One Size Doesn't Fit All: Andrew McConnell Shares His Journey from Harvard Law to McKinsey to Startup

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The May blog interview is with Rented.com CEO and Founder and Endeavor Entrepreneur, Andrew McConnell. Rented.com helps owners make the most of their vacation properties by combining guaranteed income with certified local property care. Andrew sat down with Alaysia from the Endeavor team to talk about why he participated in the Endeavor selection process, previous roles in his career that shaped the leader he is today, and philosophies that he lives by. Check out the conversation below.

You have an LLM from the University of Cambridge and a JD from Harvard Law School. What inspired your time at McKinsey & Company and Axiom as opposed to practicing traditional law?

Andrew McConnell I went to law school in order to get into Human and Civil Rights. As a summer intern, I was able to focus on exactly that. During my internship, I learned that I hate the work lawyer's do on a day-to-day on those issues. I didn't want to be miserable and so I tried something else. My first-year contracts professor would always reference McKinsey & Company and talked about how business savvy the people who worked there were. I didn't know exactly what McKinsey was, but I respected my professor so I thought let me go check this out. The more I learned the more it sounded like an opportunity to work on really high-impact interesting problems with other really smart people, so I did a summer internship. Even though the overall area I covered, Salesforce Effectiveness for a toilet paper company, was not exactly what I went to law school for, I found the day to day to be much more energizing. Interactive collaborative problem-solving inspires me and that’s ultimately what we did on a day-to-day.

At McKinsey, there was a partner who mentioned, “Everybody here is super smart and ninety-eight percent of what everybody does is great and right.” We spent ninety-eight percent of the time giving feedback on the other two percent. It felt incredibly demoralizing and a lot of people around me left more dejected than they came in. The culture wasn’t really one that built people up and I actually left with a lack of confidence.

At Axiom it was the exact opposite. The clients commented on how happy they were, and in short order I got two raises. I thought oh wait, I’m actually not an idiot, I actually am pretty good at stuff! So I think both influenced me in that McKinsey on your resume gives people confidence that you're smart and you know what you're doing. Axiom gave me confidence that I was smart and that I knew what I was doing. Seeing what inspired me and what uninspired me was also super helpful in informing how I work with my team.

Do you wish you wouldn't have gone to law school and that you would have gone the CEO/Founder route directly after undergrad, or are you grateful for your time working with other companies and then going the entrepreneurial route?

Andrew McConnell I don't think there’s a one size fits all answer. For example, Mikaila Ulmer, fourteen-year-old Founder at “Me & the Bees Lemonade” started her company at four years old. She certainly didn't have the work experience to start that and now she’s in over 300 Whole Foods Markets. She’s a 14-year-old and has been building a business for a decade. I think there are flavors for everyone and I can only speak to my own journey. I’m not the kind of person that wishes things differently or the same, things are what they are. I live in the present and focus on how I can make the future better. Also, because I went to law school I met my wife. Law school is a thing I did and now I’m doing Rented.com.

Why did you choose Atlanta to found and scale Rented.com?

Andrew McConnell I’m from the South. I've lived in North Carolina, Alabama, and Florida and knew that I eventually wanted to come back to the South. When I decided to go with McKinsey there were only so many offices in the South and I thought Atlanta would be the coolest of the options. My parents had also moved here after I went to college. Also, my wife is English. And because she moved here to Atlanta she took the GA Bar and did not want to take another bar exam.

Once you're here the cost of living is amazing. I walk to work, the weather’s incredible, the talent’s very good, and it's an overall healthy ecosystem. A lot of my classmates went to New York or San Francisco and they're just another person there. Then I have other friends who are much edgier and they went to China or Vietnam and absolutely killed it. They went on to create cool chains of restaurants and they’re super successful. To me Atlanta’s kind of that middle ground where there’s that cultural familiarity, but I’m also not just copying what everybody else is doing. Also, I think Atlanta in the past ten years is on this absurd trajectory in terms of investment and companies being started. I think I came here for some very practical reasons and got lucky that there are a lot of strategic reasons to be here.

