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“Surround yourself with people that you trust” with Jesse Baer

The best advice I can give to any young entrepreneur is to surround yourself with people that you trust and people that are well informed in what you’re trying to create. I always try and be the “stupidest” person in the room. I always want to surround myself with people that know better than I […]

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The best advice I can give to any young entrepreneur is to surround yourself with people that you trust and people that are well informed in what you’re trying to create. I always try and be the “stupidest” person in the room. I always want to surround myself with people that know better than I do. Believe it or not — My best strength is listening to other people.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jesse Baer.

Change of Heart founder Jesse Baer is a hospitality and lifestyle entrepreneur based in New York City.

Throughout his journey as an entrepreneur, Baer, 29, has developed a philosophy centered around inclusivity and attainable luxury, which stems from his challenging formative years growing up in Ithaca, New York. The only son of a single mother with whom he often clashed, he struggled through his teens, directionless, mostly broke and one friend’s couch away from living on the street. “My upbringing was rough,” says Baer, “but it helped me understand what it feels like when everything is so far out of your reach.”

He first applied this philosophy in 2017, co-founding Common Ground Bar in New York’s Meatpacking District. His idea for a universally welcoming and unpretentious destination in a neighborhood known for velvet ropes and bottle service proved to be an immediate success. Baer and his partner soon added a summer outpost in Montauk with more than double the capacity, which it reached nearly every night.

As a young entrepreneur without inherited wealth, Baer has persevered through highs and lows. He launched his first company, a chain of gyms backed by an angel investor, at the age of 19 while attending Ithaca College. It grew to ten locations before he exited in 2015 and moved to New York. His early years in the city, however, were darkened by bad investments and deep losses.

Change of Heart is driven by both Baer’s love of streetwear and his belief that modest means shouldn’t limit access to well-designed clothing produced in a non-exploitative way. Though not formally educated in fashion, he has always had an avid interest in style and all forms of design, from architecture to tattoos. In addition to conceiving the look and feel of Common Ground, Baer has consulted on the interior design of bars and restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit and Miami. As a guide, he looks to American designers like Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren who came from humble backgrounds, like his own, and relied on hard work and determination to build empires.

Giving back has always been a part of Baer’s life. Grassroots work that goes beyond mere philanthropy will be embedded into the culture of Change of Heart. Baer and his co-founders will begin by working with the Los Angeles Community Fridges, an independent network of refrigerators and pantries that provide for people experiencing food-insecurity. “We are foremost a fashion company,” says Baer, “but what we design is born in the streets, so we want to give back to these communities while also building our own Change of Heart community that inspires others to do some good in the world.”

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I grew up in Ithaca which is a small town in upstate New York. Home to Ithaca College and Cornell University, Ithaca is widely known as an affluent college town. However, being the son of a single mother with whom I often clashed, I struggled through my teens, directionless, mostly broke and one friend’s couch away from living on the street. My upbringing was rough, but it helped me understand what it feels like when everything is so far out of your reach.

As a young entrepreneur without inherited wealth, I have had to persevere through highs and lows. I launched my first company, a chain of gyms backed by an angel investor, at the age of 19 while attending Ithaca College. It grew to ten locations before we exited in 2015 and moved to New York City. My early years in the city, however, were darkened by bad investments and deep losses.

I first started bouncing back in 2017 when I co-founded Common Ground Bar in New York’s Meatpacking District. My idea for a universally welcoming and unpretentious destination in a neighborhood known for velvet ropes and bottle service proved to be an immediate success. My partner and myself soon added a summer outpost in Montauk with more than double the capacity, which it reached nearly every night.

You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

Change of Heart is driven by both my love of streetwear and my belief that modest means shouldn’t limit access to well-designed clothing produced in a non-exploitative way. CHANGE OF HEART seeks to manifest the positive change our planet so desperately needs, while honoring the individual change we seek — be it mental and physical health, deeper relationships, and strengthening our ties to our communities.Giving back has always been a part of my life. Grassroots work that goes beyond mere philanthropy will be embedded into the culture of Change of Heart. We will begin by working with the Los Angeles Community Fridges, an independent network of refrigerators and pantries that provide for people experiencing food insecurity. “We are foremost a fashion company, but what we design is born in the streets, so we want to give back to these communities while also building our own Change of Heart community that inspires others to do some good in the world.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

My upbringing and the struggle to make ends meet every day. I’ve been that kid that has had to rummage through second hand stores in order to dress “fashionably”. I’ve always wanted to create a dent in the gap between money and access to the finer things.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

Though not formally educated in fashion, I’ve always had an avid interest in style and all forms of design, from architecture to tattoos. In addition to conceiving the look and feel of all of my hospitality ventures I’ve consulted on the interior design of bars and restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit and Miami.

My whole life I’ve fixated on becoming “successful” — It’s that drive that wakes me at 5am — that helps me power through the fears and doubts that chase us all. And with it, I’ve found success. But this year has forced us all to reassess what it really means to be successful, and what it means to be a part of this fragile, wanting, dreaming world community. I think this is when I had my “aha” moment. I wanted to figure out a way to do what I loved, and keep building up, while also giving back. Change of Heart is my love letter to the kid that made me, and all the others like him- creating a new narrative in streetwear that is both aspirational AND attainable.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

I have two pieces of advice that I think have helped me more than any other.

One- The best advice I can give to any young entrepreneur is to surround yourself with people that you trust and people that are well informed in what you’re trying to create. I always try and be the “stupidest” person in the room. I always want to surround myself with people that know better than I do. Believe it or not — My best strength is listening to other people.

Two- Persistence. Everyone fails and makes mistakes– KEEP GOING. The person that is successful usually isn’t the smartest, but the one that wouldn’t give up.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

There’s too many to count. EVERYONE makes mistakes. I make mistakes every day. It’s the drive and motivation to not give up that is the only thing that matters. Be okay with mistakes and you will go further than you ever imagined. Persistence.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I have many mentors and have had TONS of help along the way. My first and maybe most important mentor was my mother. Even though we clashed in my younger years, she was always there for advice, in my most desperate times. The best piece of advice she ever gave me was a simple, “Don’t pre-pay”. What this meant is don’t worry about things before they happen. Once they happen you make a plan of attack and go directly at them, but there is no sense in worrying.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I often volunteer at a local soup kitchen/ meal center. Part of our messaging at Change of Heart is that each person can make an impact in their community. We believe that “you” can be the change that you want to see. So I try and live by that.

At the local Soup Kitchen that I volunteer at there’s a young family that always comes in and I’ve gotten to know them pretty well. I always bring a deck of cards with me and play “Go Fish” with the kids while the parents eat in peace. I can always tell how much it means to the family that they can get a free meal safely.

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

Positive change is amazing in the way that it can mean something different to each person. I encourage everyone to figure out what change they want to see in their lives and attack it relentlessly.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

There are a million things I wish I could say but the most important thing is USE YOUR VOICE. Speaking up is one of the most powerful things you can do especially if it’s to the right people. It’s not just about speaking to the people in charge. Talk to your friends, neighbors and colleagues and get them to make positive changes too. Speak up, speak to everyone, and make your voice heard.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

I would love to have breakfast with Lebron. He does so much for our communities and is overall just an amazing human.

How can our readers follow you online?

On our website at www.Changeheart.com or on Instagram @wearechangeofheart

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