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Success Story Podcast

Courtney Reum – Best-Selling Author & Co-Founder of M13 | Shortcut Your Startup

By August 10, 2023September 25th, 2023No Comments

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About The Guest

Courtney Reum is an outstanding entrepreneur and investor with a remarkable track record. Courtney began his career at Goldman Sachs, where he was involved in some of the biggest deals in the beverage industry, such as the $14 billion merger of Allied Domecq and Pernod Ricard. He also worked on transactions for Procter & Gamble, Under Armour, and Vitamin Water. Together with his brother, he launched VeeV, a pioneering alcohol company that became a nationwide sensation before its lucrative sale in 2016.

In 2016, Courtney Reum co-founded M13, an LA-based investment and brand development firm, with his brother. With a sharp focus on start-ups that cater to millennial preferences, such as wellness, sustainability, and innovation, M13 quickly earned a reputation as a hotspot for cultivating cutting-edge consumer product companies. Some of the portfolio companies that M13 has backed include Pinterest, Ring, Headspace, and Lyft. He’s been featured on Forbes’ “30 Under 30” and Courtney is the bestselling author of the book Shortcut Your Startup: Speed Up Success.

Talking Points

  • 00:00 — Intro
  • 02:26 — Origins: Courtney Reum’s Journey Begins
  • 04:43 — Goldman Sachs: Igniting Courtney’s Leadership Path
  • 06:58 — VeeV: Courtney’s Entrepreneurial Genesis?
  • 09:40 — Winning with Spirits: Lessons from VeeV’s Success
  • 11:00 — Entrepreneurial Vision: Courtney’s Brand Building Lens
  • 14:25 — Startup Playbook: Strategies for Triumph
  • 16:13 — Starting Up, Moving On: Courtney’s First Exit
  • 21:41 — Investing Insight: Owner’s Perspective
  • 23:23 — M13’s Evolution: Courtney’s Post-VeeV Vision
  • 26:16 — Sponsor: The Gold Digger Podcast
  • 27:01 — VC Differentiation: Courtney’s Founder Focus
  • 30:25 — Attracting Titans: The Power of High-Profile Investors
  • 32:32 — Founder’s Dilemma: Data vs. Intuition
  • 35:27 — Fundraising Wisdom: Courtney’s Advice
  • 38:26 — Resilience and Drive: Navigating Founder Challenges
  • 41:02 — Conflict Resolution: Courtney’s Portfolio Insights
  • 43:17 — Lessons in Real Life: Impactful Takeaways
  • 45:40 — Connect with Courtney: Book, Socials, and More
  • 46:42 — A Message to 20-Year-Old Courtney
  • 47:02 — Defining Success: Courtney’s Perspective

Show Links

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Show Summary: From Investment Banker to Bootstrapping a Brand to VC: One Entrepreneur’s Winding Journey to Lifestyle Freedom

Courtney Reum always felt pulled toward entrepreneurship, even as he advanced in the prestigious halls of investment banking. After getting his MBA from Columbia and landing a coveted role at Goldman Sachs, Reum seemed poised for wealth and status in the corporate finance world.

But at just 27 years old, Reum made the bold move to walk away and start a new spirits brand from scratch with his brother. To observers on Wall Street, leaving behind a guaranteed seven-figure job to step into the unknown was incomprehensible.

However, Reum was determined to take control of his destiny. In his gut, he knew that long term fulfillment wouldn’t come from advising clients on deals. He wanted the challenge of creating a brand and product he could be proud of.

Of course, Reum had no safety net. If his spirits startup didn’t work out, his Wall Street days were likely behind him for good. He’d have to start his entrepreneurial career from square one.

Nonetheless, Reum took the leap of faith. Little did he know, this would launch a decade long journey filled with invaluable lessons at the intersection of marketing, consumer behavior, and raising capital. Reum would go on to sell his spirits brand, emerge as a venture capitalist, and ultimately design the lifestyle freedom he desired all along.

