“If You Want To Ensure Success, Don’t Leave Anything To Chance” 5 Startup Lessons with Jon Belmonte
“If you want to ensure success, don’t leave anything to chance. As a student, you might think you can get an A on a test by studying for an hour. But if you study for 3 hours, you’re pretty assured of getting that A. Put in the extra time, even if you might not need to. This was my approach in grad school and it paid off (and it was NOT my approach in college, and the results reflected that).”
I had the pleasure to interview Jon Belmonte. Until very recently Jon was the CEO of Spoutable, and before that the CEO of ACTIVE which sold for over $1 billion. He is now the President of Proper Media after Proper Media acquired Spoutable
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
After earning a couple of fancy business degrees and doing a stint in management consulting, I co-founded my first tech business, LeagueLink. Within a year we merged with several other companies in our space, which helped form Active Network. I was COO (and later CEO) there for most of the next 15 years. As CEO, I led the take-private process that concluded with a $1B sale of Active (ACTV) to Vista Equity Partners in 2013. That led me and some friends to start Cursive Labs, a San Diego-based venture studio that produced Spoutable.com. Proper Media recently acquired Spoutable, and I am on board as Proper’s President helping drive revenue growth and operational efficiency for the company.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
In 2017, I spent quite a bit of time chatting with potential Spoutable acquirers who spread out across the world. It turns out the perfect fit was a current partner whose office was 10 minutes from us in San Diego. The market and product offerings are very complementary, and we’ve already had lots of cross-selling opportunities come to fruition. As importantly, the cultural fit is obvious as both teams are passionate about creating something special within the ad-tech/media space, while having fun doing it.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Proper/Spoutable is a very resourceful and resilient group of entrepreneurs. Being an ad-tech company in San Diego comes with certain challenges, and we’ve found a way to not only make it work, but also serve as a competitive advantage for us. We’ve been hyper-focused on building customer value, and remained somewhat under the radar which has been helpful in maintaining our uniqueness and competitive advantages.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Hire great folks, given them clear direction in terms of strategy and desired outcomes, and let them figure out how best to get there. You want people to ‘own’ their business, whether that is a portion of the product set, their sales territory, the well-being of their clients, lead generation, etc. You’ll get the most motivation and resourcefulness — and, in turn, quality results — that way.
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?
Professionally, I’ve been lucky to work with and work for some incredible leaders. At Active, I worked for two guys that taught me a ton about running a business: recruiting and retaining talent, leading teams, negotiating tough deals, and never underestimating what’s possible if you have drive and determination.
Personally, that would be my mom. She raised me as a single parent with no family support and working two jobs to make ends meet. She sacrificed a lot to help me succeed in life. There’s no question I got my work ethic from her.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Most importantly, I’ve helped create a lot of high quality jobs and supported many careers, in turn putting lots of very good people in a position to succeed personally and professionally. Several years ago, I was a co-founder of StartUp San Diego, an organization that has gone on to become a core platform supporting local entrepreneurs. I’m also a mentor through Defy Ventures, where we work closely with maximum security inmates on preparing them for life after prison. Finally, I’ve helped my son launch his own non-profit, www.equipped4life.org, tapping into some of his innate entrepreneurial tendencies.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Many of these are life lessons I try to share with my kids as well (when they are in a ‘listening mood’, of course)
- If you want to ensure success, don’t leave anything to chance. As a student, you might think you can get an A on a test by studying for an hour. But if you study for 3 hours, you’re pretty assured of getting that A. Put in the extra time, even if you might not need to. This was my approach in grad school and it paid off (and it was NOT my approach in college, and the results reflected that).
- As a CEO (or any type of leader), there are times when you feel like you’re on your own. It’s hard to share certain issues with those on your team, and you may not want to burden friends or family with you’re problems. It’s really important to develop and lean on mentors, peers, and friends for insights and support.
- Don’t be afraid to take carefully calculated risks. Post grad school, I gave up a well-paying and interesting gig at BCG to help start LeagueLink. It was a big risk on the surface, but I knew I’d learn a ton regardless of the outcome, so there was little chance it would not be a good investment of my time.
- Life is great, and then it stinks. Then it’s great again, stinks again, and so on. Don’t get too excited (or lax) when everything is going your way; and when things get tough, always remember they will get better again.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.” — Henry Ford
“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” — Thomas Edison
=> Much of success is about working hard and ‘willing’ yourself and your organization to attain the goals you’ve set. You’re probably not as smart or lucky as you think, so working hard is a great backup plan.
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? He or she might just see this :-)
Any living former POTUS. I’m fascinated by our political system. I’m a true political independent, and am certain that approaching government with an objective, unencumbered perspective is the answer to our great nation’s current challenges. I’d love to learn more about how decisions really get made (and not made).