#06: How to Stand Out in a Crowded Company and Industry w/ Ghassan Halazon

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Welcome. I have a series of questions that I’m looking forward to asking you.

Thanks. It’s been a long time coming. I’m glad to have finally made it happen with you.

I’ve already done your introduction, so people are familiar with who you are. So I’m not going to start there. One, where I’m going to start is around work ethic. I want to unpack this topic with you because I hear different sides of defense in some respects.


You’ve achieved a lot in a short period of time. I would say, you’ve achieved a career lifetime in a short period of time. Have you ever subscribed to the notion of work smarter, not harder?

Yeah. You know what? I think in today’s business landscape, you almost have to, right? I think, if we take a step back and think through the countless hours, I think they say you need about 10,000 plus hours spent on anything in life to become a “expert”. And so you saw on the one hand, you do have to put in the time. It’s not like you can… There are shortcuts here and there, but at the end of the day, to get to places, hard work is an absolute must. I want to make that clear. Now, that being established, there are hacks and there are things and habits that you can develop. And I have, certainly through the journey that are going to get you there quicker and are going to save you steps and are ultimately going to give you more room to focus on what matters the most.

If we were to take sort of a practical example. With EMERGE, we acquire businesses, right? Once we buy these e-commerce businesses, there’s a lot of work that it entails, right? Integrating them, there’s culture, there’s people, which I’m sure we’ll talk a lot about here in a bit. And so when you look at that sort of landscape, I always told my management team, “Look, we’re buying a company as is. So we might as well buy a bigger company.” Right? In my mind, that’s a smarter approach. If you buy a $5 million company, or if you buy a $50 million company at this point in our life cycle, you’re going to do the same amount of work. You’re going to have to do the legals. You’re going to have to do the due diligence. You’re ultimately going to have to bring these people on board.

You’re going to have to integrate them and find new ways to help them grow. You might as well impact something that is that much more impactful to your overall bottom line. So that’s an example in my mind, where again, just making that decision to buy bigger companies or to buy more profitable companies probably save us a lot of work in time, given we’re going to already spend that time to do all of that execution. That’s an example. I would say in a nutshell, though, I do believe a mix is where we’re at and where I… how I think of things and how I approach things, right? Ultimately, you can’t skip the fact that you want to put in the hard work and become an expert at whatever you do. But of course, you want to be thinking of things with a smarter hat, so to speak.

I was having conversation with my business partner’s father, and I’m absolutely paraphrasing. And it wasn’t said in this tone at all, but he said, “Young people today don’t work hard.” And if you follow the up with examples and so forth, I don’t disagree. I would maybe be considered young ish still. But there are individuals that don’t see the output as being really important. So for example, I’m looking at two pictures near me right now, one of Kobe Bryant and one of Howard Schultz. They’ve both worked their asses off to get to where they are. If a team member of yours… And again, I’ll paraphrase this conversation. If a team member of yours figuratively said, “I only want to work 40 hours a week.” but you know that it’s going to take more than that. How do you approach this conversation?

Yeah. I think I know where you’re coming from with that. We’ve always taken a step back and said, “What’s the result?” Right? What’s the end result? if that can be delivered, I don’t care how long you work. Right? We’re all on different scales. We all have different talents. Some people have to work harder than others to achieve the same goal. Right? Some people may work smarter. Some people may have a good combination of both, as I said, which is sort of my way personally. But in the end, I think leaders should be results oriented. If the result can be delivered, it doesn’t matter how it was delivered as long as it was done ethically, of course.

Of course.

Right? But otherwise, I don’t think it’s on us or on me as a CEO to determine how long something should take and whether something should absolutely be “hard work driven”. Right? I couldn’t care less. I have some of the smartest people around me. Some of them actually work even harder, and frankly that ultimately gives them an advantage over time. But some of them are just really smart and smooth and they just get done. Right?


And I’m fine with that. I’m fine with that. I don’t think we should be standing in the way of folks that learn different.

