An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

It’s never going to get easier. Starting a business means making a lifestyle change. I love what I do, but it’s important to understand before you take that plunge that you are making a decision that in most ways is irreversible, and you need to have the constitution to stick with it.

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marshall Sandman.

Marshall Sandman is an entrepreneur, investor, film producer, philanthropist, and Managing Partner of Animal Capital, the first Gen. Z-focused venture capital fund founded in partnership with social media superstars Josh Richards, Griffin Johnson, and Noah Beck.

Prior to starting Animal Capital, Marshall worked in venture capital and corporate development at WarnerMedia, where he focused primarily on leading sports betting, podcasting and distribution research. In the past, he was an investment banker at Goldman Sachs and Jordan Edmiston Group.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Marshall left WarnerMedia to concentrate on philanthropy full time. In just a few months, he raised tens of thousands of dollars for Harlem Grown, a nonprofit that operates local urban farms and provides increased access to healthy foods for Harlem residents. As a proud partner of the American Cancer Society, Marshall has also raised more than $1M for cancer research through the Hood to Coast relay.

In December 2021, Marshall launched Money Goals, a financial literacy initiative in partnership with WonderFi, which provides relevant resources for Gen. Z to learn about traditional and new forms of finance, including cryptocurrency.

Marshall is also an owner of CrossCheck Holdings, a production company, branding and sports agency in collaboration with Josh Richards, Michael Gruen and Chris Sawtelle. He was a producer the award-winning Tribeca Film Festival movie, Dating & New York, and has orchestrated dozens of investments on behalf of members of the Sway House in companies such as Breakr, a platform that connects artists and influencers; Step, a banking app that helps teens build a credit history and learn about financial literacy; and Super Coffee, a sugar-free, enhanced coffee line that has attracted celebrity investors such as Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez.

Marshall is a North Carolina native and a graduate of Cornell University. He currently resides in New York City.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I’m originally from Raleigh North Carolina. My dad works in real estate development and as I grew up, I was able to see him become successful through his incredible work ethic. Like, to this day, my dad has never really taken time off. Even when he takes trips or goes away for the weekend, he’s up at 4 or 5 in the morning working his ass off. Watching him gave me the work ethic I have today.

Starting at a young age, I would go to sleep away camp in the summer in southern Maine. I was about 7 or 8 years old — really young — and all the kids there were older than me. They were mostly Jewish like me but from New York and Los Angeles, and a lot of them were extremely wealthy. They went to fancy boarding schools and rode in private planes to camp. Being in that environment was a deeply formative experience for me. Getting to know them and hearing about their lives inspired me to leave Raleigh and move to New York City, to go to Cornell and create something bigger for myself.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

That’s easy. My best friend from high school’s dad once told me, “We all have time for all of the things we want to do. It’s all about how you prioritize.” I think about this today and it resonates in every part of my life, with everything I do. For me, I prioritize work, and I have friends who prioritize fun, and going out. But at the end of the day, we all make time to do the things we truly want to do. Sometime that’s going on dates, hanging out with friends or spending time with family, and sometimes it’s figuring out how to advance your career and improve the lives of the people around you.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether their idea has already been created? What is the best way for people with new ideas go about translating them into reality?

First, it’s so important that you write these ideas down when you have them — whether on a note pad or on the notes app on your phone — you need to have a place where your ideas can live, where you can solidify your thinking and find ways to make it different than what’s already out there. Second, it’s essential to remember that even if something has been done already, there are lots and lots of ways to reformat old ideas for the 21st century.

The recommendation I would make is that if you feel passionate about an idea, even if it’s not completely original, you should run with it. Stop talking about it and just do it. To use an analogy, the thing that keeps most good writers from writing a book or a movie or a T.V. series is just putting pen to paper. I don’t want to hear about it at the 7th dinner party in a row, just do it and then let me know how I can help.

Can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

First and foremost, you need to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you in whatever space you’re looking to get into. I don’t think there’s a real shortcut for that, and I am a perfect example of the fact that this works! I run a venture capital firm, but before that I’d never run a business before. I had to learn all of this, and I did it by surrounding myself with people who knew what they were doing and asking them questions.

Let’s say you’re manufacturing a space pen that can write upside down, right? Chances are that no one in your life knows how to do that. Your first step should be Googling “pen manufacturers in my city,” then picking up the phone and seeing if they’re willing to answer your questions. The worst thing they can say is no, and you might find you end up learning what you need to learn. Then you can pick up the phone and do it all over again.

What are the 3 things that you wish someone had told you before you started your company?

