I have 21 days before the end of the year, and before 2017 is gone. I have 21 days to retroactively, make my goal of a blog a week still a reality (though officially LATE). Despite being late, and having only 21 days, I'm going to push to make it happen.
What happened where I disappeared literally for 6 months? This.
Remember, I joined a startup as their COO in May, 2017?
What happened is an ICO (Initial Coin Offering). A STORM Token Crowdsale. I can tell you that to do an ICO, is all consuming. I'm officially beat. Tired. No weekends, no evenings. My husband is beat, the single dad thing while wife works nonstop or is constantly traveling is super challenging.
Questions, feedback, anything on this topic welcome.
Coffee & Catch Up.
That's the title of so many messages I've received over the past 6 months, from all kinds of people. People I know very well, people I'm acquainted with, people that haven't connected with me in over a decade, and lots of random folks.
At first, (since I was feeling more like a helpful advising socialite between January and April 2017), it was really nice. I tried to do at least one a day. I felt like that was a good way to stay in touch and/or meet new people.
But then... it got out of hand really fast. Coffee & Catch Up turns out to be code for, "I want something from you."
And now, when I see various folks write those messages that say, "No, I don't check nor respond to LinkedIn messages." --> I get it. I'm now officially, 62,003 messages UNread in my inbox. How's that possible? Did you know people will auto-subscribe people to all kinds of update emails? I'm now asking my VA to manually unsubscribe me from anything that's not an actual email to me.
I sit down for a quick sync with an investor, and then you get question after question about, "what coins should I buy now?", "I think I want to do an ICO, too", "will you advise my friend's startup that wants to do an ICO?", or hey, "I think I deserve to get paid more, in ETH or STORM Tokens please".
Advice? Be upfront and fast. 1) Hi, I want ____ from you, and 2) I can be valuable to you by ____. Interested? Coffee & Catch Up is just way too generic and passive. I still believe people want to help each other, just don't make the person you're asking for help from think too much. Make it easy to give.
I have to remember to ask, always, ... so, "am I the quarterback on this one", too? I definitely feel like the abused if I'm ALWAYS the default quarterback.
Am I the quarterback?
The concept of the "quarterback" was introduced to me when I was in consulting. Clients were paying anywhere from $125 to $525/hour for my time (to my employers, I got like quarters), and they have (or should have) expectations. Client expectations like: 1) "this consultant is always going to add value if they are billing me", and 2) "if I ask this consultant to do something, I can trust that they will NOT drop the ball".
#1 means, a person is ALWAYS adding value. Taking notes for the entire group. Thinking about the edge cases. Thinking about timing. Thinking about execution. SHARING and voicing those observations with others. COMMUNICATING. Coordinating. COLLABORATING. SOMETHING!!!!!!!
#2 means, you're the quarterback. NOT ONLY for the items on your OWN to do list, but for the ENTIRE team, especially your client(s). EVERYONE. You're the one that is CAT-HERDING, following-up, taking notes, scheduling the meetings, checking off action items, making sure the ball does NOT get dropped.
If you're good at consulting (see #1 and #2), that means, you can be good at a LOT of things.
What I find is that the REST of the world (98%) doesn't know or think about:
1) Team-focused group benefit, "we" over "me", "others first" orientation
2) Adding value each and every minute they are awake (or getting paid)
3) Best ways to communicate and keep everyone in sync
4) Best ways to make sure that the ball is moving forward for everyone.
5) Asking the question, "are we all on the same page?"
THESE ARE THE BASICS. What I find when I mentor students in university, is that they have NONE of these basics. They have NO IDEA about how to actually work effectively. You can tell in the first 15 minutes if someone's going to make it or not. Give them feedback and set expectations. It takes 2 meetings to have a point to point pattern, 3 if you really want to be sure. Perhaps, universities should start teaching MORE PRACTICAL LIFE and WORK BASIC ADULT-ING SKILLS!
As an employer or hiring manager, unless you have the patience of a saint (I don't), make sure you have an "onboarding" plan on how to teach and train a new college grad how to work effectively. If I give you a task, ask clarifying questions. Check in with me with status. Don't make me manage you (or we'll BOTH be unhappy). And no one wants to micro-manage, and no one wants to be micro-managed. And shit, if anyone is spending all of their time managing and micro-managing, the company you work for has DEFINITELY got some major issues. If that's your answer, it's NOT A FIT. I think that's why hiring someone that actually does have internship or 1-2 years or work experience makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE in work-productivity and efficiency, ESPECIALLY FOR A STARTUP.
