Making decisions whilst drowning in ambiguity and chaos.
Yes - that describes what it's like to be a founder and CEO of a startup. That also describes what it's like to do a tokensale, an ICO, or anything in this new complex-business model blockchain "stuff".
Making decisions whilst drowning in ambiguity and chaos holding a newborn baby in one hand and the Empire State Building in the other hand while balancing on a tight rope standing completely buck naked in front of the mob in a crowded stadium.
That's more like what life has been like the past 12 months and continues to be like for me personally. It's surreal. Time is moving both so slowly and at "warp" speeds at the same time. Most of the time when I'm in a meeting, I am constantly having this "out-of-body" experience that allows me to walk around in the room mentally, while at the same time sitting in the chair and experiencing the meeting firsthand. Surreal. Sometimes my ghost body gets "stuck" in the physical body, where I'm trapped, blind, and suffocating.
There are also many times when it's just really tough. Working with white spaces and green companies, we don't usually have a playbook of best practices to look to. We don't have a board (of advisors or investors) to turn to on speed dial that can provide wisdom and a sounding board. And when a company is growing so fast moving through the stages of its evolution in weeks and months, rather than years - without realizing it, many of the things that a company does actually is setting precedent for its future. Forever.
In moments of really tough decisions, I play the scenario in my head over and over and over. It's me on professional judgment day. I'm standing before a jury of my professional heroes and heroines like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Meg Whitman, Peter Thiel, Ben Horowitz, Steven Sinofsky, Mary Barra, Sarah Imbach, Jeffrey Friedberg, and many more. It's really important to me that I can look at myself in the mirror, and also picture myself standing before the jury of heroes and heroines. I look for "defensible", logical, and figuring out what is the real intent of the decision that makes sense - and then look to what kind of precedent that it will set for the forever future for our employees, our culture, our advisors, our communities, ... and most importantly, our society. Humanity.
And so, that is the state of where I am today - mentally standing before the professional jury.
And fighting daily to find "space". Got tips?
Group gifting trivia from the world of GiftStarter:
My heart hurts. A lot. To say goodbye.
I pushed and pulled and fought as hard as I could to create something out of nothing. I met some very talented and inspiring people along the way. Thousands to people were part of this journey, and I could not have gotten anywhere as far as we did without everyone.
In the end, the 10 big lessons for 2014-2018 are...
Knowing when to walk away.
Spring to Summer of 2016 was really hard. I thought I could be superwoman, having just given birth to my Lentil - that with the help of my awesome team, we could pull through this together. Deep post partum depression. I spent the summer of 2016 in a deep depression. Deep despair. My husband often had to peel my salty existence off the floor and into bed. I did not feel like I even deserved to be alive. I often thought the world, my husband, Lentil, everyone would be better off without me. A waste of space. Unworthy of the air I took in. I looked at the sweet innocent face of Lentil and would end up crying because I felt I did not deserve to be his mother.
My advisors and investors starting sitting down to give me the "talk" in 2016. They told me it was okay - to close it down and give them the write-off. They told me to get going on the next startup because that one was the one they wanted in on. I tried for one last hurrah in the fall of 2016, with my "AJ" by my side (thanks to my investors, especially Rudy, for giving me that one last swing at the ball). Fall of 2016 was not the season of generosity and giving. Power was changing hands - and the air was filled with emotions between the Clinton versus the Trump camps.
January - March 2017 I spent most of it on the verge of tears or crying my face off or finding a place to belong. I'd be fine, and then while brushing my teeth with my husband in the bathroom, I'd tear up. Standing in the kitchen I'd tear up. I tried to get "out there" and involved in the community to pick up my spirits. I tried to do this "Red Scarf" thing which was all about giving it forward to another woman entrepreneur. I spent a bit of time doing office hours. I put together events. I volunteered to help the Riveter launch. I did consulting on the side. I advised any startup that came our way. I really wanted to help this tiny little startup company called CakeCodes (which later became Storm and one I am part of today).
And here we are. May 2018. I should really have called it quits back in the Winter of 2015/Spring of 2016. I definitely should have in the Summer of 2016. I absolutely should have sometime in 2017. It is now officially May. We are in the first week of May 2018 and I am finally officially and publicly - calling it done.
