Dommonic Nelson Founder & CEO clevtech. This is an inspiring story...
A budding entrepreneur from the age of 13. He’s driven by a desire to improve the lives of others.
He graduated from Texas Southern University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Maritime Transportation Management and Security. His prolific work ethic, earned him a full-tuition academic scholarship and the opportunity to be the first African American student in TSU’s 72-year history to be selected as an intern by the United States Coast Guard.
During his final year, he hatched an idea, and today it's a thriving business servicing a great need in our post Covid world.
You can find out more about his business at the clev.tech website
Or reach out to him personally through LinkedIn
It was a joy to chat to Dommonic, so hope you enjoy the show.
Check out this short snippet
Or Listen to the full episode, enjoy
I think initially it all started with my early exposures as a kid. My mom was a parent that afforded us an opportunity to always ask a question. Uh, she never said, you know, be a kid, stay quiet any time, even if it was with her disciplining us, like, we had a rough day and it was time for a spanking or whatever it may, she never not allowed us to ask questions. And when you allow someone to always ask questions, it kind of feeds their creativity, or at least it feeds their appetite for, you know, a greater insight. So I think it started there, but, uh, my entrepreneurial journey literally started at the age of 13. I still remember how everything played out.
My mom was, uh, I think they called us latchkey kids. Um, my mom was always gone working. So, uh, throughout the summer it was myself and my younger brother at the time. And my former stepdad, he played in the CFL Canadian football league. He was doing his best to go pro to the NFL, but he was gone as well.
So my brother and I, we spent a lot of time just being kids inside of the house and going outside but I remember, uh, I used to make my mother's bed every morning during the summer as a way to just help out, you know, as best as I, that pretty much I can do, but I remember making her bed and, um, she had a bunch of CDs. From there I called my mom and I was like, Hey, do you mind if I try to sell these CDs?
So I went out that day and I just went to everybody and in our apartment complex and I made $500 cash. I just knew if I could get people to put these CDs and like these mixed CDs, that all our favorite songs that they would normally hear on the radio, then maybe they would buy it. And yeah, I made $500 that day.
And I bought myself the CD and DVD burner and I fell in love with Napster. Fell in love with the ability to like, you know, make my friends and people around me happy with entertainment in the form of music and things. And I made $4,000 in three months after that and I still have the bank deposit.
I was just trying to entertain my friends and people in the neighborhood. And so she probably took me to the bank and I opened my first bank account. And that day at like around, I was almost, I'd probably just turned 14, that really solidified independence and the ability to kind of control your own destiny.
And then that's like how entrepreneurship was kind of presented to me. From there it was always the desire to see if I can contribute beyond just, you know, going to work.
Um, so the Yummy Box is morphed into what it is. This is not the original concept. it's morphed into what it is and it literally started from leaving college, just like anyone else you really, I think the last few months before you walk across that stage and graduate, you try to really make sure you've made all the right contacts so you can make some money.
Right? That's the point of, you know, studying really hard. But, uh, for me, it was either the coast guard or working at like the port of Houston, port of New York, California, some big port that was known for maritime transportation. And, uh, I really couldn't make a decision.
So I lived with my grandpa. But while I was there, I remember taking a shower kind of three months before graduation and really clueless on life to be totally honest with you in terms of which direction I wanted to go. And I remember just getting in the shower and just wasting water, to be honest, standing there and I was thinking about like, what do I want to do? This is a really big decision. I can change the course of the next few years. And I started thinking about the smallest thing. My lunch.
My lunch was getting stolen from work and school. So I was a frugal college student and I worked at the Walmart distribution center as I was in school. I used to bring my lunch to work and it would get stolen or it would get smushed or it would be misplaced and I’d spend 20 of the 30 minutes looking for it. So I started thinking about that, then I thought about school, like how it would be inside of this refrigerator and anybody can gain access to it.
And I was like, man, what if I could solve that problem? Like, this is just this conversation I'm having with myself. And, um, from there I hopped out of the shower, threw on a towel. Didn't even dry off, ran into my grandfather's room. It's probably like 2.30 in the morning and I'm like, Whoa, I got this idea. So surprisingly, he gets up and we have this full blown conversation about trying to bring this idea, at the time it was called Food Garage, to life.
And long story short basically he said, I don't know what to tell you on how to do it, but see how they got vending machines on campus and try to like go backwards from there. And literally the next day I went to the engineering department. I was like, Hey, I got this idea. Could you help me? Could you help me, just asking for help and being that I'm not an engineer, I just asked a lot of questions.
