Scott van den Berg on Transformative Decisions in Business and Life
Scott van den Berg is the founder and CEO of CELEB and took some time out to share the wisdom and experience he gained during pivotal moments in life and in business.
Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your journey as a leader in your industry?
Sure! I became an entrepreneur at age 17 and have started several different companies. Three years ago, I got involved in the celebrity business world and started to facilitate equity deals between startups and celebrities via my company Influencer Capital.
I started to create a lot of content about equity deals and celebrity brands on LinkedIn. It allowed me to showcase my expertise and get in contact with clients. I quickly gained a significant following and became a trusted voice in the industry.
Given my work at Influencer Capital, I’ve been able to create long-standing work relationships with celebrities and creators. They trust me because they’ve seen I can create value for them. As a result, many of them are now inviting me to become an investor in their companies.
It’s a privileged position to be in, as many investors would like a chance to get into these deals. That gives me a unique advantage. It’s why I recently started a second company called CELEB.
CELEB is an angel syndicate that allows vetted, accredited investors to invest in celebrity-founded brands. CELEB finds the deals, performs due diligence, writes a deal memo, and presents these investors with the most promising opportunities. It’s their decision whether they’d like to participate and how much they’ll invest. Investing is already possible starting with $2,500 per startup.
I’m grateful for the relationships CELEB has allowed me to build with celebrities and creators. It’s a fascinating industry that’s evolving and growing, and being a part of it is a thrill. My goal is to continue to contribute to it and through my work at CELEB, make it even better for both creators and investors.
What specific experiences or decisions in your journey do you believe have shaped your approach to business and leadership?
What has really helped to shape myself as an entrepreneur is the fact that I started very early. Although I’m still young (25), I’ve been an entrepreneur for almost ten years.
I started my first company when I was 17, selling phone cases online. Although the business failed, I learned a lot from it. I had to import phone cases and deal with suppliers and import taxes. I had to build my own website, run advertisements, do my bookkeeping, and file taxes.
After this venture, I started several other companies. Looking back now, I can see that every time I’d start a new company, the idea was better and the execution, too. It’s because I learned from my mistakes. I learned how to become an entrepreneur by being an entrepreneur.
So three years ago, when I had the idea of Influencer Capital, I was able to execute on it. If Influencer Capital had been my first business venture, I probably wouldn’t have been able to launch it. I would’ve probably made all the mistakes I did in the first ventures and would have failed.
Don’t get me wrong, I still make a lot of mistakes. However, I also do a lot of things very well. And I learned how to do those things very well after not doing them so well in my previous companies. So starting early and making many mistakes have shaped me into the entrepreneur I am today.
Can you share a story of a pivotal moment in your career that led to a significant transformation in your business or personal life?
I used to run a company together with a co-founder – a close friend of mine. He had a 51% equity stake and I had 49%. We had completely opposite roles. He focused on what he could do best, and I did the same. And we were actually quite successful.
However, we also had some differences. We had a different vision of what the company should look like. This was my first real success as an entrepreneur, so I hoped that we could work out the differences and move on.
But one day, he called me and said that he didn’t want to continue our partnership. He wanted to pursue his own vision and didn’t want to compromise on it. He had a majority equity stake in the business, so there wasn’t a lot I could do. Luckily, he made me a very generous offer to buy me out and we’re still close friends today, so no hard feelings.
Within a week, I was basically without a company (and a job) and had no idea what I would do next. That’s when I made the decision that I never wanted to depend on someone else again. I didn’t want to go through something similar and always wanted to feel in control. It’s one of the reasons I became a solo entrepreneur. Now I don’t have to depend on anyone and can do what I believe is best without compromising on it.
The feeling of independence also translated into the start of Influencer Capital. I needed $100,000 to start the company. I spoke to investors, and many were interested. But they wanted to become significant equity holders in the company.
So I started to think, how could I get the $100,000? I decided to do a lot of consultancy work, often 60 hours a week. Within half a year, I had the $100,000 and was able to launch Influencer Capital without having to give significant equity away.
I’m always trying to think of ways I can stay independent versus giving up control. Even though that sometimes means you have to work extra hard to make it happen, your freedom is worth it.
