iterate_jon_nordmark

Jon Nordmark

CEO & Co-Founder

Innovation Success | Strategy & Curation

Prior to co-founding Iterate, Jon was the founder and 10-year CEO of eBags.com which grew to more than $100 million revenues, profitably, at a 34% CAGR between 2000 and 2008.

eBags was known as an innovator. Between 1999 and 2001, eBags became one of the first retailers to:

  • Dropship from ~500 3rd party warehouses (1999)
  • Run on a negative cash conversion cycle
  • Solicit product reviews from consumers (1999)
  • Test site features using A/B split methods (2000) ... eBags did 1000's of experiments as eBags systematically created one of the Web's top converting sites before between 2005 and 2008: Top 10 Retail Conversion Rates (Nielson Report)

eBags also built 6pm.com and sold it to Zappos while running CaseLogic.com and TUMI.com in the US, UK, Germany, and Japan. Prior to being acquired by Samsonite, eBags served more than 40 million shoppers per year. It sold more than $1.65 billion worth of travel products.

Between eBags and Iterate, Jon invested in and worked with startups.

Work With Startups


Cap Tables to VCs to Forensic Accountants

My startup experiences span a few decades ... with boardrooms, term sheets, and cap tables ... with Tier 1 VCs, small VCs, strategic investors, and a few hundred angel investors ... with debt agreements, warrants, re-caps, and convertible notes ... with complete failures, walking-dead entities, and multi-million dollar wins ... with forensic accountants, dozens of lawyers, and phenomenal entrepreneurs. Many experiences have blossomed into beautiful stories. Some haven't.

Investing

Beyond current investments in startups like Yottaa and Platform9, I'm a small Limited Partner (LP) in LeadEdgeCapital.com which manages about $2 billion in assets and invests in growth-stage software, internet, and consumer pre-IPO businesses like Spotify, Toast, Algolia, Boxed, Bla Bla Car, Uber, and Alibaba. When at eBags, I diversied into my personal finances by swapping eBags' stock for equity in startups like OpenTable, LifeLock, Digg, Solazyme, BitTorrent, Motricity, and Kosmix as part of a founders' stock exchange fund. As an angel, I've invested in startups that exited a variety of ways ... including A/B testing optimizer Clearhead (acquired by Accenture, 2017), BazaarVoice (prior to its 2012 IPO), Swiftpage (prior to an Accel-KKR investment; acquired in 2018), RedTricycle (acquired 2020), Verblio.com (exit 2014).

Advising

In addition to direct startup investments, since 2008 I have been an advisor for TurnTo.com which has successfully bootstrapped profitably to 80 employees. Runa (acquired by Staples, 2013) made me chairman of its advisory board. After developing personalization algorithms for real-time offers, delivery estimates, and free shipping offers for clients like eBay, Runa became Staples' Silicon Valley-based Innovation Lab. Between 2009 and 2013, I volunteered with and advised dozens of emerging tech startups from TechStars (Boulder), Founder Institute (Palo Alto), and a top Eastern European Accelerator based in Ukraine where I was a Board Member in 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Volunteering

As explained by Brad Feld, I volunteered to start Colorado's Chapter of Founder Institute (FI) for Adeo Ressi, a board member of Xprize, in 2010. As of 2020, FI operates in 225 cities and has a portfolio of 4,500+ startups. A decade earlier, I started a series of day-long seminars called "Startup Basecamp" in Denver with Joyce Colson. The purpose was to help early-stage founders prevent hidden pitfalls. Entrepreneurs like Steve Papa (founder of Endeca which Oracle bought for $1.1 billion) and Josh James (founder of Omniture which IPO'd before a $1.8 billion Oracle acquisition) spoke at these events ... as did evangelists and VCs including Guy Kawasaki and Brad Feld. All of them volunteered to help founders navigate the startup world when it was opaque -- prior to the transparency provided by Linkedin where you can meet anyone. For years, I sat on non-profit boards for the Deming Center of Entrepreneurship at CU Boulder and the Colorado Software and Internet Association.

