It had been nearly a year since I’d heard from my dear friend, Suzanna Silva Newsom, when she called in July with serendipitous news. Suzy explained that her company, Good Dirt—a fast-growing sustainable garden product brand based in North Carolina—had been approached by a tech-driven investment platform that wanted to discuss her financing needs. I happened to be in the late stages of discussions to join that very company: CircleUp. I was blown away as I learned that even though Good Dirt was in an early stage, CircleUp was already aware of the brand’s recent distribution deals and its fanatical customer base—before even speaking with Suzy. I already had a sense of how impactful CircleUp’s technology platform could be, and this conversation only heightened my interest in what they were building. Less than three weeks later, I signed on to become CircleUp’s President.
After three great months in that position, I am now taking on the CEO role as Ryan Caldbeck (co-founder and current CEO) transitions to Executive Chairman. I am honored to have the opportunity to lead this organization into its next phase of growth, and am grateful for Ryan, his co-founder Rory Eakin, and the CircleUp team for the company they’ve created—one with remarkable technology, successful applications built on top of the technology, and a highly talented and committed team with a work culture where innovation thrives.
What led me here
As I began learning about the company, two things became clear. First, CircleUp has the potential to transform the private markets with its proprietary technology platform and world-class team—and the seeds are in place to broaden the company’s reach. Second, as Ryan talks about here, his reasons for wanting a break were unrelated to the company’s strong performance.
The more I dug into the details with CircleUp, the more I was drawn to the industry, mission, and stage of the company’s development. Virtually all of my career has been focused on the intersection of financial services and technology, particularly related to building new and purpose-driven businesses.
CircleUp perfectly fits that mold. We are a technology platform that uses data and analytics to provide both equity and debt to growing businesses. Our mission is to help entrepreneurs thrive by giving them the capital and resources they need. Our vision is to create a transparent and efficient market that drives innovation forward for all. We are leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs by enabling data-driven decision making for stakeholders in private companies.
Further, I am a scaler, and the more I learned, the more certain I became that this company is ready for significant scaling. Our technology, Helio, enables industry players to identify, evaluate, and support private companies using objective data alone—whether through our own funds or our data-as-a-service offering for external customers. Helio strips away the inefficiencies and biases that impact the way decisions are traditionally made.
CircleUp has built high-performing equity and debt funds that prove how well the technology works, and I’ve joined with a hunger to materially expand the impact of our data-driven approach. We aim to help thousands of entrepreneurs and to remake private investing. The public markets have already been revolutionized by data and I am excited to help lead a similar transformation for private companies. Given the significant disruption many businesses have faced in light of the pandemic, the world is at a point where it needs what our company can offer, and our company is at a point where it can meet those needs.
Where I’ve been
Prior to joining CircleUp, I spent most of my career as an operator, developing businesses that utilized data to serve other companies in unprecedented ways. At Uber, I led a division that provided capital to millions of individuals in over 40 countries to enable driver access to vehicles. At Amazon, I built and led the global lending business unit, leveraging data to serve businesses in ways the traditional financial services industry can’t. Between those experiences, as well as my time running Visa’s North America credit card business, I learned how to build customer-obsessed businesses where data was a central input of the business strategy and product development process, and I found that data insights were an essential element of sustainable, rapid scaling.
Where we’re going
There are three things that give me tremendous conviction in CircleUp’s future:
1. Asymmetric info advantage.
At Amazon and Uber, the insights both companies have on their customers enable them to embed financial services through the signals their technologies pick up. But both have a closed-loop info edge—they are only gaining insights on the companies within their respective platforms. CircleUp also has built an internal asymmetrical advantage, but our insights allow us to provide capital and resources to a range of entrepreneurs far beyond our direct reach.
This advantage is enabled by our technology platform, Helio. It provides unparalleled insights on the private company landscape at the product, brand, and category level, starting with the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry. CircleUp has built equity and credit businesses on top of the platform. Our investment teams use Helio to objectively identify and evaluate breakout CPG brands early in their lifecycle, and then provide data-driven insights to accelerate the companies’ growth.
2. Joining CircleUp at this particular moment is exciting and powerful.
This pandemic has hit emerging businesses particularly hard. Many are in need of capital—some to survive and others to grow—but in many industries, traditional investors are not equipped to find, analyze, and support their investments from a distance. So far this year, CircleUp has provided nearly $275M to companies across North America, up about 30% from the same period last year, which is remarkable given the current environment. Our continued service to entrepreneurs through this time demonstrates the power of our digital-first approach.
Additionally, we are all mindful of the need to increase fairness and access. How can we fix what is clearly broken in many economies around the world, while harnessing our entrepreneurial zeal and innate desire to compete and create?
CircleUp has been, and will continue to be, a part of the solution. To discover and support businesses with tremendous growth potential, Helio looks for early signs of success based on data and insights rather than networks, pedigrees, and personal biases. For Helio, the proof is in the performance, not the pitch. We can find innovative brands without roaming grocery store aisles or flying to trade shows to personally taste, feel, smell, or try out their products—all of which has become unappealing, if not impossible, during the pandemic.
While I’m impressed with the financial performance of our businesses, what’s even more inspiring is how the data naturally guides us toward a more inclusive approach to identifying and evaluating companies. Our existing funds have already invested in businesses spanning 20-plus states, and of our portfolio companies who participated in a self-reported survey, over 50% have a female founder and nearly 35% are founded by a person of color. By taking heuristics and unconscious bias out of the decision-making process, the best entrepreneurs get to shine, regardless of who they know and where they come from.
3. There is immense whitespace to scale this business.
I see untapped potential to provide capital both earlier and later in a company’s lifecycle, and to offer new products and services to businesses as their needs change. To date, we’ve only focused on consumer businesses in North America, but there is a huge opportunity to expand—first by stage, then by geography. And there is great appetite: a large portion of requests for access to Helio has come from international brands, marketplaces, and investors. Our platform capabilities have been designed to scale and to be extensible outside of our current area of focus. We will need to handle new languages, but this is a solvable challenge. There are millions of companies and tens of millions of workers who need more objective, efficient tools to assess and support their businesses, and we are building to help solve this problem.
CircleUp is a 21st-century solution for equitable capital and resources. We are just getting started, and I can’t wait to work with our talented team and powerful assets to transform the private markets.