Briefly describe your work.
I wear multiple hats: CEO, Co-founder, Investor, and Partner. I’m CEO of Nutshell, a software company that provides sales automation and customer relationship management for thousands of small-and medium-sized businesses all around the world. I’m also the co-founder of Cahoots, which is a 25,000-square-foot co-working space for startups in downtown Ann Arbor. As a hobby, I am an active angel investor and have built a portfolio of dozens of amazing companies mostly here in Michigan. Lastly, I am one of the managing partners of a group that recently acquired Ann Arbor’s iconic live music venue The Blind Pig. The Pig is a project of passion.
What inspired you to choose this path? What was your journey leading up to it?
My background is actually in energy and sustainability. I have a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in environmental policy and economics respectively, and initially, my career was focused on the intersection of business and sustainability—first as a consultant for a boutique firm called GreenOrder, and later as a member of DTE Energy’s Strategy + Mergers & Acquisitions team. After a few years at DTE, I realized that I wanted to be a part of something more intimate. I loved how much reach and impact on the community an organization like DTE can have, but I didn’t feel very connected to how my day-to-day activities were contributing. I decided I wanted to learn early-stage tech investing, so I spent the next six months meeting with every person I could identify in the local startup community. Eventually, I felt that I knew the lay of the land enough to make my first investment, and then spent the next several years doing that full time.
It was while I was angel investing that I met my current business partner, Guy Suter. Guy and I had been working collaboratively to build our companies in downtown Ann Arbor and realized that the community needed more in order to grow into the major tech-hub we all desired it to be. One of the many things we realized that was missing was a “place”. Every major tech community outside of the Valley had a space where investors and entrepreneurs gather to learn, build, and network. So we went on a tour of major startup communities around the country, and the one that had the most significant impact on us was Capital Factory in Austin. This is how Cahoots was eventually born.
Lastly, I love live music but I’m not a musician. The Blind Pig has served as a critical component of Ann Arbor’s arts scene for decades. I had discovered that the prior owners were getting ready to sell the building and business, so I found myself in a position to bring investors together and partner with the existing employees to ensure that the Pig remained a live music venue for decades to come.
How was the University of Michigan ecosystem beneficial to you?
I loved being a student. I enjoyed nearly every facet of it. I’m very social, so making new friends and socializing with other students was incredibly valuable to me. I also really enjoy being challenged, and found that my degree programs did so in an inspiring way. Ultimately, I think that attending a school with depth in so many disciplines was especially valuable to me, particularly when it comes to taking risks as an entrepreneur.
What would you consider your biggest setback in your entrepreneurial journey?
They are many. Most of my setbacks involve bad calls with managing a team. There have been times when I over-managed and didn’t give the respect specific people deserved. There have also been times when I didn’t manage enough and let people make huge mistakes when they probably could have been doing their best work elsewhere. Mistakes are plentiful and often painful for a first-time CEO. How you choose to react and handle your mistakes is far more consequential than the fact that you made them in the first place.
What advice do you have for students thinking about starting a venture?
Practice self-awareness. Know who you really are and who you are not. Don’t pretend to be the latter. Say “I don’t know” when it’s true and be assertive when your gut is on fire. Your personal risk curve is inversely correlated with age and career development. The longer you wait to take a swing, the harder it is. Don’t fall into the trap of “I’m going to go work at a Fortune 500 Company for a few years, save some money, and then start a venture.” No, you won’t. They pay much too well and you will not be able to leave.