March 5, 2019
Access Ventures wants to celebrate the journey of the individuals behind our investments and partnerships. Founder Stories are a series of conversations with entrepreneurs, partners, and founders in our portfolio. We explore the motivation, inspiration, and innovation that drives the spirit of entrepreneurship in the workplace, as well as provide insight to balance our regular workdays.
For this installment of the Founder Stories series, we did something a little different. We interviewed our very own Bryce Butler, the founder and managing partner of Access Ventures. We talked to Bryce about how he started Access Ventures, his story leading up to our founding, his family and much more. Here is what he had to say:
What does Access Ventures do?
Access Ventures believes that the economy represents not just an engine for industry, but an opportunity to demonstrate the inalienable dignity of all people. To us, building a more inclusive and creative economy means working to ensure the economy functions for all people, and that all people have the financial mobility to pursue their visions, goals, and dreams—not just for themselves, but also for their communities.
As a part of that effort, we deploy what we call a one-pocket mindset to our investment approach. A one-pocket mindset dispels the notion that investment strategies seeking social returns must be separated from those seeking financial returns. Rather than a siloed approach to deploying capital, one-pocket investing puts your mission at the center of your strategy, and ultimately at the center of all of your investments.
Traditional thinking believes that in order to do the greatest good, you first need to make the most return – that good work and charitable contribution comes from the overflow of financial return. The key is understanding that one-pocket isn’t just an approach to investing, it’s a way of outwardly expressing your deeply held value systems. Moving beyond understanding money as a tool and towards understanding money as an expression of our core identity is what the one-pocket mindset is about. In the end, the question that one-pocket asks us can be a difficult one. It isn’t “Are your resources invested well?” or even “How are you making a difference with what you’ve been given?” It is instead the question: “Are your values important enough for you to align what you have and do in their service?” Our answers to that question will come to define not just us, but the trajectory of global change for generations to come.
We get this question a lot. We are in Louisville because it’s where everything got started. Real estate has a way of rooting you within a community and real estate was our first step. It’s also been a great asset. In a field dominated by the coasts, we bring a mid-American voice to this effort and also can be a leader for other funders and educational institutions to work with and learn from. Our goal would be to see even greater movement within the region and across the Midwest on the deployment of a more aligned one-pocket mindset.
What does a typical day look like for you?
There is no typical day. I have four daughters so I try not to travel too much to maximize time with them. I like to get coffee with each of them at least weekly and when I’m in town, I leave by 5pm to have dinner each night with them. I like to try for a regular bedtime around 10pm.
Describe the path to what you are doing now.
I spent four years after graduating from college in the Army as an Armor officer. Two years were spent in South Korea and then I was re-assigned to Fort Knox, KY to attend the Captain’s Career Course. Instead, I decided to get out and ended up attending seminary. During seminary, I also pastored at a church that was experiencing some crazy growth. It was really through this experience I realized how much I enjoyed business. After completing a Master’s in Theology and almost five years as an Executive Pastor, I was ready to explore ways I could pursue community impact through business. I had a friendship with a man I highly respected that had been managing his company while also trying to manage his outside activities. I didn’t really have anything to lose, so I asked him if he had ever considered hiring someone to help structure and manage these outside activities. To my surprise and excitement, he hired me! For a couple of years, it was a steep learning curve to understand everything and try to figure out synergies, partnerships, and a path forward. We were early into microfinance, and then we launched an early stage emerging markets fund doing work in India and East Africa predominantly in clean energy, mobile tech, and sustainable agriculture. I was able to jump in and work to figure out deepening partnerships to support those efforts and others.
Somewhere along the way, I shifted my sights to more local activities and tried applying some of these lessons to more domestic issues. This was right after the recession when the housing market was still super depressed and vacancy rates were at all-time highs. I was curious as to why certain communities had such concentrations of blighted homes and couldn’t attract capital to improve the existing housing stock? I was also curious why no one was competing with slumlords for these properties. So I put together a plan to leverage non-traditional debt (private and patient debt) to purchase and renovate 8-10 of these vacant single-family homes. I was able to convince a couple high-net-worth individuals to see the potential and take a risk with loaning me $500,000. This was the first step to what is now Access Ventures. In fact, when we started, I was still full-time elsewhere; I didn’t plan to direct hire anyone for this, and, it was a small real estate holding company. Little did I know it would soon grow into not just single-family housing, but multi-family, commercial properties, small business lending, venture investing, and larger asset management with a team of now 16 and all within the past 5 years!
