Deep Dive with Adam Slutsky
INTRODUCTION: Welcome to the Daily Bolster. Each day we welcome transformational executives to share their real world experiences and practical advice about scaling yourself, your team, and your business.
Matt Blumberg: Welcome to The Daily Bolster. I'm Matt Blumberg, co- founder and CEO of Bolster, and I'm here today with my friend Adam Slutsky. Adam is the founder of Gather Ventures and has been a CEO, president, founder of a bunch of enterprises, which we'll talk about today. So Adam, welcome to the Daily Bolster.
Adam Slutsky: Thanks, Matt. Great to be here and good to see you.
Matt Blumberg: Yeah, so I love these Friday in deep with interviews because we get to talk about the arc of someone's career, things they've learned along the way, and what got them to where they are today. So I'd love to start with you at Moviefone. I realize you worked in the commodities business for a couple years before that, but Moviefone is where I met you. Where you were co- founder and CFO and COO of a small interactive telephone services business and movie guide and ticketing service that you took public. First time CFO and first time CEO taking a company public in'94. Company started in'89 and I joined you in'95. So we'd love to just start there, talk a little bit about what it was like founding a tech company before the internet, but a different kind of tech company. It wasn't a packaged software on- prem kind of company, right? Moviefone I always describe as the internet before the internet.
Adam Slutsky: Yeah, I'm glad you think that. A small part of my brain thinks that too because you want to be a little humble here too on the side, but it was a bit like that. But remember, we weren't solving a tech problem, we thought. We were just guys who loved going to the movies, Andrew, myself, Russ, Rob, a guy named Doug in the beginning. I mean, we just were big moviegoers and we had trouble getting movie showtime information or at least accurate movie showtime information when and where you needed it. But yes, it needed a bit of new technology in order to solve that problem. And it's interesting when we think about things today like, just SaaS- based for crying out loud or client- based before that or disc- based before that. I mean this is way back before we really had access to any of that and in scale. And I think what was really interesting is that we realized we can't change people's behavior and so people are going to continue to use the newspaper or the phone to get the information. So we have to help in one of those ways. And we did know of some ways that phone systems were beginning to do touchtone technology, and we thought maybe we could find a company that could help us implement that. We didn't need to invent it, but we did need to wait a little bit to find someone who could deliver on it. And that was a big deal. And as we moved forward and ultimately went into the ticketing business, et cetera too, I think the reality is that, going to your comment, it's true. 1992, we were selling a ticket on this thing called the internet. It's kind of amazing. There wasn't a lot of that going on. And even more interesting than that, years later, someone pointed out to me that our revenue stream wasn't predominantly the tickets, it was actually the advertisement at the beginning of the phone call, which in a strange way was direct interactive advertising. I mean, it's what we do today all over the place online. Because we had someone who we knew what they were doing at the time that they were doing it, listening to something that we knew they'd be interested. It was targeted towards a moviegoer and we knew that they heard it and we knew what they did after that. So we had the conversion. And that was really big, but at the time, we didn't realize how cool it was. We just thought it was important to get the studio to buy the advertising.
Matt Blumberg: I mean the thing that was interesting about it from the perspective of the movies is it was the first time that direct marketing met movie marketing. Movie marketing was nothing but brand, right? Newspaper, TV, outdoor radio, et cetera. And then along comes little Moviefone and creates addressable media.
Adam Slutsky: A hundred percent. And as always, especially when you're getting in a B2B, which was this what this was. It was advertising sales. There's always someone who has to see it. There's always someone on the buying side who has to see it. And in this case, one of the movie studios got it and they were like, wait a minute, I'm buying these big full page ads in the New York Times and I have no idea what value they're giving me, but I know I got to buy them. And you guys are telling me you're going to deliver X number of people that you can count on a phone call and you can tell me how many of them heard my ad and which movie they selected after that ad? How does that work? Show me how that works. Because for the first time, they felt like we all feel like today, which is we have a direct vehicle, we have pay per performance. So that was huge and that we had that person there to do that was a big, big deal.
