Entrepreneur Shawn Goldsmith Harnesses Ancient Military Strategy to Scale Businesses
Celebrating 10 Under 10 honoree Shawn Goldsmith ’12, MBA ’13
A sales and marketing strategist with expertise in franchising and a serial entrepreneur who applies ancient Roman military strategy and boxing strategy to scale startups, Shawn Goldsmith ’12, MBA ’13 (Two-Year MBA), is one of the 2022 10 Under 10 Notable Alumni honored by the Johnson Recent Alumni Council (JRAC).
Goldsmith is founder and CEO of Markarie, a franchise development agency; cofounder of Uva Vault, a blockchain-powered marketplace that uses asset-backed NFTs to invest in and collect fine wines; a fellow at the Culinary Institute of America; and vice chair at the International Franchise Association’s (IFA) educational arm, the Institute of Certified Franchise Executives, where he oversees franchise curriculum development and adoption.
Goldsmith grew up in Oceanside, NY, spent several years in Silicon Valley, and now calls Atlanta home. His favorite quote is one that comes from President Theodore Roosevelt and begins: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; …”
Goldsmith is a graduate of both the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.
Learn more about Goldsmith in this Q&A.
Applying battlefield strategies to inspire organizations and build success
Whether applied to his franchise development and marketing agency, or asset-backed NFT wine marketplace, Goldsmith says that strategy dictates tactics. “Even some of the greatest generals like Hannibal Barca—who had not lost a battle in almost two decades—failed as he lacked an ultimate strategy to defeat the Roman Empire and conquer Rome itself,” says Goldsmith. “Just as in war, leadership teams need to develop a clear vision, then plan tactics accordingly. Many businesses repeat Hannibal’s mistakes: winning pitched battles, but never winning the war. Quick wins, be they great digital ad campaigns or onboarding new franchisees, will cause more long-term damage than short-term gains if not driven by a clear strategy.”
What drives your commitment and focus in your professional career?
Goldsmith: I enjoy taking on challenges with my team that others fear to attack. In the process, we forge a cohesive unit that has no limitations and is extremely powerful. As an organization’s leader, watching team members advance their careers with pride and joy is one of my most fulfilling experiences. As my scoutmaster would say, “If you take care of your troops, your troops will take care of you.”
A champion for displaced animals
Goldsmith and his team at Markarie volunteer with Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch, a no-kill rescue and sanctuary in the Napa Valley for homeless companion and farm animals that have been displaced by the California wildfires. His team has been successful in increasing donations, event participation, and animal adoptions by acquiring and utilizing a Google Ad Grant ($10K per month). “It’s one thing to empower young leaders,” says Goldsmith, “but I have always been protective of animals and they, too, need a voice.”
What inspires you to dedicate your time and energy to community service?
Goldsmith: Be it donating money, time, or mentorship, it helps satisfy my sense of responsibility to give back, as did many others who helped me get to where I am today. I can think of many, like my scoutmaster Joseph Acquafredda, who was my first mentor outside my immediate family, and former IFA president Don Debolt, who provided a franchise scholarship that was the springboard for my franchise journey at 17 years old. I would love to create similar opportunities and provide support for young, hungry entrepreneurs who may walk the same path and share the responsibility for giving back to a good cause.
What impact do you want to have in the world?
Goldsmith: I’d like to be a bridge builder. My mentor and business partner Doc Cohen, the first franchisee ever to be inducted into the IFA Franchise Hall of Fame and former IFA chair, has a favorite poem called “The Bridge Builder,” by Will Allen Dromgoole. The bridge builder built a bridge for others to cross a chasm, even though he had already crossed. In the poem, the builder exclaimed why to a young traveler:
There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!
Just like Doc built a bridge for me, I try to do the same for the next wave of future leaders.
Providing students with hands-on experiences
Goldsmith’s passion for franchising led him to spearhead a franchise class as a visiting lecturer at Johnson. He actively engages on various franchise projects with student-run organizations, including the Cornell Consulting Group and the Cornell Business Analytics Club.
What drives your continued engagement with and contribution to the Cornell community?
Goldsmith: I enjoy creating opportunities for students to dive right into the trenches and gain hands-on experience in entrepreneurship and franchising. I developed much of my course material as a visiting lecturer in conjunction with the Smith Family Business Initiative at Johnson. Families often look to convert their family-owned businesses into franchises or to create generational wealth through franchise ownership. I help to demystify franchising, which is more than fast food; it is a path to risk-mitigated entrepreneurship.
What does being selected for the Johnson 10 Under 10 Notable Alumni list mean to you?
