Mary Elisabeth

on Fridays I burn my fears…

“What do you do?”

When we meet someone new usually one of the first questions we are asked is “what do you do?”  It’s such an odd question because it’s asking something so broad, typically expecting a narrowly defined answer, detailing our profession.

Whenever I am asked that question I carefully think about how I want to respond or I just say whatever is on my mind.  Because I do a lot of things.  We all do.  And more of what we do is outside of our professional lives (for some of us who don’t make their work their lives).  For me, my work and life interlace, so the distinction isn’t as clear.  Here are some of the ways I like to answer that question:

  • “I make gelato”
  • “I practice yoga”
  • “I write comedy”
  • “I sleep”
  • “I cook”
  • “I run”

If someone is really pressing for a more professional answer, usually I say something like “I create solutions to solve problems (or I’m an entrepreneur)”

Recently someone asked me to describe what I do for work and I used the above description.  She continued to dig deeper into my work, asking:

  • What about it is really satisfying? Making an impact in peoples’ lives (whether an employee, customer, partner, etc)
  • What about it drives you crazy?  It can be a very lonely road & there are lots of ups & downs, highs & lows. And the lows can be very low. 
  • What are your goals?  To leave the world a little bit better place
  • What is driving you?  Honestly, probably achieving. I’m highly competitive.  And making an impact. Doing something that positive impacts people.
  • What is holding you back?  Myself. I’m my own biggest hurdle. Self-doubt. 
  • Do you regret any significant decisions you’ve made about your career? If you had it to do over again, would you do it differently?  No regrets. Lots of lessons though. I live by the philosophy “no mistakes, only gifts & opportunities” 

There you have it. That’s what I do and how I feel about it.

Venture on,

<3 mel

Life Without Expectations

Expectations are the source of disappointment. 

This one-line piece of advice is one of the pieces of wisdom in my forthcoming book, Straight from the Investor’s Mouth, and rings true beyond just for entrepreneurs.

Recently I met someone who reiterated the impact of expectations and further encouraged me to not have expectations.  He inspired me to think further about a life without expectations.  When we have expectations we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.  A recent blog post mentioned that my generation is unhappy because our happiness is a factor of our reality minus expectations, and when expectations are high and reality doesn’t match up, our happiness is low.

Think about it…

If you are training for a half marathon and you expect your time to be 2 hours and then you end up coming to the finish line at 2 and a half hours, your expectations are not met.  That creates disappointment.

Or maybe you just shared your company with an investor and expect the investor to invest in your company.  Then, you get the popular “we’re not interested at this time” and do not raise capital from that investor.  Would your reaction to that response be different had you no expectations?

Say you meet an amazing guy (or gal) that you totally hit it off with and you develop expectations that he/she will ask you on a date.  And then they don’t.  Lame.  You’re disappointed (or if you’re like me you just ask the guy out instead ;-).  Take the reverse:  you have no expectations.  Then, when something great happens and you get asked on that date, you are pleasantly surprised and it’s much more satisfying.

Expectations take time.  They take emotional energy.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t have goals or expectations.  Goals are good and expectations have their benefits.  A goal to run a half marathon in 2 hours provides a north star for training and discipline to reach that goal.  Expectations can inspire us to work hard to make those expectations more closely aligned with reality.  By definition a “goal” is “the result or achievement toward which effort is directed” and “expectation” is “the act or state of looking forward or anticipating.”  We can have goals without expectations and have expectations without goals.  The former will motivate us.  The latter will disappoint us.  By putting effort into achieving goals we are working toward a specific outcome.  With expectations, we are hoping for a specific outcome.  Hope is not typically a successful strategy.

A goal to complete a half marathon in less than 2 hours is different than expecting to finish a half marathon in less than 2 hours.  With the goal, we can now work backwards to take the necessary steps to working towards achieving that goal.  If we train and prepare to achieve that goal, we are more likely to run the half marathon in less than 2 hours.

Personally, I struggle to not have expectations.  It’s hard.  I’m usually thinking 2 or 3 steps ahead.  Going through scenarios in my head, planning for how I’ll react in various situations.  Creating expectations and figuring out how I’ll respond when those expectations are (or aren’t met).  I’m making a conscious effort to reduce my expectations.  I’m curious to see how it impacts my happiness, relationships, work, and life in general.