Matt Blumberg: Look, obviously there was direct marketing that happened at the time, just didn't happen in that industry. There was telemarketing, there was info inaudible-
Adam Slutsky: Direct mail.
Matt Blumberg: ...There was direct mail, et cetera. A big industry around direct marketing. But what's your memory of how easy or hard it was to get the Hollywood marketing machine to understand the value of addressable media? And obviously today they do, right? Today they probably spend as much on it as they do on brand.
Adam Slutsky: Definitely. It took a lot of time. Russ, one of the partners, had been building relationships with the studios, trying to just break into some of the people in the advertising departments who had all the media spend and banged on the 10 doors that you could really bang on at the time. And one person was listening, frankly. And it was amazing. And frankly, I think all of us used to think in some ways he was the father of Moviefone because that guy is the one who saw the opportunity. And without him seeing it and writing a check for$2, 000 for the first ad, we wouldn't have been able to get anywhere. And then he told us, in many ways, can you tell me not how many people heard it, but how many people selected after they heard that advertised movie? And we're like, oh yeah, we could do that. Yeah, no, we could tell you that. Would that be interesting? It's like, yeah. And so that was kind of mind- blowing. More interesting to me was once we were getting millions of callers a week and 20% of moviegoers in the United States were using Moviefone to go and get their information before they went to the movies, there were still one or two holdouts who literally were like, yeah, I don't get it. And I was like, I don't understand it. This one tells you if you give me$1, I give you a$1. 20 back. The other one tells you, give me$1, have a good day. And it was just mind- blowing. But the whole world has moved towards a pay per performance model of some kind. And so it was really blowing. I mean, the thing that made me feel like we had a business was Andrew and I used to kid each other. We said, you know, there weren't cell phones that many people had in 1989. We said, if we ever get to a day and we see someone on a street corner in Manhattan at a payphone and clearly pushing buttons and maybe even saying to the girlfriend or boyfriend next to them, oh, it's 10 o'clock at 68th Street Playhouse, we'd say, then we knew we solved something. And I'll never forget, it was about two years later, we did see someone on a date clearly, or with his wife, whatever on the phone saying to her, " Oh crap, but it's playing in 10 minutes across town. We can make it." And we saved their date as far as I'm concerned.
Matt Blumberg: Yeah, I mean look, I think one of your points early on in this conversation about Moviefone that's so interesting is you have to adapt to consumer behavior as it is, but you can also shape it over time.
Adam Slutsky: Yeah, a hundred percent. And that's a huge thing I think in any service, certainly consumer related. I think a little less on B2B sometimes, but consumer, if you thought you had a better way of delivering showtimes than the phone or the newspaper, that's great. But if everybody's in the habit for decades of doing it that way, really better instead of trying to completely disrupt it, I would say disintermediate it in the sense that you can use the same path to deliver a better experience. And we see that all the time now. I mean, look at all the iterations, I mean we're going to live through one right now with Apple's new Vision Pro for crying out loud, right? I mean, we're going to see many, many iterations of it and others in the marketplace. And each thing is a step towards the next. Because when you're trying to completely to revolutionize, that's a real big bet.
Matt Blumberg: All right, so 1999, beginning of 1999, we sell Moviefone to AOL. Very significant transaction, right? AOL was at the time, for not everyone listening to this will remember, was the Google of its day and Moviefone was also a public company. So very significant transaction in terms of dollars and market cap. What's the lesson that you take away from that transaction, that process of working on the sale and getting it to the finish line?
