This skill is so underrated that you can get pretty far in your career without anyone really noticing that you don’t have it or can’t apply it well. I’m talking about effective decision making. All sorts of people get through years of working; they even make it all the way to the C-suite without anyone ever even discussing this. But lose half a million in a quarter, cause a $50 million disaster, create a major service quality deficit or hire the wrong people for the wrong jobs too many times and people surely start to take notice.
The powers that be will surely notice that decision making – a skill you were likely never evaluated for – is suddenly getting in the way of your success and causing the organization to suffer.
Education Can’t Outrun Poor Decisions.
No amount of education or experience can outrun or outweigh poor decision making in the long run. The costs of bad decisions always surface and find a way to make you and the entire organization look bad. Observe the top ranks in any organization, and you will likely find highly qualified, educated and experienced executives and directors, but you’d be well advised not to assume that they can or will apply effective decision making when the moment requires it or the situation demands it. By the time leaders are exposed as deficient in this area, the organization has already taken huge hits and the culture and employees surely feel it.
Let’s look at what effective decision making is and what it isn’t as well as why it’s a necessary component of career and organizational success.
Effective decision making is a necessary but most underrated skill.
The higher up the career ladder you go, the more responsible you are for decision making. You become responsible for your own ability to make good decisions and accountable for the decision making – or lack thereof – of others on your team. If you find your career progression has struggled or stalled or that you are not getting the respect you seek, consider whether or not your decision-making methods could be hindering your success and how.
Decision making is underrated because people tend to credit others as competent in it without making any meaningful observations or assessments. Yet, a skill deficit in this area can create disastrous results for employees and organizations. Its importance is most appreciated after organizational leaders try to reactively remedy a catastrophe rather than when they should have been proactively trying to prevent one in the first place.
Very smart people can (and do) make very bad decisions.
Some of the smartest – and most accomplished – people in the world have been in rooms when some of the worst decisions have been made (think Enron, the 2008 financial crisis, the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the 2019 Boeing 737 Max FAA disasters). Then there are the decisions that organizational leaders make every day which lead to staggering operational inefficiencies, unnecessary redundancies, poor quality output, ineffective and contradictory policies, bad customer service and flawed hiring. How can this be?
There are myriad reasons for bad, unethical or grossly negligent decisions including poor leadership, the lack of decision-making processes, ego, peer pressure, etc. But the top reasons would be resistance to critical thinking and analysis as well as the lack of an established decision-making process that accounts for human biases and ethical gaps.
Effective decision making is not synonymous with decisiveness.
Organizations go to great pains to recruit and reward decisive leaders when they should, instead, be working harder to secure effective ones. Certainly, decisive leadership has a proper time and place, but decisiveness is not synonymous with effectiveness. Further, when applied improperly or excessively, it can be a detriment to effective leadership and an impediment to effective decision making.
Ready-shoot-aim. A decisive leader could have a shoot-first mentality whereby he will make a decision and ask questions later (if ever) with little regard for short or long-term consequences.
Acting is more important than thinking. A decisive leader could believe that he’ll be rewarded for quick decisions even if those decisions may do greater harm in the long run. The goal becomes to just do something, and do it as fast as possible.
Decisions aren’t connected to data. A decisive leader can become driven to achieve some predefined outcome regardless of whether the data supports the outcome or not. What is best for the outcome overrides what is best for the organization or the internal or external stakeholders.
The ego can get bigger than the organization. A decisive leader may not tolerate or encourage dissent. In the worst cases, people are punished for disagreeing and rewarded for perpetual agreement. Hence, the decider creates – rather than reduces – higher levels of organizational risk.
Effective decision making requires analysis.
The best decision makers understand that regardless of which decision-making model they use, they must be strategic about it. Effective decisions are well-thought decisions with the results or consequences being weighed and considered beforehand.
Effective decision makers are often better strategic thinkers too because their processes start with better questions like these:
Why do I/we need to care about this issue? Or, what prompted the need for this decision to be made?
What happens if I/we don’t decide on this issue? Is the status quo acceptable? Why or why not?
What outcomes are we trying to achieve? Who cares about them and why?
What are my/our biases, prejudices, interests or values? Are they congruent with the defined decision options?
Whom will this decision mostly affect? How?
What are the positive and negative consequences of this decision? What is this based on?
Who are the short-term and long-term beneficiaries? Who gets to define them?
What is the worst result this decision can bring? Can I/we live with that?
What are forces for or against this decision? Do I/we care? Why or why not?
What is the second choice/option or fallback position? Is it viable, and how do I/we know?
Effective decision making is necessary for professional and career success.
Decision making is indeed a skill, and it is critical for personal, professional and career success. It applies to all areas of the business including hiring, operations, marketing, finance, etc. And it is most helpful when contemplating and deciding on your next career moves.
Those who are able and willing to apply effective decision making to their career will better understand which job opportunities to accept and which ones to decline and which career risks to take and which ones to pass. They are better able to gauge which extracurricular projects to accept and which ones to turn down.
Ultimately, by making better decisions, you will take more calculated risks to advance your career, and you will know where to focus your time and efforts for career building and networking so you can realize the greatest benefits over time.
I am a strategist, management consultant, executive coach and international speaker and have delivered meaningful results for executives and leaders in 42 states and 6 countries across 3 continents. I serve as CEO for ARVis Institute, a strategy, change, performance and human capital consulting firm. I have committed my research, education and professional talents to transforming governments, corporations, nonprofits and educational institutions and develop leaders and managers who have the capacity to create high-performing organizations and the competence to affect positive change.
Paula Golden philanthropist — amalgamator Broadcom Foundation, Executive Director “Successful philanthropy unites good people with the right cause and insures that the relationships are long-term, productive and gratifying.” As executive director of the Broadcom Foundation and director of Broadcom Corporation Community Affairs, Paula Golden is responsible for all aspects of the Broadcom Foundation, which includes funding education and research initiatives in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) worldwide. She also oversees the volunteer activities of 13,000 employees at Broadcom, a global Fortune 500 company and leading innovator in semiconductor solutions for wired and wireless communications. Paula earned her undergraduate degree in English and education from Wellesley College and was assistant dean and instructor of law at New England School of Law where she earned her Juris Doctor, cum laude. She also served as executive director of the Engineering Center and Engineering Center Education Trust, director of development for University of California, Los Angeles Neurosciences, and vice president of the Saint John’s Health Center Foundation. She partners with progressive nonprofits, government entities, formal and informal learning programs, and Broadcom employee-volunteers throughout the world to develop STEM learning processes and teacher training that will assist young people from all strata of society to become scientists, engineers and innovators of the future. This work includes developing the Broadcom MASTERS® and the Broadcom MASTERS International, signature programs of Society for Science and the Public. The Broadcom MASTERS® is the premier international middle school science and engineering competition designed to engage students between the ages of 11 and 14 in project-based learning and inspire them to continue studies in math and science through high school in order to achieve college and career goals. Paula also oversees Broadcom Foundation’s university research funding that reaches more than 64 renowned universities worldwide and directs the prestigious Broadcom Foundation University Research Competition. – – – – – – – – – – In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)
Most everyone has probably heard of Jack Ma and Alibaba. But, few understand the true immensity—and importance—of what Ma, the co-founder and former executive chairman of Alibaba Group, has done. We had a fascinating conversation at the Forbes Global CEO Summit in Singapore, where we discussed what he did at Alibaba, one of the most formidable e-commerce companies in the world, and his future plans and aspirations.