Do you have expectations?  For what?  Do you need them?  What would your life be like without expectations?

Venture on,

mel, the venture gal

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Built to Last?

Should companies be built to last or built to capitalize on market opportunities at the time?

This question came up at a dinner I organized over a month ago after discussing the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (Harper Business Essentials) by Jim Collins.  The debate around the topic was healthy and active and supporters of both sides made good points.  Since that evening I have been reflecting more about this and asking more people about their responses.

What I have found is that everyone is different.  Some entrepreneurs are motivated to built companies to last and others are interested in tapping into market trends or needs that may be temporary.

Personally, I fall in the former camp.  I like to build companies to last.  Built to sustain.  To last longer than me.  I was reminded of this recently when I recently visited my gelateria in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  To walk into a physical place I helped create and think “I built this…and it still exists.”  It’s a special feeling.

At a dinner I organized with several investors I presented this question as well.  The common thought was that all companies should be built to last, but not all of them will.  But companies that are not built to last will definitely not last.  If you look at some of the largest, most successful companies throughout history, they were built to last longer than a few months so to be acquired and be done.

What about impact to last?  If a company isn’t built to last, but rather built to serve a market need during a certain timeframe, the impact may outlive the company.  Pop stars are an example of this.  Take Katy Perry, who I recently wrote a blog post about (no judgement).  Katy Perry won’t always be a pop star.  She is capitalizing on an opportunity in the market now.  Same with Michael Jackson.  He wasn’t always a pop star.  But both MJ and Katy Perry impacted their industries and the lives of many of their fans.  Tying this back to companies – if Apple were to die tomorrow its impact would live on.  It’s products have touched the lives of many.  The company was built to create an impact to last, even if the company itself doesn’t last.

My conclusion:  Companies are best built to sustain.  They may not last, but if the intent is to build a company to last and the vision is long-term sustainability the chances of lasting are far greater than if you build a company for a momentary market need.  Companies’ impact can outlive their life as a company.

Build to sustain.
Impact to last.

Venture on,

mel, the Venture Gal

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6 Lessons from Katy Perry

Katy Perry at the Life Ball 2009, Rathaus, Vienna.

Katy Perry at the Life Ball 2009, Rathaus, Vienna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not ashamed to admit that I watched the Katy Perry documentary, Katy Perry The Movie: Part of Me.
It was highly rated and available on Amazon Prime.  I’m glad I watched it.  I’m incredibly inspired by learning more about other peoples’ journeys and Katy has a fascinating story.  For those of you who haven’t seen the documentary (what are you waiting for?) I won’t spoil it too much, but share with you a key takeaway and lessons learned from Katy’s journey.

First, let’s be clear…Katy Perry was not an overnight success.  She worked for years, experiencing many challenges along the way.  She persisted and was driven to accomplish her goals (which took more than one night to achieve!)

Some of the reasons Katy succeeded and lessons we can learn from her story include:

Be yourself.  Katy’s father was a minister and Katy grew up with conservative rules and wasn’t even allowed to listen to non-Christian rock music.  Needless to say when her first top single, “I Kissed a Girl,” became a nationwide session, her parents weren’t jumping up and down with excitement.  Katy never compromised herself to be something she wasn’t.  She listened to her heart and carved her own path.

Persevere.  Fight through the hard times.  As I highlighted earlier, Katy was not an overnight success.  There was a time when Katy was completely broke and even asked her brother for money.  She was dropped from labels, divorced, and hit some major lows in her life.  Did she give up during these challenges?  No.  It was hard I’m sure.  But that didn’t stop her.

Be disciplined.  Especially when facing challenges it’s incredibly important to stay disciplined.  After Katy and Russell Brand divorced, Katy was crying before her show and then pulled it together to get onstage…that’s discipline.  Focus.  Commitment.  Not many people can pull off that kind of transformation and focus during such a difficult time.

Love what you do.  As the saying goes, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”  That rings true.  When you love what you do it doesn’t feel like work.  Katy clearly loves what she does.  It’s a lot of work…time, energy, commitment, bruises.  All not worth it if it’s not truly what you love.

