Episode 22: From Frat Life To Facebook: Kunal Merchant, Global Marketer, DJ, and Cultural Bridge-Builder, Reminds Us of the Moments That Matter Most

When Kunal Merchant decided to rush for the University of Texas’ first South Asian fraternity, he had no idea that he was actually joining his first startup. From learning how to lead large-scale events to collaborating with external organizations to fundraising to stay afloat, these experiences put Kunal on his entrepreneurial path. Ultimately, Kunal’s journey led him to join one of the most storied and successful “startups” in the world – Facebook. In this episode, Kunal shares how key moments and mentors – including Besomebody Founder, Kash Shaikh – impacted his journey, and what he’s learned about diversity, growth, and the power of connecting people. 

On this Episode of The Besomebody Podcast:

19:38 – Learning What It Takes To Be An Entrepreneur. – “Our fraternity was less about our fraternity and more like a start-up. And it was a very interesting start-up because.. the founding group has a vision that says “We’re going to build this thing.” Then they get the first class in – the Alpha class – that’s like your first set of employees, right? You take who you want, you take some of the cool people, you take some of your friends. The barrier of entry is a little bit different because you just need to have a proof of concept. You need to bring these people in so that we can say, “We have more than just us.” We were the Beta class. I would think we were the first real class because you guys didn’t have to have us. The group of people that came together for that first class – we didn’t even really know each other. That whole thing was, “How do we fit into this organization that’s still trying to find its footing?” Everything we did was like a start-up. We worked as a team. We created things that never existed before. We built relationships all the time that never existed before. It was a phenomenal experience because it gave me the initial ground work – the learning – of what it takes to be an entrepreneur.” -KM

43:16 – Breaking Barriers. – “A lot of times celebrities and people of the highest net worth, and people that are on television regularly get credit for the barriers that they break, particularly when it comes to race, and culture, and opportunity. The reality is the people that are on the ground, on the frontlines, that are really doing the breaking of those barriers are people like you…. It’s not just the people that you see on sitcoms now or have their own comedy shows, it’s the people that have built this from the ground up for a long time so that it becomes customary and expected for South Asians to be a part of industries like this.” -KS

53:06 – Surrounding Yourself with Inspiration – “I love people. I love people who are passionate about building business and helping others. To me, when you meet someone and they have a spark in their eye, they’re inspired and they want to go create something that’s meaningful to the world – that inspires me and I just want to surround myself with that. Anytime I can meet someone that I feel is looking to do more for others, that’s an instant connection.” -KM

59:42 – Keep Going. – “I’ve been on a journey and I had to be humbled. Life put me on a path to be humbled because I had a good amount of wins in my life, I had a few losses early on, but I was in a place where things were working out. And it wasn’t until I started to get humbled by losses, and some of them on very very big stages, that enabled me to have the humility to see as clear as I needed to see in order to make the right decisions moving forward. And for me, that’s been the biggest blessing because it’s painful at times, but those learnings that come when you get knocked out, that’s when you really learn the most, if you are willing to pick yourself up and keep going.” -KS

1:17:08 – Do Something That Makes You Uncomfortable. – “The journey is the journey and it’s what you make of it. And it comes down to how much you want to learn and grow. And that’s what I would tell people right now. Chase growth – especially with everything going on in the world right now. You can just see how life is so fragile. How we don’t know what tomorrow brings. So while you’re here, why not do something that makes you uncomfortable. Because when you’re uncomfortable is when you grow, and then you learn.” -KM

1:24:40 – Kash’s One Big Thing – “It’s just the realization that there are small moments in our life that we often overlook – that at many times pass us by, that make such a powerful impact on people. We get so caught up in the day-to-day, and the grind, and everything that we’re doing. And those experiences pile on, but if we’re doing it right, and if we’re making sure that it’s bigger than us – and we’re trying to serve, we’re trying to help, we’re trying to give – we affect people along the way, and we affect them in ways that we don’t even understand. And we become that person, or that moment, or that milestone that puts them on that path that they’re meant to be on. And that’s pretty powerful man – every single one of us has that opportunity, to be that person for somebody. It doesn’t take a lot. All it takes is genuine care, and concern, and belief. Whether it’s my coach in high school who yelled at me, but believed in me. Whether it was my mom who always pushed me to do better. Or whether it was the folks in my fraternity back in 1998 who gave me the opportunity to lead as a freshman in college. Those are the moments that shape us – and that’s pretty powerful.” -KS

