ShopTalk

Leaving a dream job ... by choice

André Walters at the current Yuno headquarters at the Ventureprise incubator and accelerator program at UNCC. Walters, 35, the former vice president of legal affairs for the Charlotte Bobcats, is the CEO and Founder of Charlotte-based startup Yuno.co, set to launch next month. Yuno.co is a social shopping e-commerce site where consumers can discover and shop for millions of products with their friends and be rewarded for leveraging their online communities. Every purchase made by a Yuno user is rewarded with cashback, and every eligible purchase made by a follower of a Yuno user is also rewarded with cashback for the purchaser and the user being followed. The most active Yuno users are positioned to receive up to 100% cashback on their purchases depending on their level of influence or "social capital" among their social network.
André Walters at the current Yuno headquarters at the Ventureprise incubator and accelerator program at UNCC. Walters, 35, the former vice president of legal affairs for the Charlotte Bobcats, is the CEO and Founder of Charlotte-based startup Yuno.co, set to launch next month. Yuno.co is a social shopping e-commerce site where consumers can discover and shop for millions of products with their friends and be rewarded for leveraging their online communities. Every purchase made by a Yuno user is rewarded with cashback, and every eligible purchase made by a follower of a Yuno user is also rewarded with cashback for the purchaser and the user being followed. The most active Yuno users are positioned to receive up to 100% cashback on their purchases depending on their level of influence or "social capital" among their social network. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Andre Walters likes to tell colleagues that every experience matters, as learning often comes more from failure than success.

He’s gaining plenty of new experiences as founder of the soon-to-launch launch social commerce website Yuno.

This is a second act for Walters, 35. He left his dream job as vice president of legal affairs for the former Charlotte Bobcats.

“My parents are immigrants from Jamaica,” he said. “They believed education was critical for success. I was fortunate to obtain an academic scholarship to a private high school.”

Walters earned a scholarship to the University of Delaware. He studied English and set his eye towards law school.

BET Connection

Moving to Baltimore to be in the same city as his fiancee, Walters attended the University of Baltimore Law School. While there he landed a prestigious internship at Black Entertainment Television (BET), founded by former Charlotte Bobcats owner, Bob Johnson.

“I was completely blown away at BET by the work the attorneys were involved in,” said Walters. “It opened my eyes up to the possibilities beyond what I thought I knew.”

Walters’ first job out of law school was a bit less glamorous. “I took a position with a commercial real estate firm where I learned about negotiation and deal making, but ultimately wasn’t enthusiastic about the work.”

Longing for a more influential role, Walters looked for legal opportunities within professional sports teams. Charlotte topped his list, as a number of family members lived here.

“I’d read where the then-Bobcats hired a new... General Counsel, Jared Bartie, and he’d come from BET,” said Walters. “I cold-called him and ended up joining on as an attorney with the team in 2007.”

In his six-plus years on board, Walters rose to oversee all legal matters for the franchise.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “Though an entrepreneurial spirit inside me kept growing and I began to think about starting my own business where I’d chart my own course for success.”

Intrigued by technology and rapid expansion of tech oriented start-ups such as Groupon, Walters used his off time to research and explore potential opportunities.

Building a tech startup

“I was fascinated by the notion of rewarding customers for bringing the power of their social networks to retail,” said Walters. “I envisioned a platform where after purchasing products, people could get cash back when their friends bought the same or similar products – this idea became Yuno.”

Walters established Yuno to be an online, curated shopping experience where members shop multiple categories with products offered by various national retailers. People share comments about their purchases, invite friends to comment, and earn cash back for purchases made by members of their social network.

Walters left the Bobcats in 2013 to devote himself full-time to starting Yuno. He’d prepared extensively before taking the plunge.

Leaving behind a six-figure income was difficult, but possible as his wife is a corporate attorney.

The couple essentially lived off one income while banking the other for some time. All the enterprise’s capital is self-funded or through investments from family and friends.

After nearly two years of planning and infrastructure development, including assembling a small team of full-time employees, Yuno is set to launch later this year.

Ventureprise

Yuno is taking advantage of both office space and advisory support offered by Ventureprise, the public-private partnership between UNC Charlotte and the community.

Ventureprise provides office space, business model development, coaching, mentoring, and support resources to early stage high growth innovation companies.

“Yuno is attractive to us as a client/tenant because they fit the profile of innovation and technology driven entrepreneurial businesses we look to work with,” said Paul Wetenhall, president of Ventureprise. “We like what we see in Andre in that he is bright, driven, has done extensive due diligence, and is open to coaching.”

Walters is excited to be surrounded by other entrepreneurs at Ventureprise. “I’m always learning. Every experience matters.”

Second Acts

Did you start a business after getting laid off? Did you leave a longtime career to start a venture in a completely different field? Or maybe you took a risk at age 50-plus and left a steady job to launch your own company? If so, we’d like to hear your story: Send us an email at shoptalk@charlotteobserver.com with “Second Acts” in the subject line.

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