In 2000, entrepreneur Chris Carver had just shut down the sports agency that he started out of college and was on his last $100, had maxed out his credit cards, and was sleeping on his ex-girlfriend’s couch when he came across an advertisement on the back of a Competitor Magazine about registering online for races.
“As someone who was a team sports athlete all my life, I thought that was brilliant and immediately thought, ‘they need to offer that for summer camps,’” Carver said. “It just made so much sense. I looked up the website and saw the company happened to be right in La Jolla. So, of course, I sent my resume in and after a few days of no response and watching my bank account get even more bleak, I thought I’d walk in and pretend I had an interview scheduled. Whether the recruiter knew I had circumvented her system or not, it worked. My foot was in the door.”
That company was Active.com, which was, at the time, a hot spot in San Diego’s dot-com scene as a pioneer of online race and activity registration. While Carver walked his way into the company, he still had to prove himself.
“The first week I pitched Jon Belmonte (COO) and Dave Alberga (CEO) on the camps concept I had. They told me that I could try and build it, as long as I hit my other sales numbers,” said Carver, who became VP of Sales Business Development and then General Manager at Active.com. “Three weeks later, they laid off 60% of the company. I remember getting wind of the layoffs the night before, thinking, I haven’t even gotten my first paycheck and now I’m going to have to look for another job. I can tell you from experience, doing a mass layoff is not an easy thing to logistically and respectfully pull off. I know because I actually had to oversee one at another company after Active and I remember leaning on my experience from that day.”
“If I remember right, that really seemed like a turning point for the company,” he continued. “The team that was left was all in. Luckily, they saw something in me and I spent the next 10 years focused on building and growing the Camps Market for the company as well as a number of other markets that needed to be developed or vetted – from education to fundraising, tennis and action sports.”
Model for Success: “I think the nature of the business we were trying to create, at the pace we were trying to grow, inherently allowed for a number of young people to gain a level of experience that is hard to find at that stage in our careers,” Carver said about the Active.com days.
“I remember someone saying, ‘where there is chaos, there is opportunity.’ The reality was, if you were a hungry, hard worker, who could step into a situation that wasn’t 100% clear and be a problem solver, you were likely going to be successful at Active.”
Performance Culture: Besides a hard-working team, Carver remembers Active.com’s tight-knit culture well. “Most of us weren’t San Diego natives, so those first few years felt like we did everything together: surf trips, ski trips, races, happy hours, cove swims, weekend rides, triathlons, runs, you name it. I definitely can remember a significant portion of the company getting kicked out of a Su Casa Happy Hour in La Jolla (more than once), or piling too many people into the Active-wrapped Ford Excursion for a weekend ski trip to Mammoth, or swimming the cove at lunch with half the team and then working in wet board shorts into the evening. It was truly an incredible group of people with a great culture. We definitely had a blast.”
“I also think what made it unique (from a culture perspective), was that the culture wasn’t engineered by HR or forced down from the top,” he added. “Even as we grew, the culture evolved in a really positive way. I think anyone who has been through the different stages of growth of an organization knows how difficult that can be to maintain. I think the key at Active was that even though the culture evolved as the company evolved, the staff really took charge of keeping the culture strong, and hats off to the leadership team for not stifling the energy.”
“All that being said, at the end of the day, you had to perform. Just like any company, a lot of people came and went, but it was definitely a performance culture. Those that did well either had a pedigree of performance in some form or another or figured out pretty early that they had to take control of their career. Those who did take control rose through the ranks.”
Lifelong Lessons: Taking the tough times with the good times, Carver said Active.com had a profound impact on his career. “Active provided an education and experience like none other I could have imagined. It definitely wasn’t perfect and likely taught me as many bad habits as good. However, it taught me that you don’t have to be perfect to win; it taught me that no one person is ever the reason a company or team of this size is successful; it taught me not to be afraid of the bigger competitor (they have their own problems); and it taught me how critical it is to surround yourself with the right people.”
