It’s early 2020. The world is under lockdown. Like most college students everywhere, Cal State Fullerton finance undergrads Dylan Bertalli ’22 and Josh Paktan ’22 are studying from home, with idle time and little money.
“Since I was working an unpaid internship with Titan Capital Management and had recently moved back home, I had no money to keep buying to adjust for the losses incurred in the stock market crash,” recalls Bertalli. “This led me to look for ways to make money online so I could keep adding to my trading account of stocks and cryptocurrencies. I discovered there were not many trustworthy websites where users could earn significant money and no websites where users can earn cryptocurrency. So, I bought the name EarnandTrade.com, secured the cheapest web hosting possible and started on a fun side project.”
With experience through Titan Capital Management and its feeder program, the Student Managed Investment Fund, Bertalli was ready to take on a finance-related business.
“Titan Capital pushed me because it’s all about stocks and finance. Every meeting we would have during COVID was about the market being at a bottom and it was a time to buy. I knew I needed more money to get in the market,” he says.
Bertalli’s ultimate concept was a platform where users could interact with brands and earn more than $500 by signing up for offers and trials, including an average of 3.5% back in points by shopping with advertisers, which now number more than 150 advertisers. Users can trade their points in for PayPal deposits and the gift cards of their choice. Soon, cryptocurrency will be available in addition to PayPal and gift cards, giving users even more options.
Two years ago, Bertalli knew almost nothing about coding or web design. But YouTube tutorials came to the rescue. After finishing the initial homepage design and a few other pages, Bertalli called up his classmate and friend, Josh Paktan.
“Dylan and I have always thrown around business ideas, but when I picked up the phone that evening and heard about the initial concept, I wanted to be all in,” recalls Paktan. “The opportunities which came to mind with this idea ignited my passion to work with Dylan on the company.”
Over the succeeding months, the two spoke by phone daily to plan strategy. They eventually enlisted a third partner as chief technology officer – CSUF computer science student Josiah Peedikayli ’22.
Fast-forward two years and Earn and Trade has a complete website, two interns on staff, and more than 150 advertisers.
Getting Started and Going Through the CSUF Small Business Development Center
Since its inception, the most time-consuming aspect of Earn and Trade has been web development.
Says Bertalli: “We are constantly developing products. We are continually taking user requests and developing features. For example, we got a request early on in our launch to develop a Google Chrome Extension to make it easier for our users to find which advertisers are working with Earn and Trade. This summer we hired two interns to develop this product to accommodate our users’ requests.”
During the business’ early days, Bertalli and Paktan relied on the strength of the Titan network by joining every computer science club on campus, in search of talent and best practices.
The concept benefited strongly from the Tech Dream Program of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), a branch of the federal Small Business Administration that has a physical presence on the Cal State Fullerton campus.
Says Lead SBDC head Mike Daniel ’99: “I was introduced to Dylan and his team in a meeting with the dean and two associate deans. They wanted to know what resources were available for their business. I set them up with a few meetings with our consultants and entered them into the Dream Fund.”
With funding from the state of California Governor’s Office, the Dream Fund provides grants of up to $10,000 for Golden State residents establishing new businesses.
In Earn and Trade’s case, the entrepreneurs attended a six-week training program at the UC Irvine office of SBDC, where they learned from angel investors how to establish their business, network and prepare for funding.
Earn and Trade received the $10,000 grant in August, which they plan to use to fund forays into new markets and grow their footprint.
“We hope to continue to collaborate with Earn and Trade as this concept grows to become a household name,” says Daniel. “We are an amazing resource for Titan entrepreneurs. We are all business owners and experts who can help you grow your first business, your second business and potentially your last business. And since we are funded by the state, the federal government and Cal State Fullerton, there is no cost for any of our programs. It’s all been paid for.”
“I found the six-week training program – which went over everything, including the basics of structuring a successful tech company all the way to how to pitch investors for funding – very beneficial since the program directors were highly qualified, and both were executives at successful companies. The SBDC is a great place to grow regardless of how far you are in terms of progress for your business’ timeline,” says Bertalli.
“The most important thing besides the wealth of knowledge from the program’s advisors, is the network they provide while being a part of the program. It was so beneficial to hear stories from other people starting their businesses and the struggles they are dealing with because it was all so relatable.”
To the Future
Earn and Trade shows promise for the future – and its continued expansion is likely to include more networking in the Cal State Fullerton community.
Improved website functionality including allowing users to add a profile, follow others and post in the trader’s forum provides avenues for user-generated experiences that today’s young professionals are used to and best engage with.
Long-term, Earn and Trade may feature an online brokerage firm, setting the startup apart from the competition.
And along the way, the faculty, staff, alumni and business network at Cal State Fullerton’s College of Business and Economics will be proud to support this emerging Titan startup.
For More Information
Seeking to launch your own business? The CSUF chapter of SBDC is here to help you every step of the way – just as they supported Earn and Trade and hundreds of other business concepts throughout the Inland Empire, Orange County and Southern California desert communities.