Chairman and CEO, Belong Acquisition Corporation
In episode one, we stop in New York. Dhani speaks with Jennifer Deason, the Chairman and CEO of Belong Acquisition Corp and former Executive Vice President of Bain Capital. Jennifer discusses her insights into what makes a successful deal, what to do when a deal goes wrong, the risks, and what you can do to mitigate them.
We believe deeply in the value of diversity and have come together as a group of operators, investors, founders, and academics to partner with the right company and support its goal to scale. Our operating team, board, and advisors each play an important role in our goal to create value through a culture of belongingJennifer Deason, Chairman and CEO, Belong Acquisition Corporation
Experienced operator with emphasis on technology’s impact on both start-ups and legacy businesses.
What about deals that go wrong?
Dhani Jones (01:18):
Welcome to the first episode of the brand new podcast series, The Pathfinders, presented by Ansarada. This is a show dedicated to dealmakers, trailblazers, and we're going to tap into stories of modern dealmakers carving paths forward. I'm Dhani Jones, former NFL player, investor, and entrepreneur. And today I'm here to speak with the chairman and CEO of Belong Acquisition Corp, and former executive vice president of Bain Capital, Jennifer Deason.
Dhani Jones (01:41):
Jennifer is here today to discuss her thoughts on what makes a successful deal, the process of running a spark and how she has built a successful career while also being a mother. So sit back, relax, and get ready for an exciting first episode of The Pathfinders. Welcome Jennifer.
Jennifer Deason (02:05):
Thank you. Thanks for having me, Dhani.
Dhani Jones (02:07):
Well, first I have to say, I'm so excited to spend some time with you today because you know, in, in the world of relationships, you know, I went to the University of Michigan, you went to Yale and then also Stanford, but we were ultimately brought together by the greatest university ever. So I, I know you just want to give big ups and just like complete love to University of Michigan and Dave Barger, right? I'm sure you do.
Jennifer Deason (02:28):
Absolutely, go blue, go blue. You know, the dirty little secret about me is I was born in the Upper Peninsula, Michigan. So Michigan is a key part of my roots. So always, always rooting for Michigan. No doubt about it.
Dhani Jones (02:42):
Are you able to go to any of the games or what do you think is gonna happen during this season?
Jennifer Deason (02:48):
Gosh, I don't know if I'll be able to get to any games-
Dhani Jones (02:50):
Jennifer Deason (02:50):
... this season, but my favorite player, Ben Gedeon has moved on, but I always made a point to go when he was playing.
Dhani Jones (02:57):
What is it about the University of Michigan that just draws people in? You, you think it's the 120,000 crazy fans that sit on top of each other in the middle of, of the stands? Do you think it's the fact that we were established in 1817, and we basically run everything all across the world? Or, or you think it's just the amazing blue that runs in our veins that brings people together?
Jennifer Deason (03:20):
Dhani Jones (03:20):
Jennifer Deason (03:23):
I don't know. I don't know. You know, I, I'm, I'm much more of Yale at heart Dhani. But what I can say is that it is long lasting with Michigan folks. There's no doubt about it. So we're fortunate to have two Michigan alums on our Belong capital board and both yourself and Jason cannot stop talking about Michigan. So there is definitely something in the blood there. There's no doubt about it.
Dhani Jones (03:48):
Do you find that that's the same way about Yale and, and Stanford, or does that not happen?
Jennifer Deason (03:54):
I think there is probably something magical to certain schools and I put Michigan on that list. I think the fact that you're not close to as major of a city like New York City with Yale creates a bond and just creates this desire to spend time together and not get away for the weekends and go somewhere else. You know, I don't know. I think there's a lot to it. But, um, there's probably something a little bit different about the Michigan community. I'll give you that. There's no doubt about it.
Dhani Jones (04:22):
Jennifer Deason (04:22):
I'd also Michigan sports teams are so incredible, you know, it just goes on and on and on. Like I was a swimmer, even your swim team, I mean it just goes on and on and on, cross country, steeple chase, football, you name it.
Dhani Jones (04:36):
You can keep going.