Goldsmith: To be selected by my esteemed peers is a great honor. In the military, they determine true leaders not by appointment, but how their peers, with whom they have served side by side, rank them. To be selected by my peers reinforces the concepts of persistence and developing genuine relationships without seeking anything in return. It makes me proud of never giving up, but it also validates my mentors, friends, family, and teams who always believed in me.
What are the most valuable things you learned at Johnson that have helped you in your career?
Goldsmith: Developing genuine relationships is key. The bonds forged with university peers offer vitality and growth; many of those relationships are still in my life today. GPA and work experience are important, but they are paper stats. In retrospect, I wish I had been more active in school events and had attended more parties! It may seem silly, but it is important to learn how to enjoy and unwind with good friends.
Influential Cornell faculty mentors
Did any particular faculty member(s) influence you on your chosen career path?
Goldsmith: The late David BenDaniel, who was the Margi Berens Professor of Entrepreneurship and Professor of Management at Johnson, said I was the most persistent student he ever had over his 40+-year teaching career. In his memory, and to be true to myself, when I deeply believe in something I pursue it with all my heart. He was instrumental in guiding me how to be a good teacher and understanding the importance of hands-on learning for students.
Cindy Van Es, professor of practice at Dyson, always listened and provided opportunities to put my entrepreneurial spirit into action. Working to develop a speaker series featuring franchise legends and other business leaders for her Business Opportunities in Leadership and Diversity (BOLD) program when I was 18, I managed a budget, created a clear vision, and united a team under a common purpose. This was the first time I began to introduce franchising leaders to Cornell, which planted the seeds for developing franchise curricula later in my career.
Yu Yang, now associate professor at Shanghai Tech University, was a postdoctoral fellow at Johnson who taught me, in negotiations class, that negotiating is not always about winning. Rather, it is more important to develop genuine relationships, especially with coworkers. I learned to find areas that lead to mutual incentives and a common purpose.
Barry Strauss [Bryce and Edith M. Bowmar Professor in Humanistic Studies in the Department of History, Cornell College of Arts and Sciences], former chair of Cornell’s Department of History, opened my eyes on how to apply military strategy to modern business. I learned that strategy, in its purest form, is derived from warfare; the Greek word strategos is defined as “political general.” Having studied the strategies of Spartacus, Alexander, Caesar, and Hannibal has served me well in the boardroom. These battle-tested strategies stood strong against cavalry charge, sword, and spear and are as relevant today as ever, even though the obstacles are no longer forged in steel.
Describe a challenge you encountered as you built your career and how you overcame it.
Goldsmith: Controlling my mind. We all have impulses that are often derived from emotion. As a leader of organizations where people count on me, I could no longer afford the luxury to act on impulse. I had to learn to take time to cool down and think about important decisions. After learning lessons the hard way, I gradually built the maturity to adopt this more Stoic philosophy. Reading Meditations by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius taught me the importance of controlling these impulses and not letting them overtake me.
What is the proudest moment of your career or of your personal life?
Goldsmith: If I had to choose, it would be earning all 121 [Boy Scouts of America] scouting merit badges as an Eagle Scout. Being covered by the Associated Press and various news outlets was a highlight. As an avid New York Yankees fan, being recognized for this at home plate by [Yankees first baseman] Mark Teixeira in front of 50,000+ fans was awesome. I will never forget it.
What do you do to recharge?
Goldsmith: I soak in a hot bath with Epsom salts after a trying day or a boxing workout. The sweetest moments are recharging after successfully “charging up a hill” and prevailing. I also read about history while enjoying a glass of wine, usually a Napa Cab or Petite Syrah, with my pup Luna at my side.
Challenge yourself and embrace change
What do you wish you’d known as a Johnson student and what advice would you give to Johnson students today?
Goldsmith: Break out of the Matrix. Explore classes not in your major. Join clubs that you haven’t thought about. If you embrace the uncomfortable, you will grow and emerge stronger. Practice your newfound knowledge while at university, where students are afforded a supportive environment and are treated with grace, even upon failure. Once you enter the real world, it is more difficult to be in exploratory mode.
Build muscle memory now, and when opportunities in life arise, you will be ready to break the mold. Challenge yourself to go where others have feared to go. As my boxing coach “King” Zahir Raheem, a three-time professional champion, says: “You can never second-guess yourself in business or boxing. Uncertainty will hunt you down, and in boxing that means losing teeth or suffering a knockdown.” Embracing change is awkward, and leveling up hurts, but that’s why so few people do it and even fewer taste the sweet rewards. If you put in the work, bet on yourself, and put in the time, you will be richly rewarded.