The Small Business Journal http://thesbjournal.com Business Knowledge, Opportunity and Access Wed, 26 Jul 2017 14:44:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Business Shark Investing in Fine Wines http://thesbjournal.com/video/business-shark-investing-in-fine-wines/ Wed, 26 Jul 2017 14:44:32 +0000 http://thesbjournal.com/?p=2920 When entrepreneurs present in front of business mogul Kevin O’Leary on ABC’s hit reality show “Shark Tank,” they likely get a taste of his honesty and directness, and his drive for great value. Those are some of the guiding principles for the O’Leary Financial Group, which includes one of his most popular ventures in O’Leary Fine Wines. Check out our conversation with O’Leary on what drives him to provide the best quality of wine, and what his name being on the bottle means for his consumers.


Jay: Many people know you as the person who listens to entrepreneurs who are looking to build their brand while at the same time you’re still building yours. What got you into the wine industry and what is special about O’Leary Fine Wines?

Kevin: I’ve been a wine investor for decades with currently five cellars around the world. It’s been an investment that I’ve been very successful at. It started around 10 years ago when I realized you couldn’t get a good wine at a low price. Now, 97 percent of wine purchased in the United States is for under $12 per bottle. That’s why on Shark Tank many know me as the wine guy because we have a lot of fun on the set talking about it. I take my wine very seriously and much pride in not just being a celebrity who slaps my name on a bottle and let someone else decide what’s in it. I’m very involved in the process by selecting, blending and pricing the wine. I’m even involved in designing the labels. That is why I tell people who are interested in O’Leary Fine Wines that I have your back. Anything you buy with my name on it is going to be excellent. Period.
Jay
: As you said, you’re not going to slap your name on something because you’re a celebrity and hope it sells. No matter how famous or successful you are, you have to figure out what works and what doesn’t. How have you been able to stay true to that mindset?

Kevin: When it comes to O’Leary Fine Wines, I’ve gotten a large number of consumers who have certain expectations of my product. They trust what’s inside of each bottle of wine. And my success has continued even with the different variations. For example, when I released a moscato for the first time, I was able to sell each and every bottle. The reason it was successful was because people already love my zinfandel and chardonnay. Therefore, the trust they have in me is why they keep coming back for more with the new variations of my wine. In fact, about 30 percent of the people who try my wine for the first time buy it again. So I was able to build a following of people who expect me to go into the vineyard and provide the best quality of wine that there is to offer.

Jay: When people come on Shark Tank, they usually have an idea and some sense of direction while at the same time looking to you to guide them along. But who do you look to for advice when you build your business?

Kevin: It’s those great logistics through partnerships that allow for me to be able to deliver hundreds of thousands of bottles of wine at a time. It’s how O’Leary Fine Wines was created. One of the biggest partnerships we have is with QVC. When the laws allowed us to ship wine directly from California to over 40 states, the business changed forever. We were then able to go on QVC to promote our product to several millions of people per minute and immediately ship it to them.

Jay: Speaking of Shark Tank, you posted on social media that Season 9 is underway. Are there any changes for this year? Also, what have you learned for yourself from year to year with the show?

Kevin: I’ve learned the impact Shark Tank has had. It’s an incredible and unique platform that greatly benefits entrepreneurs. You can launch a whole business on the show by bringing in a product to present for millions of people to see at a time.  No other place can entrepreneurs have such an instant communication with consumers. As a result, we have real companies who come on the show looking to make that connection with consumers and expand.

Jay: I’ve had the opportunity to speak to many different entrepreneurs on Shark Tank, and many have told me how nervous they were before they come through that door. Are you ever nervous before hearing them or are you well past that?

Kevin: We’ve been doing this long enough where I don’t see the cameras anymore. Some of the presentations are phenomenal and lead to success, and others crash and burn. But the beauty of it is you never know what’s going to happen since it’s unrehearsed. People come on for the first time and we all learn together. That’s what’s amazing about it.

Jay: You have always been great to talk to and a tremendous resource of information. I’ve spoken to many of your entrepreneurs and each have said on their own how much they’ve gained from having you on their team. Why are so many people on Shark Tank scared of you when you bring so much value and such a great person to talk to?

Kevin: I just tell the truth. But you can’t be scared of the truth and expect to make it in business. That’s the way I look at it. If you can’t get past me on TV, then wait till the real world gets a hold of you. And that’s what I think is most valuable with Shark Tank. It serves as a boot camp because it offers a test on what it takes to be successful. If they can’t handle me, then they probably won’t be successful.

Jay: If there was one person you could take to dinner and pick their brain for an hour, who would you love to speak to? What types of things would you ask them?

Kevin: I try to reach out to and meet people who are successful in other sectors of the economy. There’s something I can learn from each one of them. That’s also one of the benefits of Shark Tank. I come across entrepreneurs and people from different companies who I ask to spend time with so I could learn about their industry. That kind of networking and learning every day is what makes me a better investor. I’m constantly looking for opportunities to do that.

Jay: If you had an hour today and you could choose anyone in the world to talk to, who would you call right now?

Kevin: Bismark, although he’s no longer living. He was an interesting character, but a great businessman and a great politician. I would definitely call Bismark if I had that opportunity.


Kevin O’Leary’s success story starts where most entrepreneurs begin: with a big idea and zero cash. From his basement, he launched SoftKey Software Products. As sales took off, Kevin moved to headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts and went on an industry consolidating acquisition binge. As a self-proclaimed “Eco-preneur,” Kevin looks hardest for investments that make money – and are environmentally friendly. When he’s not squeezing the market from his office, he travels the world looking for new opportunities to deploy his capital. He is on the investment committee of Boston’s prestigious 200-year-old Hamilton Trust, and is the chairman of O’Leary Funds. He also serves on the executive board of The Richard Ivey School of Business. He recently launched O’Leary Financial Group, a group of brands and products that share Kevin O’Leary’s guiding principles for business, including honesty, directness, and, above all, great value. Kevin escapes on weekends with his family to his cottage that spreads over prime Canadian wilderness on the shore of an ancient glacial lake.

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From Shark Tank to the Hottest Place in the World! http://thesbjournal.com/video/from-shark-tank-to-the-hottest-place-in-the-world/ Tue, 25 Jul 2017 16:27:35 +0000 http://thesbjournal.com/?p=2915 Earlier this month we introduced you to Pipcorn, a business featured on Shark Tank started by a brother-sister duo that is revolutionizing the popcorn and healthy snack industry. Pipcorn recently partnered with Chase for Business for an upcoming marketing campaign celebrating small business owners by showcasing their extraordinary vision and innovation. This, gluten-free, vegan, whole grain, non-GMO mini popcorn company, which secured a deal with Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran, is putting their ingenious talents on display in a remarkable effort to create Death Valley Corn, because…why not!

