“We created the world’s first travel/weekender bag made of recycled ocean plastics and natural cork. We plant 10 trees for every product sold, and so far we’ve planted over 2600 trees. “
Gene: Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you please tell us a little about your journey?
Robert: I always wanted to start my own company. My dad is an entrepreneur, so that passed down to me naturally. When I was young, I rarely saw him in the house because he is always working. He was a workaholic. Even til now, he still works 12 hours a day. To me, being an entrepreneur is to give up your personal freedom to provide a beyond expectation service to the others.
I am a sustainable millennial entrepreneur who is always creating innovative ideas. I decided to take a gap year after my sophomore year in the college after I read an autobiography of Elon Musk. The book was really inspiring. When I spoke with my parents about taking a gap year, they immediately rejected me. They thought I was crazy. In a typical Chinese family, parents want their children to finish school, find a rewarding job, and then maybe start a business 3-4 years after gaining some experiences from the previous job.
I wasn’t an obedient son, so I bought a plane ticket and flew to China to start my first company. I knew that cellular data was expensive in China at the time, so I took the opportunity and created a mobile application that would allow users to send messages and videos without using wifi or cellular data. Everything was done through Bluetooth. So before we launched the app, we failed to deliver it 5 times. I contracted two freelancing agencies to program the app for me because I didn’t know any about programming, I only made the idea on what the app should look it and how it should function. Unfortunately, those two agencies couldn’t deliver the app to me, and that resulted in losing $15,000 from my own pocket.
After that, I started to look for programmers who can work for me. I knew it was my only option to create the product because I am not going to get deceived by any freelancing agencies again. I interviewed over 50 people during the course of 4 months. It finally came down to 5 people who eventually became the founding team members. The app was much more difficult to develop that I have ever expected. The original plan was to develop the app in 2 months. But the backend was so complicated that we spent another 2 months on that. By the time we finally launched the app, I already spent $35,000. We used Wechat and Weibo, which was the Chinese Twitter, to advertise our app. We would different college groups to spread the words. Because there was no similar app in China at the time, it was a new and exciting app that students wanted to try. Once ten people liked our app, they started to spread words organically. 10 to 100, 100 to 1000.
Our user rate grew very quickly. We gained 5000 users in 6 months. We were burning money like crazy on the cloud service fee. Plus employee salary, I knew I had to either raise fund or sell the company at some point. Luckily, I found an angel investor and raised 200,000 RMB, which was equivalent $30,000 dollars at seed round. I told my dad that I would take a gap year and return to USC, so in the about one year mark, I kept my promise and sold the company for $300,000. If I didn’t sell the company, maybe it would have become the Tiktok, or some other big video sharing app.
Gene: What is your definition of success?
Robert: I don’t have a definition of success because I think I’m still chasing my dreams. I want to provide the most fulfilling services and products to my customers, while at the same time, help our environment to become greener and healthier. I really enjoy solving waste problems by integrating business and environmental protection.
Gene: What exactly does your company do?
Robert: Mi Terro is a Forbes featured and award-winning green fashion brand that creates reusable and stylish products to reduce fashion waste. We created the world’s first travel/weekender bag made of recycled ocean plastics and natural cork. We plant 10 trees for every product sold, and so far we’ve planted over 2600 trees. Supported by Forbes, Thrive Global, USC, UCLA, and many more. We are selling to 20+ countries. We are consistently looking to integrate fashion and waste issue. We found out that dairy waste is a huge problem worldwide. 128 million ton of milk is dumped globally every year. So we found a way to upcycled unwanted milk and turn it into a T-shirt and underwear.
Gene: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
My USC professor Elizabeth Amini is a great mentor who supported me when everyone else rejected my ideas. She taught me to believe in what you are doing. Don’t listen to naysayers. Most people want to see you fail, so you can be like them.
Gene: How does your company give back?
Robert: Not only do we want to clean up our oceans, but we also want to support global reforestation. We plant 10 trees for every product sold. Until today, we’ve planted over 2600 trees. We are also working with clothing recycling facilities to help everyone who wants to recycle their old clothes and give them new life.
Gene: What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Got Started” and why.
Robert: 1. Starting a company can be extremely stressful and sometimes lonely, and there are never enough hours in the day. Taking the time to eat healthily and spend time with your family and friends will ensure that both your body and mind are prepared for these hard times.
2. Don’t work more than 90 hours a week, do delegate more and do take time off to spend with your family; they should be the most important thing in your life.
3. Find a go-to activity that relaxes you. Either watching shows, movies, or hitting the gym. To me, working out in the gym relaxes. It helps me to take off my mind from the work.
4. People won’t help you until you can provide value to them.
5. If you want to become an entrepreneur, get ready to sleepless and tireless nights, and stressful days.
Gene: If you could spend one day with any person (alive or not), who would it be and why?
I would love to spend my day with Elon Musk. He is my role model. He thinks about humanity and the environment on everything he does. It’s impossible to imagine the amount of stress and anxiety he has every day. In my opinion, he is the “Entrepreneurial God.”