By providing people in China with a powerful online platform to market their products and services with Alibaba, he nourished millions of small businesses — and the cause of free enterprise. Thanks to Ma, countless numbers of Chinese businesses and individuals can obtain loans and other financial services that would otherwise be unavailable from traditional institutions within China. He also enabled small enterprises everywhere, including the US, to easily trade with entities in China.
Having recently stepped down from Alibaba, Ma is moving into philanthropy, big time, to promote entrepreneurship and education, among other things.
Struggling students will take heart at the fact that Ma was a poor student, frequently flunking his exams. Furthermore, his success was not immediate; numerous employers turned him down when he first entered the workforce.
Ma’s story validates Adam Smith’s truth that commerce benefits us all, and free markets are the best poverty fighters ever created.
Steve Forbes is Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media.
Steve’s newest project is the podcast “What’s Ahead,” where he engages the world’s top newsmakers, politicians and pioneers in business and economics in honest conversations meant to challenge traditional conventions as well as featuring Steve’s signature views on the intersection of society, economic and policy.
Steve helped create the recently released and highly acclaimed public television documentary, In Money We Trust?, which was produced under the auspices of Maryland Public television. The film was inspired by the book he co-authored, Money: How the Destruction of the Dollar Threatens the Global Economy – and What We Can Do About It.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, success depends less on the virtues of talent and drive than it does one’s ability to withstand fear and uncertainty. Many people display inclinations toward one skill or another in their early lives. Many champion the title of best in the school, team or town – but talent is only a part of the equation. What separates the outliers from the rest is not the amount of discomfort they are willing to bear – the difference is whether or not they can withstand uncertainty.
Uncertainty is the fertile ground of your life. It is the grey area in which anything is possible. The wisest person in the room is the one who never believes they are the smartest – genuinely intelligent people live in uncertainty, they know that there is always more to learn, see and discover. Uncertainty is the first step of any worthwhile endeavor. It requires a fearlessness. Because for as powerfully transformative as it is, it is also the human emotion we are least inclined to tolerate.
When nothing is certain, anything is possible. – Bianca Bass
The word comfort is laced through so much advice that we share: step out of your comfort zone, make enough to be comfortable, don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right. But this doesn’t account for the ways in which our feelings often betray us. Emotions are the way the brain pieces together sensory stimulations with its perceived environment. It’s easy to see why we can become anxious when our chest tightens and we associate the feeling with being disapproved of by friends. From this, an association is created.
In their life’s work, most people want to be successful without having to sacrifice their comfort. That’s why so many people perceive “success” to be synonymous with risk reduction (think of things such as stable housing, a guaranteed job, etc.) It befuddles them, then, to discover that after 10 years living this kind of life, they are unfulfilled, drained, and thoroughly dissatisfied.
Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow. ― Tony Schwartz
Human beings do not chase happiness, they chase comfort. They pick partners that re-create familiar relationships in their childhood. They choose jobs that they believe will earn them either a place in society, or the merit of being “safe” in some way. Most things that we do are with the intent of generating more comfort, and so it is counterintuitive at best to recognize that actually accomplishing something worthwhile requires enduring that which we have spent most of our lives trying to avoid.
You’re not supposed to know what the future holds. If you know where the path leads, it’s because you’re on somebody else’s.
Human beings crave certainty in the way they crave comfort – because life is an inherently uncomfortable and uncertain thing. But instead of trying to manufacture an abundance of those emotions, perhaps consider that life is uncertain for a reason. There are so many virtues of letting things be open-ended, in admitting that you don’t know what you don’t know. People often believe that when they’ve lost their “plan,” their knowing of what’s next that all has fallen apart. They look back often to realize that their lives were really just beginning… and in embracing what they didn’t know, they found a life that was greater than what they could have previously imagined.
In the dizzying world of technology startups, it’s easy to get lost in the hype of hot trends such as AI, blockchain, VR/AR and machine learning. What is often forgotten is the fact that some of the best startups in the world solve the simplest of problems.
This is exactly the approach that Pascal Henry, who is the CEO and cofounder of HReasily, took when he identified the fundamental needs of rapidly growing SMEs–to manage their human resources more efficiently.
Henry launched his Singapore-based HR firm in late 2015 as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business that enables companies to increase productivity by using technology to streamline traditional processes such as payroll processing, leave management and expense claims.
“When I was running my first startup in Singapore, I had to do a lot of the manual processes myself. I felt the pain and the drain of it,” explains Henry. “It was taking up a lot of my time and energy, when I should have been focusing on building my business.”
HReasily’s mission is simple: To innovate and automate HR throughout the world. As one of the fastest-growing cloud-based HR SaaS companies in the region, their simple modules and features aim to transform many of the legacy HR processes and automate them to be accessible anytime and anywhere. Currently the company offers seven modules including payroll, staff leave, employee contracts and attendance. As HReasily grows, it continues to add product lines aimed at empowering companies to scale faster.
Previously, many businesses used solutions that each looked after a particular silo of an HR department. So you’d have one system to manage your payroll calculations, one for leave and others for other functions.
“What happened was you had to log in and out of many various systems, and these systems cost a huge amount of money,” says Henry. “What we’ve done is build a solution that is very affordable that integrates with all the functions on a unified platform.”
A simple but elegant business model HReasily runs a subscription-based revenue model. Starting with payroll, which is at the core of every traditional HR office, the company offers premium versions that run on monthly or yearly subscriptions, with add-on modules available such as staff leave and time attendance. This past summer at the RISE 2019 conference in Hong Kong, Henry and his team unveiled their latest benefits management module which will soon allow customers to acquire group level insurance, healthcare and even apply for credit cards or loans.
HReasily says its competitive advantage lies in its customer base, which is mostly SMEs. By initially focusing on the fundamental needs of this particular segment, the company has earned the support of larger banking and government agencies and has become known as an “SME champion.” Not surprisingly, as the company has grown it says that it began to attract larger corporations, publicly listed companies, multinational corporations and even payroll outsourcing firms.
