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The DNA of an Entrepreneur

Barbara Allison, June 21, 2023

VCapital investor Aaron Dallek's background as an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur helps him spot good companies to invest in.

It has been said that once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur. It’s not only that entrepreneurs see opportunities that others do not. They know what to do about it. They have a clear vision and path for addressing the how, why, when, and for whom. The sheer volume of problems that entrepreneurs address each day would overwhelm most of us. 

Entrepreneurs can be Intrapreneurs.

Every entrepreneur is different, but researchers have found commonalities among start-up founders, such as: 

  • Passion
  • Questioning
  • Tenacity 
  • Optimism
  • Risk Taking
  • Tolerance for Ambiguity
  • Open Mindedness
  • Pragmatism

Founders typically become a “Jack of All Trades” as they are responsible for everything from business plans and market research to personnel management and investor relations to keep a business going.  

Similarly, an entrepreneur can make significant contributions as an intrapreneur.  With the same characteristics, they can envision a new course for an established company. They innovate and create value for a company, focusing on identifying needs and spurring development. 

We recently had a conversation with VCapital investor Aaron Dallek, whose background as an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur helps him spot good companies to invest in. 

Born this way.

Aaron loves being an entrepreneur. He has been creating businesses since his first lemonade stand in fourth grade. In seventh grade, it was a dog-walking business. By freshman year in high school in 1999, he founded a computer consulting company.  

Before high school graduation, Aaron and his brother Jacob bootstrapped a printer cartridge brokerage and recycling firm called Cheap Ink. The company established recycling programs in office buildings in Chicago and supported annual sales of over a million empty and remanufactured printer cartridges to an international customer base. They grew the company by 617% organically over three years, which was ranked 544 in the Inc. Magazine list of fastest-growing companies. By 2010, the company’s annual revenues were $2.1M. 

Then there was college. 

Aaron co-founded Planet Metrics after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley in 2006. This VC-funded company provided carbon information management software and supported modeling, analytics, and complex data visualization. In 2010, he sold Planet Metrics to PTC (Parametric Technology Corporation), headquartered in Boston. 

In 2012, Aaron co-founded Visibly, the first online eye exam that delivered a prescription, signed by an ophthalmologist, for glasses and contact lenses. The exam takes 10 minutes and can be completed on any computer or tablet without a web camera. The service is available at a fraction of the cost and without the need to visit a doctor's office. Aaron was serving as the CEO when he left in 2016. Visibly recently received FDA clearance. 

Enter the family business.

Before Aaron perfected his lemonade stand recipes, his dad Michael started MD Metals, Inc. The company is a steel service center in Bedford Park, IL, which provides slit, edged coil, and flat bar steel products nationwide. It has grown organically by reinvesting the profits into new equipment. This allowed the company to find machines that create niches that few or no other companies can or are willing to serve. Over time, older equipment was found with unique capabilities, which they fixed and improved, enabling the business to continue to innovate. The first employees from the late 1990s are still employees to this day.

Aaron joined MD Metals in 2017, bringing his diverse experience in managing, operating, and growing companies to increase efficiency, quality, and sales at his family-owned and operated business. He has helped grow the company in multiple ways, including reorganizing the company's management structure, increasing sales through digital advertising and direct sales, and implementing lean manufacturing methods to improve efficiency. 

Staying connected to venture investing.

VCapital’s Jim Vaughan and Aaron met in Chicago when he was pitching Visibly. After joining the family business, they reconnected, as Aaron was interested in staying involved with the startup world.  

He said, “I get a taste of the excitement of the startup journey vicariously through following the companies I invest in. My entrepreneurial experience gives me good instincts for choosing the right startups. With VCapital, there are opportunities to help the world while potentially getting a return on my investment. I'm a long-term investor, and venture capital investing fits my desired time horizon and risk-reward profile.”