Adam Slutsky: You should have fed me this one before we were chatting, Matt, it would've been easier. But I could tell you what comes to mind actually, seminally, and I don't know if it happens to every deal, but I got a sense that all good deals that get consummated tend to break up before they get consummated. And when we were young 30 year old guys in our own public company and we thought we were about to do this thing and we had two other bidders that we were holding at bay and this thing busted up 10 minutes before they were supposed to open on a stock exchange, we were devastated. And then a wise older man and mentor of ours looked at us and says, " It's okay. It's probably going to come back together in about an hour." We're like, probably? What? I was crazy, but I think it's probably true. I think it's probably true because the friction in getting the deal done, especially mergers between company, soon as you're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars, billions of dollars trading hands, someone has to care enough to try to get that last inch to make sure they got the best deal. So they can either tell their boss, their owner, their lawyer, whoever it may be. So I think that was a lesson learned. And frankly, it's applicable to many deals you do, especially business development, corporate development, partnerships and things like that. It takes a while to get the right deals to come to the end. And sometimes, a lot of the time, they bust up before they come to where you wanted them to be.
Matt Blumberg: I'll tell you the lesson that I took from that, and I was lucky enough to have a front row seat and work on that with you and Andrew, is that you have to spend as much time when you're working on a big deal like that on plan B as you do on plan A. And I would argue that the reason that that came back together so quickly is that AOL knew that someone else had put a bid in that was only three nickels lower.
Adam Slutsky: Right, and look, I'm glad in this conversation I made reference to the fact that there were other people standing there. I'm not pooh- poohing it, I agree with you. As they say, or they teach it, I think Harvard's executive education program, a lot of people have been through, the best alternative to a negotiated agreement, right?
Matt Blumberg: The BATNA, yep.
Adam Slutsky: And the answer is having another agreement ready to sign. And so it is very important and it is amazing. A lot of people don't realize, they think, but what value is that? The other party doesn't know? They kind of know a lot of the time. They just sense it. And it's very hard to hide that, and you don't want to hide it. You want it to be known. So it has a way of finding its way out into the ether. And so I would agree with you on that too, but just the idea of realizing things can break up and it doesn't mean it's over. Like many things in life, but certainly in these kinds of deals. And if you actually read about, go pick the next three deals, come out and they're announced publicly, and if they're big public deals, you can go find out about it. You'll even read in the filings that, well, then we had a separation for this night and then the next day.
Matt Blumberg: Yeah. I mean, I think in that case, I think they did know there was another bidder. I mean, I remember that the night that we were up all night at the law firm at Skadden where we were negotiating with one of the companies on one floor and the other on another floor, and they had to know that was going on.
Adam Slutsky: Yeah, I think you're right. I think you're right.
Matt Blumberg: So you sell Moviefone-
Adam Slutsky: Especially when I came downstairs with that AOL cap on, I think they had an idea.
Matt Blumberg: All right, so now you're absorbed into AOL, and if I remember correctly, Andrew left before too long and you stayed for quite a while, like many years, and moved into a couple of different roles. And you know, you see founders go both ways. They get acquired and they leave, they get acquired and they stay and keep running the thing that they were running, and then they get acquired and stay but do something different. What was that experience like sticking around, not running the thing that you sold, but kind of doing some adjacent work, but you had a front row seat to the thing that you had been running for 10 years?
