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.
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.
This evening, I was on a panel titled, "The Growing Gender and Race Gap in Seattle's Startup Scene". I got to share the panel with some amazing people. Then as I was on my ride home, it dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, the challenge with the whole not enough "minorities" getting funding (across the board from arts, nonprofits to startups), is that this game we are in is actually like dating.
Seriously, humor me for a minute.
Fundraising is like dating. There's usually two players in dating - one doing the pursuing, one doing the being pursued. Sometimes you go back and forth in playing a role.
MAYBE women (for example) are struggling to get funded because we (most of us) are not used to doing the wooing, like men are. Maybe women have less practice and socialization with this. Maybe? Some of us are able to understand how to woo and attract very quickly. Some struggle. I personally love it.
Simple dating tips applied to fundraising:
Maybe it's a stretch, the dating analogy. Let me know what you think.
Row, row, row your boat
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream
[Full lyrics here]
(I am late to publish my #postaweek2017 for last week.)
In general, when it comes to life, the best way to live, is to not expend more energy than needed to accomplish a goal. Rowing a boat against the current, or upstream is WAY HARDER, than just sitting in the boat and letting the river take you.
This "Row, row, row your boat" thinking can be applied to:
Lately. I have been applying the "Row, row, row your boat" principles to the topics that are coming up a lot lately in the ecosystems I am part of. The topics of "Women in ___" (be it in the workplace, in tech, in startups, in leadership, in the C-Suite, etc...", and "Diversity" (be in race, gender, etc...). My current belief is that we're missing a purposeful coordinated focus on identifying and influencing MIT in what'll really move the needle in a meaningful way. That's why the whole topic of gender, of women in ___, of social equity and many similar topics have been so slow to change.
Happy international women's day 2017
Happy international women's day 2017. Maybe happy isn't the right word. I'm observing this day. I don't know if we should quite be celebrating. The state of humanity is teetering on the edge of being truly broken. I don't know about wearing red, marching, resisting, or any of that. What I do know is the following actions we can do each and every day to honor women, respect women, and be respected as women.
18 Ways to celebrate women and each other on International Women's Day 2017:
and a pen. Take notes.
Having worked for over a decade in management consulting, and now having been running this startup marathon for over three years, I always am bewildered by people that show up to meetings completely empty-handed. Bring a notebook. Always. Perhaps the training I received in consulting was just that good. Perhaps it's training that everyone should follow.
An "Employer" perspective: I once worked with this bright engineer who would nod vigorously in meetings, actively and delightfully participate in product meetings, and then a few hours after the meeting, have no recollection of what the meeting was about. We suggested she bring a notebook and take notes during the meeting to help - she never did. We soon parted ways.
Here's an "Employee" perspective: One of my first memories working at a "Big 4" management consulting firm was sitting in a very large intimidating conference room with the CFO and my firm's Partner level "big wigs". I was an Associate sitting in the back with the other Associates all furiously writing notes. At one point during the meeting, the client pointed to one of our Partners and then to one of the Associates that had stopped typing. A few moments later, he (that Associate) was escorted out of the room because he was not "adding any value" just sitting there. I learned at that moment, never let your guard down in meetings and always strive to add value.
Simply put: Bring a notebook, and take notes = you will auto-magically become WAY more effective.
Always take notes in these 3 situations:
If you're not used to carrying around a pen/paper always, other ways of accomplishing the same effect are: 1) add calendar items toward the end of the day and take notes in there, 2) send yourself emails with the notes, 3) voice record the meeting (not recommended for many reasons.) If I'm at a party for instance, and a situation comes up where I need a quick note, I will send myself emails when I'm not with my notebook.
My favorite method now is to carry a large black artist's sketchbook filled with large sheets of blank paper. I write notes, I draw arrows and connect meetings and thoughts. I emphasize some notes with extra underlines, circles and asterisks. Always bring a notebook.
I picked a really hard one to go after. Really hard. Every investor or advisor or whomever I meet with has told me so. I believe them. I'm 10 years in on this journey and we're still going. This is our story.
This is my first time telling this story - actually put it together from scratch the day before. And it was so refreshing to share it.
Thank you. Feedback welcome.
In 2017, I am OFFICIALLY committing to do 1 blog post a week. #postaWeek2017
LET IT BE KNOWN.
