An idea is a great thing to have, but it’s nothing without the work to execute it. An idea is something you pin up on the wall to motivate you, but it’s the work to make it happen that defines you.”
David Kleinhandler is the Founder and President at Vest Financial Group, as well as Founder and CEO at Blackridge Capital Group.
As a 25-year entrepreneur and investor, David Kleinhandler founded Blackridge Capital in 2014 to create an investment vehicle for private investments and the creation of new companies in the financial world. David’s latest endeavor, Vest Financial, strives to make financial wellness simple, as an employee benefit or as an advisor tool. By providing each member with a customized digital advice platform and a conversation, Vest allows each individual to engage with his or her entire financial picture.
David Kleinhandler also manages a number of other projects, including ArxSocial, Harmony Ventures and Dynasty Financial Partners—and supports several nonprofits, including Carmelo Anthony-sponsored “Courts 4 Kids,” the Martin Luther King Foundation, and his own David Kleinhandler’s Life Skills, a financial literacy initiative for student athletes at Syracuse University, his alma mater. David has also made contributions to the continued success of Orange athletics, with the donation of a new basketball court in the team practice facility, and serves as a board member of the David B. Falk School. He also serves as a member of the board of the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Washington University in St. Louis, and on the NY regional board at the US Fund for UNICEF. David is also one of the proud new owners of Hapoel Jerusalem basketball club, alongside his longtime friend, Amar’e Stoudemire.
Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, David Kleinhandler rose from humble beginnings to become a preeminent name in life insurance planning and wealth preservation. Whether finding creative solutions in the office or within the community, David is passionate about making a difference by helping others, one person at a time. David lives in Rye Brook with his lovely wife and three daughters.
Where did the idea for Vest come from?
I took a look at the retirement services sphere, and I realized that while plenty of companies were doing well, none of them were taking the full-on, holistic approach that’s become my guiding philosophy. Financial wellness is inextricably tied with personal wellness, and I wanted to start a company that created that peaceful calm for our clients while using the most cutting-edge tools.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
First of all, I make sure every morning begins with quality time with my wife and daughters. Having that grounding reminds me why I do what I do. On the business side, I start every workday with a set accomplishment in mind. Whether it’s making a new hire, or identifying the next step in our growth, I don’t consider any day a success if I haven’t thought of something that needed to get done and taken concrete steps toward making it happen.
How do you bring ideas to life?
An idea is a great thing to have, but it’s nothing without the work to execute it. An idea is something you pin up on the wall to motivate you, but it’s the work to make it happen that defines you. I bring ideas to life the same way most successful people do: by busting my hump and demanding everyone around me does the same.
What’s one trend that excites you?
It might surprise people that someone as plain-spoken and old-school as me values mindfulness so much, but the quality of being present in the moment is more than jargon. Stress kills, and working hard should never mean running yourself into an early grave. Mindful awareness is not just for yoga studios and meditation rooms anymore, and that to me is a big step forward.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I find that sharing my success with others, in the form of mentoring up-and-coming businesspeople, inspires me to be more productive in my own work. When I see the passion and fire that these newcomers bring to the table, that’s a constant reminder that I need to keep my skills sharp and stay productive. This can be a tough world, and staying productive means staying afloat.
What advice would you give your younger self?
That you’re building more than a business. Early on, I was a little single-minded in building my career, to the detriment of some of my friendships. Looking back, I wish I had remembered that it’s ok to take your foot off the gas every now and then, if only to recharge. Because at that age, you’re not just building a business, you’re building your future.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
That decorum is overrated. Yes, good communication is important, but that doesn’t mean following some outdated rules of niceness. It’s far more important to me that someone can communicate simply and effectively. I want to work with people who are bold: bold ideas often come from bold personalities. If that means they aren’t Miss Manners, that’s completely fine with me.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
There’s no better thing to do when you’re an entrepreneur than to stay informed. Reading the business section is a start, but having a wide network of contacts will give you the inside scoop better than any reporter can. It’s well worth the time it takes to keep your relationships fresh and relevant. I never eat lunch alone—I spend it with my friends and colleagues. Keeping your ears to the ground is a key strategy that I share with everyone who’ll listen.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Placing growth at the forefront. That means having a tangible plan for the future—not just a desire to get larger. When I’m executing on a goal or idea, I’m always thinking about what the next step is going to be. Everyone in the organization needs to be in that same mindset, as well.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Building my current venture, Vest, has possibly been the most obstacle-laden initiative I’ve had in my career. One hire stands out in particular, who hadn’t been forthright when he was brought on, and had turned out to be making promises he couldn’t keep. This might sound like a minor concern, but he was our CEO. We came close to scrapping the entire company before we even got off the ground.
Overcoming this failure took more than just letting him go. Once that was done, I had to take a close look at our company’s processes to see how such a poor hire could have been made in the first place. It wasn’t easy, but we had to essentially remake the entire team, since it had been constructed under false pretenses by someone who wasn’t qualified. It took some sleepless nights, but keeping the right people along and getting their input helped us refocus and get ready to launch.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
It’s not my industry, but it’s clear to me that there’s a huge need for better customer service in retail and not enough qualified people to provide it. Artificial Intelligence has the capability to completely transform this sphere, with intelligent chatbots that can be resourceful while having an encyclopedic knowledge of the company they “work” for. If I were fresh out of business school today, I’d probably be interested in a startup in that field.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I recently spent went toward a nice lunch for someone I’m mentoring. He’d been a big success in his previous career, and is reinventing himself in the business world, something I admire a great deal. Next time, he’ll pay for lunch.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I’ve had a lot of success with the G-Suite of software, just because it’s all so intuitive to use and constantly being improved. No matter how much experience people I’m working with have in computers, they’re able to use the software easily. Software is like language, and everyone wants to be able to understand one another.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I don’t get as many opportunities to read as I would like, but I make time for books that I think can offer some insight. The last one I finished was called How to Fly a Horse by Kevin Ashton, a scientist who helped invent RFID tech that’s in basically every item we buy these days. I recommend the book to everyone in business. It mainly debunks the myth that creativity comes from some kind of divine inspiration, and gives solid evidence that hard work is the reason why creative successes happen. Anyone looking to make things happen for themselves, no matter their field, would do well to read this one.
What is your favorite quote?
Bill Gates once said “it’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” It’s almost cliché, that everyone encounters failure, and that’s because it’s true. The way you respond to it defines you. You don’t think of Bill Gates as someone who’s encountered much failure, so to hear him that really made an impression on me. I try to learn from both failure and success, but I find the lessons of failure are usually much richer.
- An idea is something you pin up on the wall to motivate you, but it’s the work to make it happen that defines you.
- Place growth at the forefront.
- Keep skills sharp and stay productive.
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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.