In a world under pressure, in crisis and constantly changing, continuous innovation is necessary to adapt to developing situations. Without continuous innovation, problems don’t get solved, and we don’t have the chance to move forward into the future. Jonathan Cohen is the Founder, CEO and Chief Innovation Officer of Idealab NY. Sitting down with Patrick Donohoe, Jonathan discusses the absolute necessity of continuous innovation in an ever-changing world. This is an empowering discussion you shouldn’t miss!
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Continuous Innovation: Evolving With The World With Jonathan Cohen
I’m excited for you to learn from Jonathan Cohen. He’s someone that I have tremendous respect for and admiration for. He’s been a serial entrepreneur for many years and knows many incredible people. He is the Cofounder and Chief Innovation Officer of Idealab NY, which is a startup studio. He’s also the Co-Managing Director of Idealabx, which is an early-stage company venture fund. Prior to that, Jonathan has been involved in the media and the advertising world and has consulted with some high-level people. He’s connected and an overall great guy. I wanted to have him on because he’s been through multiple cycles. He also is in the startup in the world of innovation. Innovation is necessary for our environment to thrive because there’s so much opportunity for growth, business and solutions. His perspective was important for me to extract and provide you. I hope you enjoy the interview. Without further delay, here is my interview with Mr. Jonathan Cohen.
What’s up, Jonathan? How’s it going?
I’m doing great, all things considered.
Are you in the city? Are you on the outskirts?
I am on the outskirts. I’m not in the city. I do want to say that I feel blessed that nobody in my family has been impacted by the virus. I do feel terrible for the people that are dying and dying alone.
A lot of people were older too, so they’re in those nursing home-type of facilities, assisted-living facilities. It’s one of those events that if anyone saw it coming and it’s caught a lot of people off guard. There have been 40-something deaths in Utah and 5,000 or 6,000 cases. It hasn’t been that extreme at all. They’re opening up a lot of businesses.
We’re lucky. I’m not an expert in this space but if it was like a chemical or something where we were talking about millions of people dying, what does that look like? It’s a bit of a wake-up call. I’m blessed that my family is okay. I’m glad to hear that yours is as well.
One of the speakers that Tony had at Finance was Erik Prince. He is the guy that founded Blackwater, the private military group. He called a lot of this and said that the Coronavirus or COVID would have a huge impact, but not health-wise. He said it would be more on the supply chain. His comment was, “The US is fat, happy and lazy. They need to go on a diet.” He called it better than most that I’ve heard.
There’s a lot of opportunity in the wake of this.
I’m trying to get a ton of people interviewed. I interviewed an economist and a big real estate investor. I’m trying to get multiple perspectives from multiple industries. What intrigues me is you’re in the entrepreneur, the startup industry. This is where there’s a lot of agility. I’m curious to know what is going on. How are things changing and adapting? What are you paying attention to?Innovation is about going from having nothing to something. Click To Tweet
Thanks for having me on here and it’s my attempt to add massive value, I hope I can for the audience. We are seeing companies that are either COVID-proof or if this is killing them. If you’re a startup in the travel industry, “Whoa.” If you’re as a startup in finance, in crypto and you’re waiting for the lightning network to get built, there are a lot of people with other problems that aren’t focusing on things like building out the lightning network per se. If you’re a mission-based direct to the consumer food company, people are home so that’s working well. If you are Zoom for Investing, meaning you can’t go into a VCs office right now and pitch them, if there’s a Zoom for Investing, which is one of our companies, it’s doing great. A lot of them initially are following like, “Is COVID helping or is COVID hurting?” That’s the first filter.
I would also say that if you’re raising money right now, it’s tougher. There are a lot of people in the VC world that are saying, “No, we’re still investing.” You have a fund and you have to invest. Everybody is stepping back for a second and asking themselves like, “Is this the right investment?” Not that people don’t do that naturally, but when the world is falling apart, it adds a new Instagram filter called a pandemic. If you’re in one of those companies that are being hurt by COVID, it’s a little bit more difficult. We’re also seeing that a lot of startups are using this time to work on their product-market fit a little bit more. Airbnb came out at a tough time in 2006, 2007 and 2008. During that collapse, they were able to get a footing. Also, Ford and Disney. If you have some good founders that are agile and ambitious, this could be a glorious time.
There has been so much change. There is this uncertainty with, “How are things going to shake out? How are we going to get back to business? Is it going to be the same?” Clearly, it’s not but there are these unanswered questions. What I would say is the network we’re in, we’ve been preached to in a sense of winter is coming and now that I think it’s arguably winter. What do you do in winter? What are you seeing? What are you paying attention to? What are you not doing? When it comes to like the startup world, I know you’ve seen some companies, as you mentioned, innovate where they perform one service, but then are trying and pivoting to potentially another one. A lot of it has to do with leadership and founders, but when it comes to what to do and what not to do, where have you settled? Are you not settled yet?