In this deep dive article, I’ll be sharing key insights from Reum’s journey in his own words. From hustling to get a new brand off the ground, to strategically positioning a company for acquisition, to avoiding founder burnout, Reum provides a masterclass in entrepreneurship.

If you feel unfulfilled trading time for money in a corporate job, or have a vision for starting your own company one day, Reum’s story will expand your beliefs on what’s possible.

Let’s get started.

Leaving Golden Handcuffs Behind to Pursue a Dream

While Remember enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of investment banking, he knew in his gut it wasn’t his calling.

When reflecting on taking the leap into entrepreneurship, Reum pointed to two key factors that gave him the confidence:

“I think the itch to build something of my own — I knew that my long term happiness wouldn’t come from advising clients on corporate finance deals. I wanted to create a brand and product that I could be proud of.”

Financial rewards alone wouldn’t satisfy him. He wanted the challenge of bringing a vision to life.

Of course, many people feel this urge but stifle it based on the risks of entrepreneurship.

Reum also credited his Goldman Sachs experience for providing the perfect training wheels:

“Even though I was leaving it behind, my Goldman tenure gave me the training wheels for entrepreneurship. I learned how industries work, what drives valuations, how deals get constructed, and other foundations. Just as important, Goldman built up my tolerance for ambiguity and working under pressure.”

His banking apprenticeship instilled confidence that he could handle uncertainty and high stakes problems. This provided a solid bedrock as he branched into the unknown.

Ultimately, Reum believes at certain points you simply need to trust your vision and take the leap:

“At 27 you don’t overthink the decision and you’re running mostly on naive ambition. But in retrospect, you need faith in your vision. Some of the biggest rewards require taking the biggest risks.”

The allure of status and stability can hold entrepreneurs back from pursuing their dreams. But as Reum showed, with the right reasons and mindset, you can turn mindset into reality.

Of course, an even steeper learning curve awaited Reum after departing Goldman. He quickly learned that launching a consumer brand from scratch required ridiculous hustle and persistence.

Launching a Brand Requires Serious Hustle

Once Reum made the leap into entrepreneurship, he embarked on a trial by fire education. He quickly realized that building a new spirits brand called Veeve Organic Spirits would require relentless hustle and grit.

Reum and his brother started from square one because they had no existing relationships in the spirits industry. They pounded the pavement doing market research, made endless cold calls asking for introductions, and leveraged any connections they could find just to get a foot in the door.

Early on, a meeting with the brand director at Goldman Sachs — the very company Reum had just left — showed how far they had to go. The director had only vaguely heard of tequila before and seemed bemused that two ex-bankers wanted to launch a new liquor brand.

But Reum embraced the grind day in and day out. He knew the spirits industry had high barriers to entry but outsized rewards for those able to pierce the veil.

For example, Reum points out acquisitions in the spirits world often commanded eye-popping multiples:

“I realized that if you could break into spirits, an acquisition could sell for easily 8–12x sales because it’s so hard to do. The rewards go to those who finally get in.”

So if Veeve could gain a foothold, an eventual exit or investment would pay life-changing sums based on industry norms.

This lofty potential fueled Reum as he and his brother hustled night and day to get Veeve off the ground. As he bluntly put it:

“You need to throw out the career playbook and figure it out as you go when starting from scratch. The conventional path doesn’t suffice.”

Reum focused on the mindset of doing whatever it takes, versus relying on his finance experience. The hustle gradually started paying off as Veeve made its way into trendy bars, restaurants and clubs. Proof points like re-orders and same store sales signaled they had something clicking with the right crowds.

Of course as Reum is quick to point out, at the end of the day a spirits brand succeeds or fails based on the liquid itself. So he knew Veeve had to nail its branding and positioning:

“We focused on organic, sustainable ingredients before it was in vogue. We crafted modern flavor profiles compared to old school competitors. And we donated 1% of revenue to environmental causes to connect with consumers.”