Future Tech Leaders: When asked about Active.com’s biggest achievement, Carver said it was the cultivation of the careers of so many young leaders, many of whom are still fueling the San Diego ecosystem while others are running companies around the globe.
“Active was an incredible training ground for many of us in our careers. However, what I think is even more impressive than the number of startup founders it helped produce is the number of amazing folks that have taken on countless senior leadership roles at other high growth organizations around the world. I honestly think that’s the true legacy of Active. It’s really incredible to think about the impact everyone is having and the jobs they’re creating.”
The Journey Continues: Carver’s own entrepreneurial journey after Active.com first led him to Invisible Children, whose mission is to end violence and exploitation facing our world’s most isolated and vulnerable communities. It was 2010 and Carver had just finished his MBA at Kellogg and was trying to figure out the right time to try his hand at launching his own startup again. So, he thought Invisible Children would be a great place to give himself some time and space to do that.
“I have always had a heart for equality and human rights,” said Carver, who served as Invisible Children’s COO. “I grew up in a very diverse community and saw how marginalized some of my friends were and how few chances they had. One mistake and they were screwed. The issue Invisible Children was dealing with took that to the absolute extreme. And after traveling to Central Africa, it was really hard to believe that most of the world didn’t know about or took a blind eye to these mass child abductions, mass rape, killings, etc. for over 26 years. So, taking my experience and confidence from Active and Kellogg, I saw so many opportunities to build an organization that could have a major impact on such a tough issue.”
“I remember thinking that I had just gotten two incredible educations (one from Active and one from Kellogg), so outside of the money and the options I would give up if I left (which was a lot), I would never forgive myself if I didn’t take this on. I also thought I’d just give it a year (I was there for four).”
The Power of Technology: “I was really excited about the potential impact we could have if we took the story telling and mobilization talent of the existing team and combined that with a powerful technology and a digital distribution strategy,” Carver said about Invisible Children’s platform. “That being said, I never really prepared for 100+ million views on our documentary and going from a $5 million organization to a $32 million organization in a week.”
Keeping it Local: “I definitely want to recognize Classy, Digitaria (now Mirum) and Fifty and Fifty for their help (with Invisible Children) from a tech perspective,” Carver said. “My current LENND Co-Founder Josh Parolin was our only in-house engineer, so we relied heavily on all three companies. I actually think we were both Classy and Fifty and Fifty’s first customer and one of Digitaria’s first major agency award. We definitely tried to support local partners when possible and all three did a world class job.”
Capital for Good: “There was so many incredible moments from my time at Invisible Children, but what I am most proud of is how we deployed the capital we raised. In one of the most remote places on earth, we connected over 100 communities with an HF radio network and twice daily tracked and logged abductions, killings, looting, and sightings in order to warn the other communities that they were in danger. This communication system was put on the back burner for years by the largest agencies in the world, prior to us investing in it, and it was, in fact, saving lives daily. I also like to think we played a small part in moving the conversation forward about how non-profits approach strategic investment, fundraising, marketing, and their mission.”
Talent: “I would also say that just like Active, a major reason why I went to Invisible Children was because of how talented and passionate the core team was,” Carver said. “At that point in my career, I knew when you find a group of talented and passionate people like that, you jump on board. And man was it a ride.”
LENND: Carver said a major part of the campaign and distribution strategy at Invisible Children was to produce large scale tours and events around the country. At the time, he said, it was fairly easy to find technology to support the ticketing and registration process, but very little to support the operations and logistics. “When I found out that most major events are built off of spreadsheets and Google Docs, we clearly saw an opportunity.”
