This Entrepreneur Shares Why an Ability to Change Course Is What Will Set You Up for Success
Editor's Note: Entrepreneur's "20 Questions" series features both established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs and asks them a number of questions about what makes them tick, their everyday success strategies and advice for aspiring founders.
A few years into his second venture, Michael Broukhim realized to succeed in the long run, he needed to change his view of what his company could be.
In 2010, Broukhim and his co-founders, co-CEO and brother Daniel and editor-in-chief Katie Rosens launched FabFitFun, an online site dedicated to reviewing the best in lifestyle products.
Three years later, the trio realized they had an opportunity on their hands, a moment that Broukhim characterizes as a “re-founding moment.”
“We decided that we could bring that content experience to life in the form of a subscription service in a box,” Broukhim recalled to Entrepreneur. “Instead of just writing about the products, our readers would actually get to experience them and try them.”
They stepped into uncharted territory and began the experiment with 2,000 boxes. The hunch paid off. By 2016, the company had grown to 200,000 subscribers and today, every season, the company’s more than 350,000 members look forward to a customizable box of products that retail for $200.
Broukhim’s central goal is to maintain the company’s community of users, making sure that for his growing staff of 200 employees the customer’s experience is always top of mind.
We caught up with Broukhim to ask him 20 questions and find out what makes him tick.
1. How do you start your day?
I walk to work. I think L.A. isn't known as a walkable city, but I've recreated it for myself in that way. That 10-minute walk is a re-balancing time for me, and [it lets me] think about the challenges of the day. I also try to not look at my phone, which means I get to think about what I want to accomplish that day.
2. How do you end your day?
By reading the member forums and hearing from our customers. We're not only a consumer business, but we're a membership business. Keeping what the members are thinking about at the forefront of our minds is really important. Often, I think about that at the end of the day.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
Antifragile by Nassim Taleb. I think it challenges a lot of intuitions about the inevitable fallibility of human-made creations. The biggest takeaway from that book is no matter how perfect you try to construct something, everything is fragile. The best way to be antifragile is to have more distributed systems and things that can absorb shock, because shocks will inevitably come.
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. It is probably the last fiction book I remember reading from start to finish and not wanting to put it down. I read it for the first time in 10th grade. I just enjoyed the writing, and in terms of sci-fi, the technology [in the book] touched on a lot of the things around virtual reality and the idea of the internet. I think a lot of the futuristic aspects of it were compelling to me.
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
I keep a very short or non-existent to-do list. I often think of a to-do list as something that can be quite distracting. I subscribe to the theory that if you want to make meaningful progress on something there's probably one or two things [you need to do to accomplish it]. If you have a list of other things, it will get you off those one or two [important] things. I try to settle on the very few things that I want to accomplish and then everything else is of out of sight, out of mind.
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
Point guard for the the Los Angeles Lakers. It didn't quite work out. I did play basketball. My brother and I were co-MVPs of the junior varsity basketball team. I guess that was our first dynamic-duo experience.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
I haven't had too many meaningful bosses, but I've learned a lot from my co-founders.
You always want to challenge yourself to be a better listener. There's an expression, “you have two ears and one mouth, use them in those portions.” As you grow, you learn that you don't have all the answers, so making sure that you have strong minded people around you who are willing to share their opinions -- and that you're not only listening but soliciting and drawing them out is really critical.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
My brother, he's my co-founder and co-CEO. We've had to perfect this sort of mind meld. During first couple of years we were working together, we had to unlearn the brother habits. What's resulted is someone that you have completely trust in, who's equally ambitious and cares about the business.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
My first trip to Israel; I must have been 12 years old. It was the first time I came into contact with really old things. It gives you a sense of perspective, how much history there has been and where you fall into that narrative.
10. What inspires you ?
Our members. The way that the FabFitFun box lands on the person receiving it is a really emotional experience. The thing that we hear most frequently is it's like Christmas four times a year. We hear that it's uplifted people's spirits.
People get into a routine and habits. Yet, so much of happiness is feeling like you're growing, feeling like you're evolving as a person. And what we do is to sort of nurture that side of [our customers], and make sure that they have new inspiration every season. We don't think of it as just products but as a catalyst for having new ideas, new thoughts, new experiences.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
It was research I did in college. I was working with a political economist who was working on a lot of trade issues. A lot of trade agreements ended up having issues around things like labor and environmental standards. The economist was trying to prove [that there were] market-oriented mechanisms to get past that.
What we did was create a few different brands and new companies and then put those products on eBay. We described those products as having been made with certain labor standards or environmental standards like fair trade, and we tested that messaging. If customers were willing to pay premiums, then you'd have to be less reliant on trading agreements enforcing those types of things.
The professor's name was Michael Hiscox and my name is Michael, so we started MM Goods. We had a coffee brand and a T-shirt brand. I first was interested in it as an academic sort of thing, and then I saw how much fun it was to actually create products, sell them and play with words to see how it impacts customer behavior.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
I was the editorial chair of the Harvard Crimson, and I was in charge of the opinion section. A lot of the role of editorial chair was [dealing with] very strongly opinionated people who had very brilliant but very different perspectives -- and they were always confident they were right. That experience helped me learn how to put myself in someone else's shoes and see a debate or discussion from each perspective. A lot of times, differences of opinion just emanate from different of values.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
It's not as good as you think, and it's not as bad as you think. Entrepreneurship is inherently a roller coaster and trying to keep your psyche as level as possible [is important]. You still want to celebrate the wins, and you're going to ride those lows invariably, but you have to be the one bringing people back to center. Wedded with that, is having a long-term perspective. The longer you look out, the less any up or down becomes a-make-or-break thing.
14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
I ended up dropping out of business school. I finished law school, but it was probably one school too many [for me].
The best way to learn entrepreneurship is to do entrepreneurial things. I'm happy I had the experience I had grad school, but I think the relationship between that and the business success and entrepreneurial successes is much more divorced.Related: The Founders of Celeb-Favorite Shoe Brand Allbirds Explain Why Being Told to Raise Money Was the Worst Advice They Ever Received
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
Don’t be a slave to email.
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
Slack. We've used it in a pretty innovative ways. We've actually built a little Slack bot that reports on information when you ask it questions. A lot of the data and information dissemination at FabFitFun occurs in Slack. For example, the metrics around how many new subscribers we have in a day, or what our marketing spend is.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
As an entrepreneur, you should really, really love your work. I don't think you can be very balanced when you're starting a company; if you want balance, don't start a company. When your company is a bit further along, you can start having more of a life outside of work.
18. How do you prevent burnout?
Sleep. It's one thing I try to not compromise on.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
Exercise is one way of stepping away, and vacation is another way. A maker's schedule and manager's schedule are different. When you're day to day in the office, you're forced into a manager schedule with a lot of things breaking up your time. A lot of synthesis happens when you step away from that.
20. What are you learning now?
I'm becoming a student of organizational structure and design. We're somewhere around 200 full-time employees right now. I think of this as our company's teenage years, where you don't quite have enough people to create several antonymous units. But how do you make the leap into that? It’s really critical to a company that it can innovate and grow, and I'm trying to see how others have done it.