September 28, 2022

Marc Gorlin: It’s his story

Management. Finance. Strategic thinking. Vision.

Aspiring entrepreneurs can be obsessed with the skills that could lead to their startup’s success.

For Marc Gorlin, founder and CEO of Roadie who was recently named 2021 Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young, his most valuable ability has always been storytelling.

This is where it all begins.

“If you can’t get people to believe and follow you, then you’ve got nothing but yourself and a stupid idea,” Gorlin says. ABJ ’95.

Gorlin’s success story has attracted many believers.

The journalism grad has appeared on UGA’s Bulldog 100 list of fastest growing alumni-led companies seven times. He got first place in 2015 with Kabbage, which he co-founded in 2009. And across his five startups, Gorlin has honed his elevator pitch with simplicity, practicality, and a touch of Southern flair.

Here’s how he explains Roadie, a crowdsourced delivery platform that tapped into a need so obvious it’s amazing no one else thought of it first.

“There’s this amazing natural resource: all of us going everywhere — 250 million passenger vehicles hit the road every day with almost 4 billion cubic feet of excess capacity,” he says.

“So what if you could use some of that wasted space? That’s more vehicles than UPS, FedEx, Post Office, and all the couriers you could cram together.

“That’s how we created Roadie, which connects big business, small business, you and me, people with things to send, with drivers who, ideally, are already going in that direction.”

Journalism and entrepreneurship

Charles Davis MA ’92dean of Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, was at the Bulldog 100 celebration in 2015 when Gorlin took first place. And since then, they have stayed in touch. For Grady College, Gorlin was an ambassador for the practicality of journalism education, which became the backbone of his entrepreneurial career.

“He constantly reminds me that building, presenting and inspiring investors and employees comes down to strong storytelling,” Davis says, “and that he learned those skills from Grady.”

Gorlin agrees. He still vividly remembers the challenging but enlightening classes taught by Grady’s legendary teacher, Conrad Fink.

“Everything about telling a story — written, spoken, defended — has become tighter,” Gorlin says.

Scattered, muffled and covered

In 2015, Roadie had a major advertising breakthrough.

Still in its infancy, the startup found a reputable partner to serve as a drop-off location, a ubiquitous location in the South (where Roadie was getting its start) and open 24 hours a day.

Who else but Waffle House?

This particular partnership between a tech company and a blue-collar restaurant raised a few eyebrows. During an interview about the couple, a reporter asked Gorlin, “Why would you do that?”

Gorlin now admits he was exhausted after a long day of questions from reporters and let his “inner slob out for a bit”.

Instead of his scripted response, Gorlin extemporized, “Well, if you live in the South, you can’t throw out a dead cat without hitting a Waffle House.”

This quote made the rounds of the media and eventually of the writers of the Jimmy Kimmel Show. Based on Gorlin’s offbeat remark, Kimmel did a one-minute feature on Roadie, bringing the company to the attention of a national audience. This exposure came at a critical time in Roadie’s growth. And the company hasn’t looked back.

When the pandemic hit, “when everyone wanted everything delivered,” as Gorlin puts it, Roadie was well-positioned to respond to broken supply chains. The growth has been remarkable.

On the heels of this success, UPS acquired the business in 2021; and Gorlin can still run it as an independent operation.

“As a founder, I want to build something that lasts,” he says.

Roadie is now part of one of the largest maritime networks in the world.

Gorlin says his children can use his business for years to come. “And that’s pretty cool.”

For this next chapter in Roadie’s tale, Gorlin himself couldn’t have scripted a better story.