M&A

Exits for eBags.com and 6PM.com have given me hands-on experience, I've been involved in M&A activities as an advisor (Runa to Staples). While we keep a lot of this work private, with Iterate we help Enterprises with startup evaluations, partnerships, and acquisitions -- including ones like Ulta Beauty's purchase of GlamSt (AR startup from Uruguay) and QM Scientific (AI startup from Silicon Valley) in late 2018.

What's fascinating to me is the value an acquisition provides to an enterprise post-purchase. I've seen complete disasters and big wins. Exposure to big successes and big failures has made me opinionated on how an enterprise can formulate a winning path with M&A.

Booms

Iterate's been exciting -- 54% growth in 2018, 76% in 2019, strong growth in 2020 We've achieved a revenue level that 0.06% of startups achieve in their first six years. While we've raised money, the amount is relatively small and from angels. We've mostly bootstrapped (by doing consulting work) to 54 people -- and no board seats given to outsiders. This is similar to how BodyBuilding.com and Omniture got their starts. With eBags.com, we had multiple serious exit discussions with top Internet acquirers. Our $105 million exit to Samsonite was both good and bad. The good: very few companies achieve a $100 million exit (about 50 per year, nationally) and all our early investors achieved a good return. The bad: we turned away from interesting opportunities early on. Over the years, I became work-friends with many founders before their companies employed a dozen people -- and in a few cases before the startups were named -- Endeca, Omniture, Shopify (in 2008), Magento, Zulily (pre-name), Shoprunner, LiveClicker, BlueCore, AllPosters (when the founder still worked from his bedroom and drove a Gremlin without hubcaps), BodyBuilding.com, and BazaarVoice (pre-name), to name a few. All of those "boomed".

Busts

On the downside, I've witnessed startup disasters. I've been on the losing side of a $1 million theft which landed a "founder" in prison with a 10-year sentence. I've watched two founders have their businesses "foreclosed on" due to debt issues. I've also been in a five-month boardroom tiff that I initiated -- costing about $365,000 for just my legal representation. So, I've learned the hard way that entrepreneurship is the real deal -- it's not child's play. But, it's also the losses and mistakes that build character and wisdom.

In The End

My love of startups and the fluidity that propels the creation process is neverending. For me, I wake up eager every day to celebrate inspired thinking, foster teamwork, and push for positive progress.

More About Jon Nordmark


Most Successful Innovation Project You've Worked On

eBags was a series of innovation projects linked together. It's the process of doing one experiment after another that was special 100s of them. When combined, all of them created a profitable $100 million dot com pure-play that was able to navigate the dot-bomb and the impact of the 9/11 terrorist attack on travel product sales.

Have You Experienced An A-HA Moment That Changed the Way You Operate as an Innovator?

When eBags was running out of cash during the dot-bomb, I thought we could raise money. What I didn't understand was that our $142 million Series B valuation would fall to maybe $50 million in a Series C. That's called a down round -- and that down round would have basically wiped out all the equity owned by founders, employees, and eBags 150 early angels investors. Not knowing what happened to company's ownership percentages (cap table changes) when a down-round occurs. Before eBags was profitable, we thought we'd have to raise a Series C financing. Learning about a down-round's devastating impact on employees and early-stakeholders made me do everything possible to not raise capital during a period of hardship. Thankfully, ingenious eBaggers experimented our way to profitability as opposed to using a financing event to plug the holes.

Most Inspiring Project You've Worked On At Iterate or Elsewhere

Iterate's Interplay launched a full, custom e-commerce site with curbside pickup -- from scratch -- in 11 days. To me, that was remarkable. I've learned so much as we've researched that Iterate has been doing on Quantum Computing, Sensors, Digital Me's, and 5G.

Three Most Important Qualities of An Innovator
  • Persistent
  • Curious
  • Action-Oriented
Honors
  • E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year for the Rocky Mountain Region
  • Colorado Technology Association Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Linkedin "Top Voice" distinction (one of 186 thought leaders among the 3 million people who publish on Linkedin each year)
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Fun Tidbits


I could talk forever about ...