Adam Slutsky: It was weird, but I will say in AOL's case, they did a really good job because the people that ended up taking over the day- to- day of Moviefone after we did the transition were people that we were familiar with, that we believed in. And in my case, Ted Leonsis, he had an idea of what he thought I could do at AOL, which I'll never forget. He said, I need to get the entrepreneurial guys back in here to do the things that AOL should at least try, but that now that we're so big, it's really hard to say yes to. And so I worked with two other guys predominantly, and we were kind of spearing up an area to figure out ways to enhance communications. AOL had the dominant email at the time, but there were a lot of things that were wacky. And we don't have to get into details of it, but one was everybody had dial up modems in 1999, 2000, 2001, and the vast majority of people also had call waiting, I'll let you explain that to your listeners if you want, on their phone. And when the call waiting happened, it is like you just got disconnected from your logged in session or vice versa, and that was a real pain in the neck. And so we're thinking about how can we get around that? Is there a way to tell people to not accept the call right now because I'm online or maybe to hang up on your session and all of a sudden still have that person live enough you could pick up on them and doing voicemail through the internet actually and combining it with email. And so that was really kind of cool stuff right from the get go. But we had resources, real resources, and that was actually a blast for me for that year and a half. It was great because I'm working with all the guys and gals that are running the whole infrastructure of AOL's dial- up world and learning about how the telephone systems can connect to that to merge a voicemail that's coming over a phone system then ultimately being pushed out over the internet and vice versa and alerting people to all these things. And merging a voicemail in the form of a transcribed message and putting it in someone's email. And none of those things became big things and they didn't become big things because the world was moving so fast, but actually it was the right thing. Ted was right, it was the right thing for AOL to do those things because we didn't know how fast the world was going to be moving, and we should have had a play that was kind of aggregating messaging just like they had done with texting. So that was good. And I think it was both of those things. You have to have a good transition out and you have to have a new home that makes sense for you. And if it doesn't, then shame on the organization that acquired you. And for a lot of people, they're just like, I'm done. I made some money, I don't need this. But I had never worked in a big company before, so it was kind of cool. I thought it was kind of cool. And AOL was a unique big company in 1999, 2000 for sure.
Matt Blumberg: Yeah. What did you think or feel when AOL finally shut Moviefone down? Which, I mean, it had a decent run there and they paid$ 575 million for it. When they shut it down, did you feel like, all right, they got their money's worth, they got into the movie category, they weren't in the movie category, now they're make a lot of money off movie advertising. Did you feel like, wow, man, those guys, they took their eye off the ball and Fandango came in and ran the play?
Adam Slutsky: Yeah, it's a really interesting question because I think you're only asking me, but if Andrew and Russ and Rob were here, we might all say something different. I think I would be one of the guys, if not the only one, that would say it was fine. In fact, my first reaction, I got so many freaking reach outs from people the day they were turning down the phone service. And when they did, when I got the note about it, I was like, my first reaction was like, wait, so what year is it now? Wow, it's been up for 25 years? I was like, that's incredible. It's been up since 1988, '89. It's 25 years later and we're sad that an interactive phone service is stopping? Name another one that's gone even 10 years, let alone 25. And I thought, oddly, maybe that it was amazing. I was like, amazing. I'm learning about it in advance. It's going to be celebrated, this thing happening, which it was. It was all over the newspapers and everything else. A lot of them using the Seinfeld episode kind of wrapped into it, which would happen decade plus earlier. And I was proud of it. I really was proud of it. But I think some of the other guys, and I don't say gals because the founders all happened to be guys. I think some of the other guys were probably like, that's stupid. No, keep it going. It's still worth it for some people. And there were still hundreds of thousands of calls a week coming in, but it just wasn't where we were as that product and service were at the time. And so I was okay with it. And like you said, they paid a lot of money for it. There are lots of stories about companies that get bought and then it's a really hard time having the founders get used to the fact it's not theirs. And some great stories, I'm not going to share them, about founders saying, yeah, okay, you bought the company, that's fine, but now got to earn my respect so that I can help you with what you bought. I mean, it's just crazy to me.
Matt Blumberg: Yeah. All right, so you leave AOL, you get hired by a company called Mimeo. So you're back in the startup game or scale up game. You're CEO, you're not a founder. You're brought in to be the sort of professional CEO takes the company to the next level. What I always thought was so interesting about that chapter for you is that Mimeo was such a different business than Moviefone. Moviefone's like this beloved consumer iconic brand. It's on Seinfeld, it's on the Simpsons, and you go and you take over this B2B print- on- demand shop where the clients are lawyers and banks.
