On Tuesday, January 11, 2022, serial entrepreneur Mason Arnold joined Daniel Nicholson, President and CEO of NadaMoo!, to dive into Mason’s entrepreneurial journey and his lessons learned from sticking to his values even as things at times fell apart around him.
With a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, Mason started his first job at a chemical and oil company where he first witnessed the negative impacts corporations can have on the environment. That experience led to the creation of his first company, an environmentally responsible landscaping business, with the intention of combatting pollution and the biggest one in the state of Texas’ waterways: residential fertilizer.
He later sold that company and moved to Spain to start a chain of restaurants, but when that venture failed, Mason realized he wanted to return to his vision of making the world a better place. He learned that whatever he did, it had to be driven by his values.
So, in 2007, Mason started Greenling, a values-based organization offering grocery home delivery of local and organic food. There, he was met with his first experience of gridlocked disagreement with his investors. The company was growing but his investors were moving farther away from the values with which Mason started the business. As a result of the ups and downs, Mason realized the importance of choosing the right investors and maintaining alignment throughout the course of the relationship. Here are three tips from Mason on how to do it.
1. Ensure potential investors fundamentally understand how your business works.
When a lead investor filled up half the board of Greenling with software and tech-minded industry leaders, Mason noticed that many of them simply did not understand the other, very important, side of the business: food distribution.
“At Greenling, I said no to some money I felt was very misaligned. Greenling had a very heavy tech component … but where the conflict arose, I realized that some of [the tech investors] … just fundamentally didn’t understand how food distribution works. … our business model, working with local farms, and working with local producers,” Mason said.
“Understanding that they fundamentally didn’t understand a big part of the business was a huge eye-opener for me.”
2. Realize that you are screening investors just as much as they are screening you.
When Mason later started another new company, Cece’s Veggie Co., he took a different approach than he did with his venture at Greenling. He began to really dig into his potential investors values, their work ethic, and how they resolve conflict.
Mason mentioned, “… one of the most important [questions] that I would ask investors and that I will always ask investors is, ‘What will you do as an investor on the board when you and I disagree and we have conflict?’”
Mason now knows that what he values most is not someone that will go back and forth with him when there is conflict, but someone who will advise him and provide constructive guidance, but, ultimately will let him make the best decision for his company.
3. Make certain your values (or your purpose) are aligned.
Mason personally identifies as values-driven rather than purpose-driven, but ultimately he sees the necessity in ensuring that you and your investors have similar drives, motivations, and reasons for doing business.
“What really drives me is trying to make the world a better place. I have personal values written out and sustainability is high on that list … and building community, and my friends and family … I have these values that I try to live by and I try to do things that I think will have the greatest impact and influence on the world,” Mason said.
And it’s vital for him that his investors value the same.
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