Interview with Melissa Withers, Founder & Managing Partner
Hi, I’m Melissa Withers. I’m the Founder and Managing Partner of RevUp Capital. And I’m really excited today to be here to talk about my experience with Gesmer Updegrove.
Tell Us About Your Journey
My journey: I’m a generalist, and I feel really grateful that I was able to build my career at a time when being a generalist was acceptable. I think we are hyper focused on specialists, and I think my journey has allowed me to do many different things through the years and be many different things. And I think all of that has contributed to what I do today, which is work as a professional investor.
What Is RevUp & What Is Its Focus?
Rev Up Capital is a nonequity, revenue-based investment fund for early-stage companies. We invest nationally into a broad spectrum of B2B and B2C companies. And in particular, we’re investing into companies that are right at the beginning of scaling. So they’re in the market and they’re selling and things are going well, but they are really ready to level up and go to that next stage of the business.
What Is The History Of RevUp?
When we started RevUp, it was after many years of running an equity fund. And at the conclusion of that process, my partners and I had invested in 90-some-odd companies. But we were really frustrated by the constraints of the equity-only model, which really just essentially requires you to force companies to have exits. That’s how you make your money. And what I wanted to do was participate more in building the business and be a little less obsessed with the terminus of the business.
What Inspires and Motivates You?
I’m inspired by the founders that I work with. Being a part of their journey is so rewarding in so many ways. It’s inspiring because it’s humbling. It’s inspiring because they teach you things, they keep you young. And having the opportunity to work on so many different companies allows me to really stay contemporary in understanding what the trends are in both the national and the global economy. And I think mostly I’m inspired by the spirit of these founders and how they get up each day in the face of incredible obstacles and just get it done. And that moves me to be the best that I can be and to support them as best as I can.
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What Attributes Lead To Success?
There are so many things that determine whether or not a company is successful, whether a founder is successful. And I think it’s dangerous to pick any one attribute. I think there’s a tendency to do that. But there are a few general skills and talents that, in my experience as an investor, I’ve seen contribute the most to success.
The first is being at the right place at the right time. So much of whether a company is successful is tied to things that we can’t control. Is the market ready? Is the customer ready? Are the organizations prepared to invest into your solution? And that’s something that we can’t manufacture. So you really have to be at the right place at the right time.
I think in terms of things that we can control, the way that you attract people and talent and resources into your company may be the most important skill that you have as a Founder. You’ve got to get good people to help you.
What Are Your “Must Haves” Before You Make An Investment?
Well, for me personally and for my fund, the most important thing is that I believe in the team and in the company. I’m not a high throughput fund, we’re not a transactional fund, so I only make ten to twelve investments a year and I’m going to spend somewhere between four to six years working with each company that I invest into. And if I am not in love with you, like if I don’t think that you’re the right team for the job and I’m not excited about who you are and where you’re going, it’s going to be a pretty miserable couple of years. So I think having that kind of alignment and affinity is really important.
I also really tend to gravitate towards founders who are building their companies outside networks of privilege. I do invest into a lot of founders that don’t come from fancy spaces and places. I relate to that as the first person in my family to graduate college. And I like the ingenuity and authenticity that those life experiences often give founders and they bring that to building their business. And I think for me, that kind of focus and diligence and commitment can be the difference between success and failure.
What Advice Do You Have For Entrepreneurs?
I think you need to go into your entrepreneurial journey with your eyes wide open about what it means to dedicate yourself to building a company. For me, when I was coming up, I had to work. I was the breadwinner in my family and there were a lot of opportunities to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors that I simply could not because I didn’t have the personal wealth to sustain me. And I think in startup culture, we don’t talk about that enough. We don’t talk about personal privilege and the impact that that plays on the ability for some people to take big risks.
And so when I talk to young entrepreneurs, I often encourage them to do their own calculus, understand what they’re willing to risk, what they can risk, and what is their readiness to embark on the journey and is at the right time. And I think that’s really important.
And then the other piece of advice that I think I’ve probably given the most over the years is find your people, find your tribe. Building a company is scary sometimes and lonely and hard and awesome and exciting. But going it alone is a nightmare. So you’ve got to connect yourself into a network of people who can support you through every leg of that journey.
What Value Has Gesmer Updegrove Provided To RevUp?
Gesmer Updegrove has created a network of people and organizations that is so authentic and so high quality that I never doubt it. When I am tapped into that network or connected to someone from that network, I go into that knowing that it’s high quality and that’s priceless.
So much of your time as an investor, as a founder, goes into assessing the quality of a resource. And this firm has been in this community for such a long time and has always, I think, put people first. And you really see that in the quality of the network of organizations and individuals that are attracted to the firm and that you meet through the firm.
Certainly personally, I’ve invested in companies that are clients of the firm. I have met people through the firm who have been tremendous allies and advocates for all kinds of things personally and professionally. And I think that just all comes back to Gesmer’s focus on nurturing its community and building strong networks that help people share resources and information.
Why Go With Gesmer?
I think some of the most important decisions that we make today as professionals and as individuals is deciding who we’re going to align ourselves with. It says so much about so many things. For me personally, especially given my commitment to invest into founders that are building businesses outside networks of privilege, I need to align myself with people who share those values. I need to increase the chances that I’m going to bump up against other people that are going to support me and who I can support in that journey. And I think for me, being a member of this community has been a game changer, again, personally and professionally. And that’s why I would go with Gesmer.
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