196. Creating Unfair Advantages, Surviving Founder Burnout and Driving Successful Exits (Courtney Reum)

196. Creating Unfair Advantages, Surviving Founder Burnout and Driving Successful Exits (Courtney Reum)
Nick Moran Angel List

Courtney Reum of M13 joins Nick to discuss Creating Unfair Advantages, Surviving Founder Burnout and Driving Successful Exits. In this episode, we cover:

  • Backstory/path to venture
  • Tell us about your experience being an investor at Goldman Sachs and working with brands like Procter & Gamble, Under Armour and Vitamin water. What are some takeaways you got from that experience that influence you today? 
  • You and your brother founded VEEV Spirits which became the first line of organic ready-to-drink cocktails. VEEV received the Technomic Fast 50 Award and was named an Inc. Magazine 500 Fastest-Growing Companies in the U.S. What are some key factors that helped you establish such a successful brand? Tips for founders?
  • Tell us about the approach you used to raise capital for Veev?
  • Tell us the story behind founding M13. What was your vision for the firm early on? 
  • What is your current focus/thesis at M13? Tell us about your “repeatable playbook” approach. 
  • You took some big risks investing early in companies like Lyft, Ring, and Slack, which of course has paid off. Can you share with us some key points as to why you invested and how you were able to get conviction so early on?  
  • I want to switch gears and talk a bit about your book that you and your brother, Carter, wrote “Shortcut Your Startup.” The book is focused on separating yourself from the pack and flipping traditional startup advice on its head to provide an empowering toolkit for founders. Can you dive into that toolkit and a brief summary of the book? 
  • The benefits and biggest challenges to working with your brother?
  • One of the topics in the book I thought was interesting was “obsessively take advantage of your unfair advantages” tell us about what this means and how founders can implement it. 
  • Another topic I want to ask you about was “Success doesn’t equate to a successful exit” – What does lead to a successful exit and how do you gauge that you’re on the right track? 
  • You also talk about “getting into the trenches” and “knowing if you’re a speedboat or a sailboat” in the book. Can you give us some insight on these topics and why they’re important? 
  • From your experience, what do you think contributes most to founder burnout and how do you avoid it? 
  • What advice would you give CEOs or other C-suite executives to keep employee morale high and help their employees thrive? 
  • What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a founder and that you commonly see founders face today?
  • You have a passion for startups that are thinking about what consumers don’t even know they want — maybe for 10-20 years. Yet, in the future can’t imagine living without. How do you vet a startup investment with such nascent consumer demand?

Guest Links:

Key Takeaways:

  1. The idea behind founding Veev Spirits was to do something unique as a product while focusing on drinkability and sustainability, which differentiated them from many other companies in the spirits industry.
  2. M13 was founded to create a platform to institutionalize the relatable behaviors that go into building a consumer tech brand. 
  3. There are 3 main components that make up M13 – Their brand development studio also known as the “launchpad.” Their consumer tech focused venture capital fund. Lastly, the “propulsion” arm which is their secret sauce around data and analytics to productize knowledge on how you can save time and capital in terms of repeatable behaviors. 
  4. At M13 they accelerate their companies by using this idea of productized knowledge; utilizing a digital repository to capture best practices in a way that’s usable and effective.
  5. M13 is series A focused however, they are open to later stage opportunities if they have a proprietary relationship or a company that they know well. In addition, they also do some seed and series seed investments.
  6. One of their missions at M13 is to be at the forefront of understanding consumer behavior and what the world will look like in a decade. Their investments focus on a combination of both consumer tech that will revolutionize how we do things in the future, along with companies that will impact us today. 
  7. The idea behind writing “Shortcut your Startup” was to debunk common myths around the difficulties of building startups and give readers the confidence to do it by providing a playbook. 
  8. Working alongside his brother, Carter, has been a great partnership because they have a better understanding of each other that you can’t always quantify or articulate to someone else. Of course, along with the implicit love and trust they have as brothers, Courtney states “what’s the point of success if you don’t have anyone to share it with.” 
  9. The biggest challenge to working with his brother is navigating on the fine line between work and personal life to maintain that balance together. 
  10. Courtney is involved with the group Defy Ventures that provides an entrepreneurship program to incarcerated individuals. He shares how impactful the program has been for all parties involved and how powerful of a reform tool it has been, being able to provide knowledge, opportunity and ultimately a second chance to these individuals. 
  11. The chapter in his book titled “Do What You Do Best & Outsource The Rest” is about obsessively figuring out what your unfair advantages are. Everyone has an unfair advantage, the key is figuring it out and truly harnessing it.  
  12. Courtney shares his “sailboat or speedboat” analogy representing the reality that growth is often non linear.
  13. Almost every company starts out as a sailboat, sometimes the wind or momentum picks ups and sometimes it dies down. Then you reach a point where all the key elements of your business align, you’re ready to turn on the engine and convert to a speedboat.  
  14. The best founders are the ones that know what they know, and know what they don’t know. Courtney believes that you don’t need to be the founder that can do it all and take on everything, because very few people can sustain that long term. 
  15. We tend to glorify founders that are rock stars and can do it all however, founder burnout is real and it needs to be talked about more so we can proactively work with founders to prevent it and keep morale high.