Sam Lundin | From Investment Banking to Full Time Entrepreneurship, Ecommerce Trends, and Diversifying During Economic Downturns

Sam Lundin is the Founder and CEO of Vimbly Group, which invests in and grows technology-enabled companies. The company consists of 9 business units and operates a portfolio of businesses where it has contributed its IP and is responsible for technology strategy and infrastructure. He also manages Vimbly.com, which shows available times for thousands of local activities, date ideas, and things to do that can be booked directly with the best price guarantee. 

Sam graduated from Cornell University with a BS in Applied Economics & Management. He is a former investment banker and has been featured in both print and television media such as Fox News, Bloomberg, CBS, and Business Insider. Before launching Vimbly, he was a tech investor at Perry Capital, and a technology investment banker at Lazard specializing in mergers and acquisitions. 

In this episode, Sam Lundin talks to John Corcoran, host of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, about his transition from investment banking to tech and entrepreneurship, his reasons for diversifying into different types of businesses, and he also shares his experience with being infected with COVID-19. 

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Subscribe on Android | RSS

Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Learn:

  • The first side business Sam started with his business partner Chris Yeung and the lessons learned about entrepreneurship
  • Sam compares the decisions he made with Vimbly that were different from what he did with his first business
  • The types of deals and activities provided by Vimbly.com
  • Sam talks about realizing that he could license out his backend software system 
  • How Sam manages to grow and oversee different initiatives without losing focus on his core business
  • The possible long-term impact of the COVD-19 pandemic on technology and the importance of pivoting and diversifying into other types of business
  • How Sam evaluates companies, founders, and teams before acquiring their businesses
  • Best tips on how to handle disruptions in supply chain management caused by events such as the pandemic
  • Sam shares what it’s like to have COVID-19 talks about being infected with the coronavirus, the symptoms he had, and how he had prepared himself beforehand
  • Sam shares why he is grateful for his business partnership with Chris

Resources Mentioned:

Sponsor: Rise25

Today’s episode is sponsored by Rise25 Media, where our mission is to connect you with your best referral partners, clients, and strategic partners. We do this through our done for you podcast solution and content marketing. 

Along with my business partner Dr. Jeremy Weisz, we have over 18 years of experience with B2B podcasting, which is one of the best things you can do for your business and you personally. 

If you do it right, a podcast is like a “Swiss Army Knife” – it is a tool that accomplishes many things at once. It can and will lead to great ROI, great clients, referrals, strategic partnerships, and more. It is networking and business development; and it is personal and professional development which doubles as content marketing

A podcast is the highest and best use of your time and will save you time by connecting you to higher caliber people to uplevel your network. 

To learn more, go to Rise25.com or email us at [email protected]

To learn more, book a call with us here

Check out Rise25 to learn more about our done-for-you lead generation and done-for-you podcast services. 

Right Click here to download the MP3

Click here to subscribe via iTunes

Advertise on the Smart Business Revolution Podcast

Episode Transcript

John Corcoran  00:40

All right. Welcome, everyone. John Corcoran. Here. I’m the host of the smart business revolution podcast where I get to talk with smart CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs of many different companies and organizations like YPO eo Activision Blizzard. Lending tree Open Table x offer many more. I’m also the co-founder of rise25. We help to connect b2b business owners with their ideal prospects and excited today My guest is Sam London Sam and I connected quite a while back at a conference we got some mutual friends in common like our buddy Chad Rubin, founder of scoop Ana, and Sam is the founder and CEO of Vin blee. He’s a former investment banker. He’s been featured in newer system print and TV media. And Fox, Fox News, Bloomberg, CBS, you name it and sit in vim Li group actually invest in and grows technology-enabled companies. So we’re gonna ask him about that. And some of the different wins and stumbling blocks he’s had along the way. He’s got a portfolio of different companies and acquiring different companies both in technology-enabled and an e-commerce. So we’re gonna get into that in a second.

