Be Honest With Yourself
Devin MillerThe Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
Be Honest With Yourself
The Inventive Journey
Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.
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don't allow yourself to be blinded by the purity of your own vision i've just seen too many people that are so convinced that their vision is pure and presents the best and only solution to a problem that they fail to see when their some of their assumptions are flawed if being an entrepreneur requires great intellectual curiosity but also intellectual honesty you really need to be nimble humble self-aware and honest so you can adapt and recalibrate drive and focus are really important but honesty and the ability to process what you're learning even if it means you need to pivot or call it a day is really really important [Music] everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host evan miller the serial entrepreneur that's grown several startups into seven and eight figure businesses as well as the founder and ceo of miller ip law where he helps startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks if you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com we're always here to chat and help out now today we have another great uh guest on the the podcast ben gothner and uh ben as a quick introduction i grew up in and around new york had a lawn mowing business in high school went to college in columbia first job got into investment banking in new york did that for about 10 years left corporate america and for about 20 years and met a co-founder of what is the business he's doing now which is space for arts started out as an online community has some evolutions and pivots and that brings a bit to where he's at today and we'll get into that further so with that much as an introduction welcome on the podcast man thanks very much devin it's pleasure to be with you today absolutely so i just gave a much longer journey and condensed it into 20 or 30 seconds so let's uh let's unpack that a bit and uh tell us a little bit about how your journey got started and uh growing up around new york oh you know it's uh it you know it's it's a series of coincidences but um the fun part of the story is that my mother dropped out of college when she was 19. it was 1946 and she she i don't know how she talked her my grandparents into this but she went to new york to become an actress and she did she was a broadway actress and um in a golden age of new york city in the 40s and 50s but in new york um she met my dad and my dad was from sweden and was living and working in new york city at the time and everybody stayed in new york hey makes sense and uh it's uh it's a fun place to be and it sounds like you were able to set down some roots there so now as you're you're in new york and you know you're growing up with the family and that's where you're at and then you're going through high school there and i think that kind of your first initial entrepreneur endeavor so to speak was to do a a a lawn mowing business is that right right you know it's yes i was growing up in the suburbs around new york city and you know like so many of us you're scrambling around for some money in your pocket and doing odd jobs and all of a sudden somebody hires you to cut their grass and you've got a business that's growing you know i look around today and i think that's hard to do with lawn service companies and things but i had a thriving lawn mowing business and it was there was enough going on that um you know my best buddy and i were very busy and had to get other people to work with us because we just couldn't do it all um and so the entrepreneurial journey began and you know i it's funny that many years later um my buddy who we were we had been friends since kindergarten um he had left the area um had been out west he came back to the new york area oh you know this is 20 years after high school 15 years after high school and he sends me a note and he and it says we never should have stopped cutting grass and it was attached to a um an annual report for a lawn service company with a billion dollars of refuge and we have we've had a good laugh over that over the years that we just should have kept going hey sometimes it's a it's a good opportunity and you should have just stuck with it and maybe you're you would have been that billion dollar company or you could have been like a lot of the high schoolers that have their their company and it never goes anywhere so who knows what the future could have held but right so now you you so you do that in high school you kind of get a dip a bit of a toe into entrepreneurship and otherwise uh get a feel for that and then you go off to college to columbia is that and i can't remember what did you study or in college or how did the college experience yeah yeah i did end up at columbia it was all of 10 miles from my drive childhood driveway um you know it's a lack of imagination i don't know i it's i was i was a recruited athlete which didn't hurt um and i was a distance runner and the captain of the cross-country team at columbia but um i studied economics and political science um and did a joint degree program with the graduate school of international affairs at columbia as well so i compressed what should be six years into five hmm so now you so you get the degrees and you come out and i think that the first four or the first job or the uh career you went after was in investment banking is that right that's right that's right um and you know at the time it's still it's look investment banking is at its heart very entrepreneurial but it's entrepreneurial within a big corporate world um and you can learn a lot you work hard and you learn a lot um which is great and you're exposed to a lot of different kind of industries and businesses no and i think that you know it's a if you get a a broad exposure and you get a lot of good experience now did you i think you worked in that industry for about 10 years was it all with the same company did you move around or get experience without different investment bankers or how did that a couple of different firms i started with um a swedish firm actually uh well not so unusual that i'm half swedish um but spent a long time with um two big british firms kleinwortz benson which is no longer which has been absorbed by other places in barclays so now you do those two firms i'm just curious you know what was that so you started out with the swedish firm and then he jumped over to the barclays what was it or motivation or the cause for the changing between firms was a better opportunity the one firm fired you you wanted you're making your sweetheart and you wanted to go live somewhere else or kind of what was the cause of the transition you know it's that um at the time based in new york um it was just a better opportunity to go work for