“This was the first step to what is now Access Ventures.”
What interest or hobbies do you have outside of Access Ventures?
I enjoy fly-fishing, reading, and putting together puzzles. I have found I really enjoy things that require focus to do. You can’t really be thinking about other things while doing these activities. I also enjoy kayaking and camping with the family. We enjoy long road trips across the country in the summertime.
What advice would you give to someone looking to make an impact in their community?
One of my commander’s once said, “I don’t care what you do, just DO SOMETHING. Even if it is wrong.” I have found there are always people willing to offer their opinions and it’s hard not to listen to the skeptics and naysayers. You will make mistakes…and you should. Trying to solve really big problems takes some risk and willingness to try new and untested things. Fail fast. Learn from your mistakes; try hard things and have fun.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken?
Getting married and having children. When you make a commitment to love another person for the rest of your life – good days and bad – it’s a significant thing that is not a 50/50 “meet you in the middle” sort of endeavor. It’s sometimes 70/30 but it’s a significant responsibility. Same with parenting. You can’t take a vacation; you don’t call in sick. You are a friend, counselor, coach, advocate, educator. Each of these is worth the effort and each of these is a joy, but there is a cost. A cost of personal time-space and interest. A cost of constantly considering the needs of others as more significant than your own.
“Trying to solve really big problems takes some risk and willingness to try new and untested things. Fail fast. Learn from your mistakes; try hard things and have fun.”
What are you most excited about right now?
My wife and I just adopted our fourth daughter and after 3 weeks in China with our entire family, brought her home in early December. Watching her grow and fit into the fabric of our family is the most exciting thing in my life right now.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part for me can also be the most rewarding and it’s people management. Everyone has their own hopes and dreams; gifts and weaknesses; joys and fears. Managing expectations and communicating effectively is challenging. Managing the confusion of each day and motivating a diverse and complex team to stay focused, challenged, and encouraged can be time-consuming. As I get older, and as my family and career have shifted to the next stage, the benefits of hindsight and ensuring the proper priorities for myself and my team are what challenge and inspire me the most.
Do you feel a responsibility to contribute to something bigger than yourself? What kind of legacy do you hope to leave behind?
Legacy is a funny thing. I simply want to be considered faithful with my time and talents. I want to finish the race well and to have stewarded what has been entrusted to me for the good of my community and the glory of God.
What obstacles or barriers did you have to overcome to get Access Ventures off the ground?
We didn’t start Access Ventures with a fully developed plan. We had an idea and set out to beta that idea within a community. As we saw things happening, we simply reacted and worked hard to figure out how the pieces all fit together. I’d love to say, looking back, that where we are today was intentionally designed, but it wasn’t. Some of our biggest obstacles have been simply stumbling in ignorance trying to make things work and then also clearly communicating who we are and what we are doing.
We are also new and burst on the scene in our industry from a region not known for these things—we didn’t have a celebrity profile leading the charge. It’s been hard to get past the “you are where?” and “who are you again?” type questions.
What do you think makes the Access Ventures team and how you work together unique?
We are friends. I think it can work that coworkers can be friends and even family. It’s not easy, but it is certainly worth it. I like to say, “why not see if that might work” when we are looking at how to think differently about work. We have tried wellness plans; personal development resources to explore hobbies; half day Fridays in the summer; company rest holidays and many other things to keep the work environment fresh and interesting. We are willing to adjust these as they get stale or are not working as we might have anticipated. An environment willing to experiment, I think, inspires us all.
What inspires you?
My children. Their innocence; their inquisitiveness; their fearlessness; their passion; and their hearts. They bring so much joy to my every day and inspire me to be a better person.
What personal rules do you abide by?
I am a huge fan of Colin Powell. He had a set of life principles that have become public over the years and as an exercise in college, I drafted my own. I have since adjusted them (and will continue to over time) and even had my team craft their own as a team development session.
Here are mine:
What’s next for you, Access Ventures?
I would love to figure out how to replicate the principles of our work and help others deploy similar strategies. Nothing about what we do is rocket science and I would love to see more “aha” moments as people embrace a one-pocket mindset.
To learn more about our other founders in our portfolio check out some of our recent Founder Stories with Drivetime, Ethic or Victoria Fram.