Year started: 2012
Offices: Detroit, MI
Headquarters: Detroit, MI
Activity: Online school and office supply retail sales.
Annual Revenue: $2 million
Degree: Andrew: B.A., Business, University of Michigan, 2007; Ryan: B.A., Political Science, Michigan State University, 2010
Company website: chalkfly.com
“It’s really about building relationships and the ability to leverage the resources around you. It’s great to work on an island, but its better when you can work in a community.”
In 2011, after Andrew Landau had worked for Google Inc. in Chicago and his brother, Ryan, had worked for IBM Corp. in Washington, D.C., the pair decided to work together and join the entrepreneurial vibe going on in the city of Detroit. The two figured there would be no better time to take a risk and go for “something big,” so they moved back to their home state of Michigan to be a part of “Detroit 2.0.” They were inspired by the entrepreneurial movement and the community created by serial entrepreneurs such as Dan Gilbert and Josh Linkner.
The brothers each had experience in e-commerce and a vision for bringing technology, innovation, and excitement to what others considered a “boring” space. In studying the school and office supply business, they saw a $30 billion-per-year retailing industry where little had changed in more than three decades. They decided that by using technology, offering unprecedented customer service and giving back to the community, they could disrupt the industry and reinvent the way people buy school and office supplies. In 2012, the pair launched Chalkfly.com with their own savings and received immediate positive feedback from consumers. The team joined the Detroit business accelerator Bizdom, receiving angel funding from Ludlow Ventures two months after launch. In March, Chalkfly raised a $750,000 round of funding from Detroit Venture Partners, Ludlow Ventures, Griffon Ventures, and Start Garden. These partners have been instrumental in the company’s growth. Today, the company has grown to nine employees, and in its first year earned more than $2 million in revenue.
“We know we’ll make mistakes, but we dig in, get our hands dirty and take risks—that’s how we learn.”
The Landaus strongly believe in giving 110 percent in everything that they do, and that includes giving back to the community. With the launch of Chalkfly, they initiated a “Give Back” program where 5 percent of a customer’s purchase can be channeled to the teacher of their choice to help reduce the teacher’s out-of-pocket classroom expenses. In addition, Ryan teaches an entrepreneur class at his local high school and is on the board of NextGen, which under the wing of the Jewish Federation is trying to bring more young people back to the city. Andrew serves on the board of Tamarack Camps and is working on his MBA through the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
Going forward, they plan on hiring more like-minded people, those who fit into the company’s culture and want to make a difference in the city of Detroit. They’re also focusing on their customers and trying to create a buying experience so inspiring and engaging that customers will share it with others as the highlight of their day. For the Landaus, entrepreneurship and Detroit is proving to be a winning combination.
Photo credit: Ara Howrani