As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Mathews, CEO of MainVest.
MainVest is on a mission to bring investment capital directly to Main Street, so as to keep our local businesses alive and growing during and after this pandemic crisis. His business has helped small brick and mortar companies since 2018, but their mission to save main street is crucial now, more than ever, to us rebuilding post-Covid-19. He believes that small businesses are the heartbeat of local life. They supply 99% of our jobs, and give us culture, community, and the products and services we value. Through Covid-19, MainVest has offered zero interest rate immediate loans to qualifying small businesses and their platform gives locals direct investment opportunities to support their local businesses; everything from funeral homes to juice bars.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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?
Happy to! I’ve pretty much been a career entrepreneur since college, when a few friends and I started an ill-fated event aggregator app. After graduating, I was focused on growing our userbase and substitute teaching at the Lynn Public School systems. It was around this time that I was introduced to Uber, back when it was a ~25-person company that had just started expanding out of San Francisco. I saw that they were launching Boston and immediately reached out. About a week later, I was brought on to focus on the demand side of the marketplace. The next seven years were spent growing with Uber from 30 to 20,000 employees, expanding to the rest of New England, then moving down to DC, which was the hub for Uber’s US and Canada operations to run East Coast business development. It was around that time that the Jobs Act, Title III, the regulatory framework upon which MainVest is powered, was being passed through Congress. While the regulations were mainly designed to facilitate equity investments into early start-ups (The Next Uber, The Next AirBnB, etc.), I saw a path to retrofit them to work for small businesses, fueling local economic growth through community investment. Fast forward two years of winding down at Uber, convincing an old friend to leave a very secure position in finance to cofound an investment marketplace, and a LOT of reading and edification around financial markets, economic development, and securities regulation, and we built and launched MainVest in 2018.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Learning first — know your customer — I grew up in Massachusetts, so there’s really no excuse for this one, but I will never forget the blowback we got in a marketing email to our Boston rider base for Saint Patrick’s Day at Uber. We erroneously used the colloquial “Saint Patty’s Day” (the correct, culturally appropriate spelling is “Saint Paddy’s Day”) and to this day it was the highest engagement email I think I’ve ever had the embarrassing ownership of sending, and not for good reasons. While there was no malintent, it really reinforced the importance of understanding cultural nuances and how your voice can be interpreted, which led us to become much more cognizant of our responsibility when communicating with our customers.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
The Third Wave (Steve Case) — Some of the biggest changes and improvements that technology can bring to our livelihood come with unique challenges that weren’t necessarily present for the Web 2.0 era. Working in an environment of complex regulatory frameworks while changing behavior to unlock the next phase of economic development and community growth isn’t something that happens overnight. For us specifically, we’re uniting a previously hyper-fragmented asset class (brick and mortar small businesses) while opening up that access to the 90%+ of the U.S. population for the first time. The long-term benefit for this paradigm shift is the democratization of community development, creating new opportunities for everyday Americans to generate and build wealth while bringing communities closer together with aligned incentives and goals. The Third Wave does a great job of shifting paradigms when thinking about how to drive this change. Begin to cross the chasm, let technology do what it’s supposed to do, and create a more equitable future that raises the standard of living across the board.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Happily, I can say that the purpose and vision for MainVest has only been strengthened since the day we started thinking about it. Our mission has been to change the way people think about economic development and wealth generation by empowering communities to invest in themselves. Silicon Valley doesn’t have a trademark on entrepreneurship and, in fact, the vast majority of builders across the states are the chefs, brewers, yoga teachers, escape room designers, bike shops, etc. that represent passionate people bringing value and identity to Main Street USA. These local businesses create jobs and fuel a local supply chain of agriculture and manufacturing that is integral to the health and wellbeing of our local economies. You don’t realize that when you stare at the rise or dip of the Dow Jones, but, for the vast majority of Americans, local economies have a far greater impact on our lives than Apple’s stock price. Our purpose is to give communities the resources and tools to take action and control of how they develop and grow.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Perseverance. Something that becomes hyper-important during times of unprecedented uncertainty, which I would say has been an understatement month by month as 2020 has progressed. When you have news cycles and public sentiment changing constantly, you have to remember to step back and look objectively at what is going on. It’s always the hard questions that need to be asked. Does what we’re doing still make sense? Are we still providing value? What has changed and what stays the same?
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
One challenge was around balancing work needs and being supportive at home. My partner had just left her job and accepted a new role in February, which, in light of everything going on, was then put on indefinite hold. Trying to be supportive at home, while also working from home during the stay-at-home order creates an even more intense merger of work-life balance challenges that definitely spawned some intense conversations. Being able to have open conversations and build better communication over that 3-month period ended up being an incredible strengthener of our relationship, but didn’t happen overnight.
