The Definitive Guide to Business

An investor behind Justin Bieber and Uber reveals what makes a great entrepreneur

Justin Bieber
Getty Images

The businesses of Justin Bieber and Uber may seem worlds apart — but entrepreneurs could learn a lot from either brand, according to one investor who has bet on both.

Scott Manson is the chief operating officer of SB Projects, where he helps manage investments for Scooter Braun — the man who discovered Bieber on YouTube. Manson estimates he turns away 99 out of 100 investments that cross his desk.

What is it that compels SB Projects to say yes to a deal? Above all, they look for great entrepreneurs, a trait represented by both the pop music heartthrob and Travis Kalanick, Uber's co-founder and CEO.

"Scooter's told stories about meeting Justin Bieber as a 13-year-old and him saying, 'I want to be the biggest star in the world,'" Manson tells CNBC. "It's that level of confidence and belief and vision that we latch on to. ... They are so passionate and believe so deeply in what they're building."

Scott Manson, COO of SB Projects
Source: Pamela Littky

Braun took a chance on managing the teen, who turned out to be superstar material. He's on a tour now that has earned at least $40 million, by Billboard's estimate.

While SB Projects doesn't disclose the particulars of its investments, it was also an early investor in the ride-hailing company that now rakes in billions, so it's a strategy that appears to have paid off so far.

In addition to managing Bieber, Kanye West, Karlie Kloss, Usher, Tori Kelly and others, Braun has also invested in start-ups like Pinterest, Spotify and, of course, Uber. Manson calls Braun a "master marketer," and says their firm tries to build global brands and influence culture regardless of the vertical of the business.

"The first and foremost is the people — we have to believe in the people even more so than the idea," Manson says. "Those that are passionate about what they're doing, the strength of their belief is going to resonate with people and bring joy to consumers."

The best business pitches balance uncapped ambition with wholehearted honesty, Manson says. Empty buzzwords like calling your company "the next billion-dollar idea" are a red flag, he warns.

"I think it really just comes down to being yourself," Manson says. "Travis holds no prisoners. The reason that Uber is what it is, is because Travis is who he is. He doesn't try to play the political brand or water things down. Justin is going to wear what he's going to wear. He's not going to apologize for it. That's certainly applicable to entrepreneurs and founders. You should be 100 percent authentic and true to yourself and your vision."

Be 100 percent committed, especially if you're taking someone else's money.
Scott Manson
chief operating officer of SB Projects

Another thing that makes Manson nervous is the term "serial entrepreneur." While having a start-up background is common among venture-backed founders, Manson says SB Projects looks for people willing to "burn the ships," a wartime reference that signifies that retreat is not an option and victory is non-negotiable.

"Be decisive, don't be afraid to fail, stay 100 percent focused on your vision," Manson said. "It may pivot, it may change, but be 100 percent committed, especially if you're taking someone else's money."

Of course, Manson and Braun's team does ample due diligence on start-ups, assessing whether it is a new player that will make a profound impact in a space that's ripe for disruption. But a "gut check" can be a deciding factor, Manson says.

"I wish there was a formula for it," he says. "That emotional intelligence is maybe more important than your IQ in knowing how to play the game."