The Rising Stars of the Cloud
While cloud companies are thriving with record-breaking growth and access to capital, the next generation say this is only the beginning. Here, Forbes’ Alex Konrad will talk to the rising stars of the cloud, including Danielle Cohen-Shohet, CEO of GlossGenius, Kelvin Beachum, NFL and tech investor, and Sevetri Wilson, CEO of Resilia. They’ll outline their visions for the future of the industry — their “north stars” for how it will operate, the steps they’re taking to get us there, and what current cloud leaders are perhaps not paying enough attention to.
Alex Konrad, Senior Editor at Forbes, Danielle Cohen-Shohet, CEO of GlossGenius, Kelvin Beachum, NFL and tech investor, and Sevetri Wilson, CEO of Resilia
Watch the session!
Sevetri Wilson: Hi, I’m Sevetri Wilson, and I’m the founder and CEO of Resilia.
Danielle Cohen-Shohet: Hi, I’m Danielle Cohen-Shohet, the CEO and co-founder of GlossGenius.
Kelvin Beachum: Hello, I’m Kelvin Beachum, starting right tackle for the Arizona Cardinals.
Alex Konrad: I’m Alex Konrad, a senior editor at Forbes. Welcome to Cloud 100. As one of the most fun things we get to do as part of our Cloud 100 list, we profile rising stars. Up and coming entrepreneurs who have raised less than 25 million in venture capital, but are showing a lot of promise and have technology that could make a big impact. This year I’m lucky enough to be joined with two of our rising star CEOs, as well as Kelvin Beachum, both a star NFL player, whether he would admit that or not, and also a very active angel investor who works with entrepreneurs every day. Thank you all for joining us. Now, Kelvin, I have to start with you. I’m curious how many companies you are usually working with so that we know what we’re about to put these two entrepreneurs through?
Kelvin Beachum: It’s over 50 at this point, so I’m staying pretty busy.
Alex Konrad: All right. So we’ve got an expert investor here with us. Sevetri, could you tell us a little bit about how long you’ve been working on Resilia and what you would say the overarching mission of your startup is?
Sevetri Wilson: Absolutely. So we launched Resilia to the public at the end of 2016, and our mission is really simple. We’re seeking to democratize philanthropy, making it more accessible to all. And by doing that, we’re able to bring more people to the table.
Alex Konrad: Awesome. And you’re based in New Orleans, right?
Sevetri Wilson: Based in New Orleans with a second office in New York.
Alex Konrad: That’s great. And Danielle, can you tell us a bit about GlossGenius and your mission there?
Danielle Cohen-Shohet: For sure. So we believe that anyone should be able to participate in small business entrepreneurship and be able to achieve their economic and personal dreams. So GlossGenius is building an ecosystem that empowers business owners, helps remove barriers to success, and instead replaces them with very fun, memorable product experiences so any business owner can feel like they’re on the journey of a lifetime. The industry we serve today, the beauty and wellness industry, is perfect for this and very exciting given a lot of things that are happening. So yeah, in a nutshell, that’s what we’re doing.
Alex Konrad: And where in the world are you these days Danielle?
Danielle Cohen-Shohet: I’m in New York City.
Alex Konrad: Great. Okay, we’ve got two east coasters. We’ve got someone in-between and then we’ve got Kelvin down in Arizona, trying to say cool. Great. So this has been a pretty intense past few months for everybody, but especially for entrepreneurs, maybe starting with you Sevetri, what has it been like for Resilia? I feel like your name is perfect for a company that’s going to handle adversity well, but has this been an exciting time for the business? A difficult time? What comes to mind first?
Sevetri Wilson: So the first thing that comes to mind really is yes, it’s been an exciting time, both exciting, but also very empathetic to what’s happening around us with the pandemic and how we’re trying to all come out of this. But as a company, we actually thrive when there’s more capital being deployed in the philanthropic space. So in 2019, there was over $430 billion given by corporations and individual giving, not even including the government. In 2020, that number went up 7%. So when we see that type of capital being deployed to philanthropy, that’s where Resilia thrives. We come in, we help, whether that’s foundations, whether that’s new funds, set up, and help them deploy that capital, but also support the capacity of those who are receiving it. And those who are boots on the ground doing the work. And we all know there was a lot of much-needed work to be done over the past few months and still is.