“As we grew we acquired a more diverse customer base,” Henry says, “because a lot of larger companies are tired of the older and expensive solutions because they need to be installed on premise and they require a refresher every year when rules and regulations change.”
Partnerships are the key to rapid growth
Being based in Singapore has allowed HReasily to capitalize on the rapid growth in Southeast Asia. SME’s account for 97% of all the enterprises in the region, and employ half of the workforce, according to data from Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). HReasily’s growth has been nothing short of impressive. With nearly 30,000 companies on their platform and more than 100 new companies onboarding every day, HReasily is said to be growing rapidly in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Some of HReasily’s notable customers include Love Bonito (in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Hong Kong), Sambat Finance (Cambodia), OnlinePajak (Indonesia) and TechInAsia. As the company looks to complete their coverage of Asia, the next major market they look to tackle is mainland China followed by Taiwan, Japan, Myanmar and Australia.
Investors have taken notice of the company’s growth as well. Fresh off a pre-series A funding round of $5 million from Envy Capital, HReasily is currently estimated to be valued at more than $100 million. Henry admits that the company’s rapid growth in the region has only been possible with the early support from their key strategic partners.
HReasily has been working with Citibank, Mazars and Stripe. The partnership with Mazars, which was a lead investor from the startup’s first round of funding, gives them access to a global audit, advisory and payroll outsourcing firm with 300 offices in 100 countries. Henry says it allows HReasily to localize its solutions to each individual market.
“Today, building a solid ecosystem of strategic partners is very important because you come from different angles, but you all serve one customer, which is the SME or the business,” says Henry. “By coming together, we collectively create a great end-to-end experience for them. There’s strength in numbers.”
Jay Kim is a full-time investor and the host of the popular podcast The Jay Kim Show, Hong Kong’s first dedicated podcast on entrepreneurship and investing in Asia. Inc. Magazine has named The Jay Kim Show one of the top three podcasts from Asia which are inspirational and useful to entrepreneurs. Jay is an avid supporter of the start-up ecosystem in Asia and frequently consults with leaders in local government on topics related to technology, entrepreneurship, early-stage investing and startups
Is your administration work taking too much out of your time? HReasily provides HR solutions for payroll processing, leave and claims management, employee scheduling and time attendance, so that business owners can focus on growing their businesses.
When it comes to business, Harris would rather listen to her own instincts than to advice from well-meaning MBAs: “If they knew exactly how to do it, they’d be doing it,” she says. “We’re learning as we go, and trusting our gut has been the best lesson so far.” Here, Harris holds a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast–scoby for short–which ferments kombucha.
After Ashley Harris and her family began experimenting with probiotics at a doctor’s recommendation, they saw digestive issues clear up, eczema disappear, and moods improve. She wanted to help other families overcome similar ailments, so in 2015 she founded LoveBug Probiotics, a New York City-based supplements business that grew its revenue 2,621 percent in three years, and landed deals with major retailers like Target and CVS.Despite having limited business experience, here’s how she pulled from her previous career as a 19th-century European paintings specialist at Sotheby’s to get LoveBug started. –As told to Anna Meyer
We launched selling our products on Amazon and on our website. But those early days were tough. The space is competitive, and my startup didn’t have the kind of budget for marketing that other probiotic companies have.
With my art background, I focused on creating bold-colored packaging and tongue-in-cheek branding messages like “Feel good from the inside out” and “Yeast is a beast.” It helped us stand out among competitors that had very clinical marketing and branding. Our approach resonated with customers, and incoming positive Amazon reviews helped more and more eyes land on our page. By the end of that first year, my startup took in around $115,000 in revenue.
In 2016, my instincts and art background served me again: I traveled to Anaheim, California to an industry trade show, Natural Products Expo West, to create an over-the-top display booth with Ikea furniture and bookcases that I put together on the spot. Throwing a corporate banner over a folding table wasn’t going to cut it. Compared to the bland, run-of-the-mill corporate booths around us, we stood out and buyers from national retailers all came looking, and after hearing my story, became interested in doing business.
Fast forward three years, and by the end of 2018, I grew the brand 2,621 percent, landed deals with national retailers like Target and CVS, put product through the doors of more than 10,000 retail locations, and brought in over $3.1 million in revenue in 2018.
As a first time founder with a background in art and literature, a lot of well-meaning people with MBAs told me how I should run my business. I felt pressured to listen to them, but I learned to trust my own instincts. If they knew exactly how to do it, they’d be doing it. My team and I are learning as we go, and trusting our gut has been the best lesson so far.
In addition to growing my business, I like to experiment with fermenting probiotic-rich foods in my own kitchen. From wild yeast in a homemade bread starter that produces an insanely satisfying sourdough bread, to lacto-fermented pickled vegetables that add the needed balance to a dish, or to the yeast and grape fermentation that makes a varietal of wines–fermenting has been a joy to experiment with.
Fermentation requires balancing acidity, temperature, and time, and I’ve grown to view my business the same way. It’s not just about how fast you can scale, it’s about putting the right things in and letting it grow.
After the review, check out our list of the 10 Probiotic Supplements! http://www.probioticsguide.com Want to know what I think of this probiotic? This is an in depth review of Lovebug Probiotics. See what real experts and actual users have to say about this probiotic supplement! People are always asking me which probiotic is best. In this review I’ll go over everything you need to know about this one. Here’s a breakdown of what I’ll cover: First, I’ll give you my overall rating of the product based on how it compares to all the other probiotics I’ve tried. You don’t want to miss this part! Then, I’ll tell you how easy or difficult it is to use. This includes the size of the pills, the taste and what form they come in. There are so many options nowadays, so I break it down for you. Next, I talk about the ingredients and strain profile. There are many strains out there and they all target different things. At the end of my Lovebug Probiotics review I’ll go over any side effects I got while using the probiotic. These include both positive and negative things I experienced. To sum it up, if you want to learn all about this probiotic, I’d recommend checking out the full video. Here’s our list of the 10 best probiotics! http://www.probioticsguide.com/best-p…
The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that millennials are projected to outnumber Baby Boomers as the largest living adult generation in America. With the millennial generation making up such a huge portion of American consumers, it is imperative that companies understand how to effectively market products and services to this group. For this generation, social media has become an integral part of their lives. Many companies have taken notice and are using social media to craft their marketing strategies, however, many organizations struggle to understand and determine how to successfully capture the attention of millennial consumers.
One person that companies can learn a lot from is MarQuis Trill, a social media influencer, investor, and entrepreneur who has figured out how to authentically gain and capture the attention of young audiences. MarQuis made his social media debut on Myspace in 2003, at the tender age of 12. In 2017, he was listed as one of the most influential people on the internet. Now, through his social media platforms, MarQuis reaches millions of people every month, with a large percentage of his audience being millennials and Generation Z. After deciphering the formula for success, MarQuis started an agency called Entertainment 258, which is focused on helping businesses, influencers, athletes and artists develop and expand their brands. What are companies getting wrong when it comes to millennial marketing strategies?
