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.