Monthly Archives: September 2016

How Prepaid Technologies and Visa teamed at the Olympics

Birmingham’s Prepaid Technologies is playing a pioneering role in the emerging wearable technology market. The company provided back-end support for Visa’s Olympic payment ring program this summer, which Team Visa athletes used in Rio to make purchases and withdraw cash without carrying around a wallet or credit cards.

Prepaid President Stephen Faust describes Prepaid’s role as “quarterbacking”, ensuring Visa’s playbook came to fruition on the field.

“Someone will have an idea, and they’ll bring us in because we can quarterback the whole process,” Faust said. “You have to have a bank, a processor, customer service, systems to check cards and move money around … we can provide that.”

Prepaid is now looking ahead in the wearable scene, partnering with MasterCard for a U.S. Youth Soccer initiative. Faust said the project will simplify money for parents by providing kids with a rubber wristband loaded with enough money to buy a meal or pay entrance to a tournament.

 

This article originally appeared in the Birmingham Business Journal – September 23, 2016 Weekly Edition.

Introverts can be undervalued, Chapter III

1st player in NFL history elected All-Pro to 2 positions (DE & OLB) in the same season.

Oakland’s Khalil Mack is the 1st player ever in NFL history elected as an All-Pro at two different positions (DE & OLB) in the same season.

We have written before that introverts are often undervalued in the business world (August 2015) given that introverts often have characteristics which manifest themselves in a positive way in building high-growth businesses:

– a more focused mindset to their leadership style
– better at dealing with setbacks (because they need less external validation)
– more realistic when listening to feedback or analyzing information (because they do less public promotion of themselves)

Similarly, in our post, “Do I put off a human vibe to you? (January 2014), we wrote that the public (and, often, investor’s) imagination can be captured by the extrovert – highly confident, dynamic, charismatic types who are full of outward confidence and whose natural talent or ability seems obvious after a first meeting.  We were reminded of the introvert vs. extrovert discussion when reading Robert Klemko’s feature of NFL star Khalil Mack, whom Kelmko contrasts in some detail with Jadeveon Clowney.

As many college and NFL fans will remember, former South Carolina star Clowney is an athletic marvel, able to rely on his immense physical gifts to dominate lesser opponents throughout his football career, up until his NFL career began.  Every college talent evaluator and NFL draftnik was mesmerized by Clowney’s obvious and immense physical gifts, though fewer paid attention to his work habits, hustle, and understanding of the team concept.

Mack, by contrast, was the classic diamond-in-the-rough, overlooked in the college recruiting process because of an injury in high school and his still-developing frame.  As college recruiters overlooked Mack, however, he honed his craft in relative obscurity at small school Buffalo, far away from the bright lights and television exposure of the Southeastern Conference, where Clowney played.

Far from being discouraged, however, Mack instead focused on honing his craft, paying careful attention to the technique of the position and living in the weight room, whereas Clowney lifted weights infrequently and chose to freelance more during games, confident that his talent (and other less talented teammates) would save him.  Once the talent evened out in the NFL, however, Mack’s habits have overtaken Clowney’s talent, making Mack, not Clowney, the force to be reckoned with in the pass-happy NFL as a dominant pass rusher.

Mack’s ascent has reminded us of Sequoia Capital’s philosophy of investing with entrepreneurs from meager beginnings.  As Sequoia Capital managing partner Doug Leone states, “Sequoia looks for people from humble backgrounds.  Maybe something happened in our lives early on, our system was shocked, and we have this unbelievable need to stay on top and to succeed.”

At Ballast Point Ventures, we know that entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, but we too are interested in investing with those entrepreneurs who have persisted when times were difficult and continued to chase their dreams of building their companies, oftentimes far away from the glitzy limelight of Silicon Valley and the associated “unicorn” culture.  We know that building a great business takes talent and intelligence, for sure, but hard work and persistence often can carry an entrepreneur when all else evens out.  We will continue to look to partner with the Khalil Macks of the world, knowing that they share many of the values that we hold dear and will exhaust every avenue to make their dreams come true.

When You Change the World and No One Notices

crop380w_istock_000018298852xsmallWe’ve written that it’s a long and difficult journey from idea to successful business, and entrepreneurs need partners who intuitively understand the right kind of support to offer over the long term during which failure can be counted on to make at least a cameo appearance.  In other words, the road to both successful and failed business models can be paved with “innovation.”

That road can also be long and involve a great deal of anonymity.  A friend recently passed along this article about how long it took for the Wright brothers to get even passing notice for an invention that would have seemed miraculous at the time.

