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Serial Entrepreneur Building a Luxury Business: Trevor Traina, CEO of IfOnly (Part 1)

Posted on Friday, Dec 26th 2014

Trevor has built several businesses and is now working in a segment that he naturally aligns with—luxury experiences.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your personal story. Where are you from? Where were you born and raised?

Trevor Traina: I was born and raised in San Francisco. On my father’s side, I’m a fourth-generation San Franciscan.

Sramana Mitra: Wow! That’s a rarity around here.

Trevor Traina: Yes it is. I was here through high school. Then, I went to Princeton for my undergraduate studies. Then I went immediately to Oxford to St. Catherine’s College where I got a graduate degree in Social Studies. Then I worked in New York for three years.

Sramana Mitra: What did you study in Princeton?

Trevor Traina: I studied Politics. Of course, it being Princeton, they have to call it Politics and not Political Science or anything else.

Sramana Mitra: What about work? What field did you work in?

Trevor Traina: After graduating from Oxford, I wanted to live in Manhattan and wanted to do marketing. I researched all of the companies in Manhattan that did marketing. I was surprised that there were not many of them in the city. My father knew someone who knew someone who knew the CEO of a company that was doing marketing in Manhattan. Before I knew it, I had an interview with him and spent an hour trying to impress him. Then he said to me, “We’ve just bought a company called Tropicana in Florida. Would you like to move there?” I said, “Thank you but no, I don’t want to live in Florida.” He said, “Let’s see what we can come up with.”

Three weeks later, I got a call saying, “We have a marketing associate position available. You have a year to prove yourself. If you do well, it will lead to a promotion.” For one year, I killed myself. Then I was promoted to the youngest brand manager in the history of that company.

Sramana Mitra; This was happening around what timeframe?

Trevor Traina: The early 90s.

Sramana Mitra: Pre-Internet?

Trevor Traina: Yes.

Sramana Mitra: You stayed for about three or four years?

Trevor Traina: Three years. I would say that it was my first MBA because a brand manager is really like the CEO of the brand. I had to learn everything from pricing, consumer promotions, trade promotions, packaging, and fulfillment. It was an incredible education for me. After three years, I left to go to Berkeley to get my MBA. I remember my grandmother saying to me, “You’re foolish to do this. You will never make more money than you were making at Seagrams.” I said, “You may be right, but I still have to try.”

Sramana Mitra: What’s next?

Trevor Traina: While I was at Berkeley, I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I had no interest in working for anyone else. I decided that I wanted to come up with a great idea. The Internet was becoming a big deal. I have never been very technical but I realized that it was going to be a huge opportunity. So, I forced myself to go to the computer center and make friends with the most computer literate MBA students to learn from them.

While visiting a consumer electronics store and experiencing the frustration of a sales person who didn’t know his own products, I had an epiphany that I could use the Internet to help people educate themselves and pick better products to buy. So, I went to one of my professors and convinced him to give me course credit for coming up with my own business plan. Then, I spent most of my last two semesters at business school taking the classes that I thought could be helpful and doing projects focused on my business idea. The day I graduated, I was full-time in my first startup.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Serial Entrepreneur Building a Luxury Business: Trevor Traina, CEO of IfOnly
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