VC Corner: Marlon Nichols, Cross Culture VC


Marlon Nichols is a founding managing partner at Cross Culture Ventures (CCV), where he leads CCV in identifying game-changing entrepreneurs who are creating next-generation companies.Marlon draws from his unique professional background to drive CCV’s focus on using global trends and shifts in consumer behavior to capture high-potential investments.

Prior to co-founding CCV, Marlon was an investment director at Intel Capital where he completed his Kauffman Fellowship. He has worked with several startups, invested in companies like Mayvenn, Gimlet Media, Blavity, Airspace Technologies, Codeverse, and many others

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What is your / your fund's mission?

At Cross Culture Ventures we take a thematic approach to investing that we have coined 'cultural investing' - the impact of the convergence of global popular culture and consumer behavior on technology and innovation. As such we observe consumer behavior and make investments in the types of products and services that fit with those emerging trends. As an example, we’ve noted that millennials value flexibility, experience over possession, transparency, and immediate gratification so an investment in a company that allows consumers to take possession of a specific vehicle by completing a short and 100% transparent procurement process via a mobile application and then have the ability to return/exchange that vehicle at any time without penalty, would be lucrative. Thus, we invested in Fair and our thesis has proven correct to this point.

When did you start your current fund? 

We started to invest out of our inaugural fund, Cross Culture Ventures I in April 2015. We held a few closes prior to the final closed in February of 2017. To date, we’ve invested in about 30 companies out of this fund and will add 10 to 15 more.

What is one thing you are excited about right now?

The confluence of technology and healthcare is an area that I'm paying a lot of attention to right now. Healthcare in this country has been broken for a long time and is in desperate need of disruption. I'm attracted to solutions that serve the majority of the population, drive down cost and wait time, and remove inefficiencies. Three companies in our portfolio are addressing this from different angles. (Check out Ready Responders, Firefly Health, and Mahmee).  

Who is one your founders you think we should watch?

That’s a tough one because we have so many terrific founders in our portfolio. Successful repeat founders such as Scott Painter (Fair), Justin Dangel (Ready Responders), Gunnar Lovelace (Thrive Market) and Nick Balcoa (Airspace Technologies). Impressive first-time founders such as Matt Lieber (Gimlet Media), Morgan Debaun (Blavity), Travis Holoway (Solo Funds), Delane Parnell (PlayVS), Charles King (Macro), Leandrew Robinson (Hingeto) and so many more. I honestly believe that you should watch all of them and their companies. If I must highlight one, I’d say pay very close attention to Chris Bennett and his team at Wonderschool. Just last week they announced a $20M Series A that was led by Andreessen Horowitz and was oversubscribed only a year after their series seed, which we led alongside First Round Capital. In a very short time they’ve opened and filled 140+ preschools/daycares on the East and West coasts. Wonderschool is solving a significant problem in childcare/education and is doing it on both sides of the marketplace.

What are 3 top qualities of every great leader?

1. A balance of confidence and humility

2. Empathy

3. Courage and integrity to see your vision through.

I’ll throw in a fourth, which is flexibility-having the ability to adjust and change course as necessary to achieve the end goal.

What was your very first investment? and when?

My first investment at Cross Culture came in April 2015 and was in a company named Mayvenn, a mobile based distribution platform for hairstylists. I was drawn to this company because it was solving a huge problem for diverse stylists - the inability to buy inventory or to earn product revenue. I am very familiar with the challenge because my mother has run her own salon in Mount Vernon, NY since I was a pre-teen. At Cross Culture, we place a great deal of emphasis on the founders of companies that we back. In this case Diishan Imira was the perfect founder based on lived experiences and skill set. He grew up around several hair stylists, which gave him a firsthand and in depth look at the problem. He lived in Asia, first teaching English and ultimately getting into the import/export business. Most hair products are sourced from Asia so this provided Diishan with an incredible advantage. He also knew his strengths and weaknesses and wasn’t afraid to bring on talented people to fill his gaps.  

What is one question you ask yourself before investing in a company?

Do I believe in this founder/team? Are they the right group to build a big business that addresses this challenge/opportunity and wins the market?

What is one thing every founder should ask themselves before walking into a meeting with a potential investor?

Are we the best team to solve for this challenge and is our approach truly novel and differentiated? In other words, why will we win?

What do you think should be in a CEO's top 3 company priorities?

1. Build a strong and good company culture

2. Maniacal focus on unit economics and growth

3. Maintain a solid understanding of consumer needs/ wants and the competitive landscape

Favorite business book or podcast? *

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho remains my favorite business book. It reminds me that the journey is often more important than the outcome because of what you learn along the way. It also highlights that goals change and that is also okay.

What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not working? *

Watching movies, I’m a huge binge watcher. I also love to workout and play basketball. Those three activities relax me in different ways.

Who is one leader you admire? *

I admire Barack Obama, he led with grace and kept his composure throughout a very trying presidency. He never made excuses and always owned up to his short-comings. Such a tremendous role model and a successful president. I’m also very impressed with the work that Lebron James is doing off the court. The I Promise School is a tremendous initiative!

What is one piece of advice you’d give every founder? 

BUILD and EXECUTE! Everyone has opinions, including investors, but traction/metrics/numbers are facts. Better to engage in a conversation centered in facts as opposed to opinions.

Last words..

To keep up with the exciting things that Cross Culture Ventures and our portfolio companies are up to, follow us on twitter @crossculturevc or follow myself @marloncnichols

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