In the dangerous, stunning feat of ascending Mount Everest, the Sherpa people of Nepal are often there to help others make it to the top. This is the metaphor that Raleigh’s Sherpa Collaborative wants to impart in how they plan to help businesses reach their own peak of success.
“In some way, the entrepreneurial journey is this up-and-down treacherous climb,” said Chris Bingham, one of the four founding partners. “The Sherpas have done it many times before and know what to pack and how to get there. And so that that kind of became an analogy for what we might want to do for other entrepreneurs.”
The Sherpa Collaborative—founded by four partners and friends with varied backgrounds in footwear, ecommerce, logistics, restaurants and real estate—is looking to launch, invest in, acquire and consult for businesses.
Upon moving to Europe shortly after college, Pete Pagano worked in an Irish pub, eventually working as COO for a chain of Irish pubs and then purchasing the Irish pub Tir na Nog in Raleigh before delving into technology ventures.
Mark Saad had experience leading the Raleigh-based footwear company Feelgoodz.
Arthur Tew founded SociableGroup, a company serving as a marketplace for nationally televised flash sales.
Bingham, meanwhile, started his career by founding DVIGear, a digital video technology products company. Once that business sold, he worked in the nonprofit space for a time before launching ecommerce logistics company Riley Life eCommerce Services, which he also later sold. During that time, he met Tew. The two became known for their nationally televised flash sales.
Last June, all four men were at similar places in life after selling businesses, Bingham said. The four got together for drinks at The Raleigh Times. Pagano and Saad were working on a business idea, as were Tew and Bingham. Together, the idea of Sherpa Collaborative was born.
“We kind of just decided to grab beers together,” Bingham said. “By August, we were incorporated as Sherpa Collaborative. And now we’re starting to figure out who we are and what we want to be and how we can add value. We’re coming together with our unique skill sets to add a lot of value in the places that we do.”
First Deal In The Books
Sherpa Collaborative announced their first investment in Raleigh-based Lawson Hammock in early April. In Lawson Hammock’s next phase, Sherpa Collaborative is leading daily operations and searching for a new CEO this summer.
While the group has extensive experience in consumer product companies, Bingham said they are not limiting themselves to investing in or helping just those types of companies.
More than just straight cash from Sherpa Collaborative directly or outside angel investors or investment funds that the group can get on board, Bingham said Sherpa’s preferred investment mechanism includes their active involvement. That’s something they plan to do in a hands-on way, serving like a C-suite of experienced senior executives.
While there are around four more deals currently in the making for Sherpa Collaborative to invest and dive into, the quartet also consults for other clients.
Like nearly everyone, Sherpa Collaborative has been impacted by Covid-19. In early March, the group went on a retreat weekend just before the implications of the virus became more severe in the United States.
“We came out of it all pumped up about a few different avenues that we were going to push forward on, what goals we had, targets we were headed towards and that sort of thing,” Bingham said. “And within a week, that was all gone.”
Now, the group talks every morning on Google Hangouts, looking at new opportunities. Bingham said Sherpa Collaborative is not fully pivoting but is using this time to figure out changing deal structures and how to continue adding value where they can.
Some Pivoting Is Inevitable
During the COVID-19 pandemic and otherwise, entrepreneurs must show their adaptability, a trait Bingham appreciates.
“The number one thing that an entrepreneur can be is flexible,” Bingham said. “And, if you haven’t pivoted yet as an entrepreneur, then you need to be ready to pivot at some point in time because nobody ever builds exactly what they set out to build. Everything comes off of some amount of following the next lead. And that’s a lot of who we are and how we’ve gotten to where we are.”
In this way, Bingham said he often uses the word “scrappy” to define his entrepreneurial journey, and the entire Sherpa Collaborative group is founded from partners who exemplify both humility and success.
“I think if you asked me 12 years in if I was successful, I would have said, ‘No, I still have a long way to go,’” Bingham said. “But if you would have asked me on Day One, looking out 12 years and seeing where I went, I think I would have been blown away by what I had built. And I think that that’s kind of who we are as people as well. There’s a lot of humility in our group. But we also have enough sort of arrogance, I guess, to believe that we could help just about any business solve a challenge.”