CES Panel: Innovators/Disruptors Discuss Paths to Success

Shelley Zalis, chief executive of The Female Quotient, dubs herself a chief disruptor in many roles in her life, making her the ideal person to speak with a panel of like-minded innovators and disruptors at CES 2019. They included John Padgett, chief experience and innovation operator at Carnival Corporation; Arlan Hamilton, founder and managing partner of Backstage Capital; and Patrick Brown, founder/chief executive of Impossible Foods. They all had tales to tell about their challenging roads to success.

Hamilton was interested in creating a startup, but the more she researched what it would take, the more she realized that venture capital simply wasn’t readily available to non-white females. When she couldn’t find anyone intentionally investing in women and people of color, she thought, maybe I can be that person. Only a few years earlier, she didn’t know what venture capital was, but since Fall 2015, her now-30-person team has invested in more than 100 minority or LGBT women-led companies. In March, the company is preparing to launch accelerators in London, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Detroit.

Brown was a professor at Stanford’s school of medicine when he challenged himself to solve a global environmental issue by tackling the use of meat in the food industry. “I had a lot of half-baked bad ideas at first,” he admitted. “Then I realized people aren’t going to change their diet — they will want to eat meat. Which meant the problem is technology — it needed to be replaced with something better. And I thought, that’s do-able!”

All three speakers were enthused about trends of democratization: Padgett in Uber for providing an elite black car experience for anyone, Hamilton with crowdfunding as a way for anyone to raise capital; and Brown, for the democratization of information and knowledge. As to whether or not they were born to disrupt, Padgett said his passion has always been to take things to the next level. Hamilton said she has always spoken up when she saw injustice, and Brown said Impossible Foods wasn’t an aha moment, but rather the result of a path to solve a specific problem.

“I didn’t ask for permission or forgiveness,” said Hamilton. “We have every right to be in this field. We weren’t there in droves before, but I’ve now been in rooms with hundreds of black VCs. They were there before but just overlooked. I saw them for the potential they had.” The disruptors agreed that persistence is a key to success.

“You have to be very durable,” noted Padgett, who said that in enterprise, change is about the chief executive buying in. “I told him we’re going to create personalized guest experiences and create value for the consumer and the enterprise,” Padgett reveals. “Most important is board-level commitment to the goal.”

The disruptors had different relationships to failure. “I don’t tend to enjoy my failures but I have a lot of them,” Hamilton said. Brown said he’s had “endless failures.” “But not being freaked out by failure is incredibly important to be successful,” he said. Padgett, however, doesn’t concede to the notion of failure. “Whether it’s one inch or a mile, I just tell my team to advance towards the goal,” he said.