Editor's Note: Before they were entrepreneurial stars, these founders were regular people with regular jobs. Here, we look at how those early positions helped form today's high-flying entrepreneurs.
Ben Lerer’s charmed life hasn’t always been so charming.
Ben Lerer is the co-founder and CEO of Thrillist Media Group, a New York City-based digital lifestyle brand for men that’s expected to pull in more than $100 million in revenue this year. But when Lerer first set out to find his way in the world, he had no idea that his job title would eventually include “entrepreneur and venture capitalist.” Nor did he anticipate being such a success.
He did have some significant advantages. His father is Kenneth Lerer, a long-time exec at Time Warner who eventually would go on to co-found the Huffington Post with Arianna Huffington. Still, things started out a little less glamorously for the younger Lerer, who held a variety of internships and even a job as a party promoter before hitting it big.
And while Lerer’s lineage may not have been a liability, he credits his early experiences with keeping him grounded and humble. Here, Lerer shares how his odd jobs lead him down the path of entrepreneurship:
Starting at the Bottom
Fresh from graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Lerer landed what he thought was his dream job working for hotelier André Balazs.
There was just one problem. There was nothing dreamy about it.
It was also a lot tougher (on the body) than he had planned. “I don't know what I was expecting,” says Lerer, who ended up fetching ice and bussing tables out on Long Island instead of sitting behind a desk in a cushy NYC office, as he had originally thought.
“They just threw me into the fire and put me into one of their busiest properties at busiest time of year,” Lerer says.
Even though he was in unfamiliar (and unexpected) waters, he learned the ropes quickly--and eventually impressed the top brass who went on to promote Lerer to work in operations at properties in Miami and NYC.
“It was all about humility,” says Lerer, who reflected on his experience bussing tables after graduating from college. “When I started, I was frustrated and I felt embarrassed. But I got good at it and took pride in the work that I did.”
That first job also taught him the value of a dollar. “There's something nice about being in restaurants and being given tips,” says Lerer. “Every day, at the end of the shift, I felt like I had worked so hard and earned the money. I think it was the first work I was really proud of.”
Time to Reflect
Flash forward to today: Lerer has his hands full serving as CEO of Thrillist Media Group (over 9 million active readers) steering the growth of the men’s lifestyle brand Thrillist and online shopping club JackThreads.
Simultaneously, Lerer serves as managing director of seed stage venture capital fund, Lerer Ventures, whose investments have included Warby Parker, Rap Genius and Frontback. At just 32 years old, he often looks back at that early job and reflects.
He wasn’t aware of it at the time, but his unsexy jobs just out of college was a prerequisite that taught him how to operate tactically and manage a diverse set of people--and appreciate his success all the more.
“I didn't wake up and someone was like congrats here's a company,” says Lerer. “We built it by making the sacrifices and having the late nights and doing the totally unglamorous stuff that is what every business is made of. Every company is built, no matter how sexy the company is, it's all about the not sexy shit.”
In the end, he adds: “Building anything great comes with real sacrifice. That sacrifice makes you appreciate the greatness [of what you’ve built] even more.”
Now that’s a lesson just about any entrepreneur worth his salt can appreciate.