How This Entrepreneur’s Startup Made $9.5 Million Before He Turned 20
Dan Fleyshman was already hustling to make money at just 4 years old. Back then, his parents owned three Levi’s stores and would sell the jeans at a swap meet in Long Beach during the weekends. Fleyshman would set up a stand right next to his parents’ to sell and trade baseball cards.
In high school, Fleyshman did not stop the grind and worked a multitude of jobs to make money.
“I worked three jobs, working at Ruby’s diner as a host, at the stadium selling cotton candy, peanuts, Cracker Jacks and working for a stock broker, and selling candy at school — actually, I would have the teacher sell it for me in front of the classroom, and I would come pick it up on Friday. I was always trying to figure out ways to earn income to help my mom. I was also saving a lot of money for college.”
Recognizing the money-making potential of a phrase his friend Eden loved to yell out, a 17-year-old Fleyshman, along with Moyal, trademarked the phrase “Who’s your daddy?” for 300 different products in September of 1999.
Fleyshman went all in, putting $43,000 of the money he was saving up for college into the company. This proved to be a move that would change his life forever.
While attending a convention a year after trademarking the phrase, Fleyshman and his team, in a stroke of luck, ran into someone who could land him a licensing deal. The deal, which was based in the UK, was for a whopping $9.5 million and gave him guaranteed revenue for the next three years.
By his early 20s, Who’s Your Daddy, Inc. was making products for about 3000 stores.
But it didn’t stop there. At 22, Fleyshman had his eyes set on creating an energy drink that customers would find tasty. He worked with some of the best chemists in the world to do just that, developing the drink under the “Who’s Your Daddy?” brand.
At 23, he took his company public, becoming the youngest owner of a publicly traded company ever, beating billionaire Dell Inc. founder Michael Dell by just one year.
“Michael Dell was 24 when he went public, so we beat him by a year, but he beat us by like $7 billion dollars. (laughs)”
Over the next few years, Fleyshman’s energy drink rose to became the seventh highest-selling energy drink and was carried in over 55,000 retail stores.
In September of 2008, on the 10-year anniversary of when he started his company in high school, Fleyshman resigned as CEO of Who’s Your Daddy, Inc. at the age of 27 to start Victory Poker, an online poker site that allows people to play poker with each other using real money.
Fleyshman is an avid poker player who regularly participates in the annual World Series of Poker. He was introduced to the game by his family when he was 18 and regularly went to Vegas to play after he turned 21.
“Poker is really interesting. It’s all about reading people. When someone is excited, they lean forward. When they are nervous, they lean back. If they like something, their eyebrows are elevated, gravity takes over, their thumbs go up. So, there’s a lot of ‘poker tells’ that translate into the business world […] There are some big name business guys and athletes that play poker — it’s the new golf — it’s the best way to put it.”
Fleyshman proved not to be immune to failure when he was forced to shut down his baby Victory Poker.
“Victory Poker — one of my greatest successes and one of my biggest failures all at the same time. We hit our year one expectation after 10 weeks. We were just crushing it. We were so excited we were in dozens of countries and tens of thousands of players, and we were like, ‘Oh my God this is so amazing.’
And then April 19, 2010, we were supposed to get $3.5 million for only 15% of the company plus 200K a month in marketing. Huge company deal, we’re all flying to Costa Rica, I bought $63,000 worth of flights; we’re supposed to do a photoshoot in Costa Rica, we’re saying, ‘This contract is amazing,’ and then April 15. Boom. Black Friday happens.”
The Black Friday Fleyshman refers to was the day when federal authorities indicted three of the largest online poker companies in the world: PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Cereus. The three poker sites were suddenly inoperable to U.S. users, and players’ accounts — and the money invested in them — were frozen. The ban was the result of the long-held debate on the legality of online poker.
Seeing the future of online poker in jeopardy, Fleyshman knew his business was no longer viable.
“…On April 19, instead of getting in $3.5 million of funding, I actually paid back the thousands and thousands of players — just so I could sleep at night. The other guys weren’t paying anyone back. But, I just felt it’s not coming backanytime soon — online poker is not going to get regulated for years. I got to pay everybody back and start with a clean slate. And that’s what I did.”