Here we go. Post #1. ... I need to queue up some blog post ideas.... 2017 really crept up on me. I don't know where 2016 went. All I know is that I have created the most precious being of my life with the most awesome husband of all, the Lentil. Lentil is now almost a year old. A little over 30 inches tall, a little over 25 pounds, says a handful of words already, stands proud, has been taking his very first few steps and is already working on walking. Well, since I'm letting everyone know about this #postaWeek2017 challenge, I might as well share some other "resolution" thoughts I've been working on this week.
Not in any prioritized order, here are five "resolution" top-of-mind thoughts:
That's all I got writing today. :) Thanks for reading.
I wrote this during my third trimester with Lentil, and went back to this draft after we finished our "fourth trimester". Now we're close to our baby being 9 months old. What results is that it's a mix of my brain at that time, and some of my brain looking back at that time in hindsight.
Having a baby is a big deal. Having a baby while running a startup is an even bigger deal. When going through pregnancy, I learned some lessons that were applicable to both my journey as a new mother and as a startup founder. Here are a few:
3rd Trimester as it relates to Startup Lessons
1. It's a LOT messier that it looks. As cute as pregnant women look with their baby bumps, it doesn’t feel “that cute.” I stopped sleeping that last month before my child was born, so much so that I started hallucinating. The media portrays an idealistic, romantic image of running a startup company, with all the freedoms and joys being your own boss, when in fact, there’s a lot more grind involved. In the course of a single day, a competitor can suddenly copy your product, and you can land a big investor.
2. There are a lot of ups and down. When I was expecting, the hormones were flying through my body in epic proportions. I remember on our 500 Startups demo day, I ended up crying the whole ride there, smiling for hours once we arrived, then breaking down and crying in the bathroom, only to go back and smile some more. In the startup world, I wake up in the morning full of optimism, and then by 3 p.m., I can come crashing down, filled with doubt. By 7 p.m., I often have to pull together all the energy I have to pitch my company to strangers.
3. Organic versus interventions - nothing is free. There’s no going back. I learned that once doctors intervene with labor and the birth of the baby, there’s no going back. In the startup world, you need to have product-market-fit and a kickass product. I know many founders who practice all kinds of growth hacking to get their numbers to look just right, but many of growth hacks are just not sustainable.
4. Life is precious. It really is. There’s an unexpected feeling. Creating life with my husband has been magical. The child grows right before your eyes. As a founder, you create something out of nothing. Your existence is only thanks to the customers willing to pay for your product or service (and also to the employees, advisors and investors who work alongside you to make it happen). As a gift-giving service, we make handmade cards to go with every product we sell. I’m personally committed to ensuring each gift receives the best attention we can give, and I work side-by-side with those involved in our business every day.
5. You're the underdog. After having gone through miscarriages, making it to the third trimester made us feel like the underdog. Everything was about not messing it up. Data on the number of women CEOs is limited. Less than 5 percent of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. As a pregnant CEO, I was a minority among minorities. This impacted us, especially when fundraising. It meant we had to make hard decisions as a business to survive. I took out personal loans to cover us for a while. Ultimately, we had to reset and could no longer pay employee salaries.
6. Health and balance become even more paramount. The third trimester is all about health. You work like crazy during the day and prioritize sleep at night. The life of a CEO is about fast decision-making and being able to connect dots and make logical leaps. Even without pregnancy, startups are a marathon of endurance and diligence.
7. Choosing your battles wisely becomes even more important. Everything, from my hands to my feet, was swollen when I was pregnant. I had to be extremely practical, often wearing my husband’s clothing. When it came to my business, I had to prioritize according to the battles I could win and the battles that needed winning. I had to decide whether to change product direction or not. I had to cut spending by 50 percent or increase our fundraising efforts.
8. You're not that special... but you are. You develop a community of like-minded individuals. A woman’s pregnancy journey is very similar to that of other women. I joined various mommy groups because anytime I had a question, there was another person who had experience with it. Startups are born, grow to the next level, and mature in a pattern. Each startup company also has its own special experiences, market and product mix.
9. Critical thinking and understanding are essential. As the due date quickly approaches, everyone around you can start to get anxious. Everyone’s excited for the baby to be born! That anxiety also happens the longer you exist as a startup. It’s really important to keep your critical thinking skills sharp to be able to see what’s real (and what’s not).
10. Let it go. Let it go. And prioritize/focus. It’s about taking care of what needs to get done. Pregnancy is about taking care of yourself so you can have a healthy baby. In startups, it’s also just as much about what you do as much as what you choose not to do. For example, today I could have worked on our email marketing strategy more or I could have finished a landing page. It’s all about prioritizing and making decisions quickly.
Some themes that have repeatedly come up over the past week again and again:
Originally posted and seen in the Huffington Post.