Be positive.  Smile through the storm because a positive attitude can get you through the darkest of times.  Life is more about how we respond than what actually happens to us.  Our attitude shapes our perceptions and energy and how we progress (or do not progress).

Impact comes in many shapes and sizes.  There are many ways to make a positive impact in people’s lives. Katy has impacted many people.  Whether or not her career is a multi-decade endeavor, she will have at least impacted the lives of many during the time she did.  Kudos Katy!  Similarly, we can make an impact in many different ways.  Think broadly about your legacy and the impact you will make in the lives of others because impact comes in many shapes and sizes.

Venture on,

mel, the Venture Gal

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Born to Run

Recently I finished the book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall.  The book came highly recommended by several friends and fitness influencers (most of the people I know who wear Vibram Five Finger shoes read the book previously), so it had been on my list for quite awhile.

I did not run to the store (or dash to my browser for online shopping) to purchase a pair of the Vibram shoes (mostly because I promised myself I wouldn’t buy a pair unless I could get them on my feet, which I still haven’t managed to do), but I did enjoy the book.  I guess I must have mentioned it at least once or twice, since my mom registered us for the Santa Fe half marathon in 2014, which guest stars the book’s author.

Though the book didn’t inspire a Vibram purchase, it may (or may not) have something to do with the PR on my half marathon time.  Who knows!

My mom and me after we both got our PR at the Healdsburg Half Marathon.

My mom and me after we both got our PR at the Healdsburg Half Marathon.

I did pull away some memorable quotes, inspiration, and other interesting tidbits from the book, which I’d like to share with you here.  Enjoy!

Venture (and run) on!

mel, the Venture Gal

 

“Running unites our two most primal impulses: fear and pleasure.  We run when we’re scared, we run when we’re ecstatic, we run away from our problems and run around for a good time. And when things look worst, we run the most” (11)

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.  It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed.  Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up.  It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” (13)

“We say the rarajipari is the game of life.  You never know how hard it will be.  You never know when it will end.  You can’t control it.  You can only adjust.” (41)

Iskiata aka chia fresca/”chilly chia”.  “Tablespoon of chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach, and human growth hormone”.  “they’re superpacked with omega-3s, omega-6s, protein, calcium, iron, zinc, fiber, and antioxidants”.  “Chia was once so treasured, the Aztecs used to deliver it to their king in homage.  Aztec runners used to chomp chia seeds as they went into battle, and the Hopis fueld themselves on chia during their epic runs from Arizona to the Pacific Ocean” (44)

“You don’t have to be fast.  But you’d better be fearless.” (61)

“Nobody cares if you’re a great three-point shooter in your backyard; what matters is whether you stick them on game day” (63)

“My friends would tell me I’m not addicted to crack, I’m addicted to endorphins” (69)

“As a sport, most track coaches ranked ultras somewhere between competitive eating and recreational S&M.” (77)

“Nobody gives up the pursuit position if they don’t have to.  Not unless you’re foolish, or reckless” (84)

Who’s more committed to winner: the predator or the prey?  “The lion can lose and come back another day, but the antelope gets only one mistake.

“To move into the lead means making an act requiring fierceness and confidence.  But fear must play some part….no relaxation is possible, and all discretion is thrown to the wind”

“Even the brightest smile can hide a lie” (85)

“You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together.  You had to love running, or you wouldn’t live to love anything else.  And like everything else we love – everything we sentimentally call our passions and desires – it’s really an encoded ancestral necessity.  We were born to run; we were botn because we run.  We’re all Running People, as the Tarahumara have always known” (93)

“There are two goddesses in your heart.  The Goddess of Wisdom and the Goddess of Wealth.  Everyone thinks they need to get wealth first, and wisdom will come.  So they concern themselves with chasing money.  But they have it backwards.  You have to give your heart to the Goddess of Wisdom, give her all your love and attention, and the Goddess of Wealth will become jealous, and follow you.”  – Vigil (94)

Ask nothing from your running, and you’ll get more than you ever imagined.