Alex Konrad: Got it. Yeah, that’s no surprise. And Kelvin, you have a non-profit, right? And you’re working a lot, both on the for-profit and nonprofit sides. So is this something that is resonating with you as well?
Kelvin Beachum: It always has. Me and Sevetri have talked in the past, we’ve crossed paths already, so great to get to actually share the stage with her again. But I sit in a world where I get to intersect in both. Sports plays a huge role in both the for-profit and nonprofit side. So to see Resilia doing the type of work that they’re doing, not only in some of the southern states, but across the globe, is impactful right now.
Alex Konrad: That’s awesome. GlossGenius is a little different. Danielle, I know it is for-profit but your customers have probably been going through some interesting times. What would be the perspective that you would bring to the table here?
Danielle Cohen-Shohet: Yeah, a very interesting last 18 months. Moving into 2020, the shutdowns happened, a very challenging time for customers. And even internally, the company we were in the trenches, making a lot of internal shifts and thinking about how we could continue to help customers navigate a lot of the shutdowns during that time. In a very short period of time, we were shuffling things on the roadmap around. We were changing features that we had expected to take months to develop — we deployed them in days. We struck relationships up overnight with lenders. In a matter of six days, we facilitated around $40 million of loan applications and even moving out of the shutdowns and into the reopenings we’ve been at the center of helping many of our business customers facilitate safer and better client experiences as they’re servicing more and more clients. So contact less payment solutions, getting those out to business owners. And I think really the last year and a half has been marked by a very firm commitment to double down on helping customers, not just when they’re doing well, but also in times of need and making sure we’re helping them not only survive, but thrive.
Alex Konrad: Got it. I’m curious if, any of you please feel free to start on this one, but as an entrepreneur, or when you’re working with entrepreneurs, how do you balance that short term need and all hands on deck mindset to want to help your customers, help your stakeholders with that long-term vision and mission that you also want to stay true to and not lose focus on. So how does one balance that, so that you’re excelling both in the short-term and the long-term at the same time?
Sevetri Wilson: So I think 2020 was unlike anything that any of us can imagine. So our initial reaction was to jump in and see how we could support the communities around us. We immediately did that in New Orleans where we’re based, also in New York. Ironically, both of those cities were the highest per capita of COVID-19 cases. And so there was so much need not only here, but all over. And so we knew that organizations just by nature of how capital was going to be dispersed because you have to realize, I lived through a life-changing experience overnight with Hurricane Katrina. And so I knew that when things began to lockdown, when the pandemic hit, when government aid began to flow out, some of those things were very similar to what we saw after Katrina. And so being able to really enact some of those historical, type of reactions that I did in the past was something that we did as a company at Resilia overall. And so, although we definitely don’t want to have mission creep and we don’t want it to get off our goals and our roadmap, we knew that there were immediate things that we needed to execute for our not only users and our customers, but also for the community, that buys into the product that we are ultimately selling. And so, yes, very important to stay mission aligned and mission-driven, but I think 2020 was truly just extraordinary and many of us had to do what we felt we needed to do in order to support our customer base.
Danielle Cohen-Shohet: I think for us, we were in a very fortunate position, given our mission of helping anyone achieve entrepreneurial success and particularly business owners in the beauty and wellness space was very closely aligned with some of the things that we actually needed to shift towards to help them survive and thrive in a post-pandemic world. And so I even think some of the things that we did as we made a lot of internal shifts and shuffled things around the product roadmap and got experiences and amenities out to customers, were actually initiatives that in some part informed an even furthered the mission we could be on, and gave us even more conviction that the mission we were on was an incredible mission and a worthy mission and something that customers also really supported given the depth of customer relationships that we developed over the pandemic and continue to further. So it was interesting to see how we could connect the dots, and we were in a fortunate position given the type of business we have. But certainly a lot of learnings from that. And the thing underpinning all of this is just stick to what you know, and the constants and the values. And that really helps you stay true to your mission regardless of short-term or longer-term changes.