Let’s say you had an employee named Samantha and Samantha is crushing her KPIs. You do not have to worry about her. Every quarter she delivers. But she tends to work less than 40 hours a week. Would you ever think to yourself, well, what could cement the do within 50 hours or 45 hours?

Well, totally, look. If there’s a baseline level that you expect them to put the work in, right? let’s say someone is doing it in 30 hours and is overachieving. Well, guess what? Just from a pure business perspective, we’re paying someone for more than 30 hours. Okay? So now, the business hat on my end is like, “Okay, well, we got at least 10 more hours. Let’s do other things. What if we involved Samantha in other aspects where she can learn and grow? What if she could help her colleagues become better or faster at what they do?” So for me, I’m always… I’ll look to arbitrage. If I did feel like someone was doing their work and doing it in much less time than we have in a given week, then that onus is on us to say, “Well, is she reaching her full potential?”

Can you overwork someone when they’ve delivered their goals? Absolutely not. We would never do that, but we wouldn’t want them working less than they’re expected just because they’re overperformance or overachievers. So for me, you got to find that balance. I think there’s always more, because frankly, there are folks that are always trying to hack it. There are folks that are always going to try for the so-called four hour workweek. Right?

Sure. Sure.

And you know what? It does work for some and many have gotten rich out of it. But I think for us as a company, as an organization, we are about spending more time together, thinking through the next problems together, thinking through the next acquisition. So you can’t possibly tell me you’re done. You’re only done if we’re not spending enough time thinking of how you’re going to grow.

That’s awesome. You worked at City Group. They have, I believe over 200,000 employees, which is like a small country. How did you get noticed in an organization that large?

Well, part of my philosophy is to keep it real and I’m certainly going to keep it real here as well. I think, going back to my City days on Wall Street over a decade plus ago, I frankly had a very hard time playing the banking game as other sort of junior and mid-level level bankers where I had just done my MBA, I was very focused on the finance space. But I found very quickly that doing the nitty-gritty work, doing the actual financial modeling and the analytics that I just was never going to be as good as other people. And that was okay. I felt like I could shine where… in other areas. Right? So I was always keen to be in those presentations, keen to jump in and answer questions or get to meet those clients and do the relationship building.

But the reality is, for a mid-level role, I was an associate at the time, there wasn’t all that much for us to do there. They wanted us doing the work with the analysts and managing sort of the late nights and the decks that were being put together and all the real work behind the scenes. And I just was never all that good at it. And so the reality is, I didn’t stand out as a banker. But I wouldn’t leave you with sort of what I thought I did well in that sort of zoo of a time when I felt like I was scrambling and I was just trying to get by as a banker. I did develop a tremendous relationship with my boss, and frankly, he was the only boss I’ve ever had.

I’ve been an entrepreneur as you know, for a decade plus now. So I look back at that one chance, I had that one time. What I really did well was I got along with my boss, I connected with him. They had just merged our division and so we were always outcasts at that division. We were sort of the underdogs and I built a tremendous relationship with him. And the fun side story to that was, when I decided to become an entrepreneur and start my first business here in Toronto while I was in New York, and I had met a couple of guys that I teamed up with. It was my boss who gave me the rope, basically gave me about three or four months, understood that this wasn’t for me and I wasn’t going to last long, but he gave me the room to start exploring my options, start structuring my deal over here with the folks, with the founders that I ended up partnering with.

And those sorts of relationships really matter, right? So you can build great relationships for the sake of it. There’s nothing wrong with meeting good people, but you always want to know who are the people that are going to help you at times that you actually need them to. And of course, it doesn’t get better than your boss. So I always say, working under a boss that you feel like you’ll have a good cultural fit with is a huge deal, regardless of whether you’re great at the job or not.

It sounded like you used your extroversion as a strength. And we’ve spent time together. I would consider you a great people person and you do have shown showmanship type qualities. What if you’re the opposite? What if you had a team member that came to you who is more introverted, but admires your ability to shake hands and get people to really like you? How might an introverted person learn from someone like [Gazen 00:11:00] to be a little bit more extroverted?

