IAM1902 – CEO Modernizes Global Trade to Ease Export of Products

Podcast Interview with Alex Rabens

Why it was selected for “CBNation Architects”:

In this episode of IAMCEO podcast, Alex Rabens, CEO and Co-Founder of Mickey, shares his journey of revolutionizing the global trade industry. Mickey is a commoditech company that simplifies the export of products for small and mid-sized suppliers. Alex and co-founder Jesse Solomon aim to modernize how raw materials and commodities are sourced and exported out of the United States.

Before founding Mickey, Alex served as Vice President at Endeavor, where he built media properties with companies like Lionsgate, Warner Brothers, and Paramount Pictures. He was also responsible for the development of Endeavor Content Live, the organization's live production arm founded in 2018.

Key insights from the podcast include:

CEO Story: Alex, a successful talent manager, was impressed by the international deals he encountered with the son of Alibaba. This inspired him to co-found Mickey, envisioning it as the next Alibaba in America.

Business Service: Mickey provides a platform for sellers to sell their commodity products online, bridging the gap between sellers and purchasers.

Secret Sauce: Initially started as an accelerator, Mickey has an intangible value, creating a class of companies.

CEO Hack: Alex advocates allotting dedicated time for conversations with the team and blocking time for tasks like emails and phone calls.

CEO Nugget: Alex emphasizes the importance of understanding the economics of the business you're disrupting.
CEO Defined: To Alex, being a CEO means making hard decisions quickly to ensure the company's survival, efficiency, and continued growth.

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Alex Rabens Teaser 00:00

One of the biggest hacks that we've had is when I can actually just get on the phone and make sure that I'm rolling calls with our team, customers, with clients with buyers, with sellers that has been the most valuable part of probably every single week that I have.

Intro 00:18

Do you want to learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and grow your business from successful entrepreneurs, startups, and CEOs without listening to a long, long, long Interview.

If so you've come to the right place. Gresham Harkness values your time and is ready to share with you precisely the information you're in search of.

This is the IAMCEO podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:45

Hello. Hello. Hello. This is Gresham from the IAMCEO podcast, and I appreciate you listening to this episode. If you've been listening this year, you know that we hit 1600 episodes at the beginning of this year, and we're doing something a little bit different where we're repurposing our favorite episodes around certain categories, topics, or as I like to call them, the business pillars that we think are going to be extremely impactful for CEOs, entrepreneurs, business owners, and what I like to call the CB Nation architects who are looking to level up their organizations.

This month, we are focusing on operations. The systems will set you free. So think about systems, think about flow, sustainability, potentially working out in your morning routine, waking up early, e commerce, different business models, think of the operations in the models that basically set up the foundation to allow the creativity within organizations, but also to make sure the trains are running on time and things are going as they should.

Now, this is extremely important because we often can turn to the sexy parts of business and forget about the operations and how they're. So I really want to focus this month on this specific topic. Sit back and enjoy this special episode at the IAMCEO podcast.

Hello, hello, hello. This is Gresh from the I am CEO podcast. I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Alex Rabens of Mickey. Alex, it's great to have you on the show.

Alex Rabens 02:03

Thank you, Gresham. It's nice to be here. And I am a fan of the IAMCEO podcast so it's exciting to get a chance to talk to you.

Gresham Harkless 02:14

Yeah, absolutely. It's always exciting to get the opportunity to talk shop, so to speak. I love all the awesome things that you're doing in your shop, so to speak. I'm looking forward and super excited about diving a little bit deeper. But before we do that, I want to read a little bit more about Alex so you hear about all the awesome things that he's working on.

And Alex is CEO and co founder of Mickey, a commodity tech company focused on modernizing global trade by making it easier for small to midsize suppliers to export products globally. He, along with his 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.

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Prior to co-founding Mickey, Alex served as the 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 buildout of Endeavor Content Live, the organization's live production arm founded in 2018.

Alex received his bachelor's of arts in ethnomusicology from UCLA. I'll try to say that three times fast, but Alex, I'm sure you could do so much better. Are you ready to speak to the IAMCEO community?

Alex Rabens 03:29

No, that was great. That was a wonderful. Honestly, it made me want to invest in Mickey. Hope maybe you can go and do our VC pitches.

[restrict paid=”true”]

Gresham Harkless 03:38

There we go. As long as I have this playbook in front of me, I might be able to do. But I know I touched on a little bit, of course, when I read your bio, so I wanted to rewind the clock, hear a little bit more on how you guys started, what I like to call your CEO story.

Alex Rabens 03:52

Yeah it's great to meet you. Thank you for that intro. This is Alex Rabins. I'm the CEO of Mickey. Before founding Mickey, I actually spent about 12 years in entertainment. I was a talent agent at William Morris and William Morris has since gone on to be called Endeavor and they went public. But before it was Endeavor, it was William Morris. I was a talent agent there. It was a very cool career. A lot of people will think of Ari Gold from Entourage and that's who I worked for to an extent. It was Ari Emanuel who ran William Morris Endeavor. I wanted to be like an Ari Gold. I wanted to represent talent. I wanted to do big international deals.

