David Nilssen: Subway “evangelist” and franchise finance guru



In April, IFA announced a strategic alliance with Guidant Financial to improve access to capital in the franchise industry. “By working with financial service innovators like Guidant Financial, the International Franchise Association can better serve its growing membership,” said Steve Caldeira, IFA President and CEO. IFA’s Vice President of Strategic Initiatives & Industry Relations caught up with David Nilssen, Guidant Financial Co-Founder & CEO, at the Faegre Franchise Summit 2012, where he will offer remarks on the Financing Update panel.

What is the last franchise product or service you purchased?

Thanks for asking! Just yesterday I visited a nearby Subway shop and enjoyed a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich with pepperjack cheese, onions, tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, banana peppers, olives and extra pickles with one stripe of Southwest sauce. Coincidentally, Subway was my first employer as a teenager—I love the food, and continue to be a brand evangelist for them to this day.

How does the Guidant mission reflect your own passions?

As a business owner, I can appreciate the challenges of operating a business. Through various philanthropic efforts, along with staying focused on our team goals at Guidant, I personally hope to shorten the learning curve for aspiring entrepreneurs, and get them on the road to success sooner.

How did you come to lead the company?

I’ve owned many small businesses. In 2003, my business partner and I had a real estate development company and were introduced to the concept of investing retirement funds and alternative assets like a business. After we researched this option, we realized that no company had created a national footprint or had a meaningful presence in this space. We launched Guidant in 2003 with $10,000 and a laptop. We saw an opportunity to raise awareness around these options and in turn, help more people take control over the outcomes in their life.

How’s it going?

This year we will deploy nearly $200 million into small business and franchising.

Why focus on franchising?

Our mission aims to increase the number of people who succeed in small business. Franchising aligns well with our goals and enables more individuals to create the life they want because franchise success rates are higher than traditional small businesses.

What organizations do you participate in outside of franchising?

I participate in the Ashoka Youth Venture organization, which helps teams of young people (aged 12 – 20) design and launch their own social ventures by awarding them seed grants (up to $1000 each) and providing mentorship.

I’m also active in the Seattle Entrepreneur Organization, a non-profit group that provides peer-to-peer opportunities for entrepreneurs to learn and grow together. As a past-president and current board member, I’ll be hosting the organization’s annual EO Alchemy conference in Seattle this October. I am passionate about business!

Why has Guidant made a commitment to IFA, VetFran and Operation Enduring Opportunity?

The number of unemployed veterans in our country is unacceptable. Here is a group of people who have relied on systems, procedures and blueprints for success—sometimes even survival. They are traditionally people who have strong work ethics, great organizational skills and high ambition. These qualities often translate well to business ownership, so helping them find financing is a great way to ‘do the right thing’ as we further our company mission.

What are the big issues facing small business today?

I believe investing in this economy, the future of healthcare and tax reform is of great concern. These issues will be a great focus in the upcoming elections. Limited access to credit remains a concern for millions of Americans, which is why we were proud to form our strategic alliance with the IFA to raise awareness about traditional and alternative forms of funding. Capital is the fuel that drives American small business.

How has Guidant used social media to advance?

One of our goals as a financial firm is to appear as un-bank-like as possible. Social media provides the perfect platform to demonstrate our personality and ultimately make Guidant a more likeable brand. In addition, we’ve made valuable industry connections and learned more about our customers through engagement on channels like Twitter and LinkedIn.

Why did you write your book?

There are many business books out there that help individuals become better leaders, but few address the questions “Am I an entrepreneur?” or adequately prepare them for the emotional journey that they, and their family, are about to undertake. My co-author and I want people to go into business with eyes wide open.