Marty Schaffel stands in front of a classroom speaking to students

Marty Schaffel: First-hand insights from a successful entrepreneur

In the years after he graduated from the University of Florida, Marty Schaffel (BA, BSBA ’76) took on a few different roles in management and sales, but it wasn’t until he started his own company at age 27 that he found his calling.

With $2,000 to his name, Schaffel started Audio Visual Innovations, Inc., which grew into AVI-SPL, Inc., a company with more than $1.5 billion in revenue today. In 2008, Schaffel sold the majority of his stake in the company, followed by the remaining percentage a few years later.

Around the time Schaffel was selling his majority stake, he recalled seeing a friend who had recently retired. Upon his friend’s telling of how much he wasn’t enjoying retirement, Schaffel began to panic about his choice to leave his beloved company for a life outside of the office.

“That [experience] got my attention,” he recalled. “I needed to make a plan for what I would do next.”

A story from a retired Florida Supreme Court Justice about finding his relevancy after life on the bench was just the inspiration Schaffel needed to come up with his next steps.

“I thought that my relevancy during my career was in helping my employees be successful,” Schaffel said. “Because when they are successful, you are successful. So, I thought, why not do that in a classroom?”

With that, Schaffel began guest lecturing in entrepreneurship courses at his alma mater, the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business. After guest lecturing for about 7 years, Schaffel began a full-time teaching role around 2013. Since then, Schaffel feels confident that he’s found his relevance and doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.

“Concentrating on the helping students was my way back,” he said.

Ethan Fieldman and Marty Schaffel Today, Schaffel teaches two classes over the course of the year – the first in the fall, which focuses on corporate entrepreneurship, and the second in the spring, which dissects business successes and failures. In his courses, Schaffel shares his own personal insights as well as those of other successful entrepreneurs and business leaders by bringing in guest speakers he has connections with across the state of Florida.

Bealls, Inc. CEO Matt Beall (BSBA ’01), Raymond James Bank President & CEO Steve Raney (BSBA ’88, MBA ’99) and “Wolf of all Streets” podcast host Scott Melker are just a few examples of business leaders Schaffel has invited to speak in his class.

Over the years, Study Edge founder Ethan Fieldman (BSBA ’03) also lent his insights to Schaffel’s class as a guest speaker. But in 2022, when Schaffel asked him to join as a co-teacher for the entire course, Fieldman couldn’t say no. An entrepreneur himself, Fieldman hopes that he’s able to guide the students in a meaningful way, as Schaffel has for many years.

“Marty is an extraordinary entrepreneur and educator,” said Fieldman. “What he does for the students is incredible, and anyone who helps students the way he does, I’m more than happy to assist. I like helping them prevent making the same mistakes I did.”

Despite living close to three hours away from Gainesville, making the drive from Tampa every week is well worth it to Schaffel.

“When I make the drive up, it feels like 5 hours,” he joked. “But when I come home, it feels like 10 minutes because I’m feeling so good from being in class. The time I get with the students means so much to me. I feel like I’m really making a difference with them.”

Schaffel makes a point to share his personal cell phone number with the students and encourages them to reach out if they need help inside or outside of the classroom, even after they’ve graduated. Over the years, he’s assisted students who needed help making decisions about job offers, what to do about horrible bosses, how to solve problems within their companies, and even personal challenges, like a student whose father suddenly passed and needed help making it through the semester.

“One of the first things I say to the students in class is you start by learning, then earning, and later, returning,” he said. “I’ve done the learning and earning, so now it’s time for me to do my returning. It feels good to donate money, but it feels even better to give your time and your knowledge.”

As his relationship with Schaffel has grown over the years, Fieldman is particularly impressed by Schaffel’s scale of impact.

“What Marty has figured out is how to become a mentor to a very large number of students through his teaching,” Fieldman said. “The fact that these students stay in touch with Marty years after they take his class is mind blowing. If everyone had this kind of mentor, they would be so much more successful.”

Schaffel’s renewed feeling of relevancy is one perk to teaching the students in his class but providing them with an excellent experience at the University of Florida is even better.

“I wanted to build a class that was the opposite of all the things that I didn’t like about my own classroom experience,” he said. “One of my goals, which I tell the students at the beginning of the year, is to have this class be the best they ever take at UF. It’s amazing to me how many students end up telling me it is.”