Yeah. It’s a great question. And frankly, I haven’t gotten it before, but I would say this. Look, every single person, and I’m very big on this, and I say it quite a bit with our team. Every single person is probably better at everyone else at at least one thing. Right?

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

And we all have something to learn from one another. And so for me, if I were to have an employee that was a little shy, and at the end of the day, passed our HR and passed all of that and ended up joining us. There’s got to be a reason for it. And one of my biggest jobs as a leader is to figure out who’s best at what, and how do I allocate those resources accordingly and allow people to shine to their best abilities. Now, I just think that whether people have the personality for it or not, they have a duty to themselves to find out what they’re really good at, to find out what their real passions are, and to be true to themselves so that when they are speaking to other people, whether it’s their bosses or their colleagues or anything else, you’ve got to be comfortable in your own skin. Right?

And I think that that is always the golden rule. People will resonate with you if you keep it real, right? so you may be good at, as I said, maybe not good at the analytical side, but really good at the people’s side, or maybe really good with numbers and you can help people that have other challenges, right? So it’s all about plugging away where you’re good at and not spending as much time or focus on things that you may not be naturally gifted at. So it’s all about finding your strengths and staying true to who you are, and then giving people a chance to truly find out what’s behind the cover. Right? And if you sort of do that naturally, I think it starts with yourself, but you’ll be surprised at how many people find they have the same passion or they have other ways they can help you or be helped by you. And that just creates natural, healthy levels of interactions. Right?

I liked that. And it aligns with my thoughts, a right awareness. So to your point, everybody has one thing that they’re really good at, perhaps more so than the next person, but it’s about being aware of, what is that thing? When am I lit up the most? I had a former colleague reached out to me and then say like, “I can’t seem to find my passion in my career.” And I said, “You’d never stopped talking about fitness on Instagram and everything. And that’s even your first thing. That’s the thing you should be doing.” You have to be aware to know what lights you up.

I know you are an avid learner, and I know this because it was likely over a year ago before the pandemic, we had a call and you wanted me to explain to you the speaking business authorship. And I couldn’t… I wasn’t certain if you were taking notes by pen and paper, but I could tell you’re absorbing the information. How are you learning leadership lessons now? Who are you going to? Is there a single person that you admire for leadership and you go to?

You know what? It’s a great question. And frankly, it’s a very insightful one I find, because for the longest time having built businesses, and look, I’ve been through it all, man, at this point. I mean, 10 years and I bootstrapped, acquired, sold restructured businesses, really a PhD in sort of e-commerce and tech companies at large. And I can tell you that surprisingly, a lot of this I’ve had to make up as I’ve gone by. And mentorship in the truest sense, not in the foremost sense is really something I found I was lacking, to be honest with you over the years and felt like I had to do a better job of surrounding myself with people that were perhaps a few chapters ahead, because guess what? Not only do you learn, but it actually is very inspiring I find and very telling.

I just have this incredible energy once I leave some of my mentors, whether formal or informal, and hearing about where this could go and how they went through their own trials and tribulations to get to where they are. As it pertains to business, I think what I’ve mostly been looking for these days at EMERGE, as an acquirer and operator of e-commerce sites, is really sort of folks that have been done an incredible job in mergers and acquisitions that have scaled companies by acquiring businesses and doing so with really great discipline, disciplined capital allocation, management of people, organizational development incentives to grow this organization and keep it in harmony. So people around me, for example, one of our board members that joined, his name is John Kim. He sits on the board of WELL Health Technologies, which is a multi-billion dollar health tech consolidation play.

People like that, really, I love spending hours with thinking through and developing where things are going to go and how to think of a company that is buying two, three, four businesses a year now. That’s kind of our goal with EMERGE. That’s a lot of buying companies. That’s a lot of new people. It’s a lot of cultures. So I’m just fascinated with the constellation softwares of the world, the Berkshire Hathaway’s of the world, these kind of behind the scenes, quiet, boring acquisitive companies that are just really, really sort of delivering cashflow at what matters the most.