I don’t know if these would be pivots, but they could be. They’re like quasi pivots. We have a company that is in the scooter business and making three-wheel scooters that are autonomous, an Uber for scooters. You can call your scooter and we’re building out our scooters, but no one’s out using scooters right now or the market’s gone from it was 100%, now it’s at 10% of what it was. This company, instead of moving people, started to move food around autonomously. They retrofitted the scooter with a little trailer that’s now delivering food autonomously.
We’re seeing a lot of that happen where people are saying, “We have a certain product. The market has changed. Is there a new product-market fit?” We’re seeing a lot of that. What we’re also seeing is a lot of people saying there’s a new norm. Things are going to be different. I have to imagine that a few years from now, that X percentage of everyone on a flight is going to have a mask. I have to believe. I don’t know if it’s 5% or 50% or 75%, but I have to imagine that in the same way that you get on a flight and you have a little eye mask and little Chapstick or whatever, there’s going to be a mask.
A lot of people, what they’re doing is innovating, brand new. I say innovation is going from nothing to something. First, there was nothing and then there was a typewriter. That’s innovation. First, there was a typewriter, then there was a laptop. The concept is going from nothing into something. What’s happening and what we’re seeing a lot of is people saying there’s going to be a new norm. New markets are going to get created. Mask is obvious but finding the needle in the haystack, saying that the world is going to be different, there’s going to be a big problem and I’ve got a solution is exciting. That’s what we’re seeing a lot of that right now. We’re seeing a lot of excitement around that.
The mentors you have and also your partners have been through multiple cycles in the tech world, in the startup world. It’s another end and beginning part of a cycle. As you look at where opportunities will come from, what are some of the pulses they have to find those opportunities or identify those opportunities?
For example, if you’re a sports owner, one of our investors owns a Major League Soccer team, a Major League Baseball team, an NBA team and a Minor League Baseball team. When you’re in the audience business and there’s no more audience, that’s aggregating in a room. On one hand, it’s quite disturbing because you have so many people that even work in these arenas and in these stadiums that are food vendors and parking. There are tons of collateral damage but it forces you to start rethinking what does entertainment, empowerment and leadership look like in a post-COVID world? For those people that own those businesses, you’ve got to be serious about it because it’s impacting business. On one hand, it’s like when we started this episode and we said, “I’m excited because I’m happy that no one in my family is injured, but there are people that are,” it’s the same thing here. People’s businesses are getting impacted in a negative way, but there is a bit of a silver lining.
That’s the beauty of humanity, especially the entrepreneurs’ seed that’s in a lot of people where when things start to derail and go in a direction that wasn’t anticipated or wasn’t expected, that’s when you start to find better ways, new solutions and ideas. People come together as well. Are you seeing that?
I’m seeing it’s incredible. It’s like we’ve had to turn our homes into sanctuaries. I don’t care if you spent a lot of time with your kid or your family brood. You’ve spent more time. I don’t care if you were connected to your child’s education. You’re now more connected. You’re not going to the gym so you might be doing a lot more landscaping work and raking leaves like I’m doing. I’m standing more. This has been an incredible time. In winter, your home and you’re hibernating. It’s time to clean house. We’ve all had to do some house cleaning. This has forced us to rediscover what’s important. It’s going to make for a better world.It's up to us to decide what language we give things. Click To Tweet
The word that keeps coming to mind as I think about what’s going on is there’s a lot more peace. There’s stillness, quiet. I still come to my office. I’m the only one here. I rode my bike and it’s quiet. I look at the ability to reflect, understand, gravitate toward what’s important. These are the moments when inspiration happens. We need more of it now than ever to understand how to modify a business. How do I identify opportunities to be better people, to be teachers and to give? I’ve seen so much giving, whether it’s by entrepreneurs, not just philanthropy. Everyone has become a philanthropist it seems like. Being able to dedicate time, giving kudos, supporting so there’s a lot of good that’s going to come from it.
We’re in a challenging time. The economics of it has yet to be seen. At the same time, there are so many different principles, growth that relate to how amazing times like these are. At the same time, you have to have a good backbone to focus on that as opposed to focusing on what most people in the media are focused on. That gets them views, watchers, listeners and viewers. I look this time as being something where the entrepreneurs of the world, especially the younger generation, are going to rise and find better ways to do commerce, to innovate travel, communication and business. You’re in the thick of it. That’s what’s cool where you’re able to have that perspective. I appreciate you communicating some of that to our audience.
I appreciate the blend of what you do, how you’re bringing in personal development and leadership into your business. It’s not often that I get to say to somebody that we both learned from, where your focus goes, your energy flows. What are you going to do in this world? What are you going to focus on? Nobody tells us we get bombarded by the media, but it’s up to us to decide what we focus on. It’s up to us to decide what language we give things. When you can take those powerful tools, sit back and say, “How is this world going to be different and how am I going to make my mark?” That becomes powerful. Because you also get to say, “This is going to happen again.” What does medicine look like? Like telemedicine, every industry is getting disruptive right now. I keep on using the things that we’ve learned.
