Solo entrepreneurs get a bad rap, but they’re kicking ass out there!
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Erik Allebest: I was born in Southern California. I was born to an entrepreneurial family. My dad was an entrepreneur. My mom had many varied interests. She gets credit for teaching me how to play chess at eight. I’m too young to remember the story, but she taught me how the pieces moved. We proceeded to play one game of chess together and she never played with me again. That’s the lore she likes to tell.
Growing up in Southern California, I watched my father start business after business. Some were successful; some not. I was also a young entrepreneur doing everything from selling things and school to recycling cans. I was always trying to start something.
Sramana Mitra: Where in Southern California were you based?
Erik Allebest: In Orange County.
Sramana Mitra: What about education?
Erik Allebest: I went to a great high school. I had wonderful teachers. I went on to do my undergrad at BYU. I was an English major but only so I could get through classes as quickly as possible. I didn’t feel like I was learning at lot in school. I would literally put my Shakespeare book on my desk. Inside of that, I would have a Computers for Dummies or HTML for Beginners. I was teaching myself about computers and technology.
This was in the early 90’s. I would ignore class. I was also running a company while I was in undergrad which was a chess teaching company. I would hire other students to teach chess to kids. I was doing that in dozens of schools while I was at school.
Sramana Mitra: So chess is a passion right through.
Erik Allebest: It was. I caught the chess bug in my freshman year of college. On my dorm floor, I was playing a terrible game of chess with a long-time friend and roommate. This guy walks by and challenges me. He absolutely mopped the floor in a very small number of moves. It turned out that he was the Chess Club President. Just by circumstance, I got absolutely wrecked by the Chess Club President.
Then I fell into the hole of chess. I was paying him to teach me. I really dove into chess with a passion. Then I started a chess teaching company after that. I would just teach the basics to kids. I thought it was such a great activity.
Sramana Mitra: When you came out of college, what happened to that company?
Erik Allebest: I continued to do that for a little bit of time. Then I started growing anxious about that a little bit and wanting to do other things. I found another company to partner with. They wanted to take my model of after-school club for chess and roll it out nationally in the US and Canada. I licensed it to them.
I knew they were going to need chess sets and chess boards. I started importing that stuff from China. Back in the 90’s, it was not as easy as getting on Alibaba. You had to find a Chinese company, faxing them, wiring money. It was a different type of thing. I started to have excess inventory.