Jennifer Deason (04:37):
Dhani Jones (04:37):
You can, you can talk about our gymnastics team.
Jennifer Deason (04:39):
Jennifer Deason (04:41):
Dhani Jones (04:42):
You know what? You, Jennifer, you can even talk about our ultimate frisbee team. Okay. There's not one sport on campus that we do not dominate both locally, as well as nationally. So, you know, that's just the way that it's gonna be at the University of Michigan. But what about your experience at Yale? How did you go from, um, you know, living in the cold and oftentimes not connected to sort of the center of the universe, especially in, in the Ivy League world and being at Yale?
Jennifer Deason (05:13):
You know, it was a huge adjustment for me. I moved around a lot as a kid, I grew up with a single mom. She never went to college. She had me when she was 18. And she had taken a job in Connecticut. And she was like, "Hey, why don't I..." I was going to high school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I was a swimmer. And I was training with a family there, so who took me in for my last couple years of, uh, high school. And so my mom was like, "Well, why don't we check out this place, Yale?" She was living Connecticut. And I thought it was pretty crazy. And we went to Yale for the weekend. We went to Harvard, we went to a couple other places. No elaborate trip, just, uh, two days, two days in the northeast. And I went for it. And it was a huge adjustment.
Jennifer Deason (05:57):
And I remember my freshman year, I felt like half the school already knew each other. 'Cause they were one degree removed from each other. I think back then the concentration of boarding school kids was much more significant than it is today. And it kind of kicked my ass my first semester. But then after that, it was just like the gift that kept on given. It was just an incredible place, incredibly, I think, diverse even back then, diverse perspectives, people from all over the world, just really, really was a huge formative experience for me.
Jennifer Deason (06:27):
Discovered art history. I ended up majoring in art history. I'd even know art history existed before I got there. I always thought I wanted to go to med school. And then I started taking these classes like American studies and art history and classes that were about our culture and who we are and human beings. And it just totally hooked me. And I don't think if I had, if I didn't have the opportunity to go to Yale, I would've never have discovered these things. So I feel fortunate every day, every single day, most formative experience in my life.
Dhani Jones (06:58):
Well, it's kind of amazing is long as we've known each other, I don't think we even talked about medical school. That was the path that I wanted to take. And a lot of people think that I just wanted to play football, but I ultimately wanted to be a doctor. But even before I wanted to be become a doctor, I wanted to become an artist, but I realized I wasn't gonna make any money until I passed on as an artist. So I figured if I become a doctor, I could be just as good as an artist and actually make some money. (laughs). So-
Jennifer Deason (07:23):
Dhani Jones (07:23):
... so, you know, you end up Yale, you know, with the University of Michigan. And I always think about history. I think that's always sort of a, a critical piece that most people don't spend enough time on it because whatever's gonna happen in, in their future is already essentially been written from the past and if you've been educated, you can kind of predict where things actually might go. And was there a moment while you were at school that you sort of predicted the path of which you'd be on today? Or was there a moment in time as you sort of transitioned out of, out of school and into the workforce that you knew the, the path that you were gonna be on basically in 2021, if you will?
Jennifer Deason (08:05):
Yeah. So I remember this moment in college where we had this dean at the time, I think he ended up going to, um, run Duke, Dean Brodhead, and he gave this speech and this speech was basically about two different personality types. I think this was from Dante's Inferno and, um, I'm probably not doing it justice, but this notion of foxes and hedgehogs.
Dhani Jones (08:27):
Jennifer Deason (08:28):
And there are people in this world who just get exceptional at one thing and they just nail it. And they're the hedgehogs. They go deeper and deeper and deeper on a topic. And then there's people who are more like foxes, who jump from thing to thing. Well, there's a central thread across all of it but nonetheless approach life, more like a fox.
Jennifer Deason (08:52):
And what I remember when listening to him while he was giving the speech, that's when I started feeling really comfortable in my own skin that I like science, that I was pre-med, but I also loved art history, that I loved different kinds of people. I had the opportunity to go abroad for the first time in my life in college, loved the experience being in different countries. And that, that would be a more fox like approach to life was probably more my path. And I think I've stuck to that.
