How This Entrepreneur Repaid His Most Valuable Employee: His Mom

An entrepreneur's mom worked for him for years -- without a salary. When he finally made it, he wanted to give her something she'd love.
How This Entrepreneur Repaid His Most Valuable Employee: His Mom
Image credit: Courtesy of Jake Kassan
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This story appears in the June 2018 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Jake Kassan started his first business in high school: a T-shirt company he grew through YouTube and social media channels. It went…a little too well. “I was generating $10,000-plus a week,” he says, “and I needed help.” He was just 16, after all, and he was falling behind on shipping, accounting -- the whole operations side. Luckily, he found the perfect person. She lacked business experience, but she was a quick study, a hard worker and unusually loyal. Plus, she worked for free. 

Related: 5 Reasons Why 'Family' and 'Business' Do Mix

She was his mother, Marla.

His mom helped out on his second startup, too, which sold apparel and “rave lights,” geared toward music festivals. While those companies eventually folded, Kassan’s third effort did not. In 2013 he and a co-founder launched MVMT, an L.A.-based startup that sells stylish, affordable, direct-to-consumer watches. And when revenue cleared a million in its first year, Kassan hired his mother properly -- this time at a “healthy” salary

“For the first time ever, I was actually able to pay her back for everything she’s done over the years,” he says. 

Related: 6 Challenges for Family Businesses (and How to Overcome Them)

The compensation went beyond mere money. At the end of MVMT’s first year, Kassan’s mother was about to sell her car, a battered Nissan Armada. “It was this huge tank, and it had been beaten up,” he says. “I was surprised it was still running.” Kassan’s parents always tended toward the practical, but he wanted her to have something nice. So he offered to buy her a new car. More than offered, really. “It was a forceful ‘You’re not buying a car unless I buy it for you’ kind of thing,” he says with a laugh. 

She resisted at first but eventually ended up with a new white Audi Q7. “Her favorite thing about the car is saying, ‘Oh, my son bought it for me,’ ” he says.

MVMT has since taken off. Last year it cleared $80 million in sales. And Kassan’s mother is still with the company.

“She’s very protective of the business; she never wants to make a mistake,” he says. “As we’ve grown, she’s taken on more responsibility. It’s become a career for her.” 

Related: How Smart Entrepreneurs Find Time For Their Families

And this has created an interesting problem.

“Now that she’s making more money, she won’t let me get her next car,” Kassan says. “But I’m planning on helping her redo the house.”

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