It seems like you have this philosophy of doing whatever works for you.

Andrew McConnell I actually would rephrase it slightly and say make whatever you do, make sense for you. On the front end, you're not going to know that your answer is the perfect answer. All you can do is decide on an answer, then do everything that you can in order to make it the right answer for you. You can't go backward.

Why did you go through the Endeavor selection process?

Andrew McConnell When I first met with Adam we were very heads down, executing on a very specific plan. Then we started hitting this inflection point where we were bringing in new executive talent and it was our second year of 5x growth. Things were beginning to look very different and I had a lot of questions that I needed help with. After learning about the Endeavor ecosystem and the other types of companies who’d said Endeavor helped them it seemed incredibly appealing.

What do you feel you've gained from the Endeavor experience?

Andrew McConnell I’m not a person who multitasks well, I like to be incredibly focused on one thing. And so there were times going through the Endeavor selection process before we were even accepted, where I had specific questions I wanted to work on and Endeavor helped. Getting on those calls with specific questions in mind was incredibly helpful. For example, just after completing the Endeavor selection process we began fundraising. Endeavor has a dedicated team that helps with that. I think I met with eighty-something VCs and probably fifty-something of them came from intros from Endeavor. After fundraising, I expressed that we were having a few challenges with a specific product, Adam, Aaron and the rest of the Endeavor network suggested mentors from places around the world like Lebanon and Greece. Just by being incredibly focused and being asked by the Endeavor team, “Hey what's on your mind?” and then having the global network to help and leverage has been helpful.

We borrow this question from Tim Ferris. If you could have a billboard with one piece of advice to entrepreneurs what would it be?

Andrew McConnell It would be the advice that I have above my own desk “Other people aren’t the problem.” For example, let’s say I’ve put something in three emails, have told the team about it four times and something still isn’t being done properly, my natural inclination is to ask what’s wrong with them. Then I say, well if I’m communicating with twenty-five people and twenty of them are still not doing what I think I’m communicating there is something wrong with my communication. Other people here are not the problem. Other people are providing the symptom of the disease. The disease is how I’m communicating or not communicating. Another example, people saying oh the industry is too slow. NO! The industry is not too slow, it is what it is. An industry being "too slow" is not a problem, your perception is the problem.

What podcast or books are you reading?

Andrew McConnell I listen to The Economist podcast, I have their app and usually listen there. Also, there’s a podcast a friend from college does, it's called WorkLife by Adam Grant. I read about four to five books a week, fiction and nonfiction. I’m currently reading the nonfiction book, The Power Broker by Robert Caro.




ONE YEAR POST-IPO, CARDLYTICS CO-FOUNDER LYNNE LAUBE SHARES WHAT SHE KNOWS NOW

This article was originally published on Hypepotamus.com.

The rash of recent tech IPOs — Lyft going first last month, then PagerDuty, Zoom, Pinterest, and more to come— has startup enthusiasts and investors eagerly watching the markets. But beyond the headlines and listing prices, the road to an IPO is a long and laborious one.

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“Arduous,” is how Lynne Laube, co-founder and COO of Atlanta-based adtech company Cardlytics, describes the IPO process. One year ago, Laube and her partner, CEO Scott Grimesrang the Nasdaq bell in the first tech IPO of 2018. Cardlytics sold 5.4 million shares for $13 a share, raising $70 million.

“We’re really optimistic about our growth opportunities,” Grimes told Hypepotamus immediately after the IPO. But public stock can be volatile, and Cardlytics has seen its shares soar to $28 and drop to $10 in the year since.

On March 26, the Atlanta chapter of entrepreneur support organization Endeavor hosted Laube at their signature Scale-Up Breakfast, a closed door event where a group of founders and CEOs at scaling companies can hear firsthand from a top local entrepreneur.

The purpose of the breakfasts — and Endeavor as a whole — is to give the most high-potential founders an advantage, help them grow faster, generate more revenue, and create more jobs. The audience was naturally highly curious about the decision-making process behind the IPO, the positives and negatives, and how Cardlytics has changed and performed since becoming a public company.