Jennifer Deason (09:22):
And you know, it, wasn't something consciously that I was thinking about as I was listening to him. But I think that moment just really allowed me to get more comfortable in my own skin. And this concept of weaving essential thread through my career across many different topics, but I know in my own true north, how they all interconnect.
Dhani Jones (09:43):
Mm. I don't think enough people pay attention even nowadays to those threads that actually sort of bind everything together. And I was trying to think about the, the quote, "Jack of all trades, master of none." That actually is only sort of a part, part of a quote, right?
Jennifer Deason (10:03):
Dhani Jones (10:03):
The other part...
Dhani Jones (10:00):
Sort of a part of a quote, right?
Jennifer Deason (10:02):
Dhani Jones (10:03):
The other part is jack of all trades, master of one, but oftentimes better than- than one. Right? And so, a lot of times people don't realize that we cut off certain thought processes, we- we change the perception of certain phrases when, in actuality, like the- the real reason was it's okay to understand and be a little bit more broad in the way that you think about things because that actually adds value to your perspective, like that's diversification, right?
Dhani Jones (10:30):
You know, people talk about diversity in terms of people. Yes, it- it is people but it's also where people come from and what people have seen. That's how you add value. There's actually some studies that have also talked about, you know, when groups that have worked together, much like all the boarding school kids that ended up Yale. They might work together and they might be really successful at the very beginning, but then ultimately they'll- they'll trail off. Okay? But if you bring a bunch of people that are from different places. Let's say, okay, you're in the [U.P. 00:10:58], you're all- all the way down in the Panhandle of Florida, all the way out, you know, to the wine and- and Sonoma Valley of California. And then you're also in- in the hood of Southeast D.C. or in Detroit. Put those people together and they might not work together at the very, very beginning-
Jennifer Deason (11:15):
Dhani Jones (11:15):
They might not even get along at all. Then all of a sudden something clicks, something binds those people in the same that you're talking about, together, and then there's an exponential growth in the way that they think. Because they've realized that all the different ideas and the ways that they've done things, boom, it just makes sense. And then they start doing deals together, they start coming up with different ideas and they start building stuff.
Dhani Jones (11:42):
So, what- what do you think? Because I think that's something that makes a successful deal, right? Bringing different perspectives together. But what do you think makes a successful deal? Because, you know, your career has taken you in- in a couple of different places and I'm sure you've learned a couple things along the way. But as you've learned those things, what do you think ultimately, you know, derives success?
Jennifer Deason (12:06):
Yeah. I mean, going back to what makes a great deal, I cannot agree with you more. It's all about the people and what people can achieve together as a group. And, you know, I spent nine years [Bain Capital 00:12:21] and there was so much emphasis and attention placed on the people in our investments and this notion of like, service leadership. It's not because you have the checkbook making the investment, it's- you're controlling the outcome, it's like the farthest thing from that. It's like you are fiduciary in this situation to allow a group of human beings to flourish, to allow a CEO to be the leader they- they wanna be. And we would spend so much time talking about teams and how to develop high performance teams and, you know, we had situation... I can remember one particular company that we bought where everybody on the team, individually, was an A+ player. A+, A+, A+. But they weren't cohesively getting together to create A+ outcomes.
Jennifer Deason (13:11):
And then there's other situations where you get a group of people together and you're like, "Huh, are they gonna be able to pull this off?" And that, you know-
Dhani Jones (13:18):
Jennifer Deason (13:18):
...intangible connectivity just totally takes off and flourishes and the team achieves things they never thought they could achieve before. Obviously, like some of the fundamentals of a great deal in terms of buying at the right price, making sure it's a huge market opportunity, making sure that the company has a strategic moat. It's a really defensible position in a few areas and those can be well defined but ultimately, it comes down to the people. There's no doubt about it in my mind. It's a people-
Dhani Jones (13:48):
Jennifer Deason (13:48):
...driven business um, in every regard.
