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My friend Nick
I met Nick at Stanford GSB.
He was assigned to me as part of a mentorship program. My guess was they didn’t know what to do with the arrogant, taciturn former trader, so they sent him to be civilized by a member of the older class with a unique blend of intelligence, class and (savage) wit.
More than anyone I’d ever met, Nick had a particular way of asking questions. He would draw out the tenor of his fine British accent at the end of his sentence, implicitly asking two questions at once:
(Direct) What about X?
(Implied) Haven’t you thought of this before? Why am I the one asking you?
One of the only people I’ve met that could induce self-reflection with a simple change in verbal register. We remained friends, well past the point where my other institutionally appointed coaches long quit due to my stubborn disposition. Initially a bit slow in picking up on all the touchy-feely that Stanford had to offer.
Halfway through my first year, it was time to pick houses for year #2 - for the second years to ‘pass them down’ to us eager firsts. Picking a house was more than a simple real estate transaction: the group, and who you choose to bunk with, where you spent the majority of your time, defined your role in the small - but seething - business school social scene.
Through Nick, our my group was lucky enough to get in on “Casablanca,” a big white 5 bedroom on El Camino in Atherton. It became known as the home of our weekly ‘Talks’ where one student would hold court for an hour, discussing all the trauma and lessons from our relatively youthful (to that point) lives.
A month later, Nick sold me my first car: a forest green Jeep Cherokee Sport. One of those classic steel boxes; the kind that put a $3k dent in your roommates’ $30k Infiniti when they happen to back into it.
His asking price? $300.
For a kid from the projects going to school on loans, a needlessly generous price. They go for $10k these days.
A perfect representation of his general attitude: always more than fair in a sea of (very charismatic, but very narcissistic) bschool sharks.
A couple of years later, on my way to pay off those loans by working at a fancy hedge fund, I visited his office in London.
Space for four or five in east London. Something about democratizing investing. He tried to recruit me. I demurred (perhaps the wrong decision given his eventual success). But the seed had been planted.
Flash forward five years, and now I’m out on my own, trying to build smarter robots for financial data - at a time when it certainly wasn’t cool.
In the time it took me to realize Nick was right that working for yourself was the goal, he had already built Nutmeg into a UK powerhouse, a household name.
Meanwhile, I’m scrambling. Coming off my third CTO. First the Oxford Phd, then the. Bridgewater Quant, then the SF WeWork hacker who I taught to be a little too entrepreneurial. Iterating through archetypes, trying to make the pieces work. Looking for a lead on a “seed round”, hiding the AI in our name because it was too hard to explain.
I was lucky enough to get Nick’s time for a catch up call while he was all the way in Singapore. First he floors me with the news: he’s only just come back from a battle with cancer - news to my ears and almost unbelievable given the dissonance of the expected wear and tear of that fight versus the strong, piercing person in front of me.
I show him my company’s (terrible) deck, and talk through the (babbling, incoherent) pitch, hoping for advice - he’s been here before; maybe he knows someone that can help.
“I’ve actually joined a good fintech fund in Canada as a partner, and we’re going to do this deal. It’s going to take a bit of time to work through the process, but I am going to invest in you.”
I didn’t know whether to believe him. A lot of false promises in this game. But, as always, Nick was true to his word, and over the next two months, he guided me through pitching, negotiation, and due diligence for our seed round. In the end, they did the deal.
Rare bird - a VC that actually makes a gut decision based on you, as opposed to what other people will think of you.
The process, front to back, was classic Nick - understated, confident, and extraordinarily impactful.
Over the next year, we floundered. Going through yet another former BW CTO, and a couple of sales guys while looking for that ‘PMF’ (product-market fit).
But all along, rising above the noise - there was Nick. Advising, helping us tie our shoes where other people were already running. Asking questions, raising the bar. Giving me feedback and mentorship from a place of friendship and caring.
Thanksgiving before last, I got the news.
My aunt died (the last Campbell left alive) and Nick’s cancer had returned.
I don’t remember which I learned about first - they will forever be joined in my memory. The last gasps of an already thin family, slowly atrophying away.
Over the next year, Nick left the board, but never my corner. We would chat every couple of months, me nervously pushing our corporate progress, Nick checking in on the human behind the CEO mask (“ok but how are YOU doing?”)
It took losing Nick this month to realize the role he played in my life, even from afar. Hank, Jim, Peyton, Geoffroy, Saad, Jeremy, Yossi, Greg, Ray… Nick.
Two hands worth of mentors - stepping in for an absent father - guiding the flawed, headstrong autist (me) charging down his path. Two hands worth of men strong enough to make me listen.
At his funeral this past weekend, the people who knew him best told stories. The mate from England who was always down for a cheeky pint with his closest 30 friends, the visionary entrepreneur, the quick witted and determined husband to his intelligent and strong partner Nancy, the foresighted father to Elizabeth - seeing his own mortality and spending his last days building something greater than himself. Yet again.
There are ever more chapters to his story that are still being written. All the gifts he left behind. A small one, relative to his giant life - the gift of faith he gave to me and our team. The gift of having time to build, and space to breathe. The vote of confidence, before AI was cool.
We will honor his gift, and his memory.
Goodbye, my friend Nick. Time to make you proud.