And by default, always asking or implicitly expecting the SAME PERSON to always be the quarterback for EVERYONE in the room, IS NOT COOL. That's PURE LAZINESS.
EVERYONE should know how to quarterback a task, a project, a workstream, a plan, a company. If you don't, I'd highly recommend learning this skill - it will increase your effectiveness infinitely.
Take all of that startup paperwork very seriously.
Personally, I don't enjoy paperwork, let alone, startup paperwork. If I could find a way to find the mental space to just sit and get into flow on a task, a project or something single minded, even it were startup paperwork, today I think I crave that mental feeling.
So for anyone out there that's doing that startup fundraising thing (especially from angel and seed investors), here are a few bullets of things I've learned along the way, having raised funding, now in over 5 different successful rounds.
My real update is that since that trip to San Francisco, CA is that I find that I myself have been woo'ed into a startup company (and it's not GiftStarter). The feeling is surreal. I'm now the COO of a company called CakeCodes Inc. It's a blockchain-related company. We've been getting to know each other since 2015 - more as acquaintances. 2016, I got more involved with answering questions/templates/pitch preparation. 2017, I got even more involved... so now I'm the COO. I'm wearing the mantra of Sheryl Sandberg these days. I think about finding bottlenecks, data, processes, people, scaling and systems.
On GiftStarter, I haven't given up yet. GiftStarter is functional and usable - group gifts can still be done today. We are doing zero marketing or advertising. Zero. It is auto-running right now on autopilot. The market timing, positioning, ... product, all needs some more tweaking.
In the meantime, the opportunity is real. I'm completely in with CakeCodes! I'll write more on what this opportunity really looks like.
This is the aftermath of my 1 hour session with Heather Redman of FlyingFish VC. She's an investor in GiftStarter (my startup I've been quarterbacking since 2014). Usually we meet over coffee or drinks, and I give her my update. She gives me feedback, helps answer questions, and connects me to helpful people. This week, we met and got our nails done. My nails are bright purple (as inspiration to myself to be like a purple unicorn!)!
After three years of wooing, and then continuing to woo our investors (GiftStarter), I've learned that really, when it comes to all meetings, it's completely always about the relationship. Not just, do I like this person, do they like me back? Honestly, do we like each other as people? Do we respect each other?
All I can say, is that I LOVE the investors that invested in me/GiftStarter - investment of dollars, time, and resources. Some really really really (emphasis on really really REALLY really) awesome people. I am so appreciative of the opportunity, the opportunity to go to battle with a very tough set of cards, and the opportunity to have learned all that I have gotten to learn (and continue to learn). To all founders out there, investors are people, too (not just dollars).
A thing I have noticed, after a LOT of experience on this since my early childhood days, is that opportunities show up all the time. I notice the opportunities some of the time. I take the opportunity even less times. And many times, when I do notice the opportunity and decide to take it - it's very often NOT when I was wanting to do that sort of "changing of plans".
I've also noticed that being an entrepreneur, and in the field of startups, a key skill that a founder really needs to have is the ability to listen/observe, and make a decision to act or not act, fast. There's a saying, "time kills all deals". Time can kill opportunities if you take too long to make the decision.
And the third thing I've noticed, at least for myself, is that when I have that mix: 1) an opportunity, 2) that I notice, and that 3) I decide to take it PLUS I feel that familiar pang of discomfort, I know i have to jump all in and fast. Go where I can sharpen my edges like the sword of a world class warrior All hands on deck. I start moving and I figure the rest out as I go. Pangs of discomfort, the anxiety, the sweaty armpits and knots in my abdomen keeping me up at time running through all the possible scenarios - especially the worst case scenarios where I get beaten emotionally, mentally, physically, and ... the fear of failure is real. So real. I feel that worry of what if I am an imposter. What if I actually know NOTHING. What if I'm actually completely incompetent, ineffective, and a total fraud. My worst fears.
I hold them to be possibilities that may be true.
Time does kill all deals and so I take all of my fears, my worries of embarrassment, and my battered bruised beaten self and I get into position to fight again. I may be battered, bruised and beaten - I've also built up some gnarly badass wise scars, and some dense diesel muscles that can fight better than some of the best.
More to come.
This past week was interesting. Last year, my husband and I, after years of playing "secret investor" by ourselves practicing which ones should or shouldn't or rather would or wouldn't raise the funding that they "needed", we finally started really investing real dollars. Small checks. Putting the walk to all our talk to see if we really had some useful insights into investing in startups. We think we do after being in the trenches of GiftStarter (my intra-preneur experiences plus my husband has also led a series of other small retail businesses), so we shall see.