That opportunity led Carver to launch LENND (in 2014), a next generation event and venue operations platform. However, when Carver approached the investment community about LENND, they didn’t see the same opportunity. “We could point to the success that Salesforce, Workday, and other back office systems have had in the corporate world, but we had a really tough time explaining the opportunity in the event and venue world,” he said. “Not to take anything away from those (early) investors we pitched; it’s quite possible we just weren’t pitching the vision the right way. That being said, we decided to raise our initial round from key strategic investors that came from the space, investors that know the problem and know the opportunity – like Dave Alberga (former CEO of Active), John Pleasants (former CEO of Ticketmaster), Jeff Shuck (Co-Founder of Event 360), Chad Ladov (President of Unified Command), Antony Randall (CEO of EQ and former Manager Roc Nation), Leo Nitzberg (former VP of Operations at Goldenvoice and Co-Founder of BWG Live), Mike Reilly (Active alumni and Voice of Ironman), Freeman Digital Ventures (part of the largest event company in the world), and more. We’ve also had some incredible support from EvoNexus, Ron Wangerin (Former CFO at ViaSat & current CFO and COO of Classy), Chuck Philips (Co-Founder of Mirum and VP of Engineering MindBody), Scot Chisholm (Founder of Classy) and Howard Ziment (Founder of Mindfrog).”Growth: With that initial $2 million in capital, Carver and his team have been focused on validating LENND’s platform with some of the largest festivals, agencies, live events, and venues in North America such as Outside Lands Music Festival (SF), Live Nation, Life Is Beautiful (Las Vegas), Freeman, Gov Ball (NYC), Townsquare Media, Comedy Central’s Clusterfest (SF), Superfly, Monterey Jazz Festival, Another Planet Entertainment, Ottawa Bluesfest, BWG Live, BeachLife Festival (LA), Killowatt Events (San Diego), KIND Festival, Founders Entertainment, Newport Folk and Jazz Festival, Oktoberfest Brisbane (AUS), EQ, Treasure Island Music Festival (Bay Area), Something In The Water Festival (VA), Broccoli City (DC), The NFL, and many others.
“We’re really in an incredible position, which gets compounded even more with our recent integration partnerships with Eventbrite, Front Gate Tickets (Live Nation), Elevate Tickets (AEG), and Intellitix,” he said.
Through the company’s initial event partners, LENND has also had over 10,000 vendors, contractors, artists, exhibitors, sponsors, and suppliers leverage the platform to supply their operational details.
“Although I underestimated how long it would take to build a full operations platform for a transient user, what’s really exciting is that our initial adoption has not only validated the operational need, but also highlighted the unique opportunity and demand for us to process many of the billions of dollars in back office transactions, orders, invoices, rentals, and payments that coincide with event and venue operations.” Carver said. “As such, we’re now focused on the initial scaling phase and recently hired our first sales rep (Active.com alumna Sarah Stephenson), and are looking to double our 2018 revenue in the first few months of 2019. With the recent success, we’ll be closing out the second half of our seed round in the next few months.”
Fun Fact: The sports agency that Carver started during college was the baseball side of Bruce Tollner’s football agency, which is now one of the top football agencies in the country, representing players such as Carson Wentz (Eagles), Jared Goff (Rams), Ben Rothlesberger (Steelers), Mitchell Trabisky (Bears), Blake Bortles (Jaguars), Marcus Mariaota (Titans), CJ Beathard (49ers), Brandin Cooks (Patriots) and others.
San Diego: Meanwhile, Carver, who believes San Diego is the perfect climate to start and grow a business, is creating his own successes with some help from fellow entrepreneurs and mentors. “It’s really exciting to see everything that is going on with the San Diego tech scene. It has evolved enormously in the past five-plus years and is only picking up momentum. There are clearly a lot of smart, talented folks working really hard to build a true ecosystem and you can see the impact,” he said. “At LENND, we have had support from some amazing homegrown entrepreneurs. That reinvestment is a critical step in the evolution of San Diego as a tech hub, and I so appreciate them believing in us and in our vision. I am excited for the day when I can do the same.”
Editor’s Note: This is part three in a series about the early pioneers of online race and activity registration, the subsequent companies they went on to create and run, and how they are still “active” in the San Diego tech ecosystem. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 & Part 7.