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Stern Somebody – Tyler Garnett

The Oppy staff is proud to continue our feature “Stern Somebody,” telling the stories of remarkable classmates and how they became the exceptional people they are today.

Tyler Garnett loves the challenge of building things from scratch. He never shies away from pursuing his own path–choosing creativity and risk over conventional wisdom and security. Over the last decade, he has started multiple companies and nonprofits and is now building the NYU Stern Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition Club from the ground up.

I first learned about ETA when I met Tyler, working on a project for our Marketing class. I was intrigued by this novel approach to entrepreneurship and was curious to learn more. I was lucky to get a chance to catch up with Tyler to learn more about his fascinating life and all things ETA. Here are some of the highlights of our wonderful conversation.

Thank you for speaking with me, Tyler! Would love to kick things off by asking you a little about yourself. Where did you go to school – how did it all start?

Thank you for having me, Varna. I am originally from Northern California, outside of Sacramento. I did my undergrad at USC (University of Southern California). When I graduated, I had a consulting offer and a Teach for America offer but I decided to forego that in order to pursue a career in entertainment. 

And so, for the better part of six or seven years, I was chasing a music dream. To pay for that dream, I was working on feature films, doing freelance and all types of creative work while touring and traveling the world for different projects. 

This ultimately led me into my first startup – a marketplace for creative freelancers. I didn’t know what I was doing and it totally blew up in my face, but I loved it! This kicked off a chapter of serious entrepreneurship in my life. I’ve started a total of nine organizations in the last 10 years; though certain ones died off at different stages, some have done really well. The ones that have failed have ended up being really great learning experiences–that’s the polite way to say it, right? One literally went up in giant flames! (*laughs*)

It’s very impressive that you chose to forego the ‘safe’ path to pursue something you love. I would love to hear about your startups that have done well – but first, you have to tell us the story of the fire!

It was 2017. I had acquired a 40 acre property in Northern California, with a vision of turning it into a resort and an organic permaculture farm. Essentially, a cannabis farm retreat center that I used to call a “Bud & Breakfast”…get it? (*laughs*) For almost two years, I was up on a mountain top living off the grid, doing the hard labor that was necessary to build the farm out and make the cabin livable, plus envisioning the 5 year expansion plan…and things were going really well! We were getting ready to sign a contract with the largest CBD oil producer in the state of California, who was offering to pre-purchase our crop as well as harvest it for us… This would have eliminated all of my operational overhead – I would only have had to plant the seeds and automate the watering systems,–they were willing to take care of the rest. About two weeks out from signing the contract, the largest forest fire in California state history burned down hundreds of thousands of acres of land, including my property. And it’s crazy because the fire actually stopped as soon as it crossed my property line ! I mean, if we had been located 100 yards further down the hill we would have been safe! Lol It burned my property and then it stopped at the road that led to my driveway, it was crazy!!  But, it ended up being a blessing in disguise…Because of the fire, I was faced with a forced opportunity to reset my life at age 30 and start from scratch. I think that was definitely was a pivotal inflection point in my life – one that ultimately led me to Stern

First off – Bud and Breakfast?! What a great name! But on a more serious note, that sounds terrifying! Thinking of it as a forced reset is so interesting. How did this change things for you and how did you bounce back from this devastating experience?

My dad got sick around the same time – so I moved to my hometown and started a bunch of startups, sort of out of desperation because I needed to help take care of him. I started a digital marketing agency that I was running for nine months. I decided to pivot, got into the e-commerce game and started an Amazon business and then, four months in, Covid struck. My non-profit called the Department of Sound also popped up  in that time period, and it has been a massive success since 2018… A friend I had grown up with in Sacramento reached out to me one day about starting this nonprofit, and we co-founded it together back in our hometown. 

Our mission is to empower youth through music and sound / audio education. Essentially we’re teaching kids how to produce music and beats and create podcasts. We started off small, the city gave us $10,000 – our first check as a grant. We started classes in a converted garage in South Sacramento and it was amazing! When COVID happened, we were just getting our legs under us and it forced the digital pivot. And fortunately, we executed really well on it. And it opened up this opportunity for us to scale a lot quicker and a lot bigger than we ever expected. Today, we’ve raised over a million dollars for the organization and we went from 35 students in Sacramento to over 10,000 students in 90 different countries. 

