Neil Patel

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In the dynamic world of entrepreneurship, few stories capture the essence of determination, innovation, and mission-driven success quite like that of Brian Lee.

Born in South Korea and raised in Orange County, California, Lee’s journey is a testament to the power of hard work, resilience, and a deep passion for creating meaningful businesses.

In this blog post, we will delve into the insightful interview with Brian, exploring key aspects of his life, career, and the impactful companies he has founded, from LegalZoom to the recent venture, Arena Club.

Listen to the full podcast episode and review the transcript here.

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    Early Life and Entrepreneurial Roots

    Brian’s upbringing in a Korean-American household in Laguna Beach and, eventually, Huntington Beach played a pivotal role in shaping his entrepreneurial spirit. Observing his parents’ relentless work ethic and their journey as immigrants with limited resources left a lasting impression.

    The story of arriving in the United States with just two pieces of luggage and $500 set the foundation for Brian’s future endeavors.

    His father’s transition from working in a furniture factory to establishing a substantial business in stainless steel utensils sowed the seeds of entrepreneurship in Brian.

    Brian recalls how his parents, having been educated in Korea, went on to attend college even though they didn’t speak English.

    From Law School to Entrepreneurship

    After studying economics at UCLA, Brian took a different path by pursuing a law degree, initially intending to join his father’s successful business. However, his passion for carving his own career led him to delay that plan.

    Despite success at prestigious law firms like Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, Brian found himself yearning for a more fulfilling journey. The entrepreneurial spirit instilled by his father pushed him to explore his own ideas.

    LegalZoom: Automating Legal Processes

    The inception of LegalZoom marked a significant breakthrough in the legal industry. Brian and his partner, Brian Liu, realized that making documents like a last will and testament, a living trust, forming a corporation, or filing a trademark were simple, straightforward procedures.

    Recognizing the potential to automate these documents and make legal services more affordable, Brian, along with his partner Brian Liu, embarked on a journey to revolutionize the way legal processes were handled. They could generate the documents online and complete the filing for the client.

    The duo came up with a pricing structure per document, starting with the first at $99. Facing challenges during the dot-com crash, they pressed on, eventually raising funds from family and launching a platform that democratized access to legal assistance.

    Brian remembers the challenges they faced in getting funding for LegalZoom. Their first venture capital meeting was the day that Nasdaq crashed. Despite discouragement, they decided to move forward with an initial capital of $50,000.

    Brian also partnered with Eddie Hartman, who became their third co-founder. He helped build the company website, and they started advertising on a site called Go, the first paid search engine.

    Brian remembers paying one cent per click for keywords like “incorporate” and “wills.” They ended up listing the company for a valuation of $2B.

    Brian recalls his first experience with influencer marketing. When they started LegalZoom, they found that customers were hesitant about sharing their personal information on the internet. Especially since their services involved revealing extensive personal information.

    To build instant trust with customers, Brian and his co-founders presented Robert Shapiro as the face of the company to add credibility. Robert would talk about LegalZoom whenever he went on CNN and other TV channels, and that’s how they successfully generated publicity for the company.

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    ShoeDazzle and Celebrity Partnerships

    Brian’s venture into the subscription e-commerce model with ShoeDazzle, in collaboration with Kim Kardashian, exemplified the power of early influencer marketing.

    The idea was to start a Shoe of the Month club for women. They also brought in Robert Shapiro, the world-famous attorney known for his work on the OJ Simpson trial.

    Customers would get a choice of shoes to choose from based on an algorithm that shows shoes for them and so forth. They launched the company and hit $10M in revenue in four or five months.

    The success of ShoeDazzle reinforced Brian’s belief in the importance of partnerships with individuals who could bring both credibility and marketing impact to a venture. Brian and his wife sold the company to JustFab, which owns several other smaller brands. That was his first M&A experience.

    The Honest Company: A Mission-Driven Approach

    Teaming up with Jessica Alba, Brian co-founded The Honest Company, a mission-driven business focused on providing non-toxic, eco-friendly products for babies and households.

    Brian was initially introduced to Jessica Alba via her husband, Cash Warren. During one of their discussions, Alba shared her idea and the vision for what ended up becoming The Honest Company. They partnered up, and the rest is history.

    The company launched an array of products, such as nontoxic diapers, wipes, baby shampoo, lotions, and bubble baths.

    The company’s commitment to building a brand based on transparency, integrity, and a healthier lifestyle resonated with consumers, leading to significant success and a successful IPO.

    Brian looks back at the ability to unify a workforce that truly believes in what they’re building and what the company stands for and is trying to accomplish.

