Kevin Gould — CEO of Kombo Ventures on $75 Million of Beauty Sales, Liquidating His IRA, and the Hottest Role in Town

February 3, 2021 by  Chris Erwin

Today we publish our 7th podcast episode.

This week’s episode features Kevin Gould, the CEO of Kombo Ventures and founder of 3 direct-to-consumer brands (Glamnetic / Insert Name Here / Wakeheart).

Many people say they’re the bridge between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, but Kevin’s the real deal.

We discuss why he outsourced his script coverage as a young talent agent, when he liquidated his IRA to start angel investing, how “sliding into DMs” helped him launch 3 beauty brands with $75 million in sales, and how I misjudged Kevin when we first met.

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Interview Transcript

The interview was lightly edited for clarity.

 

Chris Erwin:

All right. Kevin, let’s rewind a bit. Why don’t you tell me about where you grew up?

 

Kevin Gould:

I was born in Champaign, Illinois. Both my parents went to University of Illinois. I didn’t live there for very long. I don’t remember any of it. I was probably a year and a half old, and then I ended up moving to Greensboro, North Carolina where I spent pretty much my whole childhood through high school there, and so really call North Carolina home.

 

Chris Erwin:

Are your parents still in North Carolina today?

 

Kevin Gould:

No. My background on my parents. My dad is a professor of sports psychology. He also had a pretty extensive private consulting practice where he worked with a lot of athletes, and then my mom’s a grief counselor. My dad ran the Sports Psychology Department at UNC Greensboro, which was a public college down in North Carolina. Then, after I graduated high school, he ended up going up to Michigan to Michigan State where he leads that department there still to this day. They’re up in the cold now.

 

Chris Erwin:

Okay. Got it. What was it like growing up with a sports psychologist in the household? Were you like a big sports family? Were you a big sports fan yourself?

 

Kevin Gould:

Growing up I was a huge sports family. I think North Carolina is really known for basketball, so outside of Greensboro, you had Chapel Hill, you had Raleigh, you had Wake Forest, you had in that sort of like 90 mile radius. You had Carolina, Duke, NC State, Wake Forest. I also grew up in the era of Michael Jordan and the Bulls. I was a huge Bulls fan. It was really… Looking back it was really interesting having my dad as a sports psychologist.

 

Kevin Gould:

It’s one of those things when you’re a kid you don’t fully appreciate it, right?

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah.

 

Kevin Gould:

It was a little bit less of like necessarily my dad directly teaching me these things, but it was me picking up just from being around him and being around all these elite athletes the importance of positive thinking and mental toughness, because the really interesting thing and why sports psychologists are in business is primarily for individual sport athletes. He worked with a lot of tennis players, downhill skiers, race car drivers. If you’re a car driver and you get in a serious wreck, that’s in your head man and it really is hard to get that out of your head. There’s a lot of mental work and mental toughness that goes into play.

 

Kevin Gould:

I think what ended up happening was sort of learning by osmosis and just being around all that, it really, to this day, I try to have a really positive mindset. Life in business as a roller coaster, right? So, really just being able to fight through that wall and having mental toughness is one of the key takeaways for me out of that.

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. I played some individual sports growing up like tennis and I remember how often I would get in my own head, and then reading a book called Inner Tennis, which was the psychology of the sport and just how powerful that thinking was. It’s interesting that you highlight that.

 

Kevin Gould:

100%, and so my dad wrote the textbook for pretty much it’s national use for sports psychology. I don’t even remember going to the university and sitting in on the college classes and have to stop, I didn’t understand. I was 8, 9, 10, right?

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah.

 

Kevin Gould:

But the other half I really I think just picked up, again, just by listening and being present and being there. It was a super interesting experience.

 

Chris Erwin:

Was your mother in a similar field?

 

Kevin Gould:

They’re both in the field of helping people. My dad was in the field of education. My mom was a grief counselor and she runs a non-profit still to this day. Quick kind of back story how that came to be. I had an older sister who actually died from a really rare metabolic deficiency before I was born, so I never had a chance to meet her, but for my mom at the time she really became like a pioneer of finding out more information about these metabolic deficiencies and helping educate other parents who maybe either lost loved ones to these or had children with these deficiencies and what was interesting is…

 

Kevin Gould:

Never really talked about this before. So, I’ve had this deficiency my whole life. I have to take medicine every day. I’m completely fine. I honestly don’t even really think about it that much, but it is something that if left untreated is super serious. My mom really dove into helping other parents, particularly parents who’ve lost loved ones through this certain set of metabolic disorders. I think both of them were really, really loved to help other people. Again, my dad through the education lens and my mom’s through sort of the grief support and consulting lens.

 

Chris Erwin:

Look, we’re going to talk a lot about the many different businesses that you founded, but I just have to ask knowing about this condition. You said that you don’t think about it often, but if you do take medicine for it every day, does that also cause you to think about your mortality and each moment counts and it’s why you’ve maybe built so fast so early in your career? Have you ever thought about that?

 

Kevin Gould:

That’s an interesting perspective and take on it I think. Look, I take medicine like three to four times a day and it’s so ingrained in me, because I haven’t known anything different. So, if you’ve been doing something your entire life, I don’t know anything different than that. We can get into my drive and I think what drives me. I think maybe there’s subconsciously some element to that. I don’t know how much it plays in, but I mean, look, I think as we get older too, you obviously think about like what’s important in life, what are you doing? What’s your purpose?

 

Kevin Gould:

I think that could for sure have some play in it, but it definitely I don’t think was the driving force for what drives me, but I think that’s a really interesting take and perspective. I think there’s some element of that that probably subconsciously comes into play.

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. All right. Well, let’s talk about some other seeds of entrepreneurship in your early life. Did you know from early on that you wanted to build companies for a living or any other examples of skill sets that you’re working on to help make you the entrepreneur you are today?

 

Kevin Gould:

I knew I wanted to be entrepreneurial. I just didn’t know, one, how to go about it, where to start, what to do. We grew up sort of right around when the internet was starting to come up, but there wasn’t YouTube, there wasn’t a lot of information and education out there and people to look up to. Again, my parents were educators so they weren’t necessarily in business.

 

Kevin Gould:

Then, I just didn’t really have a lot of mentors when I was younger that I could look up to in North Carolina from a business perspective, but I feel like I just naturally gravitated towards… I was that kid that was the hustler that was always trying to start a side business. I have this memory that comes to mind. I was a swimmer growing up and the South and North Carolina, the community swim club over the summer are big things, and every summer there was this organization, it’s called Swim for Cancer.

 

Kevin Gould:

The whole premise of Swim for Cancer was you would go raise money in exchange for swimming laps for cancer. The contribution of the young swimmer was go around the neighborhood, raise money, and then you’d swim a certain number of laps in honor of this organization. What it did at the time was I really was thinking back, I developed a lot of my sales skills through this, because I had to, middle of the summer, it’s like a 100 degrees, humid in North Carolina, and I’m going around the neighborhood and I really had to figure out what my pitch was, right? Even though it was a non-profit, I was like 8, 9, 10 years old, I’m like, “How am I going to convince these people to give me money for this non-profit?”

 

Kevin Gould:

I remember going up to the doors like, “Hey, Mrs. Johnson this is Kevin. I’m swimming for Swim for Cancer, would you like to sponsor me?” Just through that, through knocking on 200, 300 doors over the summer, I started to sort of refine my pitch based on what was working and not working. Again, I didn’t think that much into it at the time when I was at 8, or 9, or 10, but it was a really great learning experience that just translated to people skills later on in life, because I had to constantly adapt to the moment and every person was different.

 

Kevin Gould:

Mrs. Johnson was different than Mr. Jones who was the hard-ass guy, I’ll be like, “How am I going to convince this guy to give me money for the non-profit? He barely wants to open the door.” Then, at the end of the summer, you raise all this money, you swim all the laps, they have these awards, and then this is where I kind of learned in life like, “Look, everything in life isn’t fair.” Because I was like, “Man, I busted my ass all summer. I raised…” I don’t know, like 2000 bucks or something from everyone in the neighborhood. I was like, “Yeah. I’m going to be the number one raiser in the city.”

