Demos Parneros is an experienced and innovative retail and e-commerce leader, helping Staples grow from a startup to a Fortune 100 company, serving as President of North American Retail and E-commerce businesses. He subsequently took on the role of CEO at Barnes & Noble, leading a focused transformation plan, which eventually led to the sale of the company. In addition to previously serving on several high-profile company boards, Demos now leads CityPark LLC, where he has invested in 15 companies, including several leading-edge retail tech startups.
Where did the idea for CityPark come from?
After making my first few investments and learning from each one, I decided to be a little more intentional about the types of businesses and founders to engage with. It became very clear to me that the biggest key to success was the founder. A great founder can take an average idea and make it better, but a good idea bad founder is destined to fail.
To keep things simple, I always look for a smart, hard-working, and curious founder who has a great idea for their business. With that combination, the likelihood of success is much higher. Further, if the founder is a good listener and shows kindness to others, then it is the perfect recipe for success.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
There are a few things I like to do each day, but typically, each day is a little different.
I am a little bit of a news junkie, so I like to start my day by reading and watching the news to find out what’s going on around the world, both in business and locally. After that, I check in and get back to people through calls, emails, and texts. Besides time on the phone, I almost always have meetings over zoom or in person. No matter what the day brings, I always make some time to read, stay in touch with family members and get outside for some fresh air.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I feel like if there’s something that you feel you want to do, whether in business or your life, the best advice I can give is to seriously think about it, understand it, and always do more research and prepare, so you know what you are doing and what you are talking about.
People have some great ideas, but they don’t come to fruition, largely because they don’t even start. I read a book called Just Start, so yes, just start. Even if you don’t have everything nailed down perfectly, just start. Most people, if they have an idea about business, just kick it around. They think it’s got to come to them. I’m more of the mind; I think it through, lay out a plan—whether it be short term or long term—and start.
Start so you can bring something to life. There are a lot of good ideas that never take off because they don’t get started. Once you begin, you can say, “Hey! This is pretty good. It’s not perfect, but now I know what to do.” And go from there.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Committing to getting things done. Simply put, make a list, prioritize, and start with the single biggest priority and get it done.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Three things come to mind. I would say that a little more patience is usually good, however, being overly patient when action is needed can turn into procrastination. Secondly, it’s okay to make mistakes so long as you’re learning from them. It’s always good to give it your best and strive for more, but learning comes from making mistakes. Lastly, I would say that you should learn to be productive so that you can have more balance as early on as you can in your life.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Some level of failure is good and has a much bigger payback in the grand scheme of things. For a lot of companies and their work culture, failure isn’t accepted or tolerated, but in my experience, some of the best lessons come from the mistakes that people make. I recently saw one CEO tag “failures welcome” in a post.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Be decisive. Listen to others’ views, gather all your facts, and make a measured and carefully planned decision.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
For many of my experiences, it is simply listening to customers. You cannot go wrong by asking good questions to understand the needs of your customers. Whether it is about a specific product, service, process, pricing, or just the overall experience. Building strategies or adjusting your model to support customer needs and expectations always makes good sense.
Another important strategy is to always be willing to try new ideas. Whether they come from your team, your customers, or even your competition, a solid test and learn process can be very instructive.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One common mistake I have seen over and over is the unwillingness to listen to feedback about the business model or product/service. Some entrepreneurs seem to be passionate about their original idea and not open to change or iterate. Often, by the time they come around, it can be too late.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Oftentimes with start-ups, business owners have this original idea that more often than not doesn’t work as well as they would want it to. By starting soon and making mistakes, this idea morphs into something that looks different from its initial design. In business, especially for owners who are starting out, it’s important to be open to learning, integrating new perspectives, and changing your ideas along the way. Don’t try too hard to keep it in its original inception; instead, iterate, let it flow and see where it goes. Mistakes equal learning.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I spent recently was to purchase some great books. For me, it’s a way to learn, read great stories and be inspired. There’s a small independent bookstore in Vermont I visit every chance I get because they always have a very well curated assortment to go along with knowledgeable staff.
I buy different kinds of books, some to learn and others to get a point of view on something new. A few I like are From Strength to Strength by Arthur C. Brooks and How I Built This by Guy Raz.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I like to use simple note-taking apps (like the one on my iPhone) to jot down my thoughts, but I also love to use Google calendar to organize my schedules and keep track of my life.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I read a lot of books that provide insights and a fresh perspective on day-to-day situations. I highly recommend Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth because it discusses that the secret to success isn’t just talent but the ability of people to bounce back from mistakes and failure.
What is your favorite quote?
I know everyone’s probably this one, but it’s worth repeating:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes… so long as you learn from them.
- Be curious and ask lots of questions.
- Hard work, preparation, and grit. Can’t go wrong with any of these.
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.