How Nick Sorensen joined Whistic
The C-Suite Series is a column by and about Utah executives and how they got to where they are today.
I joined my first startup while I was a senior in the business management program at Brigham Young University. My wife and I moved to Ogden, an outdoor sports mecca, to work with Klymit, a company specializing in outdoor gear and apparel.
My time with Klymit lasted about a year until I left for a job at MasterCraft Dealer Services, which was sort of a management company for MasterCraft dealerships. I was doing finance and accounting for them, which was a great real-world business application of everything I had learned in school. My brother was also working at MasterCraft and had an idea for a startup company in the finance market. A few months later, he and his partners asked me if I wanted to join and help co-found the startup, now called My Finance Guys.
The journey with My Finance Guys started in finance but slowly morphed to something else—a healthcare company called American HealthCare Lending. American HealthCare Lending was a Financing as a Service (FaaS) model that delivered loan options to patients through an online financing platform that doctors and dentists gained access to via a monthly subscription fee.
"Early on, we realized that if we were going to succeed, we needed to build out good teams and create core values."
We built up that company for five years and totally revolutionized the healthcare industry, and then we were acquired by a larger company. I worked for the acquiring company for about a year and a half—until they ran into some issues and laid off our entire Utah division.
That ending is where Whistic begins.
After the layoffs, I did my best to help those who lost their jobs. We had been in the growth mode, and I felt bad because we had just hired a bunch of people, plucked them out of their careers, and then said, “Sorry, you’re laid off.” I spent a couple of months helping find places for them to go, specifically the ones I worked closely with in my division.
During this time, I was introduced to many different companies that I hadn’t been aware of because I was heads down, working on American HealthCare Lending. I started thinking about what I should do next—if I should start something for myself, join another early-stage startup, or look for a job with a later-stage company.
I met with more than 100 different founding teams that summer. I kept a list. I’m a goal-oriented person, so I set a goal to meet with 50 teams, and I met with 50, then I set a goal to meet with 100, and I met with 100. I met with a lot of people doing cool stuff, and I explored a few ideas of my own, but nothing felt right for me. I went to my brother and said, “I haven’t found anything that I’m excited about. I’ve met with 100 different founders and haven’t found the right fit.” He actually was the one who introduced me to a couple of guys working on this idea called Whistic in the summer of 2016.
Hitting my stride at Whistic
The company was only a year old, and at that time, there were three people working on it. Though I wasn’t a co-founder, I got involved with Whistic extremely early on, they didn’t even have any paying customers yet! They had an initial version of the application and a vision for where it was going, which I was really excited about.
When people ask what Whistic is, I explain it as a vendor security network, so we’re dealing with the challenges involved in assessing third-party vendors. We’re all familiar with data breaches, such as SolarWinds, so that’s the space we play in.
In the beginning, our office was a 10×10 square-foot space. We were next to a lady who did credit repair services, and the walls were paper thin; I was pretty sure she was violating some laws with her credit repair services. She was so loud that when we’d do an interview, we’d all have to spill out of our room to sit at these two chairs downstairs by the restrooms. People thought it was pretty awkward to go to the restroom and have to step over us as we worked. Good times.
"You can’t be afraid to just do it, to pull out all the stops and take the plunge."
For the first few years, we had a very small team, and I wore many hats—I did the sales, marketing, hiring, and handled the company’s finances. However, as the company grew and we raised some funding from local investors, I would hire out key positions, such as customer success, sales, and marketing reps.
Early on, we realized that if we were going to succeed, we needed to build out good teams and create core values. For example, we encourage our employees to choose balance over burnout, to unplug and recharge, which is something I work on myself as the CEO. I used to work really long hours every day at my last startup, but going into Whistic, I decided that I could focus on being more productive during the hours of 8:00 am to 5:00 pm to allow me to focus more on my family.
I’ve found that by doing this, I’m actually more productive with fewer hours in front of my computer. I still work hard and oftentimes need to expand my work week, but I make sure I’m home for dinner every night and spend every evening with my family. I think it’s a big misconception that if you start or run a company, you have to drive yourself into the ground.
And raising a $35 million Series B
In June 2022, we announced a $35 million dollar Series B financing round with our partner and lead investor, JMI Equity. Forgepoint Capital also joined as a new investor, then we had strong participation from our existing investors, Emergence Capital, Album VC, and FJ Labs. It’s a round to help us accelerate our growth, continue to build the vendor security network, and expand our team. This latest round brings Whistic’s total investment to just over $50 million since its founding.
My advice to companies looking for funding is to realize early on that you’re going to hear a lot of “no’s.” I pitched to 75 VCs and kept getting “no’s”—you have to get over rejection. It’s also beneficial to know that investors don’t like to hear cold pitches—it’s far better to tap into your network. Lastly, it’s very important to pick the right investors, not just take money from anyone. Go with someone you know and trust and have respect for. It has to be the right fit.
Reflecting back, there are two key things I’ve learned through my entrepreneurial journey. One actually came from my professor at BYU. He used to say, “Great ideas are a dime a dozen; it’s the execution that counts,” and he’s absolutely right. You can’t be afraid just to do it, to pull out all the stops and take the plunge.