Some connection between the capacity to love and the capacity to love running (98)

“Sometimes it takes a woman to bring out the best in a man” (104)

“When you run on the earth and run with the earth, you can run forever” – saying of the Tarahumara Indians (114)

“You can’t hate the Beast and expect to beat it; they only way to truly conquer something, as every great philosopher and geneticist will tell you, is to love it.” (125)

“Nothing works out according to plan, but it always works out” (151)

“Shoes block pain, not impact!  Pain teaches us to run comfortably!  From the moment you start going barefoot, you will change the way you run” (157)

“Until 1972, when the modern athletic shoe was invented by Nike, people ran in very thin-soled shoes, had strong feet and had much lower incidence of knee injuries.”….”If there’s any magic bullet to make human beings healthy, it’s to run” – Dr. Lierberman. (168)

The first step toward going cancer-free the Tarahumara way is Eat Less.  Second step is Eat better.  We need to build diets around fruit and vegetables instead of red meat and processed carbs. (209)

“Your body needs to be shocked to become resilient” (211)

“When you can’t answer a question, flip it over.  Forget what makes something go fast, what makes it slow down? (215)

“Know why people run marathons?  Because running is rooted in our collective imagination, and our imagination is rooted in running.  Language, art, science; space shuttles’ Starry Night, intravascular surgery; they all had their roots in our ability to run.  Running was the superpower that made us human- which means it’s a super power all humans possess. (239)

“You don’t stop running because you get old.  You get old because you stop running” (240)

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Learning from 9 year olds: Creativity & Patience

826michigan

826michigan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s venture involved volunteering at 826michigan.  “826michigan is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills…”  Like the other 826 chapters, 826michigan in Ann Arbor has a unique facade, making it “cool” for kids to come to tutoring & other activities.  Ann Arbor’s facade is a Robot Shop.

Beyond the Robot Shop is a back room bursting with energy, creativity, & kids that haven’t even lost all of their baby teeth yet.  I just recently started volunteering there & am slotted to teach a comedy writing workshop there in August.  Since I’ll be leading a workshop, I thought it’d be a good idea to help facilitate someone else’s workshop to get a feel for them.  Tonight’s workshop was “Choose Your Own Adventure” for 9-11 year olds, where the kids split into groups & created a Choose Your Own Adventure style story.  My group’s story involved a mysterious spooky house that 2 young kids braved into.

I try to learn something from everyone I interact with, so it was no surprise that I took away 2 key learnings from these rambunctious aspiring writers:

Creativity.

These kids held nothing back.  There were explosive bunnies, slimy dead guys, sounds of calking birds, broken paths, & more.  Their use of descriptive adjectives was impressive for kids so young.  They let their creative juices flow & came up with some really original ideas.  Sometimes it takes experienced writers time & special exercises to get to such an original place.  What led these kids to be so creative?  I think it was their confidence.  They weren’t afraid to share any idea they had.  They had no filters.  No barriers.  They haven’t yet learned “social norms”.  They live in an original place.

As we get older we learn “social norms”, we get rejected, we receive strange looks & as such we openly express less originality & creativity.  There is a fear that our ideas will be rejected or our statements will meet strange reactions.  That’s why we add a filter to what we say & do.

We can get back to that original place.  We can be more openly creative.  Tap into your inner 9 year old & remove the filters.  Be original & have no fear.

Patience.

Since the kids were openly creative, their ideas were all over the place.  Ideas were bouncing off the falls & focus was hard to come by.  That being said, patience is definitely put to the test.  Have you ever worked with kids?  If you have I’m sure your patience has been tested.  Mine sure was.  Kids needed to be reminded of things repeatedly & it took them a lot longer to read & write than it would have taken me.

The temptation to write for them or form their ideas into sentences without letting them put the pieces together, was tempting, but wouldn’t have taught them the best lessons.  Instead, I made suggestions, helped when I could, but handed the pencil over to them to do the real work.

Creativity & Patience are great skills stretching beyond writing & working with kids.  For instance, creativity clearly has applications in the business world.  So does patience.  And being a great leader involves being able to hand over the reins / delegate sometimes, even if it means waiting a little longer for something to get done because the person is learning.  It’s key to growth & sustainability.

