On picking winners and standing behind our founders: Our latest investment in Shoptalk
-Originally posted by Brad Svrluga on the Primary Venture Partners blog
In the spring of 2007 I met a remarkably compelling, multi-time successful entrepreneur named Anil Aggarwal. It was one of those meetings that, in retrospect, was absolutely game-changing. Anil and his partner Jonathan Weiner were a few years removed from the successful sale of payments platform Clarity to TSYS. Post-TSYS, they had started a conference called Prepaid Expo, creating the first proper gathering point for the growing prepaid debit card market, in which Clarity competed. They struck a chord with that concept; the show grew quickly and was sold a few years later. Successful exit №2.
But Anil was hungry for something bigger. As he pitched me the back-of-napkin vision for what eventually became mobile payments company TxVia, I knew this was a guy I wanted to be in business with. Fast-forward five years, and Anil and Jonathan had a third — and much larger — notch on their belt following TxVia’s $220 million Google acquisition in 2012.
With Anil and Jonathan, we were living the fabulous reality of backing repeat founders. While we do back many first-time founders — most of our portfolio, in fact — it’s a special privilege to invest in individuals who have lived the pain of making first-time mistakes and whose learning cycles are far shorter the second time around. A few multi-time founders we’ve been fortunate enough to back include Marc Lore of Jet.com, Andrew Dreskin of Ticketfly, Steve Ellis of WhoSay (we invested in both his first and second businesses) and Akshay Navle of Maple.
For their next act, Anil and Jonathan bootstrapped the successful launch of Money20/20 in 2011. Similar to the Clarity-Prepaid Expo story, Money20/20 logically followed from the TxVia experience, tapping into the massive FinTech transformation by creating the industry’s definitive gathering place. The platform has been a screaming success; hitting over 11,000 attendees and spinoff shows in Europe and Asia in three years flat, Anil and Jonathan realized a reported $100 million exit to i2i Events Group in 2014.
I had talked to Anil about Money20/20 in its early days, and was gobsmacked by his ambition and vision. Over dinner one night in the midst of the Money20/20 run, I told him I’d cut him a blank check for whatever he did next: popcorn cart, dog-walking business or otherwise. These guys were flat-out winners, and there was nothing more I needed to know. When Anil took me up on my offer and came to me with the concept for Shoptalk 18 months ago, I said yes on the spot.
As a media/conference company, Shoptalk is certainly a nontraditional investment for us (or for any venture firm, for that matter). But when presented by nontraditional founders, who have shown time and time again that they not only get the job done, but surpass everyone’s expectations along the way, you don’t say no. In Shoptalk, Anil has been able to replicate the wild success he found with Money20/20. With just one event under its belt, the company is already the premier NextGen Commerce community, having attracted 3,000 attendees to its first event and projections to double that this year. And these guys aren’t selling out anytime soon; they plan to build something much bigger this time. So when Anil approached us last month with his plan to expand Shoptalk across the pond, I didn’t even let him finish his thought. We’re proud to have led this $2 million round in Shoptalk — alongside Commerce Ventures and individual partners at Bain Capital Ventures and NEA — and to have yet another golden opportunity to stand behind our founders.