Featuring Startups & Thought Leadership

Seeking investors and advice? Look no further than Griffon Ventures

Seeking investors and advice? Look no further than Griffon Ventures



Ethan Goodman, the managing director of Griffon Ventures, a startup venture capital firm, is as enthusiastic about discussing startups as he is about discussing his devotion to Michigan football and his favorite places to ski (Park City, UT and Whistler, BC, Canada). Being perhaps the kindest person in venture capital–a title he actually reserves for his mentor and current business partner, Ken Barnett of MARS Advertising, you might not guess that Ethan previously enjoyed a successful career in digital marketing and that in 2012, when he was only 28, Adweek Magazine named Ethan one of the 20 “Young Influentials” of the media, marketing, and technology industry.

 Six months ago, Ethan faced a difficult decision when Ken Barnett (CEO of MARS Advertising) approached Ethan with the opportunity to develop the novel venture capital startup.  On one hand, Ethan loved his career job. As director of digital strategy at Leo Burnett/Arc Worldwide, Ethan’s client roster included Procter and Gamble, Walgreens, and the Coca-Cola Company. On the other hand, the opportunity to strike out as an entrepreneur really appealed to Ethan.

Even when he was very young–after getting through what he refers to as “the wanting to be a professional baseball player phase”–Ethan answered the “when I grow up” question with running his own business. Also important to Ethan, he liked Griffin Ventures’ founding mission to give back, help nurture other companies, and make venture capital more accessible.

In the end, the lure of entrepreneurship and the excitement of venture capitalism won, and Ethan considers the difficult decision to leave his successful digital marketing career a testament to how much he believes in Griffon Ventures. Ethan discussed this and more with me from the Griffon Ventures Chicago office.

Where are you in the development of Griffon Ventures, and what kinds of companies are you considering for investment?

We’re at the fun part! We’re actively meeting with and evaluating startup companies, and we’re anxious to start investing. We actually anticipate closing our first deal in the next few weeks. It took a lot of hard work to get us to this point. For the last four months, with the help of my advisory team, I’ve been focused on all the startup details, from the basics, such as developing our name, logo and operational structure, to defining our value proposition (which is, in really simple terms, capital plus marketing expertise and ad agency services) as well as coordinating our marketing, PR, and social media efforts.

Initially, we’ll invest in two types of companies: companies that are building marketing or media platforms, which are products and services that we, as agency people, probably understand a bit better than other investors because we use them every day on behalf of our clients, and companies that sell a product or service outside our core area of expertise but have a clear need for marketing help. Beyond that, we’re looking for early-stage startups that are seeking their first round of venture money, that are based in (or willing to relocate to) the Midwest, and that want a hands-on, strategic investor to help mold and grow their business. We’ll invest in pre-revenue companies, but they should at least have a working prototype or baseline business plan–not just a back-of-the-napkin idea.

Are you open to solicitations from prospective startups that might be reading this and identifying with the characteristics you just outlined?

Absolutely. If you have a game-changing idea and think we’d be a good fit as an investor, we’re all ears. Send me an email, a Tweet, a Facebook message…whatever. I’m pretty accessible. All of that contact information can be found on our website:

What will be the key to Griffon Ventures’ success?

We looked across the venture capital landscape and saw that marketing was one place where startups weren’t getting the same level of guidance from investors as they do in areas like finance, tech, general management, etc. We think we have a real opportunity to fill that void. The key to our success will boil down to how well we can deliver on that value proposition, and I’m confident that we’ll be able to do it. Between the advisory team and me, we have 100-plus years of brand, digital, and retail marketing experience, and we have relationships with some of the best companies in the world (Walmart, General Mills, P&G, Colgate, etc.). We also have the resources of a full-service ad agency (MARS Advertising) at our disposal. The idea is to make all that firepower available for our portfolio companies.

Your previous entrepreneurial experience included founding an online startup. What did you learn from that experience?

I learned a lot, especially about adversity and commitment. That startup failed for two reasons: one, we were too stubborn to pivot when it became clear that our original idea wasn’t going to work, and two, we chose to build that company on the side instead of quitting our jobs and focusing on it full-time, which resulted in another company beating us to market. What I’d tell aspiring entrepreneurs–the same advice I’m heeding as I build Griffon–is to be open-minded and flexible and to take the leap! They need to be comfortable with the reality that their concept is going to change 100 times before it’s great, and they need to be all-in if they're serious about building a successful startup company.

You’re working around the clock to launch Griffon Ventures. What is the first thing you plan to do when you get some downtime?

My brother and I are going to Scotland to celebrate his graduation from law school.

What part of the trip are you most looking forward to?

The Scotch. And spending time with my brother.


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