Adam Slutsky: Spot on. And that's exactly how I felt. And when the recruiters reached out, they then muttered to me that they knew that some of the people that I knew were big fans of this new company, Mimeo. And I was like, we're not going to mention names, but there was some names. So I was like, that's interesting. I said, and they mentioned me as someone that could go run this thing? And they said, well, right now what it needs is it really needs that next level of entrepreneurial esprit de corps, and it's still small enough. You'd be like employee number 80, and of the 80, it's like 25 of them are inside sales guys and 20 of them are in customer service, so it's not really that big yet. And I was like, wait a minute, hold on a second. As you just said, I'm going from one of the Moviefone guys, the movie industry, going to all these events with movie stars, seeing them everywhere at all these premieres and everything else, sometimes our company working with them to record things that are going to be on the service or on the website and da, da, da. And now I'm going to work at a company that sells print. That just doesn't sound as much fun. And actually, another AOL mentor said to me, I think you should do it. And I was like, why? And he said, I'll tell you why. Because you actually do have the skillset, but you just don't have the sector set and the founders are staying there and they want you. So they can appreciate that you're actually you know shit they don't know, excuse the French, and that's important. And then the real kicker was he said, and think it this way. They're both utilizing some forms of technology. Ultimately it's a consumer oriented experience, this person that's ordering the print to be delivered overnight. And then most importantly he said, you already know all there is to know about this kind of consumer soft business. Be kind of cool to learn the B2B business. Because if you do well at that, go pick whatever you want to do. I was like, huh, not bad.
Matt Blumberg: I also, I remember one of the other pieces of advice you got at the time as you related to me was, and might have been from that same person who said, most businesses aren't Moviefone, right? Most businesses are going to be a little bit boring at times. He said, it's not bad to go work at one.
Adam Slutsky: Well, no, well not just boring. Moviefone was boring at times, but it was still cool. I mean, it was always cool. It's just that everybody knew it, used it, et cetera, and it was about the movies and it was about someone's fun experience. But I think that was it. And that was a great thought and I am really happy with it because actually it was very helpful to other things I've done in my life, whether it was Tough Mudder after that or whether it was doing Gather Ventures and investing in businesses that are B2B oriented and not necessarily B2C oriented. It was important. The whole idea of just inside sales and funnels of sales cycles and everything else, it was like nothing I had ever seen before. And there were good subject matter experts at Mimeo who knew that, but they didn't have the ability at that time to wrap that bigger into the company. In fact, Mimeo's problem was it was a sales machine. It wasn't more than that at the time, unfortunately, even though the technology was phenomenal.
Matt Blumberg: I remember you had an incident there that stuck with me when you were running Mimeo because so much of the world that I've operated in and the world you've operated in is the world of tech and very much white collar world. Although now that we all work from home, someone just told me it's a no collar world, but what you had at-
Adam Slutsky: I have a half collar here.
Matt Blumberg: ...What you had at Mimeo was a multi hundred thousand square foot print facility in Memphis right near the FedEx hangar with a really different kind of workforce. So I'm curious if you took something away from managing a company that had that sort of dual workforce, both the in- office tech workforce and the kind of warehouse facility workforce?
Adam Slutsky: Yeah, I mean, how can you not, right? But different things that motivate the people, different hours in the day for the people, sometimes different issues of even reliability of the people. And I'm not saying which way, I mean just different. Just a lot of things that were very, very different. And even how to reward people was very different, but they were hugely important. Actually, when I went to Tough Mudder after Mimeo, I think that one of the things that was really interesting is that Tough Mudder actually had a lot of people who were in construction trades building all the obstacles and a lot of people driving semis all over the country to deliver the goods that we needed for all these things. A lot of people on site who were helping people park their cars and move the porta- potties, a hundred porta- potties. I mean, it's just like I'd never had any of that till I got to Mimeo, working with any blue collar workforce. And combine with it at Tough Mudder, you're also dealing with the head of orthopedic surgery who's on staff today working with one of the five ambulances in case we have a big problem. So I was very thankful for that, very, very thankful for that. I think that it was humbling, and I think it's a problem, actually, for a lot of the people in the startup world because we're in a no collar, white collar world so much of the time and more and more today than ever. And not everybody's going to be in that world, yet you're going to need everybody to help deliver all goods and services over time.
