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Throughout my career as an entrepreneur and investor, I have had the opportunity to work with business leaders of all calibers — and varying degrees of success. After time, I was able to discern the distinct traits that separated those who could build great companies from those who would be limited in what they could accomplish.
For the past few decades, I have been an investor in gastronomy, hospitality, sports teams and real estate (among other ventures), and this knowledge has paid dividends for me time and time again.
Whether you are a fellow investor looking to begin a new venture or a business leader who wants to attract financial partners, here are four traits that I believe are worth investing in.
No matter what industry you’re in, being a business leader is not for the faint of heart. Today more than ever, trends are fast and fleeting. So, a leadership team must be willing and able to quickly pivot to better serve its customers — even if that requires rethinking key strategies.
Here is a great example: Warby Parker opened as an online retailer for eyeglasses in 2010. Customers could order custom, at-home try-on kits before making a purchase — eliminating a time-consuming and expensive trip to the eye doctor. However, customers needed to get their prescriptions elsewhere before they could place an order. The company realized that this was adding friction to their shoppers’ experience, so they adapted.
Along with launching an app-based vision test, Warby Parker opened 140 in-person stores with licensed optometrists. While this may seem like an unexpected step for a digital business, especially as the retail sector declines, Warby Parker has used its brick-and-mortar locations to provide a better end-to-end shopping experience for its customers.
Now, as the $3 billion company prepares to go public, it is anchoring its growth strategy on opening more retail locations.
2. Conscious of their communities
Companies are accountable to their communities, and therefore have a responsibility to contribute to and improve them. So, when I meet a leadership team that shares this mindset, I am encouraged. This signals to me that they not only intend to do good, but they are also forward-thinking enough to understand the benefits that these initiatives can have for employees, not to mention their company’s brand.
The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation is a shining example of the impact of corporate philanthropy. While activism was always an important part of the Ben & Jerry’s company, the founders took their commitment one step further by launching the foundation nearly 40 years ago. They were so committed to instilling community outreach and advocacy for social justice that they started the foundation with a personal gift on top of an annual pledge tied to the company’s performance.
The key to the foundation’s ongoing success is that it was built to engage Ben & Jerry’s employees at every step, from grantmaking to award decisions. To date, the foundation has given out more than $50,000,000 while fostering community and employee engagement and involvement across the company.
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Despite any preconceived notions that may be held about my profession, I am not a gambling man. I prefer to place my bets on a plan — and a team — that shows deliberate thought. That being said, I may enter into a venture knowing that the plan is risky, and there is almost always a chance that it won’t work. But I believe that the way that somebody calculates and executes a strategy speaks volumes.
In 2013, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings released a memo to employees and investors detailing his vision for how the company would evolve from an online distributor to the leading producer of, and Emmy and Oscar award winner for, original content. He predicted that it would take five years of deliberate work for Netflix to catch HBO, the international leader in the market. At the time, Hastings was chasing a behemoth, but he was confident that it could be done.
Hastings has since led Netflix to become synonymous with online streaming. The company has posted consistent revenue growth every quarter since 2013. Its content has won 112 Emmy’s and 15 Oscars, with hundreds of other nominations and accolades. And, even as new streaming platforms emerge, its subscriber base continues to grow.
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At the end of the day, business is all about people — be it employees, customers, board members or social media followers. In my experience, the most successful leadership teams never lose sight of that.
Zappos has built its entire business on its customer service. In fact, 75% of purchases are made by returning shoppers. But the company took its commitment even further during the Covid-19 pandemic by launching its Customer Service for Anything (CSA) initiative, in which they opened their phone lines for anyone who wanted to call about anything. Aimed at fostering human interaction — and curbing the harms of isolation amid quarantine — the hotline received over 1,000 calls in its first week. And while I can almost guarantee many of these calls had little to do with shoes, they may have begun a relationship between the caller and the brand.
No two investment opportunities are the same, and not every leadership team will be able to deliver. But, having the right people in place — and being aligned on your key values — can certainly help set you on the road to success.
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