The smartest entrepreneurs don’t only look ahead—they also check the rearview mirror. “Tech founders tend to assume that everybody in the past has done things badly. I think that’s a fatal flaw,” says Matthew Gross, founder of Newsela, an edtech startup. Whether they’re investors or board mem- bers, you can profit from former execs in the very industries you are taking on.
BY KEVIN J. RYAN
“Monica’s opened up her Rolodex and helped with logistics while we’ve expanded. We’re in the process of overhauling our labels, and she’s also got a really keen eye for not only what’s on trend but what’s ahead of trend as well.” —Mat Franken NASSIF Mat kept sending me all these messages on LinkedIn, and I was like, this guy is driving me crazy. He totally stalked me, and it was for several months. Finally, he asked if I would take a call, and I said, I have to get this jerk off my back. So I took it, and it was so persuasive that I said, you know, why not meet with him? I did, and I have to say I was really inspired. FRANKEN As an entrepreneur, your board is the only entity that can fire you from your own company. The people you choose have to be a great business fit but also a great character fit. I wanted an entrepreneur on our board who had built some- thing and also exited, and Monica had entirely reinvented the cleaning aisle. We weren’t willing to grab Monica and have her just as omeone we were going to parade around but never really talk to. We wanted someone who’d be willing to get their hands dirty and be deeply engaged with the business. NASSIF He has an ego, but an ego that lets him seek advice. He embraces it when you say, “Hey, Mat. Wait a minute. Have you thought about this?” That’s a key quality in an entrepre- neur, especially from an adviser’s standpoint. If you offer advice, are they gonna like the news? I’ve stepped on a lot of
land mines, and I can work on helping you avoid them.
COMPANY AUNT FANNIE’S
In 2015, Caldrea founder Monica Nassif—who
soldhercompanytoS.C.Johnsonin2008— investedinAuntFannie’sandjoineditsboard. ;
Founder and former
CEO of homekeeping
of Mrs. Meyer’s.
Courting the CONNECTING
In 2014, Kaz Nejatian persuaded former Visa CEO
Joseph Saunders to invest in and become the
chairman of the board of his credit card payments
startup: “Joe kept telling us to worry about scale—
to worry about how this would work when we’re
running hundreds of thousands of transactions per
second as opposed to one or two. At the time, it
was a big investment for us to design a system that
could work at scale. But he was absolutely right.
There’s a difference between building a payments
system that works once and building one that works
over and over again simultaneously across many
retailers. The early work we put in based on his
advice has paid dividends.”
88 ; INC. ; MARCH/APRIL 2018 ; ; ; ILLUSTRATIONS BY GLUEKIT