04 Oct Courtney Reum
Photo: Nikoletta Csanyi
Co-founder of the investment and brand development firm M13, eco-entrepreneur Courtney Reum started working as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs in his 20s, then founded Veev, the world’s first açaí-infused spirit. Innovative and visionary, Courtney Reum is making a global impact on the planet with M13.
By Victoria Adelaide | OCT 23. 2017
Victoria Adelaide: Tell us a bit about you. Did you grow up in an entrepreneurial environment, with your mother, father, siblings in the business?
Courtney Reum: No, not in a traditional sense. My parents were both more corporate people but I think even though they were corporate, they definitely had kind of an entrepreneurial mindset within bigger companies, so they were always very good about encouraging us to try new things and to be curious. I think they were good about doing it, just not the way we think of entrepreneurship today.
VA: You started your life as an entrepreneur some years ago with ‘Veev’, organic Vodka infused with Acai Berries. Is it true that you used to sell it from the back of your car?
CR: Yes for a while, for six months. For six months, we sold it from the back of our car, yes that’s very true.
VA: When did you have your big break with Veev?
CR: I think our big break was, that after six months of selling it out of our car, getting into many very trendy places like ‘Soho Houses’ and places like that, we got noticed by the biggest distributor in California, who is also the biggest distributor in the US, who is also the biggest distributor in the world, so that obviously helped a lot.
VA: You said your father told you that success in business depends a lot on how you follow up on it. Do you think the most successful people are the most persistent?
CR: I’m learning as I go, but I have always liked the phrase, ‘life is 10% what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it’, but I think in business, I like to jokingly say ‘business is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you follow up on it’. I think it’s true there are these (very few) people who have things fall into their lap, but for most people I know who’ve been successful, it really is all about the hustle.
VA: Last year you launched M13, a brand development and investment company that you co-founded with your brother Carter Reum. What does M13 mean?
CR: M13, I don’t know if it will be in the solar system in Cambodia, but I know in the US, it’s the brightest cluster of stars in the galaxy when you look into the sky. And when you look at it, the individual parts shine brighter than each individual one, so it’s kind of this whole idea of bringing things together, in kind of connecting the dots, which is really what our mission is with M13.
VA: How would you say that you and your brother complement each other in business?
CR: Well I think we’re lucky in that. I think if you have a business partner who doesn’t see the world the same way as you, it’s really tough. But if you have one who’d see the world too much the same way as you, that’s also tough, because it’s just like looking in the mirror and you don’t have enough interesting discussions, enough variance to create new thinking. I always joke that if you met my brother and I at a cocktail party for twenty minutes, you’d think we were just about the same person, but as you talk to us more, I think we are pretty different. Obviously growing up together, being very close and having a very close family, we really do have shared values, which is always important. We agree 95% of the time, and the other 5%, it’s what makes the world go round and certainly leads to very healthy discussions, some may call it argument. This is what makes it interesting.
VA: You have an impressive portfolio of companies you invest in, develop, such as Pinterest, Snapchat, Spacex etc.… How do you pick a company?
CR: Well, compared to a lot of people we know, we actually try hard to sometimes think about either businesses or industries where we think there’s room for doing something really innovative. So rather than just saying, ‘Oh, there’s something interesting that falls into our lap’ and invest, a lot of the time, we come up with a sector or a product that we want to find an investment in, and then we go out to look for it. You know it’s kind of like dating, we try to make the first move because that way at least we have an idea what we’re looking for. After that, I think it always just comes down to the things that a lot of people would say. It comes down to the entrepreneur and the founder, because I would always rather take a pretty good idea with an outstanding founder and team versus a (seemingly) really good idea and a mediocre founder and team, because now that we’ve invested in over a hundred companies, I can tell you the good ones just have a way of navigating the ship and figuring it out. That’s always a big piece and as far as the category goes or our industry, today we really look for companies (we like to call it ‘friction with scaling’) that can get pretty far along before they run into issues. Like ‘Uber’ or ‘Lyft’, those companies both got huge before they ran into issues (well, everyone has issues) but it was kind of friction with scaling because it was an industry where they could get pretty far without natural competition or regulation or things like that.
VA: At launch, M13 already had investments and involvement in more than 50 companies and you are planning on leading more than $100 millions in investment over the next few years. Where are you at regarding those forecasts, and how do you see yourself and M13 in 5 years?
