As a native New Yorker, Crocker Coulson was raised on the Upper West Side in the 1970s, later moving with his family to suburban Connecticut in the early 1980s. Coulson attended Yale University, where he wrote for and served as editor-in-chief of the Yale Daily News. After graduation, he landed a job at The New Republic, working under editor Michael Kinsley and rubbing shoulders with office peers Andrew Sullivan and Jacob Weisberg. It was a love for film that led Coulson to a mini-career as an avant-garde filmmaker in the vein of European filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky. Many of his films appeared at the Cannes and Sundance festivals and cable outlets, and PBS. However, his frustrations with the commercial side of film eventually led him to quit the business and pursue a career in finance.
A quick rise with CCG Investor Relations saw him go from administrative assistant to company president, where he led the firm on an internal expansion into China, Israel, and South America. At its peak, CCG represented nearly 800 Chinese companies listed on U.S. stock markets and had offices in New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Tel Aviv. In 2013, Coulson decided to downscale his practice to focus more time on his growing family. His current company, AUM Media, positions him as a leader in investor relations, offering capital markets advisory services, corporate communications, and integrated marketing in the B2B and G2B markets.
In 2014, Coulson joined the board of his daughter’s music school, the Brooklyn Music School. During his tenure on the board, he helped guide the school through a significant growth period which helped finance multiple expansion projects at the school’s facilities. Together with other board members, Coulson launched The MUSE Academy, for which he continues to serve on the board as Chair.
Where did the idea for AUM Media Inc. come from?
I was the president of an investor relations firm called CCG Investor Relations for thirteen years. When I joined that firm in 2000, it was a small regional firm in Southern California. We expanded rapidly across New York and eventually opened offices across China including, Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. We also had several joint venture partners in Israel and South America. With over one hundred clients, I had the experience of building up and running a sizable investor relations agency.
In 2013, I decided to scale back my operations so I could focus more on my family. I wanted to create a boutique-oriented business, so I founded AUM Media, our current incarnation. Many of our clients are considering accessing the public markets, so we help them strategize the best way to do that, whether it be an IPO or SPAC (Special Purpose Acquisitions Company). We take the time to understand their long-term goals and provide value by helping them navigate capital markets.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I have four children, all under the age of twelve, making for a very active home life. I usually wake up around 5:30 am and get the kids ready for school. If I have the time, I’ll start catching up on some emails from the night before. My workday typically starts at 8:30 and ends around 5:00. I have recently begun booking lunch meetings again. Lockdown orders have dramatically changed the way I do business. However, I’m starting to adjust as more people get vaccinated and feel comfortable connecting again. I’m taking the time to reconnect with friends and business associates where I can. Virtual work has ultimately become a part of my daily routine.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I consider myself to be a very creative person, and I am never short on ideas. I am constantly bouncing new ideas off people and seeking their professional input. My role as chairman at an independent school also allows me to shift gears and get creative. I try to apply what I learn there to my business life.
What’s one trend that excites you?
In my day job, the trend that is redefining the market right now is something called SPACs, which are Special Purpose Acquisition Companies. These have been around for at least twenty years, but it used to be in a good year there’d only be a dozen or so, and they used to raise something like 40 or 50 million dollars. But the last eighteen months have been a game-changer. There were well over 200 of these SPAC IPOs in 2020. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, there were 308 SPAC IPOs, and they’ve raised almost 100 billion dollars. There were three times as many IPOs through SPACs as there were by regular operating companies. That has just been a game-changer in terms of the number of new potential public companies coming to market.
In terms of education, I’m really excited by the opportunity with everything that happened over the summer with Black Lives Matter and the greater focus on educational equity and outcomes. I think it’s an excellent opportunity for people to think about how things have been going. We’ve been focused this spring on reinventing our curriculum to make it much more inclusive. For example, our humanities curriculum for our 1st and 2nd graders is now focusing on the folk tales and oral traditions of West Africa, the Harlem Renaissance, and the civilizations of the eastern and western North American Indians. We’re rethinking how to make humanistic education much more inclusive. I’m also excited because we’ve assembled a very diverse group of students joining us for next year to help us achieve our diversity goals.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
One of my clients is a CEO whose philosophy I love. He says if you’re a leader, your job is to make sure that the quietest voice in the room is heard. And if that quietest voice isn’t being heard and they’re not contributing, that means you’re failing. I can’t say that I’m living up to that yet, but I love that idea. I think that is the definition of an inclusive and engaging leader if somebody gets everybody on the team to the point where they’re comfortable contributing. Even if their idea ultimately doesn’t get adopted, it got a fair hearing, everybody discussed it, agreed on a path, and they moved forward.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If I were talking to my younger self, I would say it’s great that you have your own ideas and your own artistic sensibilities, but you also need to build your network and learn your craft. I would tell myself to make connections and take every opportunity as a learning experience. When I was younger, I was extremely ambitious, but I wish I would have taken more time to learn from those around me.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
My advice when it comes to investors is to give them all the bad news first. I’ve been through many situations where a company is performing well, but then they hit a roadblock, and their first instinct is to hide and minimize the scope of what is going on. It’s important to take accountability and then strategize a course of action. Hiding the truth will only lead to further negative consequences down the line. I try to be someone who embraces reality, be that good or bad, and then figure out how to move forward.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I’ll tell you what I try to do. I can’t say I’m as successful as I’d like to be, but I always try to figure out the contrary case. If I’m considering making an investment in something or making a big push on something, or pursuing a strategy, I ask myself, “If I had a brilliant person who disagreed with me, what would they tell me? Why would they tell me this is the wrong approach?”