 

Kevin Gould:

I remember they called up the awards and they’re like, “Oh, in second place is Kevin Gould with 2000 bucks.” I was like, “Wait. Who could beat me?” Then, this one girl got $5000 flat and it was the check from the rich grandfather. I remember thinking, I was like, “Damn.” Look, good for her, but I was like life isn’t fair. It was a good… That whole experience was a great learning lesson, and then just throughout life I ended up working at that community pool.

 

Kevin Gould:

First started when I was 14 at the snack bar. That was a sales role, and then I became a lifeguard. You had to have a lot of people skills as a lifeguard, so I was always sort of training and not even knowing I was training for what I was doing today through all those things when I was a kid.

 

Chris Erwin:

I loved the story about raising money for cancer through the swim marathon. I also did a similar thing where I grew up in the Jersey Shore. In addition, I was also a boy scout and we used to sell Christmas, restoring Christmas. I remember I would take my bike out and go down these different driveways, knock on a random person’s door in my town and sell them on a wreath and try and get money from them.

 

Chris Erwin:

It was like in the moment you feel awkward, you don’t feel any confidence, but you start to develop those reps over time and you get better at it. Then, as you get older like sales is everything. It’s not about just getting money from a client, it’s about raising investor capital, getting your team excited, recruiting incredible team members to help build the vision that you have, getting buy-in from your friends and family, all the above, so what cool training you had early on.

 

Kevin Gould:

Yeah. It was amazing. To your point, every situation in person is different, right? You sort of have to in life and in business, you have to be able to adapt very quickly to the person and to the situation and everyone responds differently. For me, looking back that was amazing. I think that gave me an amazing head start and I didn’t even know it at what I was doing at the time.

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. All right. Now, let’s start to fast forward a bit. You go to UNC Wilmington, while you were there, was that a meaningful point in your life? Did you learn a lot or was it just a rapid stepping stone?

 

Kevin Gould:

When I was in high school I’d say I was an average to above average student. There was a lot of things that I was disinterested in and I’d always sort of asked my parents, “What am I learning this…” I was like, “Why am I learning this? I can’t apply this to my real life?”

 

Kevin Gould:

There was always a little bit of that like, “What’s the point of school because I don’t think this is going to help me in the future?” I think that perspective was half right half wrong. I think I was a 16, 17-year-old kid just like stuck in school and there were a lot of elements that were helpful, but also, for me, there weren’t a lot of things that I felt like were helpful for what I wanted to do.

 

Kevin Gould:

Anyways, I got into a couple of schools in North Carolina. I don’t think I got into Chapel. I can’t even remember. I don’t think I got into Chapel Hill. I didn’t have… Our high school super competitive, didn’t have good enough grades. Got into UNC Wilmington, which is a pretty good school. I mean for me, what was important was on the beach. I was like, “All right.” Greensboro. I’m going to what I thought was the coolest place in North Carolina, which is Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, and got down there.

 

Kevin Gould:

I spent three and a half years there. I graduated a semester early, because I got AP credits. I studied business. I think it was marketing with I think a minor in entrepreneurship and leadership studies. But, again, college I think can lay the foundation, but teaching entrepreneurship is a really hard thing to do and learning entrepreneurship through a book or a class or case studies can maybe you can learn a few things, but really entrepreneurship you just have to jump in and go.

 

Kevin Gould:

I think looking back elements of it were helpful, elements of it probably weren’t necessarily helpful, but at the time there wasn’t an option like there is today for an 18-year-old where if I was 18 today, for me, personally, I probably wouldn’t have went to college, but there wasn’t any other option back then. It was still like you better go to college and you need a college degree to get a job, and so I had to go. It wasn’t really like an option not to go.

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. I totally agree that that is changing. It used to be, as you said, if you can afford to go to college and you get in, you go to school and that’s just what you do right after you get out of high school, but nowadays there’s a lot more options. I think people are more open-minded and they don’t want to incur the ridiculous student debt. So, questions are, do you take a gap year? Do you travel? Do you go work somewhere full-time, and then go enroll in school with more focus or do you not go to school and maybe do a trade school or learn how to program?

 

Chris Erwin:

I think that is very empowering to our new workforce. I agree that for certain people even if you have access to college, it’s just… Yeah. It doesn’t make sense.

 

Kevin Gould:

What’s amazing now is there’s the power of choice and the power of information that wasn’t necessarily there back then for everyone. I think young people have incredible opportunities now and there’s still things… If you want to be a doctor, you have to go to school. Specialized things, there’s no way around it, but I think for someone who wants to be into business, luckily, there’s a lot more flexibility now and you’ve got a lot more options.

 

Chris Erwin:

Speaking of business, after UNC Wilmington you head to LA. Your first job is at talent agency WME, but you were in LA for about a year and a half or so before you started your full-time role there. What were you up to?

 

Kevin Gould:

Yeah. Actually, after I graduated, so I graduated in the winter. It was a semester early, so I didn’t get out to LA for a few months after that. I had to kind of get my bearings, get everything together, and then I drove out, and then there was a little, maybe a little under a year and a half period where I honestly, man, I was right out of college, I was 21, didn’t know what I wanted to do.

 

Kevin Gould:

I was in college, so I worked at… I had a bunch of odd jobs. I worked at the Student Rec Center, then I became a certified personal trainer. I thought I wanted to start my own personal training business for a while. I was like, “Okay. This is something like I could be an entrepreneur, do something at the time, which I thought I loved.” Then, I moved to LA and I kind of had odd jobs for a while.

 

Kevin Gould:

I was personal training. I ended up personal training a lot of people in the entertainment business. I got a lot of referrals, some really high level working actors.

 

Chris Erwin:

How does that happen? You show up in LA, you have an East Coast network, and all of a sudden you’re training people in entertainment. How does that start?

 

Kevin Gould:

I knew a couple people out in LA at the time, and I was always good at sort of connecting. I think it Myspace at the time. I was trying to just connect with people. I knew a couple people out here, and then it kind of like was anything, it was just… I think I was pretty good with people. I was great at getting referrals and kind of built like… It was a very short period of time, but a small book of business for myself.

 

Kevin Gould:

I mean, dude, I got a real estate license. I was all over the place. I was like, “I’m going to be a real estate agent to the stars. I’m going to…” I just didn’t know what direction I wanted to go in, and then I sort of started reading up on the talent agencies, and then someone at the time, on the client side connected me, and so got into WME probably 15 months after I got out here. It was such an experience, man. There is nothing like going into one of the big talent agencies, and really at the time it was… It still is. It’s WME and CAA, right?

 

Kevin Gould:

Going in to the mail room where you do anything that they say. It was like a crazy experience, man. I remember you get in the mail room, there’s a class of 10 other people that start the same week as you, and so you kind of form this bond with those 10 people that are in the class and everyone’s kind of trying to size each other up. It’s super competitive, but you have to do anything that the agents say.

 

Kevin Gould:

You’re not even an assistant, you’re not an assistant yet, you’re getting called up by an agent, and they’re like, “Hey, I need you to go get me a coffee, make sure it’s like seven scoops of this. Don’t do six. Make sure you stir it. If it’s not hot, I’m going to make you go back and get it.” At the time, that’s the worst job for me, because I don’t even drink coffee. I’m literally trying to google like how different coffees are made. I wasn’t that sophisticated. I wasn’t drinking coffee at 21.

 

Kevin Gould:

You literally run errands for all these agents and you’re delivering scripts to actors. You have to go deliver scripts. It was like a crazy, crazy experience, man.

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. When you started, you are signing up to be a yes man. People call you do whatever they need, the talent, the agents, what have you. Just within the first couple weeks, were you energized by that? Being like, “All right. I’m a yes man, but what a cool environment to work in,” or was there a little bit of an itch saying, “I really want to have my own path here and this feels limiting?” What was going through your head?

 

Kevin Gould:

Yeah. There was definitely an element of, wow. The energy inside an agency is insane. Everyone’s moving and shaking and there’s information flow inside an agency that you don’t get anywhere else, right? You sort of like get plopped into the agency and it’s this hub of just information of everything that’s going on in the entertainment world and you’re like, “Whoa.” You’re seeing huge actors walk down the halls and you definitely… When you’re a 22, 23-year-old, you jump in there, you’re like, “Wow. This is really cool.”

 

Kevin Gould:

At the same time I was already thinking, “Okay. How am I going to quickly get out of the mail room, become this and like the path to become an agent?” I was like, “I got to get out of doing this.” How am I going to kind of make the jump to do something else?