You see all this sort of sexy talk about growth and tech companies, flying high, raising huge money. These aren’t really the things to celebrate, as far as I’m concerned. I’m just way more intrigued by the bottom line, which is something we hold near and dear to EMERGE’s hardware, profitable business and we do that with really a lot of rigor. And learning from folks like John Kim, like the constellation software’s of the world, that’s really inspiring to me. And that’s where I spend a lot of the side of mentorship as it pertains to business.

Speaking of acquisitions, after I read Bob Iger’s Ride of a Lifetime book, one of the few books I’ve read, because I’m more of a podcast consumer. Just thinking of all the acquisitions Disney has done. I finished the book and it was like, just so mind-bending for me.

I’m actually on that book right now. That’s a total coincidence. I’m sort of midway through it by the way.

Okay. So I’m not spoiling anything for you because this is public knowledge.

[crosstalk 00:17:54] very well. Yeah.

I’m like, how does this even start? And I’m not… This is an entire different episode if you want to unpack that. You don’t have to do that. But I’m just fascinated by, like you said, everybody has that one skill. I Marvel at the person that would put this together. And I don’t know where my career is going to take me, but if I ever end up in a position where we’re acquiring companies like you are, I can’t wait to find that quarterback to go like, “Hey, this is what I want done. Go get it done. And I’m just going to watch in silence and then let me know if you need me at all.” But here I am, I just want to learn from you. That gets me really excited about the near future.

You know what?

Oh, go ahead.

I was going to say, back to the banking days, I didn’t really enjoy my time there, although I must say it was a riot living in New York city for a couple of years. I’ll tell you that much. But one of the things I did learn from the banking world was how to think through mergers and acquisitions and capital raising and storytelling because that’s… no one does it better than the bankers as you know.


You could argue they do it too well at times. You don’t always want to listen to everything they say. But just holistically, I got a lot of the inspiration for EMERGE, which again is sort of a way to go out and buy underappreciated sort of growing cash, flowing bootstrap businesses. I got a lot of my MNA and capital allocation expertise from my banking days.

And so when I come and think of it as a given, to go acquire companies to grow rather than to build them from the ground up, I forget that not everybody thinks that way. It was pointed out to me from one of my management team members is that, I said, “Why wouldn’t this company just buy their competitor and start buying others?” And he said, “Well, people don’t think that way.” Right? They don’t have that hat on. They don’t think of it that way. So I think the lesson there though, just to take it back is, even if you’re in a job where you’re not enjoying yourself, you’ve got to have the faith that somehow, some way you’re going to get some benefit out of what’s going on in your life at any particular point in time. Right?

And so you got to keep that positive outlook and sort of while you’re networking, while you’re learning, even if you’re having a hard time or even if you’re not passionate, right? Eventually, okay, things are going to change and you’re going to find yourself in a world where you are doing meaningful work by your definition. But in the meanwhile, just have confidence that no time is wasted. You can always learn out of anything or anyone in life, and it’s your job to figure out what that is and to keep a positive attitude, because it’s way easier to learn that way.

Yeah. You don’t know what you don’t know. And I had a conversation just this morning about retail store design. I don’t know anything about that part. Well, I’m learning more now, but when I spoke to somebody that I knew was an expert, immediately just started making sense to me. And I absolutely echo everything that you’re saying. E-commerce in the pandemic. You would be blind or remiss to notice that e-commerce has grown because of the pandemic. With the pandemic being managed now better than it was six months ago, what happens to consumer behaviors for the rest of 2021 and beyond?

Yeah. We’re in such a unique position to talk about this, and maybe it is a little self-serving. To be sit in the middle of a portfolio that sells everything from golf experiences to equipment, groceries, meat, subscriptions, family offers nearby staycations. We’re kind of in the middle of all of that. And as you know, everyone by now has heard or seen some variation of that article that says, e-commerce has grown more in the last year than it had in the prior decade. Right?

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

And the truth is, people like to oversimplify things, right? It’s true. E-commerce has changed forever. But what that means for different niches is different things. Right? I think for one, people that have tried grocery online and that have liked it or food delivery online for the first time and have liked it, I think that’s a permanent shift, right?