CR: At heart, as much as I enjoy investing, I enjoy building things more, so I think in 5 or 6 years hopefully we will build a bunch more companies. We try not to have an ego about it, meaning I don’t necessarily have to be the founder of a company to have a really big impact and help grow it and make a big difference. Recently, we’ve been funding companies that are very early, just jumping in and getting really involved, as if we were the founders or kind of the first employees, so that’s been a lot of fun because you don’t have to do some of the awful stuff we all have to do when we’re starting, when it’s really, really hard. But these companies are still early enough that you can really feel like you make a difference. Hopefully 5 or 6 years from now, I will have done that with a number of really interesting companies and made a difference in people’s lives, whether it’s technology, healthier food or wellness products. By that time, I’ll probably have started more on my own. I think for me, it’s going to be a lot about building things and also really just this idea of harvesting, consumer brands, media and technology, ‘cause I don’t think anyone has done it quite the way we’re trying to. Hopefully, in 5 or 6 years, we’ll look back and it will have been a big success.
VA: Amongst some of your projects with M13, you and your brother Carter are amongst the panelists of ‘Hatched’ an entrepreneurial reality show that you are also executive producing. How is it received and how does it impact your current business?
CR: Well, for us it was an opportunity, that people found out and asked us to be on this TV show. We said ‘we’re not that interested in being on a TV show just to be on a TV show’, but once we kind of learned about the idea and we realized that ‘Hey, if we can be on TV and use this as a platform to get the message out with what we are trying to do for M13, and also kind of potentially use it as a discovery tool to find some great new companies, that sounds really great’. The show is interesting because, we are the main judges on that actual show, but then as executive producers, part of what we do is really try to set up things out for the show to make the company successful. So, we got a bunch of brands into retail, we’ve got them on other TV things, we’ve got them in press, so we help them build up a team. So, it’s about just giving us a platform, a microphone and a mouthpiece to help find more brands and frankly, help them find us.
VA: Since the very beginning, you have shown great interest in having a holistic approach and a social mission within your businesses. All your businesses have an emphasis on health and wellness. Where does this interest come from and is it something that is also part of your life philosophy?
CR: Yes, I think it kind of came from my parents. It’s funny, I was watching something on TV, I can’t remember, it was ‘Dan Rather’, one of these American broadcasters who’s been on for a really long time, it was like 30 years ago. He did a segment for like ‘60 Minutes’ or something, he was like: ‘And next, we’re gonna talk about something you don’t hear every day, wellness’, and that was 30 or 40 years ago, and now it’s a word you do hear every day. But my parents were always very good about being active, they were both great athletes; my dad was a professional basketball player, my mom was a very accomplished ballerina, and they both came from very active families. They were just very much about like, ‘You’ll feel better if you eat better, if you sleep, if you take care of yourself’. I think it’s just something we’ve always been interested in, and obviously, we’re not the only ones, but I think we feel lucky in that there are a lot of great products out there which, if they were just marketed right, had the right capital and the right team behind it, would make a difference in a lot of people’s lives. So, I think we feel like we can kind of be the connectors between these great products that people have made in their backyard, in their garage, their basement, that nobody knows about, and get them to market, because they’re out there. A lot of the time, these people just don’t know how to find their consumers to build a company even though they’ve created a great product, and so that’s where I think we come in.
VA: Yes KeVita.
CR: Yes, we literally created it in a pillow case about ten years ago.
VA: And then you sold it to PepsiCo?
CR: Yes, and just to make sure, I clarify, KeVita was not my company, we were not its founders but I was one of the early investors and I was on the board of directors for six years. So, when I first started, we were bringing in a million dollars in revenue. It was very new, they hadn’t done anything and this year it’s gonna do well over a hundred million in revenue in six years. I’m so proud of being a reasonably big part of that team.
VA: What are your golden rules in business and in life?
CR: I love Pareto’s law which is also called the 80:20 rule. Some people call it the 95:5 rule. 80:20 rule for life and for business. In business, it would be something like 20% of your customers should generate 80% of your sales, or for personal things, I try to eat healthy 80% of the time so the other 20% of the time when I’m in places like Cambodia (smiles) I can just eat whatever I want and enjoy it. And the other one would probably just be that no matter where you’re from, or what religion you are, I have come to be just a big believer in something like karma. If you do something good, it goes back to the world, if you do something bad it affects the world differently, if you do enough good things, good things will happen, and if you do something bad, it will catch up to you.
...At heart, as much as I enjoy investing, I enjoy building things more , so I think in 5 or 6 years hopefully we will build a bunch more companies.``