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.
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.
Motherhood is hard. There's so many changes that I've gone through to list, and while not everyone has the same experiences, here are mine (not in any particular order of importance).
Motherhood is hard:
Often, I'll share and say something like, "wow, motherhood is hard". You learn a lot about who people are with the responses. Now having been in this for over a year, I've noticed a most definite pattern. I will always get one of two responses to that question. They go something like this:
Supportive fellow human being:
A) Yes. My gosh I can (or cannot) imagine. With the follow up of, let's go grab some coffee or I'd love to share more with you on this journey. I want to show you that you are not alone and I am here to feel shoulder-to-shoulder in life with you. I want you to know that it'll be okay.
Judging oppressive human being:
B) Of course it is. And, isn't motherhood the most rewarding thing you've ever done? Isn't it completely and totally worth it? There's only one right answer here and you better say it. Motherhood is amazing and that's the only thing any mother should ever say. Ever. Because it is completely worth it.
We get to be the guardian of a brand new fresh pure amazing human life, to guide him (or her) to grow up to be a kind, generous, strong, empathetic, respectful and respected adult. It is hard work. Both ideas can exist.
Quality. It's about the thoughtful thinking that went out before anyone did any execution. It's not just about sexy branding, pretty pictures or cool technology.
There may be something off about my approach. I'm open to that feedback. Former bosses have told me that I am very critical and hard to please, and that I am too demanding of people. While I've worked very hard to be more flexible, and accommodating of people over the years...
However, I still believe to get the real essence of understanding the quality of work being completed - there has to be some level of unprompted test-driving that needs to be done to assess the quality of the work being produced. My current process: 1) Generally, I enjoy discussing and sharing to create the desired outcome/goal of what we are about to do (pick a random side project, small short term goal, whatever). We agree on something. Then 2) on top of any action items I take away, I always stress that I am available to do whatever else is needed to help, support, work, give feedback. Literally. Whatever it takes to reach that goal. I will do.
Very few people take me up on that offer. Very few.
It's a weird "weed-out" move that showcases the ones that will thrive and succeed (in whatever they decide to pursue), and those that will not.
Those that thrive:
1) Reach out - proactively with status updates, quick check-ins to triangulate and see if we're still aligned with what the outcome/goal/vision was. They ask to meet up and trade notes on progress. They ask for me to do some of the work. They ask for feedback.
2) Build a top-down plan on how they are going to accomplish the goal. Sort of a process map or framework.
3) Get to it. Literally, they start brainstorming ideas filling in the steps needed to accomplish the goal. It starts to work, or it doesn't. What's important is that we know one way or the other, with real data.
Most people don't do anything at all. Nothing. I never hear from them. Silence. Weird, to me.
Others, they just start doing without any sort of planning. No strategy at all. Maybe they'll ping me to get me to do some part of what I had previously agreed to do. ... And then, they do. We might sync up randomly, only to find, they have been just mindlessly executing towards the end goal, not thinking at all about the process to get to that end goal. Also, weird, to me.
No matter what project, goal, program, initiative, job --- take the time to look under the hood and figure out if there is a high level plan, strategy, outline, hypothesis, ... anything. It'll literally show you if what they say they are doing, is really what they are doing. In most cases, they are not doing, or they are what I call, "spinning". Quality is not just about the outcome.
Quality involves the thoughtful journey and process. (This includes having a: Framework. Diligence. Records.)
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.