Try it out. Channel your inner 9 year old. Be creative. Be patient.

venture on,

mel, the venture gal

 

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Learning from First Virtual

RPM Ventures Founder & Managing Director, Marc Weiser, aka GreatLakesVC, was an entrepreneur before turning VC.  He started First Virtual (FV), a company he later took public.

Awhile ago I read FV’s white paper which explains what they did & how they did it from a managerial perspective.

What was special about FV?

To me what stood out about FV’s system, was that the financial tokens that underlie commerce (e.g. credit card numbers, bank account information), never appeared on the internet at all under FV.  Rather, they were linked to the buyer’s Virtual PIN by FV. (This is pre-encryption)

Sure there are other cool things about FV.  Read the white paper to see what stands out to you.

FV: The Virtual Company

The company’s biggest challenge was growth management.

They had no physical offices until 15 months after the company was founded (8 months after the system was operational).  The larger the company grew, the more seriously its productivity was impeded by communications difficulties, which ultimately led to the decision to consolidate the bulk of the operations (particularly new hires) in a small number of offices.  The biggest problem in running a distributed company were the more mundane aspects of any corporation – administrative tasks, scheduling meetings, making presentations to customers, etc.  It was harder to get people together for informal brainstorming sessions.  Difficult to guarantee everyone would speak with unified voice in public statements about the company.  Difficult to avoid duplicated efforts.  Harder to integrate new hires.  Actual supervision of remotely located employees was big challenge.  It is also challenging to keep up morale in a virtual environment, as it becomes easier to feel “out of touch” with the company.

Despite all the challenges with being a virtual company, the founders lived in four different parts of the country & the company could not have started any other way.

What worked best was creative projects led by small, motivated, skilled teams.  The customer support system also went well.  FV did nearly all of its customer support over the internet & customer service operators work well remotely.  FV was able to employ people with physical disabilities for its customer support team.  Training was the biggest challenge as the team grew.

By nature, any Internet service company will be somewhat “virtual” because of the need to support fully international operations.  FV recommends asking not “should an Internet company be virtual?” but asking “How virtual should an Internet company be?” & then figuring out how to maximize the benefits of a virtual company, & minimize the disadvantages.


What does this mean for you?

It could mean a lot of things.  To keep it simple, at least takeaway the following:

Do something innovative, think outside the box, work hard & be successful.

Venture on,

MEL aka Venture Gal

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Stumped on Stocks & Options?!

Regularly I am asked about stocks & options.  Entrepreneurs have sent me their equity packages to look over for a “sniff test” & first time entrepreneurs ask for general information about stocks & options.  Depending on the specific situation I usually point them in the direction of David Weekly’s “An Introduction to Stock & Options for the Tech Entrepreneur or Startup Employee”.  This overview does a great job of simplifying & clarifying what stocks & options mean.  If you haven’t read it & are at all questioning stocks & options, I recommend checking it out.  In the meantime, here are some things from the intro that I’d like to point out & elaborate on:

The Board.  “Most people don’t realize this but shareholders are, legally, at the top of the totem pole.”  The Board is appointed to serve the Shareholders, but the Shareholders have a right to change the Board at anytime.

In other words, the CEO is not the boss.  If you own a share in a business you are the CEO’s boss’s boss.

The Board must receive notice of a board meeting at least 48 hours in advance.  Remember, a majority of Board members (aka quorum) must be in attendance (either in person or via phone/Skype/etc).

Equity.  “ownership in a company”

A cap table is used to organize & track who owns what.  Advice to entrepreneurs:  KEEP THIS CLEAN.  Update it whenever there is a change, make it legible, & keep in mind when raising money that all investing parties will need to be accounted for in the cap table.  You’ll thank yourself for keeping this updated regularly, as opposed to waiting until the day before your company is acquired to go back in time & get the cap table up to speed.

Dilution.  “reduction in ownership”.  A touchy subject for many entrepreneurs.  No one wants to own less of her/his baby.  Keep in mind CEOs…no investor wants you to own so little of the company that you are not motivated to make the company a huge success.  The investors’ interests (should be) aligned with yours.  They want a return on their investment too!

