Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5
Subscribe

Why Being Selective Can Lead to Success

The co-founder and CEO of Tracer shares how his data intelligence platform bridges the growing gap between sets of data and how being selective helped him close a multi-million-dollar fundraising round.

By
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, Jeffrey Nicholson believes you have to be selective. Nicholson is the co-founder and CEO of Tracer, a data-intelligence platform that recently closed a $9.9 million seed investment round. Prior to creating Tracer, he was the Chief Media Officer at VaynerMedia. He also serves on the advisory boards for Roku, Pinterest and Nextdoor. He created his education startup, NicholNotes, to improve the education ecosystem and shape future leaders. Nicholson sat down with Jessica Abo to talk about how Tracer bridges the growing gap between sets of data and how being selective can help you be more successful.

Jessica Abo: Can you start by telling us a little bit about your career?

Jeffrey Nicholson: I went to business school at Babson College. Honestly, it changed my life. I was always very good at math and fell into finance, but I just didn't love it. I didn't have the passion for it and didn't feel like it was going to be my career. Then I stumbled upon running ads on Google and really took that and ran with it. I've spent the last 15 years in the media and technology space honing my skills and growing businesses, and I couldn't feel more blessed about what I've been doing.

What was the problem that you were trying to solve when you came up with this idea to create Tracer?

The problem is really disparate datasets. If you think about a very simple data equation for any business, they are spending money on Google, Facebook and maybe they use Shopify for their website. None of those companies talk to each other, and you consistently run into the problem where dataset one plus dataset two plus dataset three is the answer you need, but they don't make it easy to put those things together. I experienced that over and over, whether I was at an agency or running a brand myself, so I decided to solve the problem and build my own technology.

Where were you in your career when you came up with this idea?

I was working at a company called SocialCode, and we, at the time, were one of the largest Facebook advertisers in the United States. Disparate datasets had been a consistent problem that I had run into in my career. Companies have to deal with data from television, Google, Facebook, Shopify and all these different companies and publishers, as well as revenue streams, and there's no glue in between. There's no one considering the client's best interest and saying, "Here is all your data. Here's how to contextualize it. Here's how to draw insights on what you have at your disposal."

I honestly got fed up with trying to combat that with humans and Excel and decided to build my own technology with my business partner, Leighton Welch. I then moved on to work with Gary Vaynerchuk at VaynerMedia, where I was not only running the media department but was also incubating Tracer inside the company. I give Gary a lot of credit for honestly entertaining the idea of even backing me, because it was pretty adventurous.

I came on as the Global Chief Media Officer to run the media department and build a media structure that was as successful as Gary's creative agency, but then I pitched him on the idea of simultaneously incubating a technology company, because I knew we were going to run into the problem again. I had come from a previous media company where you had one of three choices: You had to buy someone else's technology, you had to fight the problem with humans and Excel or you had to build your own technology. I started to go down the third path, and Gary very graciously has backed the business. I think it's worked out quite well for both of us.

Being selective is really important to you and it's played a very big role in your business strategy. What does being selective look like for you?

I think the biggest thing is really appreciating that you have to drive value. A lot of people are so in a rush to sell something and make money that they don't remember that your reputation is attached to what you sell. So, we really believe in reputation management and focusing on clients that are mutually valuable to each other, making sure that I deliver on that promise. Rather than sell 1,000 clients, I would rather sell 100 and do a great job and never lose one.

What does this look like from Tracer's perspective? What are some examples of how you've been selective in this company?

We don't have a sales or marketing team. We don't advertise. Other than this week and spending time with you and a few other people, we've never even done PR. So first and foremost, we've taken a very different approach to growth. The second thing is, when we're potentially engaging a future client, we go through a diagnosis together on how both firms are going to work together. We ask: Is that going to be successful? And then we create a roadmap that matches our procurement contract.

From end-to-end and how we operate, we really try to identify if we can add value, and I'm happy to be honest with the client and say, "Hey, I don't think we're the right fit for you," whatever the reason may be, because I'd rather only sell to someone that I'm going to drive value for and be successful with, than try to really fit a square peg into a round hole.

For the new entrepreneurs out there, it might be really overwhelming to turn down potential business. What do you want to say to that person who is just getting going?