 

Chris Erwin:

I think that you have mentioned that you started early work in the Digital Department and doing some of the verse like digital and influencer deals out there. What were you up to?

 

Kevin Gould:

Yeah. Slightly different though. At the time, there really wasn’t that much of a Digital Department at WME. There was one person. I started on a traditional talent agent’s desk. I was working with that at the time, all of the young Hollywood type… The CW actors of 10, 12 years ago, right? Those would be digital influencers now. At the time it was like the it people of young Hollywood, which is the stars of the CW or Twilight or whatever, or Glee or whatever it may be.

 

Kevin Gould:

Then, I jumped around to a couple different desks over the years, because you become an assistant, you work for an agent for a while, and then you sort of move up to different desks. I worked across the Talent Department, and then I worked across the Non-Scripted TV Department, which at the time was starting to do a lot more digital work. Then, there was literally a one-person Digital Department. I think maybe it added one more person when I was there.

 

Kevin Gould:

I wasn’t in the Digital Department. I sort of started creating my own universe of what I thought was digital at the time just on my own. I think I was the worst assistant, because I was trying to figure out how do I do the least amount of work I can as an assistant and get by and do a great job for the agent, and then sort of run my side business on the side where I just started naturally gravitating towards what was going on in Silicon Valley.

 

Kevin Gould:

Every free minute I had I was reading TechCrunch. I was reading all the Silicon Valley blogs at the time about what was happening there and I started to see-

 

Chris Erwin:

This was around 2010, 2012?

 

Kevin Gould:

It’s like 2011, 2012. The first year I was really just in it just learning the talent agency side of the business and I also learned the things I didn’t like to do. When you’re an assistant in the Talent Department, you’re responsible for every couple of weeks you have to cover a script. The agencies get tons of submissions. The agents aren’t going to read it, the assistants have to read it. You get assigned a script to read. I started reading these and I had to write a summary and I’m like, “This sucks, man. I don’t want to read scripts and summarize a script.” I actually started paying people on the side 50 bucks to do it for me because-

 

Chris Erwin:

You’re arbitraging time.

 

Kevin Gould:

I was arbitraging time. I was like, “I hate doing this. It’s not…” That made me really realize, I don’t really want to be a traditional talent agent working with actors, because I don’t like reading scripts. It’s fun to watch movies, wasn’t fun to watch scripts. Then, after the first year that’s really when I started to get really intrigued by the digital space, and which then sort of led me to after just reading about it for a while, seeing some of these really cool companies popping up. When I’m reading TechCrunch, they raised a little bit of money, and I’m like, “Man, I feel like if they had some entertainment connections, I could be helpful to them.”

 

Kevin Gould:

I just started emailing these like cold emailing from the WME email address. “Hey, this is Kevin, I work at WME. I’d love to meet with you guys. I think I could be helpful on the entertainment side.” Then, on Fridays, I’d kind of fly up once or twice a month to Silicon Valley and just take meetings with these people.

 

Chris Erwin:

You’re meeting with investors and CEOs, founders of companies?

 

Kevin Gould:

This was what I found interesting. I found a gap where people being young, people thought I had something of value that they didn’t. I couldn’t do shit for anyone in the talent agency. Like, “What am I going to do for an agent that’s been there 20 years?” I didn’t have a skill set that they didn’t have. I would have to try to be them, right?

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah.

 

Kevin Gould:

But I saw this gap where all of these founders and even these VC funds, they had no clue how the entertainment business worked. I was like, “Wow. I can be that bridge that sort of sits between both worlds.” I really spent a year just getting to know the space, flying up, meeting with people, building the Rolodex, plugging them into relationships and not even asking for anything just to sort of build some relationships.

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. Do you remember some of these companies? Who are some of your first Silicon Valley clients?

 

Kevin Gould:

Well, maybe I’ll cut to kind of how it officially kind of came to be, because before it was… I remember at the time I was sort of signing clients on the side. She’s a really good friend of mine, Jesse Draper. Do you know Jesse? She runs a VC fund down in LA.

 

Chris Erwin:

I think I met her when I first moved to LA in 2012. I don’t remember she was like on the cap table for big frame, but she was like around that whole world.

 

Kevin Gould:

Yeah. We put her with Big Frame. I signed her on the side as a client and I was like, “Okay. We’re going to build out a huge digital show for her.” She was plugged into Silicon Valley. She was one of my first clients while I was at WME that I like took on and worked with from a, not a company necessarily, but a person and her and I are still really great, great friends to this day, but then there were just a lot-

 

Chris Erwin:

Kevin, to be clear. The business was not through WME, this was through you individually?

 

Kevin Gould:

No. Not yet. Jesse was through WME and I signed her, I was at WME, and the agent that I was working for at the time was really supportive, and all the other businesses I was helping at the time, because I was at WME, it was really informal. I wasn’t taking money from them. I was just doing it to learn the space. What it allowed me to do was refine my understanding of what made a good company, what made a good founder.

 

Kevin Gould:

I mean in the beginning my instinct wasn’t as good. I was going after companies that couldn’t get to scale, maybe didn’t have the right founder, maybe there was a ton of competition in the space, and then at the time, I was working for an agent and the way the agency is laid out is you’ve got all the agent offices, and then there’s a huge row of just like… You’ve been in the agency. There’s a huge row of assistant desks and assistants all sit next to each other.

 

Kevin Gould:

I was sitting next to this guy, smart guy, worked at Goldman, gave up everything to come to the agency, and then he was working for Charles King at the time, who now runs Macro. We would sit next to each other and just talk about the tech space and we sort of share the same passion. We ended up leaving together and we started, what was at the time, a company called Startup Agency, which the whole idea was Startup Agency was going to bridge Silicon Valley and the entertainment side of the business.

 

Kevin Gould:

One of my first clients that we signed was, again, someone who’s become a really great friend to this day. It was a company called Gift at the time, which the whole premise of Gift was a digital gift card app that could buy, send, sell, receive digital gift cards and I met CJ, the founder… I went to TechCrunch Disrupt, the big conference. I saw him present on stage. I went up and said, “Hey, man, I’ve got this company called Startup Agency…”

 

Chris Erwin:

You just approached him cold?

 

Kevin Gould:

Just approached him cold. He kind of looked at me like, “Who’s this guy?” Kind of blew me off. I said, “Give me your card.” I gave him my card. He gave me his card, and then the next week I called him, he was still apprehensive. I got on the phone. I was like, “Look, I can really help you out. If you could get to anyone in the entertainment business, who would it be?”

 

Kevin Gould:

He said, at the time, Giuliana Rancic was a new mom on E. Perfect for what they were trying to do as an ambassador for their business. I said, “Okay. Give me a couple days.” I came back a couple days later. I said, “Hey, I got a call set up with Giuliana’s manager and her team and Giuliana. Let’s put a partnership together.” Two weeks later, she came on as like a big face and an ambassador to the brand, and then we did a ton of other things for Gift along the way.

 

Kevin Gould:

That was one of the first clients, and then so Tim and I is still a good friend. He ultimately wanted to go more in depth with us, a single company, and that’s when sort of Startup Agency kind of pivoted. I rebranded and kind of became an element of what Kombo Ventures is today.

 

Chris Erwin:

You go full into Startup Agency I think in 2012, right?

 

Kevin Gould:

Yeah. I think 2012. Yeah. It’s the end of 2012. Right around there.

 

Chris Erwin:

Okay.

 

Kevin Gould:

It’s funny because I think some people have very linear paths. They were like here for three years and here for two and here for a year. Mine was very like it all sort of blended together. I was at WME and I was trying to sign these people on the side and have my own business, and then I sort of moved into Startup Agency, and then that sort of morphed into Kombo.

 

Kevin Gould:

There was this constant just evolution of what I was doing as opposed to a hard rigid like, “Here for this year, two years, three years.” It just sort of morphed and evolved over time.

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. Kind of like the image that’s coming to mind is a plant or a tree that’s growing, and then there are these branch offshoots that might be like, “Oh, I’m incubating this idea. See where that goes. Maybe it grows maybe it doesn’t.” Then, there’s this other offshoot, and then it becomes like a through line where the core of your career and all these different things build upon that and reinforce it, but then can take you serendipitously in different directions. I feel like that’s what you did.