Matt Blumberg: Yeah, that's for sure. So let's talk about Tough Mudder for a second. First of all, tell everyone what Tough Mudder is. I'm not sure necessarily that that brand has the staying power that Moviefone did, certainly.
Adam Slutsky: Yeah. No, I mean that's fair. Yeah, I mean, Moviefone had millions and millions of users every week and Tough Mudder would have about 600,000, 700, 000 people a year going through its events. One way to describe it functionally, I guess, is a cross between a marathon and an obstacle course. And it was really about taking the things that are good in both of them and putting them into one. Most of the events were 10 to 12 miles long. They took place on mountains, old golf courses, crazy open facilities of land all over the place, water elements, whatever. But the fun of it was, certainly for the first few years, is it wasn't competitive in any way. It was actually all about the esprit de corps of doing something that you're a little worried about, but you probably think you could get through. But interestingly enough to get through it, you probably definitely want to have someone standing next to you. In fact, some of the obstacles require a few people standing next to you in order to get through it. So there was this amazing bonding experience and community that wasn't even within each team of people participating in the event, but it was at the whole event. I'll never forget when I went to my first event before I joined up in the company, it was up in Toronto and there was like 26, 000 people participating in it. I mean, that's more people than back in the day than in the New York Marathon at the time. And teams of two people, five people, 10 people, there was one team of 140 people all from the same workplace. I mean, it was unbelievable. And everybody's just thinking at the start, not, " I wonder what my time is going to be." They're thinking like, " Oh my God, am I going to be able to finish this thing?"
Matt Blumberg: No, they're worried about the electric shock inaudible.
Adam Slutsky: Yeah, they're worried about that electric shock at the end. Yeah, there was a couple of electric oriented obstacles, but volts don't matter nearly as much as amps and some other things, but nonetheless, it hurt. And I think that that was really an amazing experience. And it was an interesting time too, when I guess the millennials and the Gen Xers are all starting to emerge in time. And I was seeing people come through these events that my generation never would've done these things, frankly. And yet surprised to see that 10% of the people participating were my generation. And also how many people would come back. It was like a ritual to come back at a different course in the same area. I once was at an event in Los Angeles, I believe, and a week later I had to go to our first event in New Zealand. And at the starting line is the same guy I had seen at the starting line in Los Angeles, and I just looked at him, I said, okay, you need to get a job, first. Then I realized he probably has a fair amount of money if he's flying all the way to New Zealand for$ 150 ticket to go run in a Tough Mudder. But nonetheless, it's very inspiring, very inspiring and completely different. And also all three of them are very different in the utility they gave. I mean, Moviefone was truly a utility. I mean, it definitely had some brand cachet for sure. It was a utility and inaudible-
Matt Blumberg: Mimeo was totally utility.
Adam Slutsky: Right, totally utility. Mimeo, total utility, but to the business world, not to the consumer world. And Tough Mudder actually wasn't a utility at all. It was completely experiential, completely customized. No one else could really replicate it. And they all have different kind of levels of gravitas in their emotional resonance because of how they're presented as an offering to the public. And I don't think many people think other than the 500 people with the biggest customers at big companies using Mimeo, I don't think those people are getting together outside of their Mimeo experience and chatting about it.
Matt Blumberg: Not a lot of community there.
Adam Slutsky: Yeah, not a lot of community there, but a ton of community in Tough Mudder that led into people's lives. And actually there was a ton of community in a strange way in Moviefone. At least about people saying to each other, wait, you don't know the time the movie's playing because you don't have a newspaper? What are you an idiot? Just freaking call 777-fone. And that happened, right? And then people were buying tickets in advance, and you felt like I was part of the ingroup. I didn't get sold out like that Schmo.
Matt Blumberg: That's true, but that was not community the way Tough Mudder was community.
Adam Slutsky: Not the same way. I'm not saying they were the same way. I'm saying they're different in what they had. There's nothing like that community at Tough Mudder. I mean, that was insane. But anyhow, I think I answered your question.
