Nathan D. Harris is the Co-Founder & CEO of Ease, Inc., Vice President & Partner of Red Star Rooftop On Third, and Vice President & Partner of Uncle Bucks On Third. Nathan is not only an ambitious entrepreneur, but is also extremely passionate about Wisconsin and making downtown Milwaukee a welcoming and vibrant place to live, work and play. Learn more about Nathan D. Harris…
Hometown: I was born in Oak Park, IL but my hometown is Racine where I grew up.
First job: My first job was for my Grandfather when I was around 12 years old. He was a contractor and would lead to remodeling projects as a GC. He would pick us up before the crack of dawn and set us up at the house. Giving us instructions on how to do siding, roofing and a variety of other tasks. Then he would stock a cooler full of food and soda and left us accountable to take what we learned and lead the projects he left to us.
The job was tough but we needed to find ways that we could help support our mother and to be able to have the things we wanted. There was no extra money left at the end of the day so if you wanted something you had to work for it and get it yourself. Otherwise, you would be left wanting forever. I credit these early realizations with creating the foundation of my persistence and resistance as an adult.
Favorite WI restaurant: My favorite restaurant experience in Wisconsin was at a place located in Walker’s Point called Braise. I am deeply passionate about places that offer a true farm to table menu and not many places get more farm to table than them. They even have a green roof and a cooking school where they develop those passionate about food into becoming professionals. I highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Milwaukee and to explore the rest of Walker’s Point. The area is packed with diverse cultures that include some of the best Latin foods, farm to table, top chef-owned restaurants and the best LGBTQ bars in the city.
A person who has impacted your life the most: My mother has had the greatest impact on my life of anyone in the world. She is the greatest example of love and commitment as she raised us as a single mother. Fulfilling her dreams of striving to create opportunities for us despite any challenges that we face. Everything that I do is for her and so that she will never have to work again another day in her life. She worked hard enough to help get us to where we are so we want to be the backbone of our family and create a legacy that honors her commitment to us.
This is why I take every opportunity so seriously and will make sure that her work was not for nothing. It’s taught me to be a better son, brother, boyfriend, business partner and leader. Working to instill these same values in everyone around me as we must remember one thing. We are only as great as our legacy and that story is written every day through your actions so do things that you want people to one day read about.
Your biggest accomplishment in your eyes: My biggest accomplishment was to be able to build a business that can help my family to realize their dreams through mine. When I was 19 I made a commitment that one day I would create a business that made sure that my brother and I would never have to work for anyone again. Allowing us to live based on our passions and to lead our lives with purpose. Over the past 6 years, those dreams have come true through a number of ventures that we have done together and apart. Opening my first 7 figure business Ugly’s at 22 years old despite challenges and growing the business to over $200,000 a month in its first 8 months of opening.
Then after that leaning into digitizing my business processes and creating a technology called Ease that provides a predictive freelance management system that gives organizations access to a tailored and a screened pool of on-demand remote talent. Over the past two years, this company has allowed my brother Saul Sutton IV to leave his full-time role at Amazon to become my Co-Founder & COO. Which we have since then led to being accepted into two of the world’s top accelerator programs gener8tor, Plug and Play Tech Center and accepted to exhibit for two years in a row at Web Summit which is the world’s largest tech conference. Giving us the resources to expand our solution beyond SMB to now aiding some of the world’s largest companies in digitizing their workforce.
Our family has come from deep poverty and challenges so each of these accomplishments is a reminder that if you believe you can achieve. A message I want our generation and future generations to never forget as I work to leave a legacy that is an example of its truth.
The biggest obstacle you have overcome: The greatest challenges that I have overcome were before the age of 18. Depression and poverty had a very great impact on my family and pushed us into dark places that no one knew between the age of 12 and 18. Having to wait in line at the food pantry, walk for miles in the snow with groceries, shower with candles and cry ourselves to sleep because we had nothing to eat. There will never be a greater pain than the pain of true hunger but I do not tell this story for pity. Instead, as a reminder that if I can overcome that, then there is no challenge in life that can beat me. I’ve had to learn what it’s like to sacrifice at such a young age but didn’t allow it to create resentment in my heart.
I no want to be a voice and example that love and a commitment to your family can get you through anything. This is the same fuel and foundation that drives my success as an adult. Challenges are something that you should be thankful for because without them it wouldn’t give you the strength that you have today.
Someone who inspires you: I have two people who have been exceptional inspirations to me that our outside of my immediate family. One of them is a man named Kevin Kowalke who came into my life unexpectedly while working on a startup project he also was a part of. That opportunity didn’t work out but we knew from that experience that one day we would work together. Now over the past 6 years, Kevin has acted as my mentor in a wide range of capacities. He taught me how to understand and analyze conversations to understand the why in what people say and not the what. He taught me to assess the value that helped me to see how to turn one relationship into 5 times the value by seeing the spider web of connections that can only be seen by the trained eye. Then after teaching me all of that he became my first investor in Ease and coached me through scaling the company by 500% in 6 months and landed us in the globally ranked accelerator gener8tor.
While also having Kevin as a mentor I found another one through an unexpected event. His name is Chris Abele and we met because I was selected to be in a campaign commercial that asked my perspective on what would happen to the area of the Milwaukee Bucks relocated to another city. That commercial did well and he brought me to his office to meet me and thank me for participating. A meeting that was supposed to be 30 minutes went on for over two hours as I learned about his story and he learned about mine. I quickly realized that he was more than just a County Executive and was a philanthropist who created the world largest women’s rights activist group Women For Women International, on the Board of The Victory Fund to help LGBTQs around the world, the Founder of the states leading venture fund CSA Partners, and a magnificent father on top of all of that.
After this meeting, we developed an awesome relationship and he became a mentor who opened my eyes to what is truly possible. Shortly after getting into the gener8tor accelerator program I got a text from him congratulating me and that he wanted to learn more about how he could support. He listened to my dream, understood it and then brought me into the CSA Partners Venture as he too believed in the why in what we are creating through our technology. It’s been an honor to have him as a mentor, investor, and friend helping me to create my own impact that I hope to make on the world.
Favorite Quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
Advice to someone pursuing a career path in what you do: You can never forget the “why” in what you do and you must make sure that everyone you bring into your vision believes in it as well. It is very easy for people to get excited about the opportunity to be a part of something that they can gain from. That’s the easy part but what about when that same vision could potentially take from them? It could take more time than they expected, more money, more sacrifice, and more discomfort. Will, they still stay around then and what is their motivation to stick through those times?
As a leader, your greatest risk is bringing a cancerous attitude into your organization that can spread and destroy your culture. You must guard your culture from the time you hire your first employee until you hire your last. If anyone manages to get past the screening process you need to be able to quickly cut them out before their energy spreads and more damage can be done.
You need loyalty, commitment, and perseverance on your team. These are the values that can’t be trained but everything else can be.
What you think makes someone fabulous: The most fabulous thing about a person is their ability to be real with themselves and to express that reality. Allowing people to be drawn to their uniqueness that can not be duplicated. Not falling victim to the trends of society as they are more focused on the trends of their own heart that makes up their real identity. This is the realization that creates greatness and things that people can get behind. The more real people are the better we can create innovations that can be tailored to their ideal experiences in broad areas of their lives.
The greatness names of every era are the people that were mission-driven with a goal of creating disruption through their unique ideology based upon what they observed from the experiences that people were having around them.