And fortunately, I met a lot of other creative students that gave me like understanding on like CAD designs, what mechanical engineering really entails. And then from there I applied to this Accelerator and that kind of like started everything.
The Yummy Box is this locker system that we've designed to help restaurants free themselves from the old model of having to, you know, stand behind take out counters, monitor mobile pickup shelves, which it's pretty chaotic. You know, anyone can have access to your orders, and put them in a position where they can really adapt and go towards the on demand economy. And now, you know, at the height of contactless pickup, I call it a movement in a sense, towards this greater level of innovation where restaurants can do what they do best, which is create great food and allow one process, which is a very time consuming process to be automated.
And just to create a more vivid picture. The Yummy box can be closely compared to like an Amazon locker, right? Like even when I'm pitching, I say, you know, the yummy box, think of Amazon locker, but for food, and the biggest differentiator is I've been fortunate to meet the right people at the right time.
And when we first started, I literally just put all my time and energy to try to manifest its original vision and it morphed into what it is now. But I remember I worked at Southwest airlines and I was making 14.75 an hour. And I turned out $70,000 out of college. I wanted to work there primarily because they had flight benefits that I could use on my entrepreneurial journey. Right. So I knew like if I was to get a job, it had to do more than just compensate me. Right. It had to. Do more than just keep the lights on. It had to give me an opportunity to build something on my own.
And I think Southwest was probably the best company I could have worked for. It was like I'm working here, but I'm working for a company that's very entrepreneurial. So while I'm there, I have free flight benefits.
And I remember at my grandfather's house, I was watching the show, make me a millionaire inventor. And I was like, man, if I could just get on this show or if I could talk to one of their engineers, I probably can find my way with this whole Food Garage thing. Because at the time I wasn't really getting a lot of traction. And I think I was spending more time understanding business than actually in the product. And I think, truthfully, I think that's the wrong way to go about it, to be completely honest with you. I think more time should be spent on innovation and solving the problem.
And then from there, you, further develop, you know, your pricing model, your business model, your team, but we were kind of doing it in the reverse. We weren’t really solving a problem completely. We were, you know, putting together executive summary business plans, and all of these things are important, I’m not saying that they're not.
But I felt like it was slowing me down so much because I felt I was tweaking what I thought would become this end product or this end solution and I didn't really know. So I wanted to get away from that. And I watched this show. I sent this guy an email. His name is Michael Feinberg, uh, Bluefish Concept. That's the name of his company.
I sent him an email. And I was like, man, if I could just meet with them, it'll be a game changer. The next morning I woke up and he said, you know, I'll meet with you for an hour.
And he gave me the best advice, without this advice I can honestly say I wouldn't even be talking to you. I think I'd be doing something else. He told me, he says most innovators or most entrepreneurs, business owners, they have this desire to be first.
And he says it's great to be first, but most of the time when you're first you're taking all of the punches. And you're the one who is busting all of your resources to make this thing that you believe in really great. And he says, but I, I challenge you to think of it differently. I challenge you to look more at what you're building as like Facebook instead of My space, right?
My space was first, Facebook came second and they were more of a, um, refined machine than My space. And then he said, you know, you, you have the right formula, but the wrong ingredients, anybody can build lockers, but not everybody can build great technology.
And he was like, I would build this prototype for you guys. I think it was like a half a million dollars. It was something absurd. Obviously I had a poker face cause I was learning business. I’m like yeah, you know, we have that kind of money, but he was like, yeah, half a million dollars for a prototype and then once we go into production, it can be millions from there. If nothing goes wrong.
So I literally left there. Uh, we went to a quick shop and got on a plane and yeah, and I cried on the way home. And I cried because I’m three years into this. And in my mind at that time, this gentleman just told me uh, we're going about it the wrong way. And at that time, I didn't know all of it. Like I was trying to build a refrigerator with compartments that could be used for co-working spaces, and nobody was really trying to hear that at the time.
And, uh, the next day, my seed investor, Jay calls me to a meeting as investors do, and says we gotta figure something out. And he was saying, Hey, I went to this restaurant, they have a great app. It works amazingly. And this was like around 2016, I think uh, no, 2017. He was like, it works amazingly but when I got to the restaurant, I had to stand in line and wait and he was like, that kind of defeated the purpose of me ordering online. And I was like, hey, you figured it out. We can pivot with this whole locker concept to the restaurant industry.
And it's crazy. All of that kind of created the yummy box. It created, it created an understanding that when you're being innovative, sometimes you can solve a huge problem without having all of these other, uh, technologies and hardware components. So we just took ordinary lockers, like nothing special about the lockers itself, but we figured that all lockers do the same thing.
