Confessions of a Serial Entrepreneur
The way entrepreneur David Moyal tells it, he grew up as something of an Israeli version of David Copperfield, with a sickly mother and a father who put him to work as a small child. "My father was a baker and chef at catering halls, so I did dishwashing with him," Moyal recalls. His father used to warn him that people who went into the military at 18 often did not come back and told him: "Live now because you may not live later," he recalls. Moyal started particularly early, in fact. By age 11, he had moved out of the family's cramped one-bedroom apartment and was working in construction. At 17, he got his mother's permission to join the Israeli army early and ended up not only surviving it but thriving afterward, when he moved to the U.S. and went into business.
Moyal, who lives in Manhattan and Newport, R.I., has had his hand in restaurants, fitness centers, and real estate, among other ventures over the last two decades. Today he owns three New York-based businesses. There's Next, a lifestyle magazine for gay readers; NYC Data Group, a data center storage company scheduled to begin operating in 2011; and 1800 Postcards, a commercial printer he acquired in 1999. Next had $2.5 million in gross revenue in 2009, while 1800 Postcards took in $16.9 million. He's getting ready to launch Postcard.com, which will allow consumers to call in orders for physical post cards to be sent anywhere in the world for 99¢ apiece.
Businessweek.com staff writer Rebecca Reisner recently interviewed Moyal about time management and the secrets of successful serial entrepreneurship. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.
How do you find the time to run three businesses?
I work 25 hours a day. People tell me there are only 24—I say I get up an hour early. I get to sleep around 1 a.m. and get up around 5 [a.m.] or 5:30 a.m. I've been working since I was 6 years old, so I don't know anything else but work.
How do you start your day?
I can't be in a rush in the morning. Everything must flow nicely. I have my breakfast delivered. I make my coffee and I address all the e-mails that came during the night. And then I connect with the development people in China who work on our website for 1800 Postcards. Then I go into the office and the war starts. My biggest job all day is to figure out how I can lower prices. All day, I look at competitors and see what they're offering. They may be offering 30 percent off today, so I have to do something. We're on the competition's mailing list, so we know. I have to lower prices without affecting product quality.
What else goes on at the office?
We have 150 employees. They all have issues, they want to see me, they want to talk. I'm micromanaged. Still, out of the 150 minds I have working with me, I could not find a mind like my own. I am sitting in my office at 7 p.m. and a supplier comes in and says his box was shipped to the wrong place and he has to catch a train in 15 minutes, and all the minds couldn't come up with: "Hey, find this guy's box, then drive him to the train station."
I hope you eat lunch.
I send someone to Subway. I get turkey and Swiss with everything. I eat at my desk while I'm talking to people. I say: "You don't mind if I eat while we talk?"
How do you stay alert with four hours of sleep?
Thank God for Starbucks (SBUX). I drink four or five Ventis a day.
How about your evenings?
I stay in the office late and get home around 8:30 pm. I take my shoes off and that reminds me I'm home. Then I get on my computer. The clubs that advertise in my magazine want me to visit, but I don't want to come. For me it's a total waste of time. I'm not a social person at all. I don't drink, so why go to a bar? At first, they took offense at that. I hire other people to do the networking. We send the associate publisher. A competitor of mine at a magazine used to go out and get drunk, and after a while people lost respect for him. I say, put your mind to what you do. Don't lose focus. Don't go to clubs and socialize. Let other people fall into that trap.
When you're a serial entrepreneur, should you always think of new businesses related to current ones?
Yes, but I'm also the kind of guy who will buy a cow when I want a glass of milk. We bought our own printing company because we needed to print and printing companies were charging too much. But you make mistakes. I used to charter flights to Florida so I bought a private jet—and that was a mistake: It was too expensive to operate and I was not able to charter it out to others to make money.
How do you know when to move on to another business?
My mind is always thinking. I'll get an idea and talk to my developers and sometimes we end up just dropping it. We started Fotobee to do photo albums online for consumers, and at some point we just realized there was too much competition. But technology doesn't go to waste; you can recycle it for a different project.
Then how do you know when to hold on to something and keep the faith?
We lost money at the magazine for 10 years but we saw how hard our employees worked on it and we were proud. I had to buy my competition [HX magazine] and close it. Our magazine is profitable now. I close a business when I don't get pleasure out of it. Everything you have to do, you have to enjoy.