A Beautiful Continuum

The first time I met Natty Zola was in the old Techstars bunker back in the summer of 2009. He and his co-founder Nate Abbott had recently started a company called Everlater and were going through the Boulder Techstars program. They told me their story about chucking their Wall Street jobs, traveling around the world together and moving back home to Boulder (where they’d been best friends since kindergarten) to start Everlater.

The origin story of Everlater (anagram for Traveler) was that Nate and Natty grew frustrated during their travels that there really wasn’t a good platform to share travel experiences in real time with friends and family back home. They taught themselves how to code, built an elegant site which encapsulated areas for journaling, photos, maps etc., and started building the company.

I knew during our first meeting that I wanted to invest. Their enthusiasm was infectious and Natty & Nate were learning machines. The experience of being involved in building Everlater with these two is one of the truly memorable and gratifying chapters of my career. Ultimately, AOL acquired the company and Nate & Natty took on senior product roles at Mapquest. Here’s a fantastic short video of their journey from inception to acquisition.

 

Two years ago, we were looking for a new Managing Director of our Techstars Boulder program and Natty immediately jumped to mind. He’d been through the gauntlet as an entrepreneur, spent a few years at a large tech company working on product, was born and raised in Boulder and most importantly, he’s an incredible human being with a huge empathy gene. It was the perfect choice and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have Natty running the Techstars program at our original location.

We encourage all of our Managing Directors to become board members or observers at some of the companies that graduate from their classes. As fate would have it, Pana (an incredible on-demand mobile travel agent) went through one of Natty’s classes and recently Natty joined their board of directors. His experience in the travel industry is the perfect fit and Natty’s now in the ideal position to mentor founder Devon Tivona. Where the continuum comes full circle is that Devon was a summer intern at Everlater.

At the 2005 Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs said something that’s become my favorite quote of all time.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path.”

When Nate called Natty back in 2008, urging him to quit his high-paying Wall Street job and come join him on the adventure of a lifetime, little did they know where it would take them, but something in their gut told them to trust the universe and just do it. Nate’s gone on to become the Product Manager of Airbnb’s recently announced Trips and together, he and Natty can now look back and connect the dots that brought them to this point in their lives.

Nate and Natty

Last night was a special evening for me. The calendar finally cooperated and allowed me to have a long overdue celebration dinner with Nate Abbott and Natty Zola, two of my favorite entrepreneurs I’ve ever had the pleasure to know and work with. They’re amazing people and I feel lucky to count them as close friends.

Nate, myself and Natty at dinner last night
Nate, myself and Natty last night

Back in 2009, we invested in a TechStars company called Everlater, founded by Nate and Natty. They had developed an innovative online travel journal that gave users a simple to use, rich media platform for capturing and sharing their travel experiences using text, maps, photos and video with easy sharing across social sites. The only thing stereotypical about Nate and Natty is that like most entrepreneurs, they’re very smart and incredibly passionate about what they work on and they’re relentless in the pursuit of realizing their dream.  The rest, well – not so much.

Let me explain. In 2007 Nate and Natty had lucrative finance jobs in New York City. They both loved and excelled in finance but felt there was more to life than corporate finance so they hatched an evil plan. Nate set off to bike across Europe, spent time in Morocco and then went to India for four months to train future Indian investment bankers.  Natty worked an additional six months before meeting Nate in Argentina.  They then spent six months traveling from the Southern tip of Chile to Mexico.  It was their reward for working hundred hour weeks for so long.

During their adventure, they did amazing things.  They climbed 21,000 foot mountains, surfed remote beaches, explored exotic cities and immersed themselves in new cultures. They wanted to share their stories, photos and experiences with their friends and family but struggled to find an online tool which easily and effectively captured what they were doing.  On a sailboat between Colombia and Panama, they decided to scratch their own itch and began formulating their vision for a new travel journaling business.  Two months later, they moved to Boulder to pursue and build their dream full time.

Nate & Natty in Altiplano, Bolivia

Since they were both born and raised in Boulder (and best friends since kindergarten), they decided it would be easiest and cheapest to get their idea off the ground if they moved back home with their parents.  Their families were extremely supportive and welcomed them back home to help get Everlater off the ground.

Having been away, they didn’t know much about the amazing entrepreneurial ecosystem that had flourished in Boulder.  Immediately they had access to incredible mentors in the form of venture capitalists, fellow entrepreneurs, and a very close developer community which they tapped in to to learn how to code themselves.  That’s right; they learned how to code and built Everlater themselves. They applied and were accepted into TechStars and that’s where I met them. Truth was, I was so impressed by their chutzpah and Joie de vivre, I knew we were going to invest in their company at the very first meeting.

We were the only institutional investor in Everlater and the board comprised of Nate, Natty and myself. Our board meetings were always improptu (“Hey guys, I’m going to be in Boulder next week, how about a board meeting?”) and super casual. In fact, most of them revolved around fun meals or long bike rides.

Nate, Natty and I during one of our "board meetings"
Nate, Natty and I (along with a couple of friends) during one of our “board meetings”

This past November, it was announced that AOL/MapQuest had acquired Everlater. It was a terrific outcome for everyone involved. I am so incredibly happy for Nate and Natty. They’ve already been promoted at AOL and are spearheading a significant and important new initiative for them. I’m a big believer in karma. These two guys paid their dues in building Everlater and it’s tremendously gratifying for me to see them reap the rewards.  

It meant so much to me to spend the evening with them (along with Jenna and Pam) last night and celebrate all they’ve accomplished. It was also the first time I’ve seen Natty and Pam since they were married in February! I am so proud of you guys. Your ever-present optimism and outlook on life inspires everyone around you. I especially admire the child-like wonder about this world you’ve both been able to take with you into adulthood. Thank you for letting me be part of your journey and I’m looking forward to what I know will be very special and lifelong friendships with both of you.