10 Questions with Wesley Barrow (C’05)
Welcome to PennNYC’s Medium page, where we’ll be highlighting Penn alumni in New York City who are doing awesome and amazing things. (Our most recent Q&A can be found here.) Have an alumnus/a to nominate for a future post? Let us know!
Let’s start by talking Nomi.
Can you describe Nomi in one sentence?
Nomi is a vertical technology platform that allows brick-and-mortar retailers to measure and optimize the ways that customers interact in their physical stores — where 93% of commerce still takes place.
Where did the idea for Nomi come from? What’s the story behind the creation of the company?
My co-founders [Marc Ferrentino and Corey Capasso] and I all had different backgrounds in CRM, social media marketing, and e-commerce, but we all deeply believed that physical retail was way behind e-commerce when it came to innovation, measurement, and experience. E-commerce didn’t have the burden of real estate, so it was easy to implement innovations like analytics, A/B testing, responsive design, personalization, and re-targeting, to create a stickier customer experience.
We thought it was crazy that physical retail couldn’t benefit from the same capabilities, so we started thinking about how this could be done and started experimenting with different types of sensors that could get data similar to what an e-commerce site could measure. Nomi took off shortly thereafter with a simple Wi-Fi sensor that could count how many smartphones were in a physical space. The rest is history.
Were you hesitant at all about Nomi’s acquisition? Or was that the ultimate goal? Was it difficult to let go of a company you’d created?
Absolutely. No founder should start out intending to sell a company that they put so much blood, sweat, and tears into — however, there came a time when it became more advantageous to merge with a hardware company like Brickstream than it did to go it alone. We believed that without a scalable hardware foundation that we could control, we wouldn’t be able to innovate at the speed that we wanted.
It was certainly tough on a number of levels, but all in all we thought it was the best decision for the company and for our investors.
You recently announced your decision to step back from your full-time responsibilities at Nomi. Was that a tough decision to make? How’d you know you were ready? Is it something you’d suggest to fellow founders?
It certainly was a tough decision to leave Nomi, but I made it because I felt I had gotten to a point (after a year with the merged entity) where I could no longer be helpful in the same capacity. Many of the responsibilities I had prior to the merger were transitioned to other capable people as the company grew, so I felt it was the right time to pursue other opportunities where I could provide value.
I believe that after an exit, any founder would be smart to evaluate whether they can continue to make the same impact at the parent or joint company.
Tell us about your next venture.
What’s Yext? And what about it appealed to you?
Yext is a software company based in NYC that helps businesses manage the digital and mobile presence of their physical locations. I have known the founders at Yext for quite a while and stayed in close touch with them throughout my own entrepreneurial journey, so when I was looking to start my next chapter, they were some of the first people that I met with. It turned out that they were launching a product that was tangential to what I was doing at Nomi — helping physical businesses re-market to anyone who walks into one of their locations — so I was naturally very excited about the opportunity to help them take that product to market.
It really hits a sweet spot for me because it allows me to continue having an entrepreneurial role, while also getting exposed to the workings of a bigger company that’s on a great growth trajectory. You’ll see big things from us over the next few years.
Any interesting professional milestones you look forward to hitting in 2016?
I’m building a team and helping to close major enterprise deals for my new product called Xone. In 2016, I look forward to continue bringing this product to market and also learning from some immensely talented people as Yext continues to dominate the location-marketing industry.
Entrepreneurship seems to be a constant theme here.
What was your favorite part of founding a company?
My favorite part of founding a company was the visibility across all parts of the organization and autonomy to make decisions that I believed were inherently true — even if there wasn’t always the data to back it up.
And what was the greatest challenge for you?
The greatest challenge was recruiting and managing personnel. Any hot market like NYC or San Francisco is a very tough place to retain top-notch talent as there are new startups getting funding every day.
I found that the best policy was to be open and honest with employees all the time and to motivate them with enough equity so that they had an incentive to stick around for the long haul.
So how’d you get your start?
What did you study at Penn? Did your time there prepare you for the work you’re doing now?
At Penn, I started as a digital media design major, but realized pretty quickly that I loved the film courses the most — so I worked on getting a cinema studies major off the ground before my senior year. My friend Josh Gorin and I ended up being the first two graduates of that program, which was very exciting.
My time at Penn impacted my career many ways, but the experience of building something from scratch certainly helped prepare me for my entrepreneurial career.
What are the 3 most pivotal moments in your career that you learned from or that helped get you where you are?
It’s hard to pin down individual moments, but I would say that my time at William Morris Agency helped me learn what it was like to work hard and pay attention to every tiny detail while also getting exposure to lots of industries in a short amount of time.
My time at a startup called Akimbo was important because it was the last 3 months of the company’s existence, so I saw what it was like for a startup to go under very early in my career.
I probably learned the most in my career (before Nomi) at Buddy Media because it was the first time I was part of a startup that went through a hyper-growth phase where every single cylinder was firing, and it taught me how important a great company culture is to winning.
What’s one piece of advice you would share with Penn alumni who aspire to have a successful career in your industry?
The biggest piece of advice I would offer anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur is to embrace risk. I’ve found that most paths to success are not linear and not secure, so calculated risk is almost always required at some point to make the jump to the most exciting and lucrative opportunities.
Wesley Barrow (C’05) is currently the SVP of New Business at Yext. He is also the founder of Nomi — a marketing and analytics platform for brick-and-mortar retailers — which got acquired in 2014. Prior to starting Nomi, Wesley was an enterprise software executive who spent 2.5 years with Buddy Media, a social media marketing platform that sold to Salesforce.com in 2012. Wesley graduated from Penn in 2005 with a B.A. in Cinema Studies.
Interview conducted by Lia Zneimer (C ‘09)