Yuri Cataldo – It’s a Gift

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Named for Dr Zhivago, Yuri was destined to be in the Arts – if only he knew it, but someone forgot to send him a memo and instead he entered into a Mechanical Engineering Degree in Purdue University in his native Indiana. However, once he discovered that engineering was more about maths than industrial design, which had been his initial interest, he transferred instead to Indiana University Bloomington to study theatrical design and never looked back.

From there he was headhunted to join a year-long programme in The Julliard School in New York and paid a small stipend before heading off to do his masters in Yale University, School of Drama to study a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) which included production design for musicals, film, opera and theatre. To say that Yuri loved his college might be a bit of an understatement.

The following year he put his tuition and enthusiasm to good use. He worked concurrently on multiple mainstream productions including West Side Story, White Christmas, an Opera, Die Vogel, and a film called When in Rome. He was flat out working, earning about $500 a week which while not huge money was a lot for an assistant designer in 2007. He was doing 6 day weeks and 14 hours days – it was tough but enjoyable.

Then the 2008 financial melt-down occurred and with it took his livelihood.

“It wasn’t just my livelihood, but established designers could not get work. Everything stopped. Even the set production shops closed. It seemed as though everything in New York came to a complete halt.”

At the same time Yuri hit divorce. His long term girlfriend and he had married just six months previously and now it had all gone wallop. This was very hard on Yuri.

“We had loads of debt which somehow seemed to stay with me. I’d lost my career and my wife. We had two dogs and they stayed with me, but I had to relocate to Indiana again and live with my parents. I was 29 and this was not easy.”

Yuri struggled on. He fought the banks. He found a buyer for his apartment which was now in negative equity but the junior financial partner in the mortgage refused permission to sell. In the end, the apartment formed part of his bankruptcy with no one getting paid, not least the intransigent junior partner. With Yuri now forced into bankruptcy, a term which still carries 7 years in terms of bad credit, he was uncertain what to do next. The fight had taken three years of his life and a toll on his energy.

As a way of recuperating, Yuri found a job selling advertising for a local TV Station. His remit was to work with SMEs and soon he found that while he loved it, he wanted to run his own company.

He came up with the idea to create a bottled water company. Yuri had said earlier in our conversation that the ground water from Indiana was very good – but that was a far cry from ‘I’m going to set up a bottled water business.’

It turns out Yuri suffers from a rare blood disease called Thalassemia Minor or Mediterranean Anaemia. It results in his red blood cells being smaller than average which in turn makes him lethargic and tired. Traditional medical doctors had suggested that nothing could be done except for taking additional iron supplements. This had not worked so Yuri turned to homeopathy solutions. Under their instruction they determined that he was lacking in certain vitamins and minerals – and that he was often dehydrated. As a result he had discovered the benefits of the alkaline water of Indiana.

Yuri’s father had also built a free standing catering kitchen premise on their land which had all the required approvals needed by the health department and insurances. Yuri began to investigate what types of waters were selling best and why. As time progressed Yuri felt he had enough information but could not figure out how to get from his idea to launch, to reality.

“Then I read The Four Hour Week by Tim Ferris and everything became clear to me. I could see a way forward so I re-doubled my efforts.”

The universe began to open doors. One set of friends offered help with the online presence, another friend, this time an electrical engineer, set up a filtration system that allowed Yuri to test the water, removing potentially harmful bacteria and allowing him to add minerals for health benefits and flavour.

“I bottled the water by hand initially and engaged remote, virtual teams to look after sales. I was a lean startup.”

Yuri tapped into his friends in the Arts and saw a huge opening in the award shows so beloved by the acting community. Then as now, there is a number of what might be considered fraudulent companies purporting to deliver gift boxes to the nominees. Through his contacts, Yuri was able to make contact with a gift basket company whose CEO had bone fide relationships with the five star hotels that housed the stars over the award season. Yuri sent her a case of his water, called IndigoH2O, which she loved.

The rest was history. Yuri’s bottled water starred in gift bags for the MTV Video Music Awards, for the Emmys, for the Golden Globes and for the Oscars.  The gift company hand delivered the bags directly to the hotel rooms of the stars. He won three international awards at the Berkley Springs International Water Tasting in 2015 where he won Gold and his water was named as the best tasting water in the world.

If ever Yuri had arrived on a world stage it was now. But in the middle of the media storm the local State government got cold feet. Just as Yuri was ready to ramp up production to meet the demand for his water, the State slapped a number of onerous regulations on anyone wanting to bottle and sell the good water of Indiana. It was a death knell for his fledging business. Yuri didn’t have the millions of dollars needed to both fight the legislation and meet their demands. It was game over.