Similarly to how she says she addresses Cardlytics employees, Laube spoke candidly about both the benefits and the downsides of being public. She described the emotional drain of the process, her strategies for dealing with employees, and the struggles they continue to face (hiring is still as competitive as it is for any young company).

More than anything, Laube emphasized that the work does not stop after the roadshow is over and the bell rung. Cardlytics continues to grow — they are now at over 400 employees — and Laube says that she and Grimes are constantly focused on building a strong company “where people want to work.”

“It was always our destiny to go public”

Because Cardlytics’ business model hinges on their partnerships with large banks — think Bank of America, SunTrust, JPMorgan Chase and more — Laube and Grimes knew from the very beginning that they would need to operate with the discipline of a public company.

Being public comes with a much higher level of scrutiny and regulation than private companies need to comply with.

“When you work with banks, being trusted to handle purchase data doesn’t come lightly or easily. And it shouldn’t. We knew we needed to set up our business from the beginning in a way that would meet banks’ strict requirements. So, when it came time to go public, our technology and systems were already in pretty good shape,” says Laube.

Even in the early days, when she and Grimes would gather in coffee shops to talk through their goals, they saw an IPO as the preferred exit strategy

“Our philosophy was that the only destiny you can control is becoming public. You can’t control if someone’s going to buy you, you can’t control if someone is going to merge with you, you can’t control really anything other than, let’s build a big company and someday take it public,” she says.

And the fact that they had raised over $200 million in venture capital before the IPO was certainly also a factor, she says. The public offering provided a liquidity event for investors including Polaris Venture Capital, Discovery Capital, Canaan Partners and others.

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“It is a lot of work on the front end”

Despite the compliance Cardlytics already had to go through to work with big banks, Laube says it still was a long process from the moment of “we are ready” decision-making to ringing the Nasdaq bell.

“There are a lot of rules that you have to follow. You have to really gear up for it — and spend a lot of dollars on lawyers by the way,” she says. Laube projects that a company needs at least a year of preparation to complete the whole process and distribute the costs over time.

Even the S-1 form — the document required by the Securities and Exchange Commission to announce an IPO — was tougher than she initially expected.

“The lawyers scrutinize every word. You have to go through it again and again to be sure every section is validated.”

The IPO roadshow “is not as glamorous as it might seem”

“It’s certainly a lifetime experience, but the actual process of going through it is arduous,” Laube says.

If raising venture capital financing sounds like a lot of meetings, try a pre-IPO roadshow — Laube estimates the team met with about 200 investors in seven days, in 2-3 cities a day. Sometimes they were presenting to a room of five or six investors, sometimes to 50 or 60.

“You’re presenting the same thing over and over and over again, they’re asking the same questions over and over and over again. You’re just on rinse and repeat.”

She does have fond memories and fun photos from the roadshow to look back on, and says it ultimately brought the team closer together. And there was one aspect of the roadshow that was as high-flying and glamorous as she expected.

“Now what’s really cool is, because of where you’re going and the number of back-to-back meetings you’re in, you have no choice but to get a private jet. And let me tell you, that is the way to go.”

“You can’t time the markets”

Despite a successful roadshow, Cardlytics hit poor timing. The same day they priced the IPO saw one of the biggest point drops in the history of the Dow.

“We landed and we were driving to the pricing meeting after the roadshow and from the moment we landed in [New Jersey] to the point we got into New York City to start the pricing conversation, the Dow dropped something like 550 points in a 35 minute car ride,” Laube shares, adding that the theory around timing the market is a “false thing.”

Despite the volatility, Cardlytics stock did close that first day slightly above its IPO price of $13 a share.

Leading a public company is “extremely emotional”

“I often refer to Cardlytics as my third child,” says Laube. “All of a sudden, your child is out there for the whole world to judge on a second-by-second basis.”