What factors did you consider when making that critical decision, and how did you weigh the potential risks and rewards?
When you are a solo entrepreneur, you’re relying heavily on yourself. I have a lot of expertise in some areas, but I’m lacking a lot of skills in other areas as well. For example, I know nothing about building tech. So when starting a new company, I had to think of something I could do by myself without having to rely too much on an outside party. Of course, I still work with partners, but in a different capacity. They’re not co-founders of the business. My two companies, Influencer Capital and CELEB, are both businesses I can execute within my expertise. The biggest risks I had to weigh were that many investors don’t like solo entrepreneurs. They rather invest in companies that are founded by three people, who all bring a different skill set to the table. That’s why for me, raising capital was hard. So I worked extra hard as a consultant to be able to finance the first phase of the company myself. The reward is that I now have control over my company and can pursue what I believe is best without anyone being able to affect that.
What challenges did you face during this transformative period, and how did you overcome them?
The life of an entrepreneur is a rollercoaster of ups and downs. And as a solo entrepreneur, it’s quite lonely to not be able to share this with someone. So when I have a bad day, I don’t have a partner I can rely on to lift me up. I’m lucky that many of my best friends are entrepreneurs as well. They’re going through similar things, so they can relate. We can talk to each other about the ups and downs, and bounce ideas off of each other. That was very helpful when I was going through downs with my company.
Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self at that time, or to entrepreneurs and business leaders who might find themselves in a similar situation?
You have to discover how you deal with ups and downs. In the beginning, I’d keep the disappointments to myself. I didn’t want to share with my friends that things weren’t going well. But keeping everything to myself took a toll on me. Back then, I thought the solution to overcoming those challenges was to work extra hard. So I was saying no to fun activities that I actually really needed to get back up again. So I learned that whenever I’m down, I have to talk to my business friends. Oftentimes, after talking to them for only 20 minutes, I feel much better and know how to get back on track again. Especially during challenging times, it’s good for me to get distracted and disconnect from work. It allows me to put things into perspective and get new ideas to tackle problems. Working out has also helped me so much. In the past, working out was one of the first things I’d cancel just to be able to squeeze in more work. But now, I prioritize it because my company is only as good as I am myself. Especially because I’m a solo entrepreneur, I must be mindful of this. These things work for me; it doesn’t mean they work for everyone. We all respond to different strategies, so you have to discover what you need to get back in the saddle. Experiment and find out what works best.
How has that pivotal moment influenced the way you make decisions today, and what lasting impact has it had on your business?
lasting impact has it had on your business?
It made me a better entrepreneur. When I first started, I had no idea what my passion was or what I could do well. I was just trying different things, and along the way, found out what I was good at. During the last eight years, I’ve made many mistakes. Every time I was able to learn from my mistakes and turn them into something positive – and then use that in my next venture. That pivotal moment made me realize that I never wanted to feel dependent on a business partner again. Sometimes I have to work harder to remain independent, but that’s fine. This freedom allows me to feel in control and make the decisions I want to make without having to compromise on my vision. That’s worth it, even though I might be able to scale further and faster with co-founders.
In your opinion, how important is it for entrepreneurs and business leaders to have these transformative moments, and how can they best prepare for and learn from them?
There’s a saying that goes: magic happens outside of your comfort zone, and I couldn’t agree more. Transformative moments force you to get into uncomfortable situations that you have to deal with. And that eventually makes you a better entrepreneur and person. It might feel very uncomfortable at first, but in the long-term, you need it so you can gain new perspectives. I’m not sure if entrepreneurs can really prepare for transformative moments as these moments can literally be anything. It could be something business-related, such as investors withdrawing their money or your business partner leaving, but it can also be something in your personal life. So it’s hard to prepare for these situations. Of course, you can observe how you respond to change and learn what you need to get back on track after experiencing downs. That will help you. But otherwise, you can’t plan exactly how you’ll react in a tough situation. I didn’t think that I’d ever quote Mike Tyson in a business interview, but “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Your plans almost never come to fruition. You have to stay flexible and adaptable.