What are you known for?
Outside of my work-related roles, I’m known for a few things at Investable: dancing while working as a reflection of my excitement, a staggeringly noisy mechanical keyboard (which I treasure), and as the resident mixologist, I’m always experimenting with libations.
What do people get wrong about you?
I have a direct demeanor and speak with frankness. Sometimes I occur as brash or unconcerned, when actually I care deeply and set aside pretense to cut into the essence of the issue. That sort of cut-and-dry manner can come across as insensitive, or that I didn’t “read the room”, when in reality authenticity is my way of showing compassion.
Describe your job.
Some people like the work they do. Perhaps I'm a total nerd, but I LOVE my job. My perfect work day would be a split between ensuring my department operations are optimal and working alongside my partners and laughing while solving unbelievably complex problems. Making sure each person is adequately resourced and disappearing problems for the department each week are my two biggest priorities as a leader. The job of my department, Investment Science, is to balance our community of founders and funders. Our work helps founders find strategic financial partners, and helps funders find great investments based on their preferences. Sometimes I feel like a crusader rolling through the department, hunting for the hardest unspoken or hidden issues.
How did you come to found Investable?
Investable was a lucid dream for many years while I practiced the skills of entrepreneurship. In my mind, the unnamed company I set out to build was a place where founders who were struggling to reach their next milestone could leverage teams of professionals to mitigate their biggest risks and inject capital as a series of small experiments. I wanted to build a system to help founders find the right resources at each stage of growth.
I was building an e-commerce business when I met my co-founders, Christopher and Andrew Pagels. The first time I heard their vision of a company that supported founders by systematically surfacing risk, I knew we had been chasing after the same dream but from different perspectives. As we worked more intimately together, it became clear that our goals were aligned and the first version of Investable was formed. A little later, we met Ryan Shepherd, who was a client of Investable. We worked together for almost a year before he sold his business and then joined forces with us as the 4th co-founder.
What do you fear most?
I fear the thing many entrepreneurs fear—pouring my life force into something, maybe for years or decades, and watching it evaporate in a matter of months. Companies fail all the time and sometimes winding down a venture is the right thing to do. The saying, “I don’t want to have come this far to only have come this far” comes to mind. Investable is the first company I’ve scaled. For me the scariest thing about growth is that the margin for error is slimmer. All excess resources are dumped into fueling next actions faster and with less information than you’d like. We are a bootstrapped and self-funded venture. There isn’t an external investor who will show up and buy us runway to figure something out (that’s why the margin of error is slim). This was our intention though: we aren’t building Investable to sell it, so it wouldn’t make sense to us to partner with an investor who is looking for fast growth and an exit.
Investable is growing in the middle of a pandemic and an economic downturn. This is scary, especially when so many companies around the US are failing. Investable grew from 6 to 26 people in one year starting at the beginning of coronavirus and we have plans to continue our growth this year. There’s a lot to figure out about the new state of the world and the stakes are high. Either we precisely execute and the company keeps growing, or we don’t reach escape velocity and face certain death.
How do you think about the word "responsibility" and where does it apply to you?
There’s a cost to existing in society and on the planet. I try to be mindful of these things and create regenerative systems where I can to promote an ecosystem of mutual benefit. Something I’m doing for fun is building a hydroponic system in my home to grow my own food. We have a company chef on our team who is always looking for the freshest ingredients, so prototyping one at home means I can build one in our office for others to benefit from.
Taking responsibility for one's life and our impact seems like a foundational trait we should be concerned with. People often place that responsibility in the hands of others and shift accountability. Hearing, “If I only had time to do...” simply sounds like an unacknowledged lack of priority.
The impact we have on others is the basis of human experience. I’m regularly surprised to see children who aren’t taught how to be good friends or stewards of their relationships. This way of being often follows people into adulthood. I think society works best when we are all taking care of ourselves and one another. I believe this is also the core of fiduciary responsibility and something I look for when talking with founders or funders.
Have you always seen yourself as an entrepreneur or is that a skill you developed?
My first memory of my parent’s profession was in Tampa, Florida walking through the factory floor of a production line of ATMs in the late 90’s. My parents always worked as a team in the companies they launched and I admired that partnership and reliability. Like many entrepreneurs, their journey was highly varied. They ran restaurants, launched and grew an international ATM manufacturing company, and developed land and commercial real estate.
Growing up, it never occurred to me that they were entrepreneurs. I wanted to be like them and work in business, yet didn’t understand what that word meant. In my teenage years and early twenties, I started a few small ventures and was interested in becoming whatever an “entrepreneur” was. It wasn’t until after the second year of running Investable that I was finally able to get really comfortable in my own skin and in my ability to lead, manage, and scale our company.
What is the most difficult aspect of being an investor?
Finding and cultivating true alignment with a founder. Often your goals as a funder are overlapped, but not completely aligned, and I feel a deep responsibility to cultivate this alignment. As an investor, you have substantial influence but not complete control over your investment. That balance was hard for me to strike early on as an investor. Now I aim to be the sort of investor who has influence, but ultimately functions as a teammate to be tagged in at the right time if and when a need arises. The emotional highs and lows of being an investor can be similar to entrepreneurship and I think that can get missed when both groups are courting one another.
What was your first investment? Did you see a return?
The first investment anyone ever makes is with their time, which is ultimately the most precious resource. The first real estate loan I issued gave me a fairly average return. My first angel investment was in a company called Succubus Publishing which was also one of Investable’s first investments as a firm. Working with Alex, one of the founders, was the primary reason I chose to invest as an individual. During his engagement with us over 18 months, Alex transformed from a game board artist and struggling operator to becoming a proficient executive. The success of his company shows it, as does the group of happy investors that got returns from his success.
How does having a trusted guide like Investable reduce stress and pain for investors?
As hard as it is to admit, not every investment turns out as you hope. I often feel similarly reflecting on businesses I started that weren’t as successful as I imagined they would be. It’s really just two sides of the same coin. Sometimes that misalignment in expectations and outcomes can be identified early. In those instances, I believe Investable is perfectly positioned to enroll the right resources around an average-performing or underperforming investment in order to get things back on track.
We’ve done a number of turnarounds (Succubus Publishing included) that were on the verge of bankruptcy, and ultimately, are now profitable ventures where the founders are taking home reasonable salaries and investors received the returns they were expecting. That type of work inspires me because both parties win, together.
What problems does Investable solve?
Some of the non-obvious problems are the difficult emotional journey of being a founder or a funder. Investable works to feel like an “extension of your team”, and be an operating partner in that difficult journey. Investing can feel lonely in the same way that entrepreneurship can, and having a group of individuals dedicated to your success and support means each founder or funder can actually enjoy the journey towards their ideal version of success. Knowing someone has your back when things don’t go as planned, and who is willing to be a thought partner in problem-solving, makes those moments constructive and formative. We create breakthroughs in the journey towards creating and actualizing both a plan and an ideal self, rather than simply helping manage crises. This is what we mean when we talk about human-centered capital - when the people inside a business works, the businesses often work, too.