Entrepreneurs

How this ex-Google employee got Mark Cuban to bankroll her A.I. start-up

Mark Cuban
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Mark Cuban

In 2011, Falon Fatemi was building a career consulting in the start-up world. That year, she went to South By Southwest, a music and tech festival in Austin, Texas, popular among entrepreneurs.

Amid the crowd, she met a "really smart guy," and the two started talking about ideas that companies in the tech industry were missing out on.

That guy was Mark Cuban. But Fatemi had no idea who he was.

"This was about six years ago. I mean he was popular, but I don't think he was as big a celebrity as he is now with 'Shark Tank' and all of that," she tells CNBC Make It, referring to his role as an investor on the ABC reality show.

Still, Fatemi remembers the first conversation they had. "I was sharing a few billion-dollar market opportunities that I thought were untapped," she says, like ways to leverage technology in the government.

"He was like 'Man, we could totally solve this. Let's talk about this more,'" she says. "So we were kind of nerding out."

The two stayed in touch, and Fatemi says they would catch up when Cuban was in the San Francisco area, where she lived.

The connection came in handy. When Fatemi founded her AI data company, Node, in 2015, she reached out to Cuban to pitch him as an investor.

Node CEO Falon Fatemi with investor Mark Cuban.
Source: Node
Node CEO Falon Fatemi with investor Mark Cuban.

By then Fatemi knew his pedigree, but she didn't let that intimidate her. She had learned the importance of taking risks and the value of your network when she was hired at Google at just 19. There she worked with influential women like Stacy Brown-Philpot (now CEO of Task Rabbit) and Kim Jabal (current CFO at Weebly), and she was in the occasional meeting with Sheryl Sandberg (COO at Facebook).

"I actually felt fairly confident about reaching out and sharing my story and pitching [Cuban], because I was prepared," she says.

"I met with a lot of my advisers and investors that were my friends, and I didn't ask them for money, I actually asked them for advice first and feedback on my pitch," she says.

"I had prepared for that situation, I had prepared for that meeting [with Cuban]."

Fatemi's company, Node, aims to use artificial intelligence and data to help organizations target new customers. Basically — who to contact, what to say, and when.

"We help [clients] understand the world of people and companies that they should be selling or marketing into," she tells CNBC's Squawk Alley.

After Fatemi's pitch, Cuban was in. He tells CNBC Make It he was willing to back the company because it addresses a pain point — it eliminates guesswork for salespeople.

"I've always been a fan of cold calling and while there is still a place for it in small organizations, I invested in Node because it is effectively the 'cold call killer,'" Cuban explains. "Their ability to exploit corporate information combined with personal networks and web-based information to generate not just leads but well-informed connections is a game-changer."

Today, Node's other backers include investors like Avalon Ventures — which led the company's Series A funding round — NEA and Canaan Partners. It announced a total of $16.3 million in funding in July.

In Cuban, Fatemi says she's found a mentor, adviser and a real partner for the business, emphasizing his interest in AI and knowledge of the technology space.

"Most people, they think Mark Cuban — they think he is this TV personality, or that he is just a sales guy," she says. But really, "Mark is pretty technical."

Cuban sold his computer company MicroSolutions to CompuServe in 1990 and he became a billionaire by selling his company Broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.7 billion in April 2000.

"He is as hands on as I want him to be," she says. "In my more stressful moments, he is also there just to share his stories and his experiences because he has been in my shoes."

Some of Cuban's best advice? Fatemi says it was learning that "cash is king."

Fatemi says that Cuban "has a vision for what he believes the future will be and he's got the grit and understanding of what it takes to get there."

The respect is mutual.

"[Fatemi] is smart, driven and focused," says Cuban.

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Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to "Shark Tank," which features Mark Cuban as a judge.