This neuroscientist built a business by reducing waste. Steve Case is betting millions that it will work

Garry Cooper wasn’t supposed to be entrepreneur. After receiving his Ph.D. in neuroscience in 2014, he was working at Northwestern University School of Medicine when he learned that some of his colleagues needed equipment that was unused in his lab. He began distributing supplies, pushing a cart around the medical school, and eventually earning the nickname Shopping Cart.

“I was just trying to share the resources with the people who need them within the university,” Cooper says. I’ve done more than that. Cooper’s idea eventually grew into a file circular economy Allow organizations to sell, rent or donate physical assets they no longer need.

By 2016, Cooper, then 33, had co-founded Chicago-based Rheaply, a resource-sharing platform to help companies manage their purchased goods and Reducing carbon emissions. Ripley’s addressable market wasn’t exactly small. An estimated $600 billion of excess assets are idle in US companies today, the equivalent of the economies of 44 US states, according to Cooper: “There is a self-contained economy of things that we don’t use in corporate America.”

In 2020, Cooper secured a $1 million investment by winning a pitch competition hosted by Revolution, co-founder of Steve Cases in Washington, DC. The competition provided funding to Black and Brown founders outside of Silicon Valley, Boston and New York, and the winners received an investment from Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund. Since 2014, that campaign has supported 200 startups in 100 US cities in an effort to spread entrepreneurship offshore.

“It’s about trying to level the playing field and helping more people in more places start scaling businesses and pursuing the American Dream and creating jobs that uplift these communities,” says Case, 64.

We sat down with Case and Cooper to discuss the future of Ripley’s, which in June raised $20 million from a group of investors, including the Revolutions Rise of the Wrest Seed Fund. Not surprisingly, Cart Guy comes up with a whole host of questions about everything from the role of government in entrepreneurship to the challenges – and opportunities – facing climate technology companies.

Cooper My first question is about team building and your philosophy on hiring. Can you talk to me from the founder’s perspective about how you think about scaling teams?

issue Well, entrepreneurship is a team sport. It is not about the entrepreneur. It is crucial to know what your dream team is. Who are the right people to ride the bus? Second, you have to think about your team in advance, to be able to manage where you’re headed. What do you think the company will look like two years from now? Most people focus too much on the rearview mirror, or they are just dealing with the challenges of the present. But if you’re really scaling, you need to build the team for what’s coming and anticipate both the challenges you’re likely to face and the opportunities you might want to seize.

Cooper We are experiencing a great deal of economic uncertainty at the moment. There is war and all kinds of political actions abroad. Can you talk about leadership during different global crises and how founders should think?

issue While we were building AOL, most employees were overreacting to the pros and cons. I realized that as CEO, I needed to be the shock absorber for the company to get to the highs and lows. When things were going well, I would try to remind people of the things they should be worried about. I used to call that “delegating paranoia”. In turn, when things got more difficult, I calmed people down and reminded them of what we were doing, why we were doing it, and why we were well positioned to succeed. The thing that absorbs shocks is an important state of mind, and it’s tough. It puts more of a burden on you, but that’s part of what CEOs have to do.

Cooper This describes exactly what I always do. But shifting gears is something very important to my heart, the climate, can you talk from a pure investment perspective about the companies that want to help us either adapt to or mitigate climate change?

“The companies that will generally be successful will be those that understand the policy and engage in an intelligent way.” – Steve Case

issue My view is that it is one of the great opportunities for entrepreneurs who can reimagine things and come up with better approaches and better ideas. I was disappointed 10, 15, 20 years ago when the first era of investment in climate and green technology faltered, in large part because a lot of venture investment has proven to be more capital intensive than people thought, with longer time horizons than people thought. This led to investors retreating. But in the past five years, we’ve seen acceleration again, in part because technologies have matured somewhat, but also because new business models have become more visible. There is a lot of business, as well as investor interest, that has gone into this sector.

Cooper One of the things I’ve devoted my time to, beyond sustainability, is DEI as it relates to the world of technology. It’s true that Revolution looks very different from a diversification perspective than most venture capital funds.

issue Well, it helps to have two managing partners in the Rise of the Rest fund, one woman and one black. This, in and of itself, leads you to more variety. But since females represent more than 50 percent of the population and receive less than 10 percent of venture capital, and blacks represent more than 13 percent of the population and receive less than 1 percent of venture capital, there is a broad need for par opportunities. . We are intent on seeking out those who are often left out of the innovation economy.

Cooper Rise of the Rest in the capital What are your thoughts on the role of government, whether local, state or federal, in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship?

issue I think the government sets the schedule and creates the context that allows entrepreneurs to build, investors to invest, and markets to operate. I don’t think the government is good at picking winners and losers in terms of direct investments. I also realize that a lot of entrepreneurs, particularly in Silicon Valley, are skeptical of government and concerned about regulations slowing things down, and I share that concern. But people also need to realize that the government has allowed some things to be speeded up and in some cases created things — including, by the way, the Internet, which wouldn’t exist without government funding for DARPA, and wouldn’t exist without court rulings to break up Ma Bell phone company. Therefore, I am more respectful of the role of the government than others.

issue In this next wave, which I call the third wave of the internet, I also believe that politics will be more important, not only in sustainability but also in healthcare, food and agriculture. I think it’s important for the entrepreneurs involved to make sure the government is doing it right in terms of setting the table to allow entrepreneurship to thrive. How can we either change some of these regulations so that they are more conducive to entrepreneurship, or take advantage of government to do the things that only governments can do in terms of unlocking more investment in research and development and helping the United States win the global battle for talent?

Cooper I think the pandemic has been, fortunately or unfortunately, an interesting case study in public-private partnerships, whether local, state, federal or global. How can we use this evidence in the future to move forward?

issue Partnerships will be more important than people think. It’s a way to almost create a power multiplier that allows you to get a wider network. I think the companies that will succeed in the next decade will be the ones that understand politics and engage in a smart way, but also know what strategic partnerships they need to have, and that they need to make sure that their competitors don’t have. How do you use partnerships so you can accelerate the growth of your business in a way that puts it on a completely different path than if you were just trying to sign up clients one by one?

“The pandemic has been, fortunately or unfortunately, an interesting case study in public-private partnerships, whether local, state, federal or global.” – Gary Cooper

Cooper On the human side of being a founder, I’m really interested in the topic of work-life balance. What are some tips and tricks that work for you personally and that you’ve also seen success for other successful founders?

issue It’s hard or rough I’m not sure to this day that I figured it out. You have to realize that there will be certain days, certain weeks, certain months, maybe even certain years, when you will have to sacrifice other things, whether it be friends or family or just a broader luxury, because you can’t do it all. So the question is, what is the best way to set priorities?

One thing I did was look at where I was spending the time and ask why. I usually concluded that I was spending too much time on a particular topic because I either didn’t have the right person or I didn’t set the right priorities. It comes down to making sure you have the right team, and you trust, empower and delegate them. Like most entrepreneurs, I started doing basically everything. Then I went from trying to do everything to trying to do nothing. I said, “If I was a really great CEO, I’d wake up and have nothing to do because I’ve built such a great team.” Of course, to this day, I never wake up without doing anything. But I found it a useful way of thinking.

From the October 2022 issue of a company magazine

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