To say that ZenoRadio founder Baruch Herzfeld is outspoken is an understatement. The eclectic entrepreneur is as creative as he is outgoing, and launching a network to hear radio over the world on your phone is just a snippet of his vision.
The beauty of ZenoRadio is that you can get radio stations, music and more for free so long as you have an unlimited voice plan. The service also allows advertisers to get real time information on the listeners, something that has not been possible thus far with other forms of radio.
Even though he’s busier than the average Joe, Herzfeld still made time to open a bike shop in Brooklyn, offering free rentals to locals and a workshop for people to fix their bikes. This shop even attracted the likes of the controversial Times Up! Environmental Group, who have been huge advocates of bike riding in the city.
Baruch Herzfeld is truly a purveyor of raw, honest feeback, so it was only right for us to get in tune with his life and career advice. Read on for some real Tough Love…
What inspired you to go into the communications business? Were you just good with technology, or was it the business end of things that lured you in?
Baruch Herzfeld: I was always attracted to the international part of the communications business: the travel and learning about exotic cultures. I worked for many years trying to get cheaper calls for immigrants who live in America, so I had the opportunity to travel to many of the places where people who move here, move from.
I don’t love technology. I’m just not scared of it. My attitude is that if I want to, I can figure out how to build it, it’s just not my preference. I prefer to talk to people, not machines.
Was your idea to open the bike shop more out of a love for bikes, or a love for the community created around the bikes? What is special about that aspect of your business?
BH: I don’t love fancy bikes. I’m not into thousand dollar bikes. I love cheap, used, utilitarian bicycles. The bike store was never a business. You can’t make money selling used bicycles. It was more of a social club, where people went to fix bikes for free.
I worked a lot with a not for profit group called ‘Times Up’. They are some of the sweetest troublemakers in the city. They were the guys who disrupted the RNC convention a few years ago, and have won multiple settlements from the NYPD because they have been unfairly targeted by undercover cops.
What is the day to day like for you schedule-wise?
BH: I wake up, do my pushups and situps as I feed my two-year-old son breakfast, usually I make him smoothies, and pancakes. Next I bike to work from Bed Stuy, which usually takes me 45 minutes, because I bike slowly and say “Hi” and talk to strangers along the way. I bike in the winter and summer, rain, or shine, as long as there is no ice. I work from like 9am-7pm in the office.
My work is usually making mind maps, having meetings, and coming up with ideas and writing up business strategy memos or Powerpoint decks. I probably have like 40 employees now and I try and motivate them, without bossing them around. After 7, I usually try to go out and meet up with friends or someone work related. Then I bike back to Brooklyn, kiss my wife, and go to sleep.
Do you push to find personal time for yourself with all the work you have to do? What are some of your favorite hobbies?
BH: I have plenty of personal time. My hobby is biking and reading. Since I combine my commute and my hobby, I get to enjoy my commute. Sometimes, I find myself rushing to work and I say to myself, “shmuck! why are you rushing? this is your favorite time of day.”
I catch up on my reading on the weekend. I prefer non-fiction. I’m reading The Innovators now, by Walter Issacson. I just finished Busted, and The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
You’ve got a reputation for being a smart businessman, but we all make mistakes. What do you feel was the biggest mistake you’ve ever made that you learned from?
BH: Biggest mistake – I think my biggest mistake is that I talk too much. If I had kept my mouth shut, I would probably have a lot more money, less fun, but more money.
Of all the advice you’ve been given, what was the most raw, honest advice that you’ve received? Who was it from, and how did you apply that advice to your life and/or work?
BH: I can’t think of any advice that people gave me that helped me out a lot. I’m not very good at taking advice. I prefer to make my own mistakes.
If someone came to you and said they wanted to follow in your footsteps, what is the best tough love advice you would give them?
BH: If someone wanted to follow in my footsteps, I would wish them luck, but it probably wouldn’t go well for them.
I’ve taken a really nontraditional route in life, which involved failing numerous subjects in school, having lots of fun in work, fighting with big telephone carriers, and hanging out with freegans and Satmar Hasidim in Williamsburg. I don’t think it’s duplicable. If someone wants to try, good luck!
What do you have planned with your work in the next year or two? And where do you see your business going?
BH: I think my company ZenoRadio will grow rapidly in the next two years. I’m hoping by 20 times, although you never know. We’ve invested heavily in building out a software platform, that we think is a better way to deliver live audio content from broadcasters to listeners. I’m hoping that ZenoRadio will become the dominant platform in this space, used by thousands of broadcasters, and listened to by millions of daily listeners.
What do you want people to know most about you as a man at this stage of your life and career?
BH: I guess I want people to know that I started a service that allows millions of people to stay in touch with their cultures back home, people who otherwise would have been isolated or lonely, as they engaged in solitary service jobs. That makes me happy.
I didn’t make a $5000 handbag or alligator shoes. I made a free service for homesick people, entertaining them. I’m proud of myself for that. My career was never a focus. Most of it was accidental.
Photo credit: NYcityNewsService.com