But first, before we get to that, this podcast is brought to you by rise25 Media and our mission through 25 is to connect you with your best referral partners and customers and we do that through a done for you podcast solution, and I’ve been doing this for about 10 years now. It’s one of the best things you can ever do for yourself personally, or for your business. It’s like a Swiss Army knife. It’s a tool that accomplishes so much at once. And it can and will lead to great clients, referrals, strategic partnerships, and you know, just wonderful relationships. And so I enjoy it. And you will too. If you want to learn more, go to rise 25 Media calm. Alright, so Sam, I’m excited to dive into your background and learn more about the various different wins you’ve had along the way. Now you started in investment banking and working in a hedge fund. And you had this itch to go out and do your own thing. You’re studying the technology companies, and you had an itch to do your own thing. And tell me about the first one that you did, which you actually did as a kind of like a moonlighting gig. You started a business on the side while you’re still holding down a day job. And tell us a little bit about that experience.

Sam Lundin  02:51

Yes, john. So that was while I was still working and with my partner As part of Chris, we started milk city. And so this was sort of a daily deal inspired company

03:07

at a time. And those were big

Sam Lundin  03:09

those when they were Yeah. Right. And, in fact, it was actually, just before they were even that big. At that point in time when we started. mocha city, Groupon had raised their series A, something like that, or it was maybe right before that. So it’s really early on in the process. I was pretty plugged into the technology space. So it seemed like an exciting opportunity. And it felt like these were going to take off. However, mocha city failed. And the key thing there was, among other issues, we were both still working full time. So we were moonlighting on doing this, and that’s where I learned that you can’t be half a gangster, and that we were basically just able to partially spend time on it and not enough time. And that’s not what entrepreneurship was or what would require and so as a result when launching sembly much later that was an all in experience where I left my job to be able to do that.

John Corcoran  04:11

Yeah and so when you with with the Milka city One was that a really painful failure was a kind of like, you put a little bit of time into it and then early on you’re like, Okay, we got to we got to cut loose on this well and or was it you had a team and you had to lay them off? Well, tell me what we did

Sam Lundin  04:29

hire a team. So we did hire people to try to what we were trading was we it was less painful because we had existing jobs. We were not a loss of income. I mean, it was a money-losing business. So it was just simply stopping to do that. But it wasn’t that money-losing and that horrible of a sense and I was generating income otherwise since I was working at the time and my partner was as well. So we were trying to trade kite own back our time in exchange for paying others To do the work, which did not work out, so well, the execution was not there. So, fortunately, wasn’t so painful in that regard, because it didn’t destabilize me. Yeah, but as but at the same time, it wasn’t as large of an investment.

John Corcoran  05:12

So how did what sorts of decisions did you make differently with vim Lee, when you form that, in addition to quitting your job, and it was with the same business partner,

Sam Lundin  05:23

same business partner, okay. And we’re still working together today. And so they really meant that if we were going to do it, we had to be all in as opposed to trying to dip my toes in the water and see what would happen. Right. And so the way I thought about risk was changing from that in general on my mind, so that was a risk mitigation strategy to try to be working full time while doing that. It just it was with a cap upside I hurt what we could do by doing that. And so I accepted I want to take more risk. So when leaving to do vim bleed on my mind, I mean there’s kind of the blue sky scenario and the downside scenario. So if things worked out great if it didn’t, I figured all right, we would give this one year and then I would just return to an industry where it’s an hour workout

John Corcoran  06:15

got it and invariably doesn’t I don’t know it that closely but it provides different activities and it looks like kind of deals looks kind of like a daily deal site to me. So how is it different and why do you think it took off when milk the city didn’t?

Sam Lundin  06:32

Yeah, the difference being so vividly we started in 2011 dot com is like Open Table for activities. We have the exact time slots for fun things to do. So if someone wants to book a glassblowing class or an improv show, they could see the times click book directly and they’re done entirely. There’s no process like on a daily deal site where you buy something, you got this dance studio coupon, you have to call them and they just sold 1000 of these. They’re sold out for the next six weeks, you know this back and forth phone calling, horrible experience, instead, you’re only booking into a specific time slot. And that last mile of inventory, having that specific inventory information is useful, and it’s difficult. And so that is the key difference that we have.

John Corcoran  07:16

So obviously only certain companies you can partner with if you have that plugin or in order to have that information.

Sam Lundin  07:24

Right, well, so and so over time, we built integrations with essentially with a large variety of companies. So we could plug in with anyone that’s one reason that we were able to grow and scale them calm well, was because whatever existing system the vendor used, we would seek to integrate with their system and not force them to switch over to ours. So from their point of view is far easier because there’s a heavy switching cost you switch your back end inventory system.

