Nick Mathews is CEO of MainVest. MainVest is on a mission to bring investment capital directly to Main Street, so as to keep our local businesses alive and growing during and after this pandemic crisis. His business has helped small brick and mortar companies since 2018, but their mission to save main street is crucial now, more than ever, to us rebuilding post-Covid-19. As the heartbeat of local life, small businesses supply 99% of our jobs, give us culture, community, and the products and services that we value. Through Covid-19, MainVest has offered zero interest rate immediate loans to qualifying small businesses and the platform gives locals direct investment opportunities to support their local businesses; everything from funeral homes to juice bars. After a successful career as East Coast business development at Uber, Nick went onto create this important fintech platform to help democratize small business finance. Learn more at www.mainvest.com.
Where did the idea for MainVest come from?
Before MainVest, I spent 7 crazy years at Uber, working with a team of amazing, talented people to grow the company from 30 employees to over 20,000. Back in 2013, we began exploring suburban and smaller market expansion, basically trying to answer the questions of “Can Uber work in the suburbs? Can it work in smaller metro areas?”. You can’t really answer that question without going down a lot of economic development rabbit holes and, in doing so, I became infatuated with all of the different dynamic components that drive local economic growth and development.
What really stood out to me was the acute challenge that small businesses face around access to capital, and the incremental challenges faced by minority and women entrepreneurs. Institutional finance was stuck in the 2000’s, while the profile of entrepreneurs starting local businesses had changed. It basically led to the question “Why isn’t there a marketplace for locals to invest in the small businesses that form the cornerstone of their community”.
The answer came pretty quickly in the Securities Act of 1933, which limited private investment to “Accredited Investors”, basically the wealthiest ~7% of the population. With that roadblock, the idea was tabled, but continued to gestate.
Fast forward to 2016 and the passing of the Jobs Act, Title III. The key points of the regulation change was to improve capital access to businesses, while giving retail investors the ability to begin investing in private companies. Roadblock cleared and MainVest started its path from idea to reality!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Lots of coffee! But really, in true startup fashion, every day is different. We start most days with a team standup to align on priorities, and from there, everyone is great at taking ownership over their domain and pulling me in when it becomes necessary. I’m usually split between calls and supporting the business development, marketing, and operations teams, and maintaining productivity by being as action-driven as possible on every task. We definitely take some time to banter, but I find that some of our best ideas come from random spurts of collaboration throughout the day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
With the help of an amazing team that has remained as passionate as I am and continues to surprise and delight every day. I’m a huge fan of the jam session, whiteboards, and a lot of pacing. One of the biggest success points of Uber was the focus on operationalization and execution. When we dig into an idea, it’s all about pressure testing it and mapping out what actually needs to be done to turn it into a reality.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The renaissance of locality. We’re seeing a once-in-a-lifetime reckoning for small businesses across the country. It’s hard to scroll through bylines without seeing articles saying 20-40% of small businesses are not able to weather this storm. When we look at the businesses that have been successful on our platform, however, we’re seeing a very different story. 100% of our partner businesses provided, or were on track to provide, returns in the last quarter, which is a complete reversal from what you’d expect in the macro environment. Over the next 18 months, as we come out of a pandemic and into a recession, the importance of community as we rebuild our main street economies is tantamount to none.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I don’t know if you could call it a habit, but growing up with ADHD has in some ways felt like a blessing. While organizational skills are always a struggle, the ability to multi-task and move from one project/issue to the next with minimal friction has empowered me to develop and manage my time and resources in a surprisingly efficient manner.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Step back more. One of the challenges of ADHD and treatment is tunnel-vision. I think the apt phrase is “missing the forest for the trees”. It took me a long time to get better at checking myself, being able to get out of the tunnel, step back, and look objectively at the goals that need to be accomplished. Unfortunately, my younger self probably wouldn’t have listened to me anyways 🙂
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Third Eye Blind is one of the best bands of our generation.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Listen. Strong leadership shouldn’t be authoritarian. Listen to your people, your customers, and most importantly, your detractors. If you aren’t able to listen, you aren’t going to be able to empower your business and your team to grow and scale.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I’d double down on listening here, if possible, but on a more tactical level, a big part of our philosophy that was learned at Uber was the idea of building machines that build machines. Whenever possible, we focus our resources on projects, people, and product designed to enable our marketplace to grow self-sufficiently and help us gather the data we need to make improvements across platform to help accelerate our growth.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Senior year of college, me and a few friends launched a business called… wait for it… (Eye)spy. It was basically a crawler of different event sites designed to let people find things to do, with a focus on same day discovery. Needless to say, no one has heard of (Eye)spy. We never “overcame” that failure, but we learned. It’s hard to say this without being super platitudinal, and it’s a point that’s been tirelessly repeated throughout the startup world, but it’s true. If you’re learning from your failure, then you’ve overcome it.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
This one was top of mind the other day. Well-designed sunglasses with Bluetooth BLE that notifies your phone when you move more than 10 feet away from it.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I’m going to cheat here and say the best $100 I recently spent was on 1/6th of a Vox AC15 guitar amp so I can pretend I’m good at guitar by playing louder.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Slack has proven to be a fantastic solution for team communication, better than anything I’ve experienced before. It’s amazing how little the team utilizes email for internal communication and is able to be on the same page, hash out important decisions, and not waste time in an inbox.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Steve Case – The Third Wave. It was hugely influential for me in thinking about the next 10-20 years and the next phase of opportunity for technology to improve global quality of life on a much deeper level. I often refer back to it when I’m stepping out of the tunnel to think through how to tackle any challenge that gets in our way over the next decade or so.
What is your favorite quote?
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
- Discovering new ideas for meaningful startups is a matter of asking critical questions about the status quo: question everything
- A good CEO lets everyone take ownership of their activities and then they feel free to pull him or her in as needed
- Slack is a great tool for keeping everyone in a startup on the same page
- While failure can be tough, If you’re learning from it, then you’ve overcome it.