Others may have had to be do so by necessity and find sort of little hacks and get some sort of shopping done here or there, but they still prefer to touch things in person at the mall or at a store, especially if there’s a unique experience there. So I think the world is obviously moving more and more towards omni-channel, obviously e-commerce gets an edge now. One of the benefits of the pandemic is everyone’s had to up their e-commerce game from a conversion perspective, UX, sort of customer service, right? Things like that, that maybe people took for granted, especially bigger old school chains. Everyone’s having to rethink that and has already mostly re thought that. So I think what we’re seeing is certain verticals, in our case, meats, subscriptions, and grocery. That growth that was catapulted from sort of March of last year into the second half of 2020 and through to today, you’re just seeing a whole new level that’s here to stay.

And then you have other categories that obviously were shut down. And now with the market reopening, we’re in the middle, we’re very fortunate to be in this position of this diversified portfolio. But now we’re super excited to bring back the travel, to bring back, I guess golf was a bit of an outlier, was the envy of all other experiences.


Right? And so we got very lucky with that one. But I think, generally speaking, you’ve probably moved forward three to five years when all is said and done. And now we’re now looking at it and saying, “Well, guess what? Let’s take the US as sort of a benchmark. We operate across north America.” But let’s say the US. The U S is now at around 15% of retail in e-commerce at this point. Right?

But if you look outwards to Asia, South Korea, for example, China, you’re starting to push 25, even 30% online on certain days. What that means is trillions of dollars are about to come online. Till today, I mean, e-commerce is a $4 trillion market out of a $24 trillion pie. So in five years, in 10 years, 4 trillion is going to go to eight or even 10 trillion. And that just means that there’s a tremendous amount of dollars coming online. But I think, likewise, there’s going to be more players and it’s going to ultimately go back to customer experience and of course, price and convenience and all the basic things, but there is room to carve out your niche. And that’s really the power of the Shopifys of the world, which has basically enabled thousands of so-called rebels to compete in a busy, otherwise Amazon dominated landscape.

You see Warby Parker go from direct to consumer to retail, Amazon do retail, Google’s even starting to do retail. Of course, Apple. Shopify, you mentioned some of their brands have gone to retail as well. Nick’s, I believe in Canada. Does EMERGE brands, any of those think of retail?

You know what? It could potentially make sense down the line. I don’t think it’s our focus at all right now. We buy digitally native DTC brands or direct to consumer e-commerce businesses. Mostly, we see great runway with our existing brands doing what they do, only doing it bigger. And so let’s take a business like truLOCAL, the market leader in meat subscriptions. That’s a business that grew from 8 million to 20 million last year, continues to see very healthy growth now. So for us, we like to see a runway to about a hundred million or so over the next three to four years for each of our businesses and so we don’t need to dabble.

I always say, I mean, the usual sort of the old school [inaudible 00:26:17], sort of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And that’s kind of how we think of these things right now that there’s no point in reinventing the wheel. Things are growing. It’s a great brand, a great team. There’s a lot of runway. We only have 10,000 monthly subscribers, and we want to grow that to a hundred thousand and then to a million. And there’s still so much room to grow that there’s no point in messing with the formula.

Let’s talk about your local. I’m partial to this company because I’ve been a truLOCAL customer for, I believe, four years. And when I read the article online, the morning of that you had acquired them. I remember showing Sophia, my fiance, the screen I was looking at, and I did just kind of smile came across my face because I was like, it just made sense that you bought them. And for anybody listening, go check them out. I swear by them. I’m perhaps one of your biggest advocates of the brand. And if there’s somebody that says that they’re a bigger advocate, I would like to speak to them.

I appreciate it. We [crosstalk 00:27:21].

Yeah. And I don’t need to pump your tires. This is all earned, all earned.

Love it.

So just a couple of things, because I want to talk about the customer experience there. A few things that I’ve noticed that the actual, the number one thing I’ve noticed, aside from product being fantastic, because if you don’t have a good product, I don’t care how good your customer experience is. It’s not going to save a bad product. You’re dead, done in the water. Service level agreements. You have something going on with your customer service and how fast people respond. And I questioned whether it’s measured or not, because it’s eerily fast how quick you guys are on email. That’s my preferred channel of communicating with you guys. So that immediately told me there’s some customer experience strategy operating this business. Because I’ve been in this space for long enough to know these things. So here’s my question. How do you audit for customer experience before you buy the company?