Kelvin Beachum: And just to piggyback on both founders, it’s one of those things that I preach to the founders and entrepreneurs that I was involved with, was just executing. Us, as football players, talk about this all the time on the football field, is execution. And I think during the pandemic if you have great fundamentals and just great unit economics, you understood what you needed to do and where do you needed to sprint during the pandemic, and we’re still in the pandemic. But as we’ve come into 2021, execution is still the number one thing that I’ve continued to preach and try to talk to some of the entrepreneurs that I’ve backed.
Alex Konrad: One thing that I found interesting is it seems like this generation of entrepreneurs is also trying to find partners and investors, other stakeholders who share their values or care about the mission as well. I’m curious for our entrepreneurs if that’s something that you look for in bigger partners or in investors in your company today. And of course for Kelvin, as you’re looking to invest in startups like these, if that’s something you’re looking for in up-and-coming entrepreneurs as well. So maybe Kelvin, you could start with that zoomed-out look, and then Sevetri and Danielle, you could talk about what it’s been like fundraising and looking for that on your side too?
Kelvin Beachum: Yeah, it’s a combination of both. I think it’s a combination of, do I want to spend the next seven to ten years of my life with the founder? That’s the number one thing that I think about. And then from an alignment standpoint, is what they’re doing something that I want to align myself with? Whether it’s an enterprise company or whether it’s a FinTech company, or what have you. Is this a mission and is this something that I want to back and provide my energy to? And it’s something that has really helped guide me and something I’ve learned from mentors across the country, but really just finding things that I resonate with and want to continue to back and want to continue to support through the ups and downs because this is not an easy journey for founders. It’s not easy, so is this something that I want to be in through the thick and the thin? And for me, that’s been something that’s really guided my decision-making.
Sevetri Wilson: And I would agree with that, I think that from a founder perspective, I am definitely looking for investors and partners who align with the vision, not only that I have for the company, but the overall mission of the company as a whole. Oftentimes I think when you’re early out of the gate as a startup, and you’re trying to raise those first dollars, you’re just happy that anyone is believing in your company and will give you money. And so sometimes you can overlook the values of an investor that say two, three, four years down the road, when your company is doing great, you’re thinking about, “Wow, do I really want this person around or not?” And so you want to be able to, very early on, understand and know that you align with investors that you’re bringing on from out the gate, because those investors are going to be around as Kelvin said, for a very long time, and with you on the journey. And one other thing I think is really important is that now, in this day and age, I think even investors are looking to ensure that they are aligned with founders’ values and missions as well. And I see this because of the type of partners that are being promoted right at these different funds and those who are reaching out and how they reach out and how they’ve done their research. And so I do feel that it’s also changing from an investor landscape and they’re realizing, “Hey, if we want these founders in our portfolio, we also have to ensure that we’re mission-aligned from the start.”
Danielle Cohen-Shohet: And to Kelvin’s point, approaching it from a different angle, from the entrepreneur’s perspective, Kelvin said, do I want to spend the next seven to ten years with this entrepreneur? And I think every entrepreneur should be asking, do I want to spend the next seven to ten years with this investor as a partner in my business? And for me, something that’s very important is to align yourself with investors that understand what a mission-driven company is. And like Sevetri said, as investors that can be behind that too. Taking a step back, I always think, and there are a few different types of companies to kind of define what is a mission-driven company for any entrepreneur out there, I think there’s a few types. The first is a company where a business opportunity exists. The second is a company where there’s a business opportunity with an added mission. Toms Shoes, for example, is one of those types of companies where great opportunity to help improve this world, but the very fact that a free shoe is being given away, doesn’t actually inform how the product or the shoe itself is developed. And I would say the third type and you’d make sure all investors that really support what it is you’re doing if you’re a mission-driven company align with his view, and it’s that a company that is mission-driven is one in which the product and operations and everything has to do inside the company is evolving because of the very mission you guys have. And making sure from day one, any investor is on board with the mission and sees companies in that way is very important.
Alex Konrad: For sure. I’m curious, when you guys are building your business, do you feel like you do anything differently or do you make any different decisions then maybe if I were doing another work software company for other startups or something. Do you have to make any choices that are proving that, out there, in building the business, as opposed to just at that abstract level, I’m curious, Sevetri, when you’re meeting with nonprofits or something, is there a different approach you have to take than perhaps if you were a non-mission driven company, because I think for entrepreneurs who might be in our audience, they might be wondering is there a way to be more intentional here? Is there a way to infuse some of that into what they’re doing too?
