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Regeneration.VC’s Dan Fishman joined LA Venture host Minnie Ingersoll to talk about learning to scale businesses, from fashion and ice cream to climate innovation.
Fishman got his start putting together brand deals for major artists, including musician and “Fast and Furious” star Ludicrous, who he helped partner with General Motors Pontiac.
From there, Fishman developed a reputation sealing brand deals for major celebrities. He’s worked with Shaq, Prince and Nicole Richie and helped launch fashion brand ALC with Andrea Lieberman, eventually getting their products into department stores across the world.
“I guess that's probably what I'm really good at—is just learning, understanding, sponging and just not taking no for an answer,” said Fishman.
His experience scaling young companies eventually brought Fishman into a different kind of industry: ice cream.
Fishman started working with local, artisanal ice cream-maker Coolhaus, which at the time operated mostly out of food trucks. As the brand gained popularity and grocery stores like Whole Foods and Bristol Farms came calling, he and co-founder Natasha Case jumped at the opportunity to expand. But they quickly realized they didn't have the money to go-to market.
“When we made a wrong decision, it was at the right time to make a wrong decision,” said Fishman. “You barely have the money to afford the slotting fees, all the different marketing costs that the stores put on you, you can't afford it.”
Instead, Fishman and his team at Coolhaus pulled back and focused on California.
“It's sometimes the mistakes that you make, really are what turn it around and help you scale in a positive way,” he said. In fact, that process set the stage for a better partnership for Coolhaus and Whole Foods, as the brand contemplated rolling out a vegan line of ice cream. It also set the stage for a personal awakening for Fishman, who delved more deeply into an interest in environmental issues and business concepts.
“I wanted to focus on more of a startup investor pre-seed brands, and founders that had environmental impact and health and wellness, first and foremost on what they’re building”
Both he and Regeneration.VC partner Michael Smith saw there was room for them to do more.
“My partner Michael and I reconnected and really just got to talking and we both saw that the consumer-powered climate innovation space within venture capitalist [space] was completely underfunded. And therefore, we really got to talk about how we could make a difference here,” said Fishman.
One of his projects was helping open a zero-plastic, zero-waste grocery store called Regrowcery. He also funded a clean plant milk company called Good Mylk, a clean cosmetic brand called Saie and a baby formula startup, Nara.
Fishman said his focus on the consumer-side of the environmental crisis is unlike the way many investors think about the issue, where funders look at how new technology can change the game. But, he said, consumer habits are becoming more complex, the segment is underfunded—and that presents new opportunities.
“Consumers are obviously getting a lot smarter… So it's not about how cheap someone can make it anymore. Consumers want producers to be responsible in what they're making,” he said.
dot.LA Engagement Fellow Joshua Letona contributed to this post.
Beverly Hills-based Regeneration.VC said it aims to invest in “circular economy” consumer startups developing regenerative materials—an area it described as a “$4.5 trillion opportunity to ensure the prosperity of our species and planet” in a press release.
The circular economy involves reusing materials at the end of their life cycle to produce new goods, ideally eliminating waste and harmful emissions in the process. The fund’s portfolio companies include VitroLabs, which makes lab-grown leather, and Pangaia, a fashion brand that repurposes discarded textiles.
Regeneration.VC is co-led by general partners Dan Fishman, the former president of Los Angeles ice cream brand Coolhaus, and Michael Smith, a former touring DJ and co-founder of the L.A. real estate firm Creative Space. Alongside DiCaprio and Tribe Capital, the firm’s limited partners include Maryland-based investor ImpactAssets, Twist Bioscience co-founder Bill Peck and Depeche Mode guitarist Martin Gore.
“We need forward-thinking approaches that perform measurably better for our planet,” DiCaprio, who will also serve as a strategic advisor to the fund, said in a statement. “It’s time for people to feel good about their purchases and for businesses to meet that challenge—every bite of food, every t-shirt, every product counts.”
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