How does MarQuis keep his audience engaged? What are some best practices when it comes to millennial marketing on social media? MarQuis sat down with Forbes to discuss these questions and more.
Janice Gassam: Who is MarQuis Trill? How did you develop such a huge following on social media?
MarQuis Trill: It basically developed in college. I went to Prairie View A&M University on a full-ride scholarship. I had a chance to go to other big schools like Baylor, Texas A&M, USC…but I decided to go to an HBCU, just to change the culture…once I started attending the school, I saw the culture of the community. I went from playing basketball to [be] an artist, to [be] a promoter online and it just grew from there. I always had that marketing strategy inside me and my school kind of just brought that out of me.
Gassam: What are some mistakes that companies make when it comes to branding and marketing to millennials?
Trill: I think companies are getting things wrong, first, inside the company itself. They’re hiring people that are not a part of the culture—that’s the first thing. Everything we see on TV is a copy. We’ve seen multiple videos, multiple commercials from our favorite influencers. The people that work in those places are copying exactly what the millennials are doing, instead of coming to us and collaborating with us and actually hiring us and giving us jobs…instead of paying an influencer, how about hiring an influencer? It should start inside.
Second…I call it ‘camouflage marketing.’ And what camouflage marketing is, is when you’re marketing something, but it’s not focused on the actual brand. So that could be merchandise, that could be accessories, that could be sponsorships, that could be a flash of your logo…I think they should focus more on that, and creating cool content…collaborations, collaborations, collaborations. As time goes on, a 13-year-old turns 21…you always have to change…you always have to connect with the millennials and with the new generation.
If you don’t do that, you’re going to be disconnected. Once you become disconnected, it doesn’t matter if you’re a million-dollar company or a billion-dollar company—you’re going to lose revenue dollars…that’s what I feel a lot of companies are missing. You don’t necessarily have to hire someone, like a kid, to be the CMO of your entire company, just a collaboration or maybe you can give them a smaller job where they are just over marketing strategies for Instagram…all you need is five millennials in the office space for Twitter and Instagram and you’re going to have a hundred thousand followers, a million followers and they’re going to run it all for you…they don’t need big budgets because they’re young kids and as time goes on and they start doing more for your company, you’ll be able to pay them anyway.
Gassam: What are some trends you anticipate on social media when it comes to millennial marketing?
Trill: Well…it’s always something new and something fresh…what I try to focus on is fast news and fast content. That’s where you’ll get most of the engagement and most of your following from. That’s how I grew my following originally. I was taking videos from YouTube and putting them on Twitter. I was taking videos from Facebook and putting them on Twitter because different platforms have different videos and different followings. Something that’s been posted on YouTube probably hasn’t been seen by the people on Twitter…Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, they don’t all have the same following.
Different people get on different platforms because they like the functionalities of that platform. Kids that are on TikTok might not necessarily be on Twitter. People that are on Snapchat might not necessarily use Instagram all the time. That’s what people fail to realize. Every single influencer, they may not have every single social media platform. That’s where a lot of people miss out on…Twitter is for news information and text. Instagram is for pictures. Snapchat is for, right there on-the-spot videos. Basically, live videos…TikTok, [for] six seconds dancing. You have to be creative…young kids are on [TikTok] all the way from eight years old all the way up to 21.
Gassam: So, companies need to learn that they can’t post the same social media content on every single platform and expect it to stick?
Trill: Exactly. They also have to use camouflage marketing. Using influencers, creating dope content that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with their products. They can flash the product in between the content or at the end or the person that’s inside the content can actually say the product. It can be a one-minute music video and five seconds out of the music video, that artist is pouring cheerios…he’s not necessarily saying ‘I eat cheerios.’ Now the consumer and the person that is watching the content, they’re smarter now…they know what’s fake, they know what’s an ad now…with the rules and everything you even have to put ‘ad’ or ‘promo’. So now, when you put that, your engagement goes down even more…you have to do it in a camouflage sense.
Gassam: Is there a social media platform you would recommend companies use when marketing to millennials?
Trill: It depends on what their product or service is. If you’re selling merch, I would definitely say go with Instagram and YouTube. If you’re already a super known company, I would say go with Twitter because the engagement there reaches faster…you get more retweets, you get more favorites, more impressions. If you’re trying to sell anything, if you’re trying to become a brand yourself, if you’re trying to conquer a market, I would say use YouTube because Google owns YouTube and they create all [the] SEO that’s on the internet…when you search something like ‘how to dance,’ whoever made a video on ‘how to dance’ on YouTube, that’s what’s going to pop up for a search and that’s free marketing, free viewership for the person, influencers or brand that made that video. Now content is becoming the search. That goes for marketing and branding as well.
Gassam: How can companies stand out to millennials on social media?
Trill: They should be more direct with the consumer. The consumer is getting smarter because they’ve seen so much content, so they can tell if something is fake, something is real, something is being promoted and they won’t engage as much to it. If the consumer and the people that are selling products, if they intertwine and they come more direct with people that are in the communities…then that’s when you start getting more product sales and more distribution in your product. I wouldn’t buy anything that I’m not tapped into or that I didn’t see anyone else wearing.
iPhone is hot because everyone has an iPhone, not because it’s the best phone…they keep developing different products. They have apps, they have iTunes, they have podcasts…they’re tapped into every culture…they’re basically competing against themselves…subscription-based is what’s coming next. AR is coming next, virtual reality is coming next. And these are the things that these companies need to focus on…someone will always develop something new; someone will always come up with something that’s greater than the other platforms.
Gassam: Popeyes recently came out with a very successful marketing campaign for their new chicken sandwich. Should companies copy these campaigns in order to be successful? In regard to the millennial consumer, do you think controversy sells?
Trill: I wouldn’t say copy. But they should come up with their own strategy. Once you see something so much, you are making the consumer smarter. Your next marketing campaign is going to have to be harder.
I think controversy is always great…but if you’re deliberately doing things on purpose and expecting a great outcome, nine times out of ten, it might not go your way. But if you have a whole marketing strategy behind it and if you know exactly what you’re doing and where you’re trying to go, then it’s definitely going to work…we don’t have to pay for press.
This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
To learn more about MarQuis, visit his website or connect with him on Instagram.
I grew up in five different states and across two continents, which was the catalyst to my interest in diversity. My ultimate goal is to help leaders infuse more love into the workplace, creating a culture that is more equitable and productive. Currently, I work as a professor at Sacred Heart University, teaching courses in management. In addition, I am a consultant, helping organizations create a more inclusive environment. I earned a Ph.D. in applied organizational psychology from Hofstra University, and I enjoy conducting research in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, hiring, selection, and leadership.
