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“Try To Lead From The Back Whenever Possible” With Courtney And Carter Reum

“Try to lead from the back whenever possible. We both naturally tend to lead from the front as Type A personalities, but we’ve tried to…


“Try to lead from the back whenever possible. We both naturally tend to lead from the front as Type A personalities, but we’ve tried to hone our style to become adaptable and servant leaders. Increasingly, if a CEO is able to influence his or her team and get the most out of them, the rest will take care of itself (or at least have a much better shot of succeeding!).”


I had the pleasure to interview Courtney And Carter Reum. Courtney Reum is the co-founder of M13, a brand development and investment company accelerating businesses at the nexus of consumer products, technology, and media. He began his career as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs in New York. After working with such brands as Procter & Gamble, Under Armour and Vitamin Water, Courtney and his brother Carter founded VEEV, a premium spirits company which was acquired by Luxco in 2016. 
Courtney has been featured on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list, the Inc “500 fastest growing private companies in America,” Richard Branson’s best-selling book “Screw Business as Usual,” and most recently the Goldman Sachs Builders + Innovators 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs. Courtney is also an active member of the Young President’s Organization (YPO) both locally in Los Angeles and internationally. Courtney grew up in Chicago and holds a B.A. with distinction (Economics and Philosophy) from Columbia University in New York and is an alumnus of Harvard Business School. Carter Reum is the co-founder of M13. He is an innovative entrepreneur with a background in building consumer products brands starting with his spirits company VEEV. At the age of 25, while being bored with his drinking experience, along with his brother he endeavored to create a better way to drink™ and from that VEEV has become one of the pioneering artisanal brands in the spirits industry winning a range of awards like a Technomic Fast 50, Inc 500 Fast Growth and Beverage Industry Growth Brand award. VEEV was acquired in 2016. Carter’s taste for entrepreneurship started early, when he worked for Champ Ventures in Sydney, Australia scouting and helping incubate young start‐up companies. He later joined Goldman Sachs in New York as an investment banker, where he worked with clients including Honeywell, Lockheed Martin and did the historic IPO for KKR. 
Carter has been honored by several entrepreneurial groups such as the “30 Under 30” list, the Inc “500 fastest growing private companies in America,” Richard Branson’s best-selling book “Screw Business as Usual” and most recently the Goldman Sachs Builders + Innovators 100 “Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs.” Carter has a B.A. with distinction from Columbia University in New York, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude and is an alumnus of Harvard Business School.

Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”? Can you give some information on how you formed your company, how you began working together as brothers, etc.

Growing up in Illinois, we were always close and did most things together — from playing sports, to both attending Columbia, to working at Goldman after college. Unlike some siblings, our ability to work together came natural. So when we thought of the idea for VEEV, it seemed right that we would launch it together.

We went out on a limb together during those times — we quit our jobs, moved to LA, knew almost nobody, and began selling vodka out of the trunk of our Prius. Those trying times definitely brought us even closer together, and we were able to grow VEEV and eventually sell it.

All the while, we met fellow entrepreneurs and began to invest in their ventures. After doing this for a few years, we realized that we had developed a lens for investing, which spurred us to found M13 in 2016. At M13, we aim to institutionalize our Playbook (or our collection of internal resources, relationships, and partners) with the goal of accelerating the trajectory of our portfolio companies.


Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began your companies?

Each day is different than the previous one, and one of the most interesting parts has been the ability to cross paths with so many different people. From leaders of Fortune 500 businesses, to entertainers, to prominent investors, we’ve had the opportunity to meet many inspiring faces. One case that we’re particularly grateful for has been the ability to work with Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti in order to promote entrepreneurship across the city of LA.

What do you think makes M13 stand out? Can you share a story?

We think the traditional model of venture capital investing is shifting radically. The old days were about conducting due diligence and sourcing the winners. On the other hand, today is about making winners.

What we mean is that seemingly everybody is an investor today, meaning that capital is abundant and competition has never been as fierce as it is now. In addition, the difference between the good, better, and best companies has never been so profound as it is today.

At M13, we use our Playbook and unfair advantages to provide companies with the resources necessary to make better day-to-day decisions — decisions that compound over time and transform brands into top companies. Our platform structure allows us to institutionalize processes at scale that can be replicated across our portfolio a thousand times.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

Absolutely. One side of our business is the Ventures arm that is focused on investing in consumer product and consumer tech business across all stages. On the other end lays our Foundry, which is our internal incubator that identifies white spaces in the consumer industry. It’s in the process of launching several brands per year, with the first one geared to launch later this year!

Our Playbook approach is the glue that holds these two together. As our portfolio grows, our Playbook grows, which further strengthens our portfolio — creating a flywheel effect that allows us to affect outcomes at scale and refine the M13 platform.

What advice would you give to other C-Suite executives to help their employees to thrive?

