“As long as I can remember I’ve been a part of businesses, bringing people together.” — Andrew Landau

Andrew Landau started his first business running “carnivals” at age five. His mother drove him around to birthday parties, where he would entertain guests with ring toss or a lollipop game. Soon he started hosting and selling tickets to his own carnivals, where he’d take party goers from one of his self-made booths to another. Even his grandmother joined the enterprise, providing baked goods for the occasion.

By age nine, the caravans faded into a concession catering business, Carnival Extravaganza. Equipped with cotton candy, snow cones, and ice cream machines, he and his younger brother, Ryan, spent their weekends from elementary school through high school, popping up at birthday parties and other festivities in need of party snacks.

They sold the business when Landau was in college.

Start-up Career

Landau was born and raised in the suburbs of Detroit and stayed in Michigan for school.

A job with Google took him from Michigan to Arizona to Illinois.

After four years in Chicago, he moved back to Michigan to start Chalkfly, an e-commerce office supply company, co-founded with his brother.

“From an entrepreneurial standpoint,” Landau reflects, “there’s an energy here and a culture that’s different from anywhere else in the world. If you’re going to start a company, you want to do it where there’s the support of the greater community, and I think Detroit uniquely has those assets.”

One of those assets was, and is, Dan Gilbert, whose Detroit Venture Partners was the principle backer of Chalkfly. Founded in 2011, the brothers grew and sold the business in three impressive years.

After the sale, Landau left for NYC to work for Jet.

And now he’s back with his third business.

Fashion

Fashion is an unlikely place for someone who is so, well, tech.

But it’s the industry Landau’s taking on with a model so simple that only an outsider could think of it: create a safe brand environment for luxury companies looking to capture a unique part of the market.

Enter, Jewel, an online storefront that rewards customers for shopping in the form of quarterly cash back payments.

No points. No membership fees. Brands pay Jewel a commission to take part—think traditional marketing budget—and Jewel passes on part of the savings to the customer, who gets a deal without brands diminishing their image with that dirty four letter word, “sale.”

Some of the participating brands include Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Tory Burch. And the list is growing—as is Jewel’s staff. In six months, they’ve grown from two full time employees to four. That may sound small, but in the startup world that’s huge.

Judging from Landau’s track record, we can expect both numbers to grow exponentially—and fast.

Why Detroit?

My interview with Landau takes places at Jewel HQ, a well lit open space, overlooking Woodward Avenue AKA ground zero Detroit 2.0. Their building neighbors include a handful of other start-ups and the coding school, Grand Circus Detroit.

The first thing he does is show me around. He exudes a childlike enthusiasm that brings to mind a child leading guests around a homemade carnival of delights.

Our tour winds through classes of students learning to code. The views are spectacular. As is often the case in Detroit, roughly a third of our conversation is devoted to extolling the virtues of our beloved city, and Landau is steadfast—”The talent, the culture, the attitude in Detroit is second to none.”

Detroit is a natural fit for one whose core business mantra has been “bring people together” since age five.

“There are a lot of similarities between the people who are born and raised here. They have seen Detroit go through different tides— similar life and personal experiences. Here, people want Detroit as a whole to be successful. Everyone’s rooting for each other. It’s not about you. It’s about the team. There’s a greater good and a belief in supporting the whole community.”

It’s a sense of community that expands beyond the office—

“When I lived in New York, I took the subway to work every day. You take the subway. You sit there. Often people don’t say hello. You get a cup of coffee. It’s highly transactional. 

In Detroit, it’s different. When I get a cup of coffee in the morning, someone says hello. They know your name. When I’m walking into the office, people are friendly. People want to help out.”

Landau 2

Landau 2

Jobs! Jobs! & More Jobs!

Are the first three words that come out when you mention start-up in Detroit, or most cities, for that matter. While attracting great talent is a core goal of Jewel, it’s more than jobs. His goal: “Put Detroit fashion on the map.”

“A rising tide lifts all boats,” is a phrase Landau uses throughout our time together. For Jewel, this means “finding local up and coming designers, people in fashion, beauty, luxury, health and home. Helping them spread what they have to the rest of the country.”

One day you will be able to buy a dress from an upcoming Detroit designer in the same transaction as a Burberry sweater.

“It’s cool that as entrepreneur, you can have a tech, e-commerce, business in Detroit that reaches customers all throughout America, throughout the world. Five or ten years ago, I think people thought you needed to be based in one of the large metropolitan cities to start and grow a fast moving startup, but now you can do that right here in Detroit. It’s attracting local talent, building the culture and bringing people back to Michigan.”

Advice to Young Entrepreneurs

“The great part of being in a startup is that you don’t need to make every shot. You just need to make a couple shots to put yourself in a great spot. It’s about going to bat every day, trying your best, giving it 100%.”

For those who may be new to business, Landau offers refreshing words. Whether you’re an chef, a musician, or a painter, the key he says is “going for your dreams and trying your best. There’s no end goal. It’s about the path of learning and growing.”

It’s also about introspection, hard work, and brutal honesty—and if you’re going to go for it, start now.

“Life is quick, and you never know what’s going to happen in the future. If you believe in something, and you go for it, the worst that can happen is you learn. If you have to have an attitude of always learning, always trying, not being scared to fail, then you can’t fail.

Know where you want to go at the end of the month, the end of the quarter, the end of the year. If you’re hitting those goals, keep going for it. If not, be brutally honest with yourself and accept that you need to either change it up or do something else.

It’s the people around you who are not only going to make you happy but will be the real deciders of success. If you’re lucky enough to work with great people, focus on a commission mission and build something greater than yourself – that’s how real change is made.”  

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