“We’re a travel-oriented business and no one is traveling,” said Hayes, the founder and CEO of RewardStock. “The whole world is dealing with some form of this downturn and it’s real.”
Yet, Hayes spoke at our virtual Coffee with Leaders and said, “Somehow, we’re actually doing great.”
To know why RewardStock is doing great now, you need to understand where the company has been.
Hayes, a Raleigh native, worked in investment banking in New York.
“It was the kind of job that requires everything of you,” he said. “It rewards high performers.”
Hayes took a trip to South America with his brother, visiting multiple cities and staying in four and five-star hotels. It only cost him about $200-300 after he used reward points.
“Over the next few years, I really got deeper into rewards points,” he said.
Hayes and his wife went on a honeymoon to the Maldives for about $200.
Four months later, he left investment banking and launched his company to help people maximize their reward points.
“The first year, I realized that it’s very expensive to hire developers,” said Hayes. “I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be able to hire someone to build everything that I wanted. That first year was teaching myself how to write code.”
He then started meeting locally with investors.
“That enabled me to start hiring some folks,” he said.
One day, he got a support ticket from a user. It turns out that person was a casting producer of ABC’s Shark Tank and said RewardStock would be great.
If you know Hayes’ story, you know what happened next: a deal with Mark Cuban.
“Mark has been fantastic and has been great to work with,” said Hayes. “He is the most responsive person that I have ever worked with. When I write him, he responds to me within 20 minutes every time.”
All of his experiences trained Hayes to run his startup differently than most larger business are run.
“When businesses have larger cash flows, they often build in less of a safety net,” he said.
Hayes had the worst-case scenario in the back of his mind.
“The way I run a business is I assume we have a certain number of months of cash available assuming that we make no revenue,” he said.
That strategy has paid off for Hayes in what should have been the dark times.
“How about a global pandemic that is shutting down worldwide? How’s that for a curveball for a travel startup,” he asked.
“Yet, we are in the most secure financial position we have ever been in,” said Hayes. “We haven’t had to lay anybody off.”
Hayes added, “In the face of challenges, there are opportunities. There are opportunities in the chaos.”
The key to running a successful startup, he said, is to have your company stay alive long enough to get lucky.
“If you want to succeed, get comfortable making sacrifice,” said Hayes. “If you put in ordinary effort, you will get ordinary results. Extraordinary effort will get extraordinary results.”
We want to thank Hayes for sharing the story of RewardStock with us, as well as his insights about navigating a business through the pandemic.
We also want to thank our Coffee with Leaders series sponsor, First Bank, for its continued support and partnership with us.
Our next Coffee with Leaders will be on July 21 where we will hear from Maggie Kane, founder and executive director of A Place at the Table.