By Susan Adams On AUG 8, 2016
Ray Cao, a serial entrepreneur at age 29, says he made numerous mistakes before starting Toronto-based Exact Media in 2013. The company puts marketing flyers and product samples like Crest White Strips and L’Oreal cosmetics inside e-commerce packages that already contain other goods, collecting revenue from the sample providers and paying e-tailers to deliver the samples. It has 29 employees spread between Toronto and an office in Cincinnati and expects $10 million in revenue this year. Cao [pron. “chow”] says his first two ventures, a company that sold software to law firms and a company that sold beauty-sample boxes by subscription, brought him no satisfaction. The software venture wasn’t ambitious enough, he says, and the subscription business ran into stiff competition. In this interview, which has been condensed and edited, he talks about why he thinks Exact Media can be a billion-dollar business.
Susan Adams: Tell me about your background.
Ray Cao: I have a Chinese tiger mom. She treated me as if I were in the math and science military. When I was three years old, I was forced to learn the times tables. My father was an entrepreneur who owned restaurants and travel properties. A lot of Chinese entrepreneurs don’t focus. They own a bunch of different businesses based on opportunity.
Adams: When you were in college, did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Cao: I studied engineering at the University of Waterloo in Canada. I was fortunate that it had a co-op program. I thought I wanted to be a trader and I tried working at Barclays Capital in New York and hated it. I also worked at [Blackberry maker] RIM. I looked at those places and asked myself, would I want to work there 10 or 15 years from now? The answer was no.
Adams: Tell us about your first company.
Cao: We made enterprise software for lawyers that helped them do things like document sharing. We were making money but I quickly realized I felt like I was working on Wall Street again. It wasn’t helping me get up in the morning.
Adams: How profitable was the business?
Cao: We charged $20,000 to $30,000 per client. It was good money. But I had zero interest in building a small business that just had a stable income and good predictability.
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