TGMP Episode #003: “Being George Mosher” (w/ Todd McLees)

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What I learned by spending time with a Prolific Early-Stage Investor (243 Investments in 10 Years & a .300 Batting Average)…

This episode of The GrowthMinded Podcast features George Mosher, the 77 year-old Hall-of-Fame investor from Milwaukee. Beyond capital, George has a very particular set of skills (sorry) that he has put to work in the early-stage community for the past decade. He has also mentored other business leaders in the community.

We spent a month attempting to reduce the content to 30-minutes. We just couldn’t do it. In the end, when somebody spends 77 years collecting knowledge, builds a fortune, invests in bettering the lives of hundreds of people and is still eager to help more people by giving of his time and wisdom…you won’t be disappointed if you invest the time.
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The Conversation with George…

I have had a chance to spend a few minutes with George on several occasions over the past few years. Here is the requisite background:

-Raised in Newton, MA (born in 1939)
-Graduated from Harvard University and then HBS in 1963
-Moved to Milwaukee in 1965, with his wife Julie
-Founded National Business Furniture and built it to $130M
-Sold the business in 2006 for ~$82M
-In the past ten years, George has made 243 investments in early-stage companies, totaling more than $30 million. The vast majority of the companies have been in Wisconsin.
-He was inducted into the Wisconsin Investors Hall of Fame in 2013. In the three years since his induction, the man has made 91 investments. (So, do they induct him again?)

I am going to let him tell you the rest.

Be ready to go at about the 01:30 mark. There is a “Buckle-Up” moment to start the conversation.
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Some Key Moments & Quotes…

National Business Furniture:

“We focused on keeping it simple.”

“Running an office can be treated like running a factory.”

“We ran the whole company with a payroll cost of 4%, including my own. The competition couldn’t keep up.”

Early-Stage and Investing:

Updated investment scorecard: 243 investments — 30 Wins, 70 Losses, 140+ in-flight

13:57 —Business and Life Lessons from the weekly Poker game
“What I learned at Harvard Business School, I have been able to use for the next 50 years. The basic principles don’t change. The tools keep changing, but the principles don’t change.”
“Too many people are out trying to raise money instead of focusing on finding customers.”

18:25 — George’s perspective on growth and Milwaukee’s Mid-sized companies
Mitt Romney and Bain Capital’s fund strategy

20:46 — George’s take on Milwaukee’s Early-stage environment — the cultural difference between Milwaukee and Silicon Valley, Boston, et al

23:10 — “The spirit of helpfulness” in SE Wisconsin early-stage community and other economic drivers

25:16 — The vast difference between multiples of revenue and multiples of EBITDA (gener8tor, Eat Street, Bright Cellars, Prodesse, Orion Energy Systems)

29:15 — The price of innovation. Great innovation example from WWII.

31:20 — Lesson learned in the losses. The importance of seeing if the founder has a drive for growth and profitability.
“Is this a plan or a dream?”
“Even the worst plan let’s you know where you thought you were going to go.”
“Does somebody have an idea where they think there is a market, or is there really a market?”
Lessons from Silicon Valley in Chaos Monkeys — Twitter, Google, Steve Jobs
“The wisdom of the crowd is better than my wisdom.”

Other Interests:

36:27 — Should everyone go to college?

37:37 — What subject should I study? The best advice George has heard on the topic came from a eulogy.”
“Do your best everyday and you will be far more valuable.”
The average person, really what they want is to be part of a successful team.”

40:24 — The Group Norm and Maslow’s Hierarchy
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TGMP Production Meeting:

We did this episode’s production meeting at Artisan 179 in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. It is the best restaurant in “Lake Country,” which is located between Milwaukee and Madison.

Executive Chef Rich Sweed and Managing Partner Ted Anderson have put Artisan 179 on the map of destination restuarants in the area. They were nice enough to talk us through the preparation of three dishes from their Fall menu and six craft cocktails. (Even now, that seems like the perfect ratio.)

Three words to remember: Chicken & Waffles

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