“There is no education like the school of hard knocks” With Adam Mendler, CEO of The Veloz Group
“There is no education like the school of hard knocks. I spent six years in business school — four as an undergrad and two getting my MBA — but was thoroughly unprepared for the rigors of starting, building and operating a business. All entrepreneurs take their lumps and I am no different, but taking punches has made me a much better fighter and is a better education than reading books about boxing.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Mendler, CEO of The Veloz Group. Under Adam’s leadership, The Veloz Group launched and continues to operate three technology-driven businesses: Beverly Hills Chairs, a leading office furniture e-tailer; Custom Tobacco, a one-of-a-kind cigar customization e-commerce platform; and Veloz Solutions, a technology consulting and software development practice. Adam remains active in each portfolio company, providing strategic guidance and driving initiatives related to growth. Adam also provides business thought leadership as a contributor to Forbes, Inc. and Thrive Global; as a speaker to businesses, universities and non-profit organizations; as an expert cited in national media outlets; and as a formal and informal advisor to numerous companies.
Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Thank you Yitzi. The pleasure is mine. I describe myself as an accident entrepreneur, as my dream was always to run a Major League Baseball team and I fell into a path that led to starting several different businesses. When I was a kid, my dad used to tell me that my brother and I would make a perfect team and should start a business together, advice I always shrugged off. When I was in my late twenties, I had worked or interned at a huge hedge fund, a bank, a Hollywood studio and a talent agency, and I felt that if there was ever a time to try something entrepreneurial, it was then. My brother was itching to move on from his job as a programmer, and the pull of working with family combined with the opportunity to build something that reflected my values was too much to pass up.
Yitzi: Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on?
I find all of our businesses interesting in different ways. We built Beverly Hills Chairs into the leading seller of refurbished Herman Miller chairs in the country and we are now selling internationally. Holiday season is getting closer, and that is always a great time for Custom Tobacco. It can be challenging to find unique, meaningful and memorable gifts — especially for men — and what is better than fully customized cigars? I have also been doing my fair share of writing and speaking — both of which I enjoy a lot — and have some exciting things I am working on that I plan on sharing in the months ahead. Stay tuned.
Yitzi: Which person or which company do you most admire and why?
I deeply admire Shohei Ohtani. Not only is he a revolutionary baseball player who has brought unique excitement and energy to my favorite sports team, but he is humble, independent-minded and fearless.
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Given your rabbinical background, you will appreciate this. I once gave a talk to a student group at my alma mater on the role my Jewish upbringing has played in my business career and referenced the famous sage Hillel, which is actually my Hebrew name. Hillel coined the Golden Rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated. As an entrepreneur, I have had the opportunity to manage hundreds of people, between employees, interns and contractors, and have been able to provide each person with the kind of an environment I would want to work in and with a level of respect, dignity and oftentimes friendship that I would want from someone managing me. With that said, over the years I have learned about the Platinum Rule, and realized that it is even better to treat others the way that they want to treated. I try to bring goodness to the world by attempting to keep that ethos top of mind in all of my activities and interactions.
Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Set timelines in pencil. Everything takes a lot longer than you expect it to take. There is a limited amount of time in the day and only so much energy you can expend each day before you run out of gas. In our early days, after completely blowing through each internal deadline we set, we came to learn the importance of setting highly conservative deadlines.
2. You get what you pay for. Every time we have tried to cut a corner, it is has cost us in the long run. When you are searching for a service provider, if someone’s quote or pitch is too good to be true, it is probably is.
3. Focus. I have always been a highly focused person, but life as an entrepreneur is filled with distractions, big and small. We have been distracted by business opportunities we pursued that we should have passed on and by lower priority projects that diverted our attention from the more important things that we needed to accomplish. The battle is ongoing.
4. There is no education like the school of hard knocks. I spent six years in business school — four as an undergrad and two getting my MBA — but was thoroughly unprepared for the rigors of starting, building and operating a business. All entrepreneurs take their lumps and I am no different, but taking punches has made me a much better fighter and is a better education than reading books about boxing.
5. Prepare yourself for a deeply encompassing emotional rollercoaster. You will experience emotions that feel like the highest of highs and lowest of lows, likely in the same week. The things you think about, worry about and care about will be completely different than what was on your mind when you had a job. And it will take some time to adjust to your new normal.
Yitzi: I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.
I would love to meet Barack Obama. I have met other U.S. presidents and worked on John Kerry’s campaign when he ran for president, but there is no public figure I admire more than former President Obama. I know my many Republican friends and relatives who wind up reading this will be rolling their eyes.