On a lighter note, the true challenge has been seeing the looks on our dogs’ faces now that I’m back in the office after 3 months of working from home. They definitely expected us being home 24–7 to be part of the “new normal” and heading out every morning, they react like we’re going off to war.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We’re a very close-knit team, so transitioning to working from home was challenging. We didn’t realize just how many conversations we were having every day that brought value to what we’re doing and built up our culture. Not seeing each other for weeks at a time put a bit of a strain on our culture and collaboration, so to combat this, we tried to implement a daily coffee/breakfast time before our morning all-hands, and weekly or bi-weekly happy hours to make sure we shared time to not talk about work, or to brainstorm ideas outside of our day-to-day work. Since Massachusetts has had a successful and safe re-opening (in my opinion), getting to see more of the team in both an office and social setting has been hugely beneficial in rebuilding our culture and increasing collaboration.
Another challenge was bandwidth, though this falls into the category of a problem that’s good to have. At the start of COVID, we rolled out the Main Street Initiative- our loan program for businesses affected by COVID-19 closures- as well as some new campaigns like Still Open, a platform to connect communities with restaurants still doing takeout and delivery, and Rebuild Main Street, a marketing campaign focused on the experiences of businesses and investors. Our inbound funnel of businesses interested in raising capital increased exponentially while our team stayed the same, so we all had to work together to make sure that all businesses and inquiries were taken care of.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Uncertainty breeds anxiety and fear, and the best counter to uncertainty (in lieu of certainty) is optimism — One of the biggest failures I’ve felt was the seeming need to politicize a public health crisis. The most productive conversations I’ve had with friends, family, and peers all start with a flipping of the paradigm. We are certain that we are in the middle of one of the largest global events many of us have ever faced. We know that there are going to be challenges and opportunities ahead and that there are things we can’t control and things we can. We’re living in the most polarized America, in my memory at least, and the moment the pandemic became a political talking point, objectivism and rationality started to wane. Of my group of friends, family, and loved ones, I’m very lucky to have a large diversity of thought and opinion across the board. No one has a crystal ball, but taking a proactive approach to identifying the levers that we can pull to accelerate the rebuilding process leads to a lot of optimistic conversations.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
One of the biggest silver linings that we’ve gotten from the pandemic is the renewed appreciation for local businesses and the important role they play both culturally and economically in our local economies. Moving out of post-Covid and into rebuilding from a recession, there’s going to be a unique opportunity both for investors and entrepreneurs in the small business space. Institutional lending, much like post-2008, will have a much larger risk profile, making it more challenging for capable entrepreneurs to get the capital needed to start and grow ventures. Inversely, with the Fed dropping interest rates to record lows, investors are going to be looking for new and innovative ways to find yield. This gives individuals a way to diversify their investments directly into their local communities so that both can act as a way to drive increased wealth generation as well as accelerate the rebuilding of our Main Street economies, bringing back jobs and strengthening local community ecosystems.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I’m definitely not an expert so I won’t speak to the areas of public health that may change forever, but my top prediction is a return to localization. We’ve been taught to think about things on a macro level- for example, a rise in GDP being the end all of economic prosperity, or the public markets determining wealth. I think that the pandemic has taught us about what really matters, and that’s community. On a personal level, there’s this sense of “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”- we don’t realize just how much we rely on local tap rooms and coffee shops that make up the fabric of our communities until they’re in jeopardy. I think that people will support these local businesses much more intentionally after experiencing what it’s like to not have them. On an economic level, it’s become clear that GDP and equities markets actually have very little impact on most people’s everyday lives. Instead, it’s the strength of local economies- local job creation, the success of locally-owned businesses, opportunities for upward mobility- that really matter for most people. I predict that much more attention will be paid to how we operate at a local level, and that everyday people will be much more critical of these macro level “trends” and the effect they really have on us.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Based on the core function and value of what our business was built to do, our mission hasn’t changed, just reaffirmed. Our growth and success as an organization directly impacts the speed and acceleration of the rebuilding of our domestic economy. Personally, we plan to become a direct lever for that accelerated economic return and growth beyond the baseline. We do that by engaging with fantastic entrepreneurs and helping them get the resources they need to build, and by continuing to build our team with talented, mission-driven people aligned with the mission.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Without standing on a soapbox and waving a flag, I would encourage the realization that people can have way more of a direct impact on rebuilding their local economies than they realize. In a world where so much feels out of our control, it’s important to remember that so much of what impacts our daily wellbeing take place on a local level, from the restaurants, salons, gyms, and retail that create jobs and provide revenues that support education and public infrastructure, to the social interactions with our friends and neighbors.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“All the pieces matter.” ~ Lester Friedman, The Wire
The amount of positive impact we can have is often directly correlated to the complexity of the problems and challenges we’re looking to solve. When tackling complex issues, whether social, personal, or business related, it’s easy to get tunnel-visioned at times and lose sight of the overall picture. I’ve always credited the Wire for really helping edify my thoughts and understanding of all of the different variables and inputs that work together to create both challenges and opportunities, against the backdrop of a great American city.
How can our readers further follow your work?
The best way to follow MainVest is by signing up so readers can see new investment opportunities around the country and learn more about these entrepreneurs, but we’re also pretty active on social media: Instagram (@MainVestInc), Facebook (@mainvest), and Twitter (@themainvest).