When Matthew Roselli wanted to pop the question to his girlfriend four years ago, he went shopping for an engagement ring with his two friends.
The three New Jersey men knew very little about diamonds, and soon found themselves haggling with jewelers who confused them by offering different prices for the same ring, while repeating a familiar, but false line: The higher the price of the ring, the more valuable the diamond.
After a month and a half of shopping in New York’s diamond district, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Roselli found his rock. The girlfriend said, “Yes.” And the guys started exploring ways to make purchasing diamond rings less complicated.
Today, the three friends are the cofounders of Legemdary, which launched in May 2017 with plans to disrupt the diamond market.
Legemdary cuts the retailers out of the online process. Consumers and wholesalers participate in an online reverse auction that brings transparency to the process and benefits the customer, said Justin Insalaco, the company’s CEO.
While building their business, the cofounders realized that the problems with the diamond market began in Africa. They are now focusing on the African country of Botswana, where they deal directly with wholesalers and the government. They plan to set up supply chains and build ecosystems of diamond cutters and polishers to benefit the local communities where the stones originate, he said.
The three of them, all aged 29, had worked on other projects before launching Legemdary. Insalaco, who attended Rutgers University, but quit early to join the West Windsor Police Department, and his two friends founded Guidant Systems, a mobile phone application for police officers that takes the uncertainty out of responses to service calls.
Next, they founded 3BDreams, a consulting consortium and startup incubator, before coming up with the idea for Legemdary, based in Asbury Park.
So far, Legemdary has had about 10,000 visits and sold about 200 rings. Its monthly profits are between $8,000 to $20,000, Insalaco said. Revenue comes from selling settings and also from fees site holders pay to participate in the reverse auction.
Company name: Legemdary.
When did you launch the company? May 2017.
Team: Justin Insalaco, CEO; Jason Elhomsi CMO; Matthew Roselli, COO; Matthew Young, CTO; and Lisa Monteiro, public relations and marketing director.
New Jersey Location: Asbury Park.
Any employees yet? If so, how many in New Jersey? Yes, two.
Funding: They are bootstrapped with $300,000.
Markets you are serving: The diamond jewelry markets in the Northeast and Midwest.
(Answered by Justin Insalaco)
1. What is your New Jersey connection? What brought you to New Jersey, and do you plan to stay here?
I grew up in Jackson and met Jason Elhomsi through a mutual friend in 2010. Then I met Jay’s (Elhomsi’s) lifelong friend, Matthew Roselli. I live in Tom’s River, and Jay and Matt live in Eatontown.
I’m not going anywhere. Every time I travel somewhere, I think it's so beautiful, but I can't wait to get back to Jersey. The biggest thing for me is coming home back to Jersey, so I'm not going anywhere. I’ll be here for the rest of my life.
2. What problem are you solving?
There’s a tremendous amount of collusion and price gouging in the diamond industry. From the consumer side, we are creating transparency and a very efficient buying process for the buyer. Here the wholesalers compete against each other for your business through our reverse auction. And we plan to change the supply-chain side, where our mission and goal is to build economies where the diamonds are being mined in Botswana.
3. Why can you address the problem better than anyone else?
I think it was our connection to the diamond wholesale business, and the fact that we were willing to have the persistence to break through. It's not marketing when you're playing against a lot of big players, and that is something we had to persistently do; and we knew that, and we have to suffer for the results. Persistence.
4. How did you come up with your startup name?
It's a combination of “legendary” and “gem.” We wanted the person buying the diamond to feel like they are looking like a legend because that person went through this process and got that diamond that looks so good.
5. What was the biggest mistake you’ve made so far in your entrepreneurial journey, and what did you learn from it?
The biggest mistake that I’ve previously made as an entrepreneur is jumping into a partnership with somebody without really, really vetting them. But, you know, I think that’s really helped us now because, with all our partners that we’re bringing into Legemdary, we’ve put a lot of due diligence into vetting them.
6. When was the last time you thought about quitting your startup and going back to corporate life, or doing something else? What got you to stay?
I guess the last time was, you know, when I was working at midnight, and Jay was coming to my house and waking me up at 8 o’clock in the morning, and we were headed in to the city. And I had just gotten home at 5 a.m. So, working it overnight. And I think that was probably the last time that I questioned like, what am I doing here? You know, burning the candle at both ends. What got me to stay was my passion to grow the business. I love it.
7. If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?
Pick a different industry, probably. I mean, it’s a tough space to be in. Not only do you have to build a brand and relationships with the wholesalers … because of the pacts in the industry, you must gain their trust. But I love this, building up the business.
8. Where’s the best place to find founders to network with?
The Jersey Shore Tech Meetup. ... You just got to get involved in your community. Where we are in Asbury Park, we have our offices here and we have a tattoo shop in the front. We are going to host some events. This is a really an awesome space. It's not like a typical dark, gloomy tattoo shop. It's an awesome space that evokes creativity.
9. What does your family think about you being an entrepreneur?
My parents are proud because they talk about it a lot. You know, they're carrying around the articles and they're proud, but I think there is still this confusion about what do you do.
10. What has helped you the most to achieve your current success?
It's just my ability to connect to people and, I think, persistence. I mean, I keep coming back to that, but I think it's also about connecting with people because I have a good upbringing, and you have compassion and empathy and all the things that you need to really be able to connect to another human being on a real level.