Nico Sell, Storm Chaser and Serial-Serial Entrepreneur
Nico Sell is the CEO, Founder and Chairman of the Board of T3MP3ST Labs. As we say in the piece, Nico is a “serial-serial entrepreneur” who has inspired, started, founded, managed and led dozens of companies. Nico is world-renowned in the hacker/security space. She founded r00tz at Defcon. Then, went on to create Wickr. In 2021, she founded T3MP3ST Labs, which will soon debut an electric watercraft. Her first product will be an all-electric personal watercraft that is rugged enough for use by the U.S. Special Forces yet beautiful, elegant and powerful enough to adorn the wells of the world’s most luxurious megayachts. Nico is also an extreme sports trendsetter. You’ll find her regularly riding the mega waves at Mavericks or snowboarding some of the world’s most challenging heli spot locations across multiple continents. Scott: You have this lifelong passion for extreme sports. Big wave surfer, big mountain border. What’s been your biggest thrill of all? Nico: All the firsts are what immediately come to mind. I can't single one out. But some of my most memorable firsts are like the first time I jumped off a cliff at Mount Baker as a professional snowboarder. And the first time I dropped from a helicopter is a memory that stands out. I remember the thrill of skiing powder with my oldest daughter for the first time. And the first time I tow-surfed with my youngest daughter is obviously a lasting memory. But yes, it’s hard to place a single one. I love a good thrill. Scott: I thought it might be hard since you had so many. But how has this passion for extreme sports shaped you as an entrepreneur? Nico: Wow. It's everything I think. Risk management and loving the unknown are absolute essentials for entrepreneurship as much as it is extreme sports. Scott: Good answer. By the way, I started trying to add them up, but there are almost too many to count - how many companies have you started? Nico: My gosh, I've lost track. And it's hard to say because there are companies that I help start, and then there are the companies that were my idea, right? And there have been a lot of them because my parents raised me to be an entrepreneur. They were entrepreneurs. But I think the most renowned ones are r00tz Asylum, Wickr and now T3MP3ST. Scott: You're not just a serial entrepreneur. You’re like a serial-serial entrepreneur. Nico: I can't help it. Scott: It seems like there are people who start one company. And then there are people who start one, and they’re done. What do you think is the difference between the serial entrepreneur, like yourself, and the kind of one and done? Nico: I think that I'm the kind of person with all these companies I mentioned that were my idea, it was something I really wanted for myself. But I didn’t think anyone else would or could make it. So I felt I had to start the company myself. And that keeps on happening! With my newest company T3MP3ST, I wasn’t sitting around thinking about the next company I wanted to start. I was retired and surfing every day. And while out on Mavericks, I thought, why don’t we have electric skis out here instead of all these gas guzzling, noisy, smelly things? And so I just couldn't help myself. No one else was going to do it for a decade, so I just did it myself.
Scott: That's a good transition because I wanted to ask you about T3MP3ST. I wanted to ask you about the name too, where does it come from? Nico: So T3MP3ST is a storm and I'm a storm chaser. That's what I do: follow the Alaskan storms, all the way from Alaska down to Mexico and back. I really like the idea of celebrating storms instead of being afraid of them. And that's what a ski enables you to do. You can outrun the largest waves in the world, and the biggest storms of the country. That's just so powerful and amazing. And then, with all of my companies, or a lot of them, we use numbers in place of letters. That comes from hacker language which is to randomly replace numbers with letters for a lot of different reasons. Scott: Yeah, we’ll never take the hacker out of you. Nico: You know what, believe it or not, even these vessels have to be hacked and made sure that they're secure. Scott: One thing I found we've been talking about campus that I'm not sure people realize when you talk about the environmental impact of what you're doing with T3MP3ST. Nico: That's exactly why I started this and built one for myself, was because we use jet skis to tow surf to Mavericks when the waves are too big to paddle. I’ve spent a lot of time behind the jet ski trying to manage oxygen while breathing in carbon monoxide and seeing oil just spill into the marine reserve. A cloud of carbon monoxide surrounding Mavericks and the noise and smell aren't really compatible with the marine reserve and nature. It was obvious to me, and I think anyone who rides it—especially when you are talking about the fleet that rides on one of the 15,000 mega yachts out there. Each one of these huge yachts has eight jet skis and four tenders. And that's equivalent to 2400 gas cars in the ocean, per mega yacht. That's about 200 times the emissions of one single gas car per jet ski. Scott: And you keep coming back to Mavericks. I know how important that is to you. I think you can practically see Mavericks out of your office window. Will you be riding a T3MP3ST on Mavericks this year? Nico: Definitely. We've already started training out there but the waves aren’t big enough yet for us. Mavericks don't usually break until it's at least 15 feet. Scott: What else would you like fellow entrepreneurs to know that you think is innovative about T3MP3ST? Nico: The company itself is different and innovative. All of these previous companies I felt had to be a for-profit or a not-for-profit entity. And this time around, we've created a benefit corporation. A benefit corporation is a great merger of for-profit and not-for-profit. Now as an officer of the company and chairman of the board of a benefit corporation, I have to worry about my shareholders. But I also have to consider what’s in the best interest of all the stakeholders as well. For a company like T3MP3ST, those stakeholders include the community, the animals and the ocean. I think that that's a really huge difference to have to take into account everything our company and our product touches. And I'd like to challenge all these electric vehicle companies to go the benefit corporation route. So, hopefully we'll see more of our electric vehicle companies operating as benefit corporations. I think the benefit corporation model works really well, especially for anyone that's making and building sustainable products.