Anyways, one of the founders we invested in needed some help with their pitch, and I helped as best I could (shaking everything I knew about fundraising and good pitch presentations). They needed help with their pitch deck, so I rolled up my sleeves Sunday night and burned the midnight oil "beautifying" the pitch deck in PowerPoint. The founders needed help with their financials, so I created a customized financial plan template that would help them navigate their projections. Then it looked like there would be 3-4 investors in the same room during one of their pitches, ... and given the situation, I figured I could fly in/out the same day to be another pair of eyes/ears in the room - so I agreed to fly to SFO the next day. Anything that I could possibly do to give them a chance, a leg up at success.
When I think about it, having that "lift" available from someone who's well-rounded, another entrepreneur/founder/CEO person who's been through it as guidance for your company, whether it be an advisor, mentor or investor is REALLY HUGE. Most advisors, mentors, investors ---> they try to help sometimes, they will write checks or spend an hour or few here and there.... but most of the time, they really don't have the 1) founder/entrepreneur experience, nor the 2) founder/entrepreneur "brain" on doing continuous critical thinking to actually provide any meaningful value. I guess, we figured, that's the real value we (myself, and my husband) can provide - the real founder/entrepreneur experience to help another founder/entrepreneur save time and energy in this journey.
I learned to play poker almost a decade ago through a Seattle startup connector called Startup Haven that connects founders with education, opportunities and (most importantly) each other. Through this journey that began in 2008, I have learned that there are a lot of similarities between the startup world and the game of poker. I have even found myself making references to poker moves in my role as a founder and CEO.
Through this journey, I have learned that there are a lot of similarities between the world of startups and the game of poker. I often find myself making references to poker game moves a lot. For example, do I fold or raise on the consumer side of our business? Do I double down or raise when it comes to employees? I even know to play aggressively when I see a possible win on the other end.
The photo below is a photo of me winning my very first poker game (out of 50-ish people) in January of this year. Crazy. BTW, if you are a startup founder, I definitely recommend checking out Startup Haven and playing the Poker 2.0 games. Super fun. You don't have to know how to play poker to go.
Last week, we had Phil Gordon in to play with us. Phil Gordon is a professional poker player who has placed multiple times in the World Series of Poker – a big deal. He’s been a commentator on poker games, designed digital poker games, and written several best sellers on poker. But more importantly, Phil is also an entrepreneur.
Before we started playing, Phil took some time to share some insights that would inspire us founders at the table: eight startup lessons we can learn from poker:
If you were to relate your startup journey to a poker tournament, where would you be right now? What does your hand look like? Are you being aggressive or not?
If you’re to take any entrepreneurial lesson from poker, it’s to be real. Don’t talk yourself into playing if you don’t know that you have the best hand. How you get to the end does matter. Don’t sell yourself short by running out of fuel earlier than you want.
I got a photo with Phil. Neither of us won the poker game in February 2017. :)
PS This article was originally posted here.
No assholes allowed.
It's taken me this long to actually get to sitting down and writing down the definition of an asshole. Assholes exist. I, like many people, figured I'd be able to recognize one when I saw one by trusting my gut. It's an intellectually lazy thing to do, to assume. And I have been regrettably intellectually lazy about this. Because, assholes sneak pass my crappy filter and when I catch them, the stench is real. Then, I break off all contact and fully disassociate with that person. It's a crappy experience and process.
Now that I'm in my late 30s, I thought, let's sit down and really think about this. There's got to be a better way. It's even applicable to the world of entrepreneurship and startups. When I applied to accelerators, they told me that assholes were not allowed. When I talk to the professional investors and super angel investors, they tell me that assholes are not allowed.
So I went back and documented all the different ways to tell if someone is an asshole. I also interviewed investors, people, and other thought leaders. I vetted the thinking with some more people. And, by the way, Google defines an asshole as: "an irritating or contemptible person". If any one or more of the 8 below identifiers go off, you're most likely dealing with an asshole.
Here are the 8 asshole identifiers:
If you run into a person or you identify with one or more of the above identifiers, you're probably dealing with an asshole. Awareness is the first part, everything after that is your opportunity to make an intentional choice. Mine will be, walking as far away as possible and never looking back.
P.S. Many thanks to my friend Minda for her contributions of intellectual ping-pong and critical thinking spent talking about this topic. It's with her collaborative brain that I was able to get this article done.