Dhani Jones (13:51):
What's been the most exciting deal that you've- you've worked on? And- and don't get into [Belong 00:13:56] because I- I wanna talk about that in- in a little bit. But, you know, during your days at- at Bain and as you transition to- to other companies, what was one of the most exciting deals that you were a part of? And, what did you learn from it?
Jennifer Deason (14:10):
Yeah, I mean I think there's two that come to mind and they're completely different career stages. You know, one was back when I was 25 and I was working at eBay. And eBay, at the time, was still relatively small, it was a couple hundred people, it had just gone public. There was this focus on how do we expand into different geographies and do we invest and buy or do we actually build in the country? So, that was an area focus for me of looking at different geographies like Germany or China or Latin America and trying to figure out the path forward, or laying it out for the executives to make the decisions that were needed.
Jennifer Deason (14:49):
And we decided we wanted to invest in Latin America. And I had not yet been to business school, you know, I was just drinking from a fire hose, learning like crazy. It was the most unbelievable experience. So we get down... Uh, we fly in a plane down to Buenos Aires and we need these two teams: [Des Ramada 00:15:08] and Mercado Libre, which were the two kind of nascent auction companies in um, Latin America. They were just getting started. I remember meeting this guy Marcos who was the CEO of uh, Mercado Libre and he was like, "I- I wanna really drive auctions in e-commerce for all of Latin America." And at the time, he had this tiny, tiny little business and his dream was so big and it was infectious. And he had just graduated from business school, he had just started this company but there was just this infectious quality to him.
Jennifer Deason (15:43):
And these two companies had this incredible rivalry, all these guys had gone to school together forever. And we ended up investing in Mercado Libre, we ended up investing in Marcos and to this day, I think about that experience and just the vision-
Dhani Jones (15:57):
Jennifer Deason (15:57):
...that he had. And, you know, I think of the time he maybe had 20, 30 people in his company but he had such a huge vision and thinking about investing in people and the potential of people, that's just always stuck with me. And now today, Mercado Libre is one of the biggest companies in all of Latin America. I think it's- I can't... I haven't even looked at the market cap lately, like 60 billion dollars plus. I think he's one of the richest people in Argentina. But it has nothing to do with that, it just has to do with the vision and the passion of what really stuck with me just being a part of that experience. It was just awesome.
Jennifer Deason (16:33):
Another deal that I always think about is um, selling the Weather Channel. So when I was the CFO of the Weather Channel, well the Weather Company, um, we've rebranded it the Weather Company. Because we have different assets, we had a TV business, we had mobile- we were top five mobile property at the time, weather.com, we had a software business, a SaaS business. And, ended up selling the company to IBM- most of the company to IBM. And that whole process was just incredibly energizing and it was intellectually stimulating. We ended up selling all but the TV division, so we had to separate the company into two pieces. But also just the longevity it gave people in terms of their careers and a life beyond and a life inside of IBM for our product team, for our weather um, forecasting team, PhD's who really made everything happen at the company. And to know that they landed in a great place at IBM that really supported business and that was just awesome.
Jennifer Deason (17:32):
I mean, we have this uh... I always say I hosted a wedding where IBM took interest in potentially acquiring us and the [inaudible 00:17:41] across from Grand Central. I think we hosted maybe like 20 breakout rooms with everything from meteorology to tax and this whole army from IBM who acted so swiftly and efficiently and it was just awesome. It was so awesome to know that so many people were so engaged at that moment and thinking about the next chapter for the Weather Company. It was great. It was really great. So totally different deals, nonetheless too, that really stuck with me.
Dhani Jones (18:09):
Yeah. I can imagine. And being a part of the Weather Company, I mean you knew firsthand, you know, what to wear. I mean, 'cause it was- if it was cold outside, you'd- you'd know. (Laughs). If it was hot outside, you'd know. But one of the thing's that's amazing about the Weather Company or the- the Weather Channel or just the weather in general is, I think a lot of people don't realize so many applications that we run on a daily basis have the weather in the background that is a- a predictive tool to get people to do certain things. And- and I didn't even- I didn't even know that, that there's just so many different people that plug into the API, the Weather Channel, that changes the dynamic of so many different applications. But that- that's a whole different route.