Boring stuff -- like the construct of boards of directors and the pros and cons of raising money as a startup.

What do you like about working with Iterate?

Because we work on fun stuff every single day -- I don't feel like I'm working. Also, every day is a learning experience. Every day, entrepreneurs and leaders from large companies are floating new concepts by us. As a result, Iterate is intellectually stimulating. Every day, I feel like I'm in college again. Continuous learning.

Interesting Thing People Might Not Know About You?

When in high school, I left home to play Junior A Hockey in the United States Hockey League. My teammates were phenomenal and we won the National Championship.

Most Inspiring Leader Who Was/Is An Innovator

The Wright Brothers, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk

What Did School (College) NOT Teach You?

The importance of relationships and syncronicity.

Free Time

I love spending time with my two boys and wife when not working.

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Favorite Books About Innovation and Why


One Favorite Book
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Wright Brothers

by David McCullough

Jon's thoughts: The Wright brothers and their sister are great examples of best-in-class inventors. They These "bicycle mechanics" had no formal education, no funding, no noteworthy credentials. They were outliers in the human quest for flight. Their competitors were highly educated, backed financially, and endorsed by organizations like the Smithsonian Institute. One of their fiercest competitors was Samuel Langley. Langley was a famous scientist (astronomer), a professor, and the secretary of the Smithsonian Institute. In 1898 Langley used his scientific credentials and his prestigious job to defeat the Wright brothers in a competition for a $50,000 research Grant from the U.S. Department of War. Yet, the persistent and determined Wrights persevered. It's a phenomenal story that's been replicated by other underdog entrepreneurs.

Another Favorite Book
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Inclusify: The Power of Uniqueness and Belonging to Build Innovative Teams

by Stefanie K. Johnson

Jon's thoughts: Diversity is a critical driver of innovation. I used to think in terms of diversity alone though -- sort of one dimmensional. After reading Inclusify, I realized inclusify is the action word. Without inclusification, diversity's benefits don't come alive.

A Third Favorite Book
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The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

by Brad Stone

Jon's thoughts: Jeff Bezos is one of today's most prolific entrepreneurs and business people and Amazon is culture molded in his likeness. This book gives insights into ways that Amazon and Bezos think and behave. My favorite invention stories highlighted in this book are about Kindle and AWS. Amazon's open-mindedness to concepts and its willingness to try unique ideas -- regardless of an idea's initial popularity -- is admirable, disruptive and ultimately profitable. To make a mark on the 2020-30 decades, other companies would be wise to replicate Amazon's approach to innovation and building ecosystems.

Favorite Quotes About Innovation

“I believe you have to be willing to be misunderstood if you’re going to innovate.”

~ Jeff Bezos

“If you double the number of experiments you do per year you're going to double your inventiveness.”

~ Jeff Bezos
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Favorite Video About Innovation and Why


One of the Greatest Speeches Ever | Jeff Bezos

Thoughts: The world's wealthiest person and the founder of a $1 trillion company shares inspirational advice for all business people - entrepreneurs and executives. Jeff Bezos talks about bold bets and failures. He talks about continuous experimentation. About harmony and meaning. About doing things that are interesting and useful. About choices versus gifts. About being both nimble and robust. About the fun of working in the future -- and leaning into the future. About choices versus gifts. About being both nimble and robust. About the importance of being a domain expert - yet the dangers and traps of being a domain expert. About relentless persistence. About being stubborn on your vision but flexible on the details. About the power of passion. He talks about the building for long-term wins and minimizing regrets. This is an inspiring aggregation of advice.thing new.

Leadership From A Dancing Guy

Thoughts: As strange as this video is, I think it's a good demonstration of how innovation works. "The start" itself is often weird -- even embarrassing. But gradually, if an inventor sticks with it, a good idea gains momentum and becomes splendid and admirable. Without a leader, there's no first follower. Without a first follower, there's no progress. This video is a shout out to those who risk their public personas to try something new.

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