Hi there! My name is Dieter Marlovics and I am the founder and CEO of ReallyColor, LLC. Launched in June 2015, ReallyColor is a Chicago-based business that has developed patented technology, which allows you to turn your photos into coloring pages and custom coloring books (U.S. Pat. 9,569,857 9,602,835). Apart from being wholesome fun for young children and a unique way to share memories, the company's heaviest users are teachers, moms, people who are into crafts, speech therapists, autism therapists, Alzheimer’s therapists, the patients’ family members, as well as businesses and non-profits using ReallyColor technology for their marketing and fundraising projects. Digital and physical ReallyColor Gift Cards have been sold in retail brands such as Toys "R" Us, BJ's Wholesale, Sam's Club, and others. ReallyColor custom coloring books are the fastest-growing part of the business. Our books add lots of unique fun at parties, weddings, events, or just during family time at home. Businesses such as hotels, resorts, camps, bakeries, etc. use our ReallyColor coloring books as effective marketing tools. Think about it, if you lay a coloring book on the kitchen counter or coffee table, how long do you think it will sit there? Probably quite a while, which is what makes it an effective (and fun) marketing tool.
The idea for ReallyColor was sparked during a Friday night pizza party. My daughter was 4 years old at the time and in a goofy mood. Fully aware that I’m a neat freak, she was finding art supplies (among other things) and throwing them on the floor in front of me laughing and running away before I could catch her. She started pretending to use her crayons and markers on tables, chairs, floors, clothes, walls, my hair, her friend's dog (but he got away), her shoes, and then explaining how she simply wanted to change the color of...well...everything! She then pretended to start drawing on the wall, and I dove in headfirst to stop her. Needing some peace to finish cooking dinner, I took a picture of the wall, printed it out, and told her that she could go ahead and draw on the wall, but only on the piece of paper with the printed image. I thought to myself how cool it would be for her to be able to color real things instead of the constant barrage of fictional cartoon characters. The rest, as they say, is history.
I am also the CEO of a very different fintech company, RoboSig, Inc.. Here we’ve developed autonomous, systematic, and AI-supported market-neutral currency trading strategies coupled with automated risk management, to generate the highest and most consistent risk-adjusted returns ever seen in the FX industry. The goal is to use this technology for every major asset class. RoboSig has been featured on AMC Network’s “Newswatch TV”.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
Growing up, I was a competitive national tennis player and spent a summer traveling the pro satellite circuit and playing for Northwestern University. Because of this, I spent my younger years teaching tennis privately and ran some tennis camps for young kids. When I was 14 years old, and with the help of my parents, I started a tennis racquet stringing business that was relatively successful and gave me all the spending money I ever needed as a teenager, as well as swelling savings, account that I took with me to college. One summer, I also worked as an evening checkout cashier for Brown’s Chicken.
Keeping your positive energy, no matter what is what will get you through. It takes courage and if you get through this phase, you find out who you are.
As a grown-up, I did some network engineering consulting to pay the bills, and, as a senior, at Northwestern University I founded my first real startup called Hypermeals.com, which enabled online food ordering from local restaurants for delivery. The Hypermeals story is a long and entertaining one in and of itself, but for the sake of this interview, I’ll leave it at that. In 1999, I saw an opportunity in the electronic futures trading space when I noticed a small Chicago floor brokerage firm didn’t so much as have email, let alone any meaningful technology whatsoever. I pitched the CEO of Gelber Group, LLC to fund the building of an electronic trading division inside the firm. Over the next decade as CIO, and my incessant entrepreneurial drive, Gelber Group evolved to become a highly profitable global algorithmic trading firm with over $100 Million in capital and more than nine data centers in three different countries. I sold my ownership stake in 2011.
The next phase of my entrepreneurial journey was combined with what I still consider to be one of the most eye-opening and magical few years of my life: becoming Papa. Due to my family’s Austrian roots, my daughter still calls me ‘Papa’ to this day (she’s 13 going on 25 now). In 2013, I was busy working on validating a few ideas for my next serious project as well as trying to manage through a challenging divorce. Making sure I was there for my daughter was my number one priority. Thanks to her, ReallyColor was eventually born.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Currently, in addition to managing ReallyColor, I have also recently been asked to lead a company called RoboSig, Inc. You’re probably wondering how I have time to be CEO of two separate businesses and be a husband and father. Well, I’m also wondering the same thing…haha…just kidding. It’s all about prioritizing where you spend your time, partnering with good people, executing quickly, staying obsessively organized, not dwelling on the things that don’t work out, and passionately believing in what you do.
