Ari Betof

Co-Founder of Mission & Data

Ari Betof, EdD, MBA is co-founder and partner of Mission & Data. He is a recognized expert and sought-after keynote speaker about organizational stewardship and financial sustainability of organizations that make the world a better place. Ari is also co-host of the “EMA Impossible Questions Podcast” with Hans Mundahl.
Ari’s consulting work draws upon fifteen years of leadership and governance experience building thriving organizations and maximizing mission-aligned revenue growth. His facility with organizational effectiveness, group dynamics, and strategic planning is paired with his proven track record of cultivating high-impact change.
Ari has been an instructor in University of Pennsylvania’s PennGSE Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership and Leadership Master’s Program. He has served as a mentor in Harvard University’s School Leadership Program, and judge for the CASE Circle of Excellence Awards and Cornell Emerging Markets Institute Case Competition.
Ari graduated with a BS in physics and mathematics from the Guilford College honors program. He earned his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania with a focus on financial and organizational sustainability. Ari graduated with his MBA from Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management where he was an Emerging Markets Institute Fellow and recognized as a Poets & Quants 2021 Best & Brightest EMBA.

Where did the idea for Mission & Data come from?

My co-founder and I fundamentally believe in mission-driven, community-centered, data-informed decision making. We argue organizations should not be driven by data. Organizations should be driven by mission and deeply informed by data to live that mission. The name Mission & Data came naturally.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

No two days are the same. The biggest variation is whether I am traveling. At home, the early morning and late evening are bookends of family time (with some work squeezed in before our children get up or after they go to bed). Between is time primarily for meetings and projects. I fit in a workout most days. When I travel, the days are often even longer and almost always begin with an early morning workout. I’m continuing to try to prioritize sleep given what we know about health, brain research, and rest.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I think out loud. Sometimes I’ll work an idea through on my own, potentially through writing. More often I prefer to brainstorm and refine ideas with others. I’m moving through my day synthesizing themes and trends. The repetition of long lap swims helps my brain season ideas and make connection. It is also important to get tactical and structure processes so they are successful.

What’s one trend that excites you?

We are living in a moment where people want to be inspired by a mission and they also have acknowledged (sometimes begrudgingly) that qualitative and quantitative data is essential for high quality decision making. It is a fun time to be co-leading a company called Mission & Data.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

There are a lot of demands on an entrepreneur’s time. To be my best self for my family, our employees, and our clients, I have learned that I need to take care of myself. That involves regular exercise, meditation, and sleep (although I’m still working on getting enough sleep).

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be brave in taking professional risks. Starting your own company is scary. Building that effort to be successful and then merging it into a new company with a partner is scary in a different way. But taking savvy risks, backed by analysis and introspection, creates opportunities that do not exist by any other path.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Philadelphia is the best sports town in the United States.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Know what you don’t know and ask for help when you need it. No one is good at everything. And not every task you can do is a good use of your time. There are so many ways to outsource today allowing entrepreneurs of growing companies to get the help they need without committing disproportionate resources for high quality support.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Check my own hubris. Just because I thought something was a good idea (or we thought it was something the market wanted or needed) doesn’t make it right. As a consultant, you are so regularly asked for advice and council that it is easy to lose a sense of balance. Everyone is wrong (I’m wrong a lot…my family helps me remember this and stay grounded). Wisdom comes from being able to recognize when you are off track, course correct, and carry those lessons into the future.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Like any company, we have had bounded failures in parts of projects. What stops those missteps from becoming larger issues and leading to dissatisfied customers is developing trusting relationships built on open communication and then internally being committed to overdelivering. That commitment is something we can control as owners and see through as part of our culture. It will cut into margin in the short run, but it almost always pays dividends in strong customer service, referrals, and follow-on engagements. More importantly, it is just the right thing to do.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A member of my family has a severe shellfish allergy. I wish there was a reliable meal service that could support our desire for healthy, convenient, sustainable meals without the concern of cross-contamination.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

My wife and I recently went out for an unplanned date dinner when a few hours unexpectedly shook loose in our schedules.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Slack. As a rule I don’t hate things, but email is not my friend. We primarily use Slack for real time internal communication within the firm, but also as threads with several partner organizations. I’m not sure I use it well, but it certainly has helped improve the state of my inbox.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Just Promoted! A 12-Month Road Map for Success in Your New Leadership Role both because it was written by my parents (Ed and Nila Betof) and because it is really good. The first edition came out in 1993 and the second edition in 2010. Despite being published a decade ago, I think it remains the most relevant and actionable book for leaders making a transition.

What is your favorite quote?

“Luck comes to the prepared mind.” ~Louis Pasteur

Key Learnings:

  • Commit yourself and your organization to being mission-driven and data-informed
  • Take care of yourself so you can take care of others
  • Keep your hubris in check, especially when things are going well
  • Be brave and take savvy risks (you still need to do the analysis)
  • Overdeliver, even if it is expensive to make things right for a customer when you make a mistake