Neil A. Carousso produces and co-hosts WCBS Newsradio 880’s Small Business Spotlight series with Joe Connolly. Click here to watch the weekly video segments featuring advice for business owners on survival, recovery and growth opportunities.
  • Fall 2021 WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast: Building Back Stronger

    Presented by Dime Community Bank

    By Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Businesses continue to face unprecedented challenges from labor to supply shortages, but the COVID-19 pandemic has also created opportunities in crowded markets. There was a sense of optimism and hope for small businesses on the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast, presented by Dime Community Bank.

    “We saw people grow sometimes as big as 13-times over because they moved from wholesale to direct-to-consumer,” Shopify’s Head of Spaces Cody DeBacker told host Joe Connolly.

    By selling direct-to-consumer, businesses grew their margins and Shopify’s e-commerce tools assisted wholesalers and brick-and-mortar retailers in making a successful pivot to digital. It has opened a new revenue stream for many businesses.

    “We believe that anyone in the world can become an entrepreneur with the right tools and we want to put those into the hands of the right people,” said DeBacker.

    Shopify, which started in 2004 as a snowboard company called Snowdevil before realizing the greater opportunity to provide e-commerce solutions to businesses, recently opened an entrepreneurial space in SoHo where they provide one-on-one business coaching and house full-scale photo and podcast studios. You will get an inside look at Shopify NY on the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast.


    A theme that emerged on the program was “opportunity.” Leading startup investor Kevin P. Ryan, founder and CEO of AlleyCorp, notes that opportunity exists whether an industry is thriving or suffering.

    “What I ask everyone to think about is: ‘What is expensive in your life or in your business?’ ‘What’s hard to get?’ ‘What has poor service?’ and those are things where someone can do it better. Almost all ideas come out of that problem,” Ryan said.

    The Internet entrepreneur pointed to Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club’s disruption of the personal care products industry as an example of the market shifts that are taking shape due to the pandemic.

    “Both Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s are both billion dollar companies just going after that one small sub-sector,” Ryan explained, adding, “You’re going to see other examples of that that are occurring in deodorant, that are occurring in skincare, in suntan lotion – across the board. No area is off touch to entrepreneurs now.”

    He told Connolly it was previously unheard of for a small business to try to breakthrough in such a crowded market, but leaner businesses actually have an advantage.

    “When you’re a startup, you want to be competing with very large companies, which sounds the opposite of what you would think. But, it’s always more dangerous to be competing with a small, scrappy startup that’s moving very quickly that’s getting very good people,” he said. “Large companies have 50 different priorities; they don’t get to it.”


    Zola, the online wedding registry, gained market share by filling a void within a crowded field. Ryan founded Zola through his firm AlleyCorp when he saw large department stores had very limited wedding registries.

    “You had to offer plates and glasses and forks and things like that, which made sense when the bride and groom were 22 in 1960 and they’re moving into their first apartment. But now, a lot of people had been living together. They’re 32 years old. They already have some plates and knives and forks,” he said.

    Zola separated themselves from the department stories by offering cash gifts and experiences like Knicks tickets. When stores like Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s caught on, Zola introduced adjacent services like online invitations and full-service wedding planning. Ryan said their larger competitors couldn’t keep up.


    Connolly invited the founder of another business Ryan invested in on the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast. Marc-Kwesi Farrell launched Ten To One Rum in 2019 after nearly three years as the youngest vice president at Starbucks where he worked under former chairman and CEO Howard Schultz who has since become Farrell’s friend and mentor.

    The original plan for the Trinidadian-born entrepreneur was to make it in traditional retail with a new, premium rum brand. But, the pandemic forced him to explore a direct-to-consumer business model and begin marketing his product differently. That’s when Farrell realized that his story was leading to sales as much as the quality of his product.

    “Our business is not just a story of creating another premium rum brand, it’s actually also finding a way to offer a more unique point-of-view on the culture – Caribbean culture, actually – that surrounds the business and the brand,” he told the WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast. “The passion and the purpose that surround it certainly seems to be a message that has resonated.”

    Ten To One Rum hosts events and experiences around its brand while boasting more than 12,400 followers on Instagram. Farrell recently brought in singer and songwriter Ciara as an investor, co-owner and director.

    “These are the success stories,” DeBacker beamed.

    “They want to see the real you. They don’t just want a product. They want to be a part of your story, they want to be a part of your brand,” the Shopify executive said of successful digital marketing content. “It’s about creating a meaningful story that they can get behind.”

    See winning sales and marketing strategies on the free WCBS Virtual Business Breakfast, presented by Dime Community Bank above.


    Kevin P. Ryan
    CEO and Founder, AlleyCorp

    Kevin P. Ryan
    Photo Credit: Kevin P. Ryan

    Kevin P. Ryan is one of the foremost Internet entrepreneurs in New York, having founded and is Chairman of several businesses, including AlleyCorp, Zola and Nomad Health. Previously he founded and was Chairman of MongoDB, Business Insider and GILT. Combined, these companies have raised more than $700 million in venture capital funding and currently employ almost 2,000 people. Previously, Kevin helped build DoubleClick from 1996 to 2005, first as President and later as CEO. He led DoubleClick’s growth from a 20-person startup to a publicly traded global leader with over 1,500 employees. In 2013, Kevin was named one of “The 100 Most Influential New Yorkers of the Past 25 Years” by the Observer.

    Aside from his professional responsibilities, Kevin serves on the board of Mercy Corps, is Vice Chairman of The Partnership for New York City, is a member of the CFR Committee on Foreign Affairs, is on the Board of TECH:NYC and is Director Emeritus for Human Right Watch. He previously served on the boards of Yale Corporation, INSEAD, the Direct Marketing Association, The Ad Council, HotJobs and the advisory board of Doctors Without Borders. He holds a B.A. from Yale University and an M.B.A. from INSEAD graduate business school.

    Cody DeBacker
    Head of Spaces, Shopify

    Cody DeBacker
    Photo Credit: Cody DeBacker

    Cody DeBacker is the Head of Shopify Spaces. His projects and experiential activations have landed coverage in Forbes, The New York Times, Hypebeast, Complex, and hundreds of other publications around the world.

    Cody’s current role is focused on leading Shopify’s physical spaces, and most recently, his team opened the first ever Shopify entrepreneurial community space in New York that features free one-on-one business support, commerce training workshops, and thought provoking panels and events with the industry’s top entrepreneurs and merchants.

    He has also lead a team that participated in consumer conventions around the world such as Star Wars Celebration, NYCC, Complexcon, Hypefest, Family Style, and more. Cody is also the owner of 143 Worldwide, a DJ, and has been working in the fashion, trade show, and tech space for more than a decade.

    Marc-Kwesi Farrell
    Founder of Ten To One Rum

    Marc-Kwesi Farrell
    Photo Credit: Ten To One Rum

    Marc-Kwesi Farrell launched Ten To One Rum in 2019 after nearly three years as the youngest vice president at Starbucks. Ten To One Rum hosts events and experiences around its brand while boasting more than 12,400 followers on Instagram. Farrell recently brought in singer and songwriter Ciara as an investor, co-owner and director.

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