Brian Rainey is the C.E.O. of Gooten, the globally distributed production and logistics company transforming how online brands manufacture and fulfill merchandise to their customers. As a “big picture” thinker, Brian elevates the organization through pivotal leadership and strategic direction while aiding in the expansion of financing, hiring, and global initiatives. Rainey previously served as a chief financial officer at Buzz Points, a fintech company, and held positions at Deutsche Bank and Deloitte. He provided accounting and audit services to startups preparing for potential I.P.O.s, private sales, or capital raises. Rainey, a licensed C.P.A, received a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance from James Madison University and an M.B.A. from the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.
When did your entrepreneurial flair first reveal itself?
I have always been an entrepreneur. Since I was 12 years old, I assisted in running a baseball card shop. That spirit has been with me even when I was working more traditional jobs – I always saw things as an entrepreneur. After college, I worked for a finance and accounting firm to audit VC-backed startups. As part of that role, I had to look at what made these companies successful or not. I saw how they operated, and it made me hungry to want to dive in and build my own business. As an entrepreneur, you develop and create a business versus just trying to drive process improvement at a larger company. As an entrepreneur, you look at what can be improved globally and attack that problem. When I thought I have the right idea, I want to go and do it – and not let corporate politics get in the way. You see a future state, and you believe in it so strongly that you want to commit all in to go and bring it to life. I believe in my vision for Gooten and wish to execute on it.
How did your life look like before being an entrepreneur?
I want to be an entrepreneur and never look back to my days in finance. I did not fit into the corporate world. I went against the things that go with working in the corporate setting. As an entrepreneur, the best idea wins, and there are no politics. I love the instant feedback loop that exists as an entrepreneur.
As an entrepreneur, what is it that motivates and drives you?
The thing that motivates me is that I surround myself with the people I get along well. I want to work with similarly minded people – but with skills that complement my own. Working or running a startup has entrepreneurship running across the whole business. Being surrounded by ambitious people is a fantastic feeling because they are always highly driven and want to succeed.
In one word, describe your life as an entrepreneur and explain why.
The word that I would use is “unexpected”. Plans constantly change; every day is different. No matter how much I plan, new things always come up – and that is fun and exciting. It challenges me and keeps me on my toes. You also have to challenge your own beliefs and take in feedback from your team, your board, and your customers, and then find the path forward. I would also add that being an entrepreneur is ” rewarding”. I am excited about the opportunities that come my way. I find fulfillment in overcoming challenges as we grow as a business.
What were your top three motivations for starting your business?
I took over Gooten from an original set of founders, and it needed a path forward. So with that in mind, the following three motivations that come to mind are:
1. With Gooten, I saw that there was an inherent need that existed between 2 groups – that neither could solve on their own. Manufacturers need brands to fill their machines with orders, and brands needed high-quality global manufacturing. I saw the opportunity to be in the middle of these two groups and create the marketplace.
2. I had a desire to build a high power team with the best people I knew to solve this marketplace challenge
3. I wanted to know and feel that I was working for myself – instead of just working for layers and layers within a corporate world.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful business?
For me, it comes down to 2 things:
1. Act as if you are going to succeed. It would help if you planned to scale. Most startups plan for failure. My thought process is to focus on building the most successful business you can with a complete plan for scaling it out – if it fails, I know that I gave it more than 100% of my effort and skills.
2. Make sure that you are the right person to solve the problem/challenge that you are seeking to take on – assuming that you are the right person to lead the charge, then focus on who is the next priority #1 and #2 hires to complement your skills to address the needs of the business.
What are the three biggest challenges you have faced growing the business, and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenges that I have faced with Gooten are:
1. Learning how to hire: People are what makes and breaks a company. I have to focus on attracting the right talent and retaining my staff to grow my business. part of the challenge here is that you do not always know who/what you need in a role – so you have also to be nimble to make the required changes as the business evolves and as you learn more of the needs.
2. Make sure to challenge my assumptions – I don’t like to have one idea and stick with it forever. I constantly challenge my thoughts and push myself to be open-minded. I have to reinvent a business strategy based on new data, new interactions, new market requirements, etc…
3. Building a marketplace is extra hard: Initially, you do not know how to start. The challenge is always to overcome the hurdles of convincing businesses to work with you when you do not have the other side figured out. I had to figure out how do I sell a product that I cannot source. At Gooten, this challenge led me to work closely with the manufacturers first, genuinely understanding their businesses and how they interact with brands.
A bonus challenge I want to mention is that you have to be willing to kill your darlings, meaning you might have adjusted and re-adjust what already works for you. It is hard in business, but you have to continually assess if you are doing the right things for your business’ future. And be willing to stop doing the things that you do not see value in the future. It’s challenging because you have to let go of things that already generate a tremendous amount of revenue, but sometimes, you might have to cut back before you grow bigger.
What form of marketing has worked well for your business throughout the years?
Content and SEO have always worked best. At Gooten, we make sure that we are the experts. The best way to do this is via content. I love to write bylines for various publications and have extended this practice across the team. The key with content is to engage with customers in a friendly manner where you are imparting knowledge and inviting them to deepen their relationship and engagement with you. Often, especially here at Gooten, we must sell our industry to potential customers before selling ourselves.
As you grew the business, what have been some of the most important leadership lessons you have learned?
The three most important lessons for me have been:
1. Learning to hire people with the right skills for the right roles.
2. Trusting my team all of the way 100% – if you hire someone to do a job, you have to have faith and confidence in them to do that job – you cannot hire them and proceed to micro-manage them. Why did you hire them in the first place then?
3. Be transparent – this is hard as you may feel that you want to shield people from various things going on within the business – in the end, this proves more difficult. If you are transparent with your team and then extend that to partners and customers, everyone will respect and appreciate your decisions. And they cannot come back and say that you misled them or otherwise.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
The best advice I got was from a fellow entrepreneur – it is DROOM = Don’t run out of money. Pretty straightforward.
What advice would you give to a newbie Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
The key is to make sure that you are building a career as you are building a company. My advice is that you need to invest in the long-term. Take the lessons that you will learn along the way and understand and appreciate them. Make sure not to cut corners especially falls into the bucket of not having ethical lapses. Always be happy with who you are and do not become a different person.