I think you have to know yourself and your business, first and foremost. Everyone's going to take a different strategy. Mine is unique to my business partner, Tracer, and us. But I tell most people to trust their gut. Understand that you have to trust your instincts. Especially as the co-founder or founder of a business, you're going to have to live and die on your decisions. So, I think you have to have faith in those things and make sure that you try to execute to the 100th percentile of what you pick, but don't be afraid to go a different path. I had a lot of people tell me that I was wrong in a variety of different scenarios throughout my career, and I'd rather live on what I choose and try to win and lose on that.

What is your overall advice for the entrepreneurs out there who might be listening to you and not be sure what the best thing is to do next to advance their company?

My tagline is "show me the energy." I want to see and feel the fact that you want it. A lot of people like to talk. Very few people want to work 80 hours a week. So, show me the energy, the effort, and the work ethic in order to be successful. And be naturally curious. You have to want to solve problems. You have to want to learn and grow, and you have to be open to new things as well. It's those two combinations that really will deliver great success for any entrepreneur.

Latest

Trying to Pinpoint the Pinnacle of Your Story? Think Back to Your Biggest Setback

Journalist Amy Shoenthal shares her research around how we handle setbacks and why they aren't always a bad thing.

Momofuku CEO Marguerite Zabar Mariscal on Rising To The Top

Interview with Momofuku CEO Marguerite Zabar Mariscal about playing the long game, finding strategic partnerships, new restaurant technology, and not being obsessed with perfection.

Are You a Social Media Addict? Here's 5 Unexpected Ways to Quit

Is social media the problem behind your lack of focus? Ben Angel discusses the effects of social media on the brain and our ability to focus.

Meet the Entrepreneur and Mom Teaching Kids About Volunteering Through Family Projects

The founder of Alltrusits shares how she's helping families talk about topics such as homelessness, bees, clean water, hunger, foster animals and climate action.

Chef Robert Irvine on Making a Difference in Hospitality — and the World

Interview with World-Famous Chef and Philanthropist Robert Irvine of The Robert Irvine Brand Family about supporting others, embracing a military culture in business, and the essence of leadership.

How to Unlock Your Company's Value in the 'Circular Economy'

Michael Smith of Regeneration.VC shares how the circular economy works and why it's good for business and our planet.

BBQ Icon Rodney Scott on Blazing Your Own Path in the Restaurant Business

Interview with famed pitmaster and food entrepreneur Rodney Scott of Rodney Scott's BBQ about every day being a good day, the truth behind "overnight" celebrity, and how cooking with soul is vital to sustained success.

3 Easy Ways To Be More Motivated

Want to tackle your to-do list in just two weeks? In this video, Ben Angel tells you how.

The Founder of Mindvalley Wants to Transform and Reinvent Education. Here's Why.

The founder of Mindvalley shares why he started his platform and discusses his new book, "The 6 Phase Meditation Method."

This Teacher-Turned-Entrepreneur Started Tutoring Kids in Parks and Churches. Today, She Runs an Education Company with Nearly One Million Followers

The CEO and founder of Big City Readers talk about why she's on a mission to make reading fun for kids and their parents. Plus, what to do if you're afraid to take a leap in your career.

Melissa Villanueva of Brewpoint Coffee on Creating Avenues for Café Owners of Color

Interview with Brewpoint Coffee CEO and Founder Melissa Villanueva about balancing community and larger ambitions, creating opportunities for people of color, and equity and inclusion in business.

4 Easy Ways to Make More Money By Training Your Brain

Mental rehearsal is a powerful psychological technique that's used by athletes, billionaires, and entrepreneurs to achieve their goals.

5 Tips to Help You Go from Camera-Shy to Camera-Ready

Media trainer Jessica Abo reveals her go-to production tips so you can feel more confident for your next on-air appearance, pitch, or presentation.

Shone Tran of Chicken Meets Rice on Stepping into Food Entrepreneurship

Interview with Chicken Meets Rice co-founder Shone Tran about pulling inspiration from tragedy, taking small steps, and thriving in business with your best friend.

Try This 15-Minute Million Dollar Morning Routine To Energize Your Day

Here are six steps you can take to amplify your energy and grow your income.

Discover Entrepreneur Series

Whether you need advice on how to get your business off the ground or you’re just looking for inspiration, our video series have something for everyone. Browse our library below to find a series that speaks to you and your interests.