Hope this post helps someone out there. If you ever want to talk, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. It is so lonely being an entrepreneur, a founder, in startups, being a founder CEO, raising funds, doing the grind, having employees, figuring out how to be a mom as a founder, all of it. The emotional depression and the depth of despair that one experiences is so great, I wonder how many of us are suffering silently.
Hugs to you out there trying to change the world.
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.
This is a repost of an article that was published in Tech.co.
Pitch competitions are about having fun, knowing your hook, and building meaningful relationships.
Recently, I met up with Cassie Wallender, co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Invio Inc., a company on a mission to target and eliminate clinical trial inefficiencies that slow or block new medical innovations by lowering the cost of clinical trial data while increasing the quality.
I met Cassie through the Red Scarf Project (#theRedScarfProject), a movement about women paying it forward to support other female entrepreneurs. When we met up, we traded notes on what it took for her team to win Seattle Angel Conference (SAC), a recurring Seattle angel-driven event where the investors create an LLC, engage in due diligence of the applying startup companies, and ultimately pool funds to invest in one of the presenting finalists.
Here are some tips to help you win your next pitch competition:
Focus on Fun and Growing on a Journey, Together
Angel conferences are one a great place to learn from both the perspectives of a new founder and a new investor. The process takes you through a journey of discovery and constructive feedback. You go through multiple rounds of pitches until the final six companies stand and make their pitch before all the members of the SAC.
Tip: Always bring at least one other person to all meetings and pitches to focus on taking notes, eavesdropping on the crowd, and talking to investors about what’s working (and what’s not). Regularly triangulate with your team member to figure out how to adjust in real time during the event.
Have and Know Your Hook
The teams that don’t advance often are trying to do too much. They come off as unfocused and undifferentiated. Pitching is sort of like dating — you have to be interesting enough to warrant a “next date.”
Tip: The basics of communication and presentations are important. For example, know your market size and details of the approach used to get that number. Use 30-point font with a high contrast background on all of your slides. Demonstrate through each and every action that the team is coachable and of high integrity. Trust is an important part of any sale.
The focus and goal of your pitch shouldn’t be several steps ahead to win the entire competition. The focus and goal of each pitch should be to get to the next meeting.
It’s All About Human-to-Human Relationships
The journey of winning a pitch is actually much more about the authentic relationships being built through every action (or inaction), than just winning at the end of the day. That way, no matter what the outcome of the pitch is, the experience, the learning and the relationships built will help you and the team grow. Show up early, stay late. Work the room as a team. Touch hearts and demonstrate that you are a trustworthy group of good people.
Cassie mentioned that they had also met with folks outside of the SAC meetings. This was a critical strategy they had to build trust with the people of SAC, giving them one-on-one time to ask questions. They also figured out who the fund manager was that way.
Tip: Don’t talk to the other companies or teams pitching/presenting. (This isn’t to be mean or taken personally. There’s limited time to get and demonstrate value.) Focus on building the relationships with the people who can impact your business (in this case, it’s the angel investors.) Be present. The keyword is focus. Focus on speaking with the cynical angel investors and really understanding why they disagree. The cynical ones are the ones who will likely be vocal later when you’re not in the room.
Be a Team
Have at least one other founder in the room as often as possible. This will double the impact that you have in the room and can talk to more people about your company
Tip: Brag about your team members. Brag about the team members who are not present. Talk each other up. People respond to anyone talking another person up. People don’t respond to bragging.
Know Your Numbers
Come prepared with detailed numbers, especially market size. I’ve learned it is important to be able to quantify the problem size.
Tip: Be able to speak to the methodology used to arrive at assumptions and hypothesis. Make sure all of the numbers and your story line up. Make sure you’ve done the research and have traction to show that your assumptions and hypothesis are sound. Find a good lawyer who will be able to partner with you in navigating funding.
Designate the most organized one of the team to keep everyone on track in terms of the legal documents, the process and presentation documentation.
At the end of the day, doing any kind of pitch or presentation is similar to being good at B2B sales. While the word “sales” may turn off many folks. To me, it is really important to remember that behind any business are real people. People buy from people. Focusing attention on building human trust and consistently demonstrating that is a solid way to ensure success for yourself and your company.
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.
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.