Sevetri Wilson: Absolutely. So it’s interesting because Resilia is a two-sided market. So yes, we work with non-profit organizations, but we also have charities like Oxfam America, we have corporations like Goldman Sachs and Citi. And so we see such a wide spectrum of clientele and customers on our platform that we’re working with. And so for us, because we’re seeking to democratize philanthropy, and we’re essentially trying to undo who generally has had and held all the decision-making power in the philanthropic space to make it more equitable. And so our mission is so aligned when it comes to how do we bring these corporations, these organizations and individuals to the table, and make them buy into what we’re doing, right? So this more equitable world that we’re seeking to create where that is, organizations led by people of color, or led by women, who have generally not been at the table in an equitable way. And for them to say, “Yes, we’re actually going to change the way we’re doing things.” Right? In order to accomplish this. 2020 actually helped us move that mission farther, faster, but it’s still a very antiquated way of doing things. And philanthropy has very much so been known for moving very slow and in many ways, hoarding wealth, right? And so we’re trying to really undo that, so our mission and the values that we bring to the table, we bring those to the table every single day and it’s interwoven into the makeup of our company.
Kelvin Beachum: This is to the entrepreneurs, how do you all think about decision-making? You’re growing businesses that are mission-driven, driving value for all types of stakeholders, but how do you all think about decision-making? Some of the small decisions that you make and some of the major decisions that you make may unlock a completely different market for the company.
Danielle Cohen-Shohet: I think just taking a very mission-driven approach to decision-making and really being intellectually honest about whatever decision is in front of you, is this driving value to customers and stakeholders you’re serving, and is it furthering your mission? I think many times you’ll find answers, no, it doesn’t. And in fact, being very mission-driven with your decision-making is very effective because it helps you make decisions faster.
Alex Konrad: Danielle, does that mean saying no to opportunities though, that might seem lucrative or an easy thing to do, but it just doesn’t fit that criteria?
Danielle Cohen-Shohet: Totally. Yep.
Kelvin Beachum: And going forward, we’ve hit 2021, it’s in the middle of 2021. You know, what do you all see as the challenges moving forward with the mission, with growing those businesses? Knowing that both of you have raised quite a bit of money, but what do you all see as the challenges moving forward?
Sevetri Wilson: Kelvin said something earlier that just really sticks with me to answer that question and that’s execution, right? So I am constantly telling all of my team members and my department and my managers, we have the plan, we have it, right? We have that thing that’s going to help us take it to the next level and scale. It’s all about execution and what we do with what we know and how we begin to ensure that this message is filtered throughout the company. Right? And so for us, this year we began to hire our first sales team. And so now the weight of revenue doesn’t solely rest on me and my VP of revenue, Ash, came in and he’s been killing it across the company. And really just not only mission-aligned, because sometimes when you bring in the sales side of things, you have some conflicting things that can happen with the product and other departments. But at this point in the company, we were really jelling and it was like, how can we continue to do that and grow and scale and do the things that are mission-driven, but also do the things that helped scale the company, right? Because that’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to grow a SAAS tech company at scale, and so a lot of things that we think about really lie in the foundation of “Can we execute?” right? And how we do that.
Danielle Cohen-Shohet: Yeah. And even on the topic of execution taking you down, instead, I think something that is always embedded in very successful execution is prioritization. And so, Kelvin to your question of what are some of the challenges, I think whether we’re in this operating environment or not, a challenge with execution always is prioritization. It’s something we spend a great deal of time thinking about, and for us specifically helping customers and achieving our mission, there’s a number of ways we could be doing that. And there’s a number of ways that are extremely worthy of pursuing our efforts towards. And so we, I think the focus is important, we think prioritization is important. And ultimately we look at that and we say, well, that is the best way possible we could ever achieve our mission and execute because making sure we’re prioritizing the right things, helps us do them faster. And so in theory, we could be doing much more at the end of the day, once we’ve put one foot in front of the other in the right way and taking the right steps. And so I think that’s an accelerant to achieving your mission in many ways. And so challenges, tactically for us, do we spend more time on product and these features or more of the thought leadership that we could be doing in this kind of world and all of them have their merits, but it’s an exercise in prioritization.