However, Yuri being a man of endless reinventions, he was not totally down hearted. While working on building his bottled water business he had also given a number of lectures as an Adjunct Professor in set design for the Indiana University. While there, he mixed with other art professors who often lamented the lack of drive of their graduated students who could not make successful careers in the Arts.

While acknowledging that it is tough to make a living the Arts, Yuri had another lightbulb moment.

“How can Arts students be expected to be good business people when they are taught nothing about business.”

While acknowledging that it is tough to make a living the Arts, Yuri had another lightbulb moment. “How can Arts students be expected to be good business people when they are taught nothing about business.”

He developed a number of lectures which he trialled out at Art Departments in Stanford, Princeton and Notre Dame. He also spoke on the conference circuit developing real life entrepreneurial plans for art students to marry business and their art.

When the bottled water business was shown the red card, instead of slipping in a morose fugue, Yuri presented his full course plan (by now it had grown into a full course) and was snapped up Emerson College as its Entrepreneurial Professor.

This role gave him great profile and great kudos. He hired other professors, grew the student body and gave him an entree to the tech community in Boston. Soon he was asked to advise other startups, not all of which were in the Art sector. Coupled with his bottled water project, he had a wide range of experiences and lessons to share with his students and other founders

He also found his skill at PR and marketing was not confined to bottled water. He was able to get his advisory company founders onto major news and entertainment channels. He discovered he was a king maker.

Accordingly Yuri left academia to enter business full time and joined an established software company as their Innovation Engagement Manager. Around the same time he bumped into blockchain royalty Dan Lamier at a conference. The concept of the Steemit network fascinated him, although the actuality of the platform left him a little cold. But by now he was hooked on blockchain.

One of his new friends he met in this exciting world was Steve Good. They hit it off directly and when Steve decided to jump ship from traditional finance into the world of crypto, Yuri was not far behind.

“The more I spoke with Steve about bitcoin, alt coins and the whole blockchain area, the more interested I became. We then realised that there was very little in the way of regular podcasts to explain this world. If you go on Youtube there are endless videos but many of them are incomprehensible to the average punter, we wanted to make videos that made sense.”

Yuri had some experience in podcasting and had been running the AdvanceYourArt podcast for a number of years. He tagged the show as ‘’ this is the show I wish I had in Art School. Every week I interview artists and creative entrepreneurs about their business journey and pull out the tips and tricks of their success.”

Together Yuri and Steve hosted the Coin Chat show which has gathered huge interest over the past two years and they have viewers of more than 30,000. In response to the growing interest from non-crypto friends who were crypto curious they decided they needed to write a book that explained everything – in so simple a way that even a Granny could comprehend. It has taken them a year but they are on the cusp of publishing it. The working title is “Don’t Get Left Behind – the 7 things you need to know to get started in bitcoin and cryptocurrency.’

This is not Yuri’s first venture into writing. Previously he co-wrote a book on entrepreneurs and how to move past failure called The Choice. He is also writing another book, this time tracing his business career from its highs to lows. He is not sure if it is a self-help book or an autobiography or something in between but I am certain it will also be a success.

Just before we finish our interview Yuri pipes up. He has just remembered something. “Remember when I had my bottled water business – back in 2014 I was the first bottled water company to accept bitcoin. Of course, I never did, and no one tried, but I was still the first.”

Just before we finish our interview Yuri pipes up. He has just remembered something. “Remember when I had my bottled water business – back in 2014 I was the first bottled water company to accept bitcoin. Of course, I never did, and no one tried, but I was still the first.”

This man will go far.

 

 

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About Author

Blockchain Advocate, Founder, Conference Chair, Keynote Speaker, Crypto Journalist, Broadcaster, CEO, Writer Jillian has held senior positions with global PR companies in Sydney, Singapore, London and Dublin. She was PRO of Iona Technologies (Ireland’s first company to float on NASDAQ). She changed the law in Ireland in 2014 and is a former European Parliamentary candidate (as an independent). She is a co founder and journalist in the Blockleaders.io. She freelances for Irish Tech News, Irish Central, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times. She has her own radio shows on DublinCityFM and EastCoastFM. Her first job after graduating from Trinity College was as a systems analyst with JP Morgan. She is advisor to a number of ICOs, has been named a Crypto Queen by In Zero Conferences as well as listed in the 50 most influential women in the global blockchain rollcall. She is a board member of the US Blockchain Association and of EOS Dublin. She is CEO of Blocknubie. She keynotes and chairs blockchain events around the world – including Kiev, Austin, Muscat, Columbo. Dublin and London. She is a writer and is currently updating her erotica trilogy - Confessions of a Cryptomanic - where sex meets divrorce, repossession, bankruptcy and can bitcoin save the day!

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