John Corcoran  07:49

Hmm, I think Yeah. And what other you know, things that you learn along the way with that one point did you realize that you had enough of a back end software For a system that you could license this out, because that’s what you’ve done, essentially, you started partnering with other companies. Go ahead.

Sam Lundin  08:06

Right, exactly. So google.com is just one of the business units within the Vemma group over time, as we’ve grown, we scale nationwide. and partner with Yelp partner with Google. And also along the way, we started to license our IP and technologies, other business units in exchange for rev share or equity stakes in those businesses. And this was an accidental discovery, where we had built tools that were useful, and it was relatively high margin once we already had something built, and the IP existed to be able to let someone else use it. And there’s a case where someone wants to license one of our traffic generation tools. And that was really where this got started, for the purpose of being able to attract users from Craigslist. And so we discovered that and That was the beginning of the blue group. So then the common theme, we’re seeing to augment businesses, technologies operationally improve those businesses. And then we’re getting involved in the long term. Because we want to have a long term partnership with those businesses. So we benefit when they overtime do very well as additionally, also,

John Corcoran  09:21

as you’ve grown, how have you managed to keep oversight on all these different initiatives that you’ve been involved in partnerships? And then acquisitions, how have you managed to oversee all those without your time being too stretched thin or losing sight of you know, a business that’s struggling? You know, didn’t know about it? Because you had too many balls in the air?

09:44

Yeah.

Sam Lundin  09:46

Well, I personally, don’t run all these businesses. I instead, I’m trying to do play a supporting role to enable them to succeed and the more that they do Not need me, the better that is. And that way I could do some theory, a few specific things to augment and accelerates essentially, there’s a general manager or equivalent for each of these business units. And that’s what enables that to happen. So in some cases, the general manager is not within employees, since we might be a minority investor might have a minority interest in the company. Whereas in some cases, it is a general manager with an employee that’s running that business and then I will meet with and then have weekly correspondences with that person to be able to solve the next steps and what we’re doing Yep,

John Corcoran  10:31

got it got it now. It seems like you are you’re you’re very adapted seeing what technologies are coming along, understanding the technologies you know, even though your backgrounds in investment banking, it seemed like to kind of understand kind of the underlying technologies. I was just quit you know, quintessential yesterday was, had an interview with a guest and was telling a story about how when he was growing up, he was involved in these gaming groups. And he befriended this kind of weird situation befriended this guy, a couple of states away over the internet over the GIS gaming groups. And then he goes to meet with the guy like years later goes out of his apartment building. And it turns out that was you. And I started talking, of course of our mutual friend Taylor, Taylor trustee who I met through completely different channels and through the funny thing, you and him I’ve been friends since What 1514? Something like that?

Sam Lundin  11:32

Something like that. Right? Yeah.

John Corcoran  11:36

And, and somehow we figured out that we both know knew you this is a couple of months ago, and coincidentally, I interviewed him yesterday. But Have you always been like, a tinkerer? like going back to your childhood? Were you the kind of person that like, took apart a computer or drafted? Yeah.

Sam Lundin  11:56

I was I I was very close to technology. Growing up. I wasn’t I was super into crypto cryptography, right? It’s not cryptocurrency cryptography and, and code-breaking and making codes and I went to this conference called Mac hack this was was kind of before Apple was cool. In the 90s. There’d be this conference and people would come and kids included make little kind of apps and hacks and Steve was net would go and I was an idol to me. And I met him at that time when like, no one knew who he was almost Yeah, he’s in the 90s. Apple wasn’t what it was posted. I was. So had a blast with that in college coming in. I studied computer science. Initially, I was computer science in econ double major, but then I started shifting to more econ and eventually applied econ focus. So my ultimate major was Applied Economics and Management. As I decided I didn’t want to be a coder or developer. Instead, I wanted to be more business-oriented business focus. By the way, it was in computer science class where I met who would later be my business partner and founder Chris, Chris, when this Brilliant programmer, guys, I can code in his sleep doing. It’s from the age of 10. So really brilliant guys. I met him then freshman year. And so I switched to being more business oriented, as I mentioned. And so when I came out of college, I went into investment banking. But as doing mergers and acquisitions, but tech focus always say close to technology. Then after that, I was the hedge fund doing tech investing is still in technology space. It was from a business angle, but I always kind of had that knack for technology and stayed close to it. So then the switch to me was a switch from Tech investing to tech operating. Right. So still kind of maintain that tech focus.