Dhani Jones (18:49):
But I do think that the Mercado example that you gave was sensational because that in- infectious sort of positive attitude that he had as a leader within a business really allows a- a deal to, sort of, thrive. Because there's definitely going to be moments in time when things just don't work.
Jennifer Deason (19:14):
Dhani Jones (19:14):
And there's gonna be times when, you know, you're gonna hit some bumps in- in the road. And if you have that leader, right, if you have that person that is going above and beyond and only thinks about how things are gonna get done not how things should've- should've been done and, you know, what might have happened, but is just kind of thinking about moving forward; he wouldn't get to that 60 billion dollar market cap of where he is right now and be leading in Argentina an amazing business.
Dhani Jones (19:43):
So what- what about deals that go wrong? How do you mitigate them? So if you know uh, these are two positive deals with the Weather- Weather Company and also with Mer- Mercado, what about deals that go wrong? Like what did you see and how did-? You know, how- how would you invite someone to mitigate that as a solid sort of approach in?
Jennifer Deason (20:02):
Yeah. No, absolutely.
Dhani Jones (20:00):
... Odd sort of approaching.
Jennifer Deason (20:02):
Yeah. No, absolutely. Absolutely. You know, I just looked it's so funny. It's like Mercado Libre is now close to $85 billion. It's pretty amazing.
Dhani Jones (20:10):
Sorry, everybody. We were off by 25 billion, but we're back on track. (laughs) 25 billion. Just a little bit, just a little. We're, we were in the range, I think as long as it was close to, you know, close to a hundred billion probably tomorrow, there it is.
Jennifer Deason (20:25):
Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, you know, I think a lot of times these things are not black and white, a good deal or a bad deal. You know, I think, if I think about the weather company, the weather company have this next chapter and this next opportunity at IBM, but we ended up selling, you know, everything, but the TV division, the TV division got sold to somebody else. But it was a tale of two cities. I mean, TV was really declining. Subscriber growth had really come to a halt. And this was back in the 2014, 2015 time period where cord cutting was really beginning. And so we had a tale of two cities. We had the mobile business growing like crazy, but we have a TV business suffering declines, and realizing that those declines were only gonna, um, accelerate. So we had a situation where Verizon had dropped us, Direct TV had dropped us, I mean, these were existential kind of crises for us.
Jennifer Deason (21:21):
And what the real focus from a leadership perspective was, was investing in the future. To your point [inaudible 00:21:28], focusing and just driving ahead, the future of mobile, the future of digital, future of data, applications with data. So we, um, started running tests with Walmart of weather triggered advertising. So being able to really serve ads to humans as to whether it was dry heat or humid heat, is it better to serve an ad for a Popsicle or an ice cream? And being able to do that with Walmart grocery? So to your point around weather and weather data, I mean, we were living that.
Jennifer Deason (21:59):
So the company ended up being in a real structural moment. And I think that's what's so exciting about media and technology is it's so fast paced and it's so dynamic that from 2008, when Bain capital made an investment in the weather channel to 2016, there was a massive shift towards data. A massive shift towards digital and TV was really going through a big change and a big transformation. And even to today, you know, in TV, everything continues to change at a faster and faster and faster rate. So that deal, I give that as an example, because I think there isn't good versus bad. There's really a continuation and a spectrum in terms of deals.
Dhani Jones (22:43):
Jennifer Deason (22:43):
And it's good to just kind of think in that moment of time about how to best change the trajectory wherever possible, and think two steps ahead.
Dhani Jones (22:52):
Yeah. It just seems, and I'm sure as your career days at Deutsche Bank and, you know, Bain and, you know, working with the weather company, technology has changed significantly. How do you feel as though that's disrupting the deal making process and legacy practices? Because when there wasn't that data out there, when there wasn't that information out there, people operated on a, on a different wavelength, how do you think they are operating now versus how people operated before?