Truly successful entrepreneurs don’t dwell on failure for too long, however. Fleyshman said:
“I have this saying: ‘Don’t sit on the floor and cry about it.’ So, I didn’t want to just sit and think like, ‘Oh God, woe is me. What should I do next? I should jump off a building.’ So for the next year I just started consulting for casinos and other poker companies and going overseas and building my network and just really dove in as hard as I could and started getting busy, because crying and thinking, ‘Oh I lost what could have been a hundred million dollar company’ wasn’t going to save that company, and the government was not going to call me all of a sudden and say, ‘Hey, you can turn it back on now!’ I said, ‘I am just going to stay busy.’ And through that failure I found a lot of success.”
Fleyshman also has a talent for networking with and befriending influencers and celebrities, including ex-Marvel Studios chairman David Maisel, who sits on the board of a few of his companies. Last month, Fleyshman and his new media company First Slice threw a charity poker tournament in and party for EDM giant Steve Aoki at Dan Bilzerian’s house. The celebrities in attendance included Vin Diesel, Ludacris, Chris Brown and Adrian Grenier.
On how he was able to build his impressive network of contacts, Fleyshman said:
“With relationships, they say, ‘Your network is your net worth.’ With all my relationships I don’t really ask for anything. I try to provide whatever I can and introduce them to other people, invite them to events. I try to make it pretty one-sided, so in the rare event when I do want or need something from them, once a year, or every few years, let’s say, they react right away.
“There was a gentleman named Marshall Sylver; he was the most famous hypnotist in the world, and he’s one of the highest paid seminar speakers in history. He taught me that as you create value for other people it in turn creates value about yourself.”
This philosophy has worked out well for Fleyshman. He was able to raise the money needed to launch his energy drink in three days, his poker site Victory Poker in four days and his celebrity mobile app Celebvidy in one day.
Although Fleyshman has proven to be a moneymaking machine, he stresses that his main passion has always been helping people. His charity Model Citizen Fund makes backpacks for the homeless. Each backpack contains 150 items, and he’s given out thousands of them in the last four years. He says that it’s one of the few charities that has zero overhead and doesn’t take a cut of the money that comes in.
“If $100 comes in, exactly $100 goes into a backpack. I cover all the costs for staff and events or for volunteers, anything we’re doing, travel, it all comes from me. That way, the charity can be one of the few pure charities; there’s no real big overheads.”
On the pros and cons of being mega-successful, Fleyshman said:
“The bad is wondering ‘Who wants what?’ So, I would say I have 3,000 people I know, acquaintances, and then a very small circle of actual friend-friends. And then outside of that circle, they are stronger than acquaintances but a little less than friends that I still deal with on a consistent basis. But that’s the bad part — you don’t always know people’s intentions.
“The good part is freedom. That’s my number one thing. I think that if I want to work for two days straight and not sleep for 48 hours then I could do that. If I want to sleep in, or pick up and leave to Paris tomorrow, I could just pick up and leave. I would say that freedom has been the best part of my life. But the people you meet along the way, most of them are good, but then the bad apples are really bad.”
Fleyshman ended our interview by sharing his personal formula for success:
“Don’t talk about it; be about it. I have so many people that just blah, blah, blah and ‘I have this great idea and this great idea,’ and they have that great idea for years, and nothing happens.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I don’t have the time for it; I work these jobs,’ and I want you to start working; I want you to have a secondary income if you’re an entrepreneur, but you can sleep one hour less a day, or two hours less a day, and all of a sudden you have like 365 to 730 extra hours a year. That’s like another month of your life just to focus on your project.
If you want to keep your full-time job — and I’m not suggesting you quit your job to start an entrepreneurial project — stop talking about it. Spend an hour or two a day and just focus on your project. Turn off your phones, turn off your social media, and just be in a room by yourself and just focus on your project, and a lot of things can happen if you just spend an hour or two a day working on your dream.”
Watch our full interview with Dan Fleyshman below: