I am so excited to announce the I joined Colorwave’s Advisory Board! Colorwave is a two-part solution to accelerate equity and economic freedom in the tech and startup industry for Black, Latinx, and Native Americans. Our fellow program bridges the gap by giving early career professionals of color the training they need and connecting them with leadership opportunities at VC-backed private companies. We are also building partnerships with organizations that are looking to hire this talent into their leadership.
This is a full circle moment for me. In the summer of last year, I tweeted:
I realized through my responses that nobody else had solutions either. I’m so grateful that around this same time, these leaders came together to start building this.
Leandrew – who is an entrepreneur we backed at Precursor – asked me to join right around the same time as Jose Lopez in November of last year and we’ve hit the ground running. In only a few short months, I’ve been so overwhelmed by the fellows themselves. All 22 of the fellows who we are working with in this first cohort are brilliant and any startup would be lucky to have them.
I’ve also been so grateful by the outpouring of support by the ecosystem. From Mandela at Founder Gym who brought her wisdom to bear to build out the curriculum to VC partners like Lerer Hippeau who quickly signed as supporters to invest in this pipeline of black and brown talent to industry experts like Aston Motes who have offered their time and energy to talk with the fellows about what it’s like to be the first and only at a venture-backed startup. It’s been such an honor to work with this team!
A few things happened yesterday that got me thinking about this. The first is seeing this post by Jenna Wortham on Twitter. She is referencing the fact that many media companies are now realizing that they have created hostile work environments for black people.
the sad truth about this wave of media reckonings is that it feels way too late — so many talented Black journalists and media creators chose their sanity and moved on. grieving for all their careers / stories.— Jenna Wortham (@jennydeluxe) June 9, 2020
The second was an interesting conversation with my friend who mentioned that she didn’t understand why more white people did not see the importance of racial equality. I responded that this was probably a response born out of their own insecurity. For if there was racial equality and they didn’t have white privilege, where would they be? Would they be worse off than they are now? (answer is probably yes)
This got me reflecting on my own issues with imposter syndrome. And now I think I have a deeper clarity about what that means for me. So many black people have been excluded from racist institutions. As a result, so much greatness has been excluded from racist institutions. Because I have succeeded in spite of this, I am left with a less great competitive set. So my imposter syndrome comes not from the fact that I don’t belong with these other white people, it comes from the fact that maybe none of us belong. Maybe there is a completely different set of black, white, asian and latinX people who – if we had anti-racist systems – would be standing in our places.
So my imposter syndrome is actually not about me feeling less than great. I think I am pretty great actually. It’s about the sadness I have that I could be greater, could get better, could be more challenged if I was given the opportunity to compete with the best. And I believe that many, if not most, of the best are left out and/or pushed out because of racist policies and institutions.
None of us in any of our industries can write ourselves down as the best, the greatest or a member of the “midas list” until the industries themselves are anti-racist. To do the former before the latter is untruthful.
“You’re organizing people to be self-sufficient rather than to be dependent upon the charismatic leader…the most important thing was, and still is in my mind, is to develop people to the point that they don’t need the strong, savior-type leader.” – Ella Baker, 1968
“The good news is that racist and anti-racist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and be an anti-racist the next. What we say about race and what we do about race in each moment determines what, not who we are. I used to be racist most of the time. I am changing. I am no longer identifying with racists by claiming to be not racist. I am no longer speaking through the mask of racial neutrality. I am no longer manipulated by racist ideas to see racial groups as problems. I no longer believe a black person cannot be racist. I am no longer policing my every action around a white or black judge trying to convince white people of my equal humanity; trying to convince black people I am representing the race well.” – Dr. Ibram Kendi from How to Be Anti-Racist.
This past week was devastating. With the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Avery, George Floyd and the countless others who we will never know, it seems like white america has finally decided that black people are important to listen to.
Black people have been and will continue to be important to listen to. I worry though, that in an effort to offload the work of critical thinking, white (and black) people will gravitate to a Black Messiah. Someone who tells them exactly what to think so that they don’t have to think for themselves at all and also helps them offload some of the guilt of participating in a racist society for so long which prevented them from listening to and believing in black people in the past. The work that needs to be done cannot be offloaded onto a black messiah. The work is deep, personal and painful reflection on how your behaviors have contributed to (& if you’re white), and benefited from) white supremacist institutions.
One thing the government has not done in this crisis is shy away from their responsibility to help. I’ve been impressed by their swift action to improve lives of workers and employers through the CARES Act. Startups are eligible for the Payment Protection Plan, so I’ve gotten to watch first hand how this whole experience has gone for them. From navigating which banks to apply through, to receiving the cash in the door, it’s been really wild to observe just how quick this process went!
To share some context on why I was so skeptical, my background is in government! I worked alongside the NYC Department of Education during Hurricane Sandy and saw – first-hand – how immensely slow it took FEMA to invest in the repairs necessary for life to get back to normal for many schools and families across the city. For one school in Queens, it took over 2 years for them to finally receive a FEMA payout. Another example of the failures of government in time of disaster is its lack of response to Hurricane Katrina (if you’re interested in learning more here, check out Treme on HBO which documents the failed work of FEMA and its devastating impact in New Orleans).
So the fact that COVID-19 hit aggressively mid-May and businesses had checks in their bank account less than a month later is really unprecedented. Congress adopted the CARES Act and it was signed into law at the end of May. This created the Payment Protection Plan (PPP). With the PPP, the government essentially authorized forgivable loans of $349 billion to companies in order to allow them to continue employing their workforce despite economic uncertainty.
The CARES Act has an additional provision that allows for a work-share program where if companies have to reduce staff hours, the staff will still qualify for full unemployment benefits. It reminded me of this one article I recently read about Germany. They have a system called Kurzarbeit which essentially is a government subsidy for companies who are experiencing hardship. When companies declare Kurzarbeit, the government pays their employees a portion of their wages for them. So it seems like, with the CARES Act, the US is becoming more like its European neighbors.
This is no surprise for those who study history. It is in times of crisis that the government expands. According to the WSJ, “the pandemic may, like the Great Depression, foster structural policy change that outlasts the calamity itself.”
The PPP has left its mark on public policy for good given the strings it attached to the money it loaned to large corporations and small businesses. These institutions are all now forced to comply with additional regulations that hold them more accountable to the public. Below, I’ve outlined some of my favorites impacts the legislation has had on businesses.
Companies who accepted the PPP are prohibited from preventing their workers to unionize
According to the WSJ, “some companies seeking federal funds are facing restrictions on their ability to oppose attempts to unionize their workforce. One of the new laws states they should “remain neutral in any union organizing effort for the term of the loan.””
Companies who accepted the PPP are subject to audit
Large companies are now subject to audit by the government and all of the companies who accepted the PPP are now on a watchdog list that journalists have been keeping an extra close eye on.
Companies who accepted the PPP are restricted in executive pay
“Businesses receiving aid face government limits on how much they can pay their executives, and the new law says they shouldn’t “outsource or offshore jobs for the term of the loan and 2 years after completing repayment of the loan.””
The bottom line is, after experiencing such an extended period of “late stage capitalism” where it felt like business was an omnipotent agent, COVID-19 was the real test. It shifted the ground beneath our feet and tossed business off its 1st place trophy stand. I think it’s safe to say the fight is over. Business lost and the government won.
The government not only won, but they showed that they can continue to win. The fed chair recently quipped that “when it comes to this lending, we’re not going to run out of ammunition.” The government has started using its power and I’m looking forward to seeing what else they do with it. My hope is that next on the docket for government expansion is permanently strengthening our country’s safety net. We have already seen elements of this across the country as different government agencies have forgiven student loan payments and put a moratorium on evictions. NYC is leading the way with its essential workers bill of rights bill and I think as the crisis continues to stretch, more governments will adopt similar legislation. I look forward to watching government step up in this moment!
One of my goals is to use my voice more. That means owning things I’ve learned with hopes that it can help others. This feels very uncomfortable to me! Anyone who knows me knows that I am more of a show, not tell type of a person. But as I’ve grown more comfortable in my skin, I have realized that I must tell my own story. This gives me serious anxiety – but alas, every time you try something new, it feels unnatural and uncomfortable. So in the name of growth, I’m working through it. A few days ago, I listened to Brene Brown’s new podcast on FFTs (f*cking first times) and that gave me the extra bit of courage I needed to post this.
I hope this post is useful to any and everyone who is trying to figure out ways to demonstrate both to themselves and to others that they are great investors. Without further ado, here we go!
A few weeks ago, I was really excited to see Nate Maslak — co-founder of Ribbon Health — announce his Series A led by A16Z. I met him for the first time almost two years ago when I invited him on my podcast, “Be About It”
I created the podcast to show the world that the companies that fit my thesis could be successful.
My thesis has focused on companies that are building products that give real people more agency over their lives. This can be financial agency, time agency or mental/physical agency.
By demonstrating that my thesis worked, I would also be building my track record.
What is a track record? It is a scorecard of your investments. It is used by LPs (your investors) to determine whether or not you are a “good investor”. Generally, “good” means that your investments continue to grow in value.
As CEO/Founder of this podcast, I was in charge of sourcing companies, ensuring they fit my thesis, finding times to meet with these companies, coming up with thoughtful interview questions and also running all of the mechanics behind the scenes to make the podcast live. I purposefully chose founders who were Pre-Seed because that is Precursor’s focus and also because it holds the most risk. If I could demonstrate to myself and the world that I could pick Pre-Seed companies that would advance, then I must be pretty good at finding outstanding founders & companies.
After spending over a year and countless hours on the Be About It podcast, I was privileged to share time with 15 founders — all of whom I continue to be inspired by. Here is how their companies have grown:
Season 1 (2017) Companies
2017: 7 were Pre-Seed
2019: 3 were Pre-Seed and 4 were Seed
2020: 3 were Pre-Seed and 4 were Seed
Season 2 & 3 (2018) Companies:
2018: 4 were Pre-Seed and 4 were Seed
2019: 1 was Pre-Seed, 3 were Seed, 4 were Series A and 1 shut down
2020: 1 was Pre-Seed, 1 was Seed, 5 were Series A and 1 shut down
One thing I wasn’t expecting was my own growth between my first podcast and the second. In Season 1, I learned so much and brought that into Seasons 2 & 3. You can see it clearly in the numbers — Seasons 2&3 had a higher graduation rate than Season 1.
The portfolio continues to mature and I’m excited to add another to the Series A list with Ribbon!
The thesis behind my podcast — to find companies building meaningful businesses that provide mass markets access to what previously was held by only a few — is the same one I hold today as I enter into a full-fledged investing role at Precursor with the ability to make my own decisions and trust my gut.
It’s exciting to enter into this new role with this track record and I look forward to building upon it — with dollars this time — in the coming years.
The key things that I think are important to building up your track record without money are as follows:
Develop and publish a thesis on what types of companies you like and why
Publicly name companies that fit this thesis
Wait a few years… (I never promised this was going to be quick!)
Follow-up and see if those companies are doing well!
If they’re not doing well, write an article stating what you think went wrong and start at #2 on this list again.
I hope this inspires many of you — particularly those who might not have the accredited investor title or the VC job — an alternative way to create your own track record ❤
Have you also come up with a novel way to build a track record for yourself with limited resources? Or, do you have a company you’d like me to chat with that fits my thesis?
If so, I would love to hear from you!
You can always reach me on Twitter: @sydneypaige10 or via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Note #1: More inspiration to everyone building, striving and creating who are also worried about owning their own success 🙂
Note #2: More deep dives into the creation tools behind the Be About It podcast if you’re interested here.
Note #3: There were a few additional founders I chatted with and unfortunately their interviews never made it onto the podcast. I’m still a huge fan of them! I didn’t enter them into the calculations above since I never formally processed their interview.
Noted #4: Due to technical difficulties, currently, only Seasons 2 and 3 of Be About It are public.
Back story: Many VCs end conversations with entrepreneurs who they
decide not to invest in with this phrase. It feels terrible to learn
that your startup isn’t going to get money from a potential investor.
But it can feel like salt in the wound where the person you just spent
1, 2 or 3+ hours with, gives you an open-ended phrase of “support”. The
more generalized the feedback, the less actionable — particularly for
first-time founders who don’t know what to ask of investors who have
passed on investing in their company.
To help entrepreneurs understand what they can come to me for, I hope in this article to outline exactly how I can be helpful.
I’m your girl if you’re looking for an investor who:
1 Is Obsessed with Customers — Particularly those at the Long-Tail. My
entire career has been spent trying to figure out how to serve the
“hard to reach”. I think figuring out how to communicate and serve this
population is one of the biggest challenges organizations face (the
government included) and I have gone through many rabbit holes
unsuccessfully trying to figure out how to do this well. I would love to
help you avoid some of those!
2 Has a Very Different Opinion than Most Investors. As
you might have guessed from my answer to the first point, I have spent
the majority of my career in the public sector. I’m also black. I also
identify as a woman. I also live in Oakland. I did not go to Stanford.
I’ve never worked at Google, Amazon, Uber or Facebook. Can I stop now?
Essentially, name one thing that you think most investors have in common
and I probably don’t have it. So I’m here for you if you are looking
for feedback from someone outside of the status quo.
3 Can Provide Feedback Based off of Employee Experience. I
have never started my own company. I have also never been a CEO. This I
think gives me tremendous empathy for the employee experience. As you
are building your company and have questions around employee
compensation, roles & responsibilities and want to think through
ways to push back against some of the “tried and true” methods and and
want to fundamentally re-think how you can organize your organization
that both empowers employees to do their best work and also creates a
safe environment, I’m your girl.
4 Has an Eye for Process Optimization. When I first
joined Precursor, I had to envision all the ways to create processes for
the firm that could scale not to 1–10 companies, but from 1–100+
companies. I love thinking through big-picture process design that helps
you identify and build towards the goals you seek. As I have been
involved with supporting founders at the Pre-Seed stage, what I’ve found
is that the beginning stage of beginning a company is a lot of
admin — so much admin. So I am happy and excited to help you brainstorm
best practices here.
5 Is Obsessed with Complex Partnership Strategies. I
have never worked in an industry where I had only one stakeholder. That
sounds like the good life! In one of my first roles, I was in charge of
preparing public schools over summer so they were ready to open in the
fall. I had to think about the Principals, the students, the parents,
the district office and many others. I’m used to making sense of,
organizing and processing these complex maps and am happy to help you
think through how best to do that for your company.
6 Has Relationships Across Diverse Talent & Investors. I
never sought out to be “the only” in venture. I know there are amazing
people of color investors, engineers, PMs and founders, and when I first
got to this industry I looked to build coalitions to meet and support
them. I’m happy to help bring these relationships to bear wherever it
can be beneficial for all parties involved.
7 Has Seen Over 100+ Fundraising Strategies. Precursor
has grown now to serve a lot of companies. Out of Funds I and II, we
have invested in over 100 companies. I have seen a lot of permutations
of startup growth — from fundraising strategies, decisions to grow to
profitability to shut-downs. From this bank of information, I think I’ve
developed a healthy amount of knowledge on how to explore any
combination of these steps. Always happy to chat through and guide
founders through the buffet of options available to them.
8 Listens a Lot More than She Talks. I love to
listen and try to come with an open mind to most conversations while
actively questioning opinions and ideas. Talking is less interesting to
me because I know there is so much that I have to learn.
9 Brings Her Full Self to Conversations. The
experience of building something new, asking for help and working with
investors puts founders in a deeply vulnerable position. I am still
figuring out my footing in service of founders, but one thing I try not
to ever do is to compartmentalize your experience or mine in a way that
makes things “easier”. I’m here for the messy, the random and the
real-life conversations that creep into the everyday life of trying to
do something revolutionary — build something from scratch.
10 Can Get You Some Sweet Software Discounts 🙂 I’m good at getting discounts.
Please don’t come to me for:
1 24-hour Support. I’m human, just like you and need
sleep so I can be my best self for you, my family, the Precursor team
and my community. I’m probably not the best person to support you if you
want to talk to me at 3 am, again at 6 am and then once more at noon.
To get the best out of me, expect extremely quick responses from 8am-8pm
and a delay outside of those times.
2 Immediate Feedback. I’m a deep thinker and
journaler! I pride myself in having thoughtful, well-researched feedback
for questions or concerns you might be facing as a founder. To that
end, to get the best out of meeting with me, send me a few questions in
advance that you’d like to discuss and I’ll come prepared.
3 Sunshine and Fairytales. I am very direct and
don’t like to pretend about anything. If you are very conflict-avoidant,
I might not be a great fit for you.
Ah‚ you’re part of something way bigger
Bigger than you‚ bigger than we
Bigger than the picture they framed us to see
But now we see it
And it ain’t no secret‚ no
— Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, “BIGGER”, The Gift Album
I recently realized that when I enter conversations with other VCs, I have a pretty complex background song playing. It’s not always Bigger by Beyoncé, but it usually has a similar tune. 🎶
To help people understand how to work with me and get the beat down of the song playing in my head, I decided to create a user guide. A “user guide” (or manifesto or first principles) is a list of your own values.
I decided to create a User Guide when I realized that I’m pretty complicated & putting my values down where everyone could reference them could be a useful resource to decrease stress & anxiety of interactions
Here is my first stab. I hope you’ll treat it as a living document that reflects the living, evolving person I am.
Let’s begin with a quick summation of my life story:
I grew up in San Diego, CA
I spent summers in West Virginia with my mom’s side of the family — that includes, but is not limited to 11 uncles, 1 aunt and 20+ cousins
I graduated from Duke University with a major in public policy, just 4 years after the lacrosse scandal
I drafted legislation for the City of New York + lobbied the federal government to pass it
I conducted tax preparation services for low-income New Yorkers, supported a multi-city roll-out of a city program & raised money from private sector organizations like Nike to invest in New York City’s public schools
Then my background starts to get boring…
I went to business school at Berkeley-Haas
Then it gets exciting again!
After business school, I helped Charles Hudson manage and operate Precursor VC
Cool cool cool, if you have read this far, thanks for getting up to speed – we are now the same page.
So let’s get into the question I really came here to answer: “what is my relationship to venture capital”.
Short answer: It’s complicated 🤷🏾♀️
1. Venture Capital has a transformational ability to support and finance companies that are building scalable solutions for people and places that have been systematically under-invested in. That excites me more than anything which is why I’m here. 🎉
c. There has been little action taken to decrease this inequality and instead, immense work has been done to reinforce a brand of meritocracy. As a result, the word “meritocracy” and the assumption that folks with power deserve it or earned it hurts me.
3. This informs my own imposter syndrome as a black woman in VC — I know that 1M+ black or brown people could be great at this job and yet somehow because of my own luck, I have ended up here. So I take great care to try and call in those left outside of the room & make their voices heard.
a. My imposter syndrome has nothing to do with a lack of pride and confidence in my own work. I work very hard. I produce high-quality work. I am really proud of it. I am very quick to anger when I am around people who don’t have high integrity around their own work product.
b. You can read more thoughts on my ideas of imposter syndrome here.
4. I struggle with the evangelization of technology and startups. Startups/tech/entrepreneurship is hard, but it is not the hardest job. Having family across the country with many different socioeconomic status’ keeps me grounded. A harder job to me is trying to making ends meet while working for less than minimum wage in the only job available to me in the small town where I live. I’m not in venture capital because it’s the hardest work available, I’m doing it because it has the widest impact.
5. We are all complicit in an economic system that has caused significant trauma on people, communities and countries across the world.
6. In order to be a productive member of society, being a thoughtful investor is not enough. The work starts with you. The arc of the universe does not bend towards justice if nobody does the work to make it so. How are you building a pattern of reflection and growth? How are you living your values? Do you wonder how what you say/do impacts others? What are you hoping to accomplish in this lifetime? How are you actively working to raise your own consciousness so you don’t become a reactive pawn in a greater system created by other people? These are questions I struggle with daily. One of the ways I work towards addressing them is by building a full life outside of my day job. I am an active supporter of Beyond Emancipation, the North Carolina Bail Fund, Esq Apprentice and am getting more and more involved in my own community of Longfellow, Oakland.
a. One of the best places to start is with your own language. How are you talking about people who are different than you? I was just introduced to this quote by Toni Morrison that says: “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence.” It is so true.
7. I think that listening to people different from you, and changing your opinion accordingly, is the biggest act of courage you can take. This is based on my love for humility. It is my favorite trait (right above gratitude) and one I try to practice often. Humility isn’t a widely appreciated trait in VC because it is at odds with industry standards of conviction, assertiveness and self-righteousness which makes this work hard sometimes.
a. One of my other favorite traits is kindness. I just don’t know why people chose to be mean. I just don’t have it in me and it makes me sad when people chose meanness over kindness and compassion.
b. My third favorite trait is thoughtfulness. I am not one to make decisions in the moment. I need time to think and reflect before making decisions.
8. The hustle culture of entrepreneurship and tech is problematic. It is particularly problematic for communities of color where the old adage that “you must work twice as hard to get half as much” rings true. That isn’t a life I wish to cultivate or to exhault. It leads to burnout and breeds exhaustion which can create even more anger amongst underrepresented communities. I recognize the privilege in this lifestyle choice and also believe that my ancestors wouldn’t want me to live in a way that hurts me if I don’t have to. I approach my life and my work within VC with this lense and work hard to build boundaries so that I can have a full work and home life. Please don’t try to e-mail me on weekends and please please please don’t follow me on instagram 🙃
a. That being said, one of the values that I hold deeply is that in order to be successful, you must be proactive. If you are reaching out to me cold and would like to speak with me, I expect that you have your questions prepared. If I have invested in your company, I expect that you will treat me as a valuable resource who can help guide you. One of the most frustrating experiences I have had, and would like to prevent, is feeling like the person I’m talking to isn’t taking full advantage of my time and and/or isn’t taking responsibility to make their situation better. One of the quotes I try to live by is: we all have agency over our own lives and I have continually developed a practice of proactiveness. In order to work together effectively, I need to see you model proactiveness as well. I try really hard and work best with people who are also trying really hard.
10. Being a black woman doesn’t mean I have all the answers to inequality within this industry or outside of it. Please read a book (or an article) before asking me any questions pertaining to inequality, white supremacy, racism, etc.
Long Story, Short: I love venture capital and technology, but my relationship to it is complicated. This industry was not created in 1976 with the invention of Apple. Books are important, history is important and without those two things you can become an actor in a greater narrative that you didn’t know existed — I try my hardest not to be that actor, but mess up sometimes. When I could do better, I expect you to call me out and I promise to listen. To earn my respect, I expect you to try hard too. I also expect you to mess up sometimes — at which point, I will call you out on it and expect for you to listen. We’re all human.
I’m now two seasons into my podcast “Be About It” where I interview founders who are solving meaningful problems.
So far, I’ve had 15 amazing founders on my podcast. Each one is solving a
real pain point experienced by 80% of the USA — individuals making
under $100K and small business owners.
Across the founders I interviewed, there was a single pervasive
concern. When you target such a large population, how do you actually
reach them? Reaching the top 20% is not easy, but it is relatively
straightforward. The toolkit for most includes some cocktail of
Facebook/Google ads, App Store hacks and modern design.
Reaching individuals and small business owners located in the remaining 80% is much more complicated.
Their interests are varied, they are not all located in one online
community and are very hard to please because they have to see immediate
ROI in their purchases.
They do not have excess capital to be as patient as the top 20%.
I saw this first hand when I was working in the NYC Department of
Consumer Affairs in the Mayor Bloomberg years. There, I was tasked with
managing the product launch of SaveUSA across New York City. SaveUSA was
created to demonstrate that a progressive tax policy that incentivized
low-income tax filers to save some of their tax refund could impact the
Essentially, I was in charge of finding people to give free* money
to. Easy right? No. From the marketing — where do you find low-income
tax filers? — to the onboarding & engagement — how do you keep these
tax filers engaged over a series of months?, my experience at SaveUSA
was a deep dive into the complexities of targeting a diverse population.
In SaveUSA’s NYC campaign, here’s what really worked for us:
Meet folks where they are. I learned how to do taxes (*shout out to
VITA*) so that I could help folks with their tax filing and then enroll
them into the SaveUSA program. This helped us understand exactly what
the main pain points were for tax-filers and address them immediately.
Also doing someone’s taxes really builds their trust.
Be respectful of their time. When we incorporated an ability to sign-up
for SaveUSA into the flow of tax filing — which was difficult because a
critical piece of signing up for SaveUSA included opening a new bank
account — we saw a huge increase in take-up rate.
Speak to their best selves. One of the selling points that worked best
for us during SaveUSA was speaking to the tax-filers’ best selves. This
is especially hard in a culture that treats poverty as an illness. But
framing questions around: “How can we figure out how to pay the most
critical bills now and save the rest?” instead of “Why haven’t you paid
those bills yet?” worked wonders.
It was enlightening to hear additional techniques on how to engage this segment from the founders I talked to on the podcast.
Here are the top 3 recommendations I learned from the founders I interviewed:
Do your research. Jimmy Chen at Propel shared how important it is to
conduct deep customer interviews to understand how to build the most
intuitive product possible. 🎧
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Chai Mishra at MoveButter discussed how
important it is to work within the ecosystems that exist for the
communities you are trying to serve. 🎧
Build a movement. I learned from Beatriz Helena Ramos at Dada how to
help creators build communities among themselves in order to catalyze an
even larger movement. 🎧
I am inspired that people are proactively exploring the long tail
wave of consumers and coming up with creative solutions. At the end of
the day, it reminds me that the most important thing founders can build
is a strong community.
If you’re interested in learning some of these hacks, check out the
past couple of seasons of “Be About It.” You can listen to it
anywhere — from Soundcloud, Breaker to Apple Podcasts.
I’d love to hear from you! What have you learned from the founders in
the episodes? Do you have ideas of founders I should talk to? Leave me a
comment below or reach out to the podcast on Twitter @thebeaboutitpod.
*The money was not technically free. The participants received a 50% match for every dollar they saved for 6 months, up to $500.
So much ink has been spilled on how difficult entrepreneurship is.
And rightfully so! The more I talk to entrepreneurs, the more respect
I gain for them. Living years without a paycheck, managing investors
who are telling you to run fast in 10 separate directions and working
with a team who is there because they believe in you when you aren’t
sure if you believe in yourself is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting.
Yet, much of the VC rhetoric I hear praises someone’s ability to go
through this process. They glorify the struggle. They say that if it was
easy, everyone would do it.
But I think there is a fundamental problem in the entrepreneurship ecosystem today.
It is becoming so hard and so irrational to start companies that the
people who we need the most (i.e. rational, smart people) are opting
out. I am inspired by this post on Why More Women Don’t Run for Office. So much of what Raina Lipsitz discusses can be applied to entrepreneurship.
It doesn’t make any sense for highly qualified women (particularly women of color) to start companies.
After foregoing wages that they need to feed their families and
communities, they are going to go through a round of disappointing
interviews with VCs that will give them a 1-2% chance of receiving
If we continue to structure a path to successful entrepreneurship as
we do, we will continue to get the egomaniacs to enter and succeed.
Do you only want Travis Kalanick 2.0 running the companies of the future? I don’t.
So how do VCs make entrepreneurship easier? I think there are a few
fundamental things that VCs can do to make entrepreneurship more
We should normalize taking a meaningful salary.
I have seen burn rates all over the place. Entrepreneurs I’ve talked
to are everywhere between living at the poverty line to living in the
SOMA Grand. This is crazy.
Why isn’t there more excitement amongst VCs to help entrepreneurs
meet the lowest rank of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Why isn’t there
more acceptance of the fact that the opportunity costs to these
individuals is high already – with or without a salary?
We should treat entrepreneurs with humility.
As Kanye put it – You Ain’t Got the Answers, Sway.
Entrepreneurs are building from scratch. Yes, we may have seen things
similar to what they’re creating in the past, but almost everything
since then has changed. The timing, competitors, funding environment.
We have so much to learn from each and every entrepreneur that walks
through our doors. And the only way we’ll succeed in our jobs is if we
take each opportunity to soak up the knowledge from these founders
seriously and respectfully.
We should not ask entrepreneurs to sacrifice their lives for their companies.
When we’re doing this, what we’re saying is – making me money is more important than anything else you could be doing.
this phenomenon in a recent article: “The guy is developing an app that
lets you visualize how a coffee table from a catalog might look in your
living room. I suppose that’s cool, but is it really more important
than seeing your kids? Is the chance to raise some venture capital funding really “the ultimate reward”?”
What is the ultimate reward is deeply personal to each person. But I
hope that as VCs, we empathize with entrepreneurs who may have
thoughts, lives and dreams outside of building the company we invested
in. They are better entrepreneurs for it.