You’ve got to take care of that business. You have to know what business you’re in because if you’re not thinking about what business you’re in, you’re not ahead of the curve. You’re going to get eaten by your competition. This is the perfect time to sit back and say, “I know I do real estate. I know I do this. I know I do that. I sell hamburgers. I sell cookies.” I do that like, “What business do I need to be in?” This is the perfect time to sit back, sit down on the couch, get a clipboard and get a piece of 8.5×11 paper. When was the last time you did that? Get a pencil with an eraser or get some whiteboard paper, whatever it is or however you’d like to jam and start thinking about like, “What’s the new norm? How is this world going to be different?”
How were people negatively impacted in this environment? What things can I bring to the world where I can add a ton of value? If I can add a ton of value, I can have fun doing that and I can go for being the best in the world at that. If you’re not shooting the best in the world at what you do, you’re not going for it. You might not be the best in the world, but you’ve got to be going to be the best in the world so you can grow. If you can take where you can be the best in the world, where you’re going to have a ton of fun, where are you going to add the most value? Take that Venn diagram and focus that on something where there’s a massive problem in the world. There is no better time than now to do that.
It’s not exclusive to business owners. Even individuals who work for a business, in a sense they’re their own business and asking those same questions, what business are you in? What do you need to be in? What that does are simple questions. I don’t know anyone that has been able to answer those on the fly. You have to think about them and that thinking, especially right now, you look at the problem that you solve. You look at the value that you bring to a challenge or a problem. It’s the reason why you’re paid. Right now, there’s a lot of it. There are a lot of challenges. There will soon even be more challenges that we’ll be aware of. At the same time, this is where humanity shines. We’re the solution. We’ve always been the solutions. Maybe one last thing. What are a couple of books that you have been inspired by through this crisis that you’ve turned to or reflected on?
The Green New Deal Why the fossil Fuels Civilization Will Collapse by 2028 and The Bold Economic Plan to Save Life on Earth by Jeremy Rifkin. It’s an incredible book. You all saw what happened with oil. We have this thing called the sun. We have this thing called wind. Sun and wind can power all of it. I’m excited about this book. The CEO of Energy Bulb recommended it highly. Jeremy Rifkin is an amazing author. He had a book called The Third Industrial Revolution that talked about the intersection of new forms of communication, industrial internet, power and stuff like that. I highly recommend both The Third Industrial Revolution and The Green New Deal. I’m super excited about what our venture partner, Bill Gross, is doing at our fund the Idealabx with us. He’s doing such incredible work at Idealab Studio and bringing these new companies like Heliogen and Energy Bulb to life. To also have you involved in that makes me smile to be able to co-create with you and add value back and forth is exciting. Those two books, I highly recommend. Also, there’s a book called Zero to One by Peter Thiel, which is an incredible book. It’s a quick read. It’s a book that I tell everybody that wants to go from nothing into something is a must-read.
Thank you for sharing those books. I’ve heard of the book before, but it’s the first time I’ve known some who is reading it. I’m excited to get into it. It looks like a quick read. We have time on our hands. It’s been an enlightening to me and inspiring to see what Idealab is involved with and how it’s innovating especially in the energy sector. It’s one of those things where the old guard is so much tied to energy to energy and typically the traditional energy sources. The rising generation, the younger generation, the below 65 generation is going to be innovating toward some incredible life-changing solutions as this whole debacle ensues. There’s a lot of good on the other end. John, this has been awesome. I know you do some things on social media but not incredibly active because you’re neck-deep in your businesses. What are the ways that people can follow you or learn from you?
Idealabx.vc is our fund’s site. Go on there. We’re going to have this thing on our site that will allow all entrepreneurs that have ideas to be able to submit them. I’m excited to have that live on our site. The platform is called ThumbRaise.com. You’ll be able to submit your pitches there. I’m super excited about that. That would be a great way to stay connected.
Jonathan, thanks for your time.
- Jonathan Cohen – LinkedIn
- The Green New Deal Why the fossil Fuels Civilization Will Collapse by 2028 and The Bold Economic Plan to Save Life on Earth
- The Third Industrial Revolution
- Zero to One
- Idealab New York
About Jonathan Cohen
Jonathan Cohen is the Founder, CEO & Chief Innovation Officer of Idealab New York, Managing Director of IdealabX, and Founder and Executive Chairman of The Trillions Co. Prior to founding Trillions, Jonathan was the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Agency of Trillions, a MAYA Company (acquired by Indiegogo). Cohen was previously the Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer of SocialChorus (acquired by Halogen Media Group via Kohlberg Ventures). Jonathan received his Law Degree from New York University School of Law and his Industrial Engineering Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Idealab properties are venture capital startup studios focusing on the earliest stages of a company’s creation and growth start-ups – from idea to establishing product-market fit. venture capital firm. They co-found companies with extraordinary entrepreneurs to turn the most impactful and commercially promising solutions into thriving businesses and incubate, scale and invest in durable startups and resilient founders.
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