the brits um and it was a great experience because at kleinwortz i got to work on both the not only the agency side but on the principal side um and took responsibility was given responsibility for raising and managing a fund that was ended up being 120 million dollars to invest in mezzanine securities of mid-sized businesses okay well it makes sense and so you say okay come along have a bit of a better opportunity make sense lines up with what you're doing now you do that uh you know for over the the course of the two and their investment banking firms for a period of about 10 years and i think at that point towards the end of the 10 years you decided to leave investment banking or leave corporate america in general so what was kind of the the genesis for deciding to make that departure to go or go do something else or chase something else yeah well there are two things um one is that i i really am passionate about working with smaller and mid-sized companies that are growing rapidly and all the strategic issues you know operational strategic financial associated with growth so now i'll go ahead and the other thing is that in the big corporate world you're always subject to corporate changes of mind we're oh we're going to go this way no now we're going to go this way so now you say okay i've got you know couple motivating hey i want to be able to not be subject to corporate mind or to have you know kind of those others people in control that change their mind or you'd say okay i'd like to have that a bit of an ability to leave corporate america and do my own thing and be my own boss so to speak now as you're leaving was it hey i went into my you know went into my boss one day no no prospects and said i quit i'm done and i'm leaving or did you have something in place or something you were already pursuing your passion project or kind of as you're making that transition out from corporate america what was that transition or how did you find figure out what you were going to do right um well the barclays was in the process of selling part of their us operations and i was part of that as you know this this is just not fun it's really not fun and so i had some clients that wanted to keep working with me so it was a it wasn't the grandest leap of faith at all because there were folks that said yeah we want to keep working with you dan whether you're sitting at barclays or not so off i went so now y'all off you went to where in other words did you start your own firm did you bring it up i started working on my own hmm so now and so you started working on your own and you know i assume you set up kind of a one-man shop or a small firm you're working with the clients that followed along did you also develop other clients or kind of what was that transition look it's it's like in anything it's all about networking right and somebody makes an introduction to somebody else and one thing leads to another so and in and that's exactly what happened you know i was ultimately introduced over after a couple of years of being on my own to this fellow was in fintech and um he had been one of the executives that built what was called instant which was one of the first electronic trading systems in the um that really took off in the early 80s um but he was on a working on a new venture um we hit it off um i became a long-term advisor to him um on the board of his company um and helped build that um and that relationship led to a number of other relationships um and other opportunities over the years um and you just work the network and meet people so so now you so you branch out you say okay bring along some people i'm going to network and i meet some more i drill the firm a bit and you know continue to find success there now how does that plan because at some point along that journey you also jumped into space for arts in other words you know a bit of an artist community and that's a ball and we jump into that but that seems like a fairly large departure so you know the investment banking working for others and you're saying okay i want to do my own thing and be able to capture my own but you stay in the same realm how did you train or how did your journey take you to space for art it's not as big a leap as you might have thought um so again networking right i was approached by a friend who said hey i know these folks that are starting a business and they asked and he this guy was a treasury trader at goldman sachs and he said they approached me to help them but i said damn i'm just a traitor i don't know how to help help you do anything but i know this guy me um so i was introduced to this team that was launching an online community for visual artists um and i helped them structure the business and get their first funding and worked with them for many years in fact my and that is where one of those founders is my co-founder in space for arts and you can see the head in the background there um who is also now my wife um waving so that makes it fun so now so you met the founder now how did it transition into doing space for arts in other words was that just a kind of grew out of that project or you became passionate about it or kind of what made you decide to shift that grew out of it and remember space for arts is a b2b marketplace for professional production spaces spaces that are dedicated and equipped for photo video film and tv production and space rid the previous business um was a community for visual arts professionals and with the advent of the sharing economy you sort of think about all these visual artists and how they have a space in which they create but they don't use it all the time so is there a play associated with the sharing economy and getting them to share their space in a in a marketplace like airbnb excuse me but as you look at that it becomes a really bad idea um and it because visual artists one aren't particularly commercial and they don't really want to share their private space where they create but in within that community there were a bunch of photographers and we in talking to them we unders understood that where whereas somebody who's painting a watercolor they're on their own journey and they hope that somebody will appreciate their work a photographer for example may show in on this old business may show their work as their passion project but how they make their money is by driven by corporate demand they are paid to go shoot a fashion shoot a portrait shoot a lifestyle shoot something and that was the light bulb moment that it's driven by corporate demand and by the way the production spaces that they use it isn't it very most for the most part is not shared space it's people who are in the business of renting that space they've already those people already want to find ways to raise their profiles so you weren't talking people into doing something they were all they weren't already doing so there was it was a