Episode 20 (Part 2 of 2): From Board Shorts to Billions: Justin Wilkenfeld, CEO of Kindhumans and Employee #4 at GoPro Shares the Secrets to Building A Billion-Dollar Company the Hard Way

In 2007, Justin Wilkenfeld left a stable corporate job in the Finance industry to help his college buddy sell wrist-strap cameras to surfers. Seven years later, he was a core part of the most successful US-based IPO of the year as GoPro reached legendary “unicorn” status.  What started as answering phone calls in the one-man customer service department and building furniture for trade shows around the country, turned into negotiating brand partnerships, scaling marketing teams, and signing iconic athletes – always with a focus on building real relationships. And throughout it all, Hoost was the glue that helped build and protect GoPro’s unbeatable culture. Today, Justin – in partnership with his wife, Suzi – has combined his passion for growing businesses with his calling to build community to create Kindhumans, a new platform to connect commerce with compassionate causes across the globe.

On this Episode of The Besomebody Podcast:

12:31 Our hiring criteria. “The three things that we hire for are passion, coachability, and cultural fit. We can teach everybody everything else, but you have to have that passion – that burning desire and excitement to be here. You have to be moldable and open to feedback, learning, and growing. And you have to be able to live and breathe the culture, or it’s not going to work.” -KS

21:23 Kindhumans. “At a high level, we’re trying to create the intersection of community, content, commerce, and cause. We want to build the biggest community of kind humans possible. We want to tell stories about kind humans and profile kind humans and the good work that they’re doing across business, or individual effort, as well as non-profit effort. And really highlight the people that we feel like are good role models for society.” -JW

36:36 Greedy for good. “Greed wins because greed is hungrier than that altruistic behavior sometimes. Even as we’re progressing our brand and business forward, I try to impress on my team that we need to be greedy for good. Greedy for the better good. We have to play the game like the other players are playing the game. Let’s hustle, let’s build a business. We can give back and do great things for people, but let’s be a real business, let’s make real money, and let’s make some real noise. Let’s not be like ‘tin cup,’ like, ‘Hey can you guys help us out?’ Let’s be disruptive.” -JW

47:11 Survive, live, thrive. “For me, there’s three components to life, at a basic level. There’s survival mode, there’s living, and then there’s thriving. Our hope with Kindhumans is that we can help shift things and be a part of that conversation of shifting more people out of survival mode into and through living mode, into thriving mode – where you’re able to be a master of your own destiny, to follow the path that you want to follow, and to participate in a way that is a bit freer. So many people are desperate just to survive – and that blinds their truth. They’re not able to follow their heart and where they want to go.” -JW

57:03 Recognizing past mistakes. “It wasn’t until I left GoPro and started to build on my own with Besomebody that I really started to realize all the mistakes that I made. And started to realize, ‘Now I understand when I left at 5pm and everybody was grinding, they looked at me differently. Now I understand when I used to come to the events and not roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty and start setting stuff up, they looked at me and rolled their eyes. Now I understand when I used to be the guy on TV, being interviewed in front of the media and getting the publicity but not really having the history and the heritage with the brand and the company, why people got frustrated.’ I took that to heart and told myself, ‘Now I’m going to do it differently. I’m going to be respectful of the process. I’m going to be grateful for the grind. And I’m always going to honor the people who have been there from the beginning.’” -KS

58:44 Kash’s One Big Thing: “To me the biggest lesson is you can completely screw something up, you can be totally off base and still turn that into a win if you’re humble enough and aware enough to acknowledge where you messed up. If I kept denying the fact that I did something wrong at GoPro, I wouldn’t be where I am today, we wouldn’t be here. It was because I embraced it, learned from it, and made it a part of my story and my journey that we got to be a path of growth ourselves.” -KS

Episode 20 (Part 1 of 2): From Board Shorts to Billions: Justin Wilkenfeld, CEO of Kindhumans and Employee #4 at GoPro Shares the Secrets to Building A Billion-Dollar Company the Hard Way

In 2007, Justin Wilkenfeld left a stable corporate job in the Finance industry to help his college buddy sell wrist-strap cameras to surfers. Seven years later, he was a core part of the most successful US-based IPO of the year as GoPro reached legendary “unicorn” status.  What started as answering phone calls in the one-man customer service department and building furniture for trade shows around the country, turned into negotiating brand partnerships, scaling marketing teams, and signing iconic athletes – always with a focus on building real relationships. And throughout it all, Hoost was the glue that helped build and protect GoPro’s unbeatable culture. Today, Justin – in partnership with his wife, Suzi – has combined his passion for growing businesses with his calling to build community to create Kindhumans, a new platform to connect commerce with compassionate causes across the globe.