This early focus on social impact proved prescient. As consumer preferences shifted towards conscious brands, Veeve had laid the groundwork to capture that demand.

The long days were turning into months and years, but Reum and his brother slowly earned Veeve a spot on the map through sheer determination.

They simultaneously built the brand while hustling to get it into the hands of the right audiences. As Reum summarized:

“Money follows demand. Use your hustle to get the product in front of the right crowds, prove out demand through sales, and investment and exit opportunities naturally follow.”

Of course, this hustle was far from glamorous in the beginning. But the brother’s perseverance paid off in the end.

Build Your Startup as a Future Acquisition Target

Most founders don’t actively think about selling their company in the early days. But Reum knew it was crucial to craft the right narrative for Veeve as a future acquisition target — even before meaningful M&A talks started.

He focused on laying breadcrumbs with potential acquirers and shaping external perceptions from the outset:

“We made sure Veeve had clear metrics proving demand, like reorder rates and same store sales. This made our growth story obvious.”

“We took actions to boost Veeve’s profile, like buying billboards near key distributors. This created the feeling of momentum.”

“We joined industry groups and attended conferences to build relationships, share our progress, and get on the radar.”

These small moves didn’t cost much but made Veeve look investment-ready in case the right acquisition opportunity arose down the road.

Reum knew great brands get bought every day without obvious suitors already waiting in the wings. By putting in work early on, he ensured Veeve would look appealing to prospective acquirers when the time was right.

And when Reum and his brother eventually decided to pursue an exit, they were ready to capitalize because of those early seeds planted. Reum emphasized:

“Too many founders realize too late that their startup looks disjointed from the outside without proper groundwork. We made sure to start positioning Veeve for a liquidity event on day one, even when it seemed theoretical.”

This allowed them to pursue the right opportunity at the right time, despite having no family money or connections in the spirits industry.

In retrospect, Reum wishes he had perfected this acquisition positioning playbook even more. But the lessons learned helped him in later ventures:

“If you think you might sell your company eventually, you need to build it with that in mind from the start. This creates options down the road that you wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Carefully crafting a narrative for prospective acquirers unlocked a lucrative exit for Veeve that otherwise may not have happened.

Venture Capital Followed a Winding Road

Given Reum’s success acquiring Veeve, it would have been natural for him to hang up a VC shingle right away and start raising money. But he didn’t take the typical path.

After the exit, Reum stayed involved in the consumer space through angel investing and advising startups. He organically developed expertise in consumer tech and DTC brands. This allowed him to start forming relationships with entrepreneurs and proving out his investment chops.

At the same time, Reum built personal friendships with influencers like Richard Branson based on mutual interests like environmentalism.

And he amassed a small investment track record with wins in startups like Ring, Lyft, and Pinterest.

Only after laying this foundation did Reum start formally building out a venture fund called M13. He prudently raised a small proof-of-concept fund first, then methodically layered in bigger name LPs over time like Tony Robbins and Ariana Huffington once he had traction.

When reflecting on this winding path, Reum credited it for his success breaking into the exclusive world of venture capital:

“Taking time to establish credibility with investment wins under my belt was crucial — I didn’t want to rush into fundraising.”

“Letting networking happen naturally based on common interests was key early on — I didn’t want to force connections with celebrities.”

“Starting small allowed me to get LP confidence before increasing fund size. I wanted to take the time to build relationships.”

In retrospect, Reum is grateful he didn’t take the typical path of plugging into an existing VC firm right after his acquisition. By moving deliberately, he believes he earned the skills, credibility and network needed to thrive in venture capital.

This patient approach also allowed him to design the optimal investment strategy for M13 centered around consumer technology.

True Value-Add is Rare in Venture Capital

When M13 started pitching to potential LPs, Reum knew simply touting past IRRs and big startup names wasn’t enough. After all, hundreds of VC funds could flash similar credentials.

He needed a way for M13 to stand out that went beyond vanity metrics on pitch decks.

Reum decided to focus on providing tangible, hands-on value to entrepreneurs in a way most VCs refused to.