Jennifer Deason (23:27):
Yeah, so I started my career in the mid nineties and I started at Deutsche Bank. It was Alex Brown at the time, but they got acquired by Banker's Trust at Deutsche Bank super fast. And at that point, Netscape had just gone public. The valley really, um, was in a moment in terms of a lot of IPOs, not too dissimilar to today. And I felt quite fortunate that that's where I began my career. And at that point in time, innovation and the speed of innovation was just, the pace was accelerating, but it's nothing like today. It's nothing like today. And so when I think about the evolution, there's obviously an evolution and ups and downs and valuations of companies and the frothiness of the markets, but there's also a challenge in really creating a sustainable moat for a company. Because the pace of innovation in technology is happening so quickly at Sotheby's, I ran strategy and we focused a lot on jewelry and eCommerce and jewelry.
Jennifer Deason (24:34):
And if you think about even jewelry today, we've gone from, you know, offline jewelry to Blue Nile, feeling like an incumbent, to Brilliant Earth just having their IPO last week. A business school classmate, unbelievable story to majority getting to 200 million almost of revenue in, you know, just a handful of years. Just innovation in that one eCommerce category is happening so quickly and that's like one example of so many. I mean, it's not even discussing cloud computing or SaaS or all of the different elements of technology.
Jennifer Deason (25:10):
So I think it's harder and harder to find a moat right now that's sustainable. That's gonna stick for a really long time. And that's something that I'm continually thinking about. You know, and also just from a deal sourcing perspective and what technology has done there. Like there is no information that is secret information anymore. And the predictive trends and insights that you can get from LinkedIn and where people are going on LinkedIn to where people are clicking on the internet, there's an ability to forecast and, and really predict what the future holds with data sets that are just happening digitally. And then the ability to really develop a pipeline as an investor and be able to quickly go out there and reach perspective investments and using technology to do that. And I think we're only at the beginning of this, but I think this whole world just continues to change at a faster and faster pace as each year goes by. It's pretty remarkable and incredible.
Dhani Jones (26:16):
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Dhani Jones (27:14):
I mean, you've seen so much and you highlighted so many aspects of your career. Do you feel as though you already had the highlight of your career, or do you think you're moving into the highlights, uh, of your career?
Jennifer Deason (27:30):
I'd like to think I'm moving into the highlights. You know, I think we're around the same age [inaudible 00:27:35] and I look forward to the future. But I think we're all also at a great age where we're still a student of life, but we're also a mentor to others. And I think that's where I get energy is thinking about, I mean, this is a great stage in life because you can connect with anybody. You connect with people who are 18, you connect with people who are 60 or 70. There's an ability to flex up and down being a parent of young kids. And just, I mean, it's just an amazing time in life I think, in your mid forties. And so I think the future is bright. I mean, I'm thinking, you know, there's much more on the calm that's happened already. You know, but I, I caught up this week with my co- one of my college roommates and we realized it was 25 years since we had met each other. Uh, we saw each other this week. And I can't believe 25 years has already gone by. It's pretty, um, insane when I think about it that way. But I think there's just so much more on the come.
Dhani Jones (28:35):
You mentioned being a mother, is it hard, especially now with Belong Acquisition Corp, Belong Capital, being a CEO and balancing that time, you know, in the midst of these highlights, right? And these times that you spend both in business and at the same time at home.
Jennifer Deason (28:57):
Yeah, no, absolutely. I think I'd be lying to myself if I said it was super easy and the balance was super easy every day. I think what's happened since I've become a mother, is I always ask myself, like, is this what I wanna be spending my time on? And it's a higher bar than before being a parent. Like, is this going to be the activity that I'm gonna stay, not be around my family? Um, really focus on myself and my own career. And is this the highest and best use activity with my time? And that has allowed me to evolve and grow so much as a leader that I think that gift of having a different bar and having a different set of questions to ask myself every day is just incredibly, incredibly powerful.