 The plan is to go to the hottest place on earth, harness the energy from the sun and develop a popcorn! In this interview with founders Jeff & Jen Martin and Teresa Tsou, the team reveals the inspiration behind the creation of their novelty flavors, what being on Shark Tank is really like and why their partnership with Chase is so significant.


JAY: How does a popcorn company based on the east coast end up in Death Valley with some solar cookers?

JEFF: We had this idea to do something different that’s never been done in this manner, which is to go to the hottest place in the world and get some solar grills and some solar cookers and develop a flavor inspired by a really harsh, really interesting, very different environment. It didn’t really start out as a feasible thing, it was something like ‘maybe we can do this.’  Then we got hooked up with the Chase marketing team through our business rep. 
TERESA:
  It sounds like a very far out there idea – ‘oh you want to go to Death Valley’ – but I think what really made it happen for us is that all our Pipcorn flavors are all inspired by our surroundings, by nature, we’re always looking for inspiration from our surroundings.  Like Jen always says ‘we make what we like to eat’ so what we’ve always done is very authentic and real and so the idea was that we wanted to be inspired by authentic and real places.  Through talking with Chase we came up with the idea of going to Death Valley.

JAY:  It’s an incredible honor for a business to partner with a brand like Chase for any marketing efforts. Tell us more about your relationship with Chase.

TERESA: We opened an account with Chase when we started the business 5 years ago.  We’ve always felt like no matter how big we were, they really do care about our business, even before Jeff and Jen were on Shark Tank.  So, to be able to have a huge national and global brand like Chase with all their resources, but still have that boutique feel was always something that we really felt was important. It’s difficult being a small business in a very competitive market but to have a brand like Chase believe in us and give us the support that we need, from the very beginning is invaluable; they don’t know what’s going to come of Pipcorn when you open a checking account.  The Chase Mobile App is huge for us and something we use quite often.  It has really allowed us to get out of the office and do these things that bring us back to why we started the company. What’s unique about our partnership with Chase for this campaign is that we are doing something very innovative that’s never been done before and figuring out a way to bring it to our customers.  That’s what we’ve always done with our brand and to be able to do it with Chase is amazing. We want our fans to be able to see what happens behind the scenes.  You have this new idea for a flavor, so what does that mean?  What are all the things that need to happen before that idea becomes an actual bag of popcorn that someone can buy? Along with the three-part videos we are also doing a blog on our website which documents our day-to-day and behind the scenes of preparing, coming up with an idea, coming up with a logo, coming up with flavors, testing flavors, problem solving, anything that goes into launching our products you’ll see us doing and be able to read from our own voices about the trials and tribulations.  Our fan base really does care about the story behind the product.

JAY:  How does that story come together when you are trying to consolidate the ‘authentic’ with the ‘innovative’?

JEN:  When we try to think of innovating products, specifically popcorn, we try to think of what two things would go together that haven’t before, like before truffle popcorn, truffle was just really used in high end cuisine and fancy restaurants and we figured out a way to put it on popcorn, and naturally.  We use 100% natural truffles where a lot of people use fragrance, so I think for us the innovation is also combining two things that don’t normally go together and giving you the eccentric experience of both of items. With Death Valley, people can relate to being a kid and wanting to crack an egg on the ground because it’s so hot, and in Death Valley, it being so hot and how do you combine that with Pipcorn so that you can have an experience with a bag of popcorn.  With Pipcorn we try to make sure that people feel the brand and the experience through all of it.

JEFF:  We launched this company 5 years ago in a super competitive sector.  It was a slowly growing market in the ready to eat snacks market, so for us it was really important to innovate beyond just flavors.  Everyone had a sriracha, everyone had a cheddar, everyone had a butter and we didn’t really want to do those same things, and we didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing. What this corn was meant to be is what we pop; instead of typical butter we popped organic gee, which is clarified butter.  Instead of any kind of cheddar popcorn, we do a really amazing non-dairy cheddar that uses paprika for color and fermented botancials to get the flavor of the cheese.  Everything we do is trying to be very authentic, very different, but also produce flavor profiles that people are excited about and flavors that people want to eat.

JAY:  So much of Shark Tank is focused on the tech market and creating the latest gadget for the millennial generation.  What’s it like to have something as natural as ‘popcorn’ prove to be one of the great success stories of that show?

JEFF: I think every start-up is sort of a tech company because of all the tech that goes into what makes us successful. I think people gravitate towards Pipcorn and brands like Pipcorn because it is a new artisanal brand, but also because it’s so old school.  We use brown paper, everyone knows brown paper bags.  We started at food markets, which is a very old school way of launching a food brand.  I think it’s an equal mix of new and exciting and different and innovative which is really old school and I think people are really gravitating towards bringing snacks and food to what it should be and what it used to be.

JAY:  We know the exposure of being on Shark Tank and the value of having one of the Sharks back your efforts can be life-changing, but how much pressure is there to continue proving they made the right deal?

JEFF: We put a lot of internal pressure on ourselves to outperform and to continue growing and doing new things and trying to be different.  In our experience with Barbara, she’s been a really good mentor to us, she’s been a really great sales marketing mind and being able to bounce things off of her and also having access to other entrepreneurs in her network has been really powerful, but I think at the end of the day it’s 100% our business to run.  She’s definitely a really impactful shareholder and she carries a lot of clout, but at the end of the day she doesn’t want to run the company, she wants us to run the company which is why she invested in us. That’s the beauty of Shark Tank, across the board it makes entrepreneurs want to work hard, we want to prove that this wasn’t a fluke, we want to prove that this was a good investment, we want to prove that our time on TV was warranted and the press that we got was for a reason.

JAY:  If you could go back to the beginning, and give yourselves one piece of advice what would that be?

JEFF: I would say that we’re very eager and that we’re very excitable, so saying no to opportunities that were not right at the time.  For example, we signed with a large retailer on the west coast when we were way too young, way too early and small to service the account and as a result it crashed and burned. The good thing is we had a second chance with the same retailer, but that’s not usually the case. So if I could go back and tell my 25-year old self ‘do not say yes to opportunities that you cannot do’ I think we would have saved ourselves some headaches for sure.  As we’re growing rapidly and meeting with people, being comfortable with saying no is something we’re getting more comfortable with.

TERESA:  I would tell myself to be aware of how quickly the business will change constantly.  With any small business, your strategy, your distribution, your marketing, your customer, your product, everything is always moving, it’s a moving target. 