Kelvin Beachum: Yeah. How do you all think about culture? Culture with how you’re hiring as you’re starting to scale and starting to grow? And then the culture that you have also internally, being mission-driven? Could you all touch on that briefly before I kick it back over to my friend Alex?
Danielle Cohen-Shohet: I’ll jump in. I’ll address one area specifically around how we’re hiring as we’re scaling so quickly right now. Very important that we hire everyone not only on the basis of merit, but also can they align with the mission? Can they get excited about it? And do we think they’re going to contribute to the mission in a very unique way? We have a whole entire interview panel and many of the interview slots are dedicated to fleshing out if someone is values-driven, are they mission-driven? And aside from any type of skill they would need to bring to the company for the role they’re interviewing for, it’s really understanding their values and whether or not they’re a good cultural fit for the specific mission we’re pursuing. So yeah, we put a great deal of thought into that.
Sevetri Wilson: And likewise at Resilia, culture is really the foundation of the company and building Resilia with individuals who are passionate about the work that they do every day and come in with this idea that, yeah, we can actually change the world with our product, literally we can change the world. And for us, we just ended a three-series D&I workshop on social justice with the amazing Shanelle Matthews. We have all of these workshops and bringing people in from various backgrounds and ensuring that everyone’s waste is heard and echo throughout the company even if they don’t physically want to say a word. And we have just experienced such great feedback and an overwhelming response from our team, because we’re always thinking about how we build the most inclusive culture that we can with our team members at the center of our work. So we are huge on culture and constantly thinking about it and constantly putting people in place to ensure that we continue to grow because sometimes as you grow, it can be hard to keep that culture that you had imagined when you first started your company in place.
Alex Konrad: Can I just say it is unfair that Kelvin is a starting player in the NFL, long career, community organizer, investor, and he’s now a better interviewer than me. I wish he would have given me one thing. But that said, I am curious, seeing Kelvin and talking to you guys, I am curious if Kelvin, is this something you ask potential investments about their culture and about their mission? And let’s say you were meeting Sevetri and Danielle for the first time and trying to understand their businesses, what would be the top question you would ask them about how they operate as an entrepreneur? Because I think it might be really interesting for our audience to kind of see what matters to someone like you.
Kelvin Beachum: For me, the first thing is I have to get to know you and it’s been cool getting to know Sevetri over the years. It’s about getting to know you and getting to know the founder, getting to hear their story. Because in asking questions, and I asked very poignant questions because I want to get to know about where they came from, the struggles that they had, the successes, the failures. And these are the types of questions that I asked in an everyday fashion, because it helps me at least be able to relate and empathize on a personal level. I’ve never been a founder, I’m a football player. I love playing football. I haven’t been in that seat, so I need to understand their journey and what they’ve been through before I can make a decision on whether this is something that I need to spend time with. But for me, that is the most important thing is really taking the time to spend time and hear the stories of the entrepreneur. Because every single entrepreneur and founder and CEO has a different way in which they get it done, a different way in which they believe culture should be interwoven throughout their company I’ve had founders that, they have a selective shoe that they use every time an employee gets a year in the company. You have parties for certain companies, you have fireside chats where they bring in different high-end speakers. So it’s different things that different entrepreneurs and founders use to motivate and bring that inclusive culture together internally. And I just like to know about it, I’m inquisitive, I’m an avid learner, so these types of questions are things that I want to find out about.
Alex Konrad: That’s awesome. Well, Sevetri and Danielle, you’ve both had success fundraising. For entrepreneurs who are in our audience, maybe starting with Sevetri, what has been the single most important thing to really break through and find that success fundraising? And what advice would you give from your journey there so far?
