Even with dyslexia, Peter Majeranowski has invested in building companies all over the world, worked with the Pentagon, and has gone on to raise tens of millions of dollars for his clothing tech startup.
During his appearance on the Dealmakers Show, Majeranowski talked about raising money in tough times, the waste-to-value business model, resetting your company culture, board observers, rebranding, and the future of clothing.
Listen to the full podcast episode and review the transcript here.
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Majeranowski was a first generation American, born to two Polish immigrants, in a smaller town of just 5,000 people.
In spite of his dyslexia, his parents put a significant emphasis on education which ultimately took him to study applied economics at Cornell, the Navy, and eventually his MBA.
Peter says that he appreciated being an only child, and the tight knit support system that his parents provided, knowing they would sacrifice everything for him first.
Having been good at science and math in school, everyone thought he should be an engineer. He didn’t find it to be a good fit for his personality or interests, whereas applied economics let him work more on strategy and vision instead of the deep details. He found that his talent for math served him very well in economics and for moving into finance.
Peter’s father was a veteran of Polish military units organized under the French and later British army and encouraged his son to explore the military as well. He did and leveraged the Navy’s ROTC program to fund his college which ultimately took him to working with the Pentagon during the reconstruction of Iraq.
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Working At The Pentagon
This is where he was struck with how business can be used as a force for good. As well as how policy can be aligned with the “invisible hands” of supply and demand to rebuild societies. There were not only new businesses being formed there, but those that had lasted for generations from all the way back to the Ottoman Empire, before Iraq was even Iraq.
Next, he joined an international firm investing in businesses and infrastructure globally including working in Romania as they were joining NATO and the EU. It was a time where new laws and regulations were being implemented which provided tremendous room for companies to grow. Many opportunities often put him in an active role, wearing many hats like a founder as they helped the businesses that they invested in.
His big takeaway from this period is to “just never give up and surround yourself with good people.”
After returning to the US to get his MBA at Duke University, Peter received an introduction that would set him on a new trajectory.
Over dinner, he met with Dr. Hilary Koprowski, the Polish immunologist who created the Polio vaccine that saved at least hundreds of thousands of people.
At the time, Koprowski was working with his plant sciences foundation where they were making plant-based vaccines. Though, in spite of his earlier successes, he still found the world taking too long to adopt them.
At the same time, he was working on a non-smoking tobacco plant, which he had just patented for use for biofuel and was interested in commercializing.
At the same time, Peter reconnected with a former business school classmate who had been working in biotech, with a startup from being the fourth employee all the way through their IPO.
Together they decided to join forces as co-founders.
They started out working on oils and sugars for biofuel. However, it seemed like the first push into cleantech was over for the world. Fortunately, someone else asked them to apply their technology to old t-shirts.
They did, and it became the basis for resetting their business. Today, Circ is applying their waste to value model to the textiles industry.
They take old clothes, separate the fibers by type, purify them, and put them back into the supply chain to become new clothes.
Looking forward, Majeranowski sees a world where we have a new relationship with clothing. He believes that we’ll move from buying stuff that mostly just sits in our closets unused to effectively leasing the molecules that clothes are made from. They just keep on getting recycled into new outfits.
Circ got started in the wake of the Great Recession. Which, unlike now, was not an easy time to raise early stage startup capital.
Still, to date they have raised over $60M in equity, and another $10M in non-dilutive funding.
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Of course, fundraising and keeping your company funded is never easy. It doesn’t always wait for your personal life either.
During one round, Peter was heading off on his honeymoon when a funding deal fell apart. A board observer had spooked their investor just days before, and the term sheet got yanked back.
The company was running out of money. They had a credit card which he had personally guaranteed, and it was maxed out. His wedding was the same day that payroll was due, and he had to wire the company money and bail it out just so they could pay their employees.
When he eventually got up the courage to tell his wife what was going on during their honeymoon, she was very supportive. Fast forward to today–Circ has been able to grow their team to 50, and attract investors including Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which was started by Bill Gates.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- The role of board observers
- Company culture
- Identifying toxic people in your organization
- Peter’s top advice when launching a business