He built out a dedicated team called the M13 “Propulsion” group with the sole purpose of providing active operational help to portfolio companies:

“We recruited employees across functions — product, engineering, marketing, HR, finance, etc. The idea was to work closely with founders to diagnose problems and fill skill gaps.”

“Unlike most VCs who just write a check and reactively wait for updates, Propulsion took a proactive role in solving problems. They didn’t just offer advice — they got involved hands-on.”

For example, Propulsion might help re-engineer products, build online stores, refine messaging, fix bottlenecks, and more. They provided functional expertise rather than just looking at spreadsheets from 30,000 feet.

Entrepreneurs raved about this value-add support. As one founder put it:

“With M13’s hands on help, we solved complex issues in days that would have taken months to figure out ourselves. They knew best practices we hadn’t learned yet which accelerated our timeline massively.”

For Reum, this approach was crucial to differentiate M13 in a crowded venture market:

“At the end of the day, every founder has the same choice these days — raise money or don’t raise money. We have to show why choosing M13 makes you uniquely set up for success.”

Rolling up his sleeves between board meetings to solve problems helped Reum build a reputation as the kind of VC that goes the extra mile.

Reum firmly believes smart founders have options today, so merely flashing a brand name isn’t enough. They care about tangible support, not hype.

M13’s hands-on Propulsion team became Reum’s secret weapon to attract the best founders and prove they could multiply their chances of success.

Balancing Data and Intuition as an Investor

Earlier in his career at Goldman Sachs, Reum mastered rigorous financial analysis skills. But he found those structured frameworks didn’t directly translate to the fast-paced world of startups.

Early stage consumer brands need to dynamically adapt as data comes in. Relying solely on spreadsheets and forecasting is insufficient.

That’s why when assessing new products or investment opportunities today, Reum blends hard data with his intuition from years of experience.

A few tactics he relies on:

  • Use diagnostic frameworks — Tools like Accumax provide data-driven personality assessments to remove bias. Reum cross-checks his human reads.
  • Leverage small scale testing — Prototyping product-market fit provides empirical data to pair with instinct.
  • Ask probing questions — If data contradicts Reum’s intuition, he digs in on why instead of ignoring red flags.
  • Maintain flexibility — He knows you need the ability to rapidly change course based on real world data. Initial assumptions often prove wrong.

Reum believes this balanced approach allows him to benefit from his vision and experience while also keeping ego in check:

“Go with your gut, but verify with data to remove bias and wishful thinking. I’ve seen even the most seasoned entrepreneurs miss the mark because they ignored warning signs.”

At M13, the investment team equally weights quantitative data like psychometric founder assessments along with qualitative factors. This gives them confidence they aren’t getting swayed by flashy storytellers with no substance.

Ultimately any investment comes down to educated guesswork. But removing as much guesswork as possible pays dividends over the long-run according to Reum.

Founder Burnout is Real — Plan for the Long Haul

Finally, I wanted to dig into founder psychology and burnout with Reum. Not only has he been in the trenches scaling a startup, he now interacts with hundreds of founders running the VC side.

The conversation kept coming back to founder burnout.

In Reum’s experience, launching a startup is exhilarating yet also grueling. The early days grinding to get Veeve off the ground nearly killed him. He was operating at 110% constantly just to will the company into existence.

A decade later, burnout remains the #1 issue Reum sees derail founders. Whether it’s poor work-life balance, lack of support systems, or reluctance to delegate control, most founders crash and burn in some way eventually.

The problem has intensified in recent years with the rise of hustle culture. Founders isolate themselves in pursuit of rapid growth, forgetting that sustainable progress requires pacing.

Reum has also seen the pandemic accelerate burnout with founders isolated in home offices now and social outlets removed.

For those playing the long game, avoiding a crash and burn outcome is absolutely crucial according to Reum. The most successful founders take steps to preserve their mental and physical health from the beginning.