 

Kevin Gould:

Life is all about serendipity and that’s a good analogy you made about the plants and different paths. Then, it still ends up all working up to the same place, but it kind of diverges here and there, but it all ultimately, even if you don’t think it makes sense and at the moment it ends up making sense. That’s life.

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. 100%. Startup Agency, and then I think that you take on a 10-pole client in Videogram and Cinemacraft for a couple years, but Kombo, what is now known as Kombo Ventures, which is a hybrid talent management, IP, incubation studio, digital agency, consumer brand launcher, that also really kind of takes off at the same time.

 

Kevin Gould:

So at the time there’s this company called Cinemacraft. They had a product called Videogram, really interesting sort of early video product that they had an algorithm that allowed basically videos to be spliced and diced algorithmically to pull out the most key points of the video. It was mostly like a B2B sales play where you sell into studios and networks and content providers. It was part of Turner at the time had this thing called Turner Media Camp where Turner was funding startups, and so that as a client at the time, I got super involved.

 

Kevin Gould:

I was really part of like the founding member of the team there. I wasn’t the founder by any means, but was on the founding team and that was a great experience to get a little bit more operational in one company where I still had other clients at the time, and sort of I ultimately realized I wanted to at that time be involved across multiple clients, and really build out Kombo and the whole model of Kombo sort of shifted into a real agency where I was looking for…

 

Kevin Gould:

The thesis was go find late seeds, series A, sometimes series B companies that didn’t have someone internally that had my relationships Rolodex, know-how of the entertainment business. Go to them and have a sort of hybrid model where I would take a retainer, because I needed to get paid, take sweat equity. I didn’t have a formal finance background, so what that allowed me to do was learn all about cap tables, all about financing, learning by just osmosis of just being around it.

 

Kevin Gould:

Then, ultimately, what I realized, it’s like, “Wait a second. These companies that I’m taking equity in…” Because I’m super particular and I wouldn’t just work with any company, they all have zero trouble raising money from top tier funds. I was seeing I had a firsthand view of how well the company was doing, because I was very integrated with the companies. I started negotiating to let me invest in the last round of funding, because at the time, I was cutting small angel checks of what was 10k or 15k or 20k to them, at the time I was taking that consulting money, and then dumping it back in.

 

Kevin Gould:

It became this really interesting model where I had a couple wins that really worked. I had some that obviously went to zero, but the ones that worked, worked well and most importantly what it allowed me to do was I basically got to make money and get a really good generalist view of how lots of different companies are run, how lots of different founders work, because they all work different. It was just amazing at that time of my life to be able to do that.

 

Chris Erwin:

Well, and I have to say, so a few points. One, that rubric you talked about, flying up to Silicon Valley, starting to get a sense of what companies were meaningful that you felt are worth betting on versus not. You started to create that filter that you likely applied now at Kombo. So increasing your likelihood of success, better return on your time. Second what I’m hearing is that early stage companies, seed series A, getting them to pay you a monthly retainer as an advisor is not easy.

 

Chris Erwin:

I run an advisory business myself. I specifically target later stage companies that have cash wherewithal. So impressive that you’re able to get them to spend money on you, but then also they want results often, and so you must have been delivering to have maintained those relationships.

 

Kevin Gould:

So very, very good point. It’s really hard to get startups to pay you money when they’re obviously very cash conscious, particularly if they’re that series A stage where paying a $5000 retainer a month or whatever it is that I was charging back then was hard to come by. What I did was I always delivered before I asked for anything. I think that’s a good thing to do in just life, whether you’re someone that’s trying to come in a company, whatever it may be.

 

Kevin Gould:

Always deliver a little bit, show that you can drive results, and then it makes it much easier to ask for something after you’ve already done that. At the time, I was like young coming out of WME, it’s not like Kombo was kind of I guess what it is today where it’s a little bit more established and I had a little bit more of a reputation. I didn’t really have much of a reputation. The only way to do that was to deliver before I asked for anything, and some people would say, “Oh, well, that’s a waste your time. Well, what happens if they don’t compensate you or whatever?”

 

Kevin Gould:

I look at it a completely opposite way. It always… At least, for me, it always ended up working out. Even if I didn’t end up working with them, I still know those people to this day. I can call on a favor. I’ve gained a relationship, whatever it may be. Maybe it took me 5 to 10 hours of work to put in to try to gain the client, but that’s the only way I could get them was to deliver, and then ask later.

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. You were looking at it from a long-term point of view, lifetime value the customer. So, by doing the work up front, even if you don’t get paid for that say like 5 to 10 hours, that could be a customer for the next 10 to 20 years of your life. They can be paying you cash retainer fees. They give you access to their cap table. They refer you to other advisory clients, because they like you. You’re able to make other angel investments.

 

Chris Erwin:

It’s incredibly valuable to put the work in, which also filters if a company appreciates that, that’s someone that you want to work with. You feel them out over time. It’s a two-way interview.

 

Kevin Gould:

100%, and life is a series of compounding relationships. You put in on that work, you help people out, you do good by people, and all of that over time starts to compound to I think kind of what it is today where I feel like I know a pretty good amount of people. I’ve put in a lot of favors for people, if I ever need to call in a favor, I probably can. It’s just this like network effect that continues to expand over time.

 

Kevin Gould:

I try to encourage all these young people that are trying to get in it for the quick money. It’s just take a step back and just think a little bit about the long-term and there’s other things other than like the quick hit that are going to be ultimately a lot more meaningful and beneficial to you long-term.

 

Chris Erwin:

Something else I just have to quickly touch on here. I think you mentioned this when we last spoke, but credit card arbitrage with your angel investments. So, you are making these small cash retainers as far from life-changing money, building a small business, so probably not a lot of extra cash going around, but you’re putting money back into your clients, so you’re like not diversified. If a client goes away, you lose your angel investment and you lose that retainer, but you’re even tripling down in a way because you were going into credit card debt so you can put more cash into these companies, is that right?

 

Kevin Gould:

I’ll even go one step beyond that. I remembered another thing I did, which was crazy. One was I thought, “Okay. I’ve got all these access to these incredible deals.” For whatever reason in my head, I’ve never had that risk alarm bell. For me, anything I do I don’t think is a risk, because I feel like I’ve assessed the risk and I feel like if I’m doing it, it’s not a risk. I ultimately know there is a risk, but I don’t know, my brain has always operated a little bit differently in terms of risk profile.

 

Kevin Gould:

I said, “Man, I’ve got $40,000 of a line of credit on one of my cards and I’m looking at the interest rate, I’m like, “Okay. What happens if I basically go max out this card and basically play interest rate arbitrage where if I can get into a couple of companies there’s the…” The downside of it might go under, but there’s the upside of, “Look, maybe it’s a 15% interest rate a year, but if this thing can 3x, 4x, 5x, 10x, whatever it may be, that’s a pretty good bet.”

 

Kevin Gould:

I did two things. One was I played credit card arbitrage. The second was I think I had… I forgot what I had in my Roth IRA at the time and I cleared the Roth IRA account, and cleared it out, and then took that money and invested it in startups.

 

Chris Erwin:

Wow.

 

Kevin Gould:

For anyone listening, I would never recommend doing that. It’s not a strategy I would recommend, but I don’t know. It made sense to me. It’s hard to explain, because it rationally doesn’t make a lot of sense and I’m a pretty grounded rational person a lot of ways, but I’m also willing to take a lot of risk. I don’t know, that made sense to me.

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. I think liquidating an IRA, I think there’s like a 10% penalty on top of that too.

 

Kevin Gould:

Yeah. I had to pay the penalty to liquidate it too. I had to pull out the cash, you’re not earning interest on the money you’re gaining, you’re also paying the pre-liquidation penalty, but I got enough capital between the credit card arbitrage, the IRA, and the incoming revenue that I had coming in on the agency side of the business, because I was just basically paying my rent. I’m pretty simple. I wear like basic hoodies, t-shirt. I didn’t buy a lot of fancy stuff and that’s how I did it.

 

Chris Erwin:

In these early days, was there ever a point though where there was like a cash crunch? Every founder, and like this is me like every week, “Oh, are we going to make payroll this month? Oh, here’s all the things that could go wrong and put us out of business.” But you need to think optimistically. Were you ever down on your business?

