ETHRIDGE I stepped away as
Pearson’s CEO in 2013, but I didn’t
want to just go and play golf. In any
early-stage company, I think about:
What is the total available market?
Is it enough to get excited about?
Is it solving a real problem?
GROSS I was introduced to Will by
Josh Lewis, who is on the board at
Pearson. Josh brought together a
group of his colleagues and friends.
Will was one of the first folks he
brought to the table, and I instantly
clicked with him. He was incredibly
down to earth—very no-nonsense
ETHRIDGE Newsela really checked
that first box—there’s nothing more
important in education than reading.
It solved something that was a very
big problem to me when I was at
Pearson—how do you personalize
You also have to believe in the
entrepreneur. There’s obviously a lot
of risk at that stage—you don’t know
how the person is going to be as a
CEO. But Matt had a very strong
background in education. He had
done Teach for America and had a lot
of experience with children’s literacy.
I also don’t think Matt’s goal is
to disrupt Pearson. His goal is to help
kids learn to read. If Newsela takes
down Pearson, that means Pearson
wasn’t keeping up.
ZAK It was fortuitous timing, because
Lori was based in Charleston, and we
[Zak and her co-founder husband, David
Spector] were about to go to my college
reunion at Duke. We said we’d be in
North Carolina and offered to come
down to meet her. She said, “I’ll drive to
Durham and we can meet over dinner.”
GREELEY ThirdLove hit me at the right
time, when I was in a transitional phase.
After leaving Victoria’s Secret, I did a lot
of recharging my batteries by studying
smaller businesses, more for my own
intellectual curiosity and health. I was
kind of test-driving my skills. I had
been wondering how my more than
two decades of experience building a
globally recognized brand is applicable
to a startup.
I was well aware of ThirdLove. They
were trying to get a piece of the pie as
Victoria’s Secret was sort of leaving
some doors open.
ZAK We ended up having a dinner that
went for four hours. Lori had a billion
questions: Did we consider ourselves a
product company or a technology
company or a brand? There’s always the
question of whether you like one another
and your personalities jibe. It was impor-
tant for us to have somebody who
wasn’t afraid to tell us we were making
the wrong decision about something.
She’s very honest and doesn’t beat
around the bush, which I really appre-
ciate. It was definitely a personality fit.
GREELEY I was immediately impressed.
They’re tenacious. They’re like a dog on
a pant leg. They were also extremely
curious, in an aggressive way, about
trying to complement what they knew
and about what they didn’t know.
The dinner was low key and organic.
It wasn’t like, “Hey, will you be an
investor?” I didn’t want to be used
as a way for them to raise money or
attention. I saw it as an opportunity
to be a mentor.
“We were gearing up our strapless bra marketing toward the summer season, but Lori told us there’s actually a huge spike for the holidays. It’s a relatively basic insight, but it’s something that wasn’t top of mind for us yet.” —Heidi Zak
CEO of Victoria’s
Secret from 2007
ThirdLove in 2012.
“I didn’t know about the inner
workings of the publishing
industry, like what it takes to win large contracts from
school districts and states.
Will’s also advised us on key
staffing issues, and has
actually interviewed senior
In 2015, Victoria’s Secret’s Lori Greeley invested in ThirdLove’s $8 million
Series A round and joined its board.
In 2012, Matthew Gross (above left) founded Newsela,
a platform that uses artificial
intelligence to convert news
articles into K- 12 curricula. Two years later, Will Ethridge (right),
former CEO of textbook maker
Pearson, invested in Newsela’sseed round.