Bo Brustkern is co-founder and CEO of LendIt Fintech, the world’s largest event series that provides context to the rapidly-changing universe of technology’s impact on financial services.
For over 20 years, Mr. Brustkern has set himself apart as a leader in understanding, funding, and leading cutting-edge developments in fintech and financial services. Mr. Brustkern’s experience includes private equity, venture capital, fixed income, asset management, and investment research. In addition to co-founding LendIt Fintech, Mr. Brustkern co-founded Arcstone Valuation (2006), Arcstone Equity Research (2010), Cardinal Rose Group (2013), and NSR Invest (2013).
Previously, he was a venture capitalist at Rustic Canyon Partners in Silicon Valley, and a private equity investor at BACE Industries in Denver, Colorado. Prior to his career as a private equity investor, Mr. Brustkern was a senior analyst at Wellsford Residential Property Trust (NYSE: WRP), where he focused on acquisitions and development for the fifth-largest residential REIT in the country.
Masters of Business Administration, concentration in Finance, the Anderson School at UCLA, with distinction as a Deutschman Venture Fellow (2001)
Bachelor of Arts, Dartmouth College (1995)
How did the concept for LendIt Fintech come about?
We started the company by accident. We were fintech entrepreneurs and investors and we were looking for a conference to attend so we could get a better feel for the industry in which we were operating. There was none. So we decided to invite the leaders of our little segment of the alternative-lending industry to join us for a day and to contribute to panels and presentations. We sold tickets and a few sponsorships and we hoped to break 200 attendees. The day of the conference, we had to shut the doors when we broke the fire code at more than 350 attendees!
Everyone had a great time, learned a lot, and begged us to do it again. Plus, we turned a small profit and figured maybe we could do even better next year.
How was the first year in business?
That was 2013. It was pretty simple times, as far as the conference was concerned. But we weren’t conference people, so we had no idea what we were getting into. The next year we went to San Francisco and drew a crowd of nearly 1000 people. By the time the 2014 conference kicked off, we were dead with exhaustion and knew we had to hire a professional team with real event experience. That year, we sort of deceived ourselves into succeeding.
What was your marketing strategy?
Our stroke of genius was to invite the voice of the industry, Peter Renton, to join us as a co-founder. He was our entire marketing strategy. He had a blog and a mailing list and a common desire to host a conference. That’s all we needed to reach our community.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
How do you define success?
If we could, we would define success by the impact on the improvement of our global economic fabric and financial wellness, but we can’t. So we measure NPS and EBITDA.
What is the key to success?
There is no single key to that door, but if there is one thing that has kept me from failure, it has been perseverance.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
There are so many great lessons I’ve learned over time. Too many to recount. But there was one lesson that really impacted me, and it was relatively recently when I learned it. I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 13 years now, and it took over a decade for me to understand that business is a game. It is a noble game, and it is fun. It is fun to play and it is even more fun to win. And if one is doing good work for the world, it is also *necessary* to win. But to win one must love the game, love the practice, and love the work. That is the noble path to success.
What are some quotes that you live by?
“Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.” – Robert M. Pirsig
What are some of your favorite books?
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Henry V by William Shakespeare
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Endurance by Alfred Lansing
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff
A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Miguel Street by V. S. Naipaul
Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon
Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Long story, but it’s easily the day I took all my work frustrations and failures out on my kids. I unleashed fury on them. The beautiful part of the story is that they got it…they took the (verbal) abuse, turned to me and said, “Dad, you can do this. We believe in you.” And in the end, I won by relying on their strength, their resilience.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Faith that my mission is good, and that I can achieve it.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Whatever game you’re playing, learn to love it. Have faith in the practice. Your work ethic will be a critical component of your success. Don’t just do the work, do the hard.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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