Orlando Bravo discovered his edge early. In 1985, at age 15, he traveled from his home in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, a small town on the island’s western coast, to Bradenton, Florida, to enroll in the legendary tennis guru Nick Bollettieri’s grueling academy.
Bravo would wake at dawn, head to class at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, then return to Bollettieri’s tennis courts at noon. He spent hours warring against peers like Andre Agassi and Jim Courier under the broiling sun. At sundown, after an hour to shower and eat, he would study, then retire to a sweaty, two-bedroom condominium in which players bunked four to a room like army barracks. Then he would do it all over again, six days a week, for a full year. “It was the tennis version of Lord of the Flies,” says his former roommate Courier.
The brutally competitive environment helped Bravo climb to a top-40 ranking in the U.S. as a junior. Then he peaked. “It was quite humbling,” recalls Bravo, who’s still fit from his weekly tennis games. “It was a different level of hard work altogether. It became clear I could operate at these super-high levels of pain.”
That grit and perseverance eventually propelled him to the top echelons of the private equity world. Few outside of finance have heard of the 49-year-old Bravo, but he is the driving force behind Wall Street’s hottest firm, the $39 billion (assets) Thoma Bravo.
In February, the French business school HEC Paris, in conjunction with Dow Jones, named Thoma Bravo the best-performing buyout investor in the world after studying 898 funds raised between 2005 and 2014. According to public data analyzed by Forbes, its funds returned 30% net annually, far better than famous buyout firms like KKR, Blackstone and Apollo Global Management. That’s even better than the returns from the software buyout firm Vista Equity Partners, its closest rival, run by Robert F. Smith, the African American billionaire who recently made headlines by paying off the college debt of Morehouse College’s entire graduating class. Since the beginning of 2015, Bravo has sold or listed 25 investments worth a total of $20 billion, four times their cost. His secret? He invests only in well-established software companies, especially those with clearly discernible moats.
“The economics of software were just so powerful. It was like no other industry I had ever researched,” says Bravo, seated in his office in San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid. He wears a tailored purple dress shirt and enunciates his words with a slight Puerto Rican accent. “It was just very obvious.”
Bravo’s firm has done 230 software deals worth over $68 billion since 2003 and presently oversees a portfolio of 38 software companies that generate some $12 billion in annual revenue and employ 40,000 people. Forbes estimates the value of the firm, which is owned entirely by Bravo and a handful of his partners, at $7 billion. Based on his stake in the firm and his cash in its funds, Bravo has a $3 billion fortune. Not only does that make him the first Puerto Rican-born billionaire, it’s enough for Bravo to debut at 287th place on this year’s Forbes 400 ranking of the richest Americans.
Like a good tennis player who’s worked relentlessly on his ground strokes, Bravo has made private equity investing look simple. There are no complicated tricks. He figured out nearly two decades ago that software and private equity were an incredible combination. Since then, Bravo has never invested elsewhere, instead honing his strategy and technique deal after deal. He hunts for companies with novel software products, like Veracode, a Burlington, Massachusetts-based maker of security features for coders, or Pleasanton, California-based Ellie Mae, the default system among online mortgage lenders, which the firm picked up for $3.7 billion in April. His investments typically have at least $150 million in sales from repeat customers and are in markets that are too specialized to draw the interest of giants like Microsoft and Google. Bravo looks to triple their size with better operations, and by the time he strikes, he’s already mapped out an acquisition or turnaround strategy.
The pool of potential deals is growing. On public markets, there are now more than 75 subscription software companies, worth nearly $1 trillion, that Bravo can target, versus fewer than 20, worth less than $100 billion, a decade ago. Investors around the world clamor to get into his firm’s funds, and lenders have checkbooks ready to finance his next big deal. “The opportunities today are the biggest I’ve ever seen,” Bravo says. “Right now we are in a huge, exploding and changing industry.”
Orlando Bravo’s isn’t a rags-to-riches story. He was born into a privileged life in Puerto Rico in the Spanish colonial city of Mayagüez, which for decades was the port for tuna fishing vessels supplying the local Starkist, Neptune and Bumble Bee canneries.
Starting in 1945, his grandfather Orlando Bravo, and later his father, Orlando Bravo Sr., ran Bravo Shipping, which acted as an agent for the massive tuna-fishing factory ships entering the port in Mayagüez. It was a lucrative business. His parents moved him and his younger brother Alejandro to what’s now a gated community in the hills of Mayagüez, where the brothers attended private schools and tooled about on the family’s 16-foot motorboat.
After taking up tennis at age 8, practicing on the courts of a local university and a Hilton hotel, Bravo and his family began making the two-and-a-half-hour drive from their home to San Juan on weekends to allow him to train against better competition. “What I loved about tennis was the opportunity,” he recalls. “I’m from Mayagüez, and I’m going to come to the big city and I’m going to make it,” he says. “Let’s go! The underdog!”
He quickly became one of Puerto Rico’s top players, which landed him at Bollettieri’s academy and then on Brown University’s tennis team. “I was so scared I wouldn’t make it through,” Bravo says of the Ivy League, so he took most classes pass/fail as a college freshman. But he quickly found his footing and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1992 with degrees in economics and political science. That helped him get a prestigious job as an analyst in Morgan Stanley’s mergers and acquisitions department. There he paid his dues, clocking 100-hour weeks under the renowned dealmaker Joseph Perella.
“I learned I didn’t want to invest in risky things ever again. It was too painful.”
Bravo’s Spanish fluency put him in front of clients as other analysts slaved away in data rooms. Working on Venezuelan billionaire Gustavo Cisneros’ 1993 acquisition of Puerto Rican supermarket chain Pueblo Xtra International opened his eyes to the world of buyouts. But mostly he says he learned he didn’t want to be a banker.
Bravo eventually headed west to Stanford University. He’d already been accepted into its law school, but he also wanted to attend the business school. He called insistently and eventually got accepted to pursue both. He worked during a summer at Seaver Kent, a Menlo Park, California-based joint venture with David Bonderman’s Texas Pacific Group that specialized in middle market deals. Upon graduation in 1998, Bravo wasn’t offered a position there or at TPG, and he spent months cold-calling for a job. After about a hundred calls, Bravo’s résumé caught the eye of Carl Thoma, a founding partner of the Chicago-based private equity firm Golder, Thoma, Cressey, Rauner (now known as GTCR), and they hit it off. “The biggest mistake Texas Pacific made was…that they didn’t make him a job offer,” says Thoma, 71, who Forbes estimates is also a billionaire based on an analysis of public filings.
