Terrified & Excited

I just met with someone I’ve worked with for the past two years who is moving into a new role. It’s a total career change for her, in a direction she’s been trying to work toward since we met. I’m super excited for her.

When I asked how she felt now that it was all coming together, she replied “terrified and excited”.

My immediate response was that this was a great place to be.  Maybe a notch below terrified would be ok as well, but in the end, I think we should all live more of our life out on the edge, always pushing into new areas of interest, always pushing ourselves beyond our current abilities.  I know personally that it’s time for a change when I’m no longer “terrified and excited”.  When things become routine, predictable, I can feel myself slip into a malaise.  There is no cure for this other than to find a new mountain to climb, to leap into the unknown and challenge myself once again.

Of course, the risk is always failure.  But to me that is a far lesser risk than boredom, of a life not lived to it’s fullest potential.

This conversation today was a great reminder of this simple truth.

Photo Source: Flickr

The Ideal Employee

Often when I get the chance to speak to a group of students, someone invariably asks me to describe the ideal employee. What are the traits of a prosepective new hire that I look for, and would give them the best chance of success?

In the book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni, he describes the ideal team player as Hungy, Humble and Smart.  That’s my North Star when hiring people.  I’m sure that these traits are critical in any organization of any size, but they are particularly important in early stage companies, when every hire has an oversized impact on the companies performance and culture.

It’s worth spending some time on this concept.  Too many hiring managers are focused on specific skills and past accomplishments at the expense of these core characteristics, I’ve seen far too many times that oversight resulting in failure and far reaching impact on the organization.

Believe in the mission, not the path

This morning I saw this advice in a tweet:

Founders, don’t be married to what you’re building today, because it won’t be what u ultimately build.

I think this is very bad advice, and gets to the core of what’s wrong with entrepreneurship advice in general.  Entrepreneurship is a really hard path, requiring a ton of dedication, hard work, often over many years.  If you don’t have a deep commitment to the mission of your effort, to the problem you are solving, you’ll fold as soon as you hit a speed bump.

The right advice is that you should have true passion for the problem you are trying to solve.  You should have a deeply held believe that there is a gap in the marketplace that you can fill in a way that others can’t.

You should not be committed to the path to fulfill that mission.

Your path will twist and turn, and you will hit many dead ends, have to back track, and find another route.  Many of your assumptions will be wrong.  Your experiments will fail.  Your business will build slower than you thought. But the North Star of your mission should remain resolute.

With one rare exception.  You may come to a time when you find that your original assumptions around the opportunity were genuinely wrong.  Maybe competitors moved faster.  Maybe you didn’t have the right answer, and you now see that you aren’t well positioned to address the opportunity you saw.  Perhaps you didn’t understand the marketplace as well as you thought, and the opportunity never really existed at all.

That can lead to the infamous Pivot.  And a Pivot can be fine, when Pivoting to another opportunity you are deeply committed to.

But don’t go into your startup expecting to Pivot.  Go into it expecting to have to adjust your path regularly on your way to fulfilling your mission.  There is a huge difference between the two.  The advice in that tweet above missed that point entirely.

My Principles of Entrepreneurship

There is no shortage of advice on what it takes to successfully build a business.  But I’ve seen enough bad advice to compel to me get my own thoughts down.  I’m sure this will be a post that evolves over time.  And each of these principles will eventually have it’s own post, so I can expand on the concepts.  With that, here are my thoughts on essential principles of entrepreneurship.

Believe in the mission, not the path

Set short term milestones. Keep your eye on your cash runway.  Prioritize execution against your financial and strategic plan.  Set quarterly, semi annual and annual milestones.  You’ll be surprised at how fast time goes by when you’re head down building your business.  You need to set guideposts so that you can pick your head and see if you are on track, or if you need to make adjustments.  Experiment.  Try new ideas, test hypothesis, discard your failures and lean into your successes.  ‘Move fast and break things’ is a valuable mantra in your early years.  ‘Just ship it’ should be on your wall.  It doesn’t mean you should race to release shitty products and piss off your customers.  It means that 50% of what you think your product should be is probably wrong, and the faster you validate your assumptions, the quicker you will get to Product Market Fit.  Which leads to…

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Bodega and Thoughts on Diversity of Founders and Investors

Bodega, a new startup, launched today, and faced instant criticism of their name and it’s the impact their business could have on actual Bodega’s.  There were calls of cultural appropriation in the use of the name, only exacerbated by a business model that could be interpreted as designed to compete against local (and often minority) owned corner stores.

The founders of Bodega quickly put up a blog post (So, about our name…) explaining their innocent intentions.  The most highlighted sentence in that piece so far reads:

But it’s clear that we may not have been asking the right questions of the right people.

I’ll come back to that thought in a moment.  That same day, Hunter Walk, a partner at the VC firm homebrew and an investor in Bodega put up his own post about the investment (Thinking About Bodega), and his perspective on the reaction to the name of the company.  I follow Hunter regularly on Twitter, and while I’ve never met him, I think he’s one of the more insightful VC’s who Tweets and Blogs regularly.  But his last paragraph relates to the point I want to make, and connects back to the sentence above from the founder of Bodega.

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Woeful Funding Stats for Women Entrepreneurs

The Boston Globe recently published funding stats women entrepreneurs for 2016.  It shows how much work we have to do to grow support for women in entrepreneurship.

In 2016, only 9 percent of the $71.7 billion in US venture capital funding went to companies with female founders, according to data prepared for The Boston Globe by the research firm PitchBook.

That was down from 13 percent in 2015, which had been the highest level in years.  The numbers in Boston are marginally better: Last year, about 13 percent of Boston-area VC money went to firms with at least one woman founder, according to PitchBook data, though that, too, was a decline, from 18 percent in 2015.

I wished they had included stats around minority founders as well.

Note that this isn’t just for companies with a founding team comprised entirely of women.  This is for founding teams that include any women at all.

I think it’s going to be increasingly clear over time that companies have to look like their target audience / customers if they are going to be successful.  There is a sea change coming in the demographics of the U.S. specfically, and it’s going to create new opportunities that more diverse founding teams, and companies, should be better positioned to take advantage of.

But it’s going to require a lot of work to put in place the support structures from childhood through college and through the startup eco-system to support increased diversity.

Networking and Deliberate Practice

First Round Capital has a terrific newsletter, First Round Review. If you don’t get it, you should go here and subscribe. They constantly publish great pieces on entrepreneurship, managing your career and building a great business.
I’ve read a lot of networking articles over the years. But I was really drawn into one of their recent posts, How To Become Insanely Well Connected. There is a lot of great info in this piece, but one bit of advice really struck me regarding building my dream contact list.

What do you want your network to look like, and what are you trying to achieve?  If you know who your top 5 dream contacts are and what you want to talk to them about, you’ll be ready when you run into someone who knows them. Likewise, it’s good to have a forcing function for keeping those connections healthy — consider creating a rolling reminder to get in touch.

It made me realize that my network was developing in an ad hoc way.  One good meeting would lead to an intro to someone else, and that meeting might lead me to someone else of interest.  But it had been a long time since I had sat down, thought deliberately about how I wanted my network to grow, and what new experiences and relationships would be most relevant to how I’m thinking about the future.  

I realized that while my interest in public policy is growing, and as I tried to think through how I could make a great impact in this area, my personal network has almost no one with this kind of experience.  

And that brought me back to the work of Anders Ericsson in the area of deliberate practice.  If you’re not familiar with Anders’ work, this Freakonomics podcast interview is a good place to start.

It reminded me that if you want to make progress in any particular area, you have to have a deliberate effort around making it happen.  And as it relates to building and expanding my network in new directions, I have some work to do.

An Opportunity on Health Care

The failure of the Republicans in the Senate to repeal key parts of Obamacare is an opportunity to start to change the debate on health care. To stop demonizing providing coverage for those that need it, and to see the opportunities that exist when we take away the fear of a lack of coverage.

David Frum has a terrific piece in the Atlantic, The Republican Waterloo.
A key sentence for me is: “They’ll find that they have removed one of the most important barriers to entrepreneurship, because people with bright ideas will fear less to quit the jobs through which they get their health care. ”

The number of new business start ups in America continue to fall. I have to believe that financial insecurity tied to concerns around health care is playing a part in this trend.

As the ACA continues to climb in the polls, it’s clear that people want government to play a role in providing health care. Let’s hope Congress gets the message.