    Brian and his cofounders met with a lot of investors and worked with people who believed in their concept. The Honest Company reached a peak valuation of $1.8B when it went public. As Brian mentioned, both LegalZoom and The Honest Company went public in the same year.

    Lessons from M&A Experiences

    Brian shared insights from his experiences with mergers and acquisitions, emphasizing the importance of creative deal structures, persistence, and problem-solving. The journey through an M&A process, like starting a company, requires unwavering belief and the ability to adapt to challenges.

    Brian underscores three main ingredients for success, starting with a really strong workforce, which LegalZoom and The Honest Company have. The next factor is having a robust brand name. With LegalZoom, they built a brand name that customers associate with when they think legal.

    With The Honest Company, they built a brand that represents a non-toxic, healthy lifestyle. The third most crucial ingredient is funding. Brian would also like to add extreme consistency and integrity to the delivery of your promise.

    Venture Capital and BAM Ventures

    Becoming an accidental venture capitalist, Brian delved into the world of angel investing, eventually co-founding BAM Ventures.

    With a focus on investing in the earliest stages of companies, Brian highlighted the significance of team dynamics and the rule at BAM: “Love the team and don’t hate the idea.”

    As Brian explains, every time he makes money, he puts it back into the business ecosystem. That’s because he finds himself in a position where he meets lots of great entrepreneurs and hears a lot of ideas. He can also provide advice on scaling, raising capital, hiring, marketing, and so forth.

    After a point, Brian realized that he had made more than 100 angel investments, which is an actual portfolio. That was the genesis of BAM Ventures, a name taken from Brian and his wife. They started the micro fund with their own capital but now also have outside investors.

    Arena Club: A Passion for Collectibles

    Brian’s latest venture, Arena Club, combines his entrepreneurial spirit with a personal passion for collecting sports memorabilia. Partnering with Derek Jeter, Brian aims to bring transparency and technology to the collectibles industry, offering a unique online experience for enthusiasts.

    Brian explains that he has been a baseball card collector since he was a kid, a passion that started with the first Dodger game he went to with his father. He bought a Steve Garvey Irmer, the first baseman rookie card soon afterward, and hasn’t looked back since.

    Brian loves the industry and the hobby of collecting cards and has now started a company around his passion. He talks about how he has always been more dedicated to the actual products each of his companies produces. Using technology, he has brought more transparency into the industry.

    That’s when Derek Jeter, himself a memorabilia collector, decided to partner with him. Arena Club has raised around $20M from people Brian knew and has worked with in the past.

    Among them are Neil Sequeira from Defy.vc, Jeremy Liew from Lightspeed Venture Partners., and Courtney Reum from M13 Ventures.

    Storytelling is everything, which is something that Brian Lee was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.

    Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.

    Reflections and Advice

    Looking back at his entrepreneurial journey, Brian acknowledges the importance of patience, attention to detail, and building a strong foundation.

    He emphasizes the crucial role of having a balanced team, citing his partnership with Brian Liu as a perfect example of complementary skills leading to success.

    Most importantly, Brian talks about making decisions after considering how they could impact his margins and employee base. He considers himself a visionary who is pretty aggressive when it comes to growth but credits his co-founder as his counterbalance.

    Conclusion

    Brian Lee’s entrepreneurial journey is a tapestry woven with diverse experiences, challenges, and triumphs.

    From reshaping the legal industry with LegalZoom to championing eco-friendly products with The Honest Company and venturing into the world of sports collectibles with Arena Club, Brian leaves an indelible mark on various sectors.

    His story serves as inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs, highlighting the value of passion, collaboration, and a commitment to making a positive impact on the world.

    Listen to the full podcast episode to know more, including:

    • Brian Lee’s entrepreneurial spirit was deeply influenced by his parents’ immigrant story, witnessing their hard work and determination to create a better future in the United States.
    • Brian’s career path was guided by a desire to follow his passion rather than simply join his family business, leading him to explore entrepreneurship and law.
    • The idea for LegalZoom emerged from the realization that simple legal documents could be automated online, disrupting traditional legal services and making them more affordable.
    • LegalZoom faced challenges during the dot-com crash, but Brian and his partner persevered, believing in the potential of their idea to democratize legal services through technology.
    • Brian’s ventures, including ShoeDazzle and The Honest Company, involved partnerships with celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Jessica Alba, leveraging their influence to build successful brands.
    • The Honest Company’s mission to create a non-toxic world exemplifies Brian’s commitment to mission-driven businesses, emphasizing the importance of a shared vision among team members.
    • Brian’s transition into venture capital with Bam Ventures showcases his extensive angel investing experience. His latest venture, Arena Club, combines his passion for sports memorabilia with a tech-driven approach, introducing transparency and a virtual card show experience.


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    Neil Patel

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