Storytelling, Hustle, and Free Hats
Why entrepreneur Marc Gorlin is an inspiring innovator and leader
It was the day before our keynote fireside chat at the Dig South Tech Summit in Charleston, South Carolina. I was checking into the hotel and although Marc Gorlin was nowhere in sight, he was very present. The front desk associate noticed I was registered as a speaker for Dig South and asked me what I was speaking about.
“I am hosting a fireside chat with the CEO and founder of a company called Roadie,” I said.
She immediately said, “I met him! He checked-in earlier and gave me a Roadie hat. He was so fun to talk to.”
That moment was a perfect example of Marc. He takes every moment as a chance to tell stories or create stories about his company. He embraces new connections with amazing authenticity and has an incredible ability to connect through this genuine interest in people and to transform every moment into a platform to tell the story of Roadie. It could be on stage in front of thousands, on TV in front of millions, or one-on-one at the check-in desk of a hotel in Charleston.
Marc is the definition of a serial entrepreneur with the track record to prove it. He is a co-founder of Kabbage, a financial services company designed to provide small business owners with flexible access to capital. He also is the hands-on founder and CEO of Roadie, a same-day app-based delivery service that “connects people with stuff to send with drivers already heading in the right direction.” During the current pandemic, Roadie has taken on a critical role in delivering products from some of the biggest brands in the country to the corner bakery, by working with thousands of drivers.
I have gotten to know Marc over the past few years and it is always a treat to be on stage with him. When we were together on stage again in 2019 for Dig South, Marc and I spoke about his path to becoming an entrepreneur, his views on innovation, and what drives him as a leader.
There are so many things that entrepreneurs can learn from Marc, ranging from the power of storytelling in sales to the value of constant objectives if you’re pursuing venture capital. Actually, whether you are in a startup or a large global conglomerate looking for ways to innovate and grow your business (or grow yourself), Marc offers a lot to learn.
Marc is the ultimate storyteller. In our conversation, he described the power of storytelling through (what else?) a story about how the Kabbage team was able to secure funding. The ability to be a storyteller is essential for leaders and innovators blazing new trails because it humanizes ideas. The ability to connect ideas to people is an essential part of the Innovator’s DNA — it’s how many of the best innovative leaders inspire others to follow.
As he did with Kabbage, Marc also told a story when asked about how Roadie got started. He always spins a narrative (or more accurately, he performs the story, with distinct voices, accents, and plenty of humor) about not being able to get shower tiles during when he was doing a home improvement project. His story brings people into what inspired him to start Roadie…but more than that, it powerfully showcases his passion, drive, and authentic journey to starting a wildly innovative and successful company.
With all this in mind, it probably comes as no surprise to know that this serial tech entrepreneur has a journalism degree. He credits that background when he discusses the importance of effective communication and storytelling for entrepreneurs. The process builds purpose around how you articulate what an idea/product/solution is (and what it isn’t). It is also how you create believers, so people will invest or join your startup as an employee.
It is this natural (and practiced) skill that helped Marc not only to launch and grow Kabbage into a Fintech ‘unicorn’ but also to get Roadie featured during a Jimmy Kimmel monologue early in the life of the business. Even more, it’s this ability to capture the imagination and inspire believers In the early days of the company, Marc was working to build his support network. He was quick to say that the company couldn’t pay much and it was important that the partners ‘believed in the company.’
Someone did. Upon hearing the Roadie slogan “Friendshipping,” music and film superstar Ludacris was in. He strode into the office, declared, “Friendshipping is dope. We should do this.” and has been an investor and partner since.
Hustle and Collision
It won’t come as a surprise to hear that Marc is always in motion and hustles to get things done. If storytelling is the connection factor, the hustle factor is the production side. It’s definitely one of the ‘X factors’ you see in entrepreneurs who are successful in building rapidly scaling companies. Marc keeps a relentless pace of work and pursuit of the deal.
Part of the reason why (besides his hustle and pace) is his ability to make unlikely relationships a reality and to put competing ideas to work. When I talk about the DNA of an innovator, one of the most essential traits is the capacity to embrace conflict and create “collisions.” These collisions create the spark to new thinking and action that may have not been possible before. I always use Marc as an example of a leader who does not fear these collisions; but rather, who uses them to make the unlikely a reality.
There are always those who will say it is hard for a startup and a large corporation to work together. They have different priorities, work at a different pace, and can’t find a balance of power. Yet, as Marc built Roadie, he created partnerships with large conglomerates that would be the envy of any founder. He secured UPS as an early investor. He created a partnership with Delta to help them enhance their customer experience in the “last mile” delivery of bags. Early on, he helped Roadie create a partnership with Waffle House. Roadie also secured Home Depot as a partner and investor, and now has an impressive portfolio of big brand partners. The examples of productive startup-enterprise partnerships go on and on.
Marc’s relentless hustle and clarity have created unique value for both sides of the “collision” and created so much success. He was able to get the biggest brands in the world to trust Roadie by doing three things. As he put it, “You gotta find someone with juice…someone who cares…find a small experiment.”
This amazingly pragmatic approach is a way to cut through the perceived conflict that may exist between companies that may not have much in common. Marc finds ways to find the right connection and find something in common that they care about.
Marc is an amazing storyteller, hustles like no one else, and embraces collisions to create value. The truth is that Marc has that ‘X factor’ that is so critical for change leaders with a strong Innovator’s DNA — he is authentic. Marc does not pretend to be anyone but himself, and his personality is part of the ethos of his companies. This authenticity is what makes his storytelling a platform for inspiring others. It is what makes his entire company want to hustle along with him. It is that makes others trust him even when at first they are not sure what to expect. And it is what creates the connections that matter, no matter whether you are the CEO of a major company or the front-desk agent at a hotel looking for a gig.