2010-2011‎ > ‎Finals‎ > ‎

Interview with Geoff Kanter

Tell us a bit about your background.

Duke ‘89
Harvard MBA ‘94
Worked in Paris restructuring the international operations of a U.S. textile company after business school.  Came back to the U.S. in 1997 and focused on finding an opportunity in the media business.  Went to work for a diversified media company and ran one of their new acquisitions that focused on marketing/advertising to kids in school.  Continued with a series of entrepreneurial opportunities in the media and marketing services sector culminating in the creation and development of Brand Connections – a media and marketing services company focused on advertising to individuals in leisure and recreation environments.  Sold Brand Connections in June, 2008 to a private equity firm.
What do you spend your time on these days?
I left Brand Connections in 2009 and, with my former partner, started Martin Kanter Venture Partners (martinkanter.com) which is a venture capital and private equity firm that partners with passionate entrepreneurs and management teams to help create and massively grow companies in the media and marketing services sectors.  Now more than ever, these industries are changing and, as a result, brands are changing the way in which they invest their marketing dollars. We believe that marketing will change more in the next 10 years than it has in the previous hundred. Changes like this always leave gaps. Our focus is to partner with budding and current entrepreneurs who have found these gaps – and to help fill them. 

Have your connections with Duke stood the test of time?
I was an ATO and a Pitchfork.  I still get together once a year with about 5 friends in each group.  Our friendships have remained so strong that, when we are together, it is like going back in time over 20 years…like nothing has changed and we are kids again.  It feels great.  Our connection to each other helps to maintain our connection to Duke; it is the single factor that we all have in common.
What do you think have been some of the keys to your own career success?
1.       Honestly recognizing my strengths and weaknesses and finding  a business partner who was my exact opposite….a person who perfectly offset my weaknesses and me, his.

2.       Taking a non-traditional career path…while all my classmates at HBS were going to work for investment banks and consulting firms, I took a very different path from the start.  It enabled me to develop the instinct for finding highly rewarding non-traditional career and investment opportunities and gave me the confidence to be different from my peers.

3.       Sacrificing current income and security in return for the possibility of creating something extraordinary. 

What types of businesses are you attracted to?  Are there key industries, markets, or characteristics you look for?
I am attracted to companies that provide a unique, proprietary way to advertise/promote products to highly targeted audiences on behalf of national brands and their advertising agencies.
Many students wonder if they can get started as an entrepreneur while they are still in school. What advice would you have for them?
Start now, even if in a small way.  When I was at HBS, I owned a franchise that sold custom made suits to the students.  We had shows in my apartment where students could come, pick out their fabrics, and get measured.  The goal wasn’t to make a ton of money, but to understand what it took to own a business…sell  and deliver a product to customers, manage a budget, and work with business partners.  It’s not for everyone, so try to get a taste now to see if it is right for you.
If you had one piece of advice for students that are pitching to you in the Duke Start-Up Challenge, what would it be?
If the business concept doesn’t instantly resonate in my gut, no amount of logic or explanation or information will get over that…so, lead your pitch with something that will instantly peak my interest and allow me to quickly recognize the merit of the opportunity.
Geoff will be one of our Finals Judges on March 31, 2011.  Learn more