On this special segment of the Full Ratchet, “Exceptional Founders” is addressed by:
Each investor highlights an exceptional company and entrepreneur that they’ve had the privilege to work with.
Nick: On our special segment series today, we have Joanne Wilson. Joanne, have you had the pleasure of working with or investing in an exceptional founder? And if so, can you talk about what made that entrepreneur so great and unique?
Joanne: You know, I have had the fortune to invest in a lot of very, very excellent entrepreneurs. And I think that the ones that are the best are the ones that—and there’s very few of them out there—that has an idea, they build on their idea, they hire a team, and they train that team to the best they possibly can in the role that they have. They know when to fire, they know when to hire, they know how to not micromanage and to sit at the treetop level and be engaged and be the visionary, and know what’s going on in their company without telling everyone what to do in their company. And those are the best entrepreneurs. There’s very few people I’ve seen in the course of thirty years that were able to start the idea and take it all the way to a public company. That is a rare, rare, rare skill. Most entrepreneurs like to start companies. That’s what they do. When they get—they kind of get into the same old thing every day, they’re like “I’m done with this thing” and it starts up again.
But I think there’s a couple that I’m invested in now who could be those people because they are great managers. You always have to be a phenomenal salesperson to be a good entrepreneur because you have to always be selling and selling your business hard because you believe in it more than anybody else. But being a good manager of people that you help—you can help those people that are working for you find their best skillset and become the best that you are. That is incredible skill that I think in the end builds the best companies.
Nick: It sounds like you do have some but I was gonna ask you if there are founders in your portfolio that you think could go from that startup formation all the way to IPO.
Joanne: Yeah, I definitely—there definitely are a few of them, and I think it’s that ability to not micromanage, to help everyone grow individually, and that is not easy for many entrepreneurs who are—it’s their baby, that business.
Nick: Lots of Type As, right. I certainly hope I have some of these in my portfolio.
Joanne: Yeah, because there are plenty of Type As out there, but some people are just—they come out of the womb like that.
Nick: On today’s special segment, we have David Brown. David, can you tell me a story about an exceptional founder, and what you saw in them and their startup that made them so special?
David: You know, I hate to call any one out, right, because there’s so many great ones. But we had a great company come through the Boulder program a few years ago called Everlater, and the two founders, Nate and Abby, couldn’t have been more likable individuals. They had known each other since they were in kindergarten and they were born here and raised here in Colorado and they both went off to New York and became Wall Street bankers and decided they didn’t want to do that. Reconnected, the two of them went to travel around the world, took a year off, and found that in the travels they wanted to have a travel log of what it was that they were doing in their travels. So they decided that they wanted to do a startup, founded Everlater.
The most impressive thing, other than their long-term personal friendship and connection, the most impressive thing that neither of them were technical. So in order to start this startup, to found Everlater, the first step was to teach themselves to code. So the commitment of doing that with your best buddy and learning a new skill in order to make it happen. I think it shows remarkable character and, you know, was super pleased to watch them go through the program and then ultimately exit to MapQuest.
Nick: That’s wild. Do you—do you guys invest in startups that don’t have technical founders?
David: It’s unusual. It certainly happens. We like to have two or more cofounders and we like one of those cofounders to be technical. Although we don’t have any hard and fast, rules that’s certainly, generally true.
Nick: Today, Christopher Mirabile joins us from the Launchpad Venture Group. Christopher, have you had the pleasure of working with or investing in an exceptional founder, and if so can you talk about what made that entrepreneur so great and unique?
Christopher: One company that’s just spectacular, they’re doing really well, their code is on 2.5 billion mobile devices—so they’ve been a success, they’re creating a lot of jobs, and raising money at a terrific evaluation, and you know, when we looked at that, it had all the sort of earmarks with the benefit of hindsight that you’d want to look for. It was a charming, intelligent, charismatic CEO who had been doing some work in that industry prior, so he really knew what he was talking about, and he was the kind of person who knew how to get advice and bring a good team around him. And he was going after a market that was already huge but poised to grow enormously. And he was a pretty radial thinker in terms of being flexible in his thinking approached and so, of course, he got into the market and he found an adjacent market that was even bigger and he had the mental dexterity to kind of encompass that second opportunity.
And then that result was a company that we seeded at a pre-money that might’ve even been below two, it was certainly not much more than two, as an initial seed round. Did another round at about four million post-money, and then they went off and raised around twenty-five million. Brought in some serious capital and some heavier investors and they just did another round at sixty million.
Nick: Were you guys able to maintain a pro-rata as they did these subsequent rounds?
Christopher: Yeah, they—we had set up the deal terms in a good way and have had an opportunity to invest in each round and have a nice percentage of the company, and get along well with the other investors. This is one were alignment around exit is not a hard question, because this is a company that has potential to go really, really big. And there’s nobody—nobody would advocate—actually, it was interesting, this is a side note, when subsequent financings were done, the VCs were offering liquidity to angels because they wanted more stock and the company really needed to sell. So they were willing to buy angels out, and angels could either invest in the deal at a high sort of VC type evaluation or sell their stock and nobody sold. And many people bought in at high evaluations.
And these guys, as I said, they represent a class of enterprise customer that’s publishing twenty-five thousand apps across 2.5 billion mobile devices. And it’s a real business. And, you think back on it, you think that guy was charming, he was smart, he was a radial thinker, he was great at—great people skills, great at getting advice, great ad building a team, flexible in his approach, he knew his market, the solution he had was a good solution, he was going after a big market in a smart way—I mean, it’s all the stuff that we love to talk about, right. And in this case, we just got lucky finding him and having the opportunity to be a small part of his success.
Nick: They should start referring to these founders as the unicorns, because it’s rare that I find founders that have such a breadth of a skillset.
Christopher: Yeah. Yeah, it’s just—it’s a privilege. It really is a privilege to work with folks like this. And sometimes they’re young and they don’t have—they have blind spots and whatever but boy when you find someone who’s just super smart and talented and they really the bit in their teeth around a problem they’re just passionate about solving, you just buckle up because it’s gonna be a hell of a ride.