Matt Blumberg: Yeah. All right, so I want to move to what you're doing now at Gather Ventures. And what's interesting is that there's a little bit of a through line from Moviefone, AOL, Mimeo, Tough Mudder. Gather Ventures is totally different. So now you're the VC, you're not the entrepreneur, although you're taking a very operation approach to it, which we can talk about in a minute. But how did you decide to make that shift, and maybe as part of that answer, talk for a minute about what Gather Ventures' thesis is?
Adam Slutsky: Yeah, so I found out when I was a young guy, relatively young, in my mid- forties that I had early onset of heart disease. And long story short, I didn't have any symptoms from it. I was very lucky to have it diagnosed through something that wasn't looking for that at all. And I'll say long story short, again, I ended up going on a plant- based diet, mostly Whole Foods. And I did that because there were some works that were coming out that were showing, actually, there is absolutely a connection between your ability to halt or even reverse the disease by eating certain foods, but not certain in a tiny sense, certain in a huge sense, anything that grows out of the ground basically. And when that happened, and I was reversing the disease that statins weren't really doing that. They were halting it a lot, but they weren't really reversing it. And I was doing it without the medication. I was like, this is crazy. This is the number one killer on the planet. Why are we not telling everybody this? And the answer is complicated, but we weren't. And I was like, well, this was about 2018. I was like, after Tough Mudder thinking, I got to go do something here. There's got to be something here. And I was meeting with all these young people that had started these plant- based businesses around the country. I invested in a few of them, and then I realized, I think there's a whole community here that's not being served well in terms of capital. And met with a couple of friends and ultimately said, you know what? If we put a traditional fund together that invests in early stage, it will be unique if I'm doing it for two or three reasons. First off is I'm so aligned with the owners because all the CEOs of these companies are plant- based themselves. For different reasons, health, the environment, animal rights, whatever, and it's really rare that they can have an investor that's aligned with them in that eating lifestyle. Two, I only wanted to get involved in the businesses, and most other people just want to write a check and go away and do that every month for different companies, and then hope one in 20 makes a big win and that's all they need. I wanted to be involved. And those are two very different approaches to this day. So Gather invests in only three or four businesses a year where most VCs would invest in 15 to 20, and we get involved from day one and have standing weekly meetings with the CEO or the founding team on everything from strategy down to small tactical things and just week to week operational issues. Very, very, very focused, which I think increases the expected value of the company because we're involved, and it also decreases the risk of the investment because we're involved. So that's what the orientation was and it was my own personal journey that led to that.
Matt Blumberg: What's kind of interesting about the model is it almost sounds as you're describing it like a PE firm, but you're not taking a control stake or buying the company, you're doing a venture investment, which must mean that you're invited in by the founder to do that level of inaudible.
Adam Slutsky: Yes. And so we say all the time that if this isn't good for you, if you don't want us to be actively involved, then you shouldn't do this deal with us. But we also tell them we're not a PE firm where we're going to come in, take the whole thing over, squeeze it one way or another, make it better, hopefully, and then sell it to someone else. That's not our view either. So it's really an active investor's role with a minority stake. We could have a majority stake. We have a big stake in one or two of the companies, but not majority, and we're not looking for control. And the whole theory there is that it's not that we need the control. The founder needs us to help them so much. No one else is going to give them all... I mean, giving two hours a week of our time to these companies for 18 months after the investment, for sure. It's worth to them more than the million dollar check we gave to them, often. But it's a totally different model, and you definitely have to roll up your sleeves. It's not for everyone. And I don't think most people are qualified to do it, frankly, but we have been.
Matt Blumberg: So are you having as much fun in a world where it's not your brand? I mean, Gather Ventures is your brand, but all these amazing brands and companies you're invested in, because you really are a brand guy at the end of the day. You loved the brand at Moviefone, you loved the brand at Tough Mudder, you developed the brand at Mimeo. Is it as much fun for it to be someone else's brand where you're helping? Is it as much fun because you have a whole bunch of them out there, or is it a different game?