JEN:  I think for me, I would say a lesson I wish I had known is that not only can you not do everything but you shouldn’t do everything, and I think when we all started this we felt you had to wear every hat and I think that’s a really smart thing, I think it’s good, it taught us every part of the business, we’re really really hands on, but as you grow that can be detrimental and I think it doesn’t necessarily hurt you but it can prevent you from getting to where you are as fast as you want to.  I think taking the time to see that it’s okay not to be good at something.


Pipcorn was founded by Jeff & Jen Martin, a dynamic brother and sister team. All of our delicious flavors are popped in small batches and seasoned by hand. Pip pip hooray!

The Pipcorn seed was planted when Jeff was helping Jen move apartments in the spring of 2010. In desperate need of a snack, Jen remembered these special little kernels that she had gotten a few days earlier. Five minutes later, they were snacking on the best popcorn they had ever had. Two years later (and an unbelievable amount of support from family and friends), they launched Pipcorn and the rest is history!

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Redefining Identity for the Business World http://thesbjournal.com/from-sbj/redefining-identity-for-the-business-world/ Tue, 25 Jul 2017 16:12:48 +0000 http://thesbjournal.com/?p=2909  Jabari Greer turned being an undrafted free agent in 2004 to playing 10 seasons in the NFL as a cornerback, including as a member of the Super Bowl XLIV champion New Orleans Saints. Following his career, Greer has remained in front of the camera as a studio football analyst for multiple networks. Take a listen to our interview with Greer on how he went from picking off quarterbacks to picking the brains of his NFL peers during his playing days to prepare for life off the field.


Jay: I believe that athletes are incredible entrepreneurs and work for years developing their craft, hoping someone gives them a career opportunity. At the same time, we’re constantly reading stories in the news about athletes who don’t have a career when they’re finished playing and end up broke. But with the outbreak of social media, I think we’re going to see a lot of opportunities that players will be able to give themselves showing their underlining talents. As a former athlete, I would love to hear your take on this transition and what you think we’re going to be seeing in the coming years.

Jabari: I think that is an incredible thing for athletes to get involved with. As a professional athlete, I understood that is needed to not only further market your personality, but also your brand. There are many examples of players not being in position for the next phase of their lives following their playing days. Post-career success won’t appear naturally. It takes training, meeting the right people and asking the right questions. Every player will at some point need to find their true identity to better leverage their brand, no matter how successful they were on the field. It would be sort of reintroducing themselves back into society that may not involve the sport they played between the lines.
Jay: Was it a difficult transition for you? Were there some keys that you used that you’ve given to other players who went through something similar?

Jabari: Yes, because my career ended so abruptly. All it took was one play. Just like that, I had to begin working on who I was outside of football. However, I was more prepared emotionally because after 10 years in the NFL, retirement at the time wasn’t far from my mind. But looking back on it, I knew football was just something I did and not something that defined me. Therefore, my advice to any player who goes through that transition is to understand that once you leave the game, you have to find healthy outlets to fill that void. From the start of my career, I was always trying to answer the question “what’s next?” So many players deal with that. That’s why you see many players now doing internships and starting businesses during their careers. They’re trying to reintroduce themselves while they’re playing because they never know when their playing days will come to an end. It’s only through giving yourself that opportunity to redefine yourself that you can have that successful transition.

Jay: Was there someone you emulated during your career, whether it was someone you tried to create your game after, reached out to for advice or just an idol whose brain you always wanted to pick?   

Jabari: A few people come to mind. On the business side, it was Troy Vincent who’s currently the Vice President of Football Operations for the NFL. But when we were teammates with the Buffalo Bills, he was the president of the NFL Players Association. I remember times when I would be at his house and see him work. I watched how he would meticulously craft his documents. He was one of those guys who set the example of successfully running a business as a player. It was his organizational skills as well as his preparation that was something I’ve always tried to emulate. Terrence McGee is another player and former teammate of mine with the Bills who comes to mind. Terrence had the best athletic skills I’ve ever seen. But he also had an incredible work ethic. For example, he was the type of guy who would attend rookie minicamp just so he could get the work in. He was the type of guy who would get extra work in with the scout team, even though he was our starting cornerback. Nothing was too small for Terrence. His act of true humility changed the way I approach anything when it comes to business or athletics.

Jay: Looking back during and after your career, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?  

Jabari: Instead of advice, the best piece of action I’ve ever taken would be to pick the brain of veteran players who’ve been around the game a long time. Whether it was sports or business, I just wanted to sit down and let them teach me. I remember when I was a rookie with the Bills, we had great veterans who would send me to get things for them. When I would return, I would sit at the table with them and ask them questions for 30 minutes. I would ask anything from how they last in this game for so long to asking about their diet. The best thing I’ve ever done was sitting down with a veteran player or businessperson and soaking up every piece of advice they would give me.


Jabari Greer is a former American football cornerback in the National Football League. He played college football at Tennessee and was signed by the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent in 2004. Greer also played for the New Orleans Saints. Jabari has sinced established The Greer Campaign – a non-profit organization aimed at providing multiple resources that are designed to strategically improve our communities by first improving the strongest foundation therein…our families. Providing research-based, progressive programs that assist non-traditional families, including but not limited to, single parents, adopted children and foster children, in adapting to society in the same ways as traditional families, this is a dream realized for Jabari. Through its programs, this charity for families, aims to achieve one of its main goals of mentoring young children, allowing them to feel just as prevalent in society and having them accept who they are. In its short existence, The Greer Campaign has made a significant difference for families throughout the Jackson, TN and New Orleans, LA communities.

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Jim Abbott’s Secret To Success http://thesbjournal.com/from-sbj/jim-abbotts-secret-to-success/ Wed, 19 Jul 2017 15:07:20 +0000 http://thesbjournal.com/?p=2901 The crowd at Yankee Stadium erupted on September 4, 1993 as the final runner was tagged out and pitcher Jim Abbott earned a no-hitter in a 4-0 win against the Cleveland Indians. Abbott, who was born without a right hand, is revered in the sports world for his many accomplishments on and off the field including 87 wins and a 4.25 earned run average in his MLB career which spanned ten years. Jim’s no-fail attitude and determination are a great example to any aspiring entrepreneur of what it takes to make it no matter what the cost. I caught up with Jim recently and he shared with me how his fear of failure drives him, what life looks like after baseball and what it takes to become successful.


Jay: You have so many amazing accomplishments but was there ever a time before you reached the Big Leagues when you doubted yourself?

Jim: You know I was pretty driven in ways that weren’t always pretty. I had a really driving ambition. I had a fear of failure.  I can’t tell you for sure if it had to do with being born the way I was born but I really, really wanted to succeed. And I worked. I took losing very hard and winning seemed very fleeting to me and I wanted to move on to the next challenge. Looking back that’s what fueled me — a fear of failure. And combined with a mix of wanting to make the most of all that I had been given. People talk a lot about my right hand, and honestly they make more of the challenge than I actually faced. I had talent and ability and I was driven by not leaving any of that on the table.
Jay: Becoming a professional athlete takes a tremendous amount of work and takes years of aiming for perfection. How does that experience translate to life after professional sports?

