Pollock's Entrepreneurial Beginnings
Fresh out of college in 2008, a 22-year-old Pollock moved back to his native Minneapolis to co-found SocialEarth, a nonprofit focused on solution journalism — all while working in marketing for BestBuy.com, his first job post-college. “What I was wanting to create really came from this mission-driven place, something that told stories of solutions,” Pollock said.
At SocialEarth, Pollock was writing and also managing about 200 contributors in 25 different countries who worked on stories about solution journalism, social entrepreneurship and social impact. Three years later, Pollock and his co-founder sold the startup to a larger social impact media company. By then, Pollock, who dubs himself a multi-potentialite, had plenty of new ideas brewing, including one that led to his next startup, Storefront.
The idea for Storefront came while Pollock was walking around Minneapolis with his co-founder and talking to various store owners. On average, 1 in 10 stores sit empty across the US (although the pandemic has likely affected this), so for Pollock, the question was, “How do we help keep those filled? Can we fill them with artists and up-and-coming designers, small brands? How do we help the most creative people in the city have a voice in the urban dialogue? These landlords sit on their spaces for a year or two, waiting for the big stores like Apple to come in. Well, there's only going to be one Apple store in your area.”
Pollock and his business partner quickly applied to AngelPad, a startup accelerator program based in San Francisco, and found out on a Thursday that they'd been accepted. By the end of that weekend, they were in Silicon Valley in a one-bedroom apartment with four people and zero furniture. A few months later, Pollock and his co-founder had raised $10 million to fund Storefront.
Although the pair didn't hesitate to make the leap to Silicon Valley, Pollock admits it was a scary moment “without salaries. We tripled our rent from Minneapolis, even living the way we were living. But I didn't even consider myself an entrepreneur then. I was just working on this because I really liked it, because I believed in it.”
Storefront ended up attracting larger names as well (including Kanye West, Nike, and Smartcar), and after five years of successfully growing the startup, Pollock and his co-founder sold it to a French company that was operating a similar concept in retail. After the sale, Pollock joined 500 Startups in 2015, where he held a position until early this year on the other side of the table as a venture partner.
“500 looked at the whole world and asked — how do we help the best people? Anyone, anywhere in the world — they were very ahead of the game trying to support diverse founders back in 2015. It was a really great place to dive deeper into the startup community, not just in California but on a national and global level,” Pollock said.
Although his main current role is Head of Community at startup CTO.ai, the 33-year-old has kept himself quite busy with other ventures. He's spoken at over 100 events and conferences (SXSW, TEDx, etc.), writes for Entrepreneur and VentureBeat and recently published a children's book in collaboration with his designer/illustrator parents. Just before the pandemic hit, Pollock and his life partner landed back at home after having been digital nomads for two years. During his travels, Pollock launched a couple of startup accelerators in Saudia Arabia and Russia, the first American partnership with an accelerator in either location.
In fact, building relationships is what Pollock is especially good at. He quickly noticed that “what makes Silicon Valley tick is that founder community, the willingness to get a 15-minute coffee with somebody. I was able to just sit down and chat with the founder of Thumbtack or Lyft.” Networking and mentorship — this is now what Pollock values highly as an entrepreneur, so it's not surprising that he spent much of his time at 500 Startups helping and mentoring new founders. In fact, his entry into 500 Startups came about through the connection he already had with one of the firm's original investors.
“We had already built a relationship with 500 Startups, as they were one of our first investors, and that connection actually came from the AngelPad program who introduced us to them. That just shows you how having that network is so essential, and I always tell other founders to just start talking to other founders who are doing something in your space. And maybe if they've raised money recently, if they're a stage ahead of you, they're the perfect people to mentor you or help you get an introduction to someone.”
Of course, not every entrepreneur has the desire or ability to pick up their lives and call Silicon Valley home. But Pollock says that the pandemic has dramatically changed the way that investments are made, which is a good thing for aspiring entrepreneurs. “A lot of investors wouldn't even invest unless they met you in person. Now there are so many investments happening over Zoom. Silicon Valley has now finally turned to the internet, so everyone has this opportunity. But a large amount of investors are from San Francisco, so there are still expectations in terms of etiquette.”
The Future Is Bright for Entrepreneurs
For those wondering if a pandemic is the right moment to establish a startup, Pollock adds that the current economic recession is actually a perfect moment to start a new business. “There's never been a better time to start a startup. So much opportunity. Recession time is a huge innovation time. There are major changes happening, but you can capitalize on those changes. It's really needed in some sectors. Be cognizant of how these trends affect your business, and use those to a competitive advantage.”
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