Adam Slutsky: Well, let's keep this one short: totally like it. And you do get a chance to really help them with their own brand development in these early stages because they usually don't have one. They have a vision of who they want the company to be. It's like the Simon Sinek problem. They're often talking about like the what they want it to be and not why they want it to exist. You see, you try to help them do that. And then when you get to that, we've had a huge input into the businesses from a branding perspective, which includes in a lot of cases CPG food businesses, so it's packaging as well. And I do like that and I do like knowing it's not my decision in the end. I like knowing I made a contribution, it was directionally good for the CEO and the founding team, but they choose what they want to do and then we move ahead. And I like doing that, and I love spreading it across a couple of different businesses because you get to see all the different things that are happening and, actually, your inputs become even more valuable because you've been hands- on in several other businesses at the similar stage that they are in the same sector. So I've always found it great to do that.
Matt Blumberg: So last question, or maybe second to last question.
Adam Slutsky: Oh, it's got to be the last one because I got to hop, otherwise I'm going to get kicked in my butt.
Matt Blumberg: Two, but I'll make them short.
Adam Slutsky: All right.
Matt Blumberg: When you and I recorded the shorter podcast, the five- minute podcast, we talked about the highs and lows of being a founder, entrepreneur, CEO. Do you still have those as a VC or are those gone, are they muted because you have a portfolio effect?
Adam Slutsky: Yeah, no, they're still there, but they are diversified. And so I don't know if muted is the right word, but they certainly are... It's more integrated, so it's like the amplitude's been taken down on both sides. And at my age and given what I've done, I like that. But it's still there. And in fact, there was no question when I started it, I realized when you go all in on one thing, it's an amazing ride, but you are just unbelievable like this. And when you invest in four businesses a year and you're not running any of them but you're deeply involved in all of them, you're just narrowing the amplitude of the variation around your emotional scale, your emotional stasis. So I like that we have that, that you can have one thing going well in one place and another not in another place and that does kind of balance it. It tones it down. There's no question it tones it down, but you still get the high because on balance you're still going up and to the right. And it's just less volatile in that sense. And I think that's why funds exist. They have the volatility, but they have less volatility than if you run any one of them.
Matt Blumberg: All right, last question, a quick one. Most of the people who listen to this podcast are founders, CEOs. A lot of them are first time. If you could go back and give you one piece of advice circa 1993 at Moviefone, right? You're a first time co- founder, you're five years in, your business is scaling, what would that piece of advice be?
Adam Slutsky: Well, you don't have to give advice for optimism because they probably already have that unbridled. I do think you have to give advice on perspective. I just think, as we talked about in the shorter session, being able to recognize that this is a long haul event and being able to recognize that you're going to have bumps all over the place. And maybe most importantly, that when you have speed bumps that really seem disappointing, it's amazing how many times those speed bumps take you on a different path, it actually was better than the path you thought you needed to be on. And I'm not saying there's anything in the stars or in the ether or anything like that, but it is amazing how often that can happen. And if that only happens a very few percentage of the time, but you're the entrepreneur, that should give you a great amount of solace. Because it's not just that I had something bad, it might be that I had something good and I didn't even know something good could happen because I had my blinders on to see one thing. So I would say it's just about that. And as I said earlier too, I think for most people they're better off founding a company with a co- founder or two. I just think that's going to help all of them live with each other and get the thing going.
Matt Blumberg: Great advice. Great to hear your story. Adam Slutsky from Gather Ventures. Thank you.
Adam Slutsky: Thanks, Matt.
Today, Matt is diving deep with Adam Slutsky, Managing Partner at Gather Ventures. They first met at Moviefone, where Adam was the Co-founder, CFO, and COO. The two discuss adapting to and shifting consumer behavior over time, Adam’s time at Tough Mudder and the power of community, and the story behind Gather Ventures.
Tune in to hear more about the arc of Adam’s career, what got him where he is today, and what he’s learned along the way.