East 58

How start-ups start

Back    Forward

Five students in a studio apartment with no air conditioning invent Enplug, a top five start-up in 2013.


Before we had Enplug offices on five continents, Enplug worked out of a one-bedroom apartment shared by the five cofounders. Readers may know Enplug as the popular software used to manage and distribute content on digital displays in banks, shopping malls, hotels and restaurants. A project born in a tiny apartment in Los Angeles.

After setting up a biotech company in college, I was searching for my next adventure. An internship colleague at Goldman Sachs introduced me to David Zhu via email. A week later, David flew from LA to meet me at the University of California-Berkeley where I was attending school.

Our conversation lasted 45 minutes. I learned that David turned down studying computer science at MIT to become a professional online poker player, making millions before he was 18 years old. I thought he was a pretty cool guy.

On his flight back, David struck up a  conversation with his seatmate.  Zach Spitulski, who had just  finished his junior year in college,  had impressively built and designed  two of the top 10 most downloaded  education apps. Enplug had its third  cofounder.  Zach shared his plane experience  with his roommate, Alex Ross, who  was bewildered by his friend’s  decision to drop out of college for a  stranger. Alex had built a Wall Street  commodities trading platform as a  college student and was graduating  that month. After hearing Zach’s  story, he wanted to join too.  David called his old high school  classmate, Navdeep Reddy, a tech  guru, and we had our fifth  cofounder.  The five of us met for the first time  at Zach and Alex’s apartment. Just  like a shotgun Las Vegas wedding,  we exchanged a few words, took a  photo and prepared to live together.  We looked for an office and I  proposed sharing an apartment to  save costs. Everyone agreed. Our  willingness to easily give up our  lifestyles was indicative of our  compatible values. We didn’t care  about living comfortably. Our life  goal was building game-changing  technology.  Mornings at the Enplug apartment  involved battling for the shower  because the hot water only lasted 10  minutes. Everyone cooked their  own meals but would buy groceries  to share. 

We had different skill sets. Zach did  all the design work. Alex coded.  Navdeep worked on hardware.  David talked to customers and I  sought investors. This efficiency in  job division allowed us to progress  quickly. After our first three months,  we had a prototype, paying  customers and top investors. 

We recruited two new teammates  but the apartment was getting  cramped. It was time to move.  We found a house in the posh  neighbourhood of Bel Air, and for  the next 12 months, we lived and  worked in the Enplug house. At one  point, we had 20 teammates at  Enplug and 14 of them lived in the  house. Our living room was lined  with desks and the garage was the  design studio. My bedroom doubled  as a room for conference calls. 

It was a true sharing economy:  bedrooms, food and chores.

A few months ago, our team went to  the local Dave & Buster’s, a chain  restaurant and video arcade. In the  restaurant’s dining areas, there are  multiple, wall-sized displays. We  plugged a mini device that has  Enplug software into the HDMI  (high-definition multimedia  interface, Ed.) of the largest display.  The display instantly started  showing D&B’s live social media  feed and our software automatically  filtered out any negative content. 

Dozens of customers started posting  onto the display by mentioning  “#Dave&Busters” in their tweets.  When the manager saw that  Enplug’s software helped D&B go  viral, he signed on as a customer.  By our second year of operation, our  team had grown significantly.  We found a large office, which we  named Enplug HQ, about 15  minutes from the Enplug house.  Today, 35 teammates work out of  Enplug HQ. Ten of us still live  together in the house. 

Our success has been catalysed by  Enplug’s culture of extraordinary  dedication, initially established by  the founders and then articulated by  each teammate that joined. Our  company’s history has taught us to  be open to all opportunities in life,  no matter how unconventional they  may be.  


Continue reading this article and all other Eastwest and content.

Subscribe for 1 year and gain unlimited access to all content on plus both the digital and the hard copy of the geopolitical magazine for € 45, or gain 1 year of unlimited access to only the website and digital magazine for € 20