. Determination. Dedication. Passion. A little bit of crazy thrown in.

Most likely, your business started with an idea you just couldn’t let go. You may have felt compelled to launch by a deeply held passion, a unique expertise or a need you suddenly recognized in the marketplace. Or, let’s be honest, you may have felt pushed by an economic driver, like the prospect of no income on the horizon.

Whatever it was, it started with a spark. There was something that kindled your start and made you bravely face the entrepreneurial path. That’s the story your customers want to hear. Talking about your true beginning offers the familiarity and motivation and inspiration that solidifies your “right” to earn their business. Your story becomes the spark that turns prospects into customers.

That spark moment – that common denominator among start-up founders –  just happens to be the same spark I experienced that pushed me to start this Biz Beginnings blog. I’ll share more of my story as we go along but my story is not the focus here. This blog is for business start-ups, solopreneurs, entrepreneurs and all those with just enough crazy to believe they can beat the odds and meet a need while feeding their passion.

Think of this as a “Humans of” type of space, where humans who start businesses showcase their compelling stories. Hearing and writing about your biz beginning kindles my own spark moment! So reach out. Tell me your story.  And watch this space for the inspiration of others, just like us. Oh, what a spark that will be!

Lorraine Russell, founder, tigPR/Biz Beginnings