In this new monthly column Victoria Shapiro asks top young business leaders in the D.C. area to share their thoughts on succeeding in business and life.
Business Leader of the Month: David Adelman, CEO and founder of Reel Tributes, a personal history film production company, and of ReelGenie, an online storytelling platform.
Relationship Status: Married to Melissa Adelman, economist at the World Bank
Education: Undergrad: Harvard University; MBA: The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
About Reel Tributes: The company produces tribute documentaries for families and family businesses. By incorporating oral histories, photos and other content, these films add a special touch to milestones such as birthdays, anniversaries and retirement celebrations.
Reel Tributes’ Key Market Differentiators: The company focuses exclusively on creating personal history films, so their client needs are well-understood and met. The team organizes and guides clients through the production process, ensuring the experience is easy, fun and educational.
Victoria: David, you’re a perfect fit for this column which spotlights business leaders who have shown a sense of adventure, innovation, tenacity, and commitment to community. It’s going to be fun to interview you.
David: Thanks Victoria! Looking forward to it
Victoria: Talk to me a little bit more about what Reel Tributes does.
David: We create documentary films, mostly for families and family owned businesses. Perhaps a grandmother is turning 90, and the family wants to capture her stories. They would hire us to interview the grandmother and other family members… to make sure her stories and values are never forgotten. Our family business clients understand the importance of preserving the legacy of the company’s founder and maintaining a sense of tradition. This is especially critical around a leadership transition, as the founder hands the reigns to a son or daughter. Every film is customized according to the client’s preferred focus, which makes each project fun and unique.
Victoria: You started Reel Tributes when you were still at Wharton?
David: I started it in the summer between the first and second year of business school. My grandmother, who was a very impressive woman, passed away. My mom made a film about her life, and brought the family together to watch it. No one had ever seen anything like that. It was great to see the joy and inspiration on everyone’s faces, and that’s how the company got started.
Victoria: I read that genealogy is the second most searched topic online. You’re tapping into this market with another venture, ReelGenie.
David: Yes, ReelGenie in an online storytelling platform, focused on family history. Users can showcase all of their research and genealogy findings by creating their own movies using photos, voiceovers, music, and other relevant content. Often genealogists spend years doing research, and the family yawns at it. This platform allows family history enthusiasts to share their findings and get the rest of their family engaged in what they’ve done.
Victoria: Has ReelGenie launched yet?
David: We are planning to launch in March 2013, only a few months away!
Victoria: What energizes you?
David: Making a difference in peoples’ lives, and solving challenges. I love bringing a smile to their faces. One of the reasons I got into entrepreneurship is that I saw it as the best way to make a difference in the most lives. Also, every business faces challenges, but the companies that succeed are the ones that come up with creative solutions and are led by individuals who understand that every day is a new challenge. You can never be complacent. Embracing adversity is part of the fun of growing a company.
Victoria: You’re running a company. You’re starting a new business. You’re newly married. How do you balance the different pieces of your life?
David: Since a young age, I have been a multi-tasker… I’ve always thrived on being really busy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love work, but there’s a limit. I make time for being social and doing things that I enjoy… Having an active social life and spending time with my wife and our friends keeps me grounded. We also have a little puppy, a shih tzu named Samson. I actually wrote an article for Forbes about how great dogs are for entrepreneurs. Also, I prioritize staying in shape. I believe in the link between staying physically fit and being emotionally and intellectually fresh.
Victoria: Your perspective every day as an entrepreneur is…
David: An entrepreneur with tunnel vision is doomed to fail. You have to have a goal or plan, but need to stay attuned to the opportunities that arise along the way. There will always be new information coming in that should change the way you see your business.
Victoria: Talk to me about some of your other philosophies.
David: I was a speaker at my Wharton graduation, and my speech was about how we, as Wharton graduates, can help the world and not just make a lot of money. The analogy I used in my speech was from when I climbed a mountain called Cotopaxi in Ecuador. The trip leader had this phrase he used, “Don’t reach the peak but miss the point.” It’s not just about getting to the top of the mountain, it’s about how you behave along the way and what you do once you reach the top. There’s a lot more to life than just making money. It’s important to think about building meaningful relationships and service to the community. These other aspects make the most difference and add incredible meaning to our lives.
Victoria: Are you a practicing Jew? How do your Jewish values inform you as a business leader? What’s your philosophy?
David: I am a practicing Jew. My philosophy is very consistent with Judaism, but I wouldn’t say it’s because I’m Jewish that I live the way I do. It’s a combination of upbringing and personality. Judaism — and especially seeing both of my parents being really active and giving back— taught me important lessons about the value of community and compassion. My mom raised me on a kibbutz in Israel, to impart the values of community and help get me away from some of the materialism that she saw in America. I also value Shabbat services and dinners. I find synagogue to be a soothing time for reflection and spirituality.
Victoria: What kind of a leader do you aspire to be?
David: I want to continue to love what I do. I want to be the type of leader who has a smile on his face when he’s leading the company and not stressed because every day is a fire drill. Leading a company should be fun. On a personal level, I want to make a difference. If I get to the point where I’m not making a difference, I need to stop. Also, I want to be fair. It’s really important to me to think about fairness and leading in such a way that no one feels cheated, whether it’s employees, clients, or competitors. I don’t want to be known as the guy who lied and cheated his way to the top.
Victoria: What advice do you have for people who want to start their own businesses?
David: You need to have thick skin. Don’t take anything too personally, since you’ll have a lot of people telling you “no” along the way. That’s just part of the deal. You have to persevere. There will be times where you think you’re the smartest person in the world and times when you think you’re the dumbest person in the world. Also, nothing happens as quickly as you expect it to. You need to be prepared financially and emotionally to weather the storm for a long time. But if you do, the dividends are enormous. It’s worth the wait (or so I hear!)
We at GTJ wish David continued success and can’t wait to check out ReelGenie!
Victoria Shapiro is a senior account executive at Susan Davis International, a full-service communications and public affairs firm on K Street. She is also an advisor to her family’s company, The Donald J. Ross LLC, the official licensing company for the legendary 20th century golf course architect.