How did Nada get started - what was your inspiration?
Mauricio: My family immigrated from Mexico to the U.S. when I was six. Similar to many immigrant stories, we came to the US with “nada” for the opportunity of a better life. However, we lacked the established network of friends and family to jumpstart it. Because of this, my parents instilled in us the power of education as a way to achieve the American Dream.
Two Stanford diplomas later, I had scaled the education ladder, but somehow still lacked a sense of purpose. I looked for it in the basement of Stanford’s computer science labs, searched for it among the halls of the business school, sold my soul to Wall Street and hedge funds to pay back all that student debt until I finally landed as CFO and then CEO at Tricolor, a private-equity backed, vertically integrated used car retailer and finance company.
It was at Tricolor where I finally gained a sense of purpose beyond purely making profit, mainly by putting myself in the shoes of thousands of other immigrants who lacked established credit but had the income and desire for a better life. Developing solutions to real customer problems drove me and our team to grow the business to one that now generates >$300M in revenue, successfully raised capital in the securitization markets and gained the CDFI designation from Dept. of Treasury by delivering responsible, affordable lending to help low-income, low-wealth, and other disadvantaged people and communities join the economic mainstream.
My experience and insights as an entrepreneur, operator and investor led me to turn my eye to the real estate market. I met John during this period and quickly gained a partner who not only shared a similar strategic vision around solving jobs for customers, but who could also take the vision and execute.
John: My journey to Nada began with my escape from the tiny town in Louisiana I grew up in; a town with the highest poverty rate in the state and void of creativity, individualism, and opportunity. During high school, a few of my friends and I became obsessed with the underground heavy rock scene. Being from our town, this scene and culture felt like it was on another planet. So, we decided to start a band. We practiced a lot, began to write our own songs and found places to play live shows locally. After a couple of years, we were playing shows all over and had hundreds of people attending our concerts in our hometown.
Next, we found ourselves living in Hollywood, touring internationally, and having released two albums. This experience taught me that anyone could create something new, something that other people would listen to, something that could help build a community.
After a few years of being a touring musician, I landed in the mortgage industry. I applied the same ambition and pursuit of knowledge to this new career as I had with music. I started in sales, then adapted to risk management roles after the 2008 housing market crash. I found myself in a familiar position. No matter how high up the ladder I climbed, I continued to identify problems in the industry with solutions that seemed like they were never within reach. Over time I grew passionate, some would say obsessed, about solving these problems. I jumped from working with large banks to independent mortgage companies; and even transitioned from risk management to building a strategy and innovation department in my pursuit.
It was in this strategy role I had the opportunity to work with Mauricio. Mauricio and I shared an insider’s view into the challenges the modern homeowner was facing and how far away the real estate and mortgage industries were from addressing them. It became clear that if we wanted to bring meaningful change to these industries, we would need to create something new again.
You both held leadership roles at your respective companies prior to starting Nada. What do you think is the most important skill leaders need to succeed?
Mauricio: Setting vision, instilling purpose and driving execution.
John: What Mauricio said. He has the most experience and I look to him often for guidance as a first-time CEO.
How did you two meet?
Mauricio: Serendipity. We had the fortune of meeting while I was launching a startup called Vamonos, a vertically integrated homeownership service targeting the growing Hispanic market. We forged a relationship during this period that quickly accelerated once we left corporate America and dug in to form Nada.
John: A washed-up rock musician and a Stanford dropout, what could go wrong?
We work very well together, we are both strategists by trade with diverse views and unique paths. Mauricio is the true visionary, he has a unique ability to see solutions to problems without any of the artificial restrictions of today. I focus on execution and the pursuit of realizing our shared vision, while he continues to press us forward.
How do you handle risk and competition?
John: My years of managing quality and risk in mortgage has taught me to appreciate the value in establishing a solid foundation in why and how you are doing things.
If your “why” is consistently focused on solving customer problems and the “how” is through knowledge and understanding of your industry, then risk should not be a factor.
