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Startup Leadership insights: Alex Levin from L + R

Have you ever met someone who managed to work with Fortune 500 companies, successfully run a business with their college roommate, AND united designers and spirits? Probably not. Which makes Alex Levin a very incredible role model.

His studio was founded in 2012, its clientele is vast and luxurious, and the awards have kept coming through the years. They pride themselves on combining strategy and aesthetics and offer end-to-end consulting. L + R’s process entails design research and analysis, brand strategy, and finally applied digital technology. Under Alex’s leadership, they’ve successfully cooperated with Amazon, Global, Louis Vuitton, BuzzFeed, Hilton Worldwide, and many more.

This Parsons School of Design graduate founded Desgin Gin - a drink to connect the world of digital with the spirits industry. Amongst his other accomplishments, his BBA in Design and Management enabled him to be a mentor in XRC Labs and to be an alumnus of the Luxury Education Foundation.

Away from the whirling world of marketing, this startup CEO enjoys philosophy, travel, and antiques. Another piece of information worth mentioning is that he is an aspiring audiophile.

Once featured on Forbes’s 30 under 30 list, he currently operates as business strategist and brand designer. He gave us the courtesy of this time and shared some of his insights and wisdom with all of you.

Hi Alex, thank you for letting us pick your mind. To begin, can you tell us more about your startup?

L+R is an international consultancy and design & technology studio founded in Brooklyn, New York in 2012. We work with clients to create value and impact with the balance of strategy and aesthetics. Our interdisciplinary design and technology team works with individuals, organizations, and businesses on seamless digital experience, projects within strategy consulting, next-generation mobile applications, and brand platforms & design systems. We currently have 28 people on our team.

As a startup CEO, it is surely difficult to maintain the same level of engagement and motivation throughout the years. How do you manage this?

We have weekly team meetings where we break out into virtual rooms to socialize and talk about the week ahead. The Directors from each department hold mini-forums each week to hear from each other and help solve problems communally. Also, each department Director holds bi-weekly 1-on-1’s with their team members.

What is the most challenging part of being a startup leader?

My leadership style is lateral. It's often described as the art of efficiently influencing others around you without formal authority. I don’t have a leader I look up to. I believe this helps me a lot in my journey. And when it comes to challenges, I would say it is staying up to date with what a modern business needs, both for our clients, as well as for our organization and team.

One of the most talked-about topics in startups is reward and recognition. How do you reward the good performance of your team?

We are dedicated to submitting our work to awards, this highlights each team member’s effort on a particular project and celebrates their contributions. We also have weekly calls where team members are invited to call out any exceptional work completed by their colleagues in the week prior. Through our Learning and Development initiative we allow team members to pursue their passions within their fields and work on projects that inspire them.

Covid had a serious impact on methods of working, and remote work became a norm. How did you face this challenge? How did you keep your team productive and motivated?

Many things, one including a Twitch stream of the view out of our New York Headquarters with a shared Spotify playlist that the entire team could interact with and add to. We also developed monthly “social pods” that randomly break out teams into groups that are encouraged to socialize, play online games, interact, and share experiences throughout their week.

We are sure that there are many who look up to you. What advice would you give other startup leaders?

Your company is as powerful as your will to collaborate positively, and at a high level with others.

Since you are spearheading your own startup for almost a decade, you’ve surely picked up a few useful tricks along the way. Could you please share 3 tips to manage startup teams?

  1. Listen and keep your eyes and ears open to your employees, clients, prospects, and the market. Constantly be learning, keep records of insights and know when to take action.

  2. Organize and manage the time that allows you to focus on high-impact work while giving room for you to relax and think big picture, while maintaining the ability to act spontaneously if important activities arrive.

  3. Have refined processes to ensure that new ideas are brought to life efficiently. Build out a trusted network both within and outside your startup with individuals, vendors, and service providers that support taking thoughtful, authentic, and valuable actions.

There’s nothing like getting the first-hand experience from someone who’s been through the trenches and came on the other side victorious. After hearing Alex’s unique point of view, you can expect to read more insights from various industry experts and get a better understanding of what it is to be a startup CEO.


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