Our lockers do the exact same thing that Amazon lockers do, they control access and keep things organized. So why do we need mechanical engineers, the electrical engineers to build it, all the sophisticated wiring, when all we need to do is make sure we can solve those two things.
So we took basic lockers and built, like the guy said, not everybody can build great technology. We built a very robust technology and our systems are incredible. It's the only system at the moment that basically allows you to communicate with it. It sends you a text, your order's ready, Ms. Judy, and then you can reply like OMW and that alerts the restaurant, but also gives you a verification code. It's incredible to see so like an idea in the shower morph into something like this.
And that's actually the key to good innovation is that, that not getting stuck and hung up on your original concept. I've seen that and been involved in those sorts of things myself, where you, you can get almost a bit fixated by where you thought it was going.
And the, the issue that was really interesting that you talked about, you know, you came about it because you wanted your dream to come alive, but then you found the need and it's only when you find the need that you can really develop an innovation well, because you know the definition of innovation of course, is that it's actually an idea that works and makes money.
I believe you have to always start small in order to become big. Uh, I think one of the companies that I like a lot is, uh, this delivery company, called Favor. It's probably not the most well known throughout the world. But they came up with a delivery platform. That moves goods from grocery stores, from restaurants, wherever it needs to be to the end customer and the CEO. I find them very fascinating for the mere fact that he quickly realized that, you know, in California, it's it's go, go, go, build as fast as you can we’ll figure out how to make money later. And I always thought it was crazy, but, uh, I was like, okay, maybe if it's accepted, then maybe I'm not calculating things the right way. But after reading, like one of his articles, I realized that he sees it the same way you start small and you can really, really good at that.
And if you can make the, you know, your immediate customer base happy. A skeleton is just ultimately copy and paste right on a larger scale. Uh, so that's what we're really focusing on now. I think, uh, I can foresee the company becoming bigger obviously everyone feels that way. I think one of the reasons why it will happen for us is my understanding that nothing is permanent.
Nothing that we do has to be done one way. Um, continuing, like, you know, changing the idea. I think the Yummy Box probably now has a piece of at least a hundred people in it in some capacity, whether it's tweak this, add this, complete strangers I don't even know, I probably owe them money. Right. I don't know.
I was reading an article it's called 10 days that changed the restaurant industry. And it kinda shows like how fast one industry could potentially collapse. And it's very disheartening but I personally, from being in Houston, I've seen a lot of restaurants adapt really, really fast to this new environment.
And it’s kind of just a testament to human nature. Right. We'll do anything to survive, period. And I think the restaurants kicked into that gear of, what new technology do we need? How do we get it right away? How do we change the landscape that potentially could be leading us to doom, but a lot of them don't want to go that way, obviously so they're looking at ways to not only just, you know, survive but thrive.
And I think Take Out will be one of the most important elements for restaurants. Delivery is important, but I can, I can see delivery fading out through third party just because of the fees associated with it. And I think if restaurants, we kind of talk about this internally all the time, if restaurants figure out a way to build their own, um, you know, transportation system, if you will, or logistics system to get their goods to their customers, they'll be able to keep, you know, a greater percentage of the income. And what we're doing with the takeout component is we charge a flat fee per transaction and a hundred dollars a month.
Obviously a hundred dollars may change depending on the economy or whatnot, but it's cool to see that we're positioning restaurants in a way where they can keep majority of the money that they worked really hard to get.
I say the same thing all the time. Don't take your ideas for granted. I don't take ideas for granted and I think it's due in large part, just seeing, you know, my former stepdad have an idea since 1997 and then he finally presents it to me in 2014, and him and I do a little bit of business together, but it saddens me, especially at that moment to know like you've had something for that many years and didn't try it.
And I think it was silly of me to even try this journey to begin with, because I didn't have all the resources, I didn't have all of the pieces, but somehow, some way I just kept an open mind saying one day maybe it will get better.
And I'm not saying I had all great days. I've had some really tough days. Yesterday for me to be truthful with you, uh, because you start getting to a point where you're getting growth and it's overwhelming. And I'm learning that business is, it's not about just, you know, automating processes for customers, internally you have to automate as many systems as you can, or you won't be able to accommodate, you know, the growth that you desire.
But. Uh, yeah, that's the biggest thing I would say to anyone, don't take your ideas for granted. Cause it may not seem pretty. It may not be, you know, be the most defined or have the greatest market potential initially. But if you take that journey, you never know who you may meet, that will give you suggestions on how to tweak something to make it what the market needs.