 

Kevin Gould:

Luckily, I kept it really lean at the time. It was more about like, “Am I going to eat or not going to eat?” I always had enough to… Again, I feel like one of my natural skill sets was sales, so there was always enough of a client base to cover. We’ll talk about I guess in a little bit the brand side of things, because when you’re running a brand, a larger brand there’s a lot of moving pieces on cash flow. But because I kept it lean, I was generally okay, but I had to really not live beyond my means, and also always be on the hunt for new clients and new business development.

 

Kevin Gould:

I definitely wasn’t swimming in cash, because, again, I was taking lower retainers in exchange for these equity stakes, and then when there were some cash crunches, serendipitously, a company exits and I get a payout or I close a bit deal. I don’t know, man. It always ended up somehow writing itself and, yeah, it was crazy.

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. I think that’s the success formula. It’s hard work having some diversified bets, and then a bit of luck where things just work out, and resilience. In those tough times not hanging up the towel. Be like, “No. We can get through this.” Because all startups they just need a little bit of time. With time, the worst that can happen is you go to zero. The best is like the sky is limitless.

 

Kevin Gould:

That’s exactly the way I think about it. The worst that can happen is it goes to zero, and ultimately, you learn from it and you start over. I know that sounds very simplified, and so a lot of people I think going to zero is that’s obviously terrible, but for me, I’m like, “All right. I’ll just from scratch and rebuild.” That’s kind of how I always thought about is the worst that happens is I learned a lesson and I got to rebuild.

 

Chris Erwin:

I like how Jocko Willink describes it who’s former special forces and he’s now an incredible executive and leadership coach and has his own podcast and much more. He’s done the scenario. He goes through his worst case scenario planning, which is like, “Okay. If I’m really making pennies, then I will have a blanket on a concrete floor and I will eat beans out of a can.” He’s like, “That’s not that bad.” He’s like, “I’ve had worse in combat scenarios.”

 

Chris Erwin:

It’s like when it’s uncertain of how bad it can get, you freak yourself out, but when you actually get there logically, you’re like, “Oh, I can do that for a few months. I can do that for a year. Sure.”

 

Kevin Gould:

100%, and obviously, you don’t want to do it, but you’ll ultimately be okay. Then, it’s just a matter of being resilient and getting yourself out of it and coming up with the next thing. Ultimately, that’s like all business. If businesses can’t get creative and continually be ahead of what’s next, they’re ultimately going to find themselves in that position anyway, so you have to constantly be coming up with new things to reinvent yourself, get creative. I don’t know. That’s how I think about it.

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. Cool. All right, Kevin, let’s talk about how Kombo Ventures has evolved over the past couple of years. You’ve had some very exciting developments in your company where in addition to all of your agency management, IP studio work, you’ve now launched three very fast growing direct to consumer brands. Let’s start out, what was the catalyst to evolve Kombo Ventures, and then specifically get into beauty products?

 

Kevin Gould:

Yeah. A couple catalysts, and maybe I’ll cut back slightly, and then loop back into how this all kind of came to be. After running the agency side of the business for a few years, I was seeing the rise of influencers and big digital influencers, content creators, YouTubers, and thought there was a gap in the market where a lot of these talent needed to think about their brand as a real scalable business.

 

Kevin Gould:

I ended up basically starting another part of the agency where more of a management company where we were just managing and signing digital YouTube creators, big talent, and so for a while it was a split of still working with companies and doing all of the advisory agency services we were talking about, which is one part of the business. Then, the other part was managing these talent.

 

Kevin Gould:

On the beauty side, one company probably five, six years ago I got really deep with as an investor. Sort of fell on hard times now with the events, business and COVID and everything was BeautyCon, and through BeautyCon, I really saw, one, the influence that influencers have on the beauty business. Two, the scale of beauty businesses and how much they can scale. I think they were always very forward thinking from an e-commerce perspective.

 

Kevin Gould:

Then, the other we’re seeing through the influencers that we were managing was like just even at a very basic level when they had their own merch business, the amount of scale that one influencer could get from moving merch. Which then led me to, “Look, I really want to start building my own brands.” I’d say in summer of 2018, I had known Sharon Pak and Jordynn Wynn for a while. They were basically like the first two employees over at ColourPop Cosmetics, big cosmetics company.

 

Kevin Gould:

I slid in their DMs on Instagram. I DM both of them together and I said, “Hey, what are you guys up to? I’d love to catch up.” I schlep over to Calabasas because they were working out of Oxnard, we met in the middle. I sat down. I was like, “Look, if you guys could start a brand and what space would it be?” We sort of just started talking and they were like, “Look, we think the hair space is a really interesting space. We don’t think it’s been innovated.” You’re like, “Color cosmetics has. There’s a lot of legacy players, but they’re not great at social content creative like sort of influencers.”

 

Kevin Gould:

I kind of went back that night and did a bunch of research. I came back a day later and I said, “Hey, here’s all the research on the space. Let’s do this.” They’re like, “Whoa. Are you serious?” I was like, “Yeah. Let’s do it.”

 

Chris Erwin:

You were like jazzed up immediately?

 

Kevin Gould:

I was jazzed up immediately. I was looking for co-founders that… It’s important to have co-founders that can do things you can’t and vice versa, right?

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah.

 

Kevin Gould:

I think their core expertise was social, creative, community building online, and so we partnered up and the brand launched. It was a soft launch, but it launched in October of 2018. That was the first brand.

 

Chris Erwin:

This is called Insert Name Here.

 

Kevin Gould:

Insert Name Here, INH Hair for short. When we started, it was primarily actual hair. Like Ariana Grande style ponytails, like that ponytail she always wears, hair extensions, wigs, lots of hair products. It has since transitioned into overall hair business where we sell blow dryers, straighteners, hot tools. We have hair color now. It’s expanded a lot. Then, cut to last year there were two other brands that I launched and co-founded.

 

Kevin Gould:

One was also in the beauty space called Glamnetic. It is in the women’s eyelash space. I did that with my co-founder Anne McFerrin, who’s incredible, and sort of similar in that she is incredible at social, creative content, community building. I think a real visionary from a product development perspective. We launched that. Then, the third brand was called Wakeheart, which I did… This was done a little bit differently.

 

Kevin Gould:

It was done with the Dolan twins who were two big YouTubers and digital influencers. It’s a fragrance and scent brand, really aimed at like Gen Z and young Millennials. The through line is that with all these brands we’re like, “Okay. Look, we need to get these things profitable within six months or less.” That was like one goal we set. We’re going to run these things lean. I wanted in the beginning a pretty large degree of autonomy. I didn’t want to raise capital. So, self-funded the businesses-

 

Chris Erwin:

Jointly funded with your co-founders or were you just contributing capital?

 

Kevin Gould:

Different on each one. One of them I funded all of it. Two of them, I think we split some of it. Then, I was bringing… Mostly I was bringing the capital, and then I was bringing all the op side, everything on the operational side of the business. Then, I’d say I’m pretty strong on the marketing side as well, and so bringing a lot of that to the table and kind of cut to today. There’s these three brands running, we still haven’t taken on any capital for any of the brands. Man, there’s like 90 something people across everything now.

 

Kevin Gould:

The brands grew really, really quickly. It obviously has been a very interesting year with COVID and how sort of everything accelerated from an e-commerce perspective. But it’s been a lot of fun.

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. Going back to meeting the co-founders, how did you sell them on you? Because you show up… I think you kind of knew the ColourPop cosmetics team, but getting them to launch a business, change what they’re doing, take on a bunch of risk, sign up for a lot of work. How did you get them excited about these ideas you had?

 

Kevin Gould:

You know what’s funny is I feel like you’d have to ask Sharon and Jordynn, but they’ve kind of talked about it before. I think they like did… I don’t know if they thought I was that serious at first, right? I was that serious. I literally sat down, and I said, “Hey, if you could launch anything, what should we launched?” Then, literally a week later we’re meeting every weekend while they’re still working like getting this thing strategized and planned and going.

 

Kevin Gould:

Yeah. I don’t know. I think it was just an open honest conversation. I was like, “Look, we think there’s a big opportunity here and let’s take a shot at this and do it.” I think to their credit too, I think they wanted to start… It was all serendipitous, right? They wanted to start their own business at the time and I think we all complimented each other in terms of the skill sets that we brought to the table, and so it just made sense.