I had actually gotten my start at a tiny little agency in New York called Columbia Artists, moved on to another agency called the Windish Agency. And then finally over to William Morrison. For me, that was like going from like the Oakland A's to the Chicago Cubs, all the way to the New York Yankees and I loved it. I was good at it and I felt very powerful every day and if I wanted to wear a suit, I could wear one and not feel like a schlub. And if I wanted to go on trips, sign clients, it was all very cool. And it was very impressive to my family. Then for some reason I'd always wanted to do something big with my life. And one of the things that I really loved about being a talent agent was the type of international deals that we would do.

That job always had very cool people like around it. So we had one colleague of mine that was the son of the president of Alibaba. He introduced me to his dad the President of Alibaba and I got to meet him. He's a guy named Michael Evans. And we sat down, he told me a little bit about what he is at Alibaba. I was so impressed by just like who he was and the type of of life that he had and just the scope of the business and the opportunity that I wanted to do something like that. I wanted to leave being a talent agent. I wanted to build the next Alibaba. For me it made sense that it was the American version of Alibaba, and that's what I wanted to build Mickey into.

So it was the end of 2018 and I had just had a really fabulous year of being a native. I left, and Jesse, my co-founder who was with me at William Morris came with me. We built Mickey. We started from the beginning of 2019, and now it's beginning of 2022. And it's starting our fourth year now. It's been just an amazing, exhilarating journey, obviously full of many ups and downs that I'm sure we will get into.

Gresham Harkless 06:39

Absolutely. I love hearing your story and hearing that, sounds like a seed that was planted to make a huge impact. So I wanted to, of course, drill down a little bit and hear a little bit more about Mickey, how you're making that impact and how you're serving the clients you work with.

Alex Rabens 06:54

Yeah. Why hasn't there been an Alibaba in America and what would it look like if there was, and so the first place to start was that we had to figure out what does America actually sell? Because if you go on Alibaba, you'll see sellers for apparel. You'll see that there are sellers for furniture. You'll see sellers for manufacturing equipment. And it's mostly sellers that are based in Asia and it's a lot of buyers that are based in the West or buyers that are based in areas around the world that are basically purchasing from sellers that are either China or Asia based.

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And so what I wanted to figure out was, okay, if there was an Alibaba that only had American sellers, what would the products actually be? And that is how we stumbled into the domain of commodities or natural resources. And it turns out that much of the way that Asian sellers are providing the world, their finished products, American suppliers actually provide both Western buyers and a predominant amount of the world with natural resource products. So with commodity products, but there hasn't been a website online, like the way you would think of Alibaba that allows them to actually sell over the Internet.

So we wanted to be able to actually provide that platform. And so right now, Mickey has sellers that sell. We're in forest products and we are in energy products. And Forest products was our first product base that we had, and right now we have suppliers that sell log, that sell lumber and typically these products are being bought by manufacturers who are for instance, making furniture products or making, I think we right now we have a manufacturer that takes plywood and manufacturers are the automobiles.

So for us, it's about really bridging together tellers of natural resources and purchasers of those products.

Gresham Harkless 08:51

Awesome . So, I want to ask you, you might have already touched on this, what I like to call your secret sauce. This could be for yourself personally, the business or a combination of both. But what do you feel sets you apart and makes you unique?

Alex Rabens 09:02

I think one of the most important and you mentioned the word secret sauce. We can call this my secret sauce. I think when we started, Mickey began in an accelerator. We did the ERA accelerator in New York and then we subsequently did the quake accelerator in New York. I think it's really nice to have almost like a starting position. In an accelerator, there is an intangible value of an accelerator that is far more valuable than you have to be worried about in terms of giving up equity and that is that you get a class.

You get a class of companies that are all for the most part, starting around the same time as you are, and they're dealing with the same problems. And In many ways, you get to have colleagues again, which for most of us that are coming out of the corporate world, which I think is probably the majority of the CEOs that I've ever met are people that have been previously high functioning or very like very high achieving corporate employees. All of which it's been like very, very valuable to be able to actually feel that we can track our progress relative to those companies and also be able to encourage them along.

Gresham Harkless 10:17

Yeah, that's absolutely huge. I appreciate you sharing that so much. I wanted to switch gears a little bit and ask you for what I call a CEO hack. So this could be like an app, a book or a habit that you have, but what's something that makes you more effective and efficient?