Competition is not something that I see directly. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the value in competition and recognize other companies in our industry. I see innovation to the industries we operate in as motivation and inspiration to continue pushing forward. We embrace competition and the challenges that come with improving the lives of customers.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching Nada?
Mauricio: I started my first company at the age of 19 when I dropped out of Stanford to “change the world”. My only fixed costs at the time were food, gas, and my walk-in closet that I was renting from my friend and business partner. Twenty years later, I’m back in the entrepreneurial game, but this time with the high costs (financial and emotional) of supporting a loving wife, 3 kids, two dogs, house, cars, etc. We’ve had challenges adjusting to the demands of a startup but are all in and committed to the journey of making this a success for all involved.
John: Navigating the maturation process of becoming a father and entrepreneur at the same time. There’s the obvious salary gap, but mostly it is the management of time and meaningful attention to each.
What is the best decision you’ve made throughout your career?
Mauricio: Carpe diem, seize every opportunity, take the road less traveled, drop out of Stanford, fail fast, go all in when you’re dealt a great hand.
John: Starting with my music career, I’ve always had a larger risk appetite than most. That has consistently pushed me into doing what I believe in, over chasing salary or title. Choosing purpose and happiness over status, rank and money is very important.
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd via Republic?
Mauricio: As a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Wall Street banker, hedge fund/private equity investor and executive at high growth companies, I’ve raised and invested hundreds of millions of dollars in capital. I was attracted to raising capital via Republic because of the opportunity to democratize investing, specifically in startups. As entrepreneurship goes global, the days of driving down Sand Hill Road shopping term sheets from a small group of investors is changing. More startups get successfully founded and funded outside of Silicon Valley. Republic had the foresight to create an ecosystem of startups, partners and investors that fills a gap in today’s highly distributed and connected world.
John: An additional motivation for us was how the opportunity aligned with one of our core values at Nada, commitment. We believe everyone involved in Nada should be committed and accountable to both one another and Nada's mission. With this public offering, we were able to create an opportunity for Nada team members to share in the ownership of Nada. We are thrilled to share that today, nearly all of our 15+ team members are now equity stakeholders in Nada. We’re strengthening our commitments to each other and the future of Nada.
What’s your team culture like?
John: We adopted the great rugby team, the New Zealand All Blacks, policy of “no d*ckheads”.
What is your superpower?
Mauricio: Empathy + Problem-solving. One of my favorite quotes from Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird is “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Empathy has provided me insights into how to deeply understand customer problems, even if I haven’t faced them. Once I empathize with our customers, I put on my problem solving and engineering hat to develop unique solutions.
John: An ability to transform a collection of ideas and theories into action that can be applied, tested, tweaked and improved. I have learned over the years that I can create fast and iterate improvements over time with actionable insights from real feedback and application. I’m not an impatient person, I am just eager to test the boundaries and cautious of getting stuck in a perpetual state of ideation without action.
What’s your kryptonite?
Mauricio: Art & Old Fashioneds
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
Mauricio: I can go months eating the same lunch every day. I think I’ve reached platinum VIP status at Jimmy Johns.
John: We’re very similar in this regard. Lunch is an obstacle. Most recently we’ve taken to eating adult Lunchables in the office.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
Mauricio: Recently, because of the quarantine, I’ve been forced to take on home maintenance. I enjoy it because I like to fix things, but it has also been frustrating because of lack of data/information. Luckily my direct struggles in improving the value of my home have become the genesis for much of what we’ve envisioned for Home Eco.
John: Spare time is hard to come by with families and a startup. Like Mauricio, I tend to spend time around the house doing general to the more complex tasks--often leading to a new data point for our future enhancements to homeownership services. Most recently I learned the risk associated with not cleaning your dryer vent exhaust on the roof. I ended up calling a professional to help with that one. Outside the home, I like to fish and spend time outdoors with the family.
What’s your advice for entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?
Mauricio: Identify and solve real customer problems.
John: Do not wait to go directly to your customer to validate your hypothesis.