Jim: There’s definitely a work ethic that becomes ingrained into you as you grow up as an athlete. What drives you is it’s’ a passion and you love it. I loved sports. I loved baseball. Yeah it was work, I spent a lot of time doing it, but It was something that I loved to do. I went to bed at night thinking about it, I woke up in the morning thinking about it and I spent every extra minute thinking, how could I get better?

Jay: You were pretty passionate about baseball. How did you move on from that once you retired?

Jim: The fact that I grew up missing my right hand means my playing days were different than other athletes and in some ways that became a built in sort of passion. When I finished playing MLB I was able to think about the experiences that I’d had — both as a player who grew up under different circumstances and as somebody who really had a chance to play in some really cool places — and I realized I wanted to share my experience with others and mentor kids who might be in a similar place as I was. So, I started working as a motivational speaker (although I find that term to be a little cheesy). But I felt like I had something to share and it’s been amazing. Some of the kids that I met in Yankee Stadium years ago are now grown up and they’re doing incredible things and now they’re an inspiration to me.

Jay: Thinking back to when you were a kid, what kind of mindset did you have to to believe you could become a major league player despite your handicap?

Jim: I don’t know that it was ever like that, to be honest with you. I was faced with a lot of uncertainty growing up. I wasn’t always the most confident kid. And one of the things that I try to share now is how much I benefited from the generosity and the kindness of others. Coaches, parents, teachers, people who took me aside, and literally put me on teams that I didn’t know that I wanted to be on and included me.  the fact that I played was because these people gave me the chance.

Jay: Having been on the receiving end of such generosity, what is your message for parents and teachers and mentors now?

Jim: I’ve told the story millions of times but in second grade I didn’t know how to tie my shoes and it was an issue for me. On the playground, or wherever, if my shoe came untied I relied on somebody else to help tie my shoes. My teacher, Mr. Clarkson, picked up on that and he went home,and taught himself how to tie his shoe with one hand. Then he pulled me into the hallway and we worked together on those loops and laces and that’s the way I use to tie my shoes to this day. It doesn’t take much to have a lifelong impact. What you’re doing may not seem like a lot to you but it’s incredibly impactful and I can speak to that because I experienced it first hand.

Jay: I’ve heard so many players speak to the talents that were cultivated by playing sports. What skills did you develop in sports that carried over?

Jim: My favorite principle when I speak to people is belief: that little bit of yourself that you put into a pitch oftentimes was what made that pitch successful. I feel like it’s the same thing in so many other things that we do. We go into this meeting or make this phone call and get it to be on auto pilot instead of that last five percent of engagement. That’s where I think real success comes from. People may do the same thing every single day. You may make the same calls selling the same product and but whoever can put the most of themselves into those calls, into that product, whoever shows the most belief in whatever they are bringing to the other person is usually the most successful.


Jim Abbott was born September 19, 1967, in Flint, Michigan without a right hand. He was an All-America hurler at Michigan; won the Sullivan Award in 1987; was the pitcher for the Gold Medal Olympic Team in 1988; and threw a 4-0 no-hitter for the New York Yankees versus Cleveland (September 4, 1993). Jim played for 10 seasons on 4 different teams and ended his big league playing career in 1999.

Abbott has worked with The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) on several initiatives encouraging businesses to hire people with disabilities.

Today, in addition to often being a Guest Pitching Instructor during Spring Training for the Los Angeles Angels, Jim Abbott is a motivational speaker.

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Players Tackling Business Opportunities off The Field http://thesbjournal.com/sports-ceo/players-tackling-business-opportunities-off-the-field/ Tue, 11 Jul 2017 15:26:05 +0000 http://thesbjournal.com/?p=2895 NFL Players Inc. is the licensing and marketing arm of the NFL Players Association. It focuses on creating and marketing unique products utilizing licensing rights; establishing better business relationships and interactions with players at proprietary events; identifying and integrating the best players for product lines and marketing campaigns; and, streamlining player activations by facilitating endorsement deals and appearance logistics. Take a listen as we spoke with NFL Players Inc. Vice President of Licensing and Business Development Steve Scebelo on the intricacies of player marketing and building brands off the field.


Jay: I would love to hear about some of the things you look for when you’re looking to line up a brand with any specific player.

Steve: Within NFL Players Inc., which is the licensing and marketing arm of the NFL Players Association, there’s a whole division that’s called player services. There, we gather every bit of information we can on every NFL player in a database. We have relatively limited resources to keep track of all 2,000 players, especially when you have 350 or more cycling in and out every year. Therefore,; we rely on whatever sources we can get. When we do have companies come to us that are looking for something specific in terms of whatever a player can bring to help them deliver their marketing message, we want to make sure we have the best data available. We want to make sure we know the player’s personality, no conflicting endorsements and that the audience is the right size for what the marketer is looking to do. Player services will generate a list with some players who we think would be a good fit. And we’ll take that back to the partners and try to strike the right deal.
Jay: With the social media leverage players have today, is that something you recognize or even help players cultivate?

Steve: Absolutely.  Leadership is a big part of it. For players to make it to the NFL, they’ll have had to have succeeded at every level along the way. From Tom Brady to the 53rd man on the roster, all are incredible athletes that have had to persevere. At our event we produced recently called NFLPA Rookie Premiere, we had about 18 partners over the course of three days working with 40 of the top rookies entering the league. They would do everything from photoshoots to autograph signings. Some are better at it than others. But if you watched all 40 of them, you’d be impressed in how they do it. And that is a message that we try to get out there to businesses. We’ve been doing more in trying to connect players to off-the-field opportunities. We’ve also set up an externship program that will continue to grow. Last year we had over 40 players participating in companies in a 3-week program in the offseason where they got to nurture their skills and see what different industries were like. It’s everything you would want in an employee. They demonstrate teamwork, leadership and personality to inspire people around them. That’s important for us to get the message out to the business community and for the players to be set up for success when their careers on the field are over.

Jay: There were multiple rules changed during this offseason. One in particular that stands out is the celebration penalty. Do you think that’s going to have a big impact on the game or is that more of a slippery slope that may go the wrong way quickly?

Steve: From the business standpoint, we have emojis that were created for some of the players. One of the more popular ones that would get shared the most were touchdown celebrations. The fans want to see the players having fun, and I think the league making some of these changes is recognizing that the players are the vehicle in which fans connect to the game. Any of the league’s sponsors will tell you they want the players to have personalities to align with their brands and for it to be positioned in front of the fans in an even better way.