13:42

Got it. And folks,

Sam Lundin  13:44

like Taylor writes, I met Taylor, you know, on the internet when it was taboo to meet people on the internet through playing games. So we stayed in touch.

John Corcoran  13:54

Yeah, no, you did. The story that he told was that then years later, you’re both in New York. You figured out Somehow that you never met face to face, but you’ve played games over the internet years earlier. And then he goes to meet meet you for scotch and he thought he was going to a bar, brought a friend with him. And turns out it was outside an apartment. And you said, Yeah, come over to my place. And he brought a friend because the friend was like, yeah, someone needs to tell your parents how you died.

14:21

Yeah.

John Corcoran  14:23

But anyway, it seems it turns out it was a good friendship. So that’s cool. Yeah. Well, you know, we’re recording this in April 15 2020. Coronavirus, craziness, you know, pandemics unfolding around us. We don’t really know where it’s gonna go. You’ve studied technology for a long time you’ve studied, you know, automation, things like that. What kind of an impact do you think longer term this is going to have on our economy? Is it going to continue to accelerate adoption of technologies is it going to be kind of a slowing point where we’re going to take a few steps backwards.

Sam Lundin  15:00

think that it will. So sure, it depends on a specific kind of subsection e-commerce is going to accelerate e-commerce and bring it forward the adoption even faster so e-commerce is something like let’s say 12% of retail in the US so it’s a relatively small number that’s not an exact number but somewhere in that vicinity and it’s growing every single year and so now I think what’s happening is a lot of people who are buying things at the store are not even able to buy things at the store and maybe they’re older generation boomers and so they’re experienced kind of shopping more on Amazon elsewhere that thinking hey, this isn’t so bad and that makes it more easy habit to continue post Coronavirus. I mean me I haven’t bought to face in the store for the past like five years. I mean, buy everything from basically Amazon or online. But I’m not like most people might not do that. Right. So I think of something like e-commerce benefits. I mean, unless you’re in the luggage space, right. Much of e-commerce is doing Well, I think that reliance on communication also, I mean, zoom obviously is benefiting. We’re doing this on a zoom call now, zoom has been around, but now it’s exploding. And people are able to communicate in a way today that they weren’t able to five years ago.

John Corcoran  16:15

Yeah, right. You know, it’s my wife sometimes says to me, like, are you lonely? And because I have an office that’s separate from my house, it’s five minutes away. But you know, I don’t have any other workers around me other than other suite mates. But I’m on zoom all day long talking to people all day long. So I don’t feel lonely, you know, with it. So it’s, it’s an interesting, different dynamic.

Sam Lundin  16:36

Right, right. I think the ability to work from home is stronger than ever before, naturally. So all of them bleed right now. No one’s going into the office of them. The group has worked from home essentially or equivalent, and everyone is fine. Right, and with regards to being able to do their work, so we’re lucky in that regard. And there’s a lot of companies like that and I think that they’re this also is going to, in a way, a silver lining all but it’s kind of an experiment, right? Because we have a whole company working from home, which wouldn’t normally happen, that normally would never be something that happens, but now we can experience what impact that has to productivity and what impact that has mental health and happiness and culture. And these are things we could reflect on and help guide business decisions going forward. And a lot of companies that will be able to look at it through that lens.

17:25

Right, right. Yeah.

John Corcoran  17:28

And have there been any business divisions that you’ve had to pivot rapidly, like I’m looking at, like, eventually, you’ve got a lot of virtual trainings and online trainings, whereas before, I imagine it was more in-person events and activities. Right.

Sam Lundin  17:44

Right. Well, I think certainly so vividly.com is essentially the opposite of social distancing. And that if you’re going if you’re booking recreational activities are going to a pottery-making class. That’s not social distancing. So that is certainly a factor. Fortunately, we’re well diversified. But that would be probably the most extreme type of example. I mean, I’m sure being in the events business, and we happen to have exposure to that. So, yeah, that I mean, the virtual activities are an experiment, experiment to see what’s possible. But that’s also my primary focus there to serve the users. I think we want users to think it’s not intended to be revenue-generating as much as it’s supporting businesses vendors were partnered with they’re providing these activities, so they could generate income, as well as enabling users to do fun things. And still, right, it’s largely experimental.