ReallyColor has been on a steady growth track for the past few years. It is profitable and generates tens of thousands of coloring pages each week (and accelerating). At RoboSig, until March 2020 we had over $270M in allocations placed on our autonomous FX trading strategy. When Covid surprised the world, the company took an unexpected hit. However, the business has survived, is currently growing aggressively, and the future looks bright!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
In my life, there wasn’t a single business, project, or job I hated. Some weren’t a great fit for my wide-eyed view of the world and some exposed me to toxic personalities, but I found a lesson in every job and person I’ve met in my professional life. I learned to not take things so personally. I learned how working long hours doesn’t mean you’re working hard, I learned how to turn the tables on a corporate bully, I learned how to be a salesman and control a room, at 14 years old I learned how to buy inventory in bulk lowers your per-unit cost, as I got older I learned what being honorable takes when a metaphorical gun is pointed at your head, I learned how important it is to inspire the people that work for you instead of just barking orders and exerting power…I learned how indescribable it feels to positively change another person’s life financially and how that affects the future of his or her entire family line, I learned how lonely it can be at the top and how hopeless it can seem at the bottom.
At different points of time, you may also need to have the courage to walk away from an idea if it isn’t working. Let the market decide.
I’ve always loved working with people, solving problems, creating something from nothing, and depositing a paycheck. Molding my life and the world around me to be something better, something I admire, and something I can change if I want to was what drove me then and still drives me today.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
All my businesses run on custom-built software. Most of the infrastructure sits in the cloud (Google Could) or a confidential co-located data center running on confidential server platforms.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Several years ago, I read the book Open by Andre Agassi and didn’t have many expectations. It was very well written, endlessly entertaining, and I enjoyed how Andre used his life story to demonstrate the lessons he’s learned throughout the years; both the good and the embarrassingly bad. This guy had times when he was brilliant and times when he whined too much and made moronic choices. In the end, though, he learned the lessons he needed to learn, and with the help of a loyal team that he deliberately put together and inspired day after day no matter what, he found who he truly is and left his mark on the world in a way very few people ever have, and he continues to do so.
It’s my opinion that every entrepreneur should read this book since we are also wading through constant uncertainty. Sometimes we nail a decision and are on top of the world and sometimes we embarrass ourselves and play the clown. In the end, though, we thrive because we never give up on bettering ourselves.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Being an entrepreneur is a roller coaster ride. You deal with anything from feeling the positive energy of possibility while battling towards the distant horizon that only you can see, to dealing with setbacks and negativity from people or situations around you, to listening to your doubts and fears whispering in your ear, to sleepless nights worrying about what you would do if you couldn’t do this, to suddenly being back on track and feeling great about everything, to watching miracles unfold around you that allows you to suddenly leapfrog obstacles and be closer to achieving your goals. There are also days where you can do nothing but wait on everybody else to get back to you and not move forward significantly until that happens.
When you first start as an entrepreneur you need to be aware of the different phases of the journey because it is a cycle. First, there is an idea that you can’t get out of your head and are truly excited about. It will change the world, make you a billion dollars, have a hundred million users, and there is no way it could ever fail because it is brilliant. This is the initial rush. Then you start looking into it and you find out that somebody else has already tried something similar, but that’s ok because yours is different and better. Then you start coming across more challenges than you were expecting. You also realize that other people aren’t as excited about your idea as you are. That’s ok too because it’s your vision and you will push forward. Forget the naysayers, right?
The next phase is when you start to build the business you envisioned. The real world is unforgiving with its pragmatic challenges. You start to feel a little less excited, wondering if it’s all worth it. Then you have one little victory, so you perk back up and push forward onto the next challenge. This cycle keeps going until the inevitable grind. Nothing succeeds overnight and sometimes it takes years before you feel like you have an actual chance at success. In the meantime, you have to make sure you can pay the bills and sacrifice so many different things that there are days when you just want to give up. Is it worth all this? This is the phase when the vast majority of entrepreneurs give up. The idea of a steady paycheck and more time on your hands starts to sound good. I mean hey, you gave it a good shot, right?
The tough few that keep pushing forward may still fail, but it’s after this phase that success will follow. What happens after you finally feel like it’s working, is a roller coaster. There are as many unexpected setbacks as there are successes. The real entrepreneurs are the ones that keep going through all of this inevitable pain, just for the promise of maybe seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and living life on your terms. Keeping your positive energy, no matter what is what will get you through. It takes courage and if you get through this phase, you find out who you are.
One final thought, though, is that at different points in time, you may also need to have the courage to walk away from an idea if it isn’t working. Let the market decide. Not all great ideas end up being commercial successes. There is no shame in cutting your losses. Just be honest with yourself about why you push through difficult times. Don’t do it just to prove somebody wrong or because you already invested so much. Do it because YOU believe it will still work and it is worth it to YOU.
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