Burner is a platform for mind and body training. They make it affordable for anyone to train with the best fitness professionals and wellness coaches.
Hometown: Buffalo, NY
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Q&A With Oke Okaro, CEO
How can working in the Buffalo startup ecosystem help your startup thrive?
We are already working in the Buffalo ecosystem, and one of the main benefits is that we have access to top talent at very affordable prices. We moved to Buffalo from Silicon Valley because of that.
What’s an important piece of advice you received when starting up?
Spend six months detoxing from the corporate world before you invest any money into starting your own business. The reasoning for this was because I needed time to decide on one opportunity I was going to pursue, not the five ideas I had after leaving the corporate world.
In high school, you were voted:
The most likely to succeed.
Describe your team in three words.
Committed. Doers. Scrappy.
The startup life can be a real grind. What do you and your team members do to blow off some steam or during downtime?
We train and play sports. We’re all athletes and it helps us clear our heads.
How did your team meet each other?
We were introduced through mutual friends.
What’s the biggest reward from running your startup?
Making healthy living affordable and achievable for everyone.
Finish this sentence: “I’ll know my company has succeeded when…”
…we have leading experts and brands using our platform.
What problem is your startup solving?
We make it affordable for people to live a healthy lifestyle everyday.
Did you have an entrepreneurial side at a young age? Explain.
Yes, I started my first company at the age of 15 in the Ukraine. It was 1989 and I was there on an academic scholarship. I started a trading business, where I imported sneakers and jean jackets from the UK and sold them for a 4x markup. It was a great business. After making multiple trips, I narrowed my product line down to one item that (a) I could sell to both men and women, and (b) was a lot less bulky and was easier to transport larger volumes. The item was mini skirts. I was able to carry 200 in one suitcase. With jeans jackets, I could only fit 15 in a suitcase.
What’s something you wish you knew about being an entrepreneur when you were still in high school?
It doesn’t matter what you do, just become the best at it. As an expert, you’ll see things that others don’t see. Then, all you need to do is pursue the opportunity and commit to seeing it through.
Describe a time when you failed – how did you respond or come back from it?
I moved to Dallas from London at the age of 17 in pursuit of the American dream. I had no shortage of ambition and determination, but I didn’t have any real skills that would get me a proper job. I met an amazing gentleman 15 years my senior and after several discussions, he explained that I needed to go back to London to get my degree and some relevant experience…then I should come back. He said America will always be here and that if I stayed, I’d ruin my life. I didn’t like the idea at all since I was already here and convinced it was my time.
I took his advice, however, and moved back to London, where I got my degree in computer science in 1996. I worked as a developer in London for 11 months, and then moved to the U.S for the second time. This time, I went to NYC and got a job as a software developer at a hedge fund within 3 weeks of arriving in the U.S. The hedge fund paid me 3x what I made in London and also sponsored me for my green card. I failed the first time around, but I won in the end. Timing is everything and in order to succeed, you need to be prepared. There are no shortcuts.
Explain your startup as if you were explaining to a kindergartener.
We make it possible for everyone to stay fit and healthy.
What’s your why? (Why did you create this company?)
Because I’ve seen this before and I didn’t jump in and cease the opportunity. The future of fitness training is on digital and what we are building is going to move the entire industry into the digital era. It is inevitable and we are building the catalyst for change.
If you could go back in time and talk to yourself at the beginning stages of your company, what advice would you give yourself?
In order to do this properly it’s going to take some time, so strap in and enjoy the ride.
What was the moment when you thought to yourself, “This (idea/company) could actually work?”
When I spoke with our potential clients (coaches) and evaluated the products on the market.
If you could perform live on stage with one singer or band, who would it be? Why?
Prince. Loved his music; he was so cool and had so much style.
What can’t you live without?
My wife and kids.
Do you have any kids?
My wife and I have 4 kids – two girls and two boys. Our first is 12 (girl), then we have boy/girl twins who are 10, and an 8 year old boy. Our kids are our life.
When you can’t sleep, what do you do?
I rarely have a problem sleeping. If I do, that means there’s a specific problem that’s on my mind that I’m trying to figure out a solution for, so I’d go research it more to find an appropriate solution.
What do you fear?
God (and my mum, she’s tough).
Name a few items on your personal bucket list.
To build schools that provide free world class education to the most talented children in rural parts of Nigeria.
What are you most proud of this far in your life? (It doesn’t have to be business related.)
My kids. They are healthy, adorable, and so talented. We are so blessed.
Who are your heroes?
Watch the pitch that won Burner Fitness $500,000 below!