One of the pioneers of the private equity industry in the 1970s, Thoma is a tall and mild-mannered Oklahoman whose parents were ranchers. Thoma and his partners practiced a friendlier version of the buyouts popularized by Michael Milken, preferring to buy small businesses and expand them using acquisitions. When Bravo came aboard in 1998, Thoma and partner Bryan Cressey had just split from Stanley Golder and Bruce Rauner, who later went on to become governor of Illinois, creating Thoma Cressey. Thoma sent Bravo to San Francisco to hunt for investments and eventually expand the firm’s Bay Area presence.
Bravo’s first few deals, struck before he turned 30, were disasters. He backed two website design startups, NerveWire and Eclipse Networks, just as the dot-com bubble popped. The two lost most of the $100 million Bravo invested. “I learned I didn’t want to invest in risky things ever again,” Bravo says. “It was too painful to live through.” Thoma Cressey was also struggling elsewhere, with underperforming investments in oil and gas and telecommunications. It was among the worst performers in the private equity industry at the time.
“Every time we picked up our heads to peek at a deal that wasn’t software, the software deal looked a lot better to us.”
But the failure led to an epiphany that soon made Bravo and his partners billions. He realized his mistake was in backing startup entrepreneurs, an inherently risky move, when for the same money he could buy established companies selling niche software to loyal customers. With Thoma’s blessing, Bravo pivoted and became an expert on these arcane firms. Coming out of the dot-com bust, the market was littered with foundering companies that had gone public during the bubble and had few interested buyers. Bravo got to work. His first big move, in 2002, was to buy Prophet 21, a Yardley, Pennsylvania-based software provider to distributors in the healthcare and manufacturing sectors that was trading at a mere one times sales.
Rather than clean house, Bravo kept the company’s CEO, Chuck Boyle, and worked beside him to boost profits, mainly by rolling up competitors. When Boyle wanted to buy a company called Faspac, Bravo flew to San Diego to work out of the Faspac owner’s garage for five days, analyzing reams of contracts to see if the deal would work. “Orlando would help not only at the highest level with strategy but also when we got grunt work done,” Boyle recalls. After seven acquisitions, Bravo sold the business for $215 million, making five times his money.
Software quickly became Bravo’s sole focus, and Thoma Cressey began to thrive. By 2005, Bravo and Thoma had recruited three employees, Scott Crabill, Holden Spaht and Seth Boro, to focus on software applications, cybersecurity and Web infrastructure. All remain with the firm today as managing partners.
Bravo’s big opportunity came during the financial crisis when Thoma put Bravo’s name on the door and split with his partner Bryan Cressey, a healthcare investor, creating Thoma Bravo. From that moment on, the firm invested only in software, with Bravo leading the way.
A string of billion-dollar buyouts followed—Sunnyvale, California-based network security firm Blue Coat, financial software outfit Digital Insight of Westlake Village, California, and Herndon, Virginia’s Deltek, which sells project management software—all of which more than doubled in value under Bravo’s watch. The firm’s inaugural 2009 software-only fund posted a 44% net annualized return by the time its investments were sold, making investors four times their money and proving the wisdom of discipline and specialization. “Every time we picked up our heads to peek at a deal that wasn’t software, the software deal looked a lot better to us,” he brags.
It’s late May, and Orlando Bravo’s 20th-floor offices overlooking the San Francisco Bay are filled with dozens of tech executives from its portfolio companies. Folks from Houston’s Quorum Software, which makes technology systems for oil and gas companies, mingle with cybersecurity experts from Redwood Shores, California’s Imperva. They juggle their rollerboard suitcases and thick financial books as Thoma Bravo partners map out corporate strategies on dry-erase whiteboards. Those on break hammer away at keyboards in small workrooms or demolish chicken sandwiches in a no-frills kitchenette.
This is one of Thoma Bravo’s monthly boot camps for new acquisitions, grueling daylong sessions that are critical to its success. Partners regularly buzz into Bravo’s spartan glass-walled offices, while in the background the drilling and hammering of construction workers making room for 13 new associates disturbs the peace.
With a fresh $12.6 billion war chest, Bravo is now eyeing $10 billion-plus deals and expects to begin buying entire divisions of tech giants.
After two decades studying software, Bravo recognizes clear patterns. For instance, when a company pioneers a product, its sales explode and then inevitably slow as competitors emerge. Often a CEO will use this cue to stray into new markets or overspend to gin up sales. Bravo calls this “chasing too many rabbits.” To fix it, he and his ten partners work alongside 22 current and former software executives who serve as consultants. They begin tracking the profit-and-loss statements for each product line and pore over contracts in search of bad deals or underpriced products. Critically, by the time a Thoma Bravo acquisition check clears, existing management has agreed that this rigorous approach will help. Bravo calls it “making peace with the past.”
There are also layoffs. Those can total as much as 10% of the workforce, for which Bravo doesn’t apologize. “In order to realign the business and set it up for big-time growth, you first need to take a step back before you take a step forward. It’s like boxing,” he says. “These are unbelievable assets with great innovators, and they are usually undermanaged.”
Mark Bishof, the former CEO of Flexera Software, an application management company outside of Chicago that Bravo bought in 2008 for $200 million and sold for a nearly $1 billion profit three years later, has a succinct description for this wild success. “He just kind of cuts all of the bullsh*t,” Bishof says. “It’s refreshing.” Flexera’s profits rose 70% during Bravo’s ownership, largely thanks to four major acquisitions. “Orlando’s like the general in the foxhole with his sergeant. You know he’s knee-deep in there with you,” Bishof gushes.
Under Thoma Bravo’s watch, companies on average saw cash flow surge as margins hit 35%, as of 2018, nearly triple those of the average public software company at that time. “It’s like training for the Olympics. . . . You have a finite goal to make it [in year four], and you make it very, very clear,” Bravo says. Today’s roaring market adds potency to the playbook. Lenders are now gorging on software debt, and stock market multiples for these businesses are surging.
“I learned more about building an efficient software company over the last four and a half years than in the first 30 years of my career.”
A recent example is Detroit’s Compuware, a decades-old pioneer of software applications to manage mainframe computer systems. In 2013, this Nasdaq-listed giant was all but left for dead and up for sale. There was minimal interest, other than from Bravo and partner Seth Boro, who were keen on Dynatrace, software that helped companies move databases to the cloud, which Compuware had acquired in 2011. Thoma Bravo used $675 million in cash and raised $1.8 billion in debt to buy Compuware and then split off Dynatrace as a separate company. The pair began to move Dynatrace from selling database licenses, once the bulk of its business, to cloud subscription services, now 70% of sales. This past August, Dynatrace went public, and Thoma Bravo’s 70% stake is now worth over $4 billion, with the remainder of Compuware worth nearly a billion more. “I learned more about building an efficient software company over the last four and a half years than in the first 30 years of my career,” says Dynatrace CEO John Van Siclen.