Jay: Lastly, what do you think is the best piece of advice so far that you’ve gotten that you’ve been able to help yourself with, and has there been moments when someone asks you for advice, whether about branding or business?

Steve: The advice I love to share is the importance of networking. If you’re there for people when they ask you for a favor or to make an introduction, then you’ll know they’ll be there when you need them to return the favor or not. And as far as what I’ve learned, it’s the value of persistence and hard work. I am amazed at the energy level of the players who engage with our partners off the field. Their job is still on the field and making sure they’re prepared for it. And yet I’m impressed with some of their LinkedIn pages. Check out (New York Jets offensive lineman) Kelvin Beachum as an example. He’s out there every day meeting someone fascinating. And also, he’s still a football player. I usehim as my model of inspiration in how hard they’re working, and I want to make sure I’m working as hard on their behalf.


Steve is an experienced and innovatived marketing executive with a core competency in developing profitable merchandise licensing businesses for world-class brands in the sports, consumer products and media industries, including Coca-Cola, TV Guide, the Olympic Games, Major League Baseball and the NBA.

Skilled in planning and executing profitable extensions and activations of world-class consumer brands. Strategic thinker who combines creativity, intuitive skills and experience to consistently deliver results that exceed expectations. Adaptable, with the unique ability to quickly comprehend and successfully execute new projects. Great communicator, proficient at building win-win partnerships that create revenue growth and new opportunities. A detail-oriented problem-solver and motivator who uses leadership and hard work to keep teams focused on end goals.

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Publish or Perish: The Power of Content Marketing http://thesbjournal.com/video/publish-or-perish-the-power-of-content-marketing/ Wed, 28 Jun 2017 10:42:45 +0000 http://thesbjournal.com/?p=2879 Declared by AdWeek as a “Branded Content Master Who Makes it OK to Love Marketing,” Beebe is one of the entertainment and marketing industries most influential brand film producers, content marketers, and keynote speakers about content marketing and brand storytelling. He is the founder of Beebe Content & Co., and most recently was the first ever VP, Global Creative and Content Marketing at Marriott Intl., where he led a global team responsible for content marketing for 30 brands. He created the Marriott Content Studio, Marriott Traveler, and “M Live” – the Real-Time Marketing Command Center, which won Gold and Silver Creative Data Lions at Cannes. He was EP of over fifty original productions including webisodes, documentaries, and brand films, including the award-winning Two Bellmen One, Two, and Three, Business Unusual, and French Kiss. In 2017, Ad Age named Beebe to their “40 under 40 Forward Thinkers in Marketing,” list and in 2016, AdWeek recognized him as one of their “100 Top Creatives in Marketing.” Check out our discussion with Beebe on the importance and value of content to brands, services and products.


 Jay: What are the keys that you think that makes content so valuable to any type of brand?

David: If you go back to the start of advertising, mass media was the only way consumers learned what a brand had to offer. You had no other way to find out about it. You had to watch the ad on TV and listen to the ad on the radio. Now, technology has obviously changed all of that. Brands used to tell consumers what they’re about. What has happened now is consumers are the ones telling other people what brands are about. As part of that, brands really need to provide value first. In a way, we’re kind of going back to the beginning of the world of soap operas. The reason they were called soap opera is because the product they put on there was originally soap. It was that idea of the brand is telling a story and the character is part of the story. For a while on television, the idea was stopping what people were watching and interrupting them with an ad because consumers had no choice. That model worked for a very long time until recent years where everyone now can tell ad blockers they don’t want anything disrupting the experience that they’re interested in. That simple concept stopped interrupting what consumers are interested in and started becoming what they’re interested in. That’s why I think content and storytelling is having an effect.
Jay: Is there still a balance to where better ads make sense either on their own or in how they complement content, or is it something we’re seeing people completely steering away from?

David: If you look at any content that is interruptive, I’m going to skip it if it doesn’t provide value in what I’m looking for. That can come in the form of a banner ad, email, or television spot. There’s been a shift where content absolutely needs to provide that value before anything. More importantly, we are now seeing a more localized and hyper-targeted marketing where data is used to appropriately deliver the message based off your behavior and known interest. But it needs to be interesting. I really think location-based marketing is huge because it’s relevant. It’s at the right time and right place, and it doesn’t disrupt me. If we get to that, you’ll see more engagement. If it’s not interesting and entertaining, evoke an emotion or doesn’t make you want to do something, often times it’s because it’s trying to sell something people aren’t interested in.

Jay: if I were starting a company today and I needed to start growing my audience by spreading awareness and building content, are there some basic ideas, principles or first actions to brand and understand the feedback from your audience?

David: The traditional marketing methods aren’t working because they’re interruptive. Consumers now have a choice. For any brand, what is that world what you want to own? What value is it offering to your consumers? I think that should be the starting point for any brand, product or service. Look at Marriott. They didn’t just want to own hotels, but also the idea of travel and every part of the travel journey. I created content for every part of that customer journey, whether it was inspiring people to travel or just introducing them to new brands. Figure out what people would find interesting so you can educate them and inform them, or in many cases entertain them with content. Next, you should figure out what the distribution strategy is around your content. Often times a company would become excited about a brand, spend the time and money, and then have to figure out where to put it. No content should ever have a dead end. It should always lead and take the viewer to another piece of action.

Jay: Were there any points in time in your own personal experience where you realized a strategy just wasn’t working? Is there anything that stands out as something you could share?

David: The idea is you just have to do it and you learn along the way. I don’t think any one idea is fully formed from the beginning. But a lot of people get stuck on this when they’re trying to develop what they want to create. The idea gets better. But you have to actually start the process. When I look at the first film we did for Marriott, it was pretty risky for a brand like that to make a film. Essentially the storyline was around an art heist happening in the hotel. But if you go back and look at it, we softened the story up to where it was driven by music, movement and comedy. I think people appreciated that we took that risk. From there it grew. You learn along the way in terms of length and audience.  People appreciated that it was high-touched storytelling. The brand wasn’t integrated into a story, but instead part of the story and kept it moving. You learn as you do things and what works for your brand.


Declared by AdWeek as a “Branded Content Master Who Makes it OK to Love Marketing,” Beebe is one of the entertainment and marketing industries most influential brand film producers, content marketers, and speakers about content marketing and brand storytelling. Beebe was the first ever VP, Global Creative and Content Marketing at Marriott Intl., where he led a global team of over 120 people responsible for content marketing for 30 brands. He created the Marriott Content Studio, Marriott Traveler, and “M Live” – the Real Time Marketing Command Center, which won Gold and Silver Creative Data Lions at Cannes. He was EP of over fifty original productions including webisodes, documentaries, and brand films, including the award-winning Two Bellmen One, Two, and Three, Business Unusual, and French Kiss. In 2017, Ad Age named Beebe to their “40 under 40 Forward Thinkers in Marketing,” list and in 2016, AdWeek recognized him as one of their “100 Top Creatives in Marketing.” 

