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Master Class: Tevya Finger

The Luxury Brand Partners chief executive officer shares insights on securing funding, launching brands during the pandemic and how COVID-19 is shaping his outlook on office real estate.

Tevya Finger began his career at Bumble and bumble as founder Michael Gordon’s photo printer-slash-apprentice. After seeing the salon through a fire in the early Nineties, Finger set aside plans to attend college and instead, underwent what he described as “a hands-on MBA” at the company with Moss Kadey, Gordon’s business partner. Nearly a decade later, Finger found himself with equity in Bumble — and the ingenuity to build beauty brands. Today, as founder of Luxury Brand Partners, he’s put that training to use, incubating and overseeing a number of brands, including Oribe (which Kao acquired in 2017 for an estimated $400 million, Smith & Cult and R & Co.)

What did you learn from your first job?
Tevya Finger: I was so lucky to work next to a big-time business person [Moss Kadey]. He taught me about Excel sheets and how to build P&Ls [profit and loss statements] and models. Michael [Gordon] was a visionary and taught me how to be a visionary. People don’t think you can train to be a visionary, [but] I think you can. It’s about not being afraid, taking risks and thinking out of the box.

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How did you initially raise the money for Oribe ?
T.F.: [Daniel Kaner and I] decided to use our own money and start Oribe. After six months, we went back to my mentor, Moss Kadey. He immediately wrote a check because he saw the success of Bumble. The second lesson for me in that part of my life was: Don’t be afraid to ask people [for whom] you’ve done a good job before. Sometimes people have this notion that it’s disrespectful. Don’t be afraid to ask.

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You started Oribe during the 2008 financial crisis. What did you learn from that that applies now?
T.F.: The best time to start and grow a business is in times of mayhem like this. They present the best opportunities. It’s a great time to enlist people to work with you, because there’s a lot of people who don’t have jobs. Some people might just work for equity alone and commit themselves. And of course, markets change. Look what COVID-19 did for online retail sales at Sephora and Ulta and probably most brands. It skyrocketed.

In 2008, when we started Oribe, everyone was, “turtle-ing.” They were all going in their shells, no one was spending, no one was advertising. We had raised that little bit of money, and I was like, “Every dollar is equal to 10 dollars right now, so I’m going to spend. I am going to advertise and get full pages in the salon trade magazines.” Before, I could probably get a tiny, one-inch corner. Now, I’m getting the back cover. I’m living like it’s 1973, because I’m getting so much bang for my buck. People still buy in difficult times. People may not buy as much, but they still buy. And if everybody else is turtle-ing, there’s actually a lot of business.

Why did you decide to create an umbrella of brands under LBP?
T.F.: I learned a lot when we sold Bumble and bumble to Estée Lauder. I think very highly of conglomerates. They do what they do so well, it’s impossible to compete with them — but you can work with them [by building] amazing brands you know they’re going to want, because they have to buy them to grow their business. It’s like an ecosystem.

How are you thinking about LBP’s brand direction right now?
T.F.: Is there a beauty side to how you clean your house? [We are] looking beyond what people would expect to do and trying to always move with the market. COVID-19’s going to have an effect. I’m not sure I’m loving the idea of a brand that needs lots of salespeople in the field. I’m a huge buyer of digital brands that sell direct-to-consumer because COVID-19 has opened the door for those in the biggest way. There’s a huge opportunity for LBP internationally. That’s probably where we were the weakest. Quite frankly, I don’t really understand the international market as well as I do the U.S. That’s an area we’re going to look into in a big way.

LBP recently announced it has built brands with influencers Patrick Starrr and Camila Coelho. What is your philosophy on influencer licensing deals?
T.F.: The underlying premise of why I don’t like royalties on your P&L is a royalty is money going out and comes off of your EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization]. Big conglomerates buy you for a multiple of your EBITDA and a multiple of your revenue. So why would you diminish yourself on the main thing a buyer is going to buy? I’d rather lose a little equity, which is expensive in the end, but not while you build.

How is the coronavirus shaping your view on office real estate?
T.F.: Just before COVID-19, I was looking for space in Los Angeles to do a huge office. We have a big office in Miami and an office in New York, [but] we haven’t been there since February. Nine months from now, do I take the whole building? I’m going to probably take half. This working-from-home thing, I would have told you it would have been impossible and we’ve had wild success with it. We launched two brands during COVID-19 successfully. There’s a big savings we’re going to get in the future by letting people work from home, but on the flip side, you have to do things for people. You have to buy them their WiFi in the highest speed possible. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper to buy people’s WiFi than to have an office building.

What other trends is the pandemic catapulting? 
T.F.: A big direction now is this whole sustainability and saving the planet thing. If I read the tea leaves of what’s going on in the world, people are going to have more respect for nature. People want to live a good life. You can look at an iPad of a beautiful place or you can go to Bora Bora.

What do you do to de-stress?
T.F.: I love nature, so I bought a farm a long time ago in South Florida. I went from Miami, 45 minutes south to Homestead. There’s animals and trees, ponds and lakes. It’s pretty amazing. Right now, I’m looking at avocado trees. It has made me get back to my roots of nature.

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