Over the broad sweep of his career, David’s taken on countless roles: parallel entrepreneur, venture capitalist, investment banker, fund manager, turnaround specialist, Mr. Mom, mentor, and street photographer.
Three descriptive words flows through them all: Intrepid. Immersed. Inspired.
David M. M. Taffet’s career has spanned law, investment banking, private equity, not-for-profits, turnarounds, buy-outs and startups.
Along the way, Taffet has had the good fortune of, among other things, working his way through college and law school, building his own businesses, meeting the payroll needs of 100s of employees, raising enormous amounts of debt and equity (almost half a billion dollars to date) on behalf of his own ventures and on behalf of others’, turning others’ enterprises around, and working Internationally in varied industries with geographically-dispersed operations.
Taffet is a parallel entrepreneur on steroids, often leading 3 or more businesses simultaneously. Today, he is a consultant with LevinThor, LLC, where he is orchestrating turnarounds for behavioral health centers in Washington, D.C. and New Orleans; a “Builder” with JukeStrat, where he is consulting on Esport opportunities in the UAE, and the CEO of Petal, LLC, which occupies the majority of his time.
Petal is the world’s first zero-odor, germ-freezing waste bin. By naturally stopping rot, eliminating stink, and halting the spread of germs, Petal’s pioneering freezing technology is poised to supplant traditional disposal methods in the diaper, organic food waste, incontinence, feminine hygiene and pet waste verticals, while reducing plastic pollution from single-use trash bags.
Where did the idea for Petal come from?
Throughout human history, the disposal of waste has looked pretty much the same. Centuries ago, we tossed our garbage in the street, creating dangerous and unsanitary conditions that encouraged the spread of sickness and stink throughout our communities. In 1875, we began storing our waste indoors. Almost nothing has changed since.
Existing disposal solutions allow foul waste to sit, rot, and fester at room temperature for days on end, creating dangerous and unsanitary conditions that pollute our homes with horrible smells, mold, bacteria, and unwanted pests. Filters, chemical air fresheners, and environmentally devastating single-use (and sometimes proprietary) plastic liners can’t change the fact that waste bins are just open containers ripe with rot, stench, and germs.
The aerospace engineers who designed Petal did not understand why people have just accepted foul stenches and potentially dangerous germs in their homes for so long. They recognized that freezing things stops rot, eliminates stink, and halts the spread of germs. Working together, they built a high-tech, category-killing appliance—Petal—that will supplant traditional disposal devices.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Every morning, I spend 30 minutes or so cleaning out my inbox and organizing my To Do list. Then, I embrace Mark Twain’s advice:
If you know you have to swallow a frog, swallow it first thing in the morning. If there are two frogs, swallow the big one first.
By tackling the most daunting tasks first, the remainder of the day remains open to pursue new ideas, connect with people, and execute with excellence as I burn through my to-do list.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Execution breathes life into ideas. Discussion is not a substitute for doing. The difference between a plan and an enterprise happens in the action, not in the discourse.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Esports are on fire! Goldman Sachs estimates that esports will be a $3 billion industry in the next three years, with top professional teams earning over $24 million in prize pools alone (before sponsorship revenue). Esports was slated for inclusion in the Asian Games and is under consideration for the 2024 Olympics. Even outlets such as The Economist, have made the case for esports as an emerging industry. Newzoo estimates there were about 380 million eSports viewers worldwide in 2018, a number that is expected to surge to more than half a billion by 2021. While the winner of Fortnite’s championship took home more than the winner at Wimbledon, the ESL Masters World Championship in Poland last year welcomed 174,000 people to a stadium over two weekends and another 232 million viewers online.
Esports will dominate in the COVID era.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
At the end of every meeting and conversation, I take a moment to summarize in precise detail the conclusions we reached and next steps. I make sure that everyone is on the same page, knows what is expected of them, and has a clear expectation of what the deliverables are and when they are due. I allow for no misunderstandings and I leave nothing to chance.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Never be hard on the person; be hard on the issue. While attacking the issue, remain gentle with people—even in the face of hostility. This humanistic approach, which requires separating the person from the underlying issue, will allow you to consistently give honest feedback and facilitate excellence in execution without being hurtful.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Because I believe in the Flow, I know that the laws of attraction and abundance are available to all of us. This means that in building businesses or turning enterprises around, I seek not to cut costs, but rather to increase my investment in the members of the company. I operate knowing that there will be more and that success comes from enriching the team. This flies in the face of the scarcity mindset that governs the actions of most entrepreneurs and turnaround consultants. Where the quintessential entrepreneur will operate with meager resources while eating instant noodles, I raise sufficient funds to ensure that the company looks like an enterprise as opposed to a scrappy startup. In the same vein, where most turnaround consultants look for ways to cut costs, I always lead with increased investment in the right people and supplemented operational resources.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Focus on teams over individuals. When hiring and shaping teams, a business leader should consider chemistry above experience or perceived-competence. Think more about how people might work with one another than about what each individual will bring to bear. People who enjoy one another will naturally rise to their highest levels of achievement for fear of disappointing team members they care for and respect. The team’s collective excellence will quickly outpace and exceed the performance of a group of disjointed individuals—no matter their talents or experience.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I recognize that everything happens with and through people. Never let profit trump authentic concern for the members of your team. Banish toxicity from your team. This includes anyone that is mean-spirited, petty, or an obstructionist. A cohesive team will joyfully execute with excellence.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Early in the Dot-com era, I launched a company that provided end-to-end internet-based digital assets, including web services and video-on-demand. I made the mistake of outsourcing my sales force to a large corporation on the verge of a multi-billion-dollar public offering.