 

Chris Erwin:

Then, you also said that you brought ops expertise to the table, but you don’t have a background in launching CPG, e-commerce businesses, in fulfillment, developing relationships with manufacturers, designing packaging, so did you hire a team to help you figure that out or did you do it yourself?

 

Kevin Gould:

I’ve had my right hand guy, Lucas, who’s been with me for a while. He’s awesome. He also did not have a e-commerce op background. He had a banking background where he was at the Soros fund, and then kind of like do anything figure it out sort of mentality. I kind of just looked at the space and I was like, “We can figure this out.” It’s like anything, right? You put enough time into it and just dig in and be curious and ask a lot of questions. It’s not rocket science.

 

Kevin Gould:

We’re not building a biopharma company. It’s not something completely out of my wheelhouse. I think by virtue of seeing a lot of companies being built over the years and sort of being close to the space, I knew enough as a generalist to be able to go in and figure it out, but you’re right. Never cut a fulfillment center, put a fulfillment center deal together, never had to run the back end on the accounting side for an e-commerce business before, but you kind of just figure it out as you go.

 

Chris Erwin:

Just learn by doing.

 

Kevin Gould:

Learn by doing and the key is one thing with putting up your own money is you are very conscious of making sure you minimize mistakes, right?

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah.

 

Kevin Gould:

For me, I’m like super high touch and heavily involved in each of the brands and still am to this day and just the key is, it’s like, “How do you scale as quickly as possible to minimize the major mistakes you make?” It’s okay to make mistakes and we want people to make mistakes because otherwise they’re not moving quick enough and learning and growing things, but from a cash flow perspective going back to the cash flow piece, you need to make sure you don’t make too many mission critical mistakes or you’ll be out of business, particularly if you’re self-funding your company.

 

Chris Erwin:

Speaking of the cash needed, how much capital did it take to actually just first launch these brands and get the first product out the door? Are we talking seven figures per brand, was it five to six figures of cash investment?

 

Kevin Gould:

I’d say minimum six figures on each brand, and then as they grow the biggest problem was trying to self-finance an e-commerce brand, if you’re growing quickly is the inventory constraints. In the hair space, cost of inventory is really high. I had to put out for sure six figures initially to get the thing going. But, again, it seems crazy to do that, but to me at the time I felt like I calculated the risk. I felt like we’re going to make this work and was willing to do it. It didn’t seem like a… I don’t know. I looked at it from all angles and I was like, “I feel like this makes sense and the worst that happens is I’m going to lose my money and I’m going to have to make it up again.”

 

Kevin Gould:

But the real big challenge wasn’t necessarily that I was fortunate to have had some successes with some of the previous exits where I made some money on some of the agency side of the business where I had that capital to deploy, but the most challenging piece comes, again, when you really scale it and you have to continue to deploy capital just to finance the inventory as you go, and you’re too early to go to a bank.

 

Kevin Gould:

A bank’s not going to finance a business that’s been up and running for a year. You’re almost even too early to go to a lot of the inventory financing solutions that are out in the market today. You kind of really need close to a year for them just to even get them interested, and so at points in time, I had to deploy a lot more than I wanted to.

 

Chris Erwin:

Personal capital.

 

Kevin Gould:

Personal capital. I had deployed overall a million dollars. I’m not going to break down exactly which one it went to, but across everything, a million dollars of capital, which was, one, way more than I expected. That’s a lot of money. I’m not like loaded. That’s a lot of money.

 

Kevin Gould:

I don’t know. I believe in the brands. I believe in what we’re doing. I believe in my co-founders. It wasn’t like the businesses were losing money. That incremental dollar figure that has went up over time is getting plowed into inventory. It’s not like we’re a business like some of these other e-commerce businesses that got in trouble where they were just blowing money every month and they were losing money on the P&L. This was for financing growth.

 

Chris Erwin:

I like what you said about starting lean with the six-month timeline to prove it out and get profitable. I think what a lot of companies, particularly digital media companies did when I got into the whole game back in 2012 was here’s a vision for a business model that we can enter, and then here’s how we can make money, but a lot of it didn’t come into fruition. Then, it required them to continually raise money from investors, and then a lot of money was lost. That wasn’t the approach for you.

 

Kevin Gould:

Well, and I think there were, obviously, hindsight for all those guys or women. It’s like 20/20 in terms of what went wrong. I think there was like guilty parties on both sides. I think you had entrepreneurs that were coming up with self-justified LTVs of customers, and then they’re like, “Yeah. The LTV is a thousand dollars of our customer, therefore, we can spend 500 to acquire them.” When there actually wasn’t enough data to really understand, what was the LTV?

 

Kevin Gould:

Then, you’ve got investors pumping money into the space encouraging them and basically adding on to that narrative of, “Oh, yeah, yeah, grow, grow, grow, grow, grow.” Then, when the growth wasn’t there and the LTV didn’t back out, the investors were like, “We’re cutting our losses. We’re not in.” You had a bunch of these e-commerce businesses that just fundamentally should have been run a much different way.

 

Kevin Gould:

I think the space is now getting reset where there’s a lot more e-commerce brands or Omni-channel brands that are being run a little bit more efficiently. I think just the investor base has gotten, has been pushing companies to do that a lot more, but I was like, “We should be able to run this lean.” you know, then you got to put up the money for the inventory, you got to test, you got to be in the weeds.

 

Kevin Gould:

In the beginning, I always tell early founders of social driven e-com brands, we treated Instagram DM as a sales funnel, right? Anyone that followed us, we’d shoot them a personal DM like, “Hey, thanks for following us. Let us know if you have any questions. We’re here for you.” That was like warm… If you’re in a B2B sales business, that was our version of prospecting new customers. We had warm leads of people that followed us and we were actually going in and DMing them, having conversations with our first few thousand people that followed us on social and actually drove real revenue from that.

 

Kevin Gould:

It was just a down and dirty kind of guerrilla marketing style way of getting new customers on not a lot of capital. Obviously, as you scale that doesn’t work as you scale as much, right? But in the beginning when you’re doing 10,000, 20,000 a month in sales, it was a really great outside the box marketing tool for us.

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. As they always say in the beginning do things that don’t scale. You learn from those tests and experiments, and I also like hearing about the story that you didn’t have a specific playbook to follow in the beginning. You kind of learned and made your own. It’s crazy I think with the number of e-commerce companies that are out there and you have Shopify and WooCommerce that you would think, “Oh, here’s the playbook, here’s how you find the manufacturer, here’s the margin that you need.”

 

Chris Erwin:

There are best practices, but you still got to figure it out for yourself and each talent situation, each product situation, each team situation is uniquely different. You just got to start talking to people, trying things out, and taking your ego out of it. One thing I’ve learned from you because you’ve given me some advice for some of our clients is you can have clients with billion dollar top line licensing businesses, but you know what? Start out with a small experiment which is maybe just a thousand units and see what works, and then you could build upon that and that’s the right way to do it.

 

Kevin Gould:

100%. It doesn’t all have to come at once. Start small and prove it out, make sure it works, and build from there. I think your point too on ego and I think everyone as an entrepreneur always have to self…. They always have to self-check their ego. You, me, everyone to a degree has an ego and I think to be a founder or a CEO or someone that’s leading a company, and I’m certainly guilty of this as well sometimes.

 

Kevin Gould:

It’s like you have to check your ego, make sure you’re an amazing listener, right? You have to listen to everything. You have to listen to your team members, your co-founders, your customers, right? Even though you might have a perspective that you think is right and it might ultimately be right, you still need to take in all the feedback and listen and make sure everyone has a voice. That’s always something that you continually have to refine and work on as a founder.

 

Chris Erwin:

So fast forward, you launched these brands, three brands within the past couple of years and you had a big moment this year. I think on the recent Facebook earnings call, Sheryl Sandburg, I think the number two at Facebook. She calls out Glamnetic as a great example of a fast-growing small, medium-sized business that’s using their advertising platform. This is like you hear Glamnetic and the founder’s name on the earnings call. It’s amazing. I think you guys posted a video of that. What did it feel like? Did you know in advance that was going to happen?

 

Kevin Gould:

We did. I wasn’t sure it was a go until the night before. I heard it was going to happen, but I still thought, went listen in on their earnings call… On those earnings calls, things get cut out last minute. I was like, “Who knows if this is going to happen or not.” It was a really cool moment, man. I mean I think like, “Look, you got to celebrate the wins.” I think that was like… I had a drink that night with my co-founder, and the guys as well. That was really cool.