Jennifer Deason (29:46):
And I often think, you know, when I go to work, you know, what does this mean for my daughter? What does this mean for my son? When they describe their mother, what are they describing? And sure, the day to day is hard. Like I'm on a business trip right now in California. And, you know, with the pandemic haven't been track-
Jennifer Deason (30:00):
- trip right now in California. And, you know, with the pandemic, I haven't been traveling as much. And my daughter, my eight year old, "How can you leave me? How can you do this?" But I, I believe in my heart, having me as a role model, out there, you know, experimenting, leading, making investments, doing the things that I do every day will be a positive long-term impact in her life, and that's something that I truly believe in my heart. And I'm just fortunate that they've changed the bar for me, and that's allowed me to make career changes and decisions.
Jennifer Deason (30:35):
I don't know if I'd be an entrepreneur right now without being a mom, because I think being an entrepreneur is something that I'm super, super proud of.
Dhani Jones (30:44):
Congratulations on that, and I know that your, uh, your daughter is just so proud of you, and I, I know that she was, she was, uh, a part of when we took Belong Acquisition Corp and Belong Capital to the NASDAQ and raise $150 million dollars on the SPAC. She's got to be excited about that, because now she's able to see someone, and she's able to sort of believe in that opportunity just like so many other people, feel as though they belong. Right? So, talk us through, you know, a little bit of the process and the journey of, of running a SPAC, because I think a lot of people hear about them, they read about them, they see about them, but they don't get to really kind of hear from the source.
Dhani Jones (31:24):
And, and our SPAC is a little bit different. And being a board member, I have, you know, an, an amazing vantage point, but we have a diversified group of people, and part of that group you, you mentioned before, you know, Jason Park, who's Michigan CFO of Draft Kings. He's on the board. And, you know, Jennifer, Dr. Jennifer Turner, who's the media executive. I'm just talking about some of the diversified sort of faces, you know, we have Miyuki Matsumoto, who's an investor as well.
Dhani Jones (31:50):
What were some of the lessons that you've learned along the way, and how did that process and journey kind of take you to even conceptualize the, the notion of Belong and where you believe it, it can go?
Jennifer Deason (32:02):
Yeah. So, one of the things that got me really excited about Belong... Well, one was the ability to invest in a technology business. I love technology. I love the trends in technology. But much, much more importantly, this notion of diversity. And I believe principal investing, and having access to capital, and having access to millions of dollars of capital, historically, has gone to a homogenous group of people. Not unilaterally, but the majority of people who have access to that type of capital tend to not be a diverse group of people.
Jennifer Deason (32:42):
And what I saw this as, as we were pulling it together, this founding team, as an opportunity to democratize access to capital. The ability to go out there and raise money, as a woman, or as a diverse group of people, that wouldn't have afforded us that opportunity in the past, even with, you know, fancy degrees, or fancy resumes, or whatever it may be, it just wasn't an opportunity that was easily had. And I felt like SPACs are a new asset class, or a new investment vehicle. They've been around for a long time, but we're really continuing to take hold and continuing to flourish. That I didn't want another asset class to go by, like venture capital, or private equity, where it was a homogenous group yet again.
Jennifer Deason (33:31):
And I felt like there was a moment in time, right now, to try to change that narrative and change the story, and only, um, 2% of SPAC CEOs right now are women, and that this was a moment to really try to change that narrative. And what I've learned in my career, in the past 25 years, is that I really connect and feel a powerful connection with a lot of people who feel like the other, or being different, or having a moment in their lives where they didn't feel like they belonged, and that sense of belonging wasn't there, either in their professional lives, or something personally. And that's, in many ways, the tribe that I've hung out with in my life.
Jennifer Deason (34:15):
And some of the people that I'm working with, Peter Sadriaga, I felt that connection to him Bain Capital. Manish Patel, we worked together, gosh, a decade ago when he was at Highland Capital. You know, growing up in the South, being Indian- American, and what that meant for him. You know, George [Arison 00:34:34], being a immigrant from the country of Georgia, and being one of few gay, public company CEOs.
