Nick Jordan of Narrative: Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup

Authority Magazine
Authority Magazine
Published in
11 min readFeb 10, 2022


From a founder’s perspective, I think having a passion for whatever you’re doing is incredibly important. There’s going to be hard times. There’s going to be good times. You need to be able to make it through the hard times. I think having a passion for whatever you’re doing is clearly part of that.

Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.

Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?

In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Jordan.

Nick Jordan is the CEO and Founder of Narrative. He has spent his career in data-driven at technology-driven companies like Adobe, Tapad, and Yahoo!. Prior to Narrative, Nick was the SVP, Product + Strategy at Tapad where he helped evolve the company from a media business into a data and technology licensing business. Tapad was acquired by Telenor for $360M in 2016. Before joining Tapad, Nick ran Product Management at Demdex, the industry’s first data management platform (DMP). Demdex was acquired by Adobe in 2011 and today as Audience Manager powers Adobe’s audience activation strategy. Prior to Demdex, Nick was a Sr. Director at Yahoo!, running pricing and yield management for newly acquired assets like Right Media.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My education is as a software engineer and I always thought I was going to write code. I realized pretty quickly after college that I neither enjoyed doing that or was very good at doing that and transitioned into a product management function. I think my special power is that because my background is in software engineering, I am very technical. Yet I can also communicate effectively with the business-side of an organization. Product management really helped me bridge the business parts of an operation and the technical parts of an operation. I really cut my teeth in Silicon Valley working at companies like Yahoo, Adobe, and several startups before I founded Narrative.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Since I come from a product background, my “aha moments” are almost always me experiencing a problem that I can’t find a solution for. Narrative makes it easy for companies to buy and sell data. At a previous company, I was both a buyer and seller of data and found it incredibly cumbersome and almost impossible to do well. My initial thought was, well, someone surely has solved this problem, let me go find that solution, and I’ll be a customer. But I found no solution to the problems that I was having, and so I started Narrative to solve those problems. I would’ve been Narrative’s first customer had I still been at my previous company and Narrative existed.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

My dad was an entrepreneur, and growing up, I experienced what it was like to own and run a business. He ran a manufacturing business, which looks quite a bit different than running a technology organization. I also drew a lot of inspiration from the founders of, of the various startups that I’ve worked at over time as well as some of my coworkers and the people I had worked with at early stage companies that really had a passion for building a business from the ground up.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

I actually love this question. Not because I have any advice that I followed that I wish I hadn’t, but whenever anyone asks me for advice about starting a company, running a startup, or being a CEO, the advice I always give them is don’t listen to anyone that gives you advice. I think advice can be helpful, but everyone’s advice comes with some context associated with it. For instance, I could learn something that worked really well, but that might have worked well because of some context that doesn’t apply to the person that’s giving you the advice. Generally speaking, I tell people to listen to advice and try to figure out how it applies to you, but there’s no advice that you can take and map perfectly from one person’s experience to your own and have it work. If life was that simple, then there’d be a playbook to follow for how to do everything.

While there are plenty of books that tell you offensively how to do things, almost none of them work without real, lived experiences.

I’ve spoken to a lot of recent college graduates over the years that are interested in starting their own company and entrepreneurship. Other than “don’t follow advice,” the other advice I give them is don’t do it. It’s a lot harder than one might think, but they ask questions like, what’s the one thing you could teach me about selling a product or building a product or whatever it happens to be. The look in their eyes is like I’m going to have some unique insight that’s going to make their journey as an entrepreneur easier. And the fact of the matter is, I don’t have any of that unique insight. I have a lot of stories and stories I could tell them that I went through, but it’s not going to answer their questions. Hopefully it will give them another data point so they can go find the answer to their question.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

Startups have no business succeeding. You’re literally starting with no or next to no capital, no customers, no product to sell, and no team. A startup in the earliest days is basically a glorified idea. As a solo founder of a startup, it was literally just me. There was no one else on the team until our earliest hires. It’s hard to see how you can build a successful company in those early days. A lot of the challenge was in the uncertainty of if you can make it work and no real realistic plan for how you can make it.

How do you find a customer when you don’t have a product and how do you build a product unless you have a customer that you think might want to use it? How do you convince investors to give you money when you’ve literally got nothing but an idea on a napkin? The early days were very challenging and very lonely and the thing that gets me through is I can look back at how hard things were last week, last month, last year, and know we still have hard moments, but they are certainly easier than they were in the past. In the earliest days of the company, there was no past to look back on. All you had was, this is impossible, which is a pretty challenging thing to live with everyday.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?