Sevetri Wilson: To be honest as a Black founder, traction. It has been the defining point between the difficulty of raising our seed round and the ease of raising series A and investors who reach out every single day, interested to know if we’re going to raise more capital. But outside of that, relationships and network, I think that being in the south, when I first went out to raise capital, New Orleans isn’t a big tech ecosystem. And so I had to leave New Orleans to go try to find capital and then bring it back. And I realized very early on how difficult it was because I had not built those relationships early enough and no one knew who I was, right? So I wasn’t a popular founder and people may say, “Well, Sevetri, you’re kind of popular now, you’ve been in Forbes and Cloud 100 and these other places.” But when I first started out, no one knew who I was and I had to build those relationships and networks. And so when I went out to raise capital, I had to really lean on the traction of the company and say, “Look what we have already done and this is where we’re going. We need you along for the ride.” And I used a lot of my past performance, right? Of building a previous company, since there were profitable companies. You build a profitable company, great for you, but really showing the drive of how we’re going to scale this tech company and how we were going to grow and bring Resilia to the forefront of tech for good. And so, yeah, it definitely has been an experience raising capital, but I would definitely keep those things in mind.
Danielle Cohen-Shohet: As a company that was largely revenue finance for some time before going and raising a lot of capital, I will absolutely agree that traction is a very powerful card in hand to have when you’re going and raising. And traction for companies can mean a lot of different things. Generally, I think it means customer count and revenue, but for very early-stage companies, you could think about traction in terms of things you’ve learned, things that have worked, things that haven’t worked, and knowledge generally, that’s been amassed in the early part of your journey here. So I encourage everyone, traction is very important, but there’s a lot of different types of traction you could have. And it’s really how you think about it and how you value that and communicate and share that with investors that’s important. And then the other thing I would say, that’s really important, there’s this idea that what you aim at determines what you see. And I think in many ways, when you think really big and you come to the table with a very ambitious picture of what a business could become, I think you see things very differently and investors definitely can catch onto that and they’re very excited by someone who’s able to see things in a very big way. And I would encourage anyone to think very big about how they’re spending time and the business opportunity in front of them when they’re engaging with investors to raise a lot of capital.
Alex Konrad: Now, we’re almost out of time and this has been so fun. For the founders I have a question which is, do you have a question for each other? Because you both have been successful fundraising, you do have traction, you do have a mission that I think we all understand now, and yet, Kelvin and I are not entrepreneurs. And so we will never quite know what it feels like to be doing that. So what is on each of your minds, as a way to end this, what would you ask each other if Kelvin and I weren’t here?
Danielle Cohen-Shohet: I have something because I think it’s always great learning from other entrepreneurs and exchanging notes. But to you Sevetri, I would ask you, what’s maybe one thing you wish you had known before starting out and creating your company?
Sevetri Wilson: So I think it goes back to the idea of relationships. I think one thing that we see now is that investors are like, “Oh, you can build from anywhere. You don’t have to build from Silicon Valley.” And so much of the universe was trying to push me to Silicon Valley. And I stayed pretty diligent with staying where I was, but had I known a little bit about the ecosystem itself, I would have done things a little bit differently as it relates to when I started raising capital, how I structured my company, right? So structuring my company, I just went out and I started an LLC and converted it to a Delaware corporation upon raising my first capital. And so there’s so much I did not know, right? Early on as a tech founder that I learned along the way. And so the power of finding your tribe where you are and the importance of understanding and putting mentors and advisors around you very early in the process would be critical. And I would do that a lot faster than what I did when I first started my company. And the question that I would ask you would be, what are you looking forward to? What next are you looking forward to?
Danielle Cohen-Shohet: Many things. I would say one of the things that I’m most looking forward to is seeing very different leadership capabilities being stretched and developed, even in my own self. I think looking back on the past set of experiences and the journey behind me has obviously shown that there were a lot of different requirements needed and a lot of adaptations you need to make as a leader. I didn’t necessarily know any of those were required when I was starting out. And so where I am right now, I think there’s a lot about the leader I’ll become that I don’t know right now. And I’m excited to see that and continually push and challenge myself to succeed in that area.
Alex Konrad: Any final advice or words of encouragement for our entrepreneurs, Kelvin?
Kelvin Beachum: Keep doing what you’re doing. I love what both of y’all are doing, excited to see you all continue to grow.
Sevetri Wilson: Thank you.
Danielle Cohen-Shohet: Thank you.
Alex Konrad: Awesome. Well, we’re honored to have you all as part of the Cloud 100 community. Thank you so much for the insights and we can’t wait to see what you all do moving forward.