 

Kevin Gould:

The business was super young, it was really a little over a year old. We’ve been fortunate to scale very quickly and that was just a really cool moment. One of the biggest companies in the world and you’re on their earnings call, but you know what? You take the night, you celebrate a little bit. You’re like, “Wow. That was cool.” Then, you get to work the next day and you just keep building.

 

Kevin Gould:

It was an amazing experience. It’s something that I think always remember when you’re like as an early moment of the end, but I don’t know. It’s also weird because the brands have scaled really quickly, but at the same time I still feel like they’re in their infancy. I feel like we’re just getting started and-

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. Let’s put some numbers behind that. I think that you mentioned when these brands like I think last year, run rate across your three brand portfolio, call it around $1 to $2 million of top line revenue.

 

Kevin Gould:

A little bit more like four to five last year. This year collectively 75.

 

Chris Erwin:

75?

 

Kevin Gould:

Yeah.

 

Chris Erwin:

That’s like 20x.

 

Kevin Gould:

Yeah. It’s been insane, man. It’s been… What’s crazy is like, again, it’s definitely growing a lot, but I still feel like we’re that small startup that’s just like hustling to make it happen and the key is we have, again, I’ve got amazing co-founders in each brand and amazing teams. We have a lot of really young people that love what they do. I think they’re learning a lot in these brands. It’s been an amazing experience for them. They also put in a lot of hard work though and everyone’s really, really passionate about what they do.

 

Kevin Gould:

We’ve got awesome teams on each of the brands. I think we figured out the playbook and the playbook’s always changing. It’s constantly updating, but to run a really strong e-commerce brand today, you have to do a lot of things right. You have to obviously be with an amazing high quality product, that’s number one. You don’t get in the door and scale otherwise. Then, you have to be killer at… It’s like the flywheel, social content, creative, influencer marketing, paid media, retention, email, SMS, a loyalty program.

 

Kevin Gould:

That whole flywheel has to be running in lockstep and in sync in order for the brands to scale, otherwise, what happens is if you only have two or three of those, the barrier to entry to start an e-com brand lower than ever, right?

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah.

 

Kevin Gould:

Super easy to get a Shopify site up. Let’s say you own a brand, then, it’s fairly easy… I wouldn’t say it’s fairly easy, but it’s easier to get a brand to seven figures in sales, right? It’s become easier to do that, but still I don’t want to discount that that’s really still hard to do. Then, take a brand to eight figures in sales or mid-eight figures in sales, you have to have all of those things working right, and if they aren’t, you’re going to have gaps and holes and it’s not going to get there.

 

Chris Erwin:

When you think about how you really take this brand portfolio at 75 million this year to going to 100, 200 plus million next year, what are the next big moves to make? Is it something else that you’re adding to the flywheel? Is it, hey, now is the time where we really need more capital? We need a letter of credit or inventory, financing? What are the one or two key things you need to sort out?

 

Kevin Gould:

Man, I wish it was just one or two. I feel like there’s so much to do. I think to take a step back too. So, each of the brands are treated as individual brands, right? I’ve got different co-founders on each brand and we look at… Well, I’m involved in all of them at the Kombo level, right? Each brand is looked at individually and has a completely… There’s a lot of overlap and synergies, but a completely different strategy and I’m sitting with my co-founders in each brand and figuring out for that brand, in particular, what do we need to do to scale?

 

Kevin Gould:

Again, some things are similar across the board. We obviously want to improve on costs or efficiencies and that’s a given as the business scales. Then, I think there’s just other things, a big priority I think going into 2021 is retail, North America retail expansion. I think you’re going to see probably two of the three brands in retail in a big way in 2021. I think we have to continue to bring on really smart people that can fill in gaps that we don’t currently have.

 

Kevin Gould:

There’s things like data, data and analytics where I think we’re average. I think we can get better there. You kind of have to go through the company and take a real look and say, “What are we not the best at?” Find people that are way smarter than you and bring them into the team and let them really run. I tell everyone on the teams and try to emphasize this, everyone in a startup is their own entrepreneur and an entrepreneurial organization.

 

Kevin Gould:

If you were the customer service lead, you were running your own… The customer service lead at Glamnetic, she is running her own business inside a much bigger business, and to try to treat their whole funnel and what they’re working on as if it was their own business that they’re running. I think if everyone in the team can look at that in their own portion of their business responsible for, ultimately, you’ve built a really entrepreneurial organization that everyone gets excited about.

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. There will be independent thinking and people will solve problems on their own or with their team members. That’s what you need and when you’re moving quickly where like you said there’s not a specific playbook. It’s like you just need smarts and people that want to lean in and figure things out.

 

Kevin Gould:

The other thing I think as a leader you have to do is you cannot lead by fear. If you lead by fear you ultimately are not going to get any of the results that… You might get short-term results, right? But you’re going to see a lot of turnover. You’re going to see not a lot of innovation because people are afraid to make mistakes and to innovate, there’s going to be mistakes made.

 

Kevin Gould:

I think you have to really empower and encourage everyone on the team and give them a lot of autonomy, minimize major mistakes, because major mistakes are not good, but you have to really empower the team, because a company is not built by one or two or three people, it’s built by the collective group of everyone working together.

 

Chris Erwin:

Totally agree. Well put. Before moving on to rapid fire, I just have to ask you about… Because you brought up expansion through new retail channels, we’ve written a lot about live stream commerce, looking at the Chinese market. It was around 65 billion last year. This year was forecast to do around 130 billion, but I think it’s coming in at like near 170, 180, and I know as digitally native brands that use, you also have social selling models. You sell through Facebook and Instagram shop and likely other avenues. Is live stream selling part of your strategy in the New Year or do you already do it?

 

Kevin Gould:

I’m obsessed with live commerce. I love the things you guys write on it. I consume all that content.

 

Chris Erwin:

Thank you.

 

Kevin Gould:

I’d say I spent the last six months to a year being constantly curious and reading everything about live commerce and just really figuring out where I think our brands can kind of play in that world. We’ve been experimenting with a lot of different things. It takes a really big effort by the team and there’s not immediate results right now, right?

 

Kevin Gould:

I think anyone that’s jumping into live commerce is building ultimately for the future, which, again, each brand is a little bit different, but I’d say the through line is that I think everyone is excited about the potential live commerce. It’s going to be interesting to see how the platforms play out and where do you invest the time? There’s also the other platforms that are not one of the major platforms that are… It’s the networks, the pop shop lives. Everyone’s sort of coming up with their own niche that they’re going after.

 

Kevin Gould:

As a brand, you have to figure out where you’re going to invest your time and where you’re going to play. We’re like in the middle of that right now, but I think for us, live commerce is a really big priority to invest in next year with maybe not a ton of short-term results, but a lot of long-term equity. The other thing I think that in two years the hottest role in town for a new job… It’s like six years ago when it was like we needed a head of influencer relations, right? That was a really attractive role.

 

Kevin Gould:

I think there’s going to be a lot of roles where companies are hiring ahead of live commerce. That’s literally the title. It’s just going to be a really… Who knows? I don’t know if it’ll take a year, if it’ll take two years, if it will take three. We’ll have to see what happens in the space, but I’m super excited about it, and to your point of how big it is in Asia. If some of that can be implemented here, it’s going to be really cool.

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. That’s a good take. Think of an analogy, right? When we used to advise creators at Big Frame and Awesomeness, they have so many different platforms that they could publish on. You could be on Facebook, on Instagram, on TikTok, on Snapchat, on YouTube, and it’s really… Unless you have a fully built out team, it’s hard to be everywhere and to be really effective, to program well, to interact with your audience, to do really great work.

 

Chris Erwin:

I like how you put it about commerce is there’s many retail channels that we can be, but we have to focus on the ones that are the best fit for our business at this stage and that we’re also just where we are well set up an advantage to perform. There’s others that we want to be, but let’s not just jump into it. Experiments make sense, and you guys will probably try some things out, but then navigating that world… Yes. We’ve looked at all different players. You have the big tech social incumbents.

