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 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.
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.
... I wrote this post... twice... and it for some reason has had trouble saving. [So to be honest, I'm writing again a third time, but now am just going to upload whatever comes to mind instead of trying to rewrite the post.] Sometimes, the world is telling you that is was not meant to be.
Along those lines, what is meant to be anyways? Sometimes, despite ourselves, things have a magical way of finding their path into existence. You mess up, you try and will it away, it doesn't seem like it would be, but it is.
Now about 6 weeks into the 500 Startups program, it's been an emotional roller coaster. What startup journey isn't? Now about a year after we incorporated, we're taking the time to reframe and rebuild pieces of the business in terms of culture, processes, all the fundamentals that'll help us move faster in the long run. We've had to make some really tough decisions. I mostly feel like my body isn't my own and I'm the "ass" on behalf of the company. The deliverer of tough news and feedback. The one to punch the wall down with my bare fists sometimes so we can go through. Having so many of those uncomfortable conversations a normal human would go shrinking into the corner at... here we are, taking them on, head on. Each week, we're getting better and stronger. This week, I think we actually broke through the darkness and I see the glimmer of light ahead.
Into the light we go. Appreciate that you are cheering us on.
PS, try out GiftStarter. Feedback always welcome. Use the promocode "GiftMe!" to try the GIft Concierge service for free.
On July 6th, we received an offer to join 500 Startups in San Francisco.
Jumping high for joy our @GiftStarter team was SUPER thrilled. It was only the week before, June 30th, 2015, that Christie and I were in San Francisco interviewing with 500 Startups. We wanted this so badly - we truly believe that 500 will help us take GiftStarter to the next level and accelerate.
On July 14th, Christie and I were in San Francisco for our first day of 500. Marvin is the head 500 guy running the batch (Batch 14). Funniest line from him was something to the effect of, "this is like a Chinese buffet. I can say that because I am Chinese. We are not here to serve you. We are available for you. It is up to you to take what you need and want." I LOVE THAT LINE. LOVE the candor. I think LIFE is like a Chinese buffet too - it's up to YOU to figure out what you need and want. It is up to YOU to make it happen. NO CODDLING!!! NO WHINING!
(Side note, 35 out of 800 companies were chosen for this batch. Of the 35 companies chosen, only 2 have women CEOs. It's a sea of tall Caucasian men. I was looking for the Asians of course, only a handful as well. Lots of opportunities ahead.)
We had our first pitch night on Thursday, July 16, 2015 last week. Man... was very nervous. It was great to have the full support of Christie in the audience. Dave McClure standing right by you ready to pounce on the mike, throw random questions and comments your way, ... Fortunately (or unfortunately) all he said about our 60 second pitch was that it was just slightly too long. Mr. McClure is definitely a funny man. LOVE the straight up no BS complete candor of this environment.
Lots of changes will be coming. Our newest hire, Joel just joined the team. We are so excited to have him onboard - high hopes and charging on forward.