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Customer Conversations and Innovation Drive Post Shark Tank Growth http://thesbjournal.com/video/customer-conversations-and-innovation-drive-post-shark-tank-growth/ Wed, 28 Jun 2017 10:38:38 +0000 http://thesbjournal.com/?p=2887 What do you get when two naval architects focus their attentions on disrupting the greeting card industry? Lovepop is the only greeting card company that combines imagination and engineering to add meaning into people’s lives. The Boston startup, founded by Wombi Rose and John Wise, was featured on Season 7 of Shark Tank where the duo caught the attention of investor Kevin O’Leary. Lovepop co-founder and CEO Wombi Rose spoke with me recently about their successful customer happiness strategy and their post-Shark Tank growth.


Jay: First off, can you explain how a Lovepop is different than a regular greeting card?

Wombi: There’s a deeper level of emotion, after the initial sense of wonder over the intricate design itself, where anyone who’s giving a Lovepop can deliver the sentiment even without words. For example, when someone gives a willow card to their aunt who is a gardener, who they know is going to love the willow, or the fishing bear to a dad in their life who is really into fishing, you have that connection between shared experiences that is really powerful and part of the reason why we don’t put messages in our cards. We really try to make the expression be as personal as possible. Those are the reasons people are really attracted to Lovepop today, and I think as we move forward, the thing that we’re looking to do based on all of our conversations with our customers is build more meaning into the product.
Jay: How did you guys handle the surge of success from appearing on Shark Tank and how do you continue that growth into the future? Are you guys creating new products? Finding new audiences?

Wombi: Since we joined forces with Kevin O’Leary our business has experienced explosive growth but that doesn’t mean we lose sight of our number one mission: building meaningful moments for our customers. In fact, the success we’ve seen from our Shark Tank appearance and Kevin’s mentorship has only helped us in our pursuit of that mission by forcing us to refine our customer conversation process and to increase our output of new products and an improved customer experience.

Jay: What does the customer conversation process look like at Lovepop and how are you utilizing social media in your efforts?

Wombi: One of the core strengths of Lovepop is our ability to have conversations with our customers. We have customer facing parts of the company in everything that we do, so early on, we created a customer happiness feed that monitors 22 different channels (including social media, product reviews, emails, phone calls etc.) to ensure that any customer who wants to have a one-on-one conversation with our team can do so. We then use those conversations to touch base internally on things that are going well and things that we need to improve. We leverage the issues or challenges that people are having with either our operations or our product to spearhead our problem-solving efforts both on a day-to-day level and on a systematic level which is an essential part of our growth as a company. Our customer conversations also happen at our retail operations from 10 different locations each day. Our designers actually go down to the kiosks and test new designs to receive feedback. We also work with a product development organization to gather more hard data by conducting conversations with customers especially on new designs to understand what kinds of designs people are looking for and how they respond to different artwork, but also what kinds of new ways we can engage our customers and what problems we can help them solve in their lives. So between those three avenues we have constant customer conversations and we incorporate that all into our strategic planning, into our product development, and even our technology development. Recently what we’ve gleaned from our customer conversations is that, as we move forward and continue to innovate, the thing that we’re looking to do is build more meaning into the product.

Jay: When it comes to innovating and strategic planning does it make a difference to have an investor like Kevin O’Leary on your team now? How do you tap into his expertise?

Wombi: Having Kevin O’Leary on our team has been instrumental in building this business. Not only does he help us as an investor, but he challenges us on the strategic side and helps us determine where the opportunities are for the business. One example of how he’s pushed us to innovate in a new space is that we’ve just entered the wedding stationery market. When you consider that the average couple spent $25,961 on their wedding in 2016 and $445 was spent on wedding stationery alone, you realize why it’s a great space for us to be in. But there’s a big difference between saying “let’s get more involved in the wedding industry” and actually developing a product. So, we’ve spent a year developing a Lovepop wedding invitation suite as well as a technology frontend and backend that enables us to show our customers what their wedding celebration would look like in paper art form in a Lovepop card as well as in the production capabilities to fulfill demand. We bring something completely unique to the wedding stationery market — something that the couple will always treasure. It’s right there within our mission of building meaningful moments for people so we’re very excited to be rolling this out.

Jay: You took an incredible risk going from being a naval architect to starting your own company, what has that leap of faith taught you about yourself?

Wombi: As Lovepop continues to grow as a business and become a part of more and more customer’s lives I am reminded just how lucky I am to be a part of this story. A professor of mine in college used to say, “do what you love.”  That’s really the opportunity that Lovepop has given me, to work on something that I love. Back in High school I was that kid who would take as many study halls as possible and then always go to the art classroom and work on sculptures and work on art and now I get to do art for a living and it makes everything really fun. Aligning what you’re doing with what you love doing is a core part of my life. Everyday when I come to work I’m reminded how lucky I am to be doing what I love and also helping people deliver their messages of love.


Lovepop founders Wombi Rose and John Wise became best friends at Webb Institute training to become naval architects. After school, the duo traveled to Vietnam where they discovered incredible hand-crafted paper cards. They headed back to Boston and put the cards in the hands of friends, family, and strangers–and watched. That moment when someone opened a card and saw the paper sculpture revealed for the first time became their obsession, and Lovepop was born. The two launched Lovepop out out of the Harvard Innovation Lab in late 2014. Since then, they were named to the 2015 Techstars class, nominated for 50 on Fire by BostInno, and gained the confidence of professional investors

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Turning Opportunity Into Millions of Dollars with Amazon http://thesbjournal.com/video/turning-opportunity-into-millions-of-dollars-with-amazon/ Mon, 12 Jun 2017 10:27:59 +0000 http://thesbjournal.com/?p=2872 Becoming an entrepreneur is about capitalizing on opportunity. After being in the tech world for over 20 years I had worked with many large and small tech companies. With the mobile space continuing to grow, my partner and I realized that we had an opportunity to create our own brand. Quality and reliability were the underlying components that we focused on to achieve our goal and with that in mind, we set out to create Tech Armor. Our motto “You Play, We Protect” sets our standard to our consumers to assure them that they can enjoy what they’re doing without worrying about their phone breaking at any time.
In the early stages, we did everything on our own. From preparing orders for shipping each day and carrying them to the post office ourselves. Like many start-ups, it wasn’t the best way to maximize our time but with limited resources it was the best way to make sure our customers received their orders quickly. After orders began to pick up significantly, we knew we had to find a solution that could help us continue to grow and that’s when we connected with Amazon’s FBA program. The shift was seamless and they took all the heavy lifting off our shoulders. All we needed to do was focus our time and energy to continue to innovate and grow our business. With logistics, returns and customer service being handled by Amazon’s team, the sky has truly been our only limit. Since joining the FBA program we’ve expanded into 9 different countries, recently launching in Mexico, Japan, Germany, France Italy, Spain, the UK and Canada. Since starting in 2012 we’ve sold over 10 million units. We never imagined being able to grow this large at such a quick rate and without the resources, connections and support from Amazon that would not have been possible.