  1. It’s never going to get easier. Starting a business means making a lifestyle change. I love what I do, but it’s important to understand before you take that plunge that you are making a decision that in most ways is irreversible, and you need to have the constitution to stick with it.
  2. Find some people you trust and keep them close. At the beginning of this process, I got a lot of feedback. I mean, it’s kind of like when you get a dog and you’re walking around New York City and suddenly everyone is giving you advice on how to take care of a dog that you never asked for. It becomes very difficult with all the noise, and you need to be able to sort through the good advice and the bad advice. For me, the people I take advice from are the people who were there for me in the middle of the night when I had tears in my eyes. Find people you trust and ignore everyone else.
  3. Remember what your thesis was on day one. Never forget exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing, and never let go of that passion.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

I honestly don’t think it’s a great idea to hire a consultant when you’re just starting out. What is that person there to do besides just take some of your startup money? There’s a time and a place for consultants, and I think that independent idea development consultants are a really good way to frustrate some of your investors. I also think it’s a really good way to show that you’re not ready to take the leap into running your own business because someone else has to invent, develop, and push out your idea.

If you get stuck during the process of building your business, then I guess hiring someone makes sense. Or later down the line when you can hire in a more prescriptive manner, then sure, hire an IT consultant with a legal background who can help you file patents or whatever. I just don’t think it’s a good idea to hire someone who is going to shape the direction of your business from the start. You should be doing that.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

I am going to be prescriptive and specific about this: Founders need to think more thoughtfully about the venture capital life cycle and what being in a frothy environment means versus being in a little bit more of a conservative funding means. Right now, we’re in more of a frothy environment and a lot of founders are going to need to raise and think that its going to be super easy are going to have a hard time in 2022. I don’t even think its about bootstrapping versus venture, its more about thinking about your entire capital staff and what you can do to be most efficient. If you’re going to make something or you have a contracted business and you have the ability to take out some debt and go get a regular old bank loan, I think that is really interesting. I also think taking a little bit of venture money can be interesting as well as bootstrapping and getting some of your friends and family to give money. It’s not just bootstrapping versus venture capital, I think that there is a really lost art today of forming a capital staff that the most efficient for you where you own as much of your business as you deserve to own. I can not tell you how many people have said, “yeah we’re raising 5 million dollars in a 20-million-dollar evaluation” but what they really need to be doing is thinking more holistically about all the different ways that they can be funding their business out of the door. When you decide to take a big venture route, have a really good reason for it and know that you’re taking Tiger Global money because Tiger Global offers me this type of structure and this type of support. When you’re ready to take money and it’s the right thing to do, every dollar should be strategic. If you’re taking money because you need it, then make sure you’re taking it from someone who can keep their mouth shut.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

When I left my job at Warner Media at the beginning of the pandemic, I decided to raise money for Harlem Grown. Harlem Grown is a not for profit after school program based in Harlem. During COVID, the actual program was closed, which meant the kids who participated normally weren’t receiving their government subsidized meals. So, I decided to raise money for kids in Harlem to continue feeding them even when they couldn’t participate in the program.

I am a very firm believer in paying it forward, and with my venture capital firm now, we are always thinking about ways we can give back. Right now we are focused on mental health charities, but I have also raised more than $1 million for the American Cancer Society over the years. We think of ourselves as a mission serving platform: investing and making people lives better.

Recently, we invested in a business called Parallel, is a for profit company creating accessibility through the first ever telehealth platform that is able to diagnose dyslexia. We’re also invested in Zen Business, which allows people who went to trade school start their own businesses and helps them set up their first operating or employment agreement and guide them along the way.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I truly believe that for-profit businesses can and should be solving non-profit problems. I think about all the non-profits that sprung up during COVID, and I wonder, where did people’s money go? I don’t know. There are all these spectacular charities that often are not affecting real change that needs to be made in certain communities. For us, I think a lot today about environmental change, so we’ve invested in Colossal, which is dedicated not only to resurrecting the woolly mammoth, but other extinct species as well. I think that is the most important for-profit solution to a non-profit problem, because de-extinction and re-wilding species that support ecosystems around the world is the #1 way to reverse climate change. At the end of the day, companies that are going to go out and make money in the space are the ones that are going to be motivated properly to fix problems that we have.

If you could have a private breakfast or lunch with any person in the world, who would it be and why?

I have two: First, Rich Kleiman. He works at Thirty Five Ventures with Kevin Durant. What he’s done to create influence for Kevin both on and off the basketball court is spectacular. To be not only mission driven but constantly thinking about the way that the business world is moving and what is going to be popular or cool while helping people and making money, I mean he’s amazing. I try to emulate him every day.

Number two is Cynthia Erivo. She is someone who has proven over and over again that she is going to use her platform to do good. I also like multi-hyphenate celebrities who are not only singing, dancing, acting but are also out and working hard, positively impacting their communities. Cynthia is an advocate who takes every opportunity to better herself, and I love that.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Making Something From Nothing: Marshall Sandman Of Animal Capital On How To Go From Idea To Launch was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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