Yeah. Great question, man. Obviously by now, we’ve honed in on what matters the most and we have budgets, significant ones I might add at this point in time because we’re constantly looking at different companies and we got to be trying all their products. And so we have a dedicated team that spends a lot of time trying these products out and making sure we sort of mystery shop at these different brands, obviously before we pulled the trigger. Hey, if you’re going to go buy something for 10, $20 million you have to be sure to answer the phone on time. Right?


But you know what? The thing about truLOCAL that that always struck me, and this is so true about all the startups that we fall in love with, is that it starts with the founder and with the attitude and the heart and the passion they bring to the table. If that’s there, chances are, it resonates with the other folks on management. And over time it resonates on the HR process that brings in the talent and the tracks, people who actually give a damn and that are inspired by what they’re seeing and hearing about the company, or perhaps being as a customer, trying the company out and really resonating with it and wanting to work for the company.

Because people in customer experience can’t possibly be as good as they are at their job. If they weren’t dedicated, if they didn’t have a sense of purpose, but guess what? That rarely will come from the individual on their own. They will have to see leadership members. Doesn’t have to just be the founder, it could be anyone in management or anyone above them, sort of in the hierarchy. They’ve got to see that passion people above them for them to have it. Otherwise, I feel like they’re wasting their time and there’s a mismatch.

So it’s all it all flows through and through. Notice this, you’re talking to me about customer experience, but I’m talking to you about organizational culture. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a crappy company, crappy products, but great customer service. It doesn’t exist because people are already de-motivated and those incredibly talented customer service folks flee very quickly. If they notice that all management cares about a squeezing, they don’t care about proper… honoring the refund codes and all of these things, it adds up. So I always say, customer service, if it’s done right, it’s not only a reflection of the customer service team. It’s a reflection of the entire philosophy. It’s the culture overall that normally starts with the founder. I don’t want to make it seem like a founder only thing.

I think market truLOCAL has done a phenomenal job, but it often is a sort of a recourse of what’s going on that’s flowing through the system. Right? And so for me, I think what we found with truLOCAL was, the head of customer experience, her team, they’re so energized. They view this as sort of a family business, right? Old school in a way. And our job is to stay the hell out of the way as EMERGE, as the parent company.

We would be crazy to mess around with the DNA that got them there. And that’s what I think differentiates us from say a private equity firm where there’s discipline, but there’s also slashing costs and, “Hey, why do we even need the live chat? Why do we need this brand?” All of that stuff being changed around and screwed around with, we’re not that buyer, we’re a longterm founder-friendly buyer. I know this is sort of a turn into a semi pitch of EMERGE as a potential buyer, but you’ve got to look at people. It all starts with people and it ends with people, and that’s what customer experience is about.

If somebody ends up selling their company to you because of this podcast, I want to cut. You can just on-market bills, you put it in an envelope and you send it to my house. The direct-

Okay. So there’s one part of this. So their customer experience professionals, Irma is the head of customer experience, I believe at truLOCAL. And Mark, the founder, I’ve spoken to him before. I absolutely admired what he’s built. I admire and respect him so much that I know that any of his employees are a hundred percent off limits to me because I respect that as no poaching that would ever happen from that company because he’s built it to be so good. It’s hard not to be attracted to it. Why do some… I would argue most, [Gazen 00:32:51]. Leaders don’t do the same thing Mark did at what you’re doing by putting an emphasis on culture and customer experience. Because give me a hundred companies. I’ll look under the hood of a hundred companies. I’ll tell you 92% of them aren’t culture centric. Why is this happening when there’s enough evidence to show that it matters?