I think it’s a personality trait for me. I very much have a Type A personality and whether it’s in business or in my personal life, I take a lot of pride in succeeding where there’s a challenge. If I was a pole vaulter, clearing the bar is fine. What really excites me is that they’re going to put the bar up another inch or another two inches, and I have to go clear it again. It’s my personality that I want to constantly clear the next bar. I do think that has caused some challenges as a CEO and as a manager and a leader, because oftentimes I don’t take time to celebrate the wins. I’m always looking forward to the next challenge. That’s not everyone’s personality, and oftentimes people want to celebrate the wins they have and not just look at what’s next. I’m very much always looking ahead.

Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks for your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?

I would ask what their goal is in running a company. Is there a problem that they want to solve? Do they want to go public and be worth billions? Do they want to be their own boss? I think the answer to the question of venture capital or bootstrapping largely comes from what their objectives are. Now, if you’re trying to solve a problem, and that problem is going to require a ton of capital to solve, then you probably need to go the venture capital route. If you want to be your own boss, I would say you probably don’t want to go that route, because as soon as you take investment from someone, they’re now your boss, whether directly in your org chart or not. For those who don’t know the answer to what they actually want, and why they want to be an entrepreneur and start their company, then I would probably suggest they consider another career path before they jump into entrepreneurship because you really need to have a passion. You need to want to do something for a very specific reason to be successful, however that success might be measured.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

From a founder’s perspective, I think having a passion for whatever you’re doing is incredibly important. There’s going to be hard times. There’s going to be good times. You need to be able to make it through the hard times. I think having a passion for whatever you’re doing is clearly part of that.

I don’t know that there’s five things that you need to create a highly successful startup. I think it’s very situational and dependent on the context. Luck plays a huge part of it as well. A ton has been written in terms of playbooks for how to create a startup, product-driven design, etc. What it really comes down to is drive, grit, and willingness to do whatever it takes that ultimately gets people to be successful. That’s also not a guarantee that you will be successful. There’s a lot of people that are incredibly driven and gritty whose startups have failed.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

I think they focus on the things that don’t matter. It’s very easy to miss the important things in order to do things that you have some control over. In the earliest stages of a startup, there’s no business succeeding and a lot of things are out of your control, from the ability to convince a customer to know, work with you to convincing venture capitalists to invest in you. There are also a lot of things that you do control. For example, you could create the world’s best nondisclosure agreement contract for the employees that you’re hiring. A lot of founders have an impulse to take the things that they control and do them really, really well because they control the outcome.

So you’ll find a founder that’s spending a hundred hours trying to put together a nondisclosure agreement. That nondisclosure agreement has no bearing on if their company is going to be successful or not. They’re just trying to do something that they have control over. Time is such a precious resource that founders really need to find a way to make sure all of the time they’re spending is actually creating a better business and not just working on things for the sake of working on things.

Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?

Personally, I run 10 miles a day, almost seven days a week. It’s how I keep my mental health grounded as I’m doing this. Certainly founders need to find something outside of work that they enjoy doing. It may come in the form of exercise or even in the form of watching TV. As much as it is people’s impulse to have their job be a 24–7 endeavor, and the hours will definitely be long and hard, there needs to be time to turn off. That includes vacations as well. A lot of founders take pride in sharing that they didn’t take a vacation for the first four years that their company existed. I don’t think that’s all that healthy.

Anything that you can do to clear any uncertainty or mental wellness hurdles, you should absolutely do that. I got one piece of really good advice from an investor. I hadn’t paid myself for the first couple of years after I started Narrative. I had some money saved up, but it was beginning to weigh on me. I took pride in the fact that I hadn’t been paying myself, and this investor said, you need to pay yourself because if you’re spending even 1% of your mental energy worrying about your own personal finances, that’s 1% that you’re not making the business better. So I’d rather pay you and have a hundred percent of your focus on the business versus you having mental anguish and worry because of your bank account. I think that’s very important. Whether it’s going on vacation or paying yourself, or having a hobby or exercise passion outside of work, it may seem like you’re removing yourself from what’s important, building the business, when what you’re really doing is clearing the deck so you can do a better job of building the business when you’re focused on it.

Founders are definitely going to have to make sacrifices. However, the sacrifices at some point become detrimental to the goal.

We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

I’d probably choose to have dinner with the Beastie Boys. I think they’ve lived an amazing life and it would be fun to sit down with them with a glass of wine and hear some of the stories they could tell.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!



Authority Magazine
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