Jennifer Deason (34:40):
And so, I really felt like there was a moment, and I'm thrilled to be harnessing it and to be working with a phenomenal team. Now, there's lots of data that supports that bringing a team together like this makes sense. Diversity, um, in principal investing creates better investment outcomes. It creates better returns. Diversity with companies, um, in executive teams only increases the likelihood of innovation revenue and revenue growth, differentiated revenue growth. There's a moment now with NASDAQ changing their rules and policies. State of California. So, we are in a true moment, here, and I wanted SPACs to really be a part of this moment.
Jennifer Deason (35:21):
And I'm thrilled to be doing with just an awesome, awesome group of people. I think it's a gift that keeps on giving. You know? The example that I always love to give is, so, George is a member of our founding team. He's a public company CEO. He's got two gorgeous young boys with his husband. Um, and Amy [Capalazzo 00:35:40], who's on our board, um, a rainmaker, an incredible deal maker in the highest end of the art world, she, too, is gay. And when, um, Belong started launching with, basically, members of the gay community came out and reached out to us, and just said, "Let, let us help you however we can." And I would have never had had that experience without George and Amy. And Gay Angels, an organizations of angel investors supporting the gay community, came out and wanted to help us. And I give that as an example of, as an investor, that only broadened our aperture. It gave us greater sourcing, so to speak, in the analytical sense. But from the heart perspective, that's the head, but from the heart perspective, like, how awesome is that?
Dhani Jones (36:26):
Jennifer Deason (36:26):
I mean, how awesome to know that there is this kinship and this connection with one another? And we see that as we look at targets for Belong, and that, from a heart perspective, is just incredible. And I feel fortunate to be a part of that every day. Every day.
Dhani Jones (36:43):
I feel fortunate to be a part of the team as well, um, sitting as a board member, because all of the ways that you think about, as a CEO, or the things that I think about, and bringing people into a space where they feel as though they belong, as being people that may not have felt as they belonged in other places, now, does define this new asset class. And I believe that there's only tremendous upside, there's only going to be amazing celebrations as we identify that company.
Dhani Jones (37:14):
So, and as we move into the Ansarada Meals n' Deals, what, what's going to be your, um, favorite place of celebration for winning that deal, right? Is it going to be a, a restaurant, a bar? Is it going to be a party or people? It might have been something from the past, but, you know, as, as Belong searches and we close in, where are you going to take us? Where are we going to go hang out?
Jennifer Deason (37:37):
Ooh, I've got to figure that out. I mean, the point of diversity and diverse thinking, Dhani, is I know this is going to be something that you're going to have a lot of ideas on. And so, when we close that deal, we find that deal, I'm going to call you up and be like, "What do you think?"
Dhani Jones (37:53):
Jennifer Deason (37:53):
Because I think you're going to have some pretty awesome, awesome ideas. I mean, from my vantage point, I just want a moment to reflect and pause as a group and talk about what it means. Everybody has the opportunity to talk about what it means for them, why it's important, and just have that moment. Because we're always rushing from one thing from the next, and I just want to have that moment. So, if that moment is at a great restaurant in New York City, or if that moment is at a Michigan tailgate, whatever that moment is, I just want to make sure that we celebrate together.
Jennifer Deason (38:27):
And what's great is, uh, I know that people like yourself are going to have great ideas on how best to celebrate, and I just can't wait for that moment to really be celebrating together.
Dhani Jones (38:38):
I think going to a Michigan football game and celebrating at a tailgate is a tremendous idea. I'm, I actually, I love that idea. Okay? So, we're just going to have to put that right at the top of the, of the list.
Jennifer Deason (38:53):
Dhani Jones (38:54):
Jennifer, thank you again. That's all the time we have for today, but I want to say thank you for discussing your career and what it takes to ultimately be a pathfinder. Not to mention, it was great to hear about everything that you're working on, including Belong Acquisition Corp.
Jennifer Deason (39:10):
Thank you. Talk to you soon.
Dhani Jones (39:11):
For everybody listening, be sure to listen out for our next episode, and don't forget to follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or anywhere you find your favorite podcast. I'm Dahani Jones, and thanks for listening to Pathfinders from Ansarada.