 

Chris Erwin:

You got Amazon and Amazon Live. You got Facebook Live, Instagram Live, and they’re commerce and shops. TikTok and Snapchat are doing live commerce, but then all the niche players like you said, Pop Shop, talkshoplive, Shop Network, so like what’s best for you? It’s a lot to navigate.

 

Kevin Gould:

It’s crazy, man. It’s exciting, because there’s so much going on. I think the biggest challenge is going to be the amount of resources that brands do have to dedicate to it to get… There has to be a real incentive coming from the platforms to get the brands to do it. I think bigger big brands, they’re going to be late to the game like they always are on stuff, because they just… They’re not going to be able to move internally quick enough to like… They’re going to talk about it for two years while they wait to see what happens and probably jump in.

 

Kevin Gould:

I think what happens though is that creates an amazing opportunity for brands like ours and other brands that can move quickly and understand how to navigate the space to dive in and be early. I always like to be early on things. You never want to be too early but it’s great to be early. I’m psyched about it. I’m literally anytime you put some content on, I’m reading everything and just consuming a lot of information about it.

 

Chris Erwin:

Look, the new way to sell is digital, social, and with personality. You guys are very well set up for that. Before moving on to rapid fire, I’m just going to close out this segment with a bit of a kudos to you in a little anecdote.

 

Chris Erwin:

Kevin, I think I first met you within the first couple years of me moving to LA. I think this was around probably 2013, 2014. We were at a typical kind of Hollywood type party where it was like nighttime, lights, pool, patio, it’s nice out. A mutual friend introduces us. I look at you and I’m like, “Here we go.” You’re saying you’re an angel investor, you do these things. I’m like, “This is a young guy…” I don’t want to say you came off slick, but you just had… You were doing interesting things.

 

Chris Erwin:

Good looking. I’m like, “Oh, this is just like a typical Hollywood set.” I judged you, but as I’ve gotten to know you over the years, I’ve been so impressed with how smart, thoughtful, yet very gracious you are with your time and how humble you are. That you give me time and others around you your experience, your expertise to make this whole industry better. You very much have this positive sum approach, which really, really resonates. You’re amazing. I love the work that you’re doing. I want to give you a little shout out.

 

Kevin Gould:

I appreciate that a lot. It means a lot. I mean I feel the same way about you. I think we’ve probably known each other seven, eight years, and it’s been amazing to see everything you’ve built as well. I really appreciate that compliment.

 

Chris Erwin:

Very welcome. All right, Kevin, moving into the rapid fire to close this out. I have six questions. The goal is to answer them quickly in one to two sentences or even one to two words. Do you understand the rules?

 

Kevin Gould:

I understand the rules. I have not looked at any of these beforehand, so maybe it’ll take me more than a minute, but I’ll try to be quick.

 

Chris Erwin:

All right. I’ll hold you accountable. All right. Let’s kick it off. Proudest life moment.

 

Kevin Gould:

Proudest life’s moment. There’s not one life moment that comes out. To me, I think it’s a collective of everything. I think life is all about experiences. Whether that’s experiences with my family, which one thing I’m working on is I’d love to spend more time with my family. Experiences in business, achievements. There’s not one moment that sticks out where I’m like, “Wow. That’s the proudest moment.” It’s a collective… It’s all these serendipitous moments that come into play and you kind of look back and you’re like, “Wow. That’s incredible.” It’s not one moment for me. I hope that answers the question but it’s life in general. It’s the through line of just navigating life.

 

Chris Erwin:

Got it. What do you want to do less of in 2021?

 

Kevin Gould:

I want to do less of the things that I’m not necessarily the best at, but there’s not anyone else to do it now. I think that’s just a matter of as we continue to bring on people that are probably better than me at certain things, they’re going to be able to thrive in those things. It’s going to be able to pull me out of some things that I’m probably not as strong at, but I’ve had to do now, because there’s no one else to do it. It will allow me to have more clear focus on the things that I think I can thrive at. I think ultimately doing less of the things I don’t like to do is a good priority for next year.

 

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. Continuous arbitrage of your time and your passion.

 

Kevin Gould:

Man, not to get too off track. I gave up driving five years ago. I just take Uber full time, because it’s the opportunity, cost of time, and it’s the time arbitrage, right?

 

Chris Erwin:

Got it. What do you want to do more of in the New Year?

 

Kevin Gould:

I want to spend a little bit more time… We’ll see if this happens. It’s unfortunate because of COVID and we’re far apart. I’d love to spend more time with my family who I have not got to see a lot of, and admittedly, I always throw myself into work, and so I need to prioritize that more. I would love to do more of that.

 

Chris Erwin:

What one to two things drive your success? Short answer.

 

Kevin Gould:

Yeah. For me, I think I like to prove things to myself. It’s not like I have a chip on my shoulder in any way, maybe there is a little bit where I want to prove it to myself, but it’s always trying to get better and prove that if I think I can do something, I really, really want to do it.

 

Kevin Gould:

The other thing that really drives me, there’s two things. I love learning, and so I love being constantly curious and in the mix and knowing things… I love knowing things before everyone else. I want to be ahead of live commerce before everyone else. That’s I love learning. I think the third thing is the interaction with team members and the joy that working with other people, the positive and negative dynamics that come with running a company, working with people, conflict resolution. That’s fun to me and it really just drives me to try to get better.

 

Chris Erwin:

Advice for media and direct to consumer execs going into the New Yea.

 

Kevin Gould:

To continue to stay constantly curious on things and make sure you are always trying to be ahead and don’t settle for what’s working now, because what’s working now might not work three months from now, and so you constantly have to be testing, iterating, and improving, and there’s going to be a continued convergence of content and media and commerce together. They all work together, and so you really got to know both sides. Don’t be the person that just the content person, don’t be the person that’s just the commerce person. They’re going to merge together and you need to know both.

 

Chris Erwin:

Well put. All right, last couple. Any future startup ambitions? I know you have a lot in your plate right now.

 

Kevin Gould:

The key for 2021 is focus and no new brand. There’s no new brands that are happening. I’m in it now with these. I love it. I think there’s three really great brands and it’s going to be a key to focus. Down the line, we’ll see what happens, but I feel I’ve got the next year sort of lined up on what I’m focusing on. I’m always a startup person. I’m sure there’s other things that’ll pop up after that.

 

Chris Erwin:

Last one, it’s an easy one. How can people get in contact with you?

 

Kevin Gould:

I try to be pretty responsive. Sometimes I can’t get back to everyone, but I’m on Instagram. It’s just @KevinG. LinkedIn, you can look me up. It’s Kevin Gould. Those are probably the two easiest ways, Again, I try to be as responsive as I can.

 

Chris Erwin:

Well, Kevin, thanks for being on the podcast.

 

Kevin Gould:

Thanks for having me. This is a lot of fun. I think you dove into a lot of things that don’t normally get talked about on podcast. I appreciate it.

 

Chris Erwin:

All right. One thing that really stands out to me from my interview with Kevin is that he’s got really good business instincts. That being said the fact that he tripled down on his clients by taking equity through advisory, and then using a cash advance against his credit card to invest in them, and then also clearing out his Roth IRA. That’s just wild to me, but massive kudos to Kevin, because that clearly worked out very well for him.

 

Chris Erwin:

All right. Two things to know for all you listeners. One, we just published a couple of our 2021 predictions on our blog. If you go to wearerockwater.com/blog, you can read about our predictions in the audio and podcasting space as well as in the food commerce space. Definitely worth checking out.

 

Chris Erwin:

Second, we’re still working on our live stream media and commerce conference. That’s coming up in the second quarter of this year. Again, if you want to get involved, if you want to be a speaker, if you want to be a sponsor, reach out to us. You can get in contact by emailing us at hello@wearerockwater.com. All right. That’s it, everybody. Thanks for listening.

 

Chris Erwin:

The Come Up is written and hosted by me, Chris Erwin, and is a production of RockWater Industries. Please rate and review this show on Apple Podcast and remember to subscribe wherever you listen to our show. If you really dig us, feel free to forward the Come Up to a friend.

You can sign up for our company newsletter at wearerockwater.com/newsletter. You can follow us on Twitter @tcupod. The Come Up is engineered by Daniel Tureck. Music is by Devon Bryant. Logo and branding is by Kevin Zazzali, and special thanks to Andrew Cohen and Mike Booth from the RockWater team.

Ping us anytime at hello@wearerockwater.com. We love to hear from our readers.

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