How a Lifelong Baseball Fan Became an Accidental Entrepreneur
Adam Mendler, an avid baseball fan and son of a math teacher and tax lawyer describes himself as an accidental entrepreneur. Growing up in Tarzana, California, he dreamed about baseball and his childhood plan was to run a Major League Baseball team. After high school, the diehard Angels fan went on to attend and graduate from the University of Southern California and then earn his M.B.A. from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
By his late twenties Mendler built an impressive resume: he had the opportunity to intern at a sports agency and he worked dutifully in the finance and entertainment industries. After experiencing Corporate America, Mendler and his brother, Jordan Mendler, decided to go into business with each other. “My brother Jordan is very entrepreneurial. We always spoke about working together,” Mendler said.
In 2012, the brothers took the leap and started their first business together, The Veloz Group, which they named after Veloz Avenue, the street they grew up on. As the brothers pursued opportunities in industries that were technologically lagging, they added three businesses to their portfolio of companies, Beverly Hills Chairs, a company that sells ergonomic chairs and sit-stand desks, Custom Tobacco, and Veloz Solutions, a software and technology consulting practice.
Though he has a jam-packed schedule filled with meetings, business lunches and dinners — stereotypical for industry leaders, I had the opportunity to catch up with Mendler about his entrepreneurial story and what makes him tick in the startup world and in life.
1. When did you decide to go into business?
I was 28 and had worked for large companies in finance and entertainment, and wanted to try something more entrepreneurial. My bills were never going to be lower and my energy was never going to be higher, and it seemed like the right time on a lot of levels.
2. Was The Veloz Group a side gig at first?
It was not. I left my career to form The Veloz Group, which we envisioned as the umbrella company for all of our different projects.
3. Was entrepreneurship lonely at first?
I was so engaged in the work itself that I didn’t experience the kind of loneliness you hear about. It was actually a very fun and exciting time in my life, as everything was fresh and new.
4. Did your business scale quickly?
It’s been a slow, steady process, but we have grown and are growing. But it was definitely not an overnight success.
5. What challenges have you experienced?
Every day there’s a new challenge. Among the biggest challenges is time; there is so much going on and not enough time to do everything you would like to do. Time is a finite resource and managing it most effectively is a challenge all entrepreneurs face.
6. What lessons have you learned?
As hard as entrepreneurship is, the challenge is greatly compounded when you lack focus. When we first started The Veloz Group, we had a number of different business ideas and we pushed on all of them. In hindsight, we should have picked one and focused on it. You can’t start twenty businesses at once: you need to focus on what is in front of you and not take on too much at the same time.
7. What do you wish you did differently?
There are way too many things to list, but you can’t live your life in rewind. It would be a lot easier if you could.
8. How do you find balance?
I prioritize the things that I care about and are meaningful to me, and find a way to make sure they are a part of my life. I try to avoid commitments and obligations that are less important, but would still absorb a lot my time and energy.
9. What do you enjoy about entrepreneurship?
In contrast to working for big, bureaucratic companies, I love that I see that I can make a difference in what I do. I love coming in every day and being around people I enjoy. I also love being able to wear shorts every day.
10. What makes a great startup idea?
A great startup idea solves a problem by providing a solution that is differentiated in a sustainable way.
11. Should a founder have experience with a startup concept?
Experience definitely helps, but it’s not a prerequisite.
12. What is your view on investor funding?
Look at investors as partners. Understand that when you seek funding, it is like dating for marriage. Be careful about the money you take and accept it strategically.
13. How did you fund your businesses?
We bootstrapped our companies. It is a hard road and there are advantages and disadvantages to self-funding. Having bootstrapped multiple businesses, there is something attractive about having real capital. When you bootstrap, you are forced to grow more slowly.
14. What advice do you have on networking?
When you are networking, recognize that you can’t spend an unlimited amount of time with a limited number of people. Put yourself out there and talk to people who may be outside of your comfort zone. People like those who are authentic, honest and genuine, be your best self.
15. What advice do you have for new entrepreneurs?
There are a lot of ups and downs on an ongoing basis: some days you’re very high and others you’re very low. All entrepreneurs go through the same highs and lows though. When you feel like you are on top or at the bottom, you’re not. The level of intensity is just much stronger as an entrepreneur.
16. Which books influenced you the most?
My personal favorite is The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam, a book I highly recommend to everyone. While it isn’t about entrepreneurship, it is valuable to anyone who is involved in leadership, management and building teams. I am also a big fan of Malcom Gladwell’s books, including The Tipping Point.
17. Do you think people need business degrees?
It is not a prerequisite. It can be helpful for some people but it is a very personal decision. I don’t think there’s a universal yes or no to the question. It depends on who the person is, what their alternatives are and what their financial situation is.
I do believe that a liberal arts education is very important. People like working with people they like and there is a lot of value in being a well-rounded person. I always encourage students to pursue a field of study they are passionate about, while simultaneously studying something practical. I earned a degree in business and a degree in political science. I’ve always been interested in politics, but studied business because it was the practical major.
18. How has your business degree helped you?
My business education has been helpful in a number of different ways. As a graduate of business schools at both USC and UCLA, I am fortunate to be able to take advantage of two great networks, especially in Los Angeles.
19. How do you continue your education?
I continue my education by talking to a lot of different people, inside and outside of business and entrepreneurship. I also read a lot of articles — I love the New York Times and the Washington Post but read many different sources.
20. What helps you be a better entrepreneur?
Staying active and living a healthy lifestyle. I’ve found that following a lifestyle that focuses on health and nutrition definitely translates into being engaged at all times. Working out also gives me a lot more energy.
21. Best advice you received about entrepreneurship?
Before starting our first business I was told, “This is going to be much harder than anything you’ve ever experienced. You won’t fathom how hard being an entrepreneur is.” I give that advice a lot. I couldn’t comprehend it until I became an entrepreneur. It is a lot easier to listen to someone tell you how hard it is until you experience it yourself.
22. What attributes do you look for in a new hire?
We look for someone who first and foremost fits into our corporate culture. We also try to identify candidates who have a strong work ethic and who will thrive in their role. Lastly, we look for people who want to be here and who believe strongly in our mission.
23. What do you do in your spare time?
When not working, I try to engage in low-key, relaxing activities. I love baseball and watch the Angels a lot. My favorite active player is Mike Trout, but my favorite player of all time is Tim Salmon. I enjoy staying active, working out, and seeing my friends and family. I also love playing backgammon and watching great movies. My favorite movie of all time is Casablanca.
24. Do you use a standing desk?
I don’t, but everyone on my team uses the sit-stand desk. I am very active throughout the day, as I am in and out of meetings, so I spend limited time at my desk. Standing desks are critical for people who have desk jobs, as are ergonomic chairs. The bestselling chair in the marketplace is the Herman Miller Aeron, but I am partial to the Herman Miller Mirra — it is indispensable to me.