Most serial entrepreneurs want to be their own boss and make success happen on their own. Derek Distenfield and Gary Fowler recognized that they could drive even greater impact by partnering together, and the results have been remarkable. Each has considerable experience as business executives and international startup leaders, but their skills combined turn them into the powerhouse behind cross-cultural venture studio GSD Venture Studios.
Gary is an award-winning senior-level executive with over 28 years of successful experience in global strategic innovation leadership, sales, marketing, operational management, and investment management. He has co-founded 11 companies, including the successful artificial intelligence startup Yva.ai and the investment firm DY Investments. He has also held top-level executive positions in companies like HP, Siemens, Mirantis, and ClickSoftware.
Derek, also brings a unique background into the partnership. He most recently served as the COO for 360 Payments, which quickly rose to become a $2 billion payments company under his guidance. He was also the CEO of a social enterprise startup called NextGenJustice, which provided an alternative to the traditional legal services model. Derek is now a keynote speaker, advisor, and mentor who guides other entrepreneurs on the best path forward to success.
Together Gary and Derek have built GSD Venture Studios, unique and important addition to the venture capital scene. Unlike traditional venture capital firms, GSD does not simply throw money behind promising startups. Instead, the founders realized that there was a critical missing piece for entrepreneurs – mentorship and expertise. As a result, they take senior operational roles in their portfolio companies and get their hands dirty doing the real work that it takes for young companies to be truly successful.
According to Derek, one of the greatest strengths of his partnership with Gary is their transparency with each other. GSD has experienced tremendous early success, and Derek attributes this to being able to sit down with Gary and have an open conversation on any issue, no matter how much they disagree. Gary and Derek are very different from each other, and while others may view this as a weakness, they see it as a strength. They each bring their unique perspectives to the table, and their final decision is better for it.
Derek sees Gary as the life and soul of their firm. “Gary is someone who wants to be accomplishing goals and getting things done every moment that he’s awake. He inspires me and fuels my fire to keep working hard too,” said Derek. And in Gary’s eyes, Derek’s positivity and long-term vision are what keep the partnership steady through the highs and lows. He views a business partnership like a marriage – it is not entered into lightly and it requires commitment and works on all sides. His decision to launch GSD with Derek speaks volumes about the trust and respect he has for his business partner.
“The average startup takes 5 to 7 years to be successful so you must develop a product that will dominate in half a decade; not today,” said Gary. “In order to be a success, you have to believe in your dreams but do customer development so that you can make sure their hypothesis is real. If you stay focused, stay positive, and visualize where you want to go, there is no reason why you cannot get there. If you need to pivot, that is okay. Pivoting does not mean you failed. A pivot is like having to make a U-turn so that you can move in another direction to get to your destination.”
With this guiding principle leading the way, Derek and Gary are well on their way to making GSD Venture Studios an international name.