Interview with Dan Feldstein '90 of Red Ventures

Interview by Vivian Chung ’16. Published May 27, 2014


Tell us about your first entrepreneurial idea.

My first foray into entrepreneurship was with a baseball card business I launched as a 10 year old called DSF Collectibles. Although perhaps the more interesting endeavor was my brief stint as an SAT prep software developer. The SAT tutorials available at the time didn't really teach anything, so I decided to take to my trusty Apple IIe and create my own program. Once I had the product, I knew exactly who I wanted to market it to: the very software company whose product had disappointed me. I just didn’t have a car. So my high school computer teacher actually had to drive me to the pitch. I won’t get into how that went but, suffice it to say, I’m not in the SAT tutorial business today.

 

Tell us a little bit about your educational/career background.

 

After I graduated Duke (with a bachelor’s degree in math and public policy in 1990), I went on to Wharton for my MBA where I majored in entrepreneurship. From there, I started work at a consulting company (Bain) and a Direct Marketing company (CUC International, later Cendant). It was through those experiences where I learned to run and grow businesses, and, just as importantly, where I met my current business partner, Ric Elias.

  

That brings us to Red Ventures, where you are co-founder and CMO. How did that get started?

 

I’ve always been entrepreneurial by nature, and when Ric and I started talking seriously about starting our own business, we realized that we both wanted the same two things. First, we wanted to create a model that provided real, measurable value to partners. Second, we wanted to build a company where we’d like to work. That sounds simple, but it’s been one of the biggest challenges and, at the same time, one of the biggest drivers of our success thus far. We started early on during the dot com boom and bust – invested a small fortune (to us at the time) of our own money, and found ourselves having to reinvent and reinvent until we found out what worked. Now our company, which specializes in marketing, sales and technology, employs 2,000 people, has offices in Charlotte and Wilmington, NC, and just opened a new, 180,000-square-foot addition to our headquarters south of Charlotte in Indian Land, SC.  



Speaking of the headquarters, we hear the new office will have a bowling alley. Is that true?

 

Well, we had to one-up the indoor basketball court somehow, and a snowboarding half-pipe was just too much snow and liability. Seriously though, building a work environment is, to me, a lot like building a college campus. If you find great people and give them world-class tools, experience, and facilities, you’ve got a great chance of those people making big things happen. So it’s less about the bowling alley, basketball court, running track, spin room, yoga classes or whatever else we’ll do with the 100+ acres we just bought, and more about creating an environment that brings out the best in our team. What we have reminds me a lot of Duke – frankly. A beautiful campus filled with a lot of really smart people who are really excited to be there. Maybe that was a subconscious thing?! 



Describe Red Ventures.


Red Ventures is the largest technology-enabled platform for launching and growing sales and marketing businesses.


 

What’s the secret to this success?

 

A few factors – or attitudes, really – come to mind when I think about what makes Red Ventures successful and, more broadly, what sets up any company for success.

1.     Willingness to fail.

2.     Finding and capitalizing on opportunity without hesitation.

3.     Constantly trying to see things for what they are – not what you want them to be.

4.     Having a technology advantage and a knowledge advantage.

5.     Recruiting and retaining great people.

 

What tips would you give graduating students / future entrepreneurs?

 

While there’s not one recipe for success, I’ll tell you what worked for me: if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, the best way to learn how to run and grow a business is to find a work environment where you’ll actually get to run and grow businesses. Early in my career, people gave me the opportunity to do things beyond my tenure. That’s something I try and do now for people at Red Ventures. (Shameless plug alert: if you’re interested, check out our job openings at www.RedVentures.com.)  It really is a thrill to see people flourish and grow. I’m certain we’ll have several future businesses spin off from within these walls and that, to me, means we’re doing something very right. That’s the kind of environment you should look for if you’re serious about owning your own business someday.

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