From college dropout to successful F&B entrepreneur: 5 things I would tell my younger self

My name’s John Accardi. I dropped out of college in 2014 to start a company called CRAVEBOX.

I made the decision to drop out of school because I felt a strong desire to start my own business.

I didn’t have ambitions to make a lot of money; it was the freedom and flexibility of running my own company that was so attractive.

I never liked going to class or working for someone else, so the idea of leaving all that behind was exciting.

I had very little money, I took on no debt or investments, and I had no experience or education in business or e-commerce.

So diving head first into trying to sell products online was extremely risky. I worked on CRAVEBOX from my laptop in my apartment and since it wasn’t profitable for the first 3 years, I gave guitars lessons on the side to pay for rent and food.

Eventually, the products started to gain traction and sell.

I moved from my apartment into larger and larger warehouses and now I’m in a 60,000 square foot warehouse in North Wales, PA with 40 full-time employees.

It has been an amazing journey and I’ve learned so much along the way.

To help you learn from my mistakes and doubts, these are 5 things I would tell my younger self:

1. Keep Faith that Things will Work Out

When I dropped out of college and started CRAVEBOX, I rented a little basement apartment in Washington, DC, worked on the business from my laptop for most hours of the day, and gave guitar lessons to pay for rent and food.

For several years, I barely did any sales and was probably breaking even on profit, since I didn’t have many business expenses or overhead.

I remained hopeful and kept going because I could feel that I was making progress, and developing a product that would sell well.

Eventually, sales started increasing and I continued to make improvements to my products.

Over the past 5 years, I’ve moved into slightly larger warehouses and now I’m in a 60,000sqft warehouse in North Wales, PA with about 35 employees.

You must keep the faith that things will work out. If you continue to improve your product, make it more valuable to customers, and better than your competitors, eventually the laws of the marketplace will move you up.

And this mindset is something you need to keep for the entire life of the business, not just the beginning, because there will always be difficulties, pressure from competitors, etc.

In the beginning, you’ll likely need to endure several years of disappointment and doubt, but that’s the most important time to keep going because it often separates successes from those that quit too soon.

2. Stay Focused on Your Core Business

I started with only CRAVEBOX and worked really hard, every day, making these products better.

But then when CRAVEBOX started to become more successful and do a moderate amount of sales, I became over-confident and started to develop completely unrelated products to sell online.

I spent a lot of time and money developing a bath bombs product, many coffee mug varieties, and a unique formula private label protein cookie product.

All of these products failed because I couldn’t give them my full attention and even worse, CRAVEBOX started to falter because I wasn’t giving that my full effort either.

I learned my lesson, scrapped the bath bombs, mugs, and cookie, went back to full time CRAVEBOX and it continued to grow quickly.

A large company might be able to experiment with different products and services because they can hire staff to specifically focus on those novel ventures, but as a new entrepreneur, you only have the resources to focus on your core set of products.

3. Work Smart

When I started this business in 2014, I was 25 years old and now I’m 33. I’ve definitely become more efficient and productive throughout that time.

I used to wake up and simply try to work all day, but I found that I wasn’t prioritizing the most important tasks and burning out before I could complete them.

I’ve learned that it’s better to work in short sprints and take breaks. I like to work from 8am – 11am and then again from 1pm – 4pm. It’s only 6 hours per day but I do that 7 days per week and I make sure I’m getting done the absolute most important tasks on my list.

Usually the most important tasks are the difficult ones that you want to procrastinate; and you only have the energy to do those kinds of tasks for about 6 hours per day.

As my business has grown, I’ve hired employees to handle some tasks for me so I can continue doing what I think will grow the business.

4. Learn to Do Things for Yourself Before Hiring

I’ve made the mistake several times of hiring an employee or freelancer to do a task that I know nothing about.

You might be able to get away with this if you hire a great 3rd party company – for example, I don’t know much about filing payroll taxes but I have a great 3rd party payroll company that handles it for me and they do a great job.

But if you’re going to hire an individual to work in-house for your company, either as an employee or freelancer, you’ll need to know how to train and manage them.

I’ve hired a few social media marketers and SEO people over the years and have never gotten good results because I had no clue how to manage them since I had never learned these tasks.

So, I decided to work on SEO and social media marketing myself for a few months, learned the basics, and now I’m having much more success with hiring others to fill these roles. 

5. Keep Improving Even if Things are Going Well

If sales and the business in general are going well for you, you might be tempted to relax and become content.

But it’s so critical that you continue to improve and stay a bit anxious because your competition is always improving and the macro business environment is always changing.

Just a few months ago, I noticed my competitors gaining market share. I realized, I hadn’t improved my images or adjusted my keywords for a while, so I did some great work on making those improvements and gained the market share back.

Another recent example is inflation. Inflation hit hard in 2021 and will likely continue for a while.

I had become content with my supply chain because it was adequate but now I’m needing to scramble to find a more efficient supply chain to minimize the damage of inflation.

This is something I should have been working on before inflation even started, because you should always be finding ways to improve.

It will keep your business strong and strong businesses rise to and stay at the top.

John Accardi

John Accardi

This is a guest post by John Accardi. He is a US-based F&B Entrepreneur

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