The superiority of the FBA program however, is not in logistics alone. In today’s social media market brands need a tremendous amount of energy and resources to maintain visibility and constantly acquire new customers. With the FBA program, Amazon’s growth is funneled to us directly.

This past Thanksgiving was our fourth holiday season being a part of the FBA program. One of the amazing things about Amazon is that they can completely create the stage. While everyone packs in their deals for Thanksgiving and black Friday, Amazon jumped the gun and had an entire black Friday month! We had no returns to worry about because it was all handled seamlessly by the fulfillment centers. Although we’ve grown tremendously, our team is always available for our customers. In fact, our staff personally handles over 500 emails a day, resolving any technical support issues that arise. The connection we have with our customers is the most important key to our success. We’ve always made it our priority to make sure those relationships never slip away.

What’s interesting about our journey with Tech Armor is that as technology continues to advance our journey continues to evolve. Every time Apple comes out with a new phone we immediately upgrade our products to fit their model. Innovation is the key ingredient in any venture and the fact that our product revolves around the ever-changing mobile space brings a unique sense of freshness to our brand. At the same time, the underpinnings of our success is the fact that Tech Armor is built with the highest quality yet always at a great price. In return we’ve received incredible loyalty from our customers which is the most important component of any brand’s long term success. One of the best investments that we’ve made as a company is the time and focus on user experience. The only way to really know what your consumers are looking for is to hear it directly from them. They may not always reach out to tell you, but we’ve made it our business to ask for feedback and always respond to any comments or requests. Our philosophy was to create a product that we would want to buy from ourselves and that has been our guiding principle which has helped us maintain our quality standard.

 

In many cases people tend to underestimate just how hard it is to become an entrepreneur and how big the investment of time and energy that you’ll need in order to make it succeed. Looking back at our journey I still remember the first day we launched and we only sold two units. The second day we doubled our sales by selling four only to slide back to selling only two the next day. Fast forward a couple months and we had over $3 million in sales. Success is contingent on many variables that are truly outside of your control, but passion is something that you have complete authority on and it’s the most important element needed for success. At Tech Armor, we’re just as passionate today as we were when we first started the company and we’re excited to see what the future brings. It’s been a terrific journey and our partnership with Amazon has allowed us to turn our dreams into an incredible reality.


Joes Tech Armor HeadshotJoe Jaconi is the Co-Founder and General Manager at Tech Armor  is a leading manufacturer of mobile device accessories including Tech Armor Certified Cables, Wall and Car Chargers, Ballistic Glass Screen Protectors and the new Relax Series of next generation iPhone cases. Tech Armor products are built around the need to protect and connect mobile devices at an affordable price. Based in Redondo Beach, CA and founded in 2012 as a collaboration between two close friends, Tech Armor was conceived as an alternative to the overpriced mobile device accessories available from retail brands today. Engaging directly with its customers, Tech Armor provides higher-quality, better-performing accessories at a fraction of Big Retail prices, all backed by an industry leading Lifetime Product Replacement Warranty.

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Bullets of Freedom and the Power of A Mission http://thesbjournal.com/video/bullets-of-freedom-and-the-power-of-a-mission/ Thu, 08 Jun 2017 10:25:22 +0000 http://thesbjournal.com/?p=2867 Bottle Breacher is a business on a mission: a mission to give back to veterans. Former Navy SEAL Eli Crane co-founded Bottle Breacher with his wife Jen in 2012 while he was still on active military duty. Giving back to non-profits, military, and veterans is very important to bottle breacher as a business, which is why the company, which is veteran owned and operated, operates with a 25% veteran hire rate and its staple product — a hand crafted 50 caliber bottle opener — is made by military veterans in the USA. I spoke with Eli just two-and-a-half years after Bottle Breacher scored a deal with Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary in season six of Shark Tank. He shares what it’s like to run a business after the initial Shark Tank success, how mission can and should drive everything an entrepreneur does and also his wildly successful Instagram strategy:


Jay:  So many people watch Shark Tank and think, if I could do that, it would be the be all end all. So, tell me a little bit about what it’s like to have Mark Cuban on your team, Kevin O’Leary on your team and to tap into the tremendous platforms that both of those great guys offer yet still keep up the grind of running your company.

Eli: A lot of people don’t realize this, I know I really didn’t think about it too much, but Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary both have really huge companies that they run themselves and then they have 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, in Mark Cuban’s case, Shark Tank companies and these guys are both family men as well, so you have to be realistic about how many hours these guys have in a day to help you out. Not only do they not have the time to help you out, but you have to be honest, they’re investing in a bunch of different companies and they want to see who is going to work for them. They want their money to work for them, just like every other investor out there. So it’s not like Mark and Kevin are coming down here and helping us strategize and helping us make products at all. We have to come in here every single day and work like someone is trying to take it away from us to continue to make this place grow. We’re happy to do that and we feel very blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity to do that, so we’re gonna keep doing it every single day.
Jay: When you go to bed at night are you satisfied with where the company’s at?

Eli: Personally, I’m never really satisfied with where we’re at. I think there are so many areas that  we are underperforming in that we could be doing a better job in. It’s a constant game to improve every single department. Try and really work with and train your staff and team members to be more productive, be more efficient, just pitch in and help out more.

Jay: I’ve read a lot about the great things that you guys do at Bottle Breacher. And I know that you’ve said a lot about the mission that you guys are on aside from just running the business. Can you tell me about what that mission at Bottle Breacher is about and how important is it for other businesses to really intertwine business and mission?

Eli: I obviously feel that having a mission is so important. It’s so important to have a mission because I personally feel like if you’re not using your skills and talents to bless other people than you’re just plain wrong. You really don’t start living life, in my opinion, until you start blessing other people and trying to take care of other people. Every entrepreneur knows how hard it is. They know that their goals are to provide for their company, keep the lights on, grow, take care of their team members. Sometimes it’s so difficult. And sometimes you long to walk away from it, turn out the lights, and just go back to a 9-5. And sometimes having a mission really gives you that extra motivation: “Hey, if I don’t go to work today, and if I don’t grind and if I don’t keep working at this, not only am I not going to be able to provide for the people that count on me and depend on me, but I’m not going to be able to bless these other people.“ And so I think giving yourself one more reason, one more motivation, to succeed today is very important.

