NRF 2018: Secrets Of Rockstar Entrepreneurs

What does it take to launch a disruptive brand that develops a cult following? A great idea and good timing are important, but the personality, attitude and work ethic of the entrepreneur are also “make or break” elements.

“Every great idea, in my mind, is an experience driven by founders who are relentless,” said Dan Levitan, Co-Founder and General Partner for Maveron, a company that backs entrepreneurs and has raised $1.3 billion to invest in more than 100 companies. He added that every entrepreneur needs to:

  • Work ridiculously fast;
  • Be an all-star recruiter;
  • Be obsessed with the product; and
  • Balance brain and heart.

“Great brands resonate emotionally,” said Levitan. “Yet, at the same time, they need to be analytical and use data in this virtual world. The ones that just use heart never scale, and the ones that just use brain never integrate fully into customers’ lives.”


During a session at NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show, Jan. 14, 2018, titled “Rock Star Entrepreneurs And The Next Generation Of Retail,”  Levitan and moderator Rachel Shechtman, Founder and CEO of STORY, featured entrepreneurs from disruptive brands in retail and hospitality, including:

  • Marcia Kilgore, Beauty and Footwear Entrepreneur, Beauty Pie and Soaper Duper;
  • Michael Lastoria, Co-Founder, CEO and Creative Director, &pizza; and
  • Manish Vora, Co-Founder, Museum of Ice Cream.

“You need a direct connection with your customer,” said Levitan. “The best brands of today are about heart, [something that] Amazon isn’t really in touch with. The company and the brand have to have a direct relationship with the customer and know their core customer, and make sure they’re catering to her.”

Read on to hear the panelists’ brand stories.

Museum of Ice Cream Answers To A New Generation

Manish Vora and his partner and Co-Founder of the popular Museum of Ice Cream, Maryellis Bunn, sought to visit ice cream shops around the country as a hobby. They noticed lines and lines of people and found that Millennials actually will wait in line to get ice cream. The two entrepreneurs continued on their quest for ice cream experiences and even visited ice cream festivals in the U.S. They ended up wanting to build their own ice cream experience, and what started as an experiment turned into the Museum of Ice Cream, an interactive experience of ice cream-themed art installations that sells tickets faster than ice cream melts on a hot day.

During the presentation, Vora highlighted some key takeaways explaining what makes the Museum of Ice Cream so successful:

  • Transforming Spaces: “This is all done by our internal team — operations, production and creative.”
  • Answering To A New Generation: “We are that generation. They’re creative; they’re not looking for passive experiences. This generation wants to participate.”
  • Igniting Imagination: “It’s about sparking creativity and you see that in the way our visitors dress.”
  • Exploring The Senses: “We use taste, touch and smell as ways to harness the power of creativity. We also use them as tools to get people off their phones and to open up and converse [with us].”

Ultimately, the Museum of Ice Cream is about playing like kids. “This experience was built for adults, not just Millennials,” he said. “It’s about bringing people together. Ice cream is universal and we make it our mission to bring people together.”

&pizza Creates A Social Movement 

Only a true entrepreneur would come up with the idea to disrupt the pizza chain industry, and that’s exactly what Michael Lastoria did. But &pizza is more than just a pizza chain, it’s a community of like-minded individuals that are design-first and design-forward. “[We’ve] created a social movement where influencers are not just consuming pizza to fill their bellies; they’re also doing it as an extension or reflection of who they are,” said Lastoria. “We call it ‘accessorizing our brand.’”

With a sleek, black-and-white aesthetic, each shop is designed to reflect the different neighborhoods it serves, according to Lastoria.

“Every shop has a name, shop number and design story,” said Lastoria. “We wanted to promote one of our core values, which is about celebrating oneness and celebrating the individual — allowing people to be comfortable in their own skin when they walk in, whether they’re working there or there to buy pizza.”

Aside from the shop design, &pizza lives at the intersection of technology and retail. Each &pizza location has digital screens on the wall to show when the order was placed, when the pizza is being made and when it’s ready to be picked up.

“We believe that technology is not just how you win through accessibility and convenience, it’s also about dynamically communicating with our guests throughout the production or ordering process,” said Lastoria.

Beauty Pie Offers Luxury Beauty With No Middleman

As an entrepreneur with many successful brands under her belt (Bliss, Soap & Glory, FitFlip, Soaper Duper), Marisa Kilgore knows a thing or two about how to develop the next big idea.

“New ideas are about connecting the dots through experiences and new things happening in the marketplace in a fresh way,” said Kilgore. “Most new ideas are obvious, but no one has put them together with rigor or discipline to make it exciting for the customer. Take your ideas to execute them with a brand — something that is elevational and improves customers’ lives.

Kilgore’s latest venture, Beauty Pie, is a cosmetics company that brings luxury beauty products to the masses with no middleman, at start-off-the-production line prices. At $10 a month, the company gives customers access to the factory in a sense — “It’s a buyer’s club for beauty junkies,” said Kilgore.

The key to her success is transparency. “Transparency is the new cool,” said Kilgore. “Show your customer where you’re getting the products from and what it costs you to make.”

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