Jason Gardner knows a thing or two about starting and scaling a business. He’s already on his third venture, and despite it already being worth billions he could just be getting started.
During our interview on the DealMakers Podcast, Gardner talked about getting 10x results for investors, building a $4.3B company, and what he’s learned about leadership and financing through raising over half a billion dollars in capital.
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Born To Hustle
Jason Gardner was born in Washington DC and spent his younger years growing up in NJ. He loved surfing, even in the wintertime.
He also had a passion for technology. He remembers taking his first coding class at nine years old. Before gaming was as common as it is now, Jason says he had a Commodore 64, an Atari and Nintendo.
He grew up very interested in visiting California, and when his dad moved out to San Francisco to open an office, Jason got the chance to visit Silicon Valley. His father drove him by HP and Apple and Intel. After college, he would pack up and move out there himself.
That didn’t hold Gardner back from flexing his entrepreneurial skills in the meantime. At five years old he woke up to the fact that he could hustle for money. He wasn’t afraid of putting in the work either. He would shovel driveways, pull weeds, and whatever else he could do.
He had his first real job by the time he was 14 years old. Working at a video store offering Betamax and VHS tapes. He worked his way through restaurants as a busboy, waiter, and cook. Then at a local surf shop.
In high school, he started a tie-dye t-shirt business. He would sell them on local transit to people traveling to local concerts.
After college, he would go on to start his career as an account executive and business development manager.
The First Rodeo
Jason Gardner’s first company was Vertical Think. Before Upwork, this was a business that connected developers with projects.
He describes it as more of a lifestyle business. It was fun, though he admits he was more enamored with being a ‘CEO’ than building a real business out of it. It ended up being a great learning experience, but not a lasting one.
10x In Three Years
Jason took all those lessons and rolled them into his next venture.
He had planned to move to Australia to start a juice bar chain. Though over breakfast with another entrepreneur, they struck on the idea of enabling renters to pay their rent with credit cards and other online payment methods. Together, five co-founders created PropertyBridge.
They raised $2M, and within just three years they sold the company to MoneyGram International for $28M.
On the journey, he learned even more about scaling a company, hiring people, and the impact decisions. He learned about the balance between wanting to do many things but needing to stay focused.
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It was a great exit. Though for his next venture he wanted to do something even bigger. Something that would be generational.
By the time they exited PropertyBridge, Jason says that none of the co-founders were getting along or interested in spending much time with each other anymore.
For his next venture, he chose to go solo. He says too often cofounders band together and ambiguously split the company up. Then they realize that they all have different ideas. Even choosing colors for things can become a big debate.
He wanted to be able to call the shots the next time around.
Over sushi with a friend in San Francisco the idea for Marqeta was born. He spent the night researching how he could combine multiple gift cards into one card.
It began with creating the Marqeta Card. It was reasonably successful. Then as word got around about how successful they were at developing the backend technology and these cards, others started approaching them to use their technology to create their own cards as products.
Facebook called, then eBay. They’ve now issued over 140M cards through partners like these.
Today, Marqeta is a $4.3B company, with 450 employees, which has raised $535M.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Jason was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted.
Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
In 2015, they took a gamble on pivoting to support third party cards, instead of their own branded Marqeta card. They found product/market fit quickly that year, but that didn’t mean there weren’t challenges ahead.
They were juggling incoming business, missed milestones, and were just weeks away from running out of money.
Fortunately, some of their investors said they would be willing to put in more checks. With the condition that Jason found more new investors to come along for the ride. He describes it as an incredibly depressing time, with little sleep. Then he pulled it off in five days.
Some of his key fundraising takeaways include:
- Not overlooking the need to educate customers
- Not setting milestones that are too much of a stretch
- To raise money when you don’t need it
- To start fundraising early
- The value and importance of personal connections with investors
Listen in to the full episode to find out more, including:
- Managing work-life balance
- Scaling yourself professionally as fast as you want your startup to scale
- The future of the $80T card issuing market
- Jason Gardner’s top advice for new entrepreneurs
- Better ways to manage your workforce and business partners