Common vs. Preferred Stock.  Preferred Stock are “shares that grant special rights”.  Those rights vary depending on the investor, investment round, & other factors.  Examples of Preferred Stock are Series A, Series B, Series B-2.  Series Seed shares are also considered Preferred Stock.  We are seeing more & more Series Seed shares issued.

Weekly also discusses types of investors – angels, VCs, & a bit about how venture firms work.  One thing he mentions that I want to point out & comment on is that Associates/Analysts/JuniorVCs will call you sounding really excited about your company, but if no partner is involved in the discussions it is not worth your time.  That’s only half true.  True – all deals need to eventually get to the partners’ desks.  However, a way to get there is through the Associate/Analyst/JuniorVC.  You’ll have better luck getting a phone call with a Junior VC than a partner her or himself,

Oh & on that note…Junior VCs aren’t stupid.  Don’t try to be their friend & then only call them when you want a meeting with a  partner.  That fakeness shines right through & reflects on you as an entrepreneur & a person.

On that subject, Weekly also brings up the typical “weekly Partner Meeting” that most VC firms have.  True story.  If a VC brings you to pitch to partners at a Partner Meeting that’s great.  For smaller VC firms, not all pitches in front of the partners are made at the Partner Meeting.  In fact, rarely do we have entrepreneurs actually come pitch during our Partner Meeting.  We schedule other times during the week instead.  I imagine that may not be the case for larger VC firms with many partners who are all on different travel schedules.

Raising money?  Have a term sheet?  That’s not the end.  Once you sign a term sheet there is a “closing process” & the VC will continue to do some “due diligence” while things are getting legalized.  Once “closing documents” are prepared & signatures in place, then the money is wired (by 1 pm Pacific Time ideally).  So no, a signed term sheet does not mean you have cash in your bank account the next day.  It’s only the beginning of another process.

Going to work for a startup?  Here’s what to expect…

A vesting schedule with cliff.  No that does not mean that you are put on the edge of the cliff with a life or death scenario.  Vesting is done so the employee earns stock purchase rights over time (typically a 4 year period).  That vesting doesn’t start until a “cliff” is reached (generally 1 year), which means the employee won’t start to vest any purchase rights until she/he has been employed for one year.  Vesting gets you the right to purchase stock…you still have to exercise options to purchase though!

Read Weekly’s “STRATEGIES & PITFALLS” section.  It covers Alternative Minimum Tax, filing an 83(b)…must knows if you have stock purchase rights!

Any specific questions?  Ask in the comments or send me an email.

Venture on,

MEL aka Venture Gal

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Breeding More Entrepreneurs

peacock-eye-feathers-flickr-ozgurmulazimoglu

Last year I read The Mating Mind, a book that takes Darwin’s theories about natural selection & others & applies them to mating, dating, & “sexual selection”.

Bottom line message:  not only do the strong survive, but the sexy survive.

The example of the peacock does a great job of illustrating sexual selection in action.  Male peacocks have bright big feathers because female peacocks prefer them.  Even though they’re not the best feature to help the peacock avoid predators (bright colors & large shape isn’t actually conducive to camoflauging the peacock from predators) since females peacocks are attracted to these traits peacocks evolved to have the sexually desirable traits.

Does evolution play a role in entrepreneurial endeavors?  I think yes.  It materializes in a few different aspects:

Business models.  Business models evolve as the world evolves.  Competitive landscape changes.  Technology & resources change.  Consumer interests shift.  Netflix is a great example.  Netflix is Blockbuster’s business model evolved.  Blockbuster rented out videos.  Netflix rents out videos.  Netflix’s model is different.  It takes account new technology resources, a different process, & ultimately crushed Blockbuster.

Facebook is an evolved Myspace, Friendster.

Craigslist is an evolved garage sale.

eBay is an evolved auction.

Amazon is an evolved…bookstore, retail store, grocery store…

By Darwinian theory, how do we “produce” more entrepreneurs?  Entrepreneurs need to be sexy.  If females start to choose mates with entrepreneurial traits, we will breed more entrepreneurs.  Just like the peacocks.

Think about it.