John Corcoran  18:37

Right? Would you if you hadn’t diversified into these other areas? Like in retrospect, are you really glad that you’d partnered with other companies acquired other companies? Because if it were all in Wimbley, then would it have been a different situation for you right now?

Sam Lundin  18:51

I think so. I think there’ll be a very difficult situation.

John Corcoran  18:55

Yeah, that’s one of the challenges I think a lot of founders struggle with is If you’ve got something that’s working like vim, Lee, whether you put more effort into that, or you diversify into something that maybe at least initially is not as profitable or as wildly successful, but it’s, you know, it’s spreading out your eggs into different baskets.

Sam Lundin  19:17

Right, right. I mean, to me, I also value doing enjoyable things enjoyable work, right. So, you know, Ray Dalio talks about in his book principles on meaningful work and meaningful relationships. And to me that really the spoke well, to me as a great pursuit, and so, within the work that we do, generally I want to work with great people and I want to do great things and fun things. And by having exposure to a variety of verticals, I think it enables that

John Corcoran  19:49

Hmm. And along those lines, when you are considering acquiring a company, how do you evaluate the founders or the executives The team that’s coming in for the acquisitions that you make How do you size up someone and decide if they’re going to be a good fit for you?

20:08

Well,

Sam Lundin  20:11

that’s a good question. I think there’s, there’s the business and there’s the people. So, you know, we’ve been focusing on e-commerce recently in terms of acquisitions. And within that space, it’s what can we do? How what level of impact can we have on the products and the business? Can we grow it? What are we going to do that has not already been done? And what is the longevity of the brand and the products within that brand? Those are essentially the key questions on my mind. And then how often we transition everything so that we’re not reliant on old management or old personnel. And that kind of has a little bit margin of safety as a result of that. So the team in that particular case is one component, but most important for e-commerce businesses, if we can successfully transition and grow it,

John Corcoran  20:58

got it, got it and where do you Bring the value add to the product portfolio. You’re like, oh, man, they’ve sold 1000 of that product and look at this horrible listing that they have, look at the horrible imaging that we have, we’re gonna improve that, is that where you, you know, come in and you see what how we can improve it or is it other ways?

Sam Lundin  21:21

There are other ways. So I mean, that’s, that’s an opportunity, but I think that’s actually not where I would start I would start with ensuring the business is well-capitalized. So in my experience, there are Amazon e-commerce businesses where they run out of inventory for no really great reason other than capital constraints. And I think that spend all this time money and effort so acquire user comes to money in hand ready and willing to buy assets eternal way because you don’t have the inventory has just tragic, right. And so that’s the very first thing I want to make sure we don’t have happen is that we have sufficient inventory to be able to service needs, this is less trivial sounding than the trust for That sounds because there are special sales that exist, whether it’s black friday or Lightning Deals Cyber Monday, you know, Prime Day, and you could sell a month’s worth of inventory in one day if done correctly. And so having enough cushion to support that and run experiments is good. So that’s one place. operationally, I think that with customer service, there’s a lot of room to improve frequently for a business, which isn’t a low single-digit million-dollar business on Amazon. It is two guys who might be running around doing everything or they have one person supporting them. And so they’re, they’re overstretched, it can lead to some burnout and kind of having this always on mentality. And so my goal is to delegate to different team members immediately. So we have our special you know, we have a team doing customer service from philly.com that knows customer service, well, it has good experience with that and to incrementally handle customer service for something else. A lot of those principles carry over we do that efficiently. So we put that in place. We have our PPC expert that is really, really good with that able to immediately hit the ground running. We have an inventory management process logistics process all of these items we could Overlay and at utilize our existing infrastructure. So there’s a lot of synergy within doing that, as opposed to rely on one person doing everything.

John Corcoran  23:16

Hmm. And then you mentioned the supply chain issue, which of course, a lot of companies have been disrupted with that with whole Coronavirus and China’s supply chain being disrupted. How do you handle that type of situation?