On this Episode of The Besomebody Podcast:

18:03 The value of relationships. “Building bonds like that ends up being more critical to my future than the schooling or the education, because I met people, I networked, and built a family of friends that has carried through for decades.” -JW

24:44 Leaving for GoPro. “It was an opportunity to jump ship from a path that I didn’t feel like was going to fulfill me. It was a critical move for me, and I feel like it was a pivotal moment, and it’s been a seminal moment that I couldn’t have anticipated. The beauty of it was taking a chance on doing something else. That’s one of my biggest takeaways – having the courage to leave that comfort zone. And at 32, taking a risk on something that on paper probably didn’t have much of a chance.” -JW

26:03 The different stages of the journey.  “In your twenties you’re just trying to figure stuff out. You’re just trying to have fun, do different things, explore different things. You’re not really thinking about purpose or passion, you’re just doing stuff. When you get into your thirties, you realize, ‘I think I can do something more. I think life is about something more. What is my purpose? What could be my impact? What could be my legacy?’ Then that’s when you start to ask the smart questions that lead you to the right answers – the tough questions that lead you to the right answers. In your forties, hopefully, if you did it right and if you were focused and you were blessed, then you know it, and now you’re full force into your path.” -KS

28:44 Failure vs. regret. “My biggest influence and inspiration in my life is my mom. She’s taught me a lot of things, but the piece of advice that she’s given me that has always stuck with me and rang the most true and powerful was that failures fade but regrets last forever.” -KS

45:47 Building with authenticity. “What made a difference for GoPro in the end – and still does – is authenticity. It’s a genuine connection and a genuine relationship with these different communities. We went vertical by vertical – crawl, walk, run strategy – and we built the brand by getting to know people. And that loyalty that you gain from those relationships can transcend the brand.” -JW

52:42 Working with friends and family. “When you come in as a friend and/or as family, it’s like having the coach’s son on the basketball team when you grew up who got playing time. You’ve been on the teams before where the son got playing time because his dad was the coach, and he wasn’t very good, so you always resented that fact. Or, he was actually the best player because his dad was the coach, coached him all the time, and pushed him. I always say, ‘I want you to be the latter, I’m going to push you, I’m going to spend more time with you, but I want you to be the best. I want you to be the top of the crop. Then that earns you credibility and it protects our culture.’” -KS

Episode 19: David Willbrand, Partner at Thompson Hine LLP, on the Dumpster Fire That Is Your Life, Why Venture Capital Isn’t for Everyone, and the One Piece of Advice He Would Give to Aspiring Entrepreneurs

After graduating from Harvard, David Willbrand was tired of working in jobs he hated. He convinced the University of Cincinnati Law School to admit him past the deadline, and spent the next sixteen years making his mark in the startup community. As a Partner at Thompson Hine, LLP, David chairs their Early Stage & Emerging Companies Practice where he has helped thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs figure out what really matters to them, how to get the deal done, and the true meaning of risk.

On this Episode of The Besomebody Podcast:

10:24 Kash on VC funding. “I don’t believe in seed stage funding because I believe growth capital is where you should be thinking about raising money. At that point you’ve already proved product/market fit, you already have a business model you believe in, the customer base, and the elements of a strong business. Then you’re just trying to pour some gasoline on the fire.” -KS

14:46 Defining your version of success. “When I sit down with entrepreneurs for the first time, I always try to ask the entrepreneur, ‘What is your definition of success? What are you trying to achieve? Why are you doing this?’ Nine times out of ten, I get the rote answer, ‘I want to go raise venture capital,’ ‘I want to build a unicorn,’ ‘I want an IPO,’ ‘I want to build a billion-dollar company.’ When I then ask some follow up questions, what I find is that’s actually the case truly with very few entrepreneurs. When you think about what’s involved in that and what it means from the perspective of meaning, lifestyle, the kind of company you’re creating, and what you’re trying to achieve – that’s a very narrow band of entrepreneurs. And most, if you press on them, you can say, ‘That’s not really what you want. Let’s talk about what you want because this is your life. Let’s figure out how to help you manifest your version of success.’”-DW

26:59 Luck. “You’ve got to do the work and put in the effort to put yourself in the position to have luck. Then you have to keep your eyes open and always be aware – pivoting back and forth and managing your peripheral vision – so that when luck appears you grab it by the throat, and you don’t let it go.” -DW