I think it’s two aspects to it. Okay? I think the first aspect is culture is a long game, right? Again, sounds quite obvious. But in the end, spending time on culture, spending time on making bets and investments in the right people and in the interview process and in the retention process, these are timely things, right? They’re expensive and they only pay off really over the long term. And so in the grind of it all, when folks are busy attending to what their investor needs or certainly as a public company, you have a lot of short-term expectations. So it’s very easy to get distracted and not make those investments for the sake of the short-term gain or the bottom line, in other words. So that’s one aspect. I think people are a bit too shortsighted to want to make the long-term investments.

I think the other aspect of it is essentially, the marks of the world and there aren’t many, kind of have that DNA thing, right? They have that sense, and I view myself very much in that bucket where I’m a purpose-driven guy. I want to feel like my staff feel something towards the work we’re putting in. We’re here for a common goal, right? We’re here to build and change the way Canadians shop and beyond that now as a north American business. Not everyone kind of gets going on that.

A lot of folks sort of tend to be shortsighted. They want to make the quick buck and they want to do sort of, in other words, they’re somewhat transactional. And that’s a natural thing. Some people make really big successes out of just being transactional and brokering deals and doing smaller deals or selling companies very quickly and doing that again and again. It’s not for everyone. But I think I agree with you in that, the stats are there, the case studies are there. If you invest in the right people, and if you invest in culture and you stand by it and you stay true to it and to yourself, the results will follow. And it’s a longer term game, but guess what? The gain is now much bigger.

My last question, I admired your acquisition of truLOCAL. Is there an acquisition that happened perhaps even outside of e-commerce in recent memory that you admired, you kind of took a seat and were just like, wow, that that is a great merger, or even an acquisition?

You know what? I’ve been so heads down in the e-commerce landscape. I can think of a bunch of different, cool acquisitions out there. One that pops in my mind, or even a couple is the ones that Facebook did.


Say Facebook is the big evil elephant in the room, but when you see that sort of foresight or vision, right? Where they come in and say, “We’re going to acquire Instagram for a billion dollars when there’s no revenue.”

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Right? Having done the math in the background, having done the data, having gone in the intuition, and then people say, “What the hell are you doing?” And then fast forward, not even five years and Instagram on its own, it’s probably contributing a hundred, if not more, billion dollars to Facebook’s market cap. Right? To some extent, same with WhatsApp and what they’ve been doing with that.

So I think, say what you want about them. And I don’t agree with most of what they do, but there’s been tremendous ability to acquire businesses early on and make those bets. And guess what? For every one or two bets that have worked for them, maybe 10, if not more, have not worked. They’ve done tons of clones, tons of copycats, tons of acquisitions that have failed. And the same goes for Amazon. Amazon bought Whole Foods. It was one that I thought was super interesting, right? That was a landmark acquisition that we watch. And it’s not the first time, by the way. I mean, obviously they just bought MGM. They bought Zappos a while back. They bought diapers.com. So that’s a super cool thing to watch as Amazon becomes this really diversified portfolio at scale.

But you always want to look at… The most exciting things about acquisitions is to watch someone do something for reasons you can’t understand now, but then later on say, “Oh, that was good. That was smooth that you did that and you saw it in the data before everyone else did.” You kind of skipped a couple of seasons, a couple of chapters and made some really cool moves at a time when you look like an idiot. And I think that’s the magic. There’s a magic in picking things early and then being right. But at the same time, a lot of people pick things early in and get things wrong, so you got to be okay with that failure. But again, that’s another key lesson.

Okay. You looked back at the acquisition of Instagram by Facebook. And even before then, YouTube being bought for a billion dollars-

… I think. Yeah, then there’s iBrowse. But then on the other side, Evan Spiegel not selling to Facebook for 3 billion, I think it was. Right? So it goes back to something we talked about earlier in for me, because I don’t understand this world as well as you do. I kind of sit back and just marvel at other talents. [Gazen 00:38:36], thank you so much for making the time. I’m going to link up all your social handles in the show notes below. Everyone, I encourage you to reach out, take us in. I really appreciate how friendly you are with your time being as busy as you are. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, [Gazen 00:38:54].

I appreciate it, man. Loving what you do. Keep going, and we’ll do this again sometime. This was fun.



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