A servant to ideals
"You’ve got to be in the water to catch the wave."
There are things Gardiner Garrard III 99MBA can be proud of in his career that have nothing to do with making a lot of money.
—The venture capital firm he cofounded in 2000, TTV Capital, helped democratize financial services by funding startups that provide services to mom and pop businesses, and the consumer, and not leaving all the commerce to big retailers and big banks.
—As his company was gaining traction, Garrard adhered to the core principles of banking, which are customer service, regulatory compliance and security. TTV bloomed in an era when the financial industry was nearly bringing down the U.S. economy.
—TTV investments helped sharpen the tip of the spear of the U.S. economy, which is entrepreneurship and small business growth.
Financial technology was not a “thing” in 2000 when Garrard and Tom Smith, a former IBM executive, launched TTV in Atlanta. But FinTech became a big thing. Quickly. Mobile point of sale, alternative lending, cloud computing, processing security and blockchain technology became hallmarks of TTV deals.
The firm was an early backer of Green Dot, which has become the world’s largest prepaid debit card company, as well as a huge player in payment platforms. Consumers who could not get a bank account for one reason or another now had a way into finance. Thus, the democratization of banking.
“We were there early and a lot of people were patting me on the back and saying ‘you were such a visionary,’ but the reality is it’s just what I knew and what I liked,” Garrard said. “Do what you like, put your head down, and eventually your wave will come in. My dad would tell me ‘you can’t see a wave standing on the beach and then try to run out there and catch it. You’ve got to be in the water to catch the wave.’”
Garrard talks about “breaks” and “luck,” such as early support from Columbus banker Jimmy Blanchard, and the relationship with Smith, the father of a friend. But Garrard also did his part by being out in the water, catching the wave. He set himself up for success in his second year at Emory when he spun away from a career in real estate finance and focused on technology investing.
“I was learning about how derivatives worked, or how Black Scholes worked, and we were doing complex regression analysis and statistics and somewhere in there I just was like, if I can figure this stuff out, you know, I can figure out this technology movement, the internet, and how to invest in this marketplace,” Garrard said.
“School gave me this analytical skill, an ability to work things out and the confidence that, if I wanted to understand something, I could.”
Trust, to [Garrard], was an ideal to bear hug.
His essence as a banker also showed up at school when he became chairman of the Goizueta Honor Council.
“That experience had an impact on me because I spent time with professors discussing issues in the business ethics area,” he said.
The impact was fundamental for Garrard because trust, to him, was an ideal to bear hug.
For Garrard, “trust is something you can’t get back if you lose it,” he said. “The financial crisis exposed how dependent many incumbent financial services were on that trust. When that trust got fractured with the business customer and retail consumer, in many ways, it opened the door for many of these entrepreneurs to build relationships.”
What characteristics do the TTV entrepreneurs have in common? There are a few, but one is key.
“Any time we had an entrepreneur that didn't want to take seriously things like security and compliance and regulatory issues that was just an instant negative, and we didn't do the deal,” Garrard said.
The finance fundamentals were instilled in Garrard in high school and college when he held hourly paying jobs in banks in the Columbus, GA area, which is tradition rich in banking services. It was there and at Emory that Garrard learned never to become a servant of money, but a servant of ideals.