55:49 What makes news. “We do want to be on the stage and the plane of some of those hyper-growth companies. We just want to do it our way and take the road that you didn’t see on TechCrunch or in the headlines, which is the news out there of people raising money. Let’s have our news about the impact that we make, number one. Number two, the amazing culture that we built and co-created, and number three, the money that we make, not the money that we raise. I believe there should be a shift in glamorizing the part of entrepreneurship or the startup life of raising money and it should be more on impact, growth, financial independence, and things like that.” -KS

1:03:06 David’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. “It’s a difficult existence. If you’re going to undertake it, only do it because literally there is nothing else you can do to be happy. That’s what I would say to aspiring entrepreneurs. I love that you’ve got this idea, I love that you have this vision, but frankly, if you can be happy in a day job, it’s an easier life. You should only do this thing, you should only chase this thing if you can’t sleep, if it’s keeping you up at night, if it’s eating at you all day long, if you feel like you’re wasting time because you’re not spending time on it.” -DW

1:07:30 Kash’s One Big Thing. “In order to go down this road – whether it’s a dream that you have, a business you want to build, or something that you want to pursue – it has to be this burning fire inside of you. It has to be that thing that wakes you up in the morning, and that thing that stops you from sleeping every night. The thing that literally sets your whole being on fire, that’s the epitome of a calling. When I left my corporate job to go build Besomebody, Inc. that’s how I felt. I felt like every day was one day too late from me jumping on what my true purpose was, my true calling. I knew I was leaving a lot on the table; I knew I was leaving comfort, stability, money, and some relationships. I knew I was having to give up a lot, but the feeling inside of me wouldn’t let me let it go. I started to feel so heavy every day that I waited. When I finally made that decision to go for it, it felt like this release. The journey has been way harder than I could’ve ever imagined. I’ve had to give up a lot more than I ever thought I would. There’s ups and downs, but I still feel so in sync and so true inside with the calling.” -KS

Episode 8: Gym Studios Founder, Shawn Martinez, Lost 50% of His Revenue Overnight – Now He’s Planning His Comeback

After growing his company with a first-of-its-kind business model that pushed him to the forefront of Austin, Texas’ fitness scene, Shawn Martinez lost 100% of his locations when gyms were forced to close due to Coronavirus. Now, he’s balancing the need to recover with the urgency to evolve.

On this Episode of The Besomebody Podcast:

18:37 Shawn’s growth strategy. “It’s always been about relationships. Relationships have always been our currency…I didn’t want [the strategy] to be volume, I didn’t want to just be at every apartment in the U.S. We’ve always been very selective about what properties we partner with. We want to make sure the gym is hospitable to training, we want it to be top notch, we want to pick property managers that believe in the vision so we can work together and really be a blessing to all the people that live there by doing some really cool programs and just being creative in the space. We weren’t really in a rush to grow, we wanted more of the right partner.” -SM

24:36 The impact of COVID-19. “We make money two main ways. The apartments pay us a fee for our program and then we make revenue from our personal trainers. Without gym access we literally lost 50% of our revenue overnight. I wasn’t going to take a penny from our trainers if they weren’t going to be able to get access [to gyms]. I had to rethink how we were going to be able to hold on to our trainers.” -SM

28:03 Supporting the personal trainers. “One of the things I really respected about the Besomebody chapter that I was part of is that you guys took the time to interview and put together this really high-quality production of people talking about themselves, what makes them ‘them.’ I feel like there’s so much power in that, and that’s what we’re doing. What makes these people unique, and not as trainers, but as people. And we’re trying to pump that out to the world and trying to get [the trainers] some business.” -SM

29:18 The power of brand equity right now. “Brand equity, brand purpose, what your brand believes and stands for is so important right now. This is the only time – definitely in our lives, in this generation, most likely in the last century – that everyone in the world is experiencing the same thing at the same time. We’re all feeling the same thing, we have the same fears and anxieties. We also feel for our neighbors, our colleagues, our businesses, our friends that run local establishments that are going through this. Now is a time where people are rallying together, people do believe we’re in this together. The companies and businesses that double-down on purpose and values and show who they are in a positive way, are going to be rewarded with business after this is all over.” -KS

32:20 The value of vulnerability.  “All those times where I was very nervous to hit ‘publish’ or ‘post’ on the post because I thought, ‘I’m being so honest, I’m sharing my soul.’ Those are the posts, messages and stories that connected the most with people. It wasn’t about the likes and the comments, it was the fact that somebody said, “Thank you so much for sharing that. That really impacted me.’ There is so much power in being courageous enough to be vulnerable.” -KS

40:12 Kash’s One Big Thing. “Where I’ve seen the most value in our journey and in my personal life, is taking the time to really invest in those select few. All I need is a ‘starting five’ and someone to ‘come off the bench and shoot the three.’ That’s all you need – you don’t need a lot of people, you just need the right people. When you have the right people around you – the people that believe in you, that will push you, that will call you out, that will stand by you when times aren’t that good – then you have a powerful weapon in your arsenal.” -KS

Episode 2: “Go Besomebody Bro!” – Getting Chewed Up on Shark Tank

Besomebody Founder and CEO, Kash Shaikh, shares the behind-the-scenes story, emotions, and lessons from his appearance on the Reality TV series, Shark Tank, including the 60,000 emails he received after the show.