23:34

Um,

Sam Lundin  23:35

that is tough. I mean, I think there’s no perfect answer. I think there’s an element of luck and preparedness that goes into it by preparedness, I suppose you know, so there’s Chinese New Year, that already is kind of very, the factory stop producing during this two-week hiatus essentially in February when that is happening. And everyone knows that. So making sure to have a stock before that. Those are really were able to get that done, or better off, because it turned out that it was a much longer amount of time than people thought for two weeks as COVID hit. So is that locker? Is that being prepared? I mean, I would consider that being prepared. But I think some people could consider that luck. Because no one really knew how bad it was going to get with Kobe, right, I suppose few people know.

John Corcoran  24:21

Right, right. Right. So final are one of the final questions. You had COVID yourself. And I wanted to ask you about that. And unfortunately, you had a mild case. But you know, you were just mentioning a second ago about you know, being prepared for the unexpected. Having gone through it yourself, what was the experience like and to did it? Did it change in your perspective about preparedness and thinking about those sorts of things?

Sam Lundin  24:51

So I think I was very lucky and very grateful that I had a very mild case. I lost My ability to smell essentially for a week in a very weird way, no, no congestion. But I had that experience a little bit of lower back. Like muscle ache that also was strange. And it was once I put the piece or reading about it, I put, that’s how I realized what was going on as well initially, maybe start questioning it that I wanted to explore more deeply. But so in terms of being prepared, I mean, so I’m here in New York City, had bought a lot of food and in advance a lot, you know, one or two weeks, so it’s not too crazy just to be able to be prepared to be in the apartment and barely leave. And then there’s a very time that then leaves the apartment for a couple of weeks at all. Fortunately, I’m next to a window and I could look outside and the window opens and you know, didn’t feel quite so bad.

25:53

But that was part of that process. Well,

John Corcoran  25:56

yeah, that’s uh, but it does give you some perspective on them. importance of whether it’s you or team member or some crazy pandemic happening, you know, thinking about your business in a different way and being prepared for those sorts of things. Right? Yeah, right. Yeah. Well, I will say I’m gonna wrap things up with the question I was asked, which is, let’s pretend we’re at an awards banquet, much like the Oscars or the Emmys. And you, Sam, are receiving an award for lifetime achievement for everything you’ve done up until this point, and we all want to know is, who do you think who are the mentors, friends, peers, business partners, coaches, teachers, professors? Who are the people that you would acknowledge in your remarks?

26:39

I would

Sam Lundin  26:41

say so who comes to mind first and foremost is my business partner Chris, who you know, has been in the trenches with me from day one was very complimentary to me, was kind of really Really is when the smartest person I know brilliant practitioner and developer and strategist and he’s inspired me as well. So it’s been very useful as we’ve been growing nimbly together to be able to rely on one another when for any perspective and also kind of having an even-keeled ability to not be overwhelmed by any one particular item. Since if there are times when he’s excited about something and I’m not excited, his excitement rubs off on me. And there are times when it goes the other way. And that’s a very impactful and positive way to me. So I would say, Chris, that’s great. First person that comes to mind, I would think

John Corcoran  27:48

that’s great. Then bleed, calm, VMBLY calm and wnbc group calm, are two of the places where they can go learn about you. Where else can people go learn more about yourself. Connect with us and they could

Sam Lundin  28:00

also go to Sam London calm So Sam, l u n di n calm and you can email me [email protected] his best way to reach me.

John Corcoran  28:13

And the other lesson I take away from this interview is if you meet some weird guy from a couple of states away over the Internet through a gaming circle, it’s okay. It’s okay. If you show up with show up at their apartment late at night, it might turn out okay, it might turn out poorly.

28:28

But you only hear about the times that turned out okay.

John Corcoran  28:31

You don’t really well. That’s why I wanted to highlight it highlighted here because you know, there’s so many stories of, you know, nightmare situations, and actually, it could be great. So I probably shouldn’t be encouraging people to do that sort of thing. Alright.

28:44

Thanks so much, john. Thanks for having me.

Intro  28:47

Thank you for listening to the smart business revolution podcast with john Corcoran. Find out more at smart business revolution COMM And while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the revolution. Revolution Revolution Revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the smart business revolution podcast.