Venture on,

MEL aka Venture Gal

Growing Companies – Culture & Leadership Featuring Serial Entrepreneur Jennifer Baird

This week our class hosted our first guest speaker for the semester.  Jen Baird, serial entrepreneur, currently CEO of Accio Energy & former founder & CEO of Accuri Cytometers.

Jen got her interest in being an entrepreneur when interning for a VC firm.  After graduating from the University of Michigan with a psychology degree & from Kellogg School of Management with her MBA, she worked in consulting for over half a dozen years.  After consulting she took the leap into carving her own path, a route that was quite challenging for her.  When she co-founded Accuri Cytometers she was at the start of a 5 year journey creating, launching & scaling a product & team.  She grew the company from 2 to 80 employees, raised close to $30M in capital, launched a European subsidiary, & approached profitability.  Jen claims to really excel at is the people part of the organization (which I would argue is the most important part!).  She claims “companies are built of people.  They are the building blocks”.  This makes sense given her psychology degree & operational experience building & leading teams.  She clearly has learned a lot from her experiences.

What really stood out to me about Jen is that she knows herself well, exudes passion, is very personable, & is quite confident.  In particular, this is what I learned from listening to Jen & reflecting on her discussion:

“Power of focus is what you choose NOT to do”

On any given day my to do list could be pages long, but really do I need to be doing all those things?  Where is my time best spent?  I have been attuned to this lately & the way Jen described “choosing NOT to do something” caught my attention as a different way of thinking about prioritization.  Another piece of advice she had was to check in every 6 months to see what else can be delegated or eliminated.  Otherwise I become a restraint (similar to how I felt at Iorio’s – stifling our growth).

There are aspects of us that are similar.

Jen’s open style of management mirrors my open book philosophy & values based management style.  A few things we both advocate: all hands meetings, open door policy, building trust & communication.  She also mentioned that she likes to share details & has learned that sometimes it’s better to not share too much.  Something I’m working on also.

I still have questions I’d like to ask Jen, & I will ask her:

  • How do you decide which business opportunities to pursue?  Why Accuri?
  • Challenges you faced as female? How did you overcome them?
  • Where do you learn? (books, people, etc)

Following Jen’s talk Tom discussed management styles.  The key thing I took away after this lecture is that knowing who you are you are is a continual process/discovery that never ends.  In particular he asked: Who are you?  What is your impact on people?  What are your values?  What does success look like for you?  We need to figure out who we are.  It is hard enough to be ourselves, let alone someone else.  If we don’t know who we are it’s difficult to hire people around us to make us better.  Tom recommended developing a vision for yourself.  Know what you’re good at & what you’re not good at.  How best to do this?  I’m still figuring that out.  I do know that spending time with myself, in silence, thinking & reflecting has helped me.

He also emphasized the importance of trust.  To earn the trust of others (e.g. board of directors, customers, employees) you must first trust yourself.  If you don’t trust yourself, it will show, & others won’t trust you.  A great book I read that goes into detail about trust is “The Speed of Trust” by Stephen M.R. Covey.

We also questioned “what is the role of the CEO?”  50-75% of the time she/he is working with people. From time to time GreatLakesVC shares his Weisdom with me & he once told me that the job of a CEO is to make everyone else better at what they do.  To achieve the most in a resource constrained organization, the CEO should be controlling about the company vision & values because every employee should know the story of the company & exactly what the company is trying to accomplish.  The danger of being controlling is slowing down progress & not empowering people to the fullest.  The more someone wants control, the more things need to go through that person, & it slows things down (exhibit ME/Iorio’s).  It is really important to get the message right for the first people you hire & make the culture & values clear.  This way, when you stop hiring people, the people who are hiring people get the message right & hire based on the culture & values of the company.  Recently at Iorio’s we saw a great example of congruency without our organization.  One of our team members created a series of “Iorio’s Ten Commandments” to be a way to share the ground rules & operations of the business.  The result – a set of guidelines that scream Iorio’s culture as we created it.  The fact that we didn’t write them…& that they are so spot on to our culture & values is a huge testament to our ability to create congruency in our business.

Eccellente!

Venture on,

MEL aka Venture Gal