With a fresh $12.6 billion war chest for its 13th fund raised in 2018, Bravo is eyeing $10 billion-plus deals and expects to begin buying entire divisions from today’s technology giants. But thanks in part to the success of his firm, he now faces more competition. Heavyweights like Blackstone and KKR are increasingly sussing out software deals, not to mention his longtime rival Vista Equity. And he’s not immune to mistakes. Bravo’s $3.6 billion 2015 acquisition of San Francisco-based digital network tracker Riverbed Technology is currently struggling because of slowing sales and too much debt. He isn’t worried. “There are bigger and better companies to fix than there were ten years ago,” Bravo says.
His biggest challenge these days is likely back home in Puerto Rico where it all began. Bravo announced in May that he is contributing $100 million to his Bravo Family Foundation that will be used to promote entrepreneurship and economic development on the island.
This new foundation was birthed by Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island two years ago. Bravo was in Japan raising cash for yet another massive fund and frantically calling San Juan trying to locate his parents, who were living in the capital. They were fine, but the island wasn’t.
Five days later, he flew his Gulfstream jet with 1,000 pounds of supplies—water, granola bars, meal kits, satellite telephones, diapers, intravenous tubes and hydration pills—to Aguadilla, near Mayagüez. When an airport worker opened the door of his plane, Bravo says, the look of fear on his face was unforgettable. “All you could say was ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you.’ ”
He returned two weeks later in a larger plane with 7,000 pounds of supplies. Then he came in a massive DC-10 cargo plane before ultimately chartering two container ships carrying 600,000 pounds. “It was just like cold-calling for deals,” Bravo says of rounding up all the donations. He personally put in $3 million in just the first 30 days, and committed $10 million altogether.
When the Federal Emergency Management Agency became fully operative there, the island’s richest native turned his attention to Puerto Rico’s future. Though 44% of Puerto Ricans live below the poverty line, Bravo believes in the potential to foster entrepreneurship, citing that a tenth of the population has tried to build a business.
Armed with his money, his foundation is looking to back Puerto Rican technology entrepreneurs, even ferrying them to Thoma Bravo’s offices for training. Bravo admits to being tired of the debate over Puerto Rico’s statehood and holds his tongue when asked about President Trump’s performance during Maria. “My passion, which is the same as with companies, is to move beyond the strategic, long-term pontification, and into the operational and tactical moves that make you move forward today,” he says. “Economies go down, companies miss their numbers, trade stops, product issues happen and people quit. [The question is] do you have a creative approach to problem solving?” Bravo says. “Some people are stuck . . . and some people love putting the pieces together. I just feel like every operational problem can be solved. There’s always a solution.”
Recommended: Read Forbes’ Other Dealmaking Cover Stories
I’m a staff writer at Forbes, where I cover finance and investing. My beat includes hedge funds, private equity, fintech, mutual funds, M&A and banks. I’m a graduate of Middlebury College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and I’ve worked at TheStreet and Businessweek. Before becoming a financial scribe, I was a part of the fateful 2008 analyst class at Lehman Brothers. Email thoughts and tips to email@example.com. Follow me on Twitter at @antoinegara
Orlando Bravo, managing partner of Thoma Bravo and founder of the Bravo Family Foundation, https://www.bravofamilyfoundation.org/, announced he personally will contribute $100 million to his foundation to promote entrepreneurship and economic development in Puerto Rico, where Bravo was raised, and his family still lives.
Sunscreen and makeup: a game of compromise, imperfection, skin damage and expensive products. 23-year-old Sophia Hutchins, who calls Caitlyn Jenner her “cheerleader,” aims to win that game with Lumasol, the FDA-approved odorless SPF 50+ sunscreen mist engineered to be applied after makeup. With a $3 million seed round from Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund and Greycroft Ventures, she’ll be able to expand her team of 30 employees and bring the product to market in early 2020.
“It’s SPF millennialized,” says Hutchins, surrounded by her three-person media team and director of operations in the Jersey City, New Jersey Forbes office. “We are a health and tech company and [sun protection] is an extraordinarily unaddressed health issue that we’re trying to attack.”
Hutchins, who lives in LA, is a first-time founder but no stranger to cosmetic titans. As a close friend of Caitlyn Jenner, Hutchins witnessed the Olympian-turned activist/socialite’s battle with skin cancer in 2018. And because of her closeness with Caitlyn Jenner, she spends significant time learning from Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian, who have built billion-dollar makeup brands Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty from Instagram.
“I have a really good relationship with all of them,” says Hutchins. “What Kylie [Jenner’s] done is amazing. I admire that she’s been able to convert fans, likes and shares into buys—and she works nonstop.”
Hutchins transitioned to a woman as a freshman at Pepperdine University and graduated from the University in 2018 with a degree in economics, with the intention of going into investment banking rather than entrepreneurship. During her senior year, she lamented with her friend, the daughter of Kiehl’s founder, about the impossibility of flawless makeup and sun protection.
From that conversation, she was advised by Nick Drake, CMO of T-Mobile and worked with big three consulting firm to develop a sunscreen product for makeup wearers. Lumasol was born, and with her board of scientific advisors from UCSF, the U.S.-manufactured product was approved by the FDA as an over-the-counter product. The recyclable product will protect from 98% of UV and UB rays and will be sold direct-to-consumer via subscription, according to Hutchins.
“You could compare it to Dollar Shave Club or Harry’s,” says Hutchins. “I know this business is going to be a success.”
For Ian Sigalow, founder of Greycroft Ventures, who has previously led the firm’s investments in Venmo, Braintree and Shipt, he saw the potential for the product from the hundreds of dollars his family of five spends on goopy sunscreen every single year. “There’s an opportunity to do what Juul did for the cigarette category by changing the delivery mechanism and changing the formula somewhat to win really big market share,” says Sigalow, noting that the design firm behind Juul also designed Lumasol, as a conscious effort habituate healthy habits after doing the opposite with the e-cigarette giant.
Lumasol will not be the only ‘mastige’ post-makeup sunscreen spray on the market. Semi-premium sunscreen brand Supergoop retails a SPF 50 setting spray product at $12 per ounce. Coola, Kate Sommerville, Shisheido and Ulta Beauty, among others, offer makeup setting sprays with SPF.
So what compelled Founders Fund send Hutchins a term sheet within an hour of her pitch presentation? “Founders Fund invests in founders, first and foremost. Sophia [Hutchins] was such an incredibly strong person when she came in and pitched us on her vision.” says Cyan Bannister, the partner at Founders Fund who led the round. “She’s identified an underserved market and a product that people would want. The fact is that she can leverage her connections to power the distribution behind the product.”
Lumasol’s packaging is also a huge draw for the investors. The bottle changes color when exposed to UV and UB rays, letting its owner know it’s time for another spritz, and habituating reapplication. Additionally, the product’s design and functionality make it highly ‘grammable—a deliberate strategy for Hutchins’ plan to rely heavily on Instagram influencer marketing, with probable Jenner/Kardashian spots, to market the product.
