A Tale of Two Sons

Sam Certo has been teaching management at the Crummer graduate School of Business since 1986, but he’s most proud of two alumni.

Sam Certo has been teaching management at the Crummer graduate School of Business since 1986, but he’s most proud of two alumni (only one of whom took his classes). His sons Brian Certo ’06 ’07MBA and Matt Certo ’98 used their talent and effort—and a little advice from Dad—to start businesses from the ground up while still enrolled at Rollins. Their companies are ones locals may know well—one is a favorite lunch spot, and the other helped Rollins make its debut on the web.

Brian Certo ’06 ’07MBA

Brian Certo constructs a salad in a way only a businessman can—with a spreadsheet. In 2007, he started by developing a list of the most common ingredients found in the most successful chain restaurants. He laid them all out in an Excel document and compared them. He then devised lists of their distinct ingredients and basic ingredient combinations. “From there,” he says, “You create a baseline and deviate.”

Not the most romantic way to create a new dish, but those “deviations” have become quite popular in the Winter Park area and beyond as the tasty salads and wraps on the menu of Eden’s Fresh Co. Among them are the “Daisy”—strawberries, almonds, and light vinaigrette—and the “Capone,” with its pepperoncini and Italian dressing. The biggest seller—Brian’s favorite—is the “Desperado” with its black bean and corn salsa, black olives, and chipotle-lime vinaigrette.

The idea for Eden’s Fresh Co. sprung from a lunch out with his family. Brian began taking mental stock of the restaurant, which boasted salads and sandwiches made with fresh ingredients. He wondered if a similar business might thrive in Winter Park, and then set off on two years of planning and fact-finding to decide if he should roll the dice.

To make his decision, Brian relied quite a bit on his degree and his dad Sam’s business sense. “One thing I can count on from my dad is that he tends to make things more simple,” Brian says. Sam—author of the forthcoming book, Chasing Wisdom: Finding Everyday Leadership in Business and Life—urged his son not to make the business so complex that it’s unsustainable.

Brian followed that advice, from the menu to the operations to the finances. “Because we’ve maintained a level of simplicity,” Brian says, “we’ve been able to grow.” Now, with investments from his dad and another business partner, Brian is opening a fourth restaurant. And he’s been taking note of how exciting, yet unglamorous, the entrepreneurial world can be: When we caught up with him, he was changing light bulbs in his newest restaurant. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Matt Certo ’98

In 1994, one of Matt Certo’s professors showed students a new-fangled technology: the Internet. “I was pretty blown away by the whole thing,” he says.

It wasn’t long before companies began building websites, and Matt wondered why colleges didn’t have them as well. Within a year, websites popped up for Stetson University and the University of South Florida, so Matt met with then-provost Charles Edmondson and hatched a plan to build Rollins’ first website.

Rollins was his first client for a business that essentially started in his dorm room and is now about to celebrate its 20th anniversary as WebSolvers, an Orlando-based design, marketing, and branding communications agency that uses technology to help businesses grow.

There’s some feeling of success, Matt admits, when a business approaches its 20-year milestone, but for him total success is far off. “Ultimate success is a business that outlasts the owner,” Matt says. To make that 100-year mark, WebSolvers will have a lot of adapting to do, but they’re used to it. In a world where social media channels pop up and disappear quickly (remember MySpace?) and website technology changes at a rapid rate, Matt and his team have no choice but to stay on top of the trends.

Matt, too, has looked to his father for help along the way. “It’s kind of a reflex,” he says. Early on, he lost two sales executives in one day, so he headed over to his dad’s office to talk about it. Sam’s key business advice—what he tends to give out to anyone looking to start a venture—is the importance of strong relationships. When those sales execs walked, Sam encouraged Matt to create relationships with recruiters and to cross-train his employees so he wasn’t dealing with specialists, unable to step into other roles as needed.

Matt’s ready to get started on the next 20 years of WebSolvers’ success. “It really is a marathon,” he says. “You have to be patient and know that there will be some moments when you’re really huffing and puffing. You have to really want to be a business owner because it’s not always easy.”