(T)he first passing mention of the Wrights in The New York Times came in 1906, three years after their first flight. (I)n 1904, the Times asked a hot-air-balloon tycoon whether humans may fly someday. He answered:

Count

That was a year after the Wright’s first flight.

One would like to think a breakthrough of that magnitude that would kick up the equivalent of a tweet-storm, but even today one never knows.  For further evidence check out our Vintage Future series, a tongue-in-cheek look back at the sometimes tortuous routes to success (or not) of unlikely ideas. E.g., it took sliced bread 18 years to succeed.

Back to the article, which offers a seven-step path “big breakthroughs typically follow”:

  • First, no one’s heard of you.
  • Then they’ve heard of you but think you’re nuts.
  • Then they understand your product, but think it has no opportunity.
  • Then they view your product as a toy.
  • Then they see it as an amazing toy.
  • Then they start using it.
  • Then they couldn’t imagine life without it.

This process can take decades. It rarely takes less than several years.

The author echoes our earlier point, that “invention is only the first step of innovation,” and also adds that while Zen-like patience isn’t a typical trait associated with entrepreneurs, it is sometimes required.

If you are interested in reading a little bit more about the history of the Wright Brothers’ invention, please check out “The only thing he ever made fly was government money,” one of our all-time most-read posts.  It includes a great lesson about the process of productive capital allocation.

If you are interested in a related bit of trivia:  Neil Armstrong carried a piece of the Wright flyer with him to the moon.  In “The Wright Stuff” we recount that story and Mr. Armstrong’s explanation for why they experienced “only” 150 separate identifiable failures per flight when, statistically, they expected 1000.

The Zebra Welcomes Brett Little, Former Travelocity and Match.com VP of Finance, to Executive Team

Posted August 31st, 2016 by The Zebra

Little joins The Zebra to build company’s finance function, bringing 20+ years of global finance and accounting experience from Match.com, Travelocity and AppFolio

AUSTIN, Texas — August 31, 2016 The Zebra, the most comprehensive car insurance comparison marketplace in the U.S., today announced the addition of Brett Little as Executive Vice President of Finance & Administration. Little brings more than 20 years’ finance experience from Match.com, Travelocity and AppFolio, and will oversee The Zebra’s financial, legal, and human resources operations to help drive optimal consumer experience and continued disruption throughout the massive auto insurance industry.

“In a few short years, we’ve grown TheZebra.com into the most visited car insurance comparison website in the U.S. Now, with the addition of Brett, we can accelerate our growth as we strengthen the position of The Zebra and our partners,” CEO Adam Lyons said. “Brett has the right mix of skills and experience to complement an already world-class leadership team. We could not be more excited.”

Meet Brett Little, EVP of Finance & Administration

Little joins The Zebra after nearly four years at AppFolio, a California-based SaaS provider of workflow solutions, where he was part of the team that took the company public in 2015. Little’s tenure saw both a quadrupling of revenue and progress toward realizing operating leverage in the business.

Before AppFolio, Little was instrumental in growing the financial organizations at big-name consumer-facing brands Match.com and Travelocity. In his 10 years at Match.com, Little partnered with the leadership team as the company realized revenue and subscriber expansion and became a globally recognized name in the ever-popular world of online dating.

Prior to his tenure at Match.com, Little built and led a team at Travelocity that contributed to the company’s rapid revenue growth and emergence as a pioneer in the online travel industry.

At The Zebra, Little will focus on connecting all elements of the business to create the best possible product and experience for consumers seeking auto insurance in the modern, connected world.

“I’ve had great opportunities to grow fledgling ideas alongside industry-leading companies, and I’m incredibly excited to do that and more with The Zebra,” Little said. “The Zebra is already revolutionizing the highly regulated and complex auto insurance industry, which is a massive undertaking. I see so many opportunities to continue to tweak the formula and I’m excited to roll up my sleeves.”

Resources:

About The Zebra

The Zebra is the most comprehensive online car insurance comparison platform in the U.S. Since 2012, the company has sought to bring transparency and simplicity to car insurance shopping — “car insurance in black and white.” With The Zebra’s real-time, side-by-side quote comparison tool, drivers can identify insurance companies with the coverage, service level, and pricing to suit their unique needs. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, The Zebra compares over 200 car insurance companies and provides agent support and educational resources to ensure drivers are equipped to make the most informed decisions about their car insurance.

 

Contact:

Alyssa Connolly

The Zebra

Phone: 773.59.ZEBRA

press@thezebra.com

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