Alex Rabens is CEO and Co-Founder of Mickey, a commoditech company focused on modernizing global trade by making it easier for small to midsize suppliers to export products globally. He, along with co-founder Jesse Solomon, set out to launch a platform with the goal of wiping out the global trade crisis. Today, Mickey is modernizing the way raw materials and commodities are sourced and exported out of the United States. In his role, Alex is helping to grow the future of Mickey with fundraising, recruiting top talent in the industry, and overseeing the operations of the company.
Prior to co-founding Mickey, Alex served as Vice President at Endeavor, building media properties with companies such as Lionsgate, Warner Brothers, and Paramount Pictures. In this role, Alex was responsible for the build-out of Endeavor Content Live, the organization’s live production arm founded in 2018.
Before his work at Endeavor, Alex was a Talent Agent at William Morris, the biggest talent agency in the world– during which time he created WME Touring LLC, a touring company focused on branded entertainment. Before WME, Alex was a Booking Agent at Paradigm (fka The Windish Agency) and Columbia Artists and was a panelist at AEG World Expo 2011: “Beyond the Concerts: The Future of Live Entertainment,” and a nominee for 2011’s Venues Today Magazine’s Headlines Awards.
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Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Alex Rabens: Prior to becoming startup founders, my co-founder Jesse Solomon and I were both entertainment agents at a large New York talent agency. I had been in the entertainment industry for more than 10 years and, while it was an exciting experience, I always wanted to do something bigger with my life. During that time, I had a chance meeting with J Michael Evans (President of Alibaba). It was the encounter that inspired me to pursue my dream of launching a new business and helped push me towards building Mickey.
Mickey is an online platform for physical commodity trading. We set out to build a platform that connects small and medium-sized raw material suppliers with buyers both domestically and internationally. Our goal is to be like a US version of Alibaba — where we serve American suppliers and natural resource manufacturers and give them the ability to sell directly to buyers all over the world. We initially launched with forest products (lumber, wood, etc.) and more recently we’ve been opening up our platform with new product verticals — like our natural gas and energy product division.
Today, Mickey is scaling up our marketplace by hiring the best traders on the planet and learning from their expertise. We’ve found that commodity traders are some of the most insightful and intelligent market drivers of this business.
With onboarding new talent, we believe our commodity offerings will grow, and we will bring new raw materials to many manufacturers globally.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Alex Rabens: When I left my corporate job, they were definitely not going to be OK with us staying in the entertainment industry — and made that very clear to us. And to an extent, that lingering threat pushed us to venture into new lanes and take on a huge new industry we had never imagined we’d impact.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. What’s the worst advice you received?
Alex Rabens: As a founder, the worst advice is always people telling you to quit and go back to blue-pill life. And the funny part is, it’s usually from the people that care most about us! In a way it’s like saying, “I just want what’s best for you.”
And while I appreciate these sentiments, it’s the impetus that pushes me forward. Now with a growing team of employees as well as our suppliers and vendors looking to us to help them grow, there’s no going backwards.
Has the pandemic and transitioning into mostly online shopping affected your company positively or negatively?
Alex Rabens: While the height of the pandemic was a relatively calm period for Mickey, the current global shipping and logistics crises are wreaking havoc on our bottom line. This was definitely felt head-on with the huge price fluctuation in commodities, especially forest products—one of our core verticals, as well as a soaring increase in shipping prices due to the explosion of e-commerce in the West. In fact, we felt the impact of the pandemic from the shipping lines who were shipping our natural resources long before finished product producers felt the aftermath on the import side.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Alex Rabens: Many have tried to build the reverse Alibaba — none have succeeded. Even Alibaba can’t figure it out — believe me, they contacted us asking how we approached it. It’s a complex problem to solve and is still mired in antiquated processes. Luckily, our founding team has the passion and innovation to see it come to fruition. Our hope is that within the next few years, we want to be growing from forest products and energy into new raw materials like metals and agricultural commodities.
Delegating is part of being a great leader, but what have you found helpful to get your managers to become valiant leaders as well?
Alex Rabens: I always wanted to be a company without an organizational chart — a freeform “club” in which people contributed and worked together in harmony and synergy. Truth is, we needed structure, and looking back I wish we had the confidence from Day 1 to establish one sooner.
There’s nothing wrong with having policies, procedures, and even some hierarchies in place — they’re meant to alleviate and mitigate risks and give guidance when needed. I’m proud that our team continues to be flexible and willing to be patient as we work through the normal growing pains of a startup.
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his own brand?
Alex Rabens: Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Every great institution is the lengthened shadow of a single man. His character determines the character of the organization.” It’s a humbling reminder that as leaders, we are looked upon with great responsibility. Even the shadow we cast — and the leadership style we choose to lead by — can determine the productivity, the growth, and the outcome of an organization. I want everyone at Mickey — from the employees to the board and even our investors — to be proud of the image I present across all platforms.
How would you define “leadership”?
Alex Rabens: Leadership is confidence and honesty. Employees deserve both and won’t believe one without the other.
Much as Emerson insinuated, good leaders exemplify the confidence and honesty that they want their own company to employ. When a leader leads in this way, then the hope is their team will follow suit and lead with the same values.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Alex Rabens: There’s an adage in screenwriting, Write What You Know. Same thing with the company you want to create: build what you know. Concurrently, when you do the thing you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. So tomorrow’s leaders should create and build something that they know and care deeply about.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Alex Rabens: A life lesson my co-founder likes to remind me of is this: If two people go on the same 3-hour flight, the person who expects it to take 2 hours is miserable; the one who expects 2 hours has a good time.
So the question will always remain, ‘how long is your flight?’
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Alex Rabens for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Alex Rabens or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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