Polina Chebotareva | Crain's Los Angeles

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Polina Chebotareva

Background:  

Founded in 2010, Cambridge Companies SPG is a Newport Beach-based strategic opportunity investment firm with a focus on clean label consumer packaged goods. Most of its portfolio companies are in Los Angeles.

The Mistake:

Following the numbers and believing the hype.

Before we started Cambridge Companies SPG (Special Projects Group), we founded Cambridge Companies to focus on real estate investments around the time of the market boom. The numbers made sense, which is why everyone overdeveloped.

As a result — in 2007, 2008 and 2009 — not everything was going according to plan for us. Fortunately, we didn’t lose any of our many properties, but the values went down and we had to spend more time with these properties until they were sold off.

We had to divest ourselves of 44 real estate projects.

What goes up can just as easily come down.

The Lesson:

What goes up can just as easily come down. Something will always go wrong, and you have to plan ahead and be prepared for when it does go wrong. You can’t just follow some plan that’s based on numbers.

This philosophy has forced me to evaluate any and all risks I take both in life, and in ventures. I now make strategic, educated risks and plan for the outcome that might be overlooked, rather than just following the numbers. By having this slower strategic approach, we haven’t had any write offs.

In 2013, we stopped doing real estate and started focusing on food. Today, all of our portfolio companies are in the clean label consumer packaged goods space. We’ve spent time connecting with these companies’ founders, learning about the space they’re in, and figuring out what their exit strategies are — and it’s really worked out for us.

Photo courtesy of Cambridge Companies SPG

Editors note: This article was changed on 02/08/18 to reflect that the current company has had no write offs.

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