Filipp Chebotarev: “Hire people better than you”

Leadership means to lead by example, to hire people better than you and to allow your employees to thrive and reach personal goals. The leadership topic has been an important one at Cambridge SPG as we scaled. We knew we couldn’t do it all and needed a strong team to help get us to the […]

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Leadership means to lead by example, to hire people better than you and to allow your employees to thrive and reach personal goals. The leadership topic has been an important one at Cambridge SPG as we scaled. We knew we couldn’t do it all and needed a strong team to help get us to the next level.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Filipp Chebotarev.

As Chief Operating Officer and Managing Partner of Cambridge Companies SPG, Filipp oversees all daily operations, develops and maintains strategic partnerships, handles special situations and drives initiative for organizational growth.

Filipp graduated from the University of California Irvine with honors and went on to obtain a wide array of experience in politics, business, revenue operations, and organizational development. Prior to co-founding Cambridge SPG, he worked for Congressman Ed Royce as a constituency representative and later led M&A, integration and revenue operations for DaVita, one of the largest healthcare providers in the world with over 12B dollars annual revenue.

Mr. Chebotarev is a Strategic Opportunity Investor in real estate, Angel Investor and Venture Capitalist with a strong focus in Food/Beverage, Technology, Hardware, Fin-Tech, Biomedical, Healthcare, and other sectors. Over the last 3 years, Filipp has invested over 50MM dollars in two dozen innovative consumer brands. Some of his marque investments include, Once Upon Farm baby food company with co-founder Jennifer Garner, Foodstirs Junk Free Bakery with actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, Cora which is a maker of organic feminine care products, Tosi Superbites — one of the best selling plant-based snack brands in the US, Life aid Beverage company, Cece’s Veggie Co and many others. Cambridge SPG investments helped scale over 2 dozen unique, better for your brands and accelerated better for your innovation for consumers. In 2019 the Cambridge SPG portfolio companies will sell over half a billion units of baby food, nutrition bars, beverages, tampons, wellness products and more. The portfolio companies will employ over 6,000 people directly and indirectly and generate revenues of over 500MM dollars.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My approach to investments is driven by a personal history defined by escaping war, overcoming poverty and striving towards the American Dream. As children, my sister Polina Chebotareva and I immigrated to the US with our family from Moscow following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1993 with nothing but the clothes on our backs. As our homeland was overtaken by violence and corruption, our family settled with relatives in the US, and although the American suburb we lived in was safer, it did not feel friendly at first. Our family didn’t speak English, which made it difficult for us to fit in with other kids and for our parents to find work. Subject to taunts from classmates about our accents and second-hand clothes, we had no choice but to stick together and developed a close connection that has become the benchmark of our leadership at Cambridge SPG today. After working through several positions in health care M&A, managing hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions, Polina and I were hungry for a new challenge that could become more personal, and allow us to focus on issues that are most important to us. We formed Cambridge Companies SPG in 2010 to make strategic investments, making “better for you” companies a priority.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Since Cambridge SPG launched we have been general partners of over 70 deals and limited partners in about 30. Having this exposure has allowed us to learn a few things along the way. We lent money to one of the hottest companies in the industry via convertible note with the intention of converting into their Series C. This LA-based company quickly grew to 50M dollars of annual sales and was named one of the most innovative companies in the US on the same list as Amazon and Sephora. A year later the company filed for bankruptcy and we lost a small but meaningful part of our investment. On the other hand, we led the Series A for a tiny company that was operating out of a garage in San Diego with revenues of around 400,000 dollars annually. That company was Once Upon a Farm which today is one of the fastest-growing companies in the entire emerging food and beverage industry.

The lesson has been to always trust your gut and that sometimes the shiny object everyone else thinks is good, is not. With enough work, focus on fundamentals and investment, a fledgling start-up can grow to be a powerhouse very quickly — the key is people. In both of these scenarios, it was the way the leadership team of the company operated which resulted in the outcome.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Cambridge SPG focuses on investing in “better for you” companies and have evolved our southern California based strategic opportunity investment company around a simple social mission: to revolutionize the nutritional landscape of the US — and the world — through increasing the availability of nutritionally superior food and beverage products for the mass market. Cambridge SPG has invested in 25 fast-growing consumer brands with over 300M dollars in annual revenue in 2018, up from 42M dollars in 2017, and 2019 is looking like it will reach half a billion in revenue from consumer products across the 25 brands.