Jay: Tell me more about what that Bottle Breacher mission is about. What are consumers supporting beyond just the company?

Eli: At Bottle Breacher our main focus is to raise awareness about veteran causes and charities. I noticed as I was getting out of the military how hard it is to make a transition from the military to the private sector so we want to make sure that we’re coming alongside veteran organizations that are either helping active duty veterans or that are helping veterans in general.

Jay: Let me shift to marketing. Social media can be such a great tool. I’ve seen your social platforms and they blow up, what is the message that really resonates with your audience and gets them engaged?

Eli:  For me, my strategy on Instagram is to give people the raw, uncut, unedited non-photoshopped version of what’s going on here. That’s what I like to see when I follow other people, when I watch other companies. I don’t like all the photoshopped stuff. I want to see behind the scenes. We want to show people the good, the bad, and the ugly.


Eli & JenEli & Jen Crane are the owners of Bottle Breacher and have been married over 10 years. Eli is a former Navy SEAL turned entrepreneur and Jen has had a passion for business ever since graduating from the University of Arizona Eller College of Management in 2005. Bottle Breacher began in a 1 car garage while Eli was Active Duty and aired on Shark Tank a year and half later. They love to hire vets and reinvest in those that have served. Open your next cold one in style!

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Being The CEO of Your Company and Having Kevin O’Leary on Your Team http://thesbjournal.com/video/being-the-ceo-of-your-company-and-having-kevin-oleary-on-your-team/ Thu, 25 May 2017 14:50:53 +0000 http://thesbjournal.com/?p=2861 Surprise Ride designs activity kits and toys aimed at keeping elementary school aged kids entertained away from screens. The company was founded in 2013 by sisters Donna and Rosy Khalife. The women wanted to find a way to give moms a break but also keep kids away from screen time. Their idea was inspired by the DIY activities their dad would make for them as kids. Surprise Ride was featured on Season 5 Episode 9 of Shark Tank where the Khalife sisters turned down offers from the Sharks but later accepted a surprise offer from Kevin O’Leary on an episode of Beyond The Tank. I recently caught up with Donna Khalife, the Co-Founder and CEO of Surprise Ride. She talked to me about what her day-to-day currently looks like at the company, how to deal with burnout, and her work-crush on Sheryl Sandberg, among other things.


Jay: So what’s it like at your position now with Surprise Ride what is it like on a daily basis for you?

Donna: Right now it’s really about reaching more people and reaching more families.  I spend a lot of my time on growth, dreaming up partnerships that could be mutually beneficial and also thinking about what type of hires we need to make to be able to support our growth.
Jay: What role does Kevin O’Leary play at Surprise Ride? Is he pretty hands-off as an investor or does he play a more active advisor role?

Donna: There are two things we love about having Kevin on our team. First, he is a brilliant entrepreneur. It’s wonderful — pun intended — to work with an investor who is not just financially minded but also has experience with operations. I was on a call with him yesterday and I had a very real operational question and I knew that there would be no one that could answer it better than Kevin. Because he’s been there and he can speak from his personal experience. The second thing is, he is just a good person. He really embodies the values of Shark Tank, encouraging and empowering people to be entrepreneurs, to create jobs, to create products that consumers can love and enjoy.

Jay:  There’s a tremendous value that investors like Kevin bring, as you mentioned, but there’s so much work that you guys do that he trusts you to execute. So, how do you find that balance between what’s on your shoulders and what you can ask of him?

Donna: It’s a balance for sure, but the bulk of it is on our shoulders, it’s really not half-and-half. It’s more like  95-to-5 or 98-to-2. Having mentors like Mr. Wonderful is really all about helping you fill in the gaps and get guidance more than anything but you have to ask the right questions for it to be fruitful. That relationship can not carry you: you really have to carry yourself.

Jay: What’s been the happiest or most awesome piece of feedback that you’ve ever gotten from your customers?

Donna: One thing that really stuck with me was a question from a little girl named Sophie. she asked  us, “from the thousands of questions that you could be covering in your Surprise Ride kits, how do you choose the themes?” This was an amazing question because adults often ask us things like, “don’t you think you’ll run out of topics to cover? Is this sustainable?” Children really see the world in this very curious way and they’re trying to absorb as much learning as possible. And they’ve got that thirst for learning. Sophie’s question reminded me why we do what we do: to feed children’s curiosities, to get them off of screens and get them fascinated with the real world.

Jay:  If you got stuck in a window seat on a three-hour flight and you could choose anyone in the world to sit next to and pick their brain who would that person be and what would you ask them?

Donna: If I could go back in time I’d probably pick Albert Einstein. Learning to see the world with that childlike wonder is something that I think more and more adults need to do and that’s one of the things that we try to foster through our activity kits for kids,  just nurturing that curiosity. I think that’s something that Albert Einstein really embodied. Today, if I had the honor to sit next to someone, I would probably pick Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook. She’s an amazing human being and woman in the workplace, (where are all my #LeanIn ladies?).  There’s so much I could learn just chatting with her both on a professional and a personal level.

Jay: What advice can you offer to budding entrepreneurs?

Donna: Don’t forget to have fun! I wish I had more fun when we first started the company. When we first came up with the concept I had a blast but once we launched it things just got stressful. As the owner of a business it’s easy find yourself lost in the weeds worrying about every detail can be very stressful and really keep you up at night, which is an easy way to burn out and I think I got close to that at one point and when you get close to burnout it really doesn’t serve anyone, it doesn’t serve your company it doesn’t serve your customers, your employees or yourself. So I think I would just remind anyone who  is launching a company to take breaks, have fun, celebrate the victories don’t feel like this is the end all be all, give it the best shot and see where the journey takes you.


Donna Khalife isDonna the Co-Captain & CEO of Surprise Ride. Donna’s experience has spanned both the business and creative fields. After leaving a career on Wall Street, Donna became fascinated with social enterprises and the collaboration between the business and non-profit worlds. She completed her MBA at Harvard Business School, where she published a case study on Social Entrepreneurship currently taught in classes. Instead of accepting lucrative job offers, Donna vowed to build an organization that would make a positive impact on the world.

Over the years, her career has taken her from the high rises of New York to the theaters of Hollywood. She has witnessed first-hand the immense potential of individuals who exercise both their reasoning skills as well as their imagination. Through Surprise Ride, Donna hopes to help kids play and explore the world creatively, and make the lives of parents a tad easier along the way.

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