Going digital because of Covid was an unplanned accelerant for us, and we caught on like wildfire 😉 – ultimately it has enabled us to reach a lot more people around the world than we ever imagined. Now that things are sort of going back to normal, we’re looking at ways to reincorporate in-person programming as well. I think what we’re doing could help combat the loss of music and arts education in public schools around the country and around the world. I hope one day we become the new standard for music/audio education- because we can offer a more relevant music education at a lower cost than anything that came before. We teach what kids are actually interested in –  electronic production software, contemporary sounds and DJ type stuff. Through our partnerships with Spotify, Soundtrap, Apple, Warner Media, and the Blavatnik Family Foundation and other sponsors, we’re able to offer the production software as well as the education for free to the students. It’s really cool, I am so proud of the work we have done and I hope it keeps growing.

That’s fascinating! I think the arts are such a powerful tool for children – a way of true creative expression, and even therapy at times. I love how you have created a way to make it accessible and fun! I would love to hear about how your journey shifted from the more traditional sort of Entrepreneurship into Entrepreneurship through Acquisition?

After a decade of focusing primarily on startup type entrepreneurship, I actually found out about Entrepreneurship through acquisition on YouTube in the wake of the fire. I took a class from a YouTube guru and fell in love with the business model.  I started to run my own self-funded search fund. During that process, I connected with a lot of people in the industry doing a lot of outreach and had a small team working with me.  That experience gave me a chance to learn a lot about the industry and investing in general. 

I love ETA because it is the most expedient route to generational wealth for an MBA/Entrepreneur, but there’s something lying even deeper beyond that. In 2020, after the George Floyd murder, I realized that there existed the opportunity to use this business model to create social impact and address the wealth gap at scale. By investing in underrepresented entrepreneurs, women and people of color, it creates an opportunity for the entrepreneur to build generational wealth and have influence within their communities. For the investor, it represents the chance to tap into an overlooked talent pool that can drive seizable returns while changing the world.  This is the first business model that I have ever come across where we can really have an incredibly large impact on society that’s also good for investors at the same time…What I’m talking about is not charity I believe in the power of creating “Impact Through Acquisition” so whole-heartedly, that I have made it my life mission–Before I die, my goal is to invest in a thousand underrepresented entrepreneurs in my lifetime. 

That’s really cool – we love to hear ambitious goals and I can’t wait to watch you do it! You were running your own search fund and managing your own team – when did you decide to shift gears and get an MBA? How did you get to Stern?

I realized I was suffering from a bit of a credibility issue with investors and sellers I would meet while pursuing my self funded search. Instead of having a bunch of name brands on my resume, I had a bunch of startups that most people had never heard of… And there were some gaps that I wanted to address around finance and the quantitative skill set as well. People told me ‘Hey, you know, an MBA from a prestigious school is sort of what this ETA business model is built on’. That’s what inspired me to even consider going back to school; I really hadn’t imagined doing so in the past because it had been an entire 10 years since I graduated from undergrad. So, I applied! 

I had a really meaningful interview with Rabia Ahmed , who was one of the admissions officers at NYU. We talked about my dream to get an MBA and use it to bolster  my credibility and refine the skills I needed to raise capital for my search fund. At that time, she said, “It sounds great. But I don’t think anybody is really doing that here…Maybe you can start something”. I promised her that, if she let me in,  I would start the ETA Club at Stern, we would kick off a speaker series, we would host the first ever ETA conference at NYU, we would create internship pipelines, and I would lobby to get an ETA course added to the curriculum.

And fast-forward 2 years, here you are – running the Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition club! It’s been something you have had your eyes on from the start – how has the process been setting the club up? What are your aspirations for the Stern ETA club?

It’s been quite a journey; I came into Stern ready to start it. And early in the MBA, I started talking to everybody I could about it. A lot of students were unaware of the business model but thankfully, it has been getting popular nationwide and actually globally as well. Whereas I thought that I would be leading the charge all on my own, I was delighted to find that there were other Sternies on campus also interested in pursuing ETA.  We spent the first year laying the foundation – rallying interest in students, hosting our first few events, and filing out all the paperwork needed to get recognized. By the end of the summer, my co-president Vince Bellitti and I started having more serious meetings about what we wanted the club to look like in the coming year. At this point I’m very proud to say that we have grown from 3 to 30 members, and we have 12 rockstar board members that are fired up about laying the foundation for an enduring ETA legacy here at Stern.