That turbulence started on IPO day, when the stock initially opened trading below price and Laube was “emotionally devastated.”

One year later, she still checks her stock at least once a day, usually more.

“It’s this thing where I want to know, what is the market saying about my baby right now? I just don’t think I was quite as prepared for the externalization of people judging my company.”

Employees’ moods can “go with the stock price”

Laube worked at Capital One when they went through an IPO, and says she has seen the same phenomenon happen there and at Cardlytics. Employee morale tends to follow the perception of how the company is doing, as determined by the barometer of stock price.

“It’s not just me who sees how the street is externalizing what we’re doing every second of every day. It’s all of our employees,” she says.

While the general company mood doesn’t fluctuate as much as her own, Laube says the lows are something they’ve had to be prepared to deal with on a company-wide basis. Her strategy is to go head-on and address it directly.

“We just tell them the truth, which is that we’ve got to believe in the journey that we’re on. On some days the street’s going to love what we’re doing, on other days you miss a little bit. You’ve just got to stay the course and believe in the course.”

Of course, this mood shift also means the employees care deeply about their work and its reflection on the entire company. Every employee at Cardlytics is given equity as part of their compensation package.

“People have the right amount of equity for where they are in their career,” says Laube. “Everyone has enough equity that can be meaningful for them relative to their career, and so they care deeply.”

It’s still hard to compete with the big boys for talent
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Despite joining the public companies club, Cardlytics is still relatively small — 400 people total, with a little over half of those in the Atlanta headquarters. Laube says their size can be both an advantage and a disadvantage when it comes to getting the best talent.

“It’s something that I spent a lot of my time thinking about — how do I try to give people different experiences, even when I can’t necessarily give them that promotion or that bigger team,” she says.

To expand employee mobility even when they can’t necessarily provide a promotion, Cardlytics has established several employee-led activities and groups, like a Women of Cardlytics organization run by an internal employee board.

Their relatively small size has also allowed them to put unconventional policies in place — or in some cases, refuse to have a policy — to help create a unique environment. Some employees bring dogs or kids to work, there are no formal vacation or leave policies.

“Where we don’t have to have rules, we try not to,” says Laube. “You try to make it in an environment that a Fortune 500 can’t replicate.”

The work doesn’t end when the bell rings

“I tell people all the time, the IPO is just another step in fundraising. Where it’s different is the externalization of the company — that’s where it’s very emotionally and personally different. But really, it was just another fundraising and we’re still here building the company.”

Endeavor Atlanta Year Two Update and The Power of High-Impact Mentorship

Last month Endeavor Atlanta celebrated its second year of operation. We are grateful for the support from our board, entrepreneurs, mentors, and financial supporters for helping make the last 24 months such a success.

How do we measure success? As an organization that is of, by, and for entrepreneurs, everything starts and ends with selecting great founders leading hyper-growth companies and providing transformational support as they scale.

How are we doing so far? Here are the highlights:

  • Atlanta based Endeavor companies averaged 310% YoY growth in 2018, created 440 jobs, and collectively raised $146M of equity capital since founding

  • 75% of the Atlanta based Endeavor companies qualified for Endeavor Outliers, a program designed for the CEOs of the top performing Endeavor companies worldwide

  • Endeavor Atlanta scored an 88% net-promoter-score in 2018 from Atlanta Endeavor Entrepreneurs (>70% NPS is considered world-class)

And with six high-growth Atlanta companies at the final stage of Endeavor’s selection process, 2019 is an inflection point year for us.

What surprised us in year two? In short, the power of high-impact mentorship.

Mentorship is a word frequently used in the startup world. While adding mentor to a LinkedIn profile is easy, finding and curating great mentors for founders is not but can have an outsized impact on the company. Endeavor’s Global research team, Endeavor Insights, recently completed a first of its kind study of entrepreneur ecosystems that shows top performing companies were over three times more likely to receive mentorship from an entrepreneur who led a company to scale (i.e. larger than 100 employees). This is high-impact mentorship.

