Entrepreneurs

How this company turned $500 into an $18 million business

Venture capitalists and angel investors may be key drivers to business growth, but a decade ago, $500 was the Midas touch for one business' success.

"I launched the business 10 years ago, literally out of my apartment; just had the idea, went on Google, made sure no one else was doing it here in South Florida," said Zalmi Duchman, 36, founder and CEO of Fresh Diet, in a CNBC interview.

Duchman "set up a website, incorporated, came home, went shopping, had three customers and delivered to their doors," he said. Fresh Diet, which delivers meal plans nationwide, has ballooned since then, and revenue hit $18 million last year.

For people who aspire to become entrepreneurs, the executive recommended taking action immediately.

Zalmi Duchman, Fresh Diet Founder and CEO.
Source: Fresh Diet
Zalmi Duchman, Fresh Diet Founder and CEO.

"Act now," he said. "A lot of people have ideas. ... The most important thing is to actually act on them."

"I launched the business with literally $500 on my credit card, didn't take any outside capital until I got an SBA loan about two years into it to make an acquisition and didn't raise any financing capital 'til about a $15 million run rate five years into the business," he said.

While many entrepreneurs are hesitant to enter crowded markets, competition helped Fresh Diet find a market void.

"As I grew [Fresh Diet] I realized that even the players in New York and L.A. were pretty small and nobody was doing it at a national level," he said. "So within the first 12 months, I decided that I really wanted to be the national leader, and as opposed to really focusing on South Florida, expand nationwide pretty quickly."

Still, the executive notes that the entrepreneurial path is not easy. After three months of working his day-time job and delivering by night, Duchman experienced the frustrations of being a small business owner.

"I called my wife and said, 'I cannot do this anymore. I haven't slept. It's just too hard'," he said. "She said to me, 'You always give up; you never follow through on anything'."

At that moment, Duchman knew his outlook needed to change.

"As an entrepreneur you need to have that persistence to follow through," he said. "You're going to face challenges. It's really just about having that strength to get through your challenges."

Duchman said success stems from being passionate about the work being done, even if not initially. The food tech CEO also suggests that business owners tune into the latest technology and market trends.

"Early on we focused on tech, and that focus on tech is what allowed us to expand nationally very, very easily," he told CNBC. "Really make sure that you're staying on top of trends and taking advantage of the trend while it's new and not everybody knows about it, because then you can actually benefit from it a lot more than later on when it's too popular."