Cambridge SPG’s portfolio of over two dozen innovative companies includes Once Upon a Farm, the highest quality baby food and childhood nutrition brand on the market, co-founded by Jennifer Garner; organic, junk-free bakery Foodstirs with co-founder Sarah Michelle Gellar; LIFEAID Beverage Company, Tosi Superbites and many more.

Companies that impact public health and society at large are of particular interest for us at Cambridge SPG, such as Tiesta Tea, which builds freshwater wells in Africa to bring clean drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people who don’t have access to clean water. Beyond F&B, Cambridge SPG works with companies like Cora, which donates feminine hygiene and period products to millions of young girls in India and Africa.

Beyond Cambridge SPG, I put personal efforts into giving back to my community by making various donations for causes I care most about — including Harvesters — Food Bank in Orange County and the Jewish National Fund. I am also actively involved with Shoes That Fit, a 501 C 3 empowering children in low income demographic areas.

Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?

It is difficult to pinpoint one individual, as we sell our products nationwide and to millions of people every day. Once Upon a Farm worked tirelessly to get WIC (government assistance for mothers with low income) approval for the brand in 2019. Today, mothers of all income demographics have access to fresh, organic baby food. The WIC certification is stated by state, so we still have a long way to go, but this is truly making a positive social impact for the families that need it most.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Politicians, community, and society are helping address the root cause of the problem of the overabundance of low-quality, mass-produced, nutritionally inferior food for mainstream consumers in America. In 2016 the US enacted a mandatory GMO labeling law which will increase consumer awareness of what is in their food. The FDA has updated labeling laws in regards to added sugar notifications on nutritional labels and so much more. Society has really opened up to the public health issues stemming from the prevalence of low quality, sugary or processed food and to environmental impacts of using excessive pesticides and meat production. Documentaries going back to 2004 with Super Size Me or more recent pieces such as Food Inc, Food Matters, Hungry for Change and others have helped increase public awareness. We have seen this in public behavior, and organic food sales are up 158% over the last three years while all food sales are up less than 5%, while meat alternative companies such as Beyond Meat have received multi-billion-dollar valuations from retail investors. Despite these incremental steps in the right direction, a lot more education needs to occur. Our investments are one of the key steps in helping increase the availability and affordability of better products for all people.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership means to lead by example, to hire people better than you and to allow your employees to thrive and reach personal goals. The leadership topic has been an important one at Cambridge SPG as we scaled. We knew we couldn’t do it all and needed a strong team to help get us to the next level.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am deeply committed to environmental causes. Pollution impacts all people, plants, and animals. Single-use plastics are ending up in oceans because consumers fail to recycle. Despite decades of education and public awareness campaigns, only 9% of single-use plastics have been recycled. Globally this is a big issue and China is the lead contributor. Chemical and pesticides run off damages the soil, bugs, rivers, oceans, and inhabitants of those waters. Lack of keystone species, such as certain fish, throws off the food supply for animals who depend on them for food. There is a circle of life in which everyone on earth is somehow connected. I believe we all need to be responsible for how we treat our neighborhood, as our planet is made of neighborhoods and the best way to do so is to lead by example.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When I was growing up and looking for direction, I wanted to be a musician, an artist, a politician, a doctor, a researcher, a businessman, and many other things. I dabbled in all these things and when I got into business someone told me that I will be the average of the 5 people closest to me. I took that to heart and have since surrounded myself with only kind, authentic, intelligent and successful people that I can aspire to be like.

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 just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

There are a lot of people that I would want to meet and learn from. I also think these people can help me with our mission as they have great knowledge and resources. Bill Gates would be first on my list. I grew up as his career was blossoming and have followed his journey. I respect the direction Bill took in his life after Microsoft and the social programs he invests behind. I would love to learn from his perspective and apply those learnings to making Cambridge SPG even stronger than what it is today.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Yes. Follow me on Instagram @filippchebotarev and LinkedIn Filipp Chebotarev. My name is unique so there aren’t many with the same name. 😊

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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