Try to lead from the back whenever possible. We both naturally tend to lead from the front as Type A personalities, but we’ve tried to hone our style to become adaptable and servant leaders. Increasingly, if a CEO is able to influence his or her team and get the most out of them, the rest will take care of itself (or at least have a much better shot of succeeding!).


None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

Our parents, especially our father. He was and continues to be an incredible role model both professionally and personally, in terms of character. He never wavered in his beliefs in what he thought was right, always made decisions with the employees on the factory floor in mind, and was the consummate father and family man. It’s hard for us to imagine anybody doing it better, which is why our book Shortcut Your Startup is dedicated to him.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Yes, that is important to us. Although we’re only in our thirties, we feel as if we’ve done a lot, but there is so much more to do. Professionally, all of our companies have been triple bottom line oriented (people, planet, and profits). For instance, with our spirits company VEEV, we donated $1 for every bottle sold (over 10% of our profits) towards sustainable causes, had a distillery powered by renewable wind energy, and were a carbon neutral company.

Personally, we’re both involved philanthropically and with the arts both in LA and nationwide through groups like City Year, YPO, LACMA, and the Los Angeles Opera Boards, and we have even taught corporate social responsibility and entrepreneurship classes at places like Harvard Business School.

With that said, we have huge ambitions in terms of ‘goodness,’ so we’re just getting started…

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. Please share a story or example for each

Some parts of the job you just can’t prepare for and will have to experience firsthand, but we do have some advice that we wish we knew back when we first started VEEV, as it would’ve made life a lot easier!

1. Know that the job will always be harder than you think — never easier.

We’re fortunate enough to have met hundreds (maybe even thousands) of CEOs and Founders. We’d wager that if you surveyed them, 99% of them would say that the job was exponentially tougher than they initially thought it would have been. In fact, most wouldn’t do it if they really knew just how gut-wrenching and all-encompassing it would be.

Having both previously worked at Goldman Sachs, you’d be hard-pressed to tell us that something would be more taxing and fatiguing than investment banking is, but starting a company definitely is in many ways. There’s more mental fatigue as the “owner/CEO” vs. “the employee.” Don’t get us wrong — we cared a lot about our Goldman jobs, but we didn’t have the same pressure weighing on our shoulders that Lloyd Blankfein (and soon to be our friend David Solomon!) does as head of the firm.

2. Every day you’ll likely be asked to do something you’ve never done before.

Think about that. As a CEO, you’re looked to for leadership and clarity, yet almost daily you’re asked to do something you’ve never done before. That’s no small feat. It requires the right mix of IQ + EQ, clarity yet also a sense of vulnerability and knowing when to be transparent.

The old analogy “the journey is the destination” applies when you’re a CEO. If you embrace every one of these new challenges and learning experiences with the right mindset, the process will be much more rewarding (and your hair will be less likely to turn gray!).

3. If you get the people right, you have a better shot at getting the culture right.

We like to joke that if anyone ever truly figures out hiring — or the weather — they will have a multi-trillion dollar company on their hands. We think that culture is arguably the most important part of any company, but achieving the ‘right’ culture is tough. Rather than trying to hire for a certain culture, hire great people (and we often times prioritize personality over skillset), and a great culture will follow.

If you get the culture right, your values and goals should be aligned. It’s still hard to be successful but you’ve taken a few big steps in the right direction. And finally, don’t underestimate the time you’ll spend on recruiting! We never would have guessed how much time we would spend on hiring, coaching, listening to people, and ultimately creating a fulfilling journey together. But every second is worth it.

4. A good decision made fast is almost always better than a perfect decision made slowly.

As a CEO or Founder, you’re inclined to be perfect and get every decision exactly right. We definitely were. But you’ll soon realize that this is impossible — there are too many moving parts in a company, and you can’t wait for them all to align so that you can make a perfect decision.

General Patton — a master tactician and planner — once said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” We agree — even if you make a mistake, it’s rare that you’ll be unable to recover from it.

5. Get in the trenches.

Founders only really have a brief window to truly understand all the minutiae in their business and industry. If you miss this window, your company will either grow too fast and be unable to have a “do-over” or your venture will flop from the onset. We’ve seen ingenious examples of founders getting into the trenches: Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck who started League of Legends are perfect cases.

For the first few years, Marc was in the top 100 of all League of Legends players (out of millions) despite also running the company! Being on the ground level allowed him to understand the game, what the players wanted, and how to relate to them.

Being a CEO or Founder is incredibly tough — there’s no avoiding that fact. And frankly, it may not be for everybody, but the journey is so rewarding. We wish we knew our own advice ten years ago, as it would have saved us both time and money. But at the end of the day, Founders and CEOs just need to dive in head first and get to it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

“Perfection is the enemy of ‘really good,’” and “progress = happiness.” It’s just that simple.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. 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?

Well, we grew up in Chicago and have always been big athletes and sports fans. We’ve been lucky enough to meet and do business with many people we never dreamed we’d meet, but Michael Jordan has eluded us!

Originally published at medium.com

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