Here are some of his top tips:

Know your motivations — Reum believes entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. Know why you want to start a company and don’t get seduced by overnight success stories.

Build a strong team — Don’t fall into the founder ego trap. Hire experienced operators you trust so the load isn’t on your shoulders alone.

Institute processes early — Make sure responsibilities and decision making are clear across your team. This prevents bottlenecks.

Empower your leaders — Founders can’t scale if they micromanage. Give your executives autonomy within their domains.

Watch for red flags — Keep an eye out for declining personal relationships, sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, and other signs of imbalance.

Recharge regularly — Book regular weekends off, vacations, and breaks to reset. Trying to grind nonstop is unsustainable.

At some point every founder will face burnout, so taking precautions early on is critical according to Reum.

“Accept that burnout will happen at some point and build in buffers accordingly — don’t wait until it’s too late.”

With the right mental health practices, team and systems, founders can go the distance despite the rollercoaster ride.

Key Takeaways from Courtney Reum’s Journey

Courtney Reum has packed several lifetimes of business experience into just over a decade as an entrepreneur. His unique background provided fascinating insights into breaking into competitive markets, strategically positioning startups for acquisition, transitioning into venture capital, and much more.

Here are some of the key takeaways from Reum’s journey:

  • With the right reasons and mindset, don’t let prestige or stability hold you back from pursuing your dreams.
  • Launching a successful consumer brand requires serious hustle. You must figure things out as you go along rather than relying on playbooks.
  • Craft your startup’s narrative for acquisition from day one, even if exit isn’t top of mind yet. This creates future options.
  • Take time to develop expertise and relationships before fundraising. Rushing into VC may backfire.
  • Go beyond writing checks and pitch decks — sweat the details of how you’ll add true value as an investor.
  • Balance data and intuition when evaluating markets and founders. Relying purely on instinct can mislead.
  • Accept burnout will happen and take preventative measures early on. There are no shortcuts to nursing a startup from infancy through maturity.
  • Surround yourself with an experienced team you trust so the burden isn’t on your shoulders alone. Learn to delegate control.
  • Keep an eye out for declining personal relationships, sleep deprivation, lack of exercise and other red flags. Being aware of burnout warning signs is key.
  • Book regular time off to recharge. Trying to sustain maximum hustle indefinitely is a recipe for disaster long-term.

Reum’s insights could fill a book on entrepreneurship best practices (in fact, they have — Reum covers many of these topics in his excellent book Shortcut Your Startup).

But at a high level, his journey proves that with the right vision, mindset and support systems, you can make the leap successfully from corporate life to startup world.

It won’t be easy and requires persistence through many valleys. But by learning from those who have walked the path before you, success beyond traditional time-for-money career ladders is possible.

At just 40 years old, Reum has achieved a level of personal and financial freedom that most corporate professionals work decades towards with no guarantee of reaching.

Thanks to placing big bets on himself and incrementally designing an ideal lifestyle, Reum buys back his most precious resource — time — every single day.

Rather than deferring fulfillment to some hazy retirement oasis years away, Reum lives life on his own terms right now.

That’s the real dream, not money or prestige in and of themselves.

So take inspiration from Reum’s playbook. With the right vision and grit, you can take steps today to build work and a lifestyle aligned with your values too.

Small wins compound over the long run. But you have to take that first leap.

Here’s to writing your own success story. The time is now.


What is the Success Story Podcast?

On this podcast, you’ll find interviews, Q&A, keynote presentations & conversations on sales, marketing, business, startups, and entrepreneurship.

The podcast is hosted by entrepreneur, business executive, author, educator & speaker, Scott D. Clary.

Scott will discuss some of the lessons he’s learned over his own career, as well as have candid interviews with execs, celebrities, notable figures, and politicians. All who have achieved success through both wins and losses, to learn more about their life, their ideas, and insights.

He sits down with leaders and mentors and unpacks their stories to help pass those lessons on to others through both experiences and tactical strategies for business professionals, entrepreneurs, and everyone in between.

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