Meet Niel Robertson, A Colorado Power Broker Who Founds Startups Coast To Coast

Trada CEO Neil RobertsonNeil Robertson has his fingers in startups all over the country

Photo: Business Insider

Niel Robertson founds successful startups like Johnny Appleseed plants trees.He’s an icon in the Boulder startup community. Most people there know he became a multimillionaire in 1999 at age 24 when he sold his first startup for $280 million.

Now he’s the CEO of his third hot Boulder startup, Trada.

Trada does crowdsourced-developed ad campaigns for businesses advertising on Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Bing. It’s grown to 100 employees since launching in 2008.

But even in close-knit Boulder, many people don’t know that he’s got other things going on.

Robertson is also an under-the-radar power broker in Boston and San Francisco. He’s got ties to a vast network of angels and VCs nationwide, including Google Ventures, Fidelity, Charles River, Foundry, and more.

He’s also got three other startups right now: one in Boston and two in San Francisco.

They are:

  • TenXer: He founded this startup with Jeff Ma, who once used his maths skills to win millions playing blackjack in Vegas. (Ma is featured in a book, “Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions.”) TenXer is still in stealth mode, and Robertson wouldn’t spill too many beans about it, but we’ve learned that its a service that helps employees get noticed by their employers. Its tagline is “Don’t suck at your job. Be a tenXer. Great employees are 10x better than the average.”
  • Kibits: A Boston-based startup that makes an instant collaboration platform geared for mobile users.
  • Viglink: A company that helps media websites monetise the links they host on their sites. This mostly means making sure eligible links to merchant sites like Amazon are part of affiliate programs.

When it comes to startups, he just can’t seem to help himself. At age 22, Robertson co-founded Service Metrics which he sold to Exodus Communications for $280 million in 1999, a mere 17 months after launch. He sold his second startup, Newmetrix, to Beacon for an undisclosed sum in 2009.

“The best things that happened in my life fall under the category of I-didn’t-know-any-better-not-to-do it,” he quips.

Yet, he says he is not an angel investor. Maybe he’s more like an freelance CEO.

“I’ve got my own model. I don’t angel invest where people bring me business plans. I’ve done that but the experience didn’t fulfil me. I found it taxing. What I do now is find an idea I’m passionate about. It may be something I came up with myself or from some else. I find someone I know well to work with. No money changes hands.  I help them pull the financing together,” he explains.

Then he hangs out as an advisor. With his connections and history, his advice is worth as much as his money.

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