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In addition, our experience over the last two years shows effective mentorship requires a mutual level of trust and respect and an openness to feedback on the part of the entrepreneur. Gaining a high level of trust with an extremely busy founder is not a trivial exercise and getting founders to take and filter feedback is tricky. We’ve found that Endeavor’s non-dilutive model creates a unique, “on the side of the entrepreneur” environment where founders are more open to feedback and mentors are more likely to push the entrepreneur to think bigger and scale faster.

George Azih, Founder and CEO of LeaseQuery and Endeavor Entrepreneur, said it best: “Endeavor is the only organization I’ve seen where the mentor's interests and your (entrepreneur) interests are aligned. They don’t have a different agenda. Their sole focus is to support you as you grow and give you the resources to grow faster.”

What can entrepreneurs take from this?

  • Select mentors carefully and ask lots of questions

    • Has the mentor led a high-growth company to a level larger than your company?

    • Will they push you to think bigger and scale faster?

    • If not, do they offer some very specific functional expertise that’s helpful? (e.g., sales, legal, finance)

  • Select investors carefully

    • Do potential investors have experience scaling a company or have prior investments in companies that reached scale?

    • Can the investor connect you to founders who’ve reached scale?

    • As the chart above shows, top performers are over 2X more likely to take investment from entrepreneurs who’ve reached scale.

  • Find the right support programs

    • Find the entrepreneur program or local founder community that fits the stage and industry of your company

  • Seek peer support

    • Serial entrepreneur Mark Gilreath recommended founders join each others Boards to not only provide founder experience and an “on the side of the entrepreneur” viewpoint

I recently heard someone say finding quality mentors for an entrepreneur was “low hanging fruit”. We politely disagree.

We’d love to hear your stories of high-impact mentorship in the comments below.

Six Lessons to Go from Zero to IPO

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Endeavor Atlanta held a Scale-Up Breakfast moderated by David Cummings in conversation with Mark Gilreath. During the Scale-Up Breakfast, Gilreath spoke with a group of entrepreneurs about his career, entrepreneurial journey and the lessons learned from his experiences scaling Given Imaging and EndoChoice. Below are highlights from the conversation and some of Mark’s biggest learnings as an entrepreneur.

Decide, then Speak your Future into Existence

Mark Gilreath finished his undergraduate studies in Finance at Winthrop University. Though job prospects came up, nothing piqued his interest so he decided to enlist in the Navy. After three great years in service to his country, Mark decided it was time for a change. He knew he did not want to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, so he decided to become a medical device salesman. In spite of not having immediate job prospects, Gilreath continued to speak his future into existence. He told everyone he met that he wanted to be a medical device salesman. Eventually, his confidence of speaking his future into existence paid off. Mark was at a party and told a woman about his plans to sell medical equipment. It just so happened her brother was a VP at Pentax Medical. Weeks later he had an interview and the rest was history. Gilreath would spend seven years in a variety of leadership roles at Pentax Medical.

Be Truthful and Transparent

While working for Pentax Medical, Gilreath decided to pursue his MBA at Duke University. He dreamed of starting his own company. Gilreath followed his dream after completing his MBA and founded Vortexmed.com. He led the company for twelve months during the peaks and valleys of the dotcom era before running out of capital. This painful failure taught him a lot. His greatest lesson came when he had to call his investors to inform them their investment was gone. He expected angry responses, but Mark was pleasantly surprised with each of their reactions. They each asked Mark when he was planning his next company because they wanted to invest. He learned that being truthful, transparent, and up front goes a long way in business.

September 11th and a Lesson in Resolve

After closing the doors of Vortexmed.com, Gilreath joined the team at Given Imaging (a small Israeli company). Mark was asked to serve as President of the Americas.  In 2001 the company was set to IPO. Just before the IPO, Mark and the Executive team traveled across the U.S. to gain investor interest. On September 10, 2001 Mark and his team closed out a successful day of connecting with investors and other business leaders alike in New York City. On September 11 the team traveled from NYC to Blackrock, an investment management firm in Wilmington, DE. Just as they began to pitch, the team received news of the bombing of the World Trade Center. It felt like the entire world stopped. The market was down and Given Imaging was tasked with answering a very important question, “What do we do next?” Instead of returning to Israel, the team continued their IPO Roadshow and on October 4th, 2001, Given Imaging became the first successful IPO post 9/11.