“There’s obviously precedent with the Jenners in the skincare industry. That was not lost on me when we made the investment,” says Sigalow. “One of our theses around next generation brands is: If you attach an influencer with a huge following to a consumer product, it’s like having your own media channel, so Lumasol’s starting on third base—they’re going to take off.”
In preparation for Lumasol’s Q1 2020 rollout, Hutchins is hiring an “extraordinarily experienced CMO,” adding to the “hundreds” of user tests, and developing her influencer, popup and outdoor event event strategy. “I have a social obligation to give people a product that can seamlessly fit into their lives and also save their lives,” she says.
I’m the assistant editor for Under 30. Previously, I directed marketing at a mobile app startup. I’ve also worked at The New York Times and New York Observer. I attended the University of Pennsylvania where I studied English and creative writing.
Sophia Hutchins is an entrepreneur at the crossroads of health, beauty and tech. She is both founder and CEO of Luma Suncare Inc. She successfully closed her first round of venture funding in March 2019. She is busily preparing for the launch of her company. Hutchins is an outspoken advocate for women and equality in the workplace. People can often find her speaking to groups within corporate America and her favorite of all groups to speak with are entrepreneurial women. Prior to starting her venture, she served as CEO of the Caitlyn Jenner Foundation.
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Dr. Joe DeSimone took his own path to entrepreneurship. His latest venture, Carbon, is changing the way things are made.
He’s assembled one of the most impressive Board of Directors and line up of investors to transform the $300 billion manufacturing industry.
Joe recently appeared as a guest on the DealMakers Podcast. During his exclusive interview, he shared how his team is transforming how the world makes things, the fundraising process, what it’s like building a nearly 500 person company in less than 6 years, and many more topics.
From Academia to Entrepreneurship
Joe DeSimone was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Ever since high school, Joe found he had a knack for chemistry. For both understanding it and for teaching it.
He attended Ursinus College, and then Virginia Tech for his Ph.D. On a tip from a faculty advisor, he went to check out the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill—-one of the top 10 chemistry departments in the country.
If he would teach organic and polymer chemistry, then they would give him $500,000 to start a research program. He was convinced. At UNC, he enjoyed a highly successful career as a professor for 25 years.
Joe taught a lot of students chemistry and mentored many researchers. He learned that people have very different learning styles. From his perspective, if you want to be a great teacher, you have to take responsibility for explaining complicated topics in accessible ways.
It turns out that is a really important trait for entrepreneurs too. It’s a valuable skill whether you’re doing it in a classroom setting, talking to VCs or investors, or your own employees. The importance of bringing people along with you.
His position in academia enabled Joe DeSimone to pursue a handful of interesting startups based on his research before he launching his newest venture, Carbon, in 2013.
His first company was BioStent. A partnership with an interventional cardiologist at Duke University. They developed a coronary stent that is polymeric instead of metal-based. It dissolves in the body after 18 months, once blood vessels can operate on their own again. The company was acquired by Guidant, and then Abbott.
Next, it was Liquidia Technologies, a partnership with one of Joe’s Ph.D. students including Jason Rolland, now SVP of Materials at Carbon. Liquidia went IPO last year.
They developed technology that leveraged tools from the computer industry to make precision nanoparticles. It spawned new and more effective ways to deliver medicines to the airway.
It has proven valuable in improving treatment approaches for diseases like pulmonary arterial hypertension, and in creating next-generation vaccine platforms for infectious diseases and certain cancers.
After spending 25 as a faculty member at UNC, the opportunity to go to Silicon Valley and take on a new entrepreneurial challenge was something Joe couldn’t pass up.
UNC agreed he could take a sabbatical to pursue his idea. That was five years ago.
Departing Academia for Silicon Valley
When Joe left North Carolina for Silicon Valley to found Carbon, he didn’t know what the future would hold. Carbon is now one of the world’s leading digital manufacturing companies.
Based in Redwood City, Carbon’s mission is to enable companies to make breakthrough products that can improve human health and well being, transform industries, and change the world.
Joe launched the company and its groundbreaking Digital Light Synthesis™ (DLS) technology on the TED stage in 2015. DLS fuses light and oxygen to rapidly produce products from a pool of resin. Using DLS technology, Carbon is enabling companies like Adidas, Riddell, Ford and Johnson & Johnson to create breakthrough products at speeds and volumes never before possible, finally fulfilling the promise of 3D printing.
Joe believes that empowering product teams to make breakthrough products and bring them to market faster will change the way we live.
Carbon has cracked the code on 3D printing at scale. The manufacturing industry is a $12 trillion market and manufacturing polymers is a $330 billion market. There is enormous potential here for Carbon to lead the digital revolution in manufacturing.
Creating a Company Differentiated by its Technology, Business Model and Team
With a team of nearly 500 employees around the world, Carbon has also assembled an impressive team of board members and investors while raising $680 million in the process at a $2.5 billion valuation.
Carbon’s board includes former Chairman and CEO of DuPont, Ellen Kullman, former CEO of Ford Motor Company, and former CEO of Boeing’s Aircraft Division, Alan Mulally, and Sequoia’s Jim Goetz.
Some of their investors include Sequoia, Google Ventures, GE, Adidas, BMW, Johnson & Johnson, and JSR. They’ve also got Fidelity, Baillie Gifford, and Madrone Capital Partners as well as investment from additional international sovereign funds.
Storytelling is everything in fundraising and Carbon was able to master this. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.
Critical Ingredients for a Successful Company
During the interview, Joe shared three of the most important components of building a successful company as being:
1. The importance of IP and patent-protection
2. Building highly differentiated technology
3. Assembling a world class team of people that are committed, passionate, and talented
DeSimone also shared his thoughts on the similarities between academia and entrepreneurship such as the importance of bringing people along with you and painting a vision for the future and how the world can be different.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
I am a serial entrepreneur and the author of the The Art of Startup Fundraising. With a foreword by ‘Shark Tank‘ star Barbara Corcoran, and published by John Wiley & Sons, the book was named one of the best books for entrepreneurs. The book offers a step-by-step guide to today‘s way of raising money for entrepreneurs. Most recently, I built and exited CoFoundersLab which is one of the largest communities of founders online. Prior to CoFoundersLab, I worked as a lawyer at King & Spalding where I was involved in one of the biggest investment arbitration cases in history ($113 billion at stake). I am an active speaker and have given guest lectures at the Wharton School of Business, Columbia Business School, and at NYU Stern School of Business. I have been involved with the JOBS Act since inception and was invited to the White House and the US House of Representatives to provide my stands on the new regulatory changes concerning fundraising online