Primarily, our main goal is to put NYU on the map for ETA so that the industry at large can watch and support us as we grow the NYU ETA ecosystem and connect to the larger ETA community. Secondly, we want to make it really easy for our club members and for our community members from NYU to learn about the business model, because, in our humble opinion, it’s one of the most exciting untold secrets of MBA career paths currently available. I don’t think there’s another opportunity that can take you from MBA to CEO as rapidly or with as much of a roadmap as ETA. Essentially, you can come in, fresh from graduating from your MBA program or later as your second or third career, and buy a business that’s already profitable and growing – effectively without any of your own capital – and if you’re willing to put in the work and go on the journey of becoming a CEO, there’s incredible upside potential to earn a sizeable amount of equity in a multi million dollar enterprise that people typically exit after a hold period of 5-7 years. Anecdotally, I can tell you that I’ve personally met people in the industry who sold their search-acquired company for upwards of $300M with a 25% ownership stake–I’ll let the business students do their own math on that one…on top of that, they are some of the nicest and most approachable people you could ever imagine…

That’s kind of mindblowing when you think about it…If you annualize that over the duration of their hold period, you can imagine that they were making a very pretty penny (on top of annual CEO salary) to learn how to become a CEO while leaping over the corporate ladder.  That’s what makes searchfunds unique.

I think The best thing that we can do to educate everybody on campus is give them as much exposure as possible to the industry professionals that make up the ETA ecosystem so they can build relationships and get first hand insights into the game.   

To help facilitate that, We started a speaker series, with ten incredible speakers scheduled for this year. In doing so, We’ve gathered many of the titans of this small industry to join us and share perspectives and opportunities…

On top of that, We’re also planning to host the inaugural NEETA conference this April 14, 2023.  In addition to that, we have created an alumni day for our club  to help grow and connect the Stern ETA community across generations— a lot of graduates who have discovered ETA before or after Stern have been coming out of the woodworks!!! Many have reached out to us and are really excited to get involved and support the movement…We’ve also built out a lot of the digital infrastructure needed to ensure efficiency and continuity for the club in the future

Additionally, I host a weekly ETA Office Hour on Fridays at Noon (zoom link on campus groups) where we talk ETA shop, and I answer questions based on what I’ve learned as a former self-funded searcher and a fellow student of the game.

We’re setting up the pipelines so that our members can easily get the internships, learning opportunities/resources, and  invested capital they need  to  help them transform from MBA to CEO as seamlessly as possible. Those are  our main aspirations for the year….That, and getting enough club members for next year so that the school will continue to allow us to exist long into the future lol…For all the future baby ETA Sternies…(Be on the lookout for our Membership Drive coming in the Spring!!! We need your help 🙂

That’s awesome. Readers, do sign-up for ETA events live on Campus Groups today! 

Tell us more about NEETA – how did the idea come about and what can we expect from the conference?

ETA is starting to gain some recognition around the world and in other business schools here in the US, There are many startup ETA clubs in the Northeast in a similar nascent stage of development as the NYU ETA Club. I had the idea to co-host  a combined event – a multi-school regional ETA conference for the entire Northeast – and thus, ‘NEETA’ was born. 

Our vision is to become the connective tissue that helps all the partner schools in our community grow their ETA legacies. We want to provide connectivity and continuity between the different campuses and ecosystems that are involved for everyone’s mutual benefit. 

It started off as another one of my crazy ideas that took nearly 3 years to really materialize, but it’s really ballooned into something very real. We have six different organizations that are looking to partner with us…if we can pull this off, it will become the only conference of its kind in the entire industry.. 

It’s going down on April 14, 2023. It’s going to be a great opportunity for everyone involved- a lot of investors, lenders, lawyers, CPAs, industry professionals, business brokers and sellers are going to be in attendance and looking to connect. it will be an unprecedented  networking opportunity because we’re linking up with so many different top tier Business schools in the North-east–connecting to the entire region gives students the opportunity to maximize the value of their MBA by expanding beyond the confines of their individual school’s ecosystem It’s a chance to get the most bang for your buck from your MBA, I want to invite everybody to come out – it’s going to be an incredible  and groundbreaking event.

Extremely excited to get my ticket for the conference – It sounds like an amazing opportunity and we appreciate the ETA club for organizing! Before we wrap up – I would love to learn a little more about you outside of the MBA! Do you have free time? What do you like to do in your free time?

I’ve always been into sports. I spend a lot of time practicing yoga. I love making music, even though I am not necessarily pursuing a music career anymore. I just love to create and it’s therapeutic in a lot of ways…. I like to go to comedy shows. I love my dog – going on walks/hikes and hanging out at the park!

Honestly, these days, it feels like I’m in perpetual grind mode – but to be honest, I like it that way! I think that’s part of the burden you sign up for if you come into an MBA program. Especially if you choose to pursue a non-traditional different route. 

It’s a labor of love, but right now I’m enjoying it. I can feel myself stepping close to my dreams every single day, and that feeling is extremely energizing for me…I’m extremely thankful for everyone that has helped this dream take shape and come to life– I can feel the momentum snowballing into something big!!!

Thank you so much for talking to me Tyler! Good luck for the Stern ETA club and we look forward to seeing you at the NEETA conference.

You can connect with Tyler on Linkedin. Learn more about the Stern ETA club here.

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