really natural and needed um needed resource for these folks look the the way photo studios and video production spaces are are found and booked has not changed since the yellow pages in the telephone came together it's really stuck in you know mid 20th century pen and paper workflows so this is real significant opportunity for us to dominate the vertical no and i think that definitely makes sense as far as the opportunity and where the vertical exists and the how it might all play out now with all that in mind you know so you jump in you say okay we're going to branch out from the original business do space for arts kind of go dive into that was it one that was well accepted you had a lot of people a lot of demand was it one where you had to work within the comm community and build up the reputation or how did that kind of transition go as you're as you're making that or carving that space out right well look um the starting point was the proverbial kitchen table and the pot of coffee mapping it all out and at the end the pot of coffee is a bottle of wine and you're a genius we're grown-ups you know you know we had ideas and assumptions and the first thing we did is that we used them some off-the-shelf technology to go and test and validate our assumptions to make you know we could some off-the-shelf technology we modestly customized it and my co-founder went to meet studios in new york city and creative professionals and really dove into the customer and the experience and the user experience and we found very quickly that it what people were like really this is great we really need this thank you um and we also learned that the industry has an extraordinarily unusual process for booking spaces and that if you can accommodate that established business practice and we've filed a business process patent in our in our automation of that you could go from merely being a discovery platform to providing a workflow sas solution that drove that marketplace and powered it and as a result become the default solution and the system of record for the creative community but it was really important to roll your sleeves up and really know the customers and spend time talking to them then we raised some money friends and family to build the platform that you see today and now we're out for our first institutional round it does sound like an awesome journey and sounds like it's been a bit of an evolution to figure out exactly what that place is and how to position it and you've done it well and now it's uh continuing on to build into into further success so with that is that kind of now brings us up to you a bit you know where you've been and then now up to the present it's a great time to transition to a couple questions always ask at the end of each journey um which is the first question i always ask is within the journey and along the journey what was the worst business decision you ever made and what'd you learn from it the the worst business decisions have always been around people um and and and it can cut both ways right it can be making a hiring decision too quickly because you really feel you need to fill the role and get on with it but it can equally be not cutting loose and saying this person isn't working and either moving them into a different role or separating from them those always lead to those are always the worst decisions and you always learn that you to be better at doing it and better at looking for the signals and moving on no that definitely makes sense and uh and certainly is an area that uh you know people can make mistakes and oftentimes are the areas that you learn the most from so second question i always ask is you're talking to somebody that's just getting into a startup or a small business would be the one piece of advice you'd give them yeah well there are a couple of things that link together um and the first one is that don't allow yourself to be blinded by the purity of your own vision i've just seen too many people that are so convinced that their vision is pure and presents the best and only solution to a problem that they fail to see when their some of their assumptions are flawed if being an entrepreneur requires great intellectual curiosity but also intellectual honesty you really need to be nimble humble self-aware and honest so you can adapt and recalibrate drive and focus are really important but honesty and the ability to process what you're learning even if it means you need to pivot or call it a day is really really important and you get that from listening you have to listen to all the constituencies potential users customers clients partners vendors understand what they're telling you both directly and indirectly and process the information in order to adapt you know surround yourself by people that are really smart smarter than you ideally and take advantage of that i definitely agree and i think you know having that a group of influence and i would say you know people oftentimes when they're smarter just have you know different areas of experience it's always good to have people that even what intelligence like you aside or you know regardless that have different experiences they can offer different viewpoints and and provide a better sounding board a fuller approach to things give you different perspectives and different ways of viewing things or tackling things definitely can have that great impact on your business because it's hard to know everything to be able to anticipate everything to be able to do everything as an entrepreneur and so to have that or that sphere of influence definitely is makes a big impact well as people as we wrap up if people want to reach out to you they want to be a customer they want to be a client they want to use your space they want to be an investor they want to be an employee if they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to reach out to you contact you find out more yeah so um our what our platform is spaceforarts.com and my reach out to me by email vanvan space4arts.com awesome well i definitely encourage people to reach out check out the website and reach out to van if you need any or all of the above and with that thank you again man for coming on the podcast it's been a fun it's been a pleasure now for all of you that are listeners if you have your own journey to tell we'd love to have you on the podcast and share it you can just go to inventiveguest.com and apply to be on the show also make sure to let or click subscribe share leave us a review because we want to make sure that everyone finds out about all these awesome episodes and last but not least if you ever need help with patents trademarks or anything else with your business just go to strategymeeting.com grab some time to chat well thank you again van for coming on the podcast and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last all right be well thanks very much [Music] you