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?
You'd think that a founder of a company called "GiftStarter" would be AWESOME at gifting. I'm not. Especially when it comes to husband. Remember, I really dislike gifting for the sake of gifting. I really dislike "junk" gifts. Good gifts I think take a lot of time or a lot more budget. ... Sigh.
Here are examples from my husband-gifting my track record so far.
He's my best life's decision I've ever made joining forces to live life together. Forever.
My husband, dear darling husband has been asking me to get lasik for YEARS now. Yes, he has been asking me to do it. I've been so scared. SO SCARED. The idea that someone will BURN with a laser some part of my eyeball. The idea of some mysterious flap being cut. The idea of smelling my eyeballs being burned.... ... Yuck....
Then my husband, said no new phone until I get it done. Still didn't get it done for years.... (I had my last phone for 3+ years until it literally DIED/or got stolen actually).
Then my husband said, after being inspired from an episode of the Walking Dead. Hey, if anything happens, how are you going to protect our family and our Lentil if you cannot see? Side note, my eyesight was really bad. In the -8.5 range (yes, that's a negative sign.) Very near-sighted.
So that was it. I did it.
Photo above is the last time I ever wore my goggled, THICK eye-glasses. It's been AMAZING ever-since. The gift of sight. WOW. So thankful.
First open mic comedy night. Yes. My first time taking the open mic at a comedy night. I was sooooooooooooo scared and nervous out of my mind. I decided to share those (funny, to me) stories of how I take fun of those challenging moments as a woman, and an Asian person. I can control my reactions. I can't control what other people say or do. Here it is:
I randomly applied to be one of three startup founders to take up the three open mic slots for that night. I didn't think I'd get it --- but then, Sunday, I found out I did. And the open mic night was that coming Thursday, August 10. ... I think it went okay for a first-timer. :)
I wrote a blog post back in 2011 titled: 24 signs he's not right for you, and it is the single most visited and searched post on my blog. That says something... to me, it says people generally don't have guidance, good counsel, and or a model of what is good for a productive life, and what is not.
So I'm taking a twist on that post and doing it on what are the signs that a co-founder is not right for you. To summarize it, I would say the most important ingredients are around 1) shared vision, 2) shared values, and 3) practical complementary skills to execute. So here's my original curated list of signs that the guy or gal you are with or desperately pining after is not worth your time. Most of them point to NOT being a team player, meaning they put their own self before all else. Startups are a team sport. These are things I've noticed or heard
1. Lacking sense of urgency/accountability/ownership. Regularly having to "cat-herd", chase down or PM your "partner" is not reasonable. Don't be his or her "mom" or "dad". There's no time for baby-sitting - everyone should be pulling their own weight and then some. Having to follow up left and right to make sure items that said that were going to get done, get done. That items that weren't supposed to get done are not being magically put in front of more high priority items. It's exhausting. Often you'll find "experts" with tons of "experience" that come in that only know how to highlight areas that need work or give ideas, but are terrible at actually getting anything done. Be skeptical of all the "experts", look for recent actual experience with actual results, and then go and verify everything they said.
2. Having to hang out with them is a chore. You'd rather do anything else, and you do it only because you "should". If you don't like them as a person, you don't like their significant others, ... I'd see those as warning flags. Sometimes you grin and try and look past it. You can't fake it for long. (Well, there are plenty of examples where the only thing you do like about your cofounder is your friendship and hanging out. The work part sucks.)
3. Getting them to show up is a chore. Just like you don't want to hang out with your co-founder, your co-founder makes every excuse possible and doesn't show up to team meetings and events. This probably is an echo of #1... and #2. Showing up is 50% of the battle. Show up. On time (or early). Be present. It's hard enough as it is - why deal with someone that isn't pulling their weight and on top of it, is pulling the chance of success for the team, down? You're either in, or you're not. Simple.
4. Your "partner" challenges you, a lot - and not for the good of the team. Not just a lot, but on everything - even items they know nothing about. You burn so much time trying to get alignment, you often get nothing done. In fact, this cancerous "co-founder" will cause so much friction within the team that the company will likely just implode sooner or later. There's the opposite possibility too - where the "partner" doesn't challenge you and acts as if they have no accountability or reason to care for the success of the team/company.
5. Seeks the glory, money, or credit. Not a team player. Not, no matter how you want to look at it. I've had partners from many years ago (that are no longer partners) put their personal fame or put more value on money above all else. It doesn't work. Whether you have 2 or 5 people on the team, it's a SMALL team. Everyone is IN and everyone is working on the shared goal. It's a shared effort which means shared kudos. Each person does what they can for the team. The co-founders should do a whole lot more, together. ... or maybe everything about how the "cofounder" speaks, acts, writes... is begins with "I". For some reason, that's always a hint that they put "I" ahead of the "we".
6. Calls you "boss" or "bossy" - or the opposite, sees you as merely the "code monkey" or the business admin/office admin. A co-founder is a partnership. Yes, one will often have more voting rights than the other. It's still a partnership where you should be working together for the same team for a shared goal. Both business and technical need to be in partnership.
7. He/She daily talks about all of the other startups and companies out there - and how your startup together is not good enough. We call that nonproductive whining. Do something about it, focus on making your own startup/team better one step at a time. Too much brain power and time spent on looking at others means less time spent on execution.
8. He/She tries to set up meetings with investors and partners behind your back, often does not include you, even when as a team, everyone has agreed to focus on someone or something else. This is usually from a lack of vision and values alignment - you aren't playing for the same team. I have seen this from other startups as well - where one founder really wants to drive the investor conversations (but is not the CEO). There's multiple messages being sent out "there". The discombobulation has led to the company's implosion every single time I've seen this scenario. You can't be divided in a startup - you have to be all hands on deck on the team's shared success.
9. He/She still has their old job title, their old company, their old everything as their personal branding is more important that their relationship as a co-founder in the startup. It's just disrespectful - and shows they are not a team player. You and your "co-founder" are playing for different teams. I've seen people try and join our startup who never change their resume/job information while working with us or even after. I've had business partners that completely erase any past failures we've had together from their records (which personally, I think is weird). Actually, I've seen employees/colleagues do that in the past too - completely erase a job from their history after being part of the team for 1 or more years. Make mental note - people that curate for appearances are not good for the team (let alone, a startup). You're either IN, or you're not. And there's nothing in between.
10. His/Her family and friends are a weight on your cofounder. Literally, nothing - their family may know absolutely nothing about this startup. Unless you're in super secret squirrel stealth mode, that's a sign that you should walk away and separate, fast. Startups are hard enough - we don't have time for betrayals and hiding unnecessarily from people in our lives. Community, family and friend support is hugely helpful if anything. I couldn't imagine doing a startup again without everyone's support. The other side of this, is the cofounder may have a spouse/family that still just doesn't get what this cofounder/startup business means. ... or maybe the cofounder just hasn't figured out how to manage their personal life and it's affecting their work in a bad way. Whatever it is, have them figure it out fast - or move on.
Are there any others you'd like to add?
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.
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).
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.