Alex Rabens 10:30

I think that you have to choose your days or your chunks of day to be a computer guy and to be a phone guy. There are significant periods of my day that I will close my laptop and I will just make calls. Your texts, your slack, however else anyone's getting a hold of you, that becomes almost like your job. If you don't stand up and close your computer after a while, the challenge is that your inbox is not your job, your text message, your new messages that's not your job. That's maintenance. That's playing defense as a CEO. The only way your company is going to actually improve itself is by playing offense.

The only way to actually begin to play that offense is not by responding to emails. That doesn't get you anywhere. You have to close it. You have to start talking to your team. You have to start reaching out. So you give them comfort, tell you what's going on within their domain. So they don't feel uncomfortable saying one of those problems or saying when there's challenges that they're seeing coming up, coming ahead through those calls, through those conversations. Through closing that those have been the most Innovative times in terms of actual progress made at the company, whether it be culture, whether it be creating a new actual product or the direction of where we want the product to go.

And so I would say that it took me probably a year and a half to get comfortable with the idea of taking either half a day or a full day without looking at my email whatsoever. But that has been one of the biggest hacks that we've had, is when I can actually get on the phone and make sure that I'm rolling calls with our team, customers, with clients with buyers, with sellers that has been the most valuable part of probably every single week that I have.

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Gresham Harkless 12:21

Yeah, that makes so much sense. And so what would you consider to be what I like to call a CEO nugget? That's a little bit more of a word of wisdom or piece of advice. I like to say it might be something, if you were to hop into a time machine, you might tell your business self.

Alex Rabens 12:34

Over the last three years, one of the hardest parts has been the unit economics of commodities. Say that my biggest, biggest, biggest nugget right now would be really, really hone in on the unit economics of the business that you're attempting to change. Because no matter what, you're going to have costs involved with building a business around that product.

You want to make sure that the industry that you're attempting to disrupt has unit economics that will allow you to actually build a venture backed business within the space. Because it's very challenging to be in a slim margin, gross profit business without being able to at some point say that you have an opportunity to increase those margins.

For us, we don't have the ability to do that. We are stuck in an industry with very small margins. Now, that being said, we are in an industry with enormous, enormous potential for scale, but that's also a very, very challenging game to play. So I would say that Just pay attention to the unit economics of the businesses you're attempting to change as a CEO, especially one that is starting off. You're going to get very passionate about whatever the idea is.

Gresham Harkless 13:47

I love that nugget. I want to ask you now my absolute favorite question, which is the definition of what it means to be a CEO. We're hoping to have different quote and quote CEOs on the show.

So Alex, what does being a CEO mean to you?

Alex Rabens 13:57

The definition of being a CEO is making really, really, really bad decisions quickly. Bad decisions as in hard decisions. The choices that every day I have to make are ones that are better frustrating because they don't really  have a right or wrong answer. So the question becomes how fast can you make the decision? How easy can you make it for yourself to see both decisions to make and effectively figure out which one is the better one for the company?

Most of the time when you're thinking about better, it really becomes about which one enables the company to survive longer, to thrive better, and to make it a more efficient place with less decisions to make about that current vision. So I would say as a CEO, the most important thing is to very quickly chew through the decision that is being put in front of you and get to an effective place to be able to actually answer that as quickly as you can.

Gresham Harkless 14:58

Truly appreciate that definition, that perspective, of course, I appreciate your time even more. What I want to do now is pass you the mic, so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional that you can let our readers and listeners know. And of course, how best people can get a hold of you and find out about all the awesome things you and your team are working on.

Alex Rabens 15:14

Yes, they reach out info@mickeytrading.com. That will get passed to me. If you are someone that is interested in the future of commodity tech, or if you are someone that is currently selling wood or buying it mickeytrading.com. We currently sell forest products and natural gas products on the energy side.

And we are looking forward to getting into other commodity verticals as soon as humanly possible.

Gresham Harkless 15:41

Awesome. Awesome. To make it even easier, we'll have the links and information in the show notes as well, too, so that everybody can follow up and find more about all the awesome things that Alex and the team are working on.

Thank you so much for doing that, reminding us of how important that is for us to do that as well, too. And I hope you have a phenomenal rest of the day.

Alex Rabens 15:55

Thank you. And I appreciate being a part of it.

Outro 15:58

Thank you for listening to the IAMCEO podcast, powered by CB Nation and Blue 16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at iamceo.co. IAMCEO is not just a phrase, it's a community. Want to level up your business even more? Read blogs, listen to podcasts, and watch videos at cbnation.co. Also, Check out our I am CEO Facebook group.

This has been the I am CEO podcast with Gresham Harkless, Jr. Thank you for listening.


Dave Bonachita - CBNation Writer

This is a post from a CBNation team member. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand. We are focused on increasing the success rate. We create content and information focusing on increasing the visibility of and providing resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs(CEOBlogNation.com), podcasts, (CEOPodcasts.com) and videos (CBNation.tv). CBNation is proudly powered by Blue16 Media.

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