The idea was that the company would serve as a channel partner where both the partner company and mine would share in the proceeds of all joint opportunities. The partnership generated tremendous revenue, which should have been a win. Unfortunately, the outsourced sales force claimed that every joint sale was the result of their independent efforts, thus denying my company its share of the revenue.
So, I went to New York City and met directly with the company’s EVP of Global Sales and General Counsel. After outlining the issue, I was met with chuckles. They explained that their company was focused on the billions of dollars in front of them as opposed to the millions I was discussing. At that moment, I knew I was sunk. As a former litigator, I knew what it would take to battle and win, and as a finance person I understood that I would be bankrupt before ever seeing a pay day.
Instead of having an emotional outburst and threatening suit, I calmly pivoted. More specifically, I began exploring what needs the company might have given that it was going public. To my surprise, the company had a pressing need for a co-location facility in Philadelphia, where I lived at the time.
After extended inquiry, I learned, among other things that:
•The company didn’t trust any carrier-based company to provide its services;
•The company had very specific engineering requirements that no existing Philadelphia-based company could meet; and
•The company did not want to build its own facility for fear of having it on its balance sheet.
Understanding this, I made a proposal. I would raise the amount needed to build the facility to the company’s specifications and operate it if they promised two things. First, a monthly revenue that would make my new company profitable on day one. And second, the ability to build out excess capacity that I could lease to other providers. They agreed on the spot and I left with a contract.
In the end, I had to shutter the company that I went to speak about, but I succeeded in launching a very profitable co-location company that sold 5 years later to a public company. Resorting to questions as opposed to threats paved the way to profit.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Given the explosion of gaming in general and Esports in particular, there is an entire generation that is exercising individuality through gaming strategies and techniques. I perceive an opportunity to mine gaming data (e.g. steps taken, timing between steps, strategies employed, tactics relied upon, results generated, etc.) with an eye to creating micro-personality classifications that could prove valuable to employers and informative for dating apps (e.g. determining compatibility).
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought a Leatherman Wave+ multitool as a first step to overcoming self-doubts about my (in)abilities as a handyman. I am the son of a Montana-raised outdoorsmen who was an Eagle Scout, a graduate of the Air Force Academy, a US Air Force fighter pilot and, unfortunately, a victim of war.
My father was killed in his F-4 Phantom in when I was young. As a result, I never benefited from his guidance on how to be handy. I went through life convincing myself that I was incapable of hands-on projects.
That changed recently when my wife and I purchased a home in a Texas nature preserve and found that there is a real “git ‘er done” mindset in these parts. Everyday presents new challenges and, with them, opportunities to fix things. Instead of outsourcing tasks like I would have before, I’ve resolved to apply my business insights to my home projects. I study the problem, learn how others solved it and then execute with excellence.
With my Leatherman (which I carry all the time), I’ve begun to cultivate self-sufficiency and gain confidence in my capabilities.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Microsoft Teams has become the hub for my individual and company requirements, including chats, sharing, calendaring, tasking and conferencing. It has become so seamless and integral to how Petal operates that I don’t have to think about how to use it; instead, I only have to focus on what I want to accomplish.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Entrepreneurs are often guilty of drinking the nectar of delusion. They fail to recognize their stinking thinking and, as such, they either fall prey to overconfidence or become paralyzed by perceived, non-existent dangers. By illuminating the thought process, identifying cognitive biases, and demystifying risk, Daniel Kahneman calmly defuses the reader’s over-reliance on emotions and intuition and equips the reader with science-infused decision-making tools that will improve the reader’s awareness and judgments.
What is your favorite quote?
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychologist and Holocaust survivor
•Challenge the status quo.
•Swallow the frog!
•Leave nothing to chance.