Sometimes my brother has played that role. And he never gets tired of reminding me when I failed to take his advice!
I think a lot of teams that are highly productive combine people with very different points of view. For example, in the past, I worked with a woman who was my Chief Operating Officer, and she was very cautious and thoughtful, and she always looked at the downside, and it was a perfect balance. Because I would have a big idea, and I’d be ready to jump on it, and she would hold me back and force me to think through all the consequences. I think those types of teams work well together to get people with those balancing mental frameworks and tendencies. Now that I don’t have that type of partner, I have to try to do it myself.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
It all comes down to relationships with people. You have your core people that do great work but keep their heads down. And then you have a smaller group, maybe 10% of your contacts, who are the people who will help you form connections and make referrals, etc. Those people, the connectors and rainmakers, will be the ones that account for 80 percent of the growth of your business.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In my previous company, we had a significant failure when we let our portfolio clients become over-concentrated on a very high-growth but high-risk segment of the market, which at that time was companies from China that were listed on the U.S. stock markets. We experienced incredible growth from 2005 to 2010 and did very well. But then we came to discover that there were a lot of hidden problems with these companies. At that point, 80 percent of our revenue was coming from this one category of client. I learned that it’s great to take part in market trends, but it’s crucial to not be in a position where you are 100 percent dependent because that hot segment of the market can crash at any time.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
In this niche of IPOs for SPAC companies, right now, I can tell you that people are desperate for anyone who can provide valuation opinions on derivative securities. I don’t know how many months this is going to last, but if anybody has that skill set of understanding how to value warrants and stock options and other securities, right now, people are just beating down doors to hire. Everyone is at maximum capacity, and this is the time to make the most of that. It’s in super, super hot demand right now.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I finally watched many of those videos on the food industry and, in particular, what they call the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and how they treat cattle for the last couple of months of their lives. I’m now eating only organic poultry and meat, so that’s raised my protein bill by about 30 percent. I used to go and spend $70, and I now spend about $100. Still, it’s worth it, not only for my health but also for my kids, to keep minimizing the massive load of hormones and antibiotics that are going into their systems when all their brain connective tissue is still developing, and their whole endocrinology is developing. I think that’s one of the best investments. I mean, obviously, if people can go all the way to be vegan, that’s great. I don’t have it in me to do that, but I just decided I’m going to pay up for the ongoing expense of only eating organic.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
This will sound like an advertorial, but in my business, I need to do slide deck presentations all the time. I spend countless hours futzing around with PowerPoint. For some projects, PowerPoint is probably the best, but I started using this software called Beautiful.ai, and it makes creating slick presentations so much easier than doing it in PowerPoint. Once you get the hang of it, you can crank out these presentations, and they look highly professional. They’re just beautiful, and you spend so much less time wasted on tweaking stuff. That’s a big recommendation for me.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
A book that absolutely changed my thinking about education, but I also think it has many applications in business, is called Limitless Mind. It’s by a Stanford mathematics professor named Jo Boaler, and it’s transformative in terms of how to get students engaged, combine rigor with engagement, and work toward a completely different approach to student assessment. It connects some brain science with pedagogical strategies and insights on how to motivate and engage people. It’s compelling for thinking about getting kids engaged, but it has a lot of application to your personal life and being a leader in a business context.
What is your favorite quote?
Winston Churchill said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” I love that one because I’ve had my bumps in the road, but I always pick myself back up, and I think the people who ultimately have an impact in life are the ones who don’t avoid failure. They’re willing to take the risk. They put themselves out there, but every time they failed, they learned from it. And the people who may not accomplish much are the ones who are afraid to take risks. They’re scared of failure, and therefore they never really try anything really, really difficult. You’re never going to know what you could have done if you don’t take any risks.
• Always be open to learning from your failures.
• If you have bad news to share, get it all out right away.
• You can never lead people unless you begin by deeply listening to them.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.