Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Orion Brown, and I’m the Founder and CEO of The Black Travel Box. We make travel-friendly hair and skincare products.
What has been one insight or lesson that has been most helpful in your career?
The path isn’t always straight, but if you’re smart it will always serve you.
I went to college thinking I would be graduating in 6+ years with a medical degree. Instead, I left a rigorous undergrad experience with a degree in human development and not a ton of direction. I went on to work in finance as a consultant, using my ability to learn (not necessarily what I learned) to find early success as my role really required me to learn on the fly and apply that knowledge to solve complex business problems. Then on to get an MBA and pivot to brand management which was all the strategic focus and know how of my former role with a fun overlay of brands and physical product. After a 6 great years in brand, I hit the corporate road block of company moves and layoffs – which pushed me to pivot again, twice actually. Once to mobile gaming where I learned the ins and outs of marketing products on a technical platform, namely social, and then again to ad tech and data where I learned how the sausage is made in audience targeting and advertising. It felt far flung but now that I’m an entrepreneur I can see how each of those experiences have been invaluable as I build my own company which is focused on a digitally native consumer.
So, as long as you’re smart – meaning you take the time and pay attention – every experience will serve you and help build your skill set for the next challenge.
What has been your favorite mistake? A mistake that in retrospect led to a great lesson and progress.
I don’t know if it’s my favorite but I certainly learned a lot…
Lean on your own experience and understanding, its what got you in the door.
Early on in my brand career, my boss asked me to do a major pricing analysis for our business. I had to both do the analytics and also take a stab at working the story to be presented to our company president. I killed the numbers – they were excellent. Then I got to the story and hit a wall. I looked at other presentations from previous people, got lots of opinions on what to say and where to go with it, and I agonized for days over how to present it. There was a story that I thought was right and wanted to tell but I was afraid to use my words, so I sought what I thought was “expected” of me. The time came to sit with my manager and review, and I proudly walked through the pages feeling rather self-assured I was telling the story he wanted. In the end, he said, “thank you, now flip over the page and let me tell you what the story should be.” I was crushed. But he walked me through the high level and as I listened, I realized it was the story that I knew to tell but didn’t.
I began to learn that day that I have the right story, I just have to tell it. (I won’t say I learned because its still a challenge not to look for what’s expected of me). It’s a good lesson. Every door that opens for you, whether gotten by favor or merit, is still predicated on what you bring to the table. Your voice and experience matter. You still have to remain teachable, know your audience, and have strong logic to back it up…but whether you’re presenting to a boss, trying to get a job, or giving a speech – telling your story and what you believe is right will most certainly pay off in comparison to telling people what you think they want to hear.
Project forward ten years. How will your industry or field be fundamentally different then? What opportunities do you see?
We’re already seeing a seismic shift in how consumers buy, interact with brands, and approach products.
In ten years, we’ll have far more niche brands, with instant access to products on-demand based on our customer behavioral data. Think about it, you could wake up in the morning, say hello to Alexa and your smart home could come alive in an instant… coffee already brewing, podcast playing, key highlights from your email being read to you while you brush your teeth. You remember you need to wash your car and grab some groceries, but you don’t do it yourself. A personal concierge is notified electronically to send someone over to wash the car via an app and your groceries are already on auto replenish so someone from amazon is at your door by 9 am. Now think about travel… you book via voice command “Alexa, what’s the best deal for a tropical vacation in the next two weeks?” She not only tells you what to book and where (then books it for you), she suggest which credit card you should use to get the most points, then reminds you that the trip includes hiking and asks if you would like to purchase a highly rated walking shoe for the trip based on your brand preferences, product preferences (ie. colors, size, etc), and when the product is available to ship. She might even suggest a playlist to get you in the tropical vacation vibes mood. Instant assistance and surreptitious brand marketing wrapped neatly in your own needs and preferences – so you don’t feel the intrusiveness of an ad, only the comfort ease of having exactly what you want at your fingertips when you need it.
What are some bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Anytime someone approaches consumers with a ‘sell’ it’s not going to land. Your approach has to be to find a REAL need they have, their motivations for that need, and a solution that actually addresses it. I think of it as a doctor – do no harm. Marketing shouldn’t be a nefarious endeavor that looks to trick people into buying. If you have product-market fit and create something useful to people, the selling is more like telling. Letting the right people know you happen to have this widget that is priced for their perceived value and meets a need or wants they have in a meaningful way. That’s great marketing and the makings of a great brand.
In the last two years, what have you become better at saying no to?
Cold calls. I used to feel bad and give everyone a chance to pitch me. But as my company gets notoriety, more and more people want my time and fewer of them are reaching out with true intent to help and partner. So I’ve learned to ask some key questions upfront and very clearly state when I don’t think to have a call or to move the conversation forward is of value. It helps me to stay sane and manage my time and also helps them know who to not circle back around to with yet another phone call or email. Win-win.
What is the one book you recommend most often and why?
The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Whether you’re going to a corporate 9-5 or a start-up every day, it takes people to make things happen. So it’s important to understand the dynamics that make teams work (or not work). This book is an easy read, has a practical application, and if you really digest what it’s saying you’ll look like a rock start leader (whether you’re a manager or not). Fundamentally, it’s about professional empathy, tact, and collaboration. All are key to getting what you want and need while doing the same for others. And if your team or company really sucks – there are some great workbooks to go along with it to help you or your manager facilitate patching things up.
What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?
Work hard, expect no favors.
Show up every day ready to learn.
Give yourself room to make mistakes.
Respect the knowledge and experience of people who have been doing the job longer than you. They know sh*t, listen to them.
Show grit and tough out challenging situations and roles, but
Let anyone treat you like a doormat
Stay in any job that makes you physically or emotionally sick
Settle for less than what you’re worth in the market (so know what others with similar experience and background are getting paid – then ask for it!)
Use your parent’s model for work dictate the kind of work you want to do
Take a vacation in the first 90 days (unless its a wedding, funeral, or emergency)
Be a d*ck. They make annoying HR rules for everyone else when you are.
What is your favorite quote, one you aim to live by?
“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.” ― Frederick Douglass