On this Episode of The Besomebody Podcast:

5:15 Getting to Shark Tank. “I also had a mini keynote presentation at this conference… I got up around 11am and gave my talk about Besomebody and was very passionate about it. And when I got off the stage one of the assistant producers that was there with Shark Tank said, ‘Hey, you should probably try out. I really liked your talk. I liked the energy. People here don’t have any energy.’” -KS

13:14 Kash travels to LA for the pitch. “As [the audition] was going on, [the producers] were like, ‘Man, you’re really good talking about passion and your platform is really good. We’re thinking about doing a different show, piloting a Besomebody show where you’re the Bear Grylls, and you’re going around to people around the country that are living their passion and interviewing them. We want to shoot a pilot; we’re raising money for it.’ I walked out of that thinking I was the freaking man.” -KS

18:57 Shark Tank goes off script. “Honestly, if I could go back in time, I would have walked out. I really would have walked out because I knew that this was not what was supposed to be. It was reality TV, it’s scripted, we know the flow, and it was off script.” -KS

23:35 The truth about “reality” TV. “Remember I said they could never make me look stupid? But they did. And a lot of it was my fault because it was a little bit too much ego that I didn’t think that could happen to me. I got 60,000 emails in a 48-hour period after Shark Tank. 42,000 told me I was the dumbest person on the planet and that’s the G-rated version.” -KS

26:17 Kash’s One Big Thing. “The last bit of ego that needed to be erased within me to be able to do what we’re doing together here was erased in a very public and painful way, but it needed to be. Because if I didn’t have that…I wouldn’t have been able to do all those things necessary to reboot and rebuild the Company. It wasn’t fair and I don’t think it was right…but I think that it was necessary and I’m grateful for it.” -KS  

Episode 1: The Besomebody Story – High Highs, Low Lows, and a Resilient Battle of Growth

The story of Besomebody from the early beginnings as a simple blog, to the evolution into a global content platform, through the highly-visible peaks & valleys of entrepreneurship, to today’s growth as a multi-million dollar company.

On this Episode of The Besomebody Podcast:

9:41 The Besomebody blog. “Those were the early days of Besomebody. Because I started to get so inspired by all these people. And I started to see that we’re all a lot more similar than we are different. I saw that there is a lot more that unites us than divides us. And I said, ‘How can I start sharing these stories, sharing these feelings?’ And we started with the Besomebody blog.” -KS

14:52 Funding & launching the world’s first experience marketplace. “We were growing fast…it was blog posts, inspirational visuals, video content. Tens of thousands of people have seen it. We ended up building this community of ten million people, and through those conversations I came up with an idea – to create the world’s first passion-based learning platform. It was an experiential marketplace where you could learn anything you’re passionate about by booking an experience with an expert in your city.” -KS

16:32 Trouble with scaling the app. “A lot of what we felt in 2014 a lot of startups are feeling now. I was just talking to a friend whose company laid off a lot of people because of the amount of money you need to scale marketplaces. We had to build supply and demand in every city that we were in…We had to learn everything from pricing, to how to market, to how to have the right instructors on board, the training programs, in addition to building the mobile platform…Getting out of Texas, getting to New York, getting to LA, trying to make it here to Ohio became very challenging and became very expensive.” -KS

18:54 Pivoting the Company. “We had an opportunity to pivot the company. Take everything we learned about bringing people together on learning experiences and reposition it to help them learn the skills they need to get jobs. It was a massive pivot because we were teaching people skydiving and pottery, and then we were going to go teach them how to be pharmacy technicians and dental assistants.” -KS

25:26 Kash’s One Big Thing. “I thought the journey was about passion. And it was in the beginning, that was the spark that lit the flame. But without the resilience that flame goes out pretty quick. There are so many people, incidents, and accidents that happen along the journey that extinguish that flame. If you don’t have that resilience inside you to keep going, you’ll never get there.” -KS