Be a Great CEO, then Hire an Even Better CFO

Mark emphasized the importance of hiring a great CFO. When asked, “How did you know you hired a great CFO?” Mark responded, “I learned something from him every week. He knew the business so well he could have been CEO.” Be great and hire even greater talent.

Fulfillment Comes from Grooming the Next Generation of Leaders

After nine years at Given Imaging Mark resigned to begin building his next company. Mark saw a large, underserved market within GI (gastro intestinal) medical devices and services. EndoChoice was founded to create a platform focused on GI. Mark also knew that he did not want to be CEO this time around, so he planned to launch the company then hire a CEO and serve as Chairman. He assembled a small team of marketers and operators, then began to raise capital. In 2008, EndoChoice raised $600K. Months after the raise EndoChoice had big plans to attend a major industry road show. Unfortunately they were burning cash quickly and in need of additional capital. The trade show was taking place on a Saturday, and by Monday EndoChoice would be completely out of capital. At the time only one Venture Capital firm remained interested in investing. Gilreath had a decision to make; burn additional cash by attending the trade show or cancel the big show and conserve capital. Mark and his team decided to attend the show with the intention of blowing it out of the water. The Friday before the conference, the venture capital firm called Mark to let him know they’d fund EndoChoice on one condition; Gilreath had to become CEO. He said yes. EndoChoice would later go on to raise additional growth capital from Sequoia and River Cities Capital, eventually IPO in 2015, and later get acquired by Boston Scientific Corporation (NYSE: BSX) for approximately $210 million.

When asked what he was most proud of, Mark didn’t mention EndoChoice’s acquisition, the prestigious roles he held, or the money. “The thing I was most proud of was the number of people under me who later became CEOs.”

Get Entrepreneurs Involved in your Venture

Mark encouraged all entrepreneurs to seek out their peers for advice and to join their company boards. Fellow Founders are a great resource to tap into as you scale your company. Mark also cautioned all the entrepreneurs in attendance to carefully choose their investors and Board Directors. He shared his experience managing aggressive activist investors and how that can distract and derail a company from its mission.

Endeavor Breakfast and Blog 2018 Greatest Hits

Endeavor Breakfast and Blog 2018 Greatest Hits

2018 has been an exciting year of growth for Endeavor Atlanta. In our second year of operations we added 5 high-impact entrepreneurs to the portfolio, screened dozens of others and began building a strong community of scale-stage founders through quarterly breakfasts and monthly interviews. We thought it would be fun to grab our favorite snippets of information from each of our previous blogs and events and share them in a single post.

LeaseQuery: From Bootstrapped to Atlanta's Fastest Growing Tech Company

LeaseQuery: From Bootstrapped to Atlanta's Fastest Growing Tech Company

The October blog interview is with Endeavor Entrepreneur's and LeaseQuery co-founders, George Azih and Chris Ramsey. LeaseQuery is a cloud-based lease accounting software that enables businesses to simplify accounting for leases and easily comply with the new GAAP lease accounting guidelines. In the last 12 months, LeaseQuery has grown from 8 employees to almost 90 and recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in Atlanta — all of this without raising any outside capital.

Blockchain, Fundraising and Entrepreneurship with Stephen Pair of BitPay

Blockchain, Fundraising and Entrepreneurship with Stephen Pair of BitPay

We continue our interview series with Endeavor Entrepreneur, Stephen Pair. Stephen is the co-founder and CEO of BitPay, the world's leading blockchain payment processor. BitPay has raised over $72M from leading venture capital firms and operates in one of the most exciting industries in the world. We dive into cryptocurrency, the importance of blockchain and why Stephen decided to join Endeavor.