“Take A Deep Breath. It’s A Long Game And Nothing Is As Bad Or As Good As It Seems At First Blush.” Words of Wisdom with Bryan Leach, CEO of Ibotta.
“I focus on helping others learn how to deal with the emotional ups and downs of being an entrepreneur, which are often not talked about.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Bryan Leach, CEO of Ibotta, a company transforming the shopping experience by making it easy for consumers to earn cash rewards on everyday purchases.
What is your “backstory”?
My sister and I were born in Nairobi, Kenya, where my father was working as an accountant at a car dealership. He and my mother ultimately relocated to Atlanta, GA, when I was very young, and my father opened a computer store in a local shopping mall. After fifteen years of hard work, my dad grew his simple storefront company into a multi-billion-dollar, publicly-traded company with over 1,400 employees. As a kid, I would work in various capacities at my father’s company, from the mailroom to the sales department, and the experience instilled within me an entrepreneurial passion. While in college at Harvard, I performed in the Hasty Pudding Theatricals and founded a small tour guide business. After college, I was fortunate enough to attend Oxford as a Marshall Scholar and earn a J.D. from Yale Law School. I graduated from Yale in 2005, clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, and became a partner at Bartlit Beck, one of the leading trial law firms in the US.
In 2011, I found myself on a plane returning from — of all things — a conference on the international law of mining, when I spotted a fellow passenger using his phone to capture all of the contact information on business cards he had collected at the conference. Watching him do that, I started thinking about how our phones could disrupt entire industries, including retail shopping. If he could scan business cards with his phone, then why not a receipt? Some months later, I had raised enough capital through angel investors and hired an engineer to prototype the Ibotta app. Five years later, Ibotta is the third most-used shopping app in the US behind Amazon and eBay in terms of total minutes of usage. Over 23 million American consumers have downloaded our app, and we are proud to have granted nearly $250 million in rewards to our users.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
I once pitched Jim Clark, the founder of Netscape and Silicon Graphics, on why he should invest in Ibotta by telling him our app had world-class personalization capabilities. I mentioned that our app would never send him offers on diapers, for example, because that would be ridiculous to send to a man in his late sixties. He and his colleague cracked a smile to each other, which made me uncomfortable because I apparently wasn’t in on the joke. As it turned out, Jim had just had newborn children with his wife, a former Australian supermodel, so the exact right offers to send him would have been diaper offers. Who knew?
How exactly does your company help people?
Ibotta is transforming the shopping experience by making it easy for consumers to earn cash rewards on everyday purchases. By partnering with leading brands and retailers like Anheuser-Busch, Jet.com, Target, Walmart, PetSmart, Uber, Boxed, and Postmates, Ibotta offers its users rewards on groceries, electronics, clothing, gifts, home and office supplies, restaurant dining, hotel rooms and more. Launched in 2012, Ibotta is now the biggest consumer tech company in Denver and the premier destination for rewarded shopping on mobile. Ibotta has generated 23 million downloads and, to date, we’ve paid out nearly $250 million in cash back to our hard-working users who are looking to make ends meet in their everyday lives.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Ibotta’s entire purpose is to share advertising proceeds with its users in the form of cash back rewards. We have a major influence over what millions of American consumers decide to put on the dinner table and whether they can treat themselves and their loved ones with vacations, gifts during the holidays, and so forth. For others, the rewards provided by Ibotta are essential to helping them pay their medical bills, repay educational loans, or otherwise make ends meet each month. I take enormous pride in building a service that people have come to trust and rely on in these ways.
On a personal note, I do my best to provide mentorship and advice to early stage companies and other entrepreneurs who need help getting their business up and running. In particular, I focus on helping others learn how to deal with the emotional ups and downs of being an entrepreneur, which are often not talked about. I teach entrepreneurship classes at the high school level across Denver, and support Denver Startup Week, the city’s annual summit for startups and entrepreneurs. In the past, I served on the board of the Grafton Street Fund, a donor-advised fund that directs charitable contributions to nonprofits in developing countries. Finally, I support my wife’s enterprise, the Gaudiani Clinic, which is the only outpatient medical clinic in the US that is solely devoted to caring for patients with eating disorders.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my company.”
1. Take a deep breath. It’s a long game and nothing is as bad or as good as it seems at first blush.
2. How you come across in a team setting matters just as much as having great ideas and setting the right strategy. Get a coach early on and make sure you understand the costs and benefits of your leadership style.
3. Don’t fixate on the competition. They will come and go and they won’t be the reason why you succeed or fail. Control what you build and that will be enough.
4. Figure out how you recharge and prioritize that in your life. Go climb a mountain every weekend. Schedule a weekly massage. Figure out a workout routine that you’ll stick to. Recharging is key!
5. Your venture is not synonymous with you. It often feels otherwise, but your self-worth cannot depend entirely on the success of your business. Maintain that perspective however you can.
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?
I’d have a private lunch with Lin Manual Miranda, Elon Musk and President Barack Obama. As a former stage actor, it would be fascinating for me to hear about Lin’s latest project and understand how he approaches the creative process. As an entrepreneur, I admire the boldness of the projects that Elon Musk undertakes and would be curious to learn how he decides which project to focus on next. And President Obama has seen and done so much that hearing his perspective on anything would be a privilege.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
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