Mary Elisabeth

on Fridays I burn my fears…

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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ES569: Jan Garfinkle, Arboretum Ventures Founder & Managing Director

Healthcare investing is great because beyond the possibility of generating significant returns, the companies invested in save lives & really impact people.  Yes, there are huge risks.  Huge risk, huge reward.  At this week’s class, Jan Garfinkle, Founder & Managing Director of Arboretum Ventures spoke to the class.  Jan started her career as an engineer & in 2002 founded Arboretum Ventures.  The firm celebrates its 10th birthday this year & has successfully raised 3 funds.

Jan focused her discussion on financing companies, answering common questions that entrepreneurs ask:

How does an entrepreneur figure out how much money the company needs?

  • Start with a budget.  VCs want to know what is the most important thing the company must do to increase its value (aka a milestone) & how much money will it take to reach that milestone.

How to decide which source of funds to pursue?


  • Cost. What are the cost of the funds you raise (i.e. cost in terms of ownership)?
  • Flexibility. What level of decision making responsibility do you want?
  • Supply. Where is capital available?
  • Entrepreneur’s goals long term. Do you want to build a lifestyle business that you can work at for the rest of your life?
  • Type of business.  Not all businesses are venture hackable.

What are sources of capital?

  • Yourself
  • Grants (government, foundations, universities)
  • Debt (customers, bank, venture debt)
  • Equity (friends & families & fools, angels, VC, IPO)

What do VCs look for?

A great jockey, riding a great horse, in a huge race.  In other words, a great entrepreneur, commercializing a great product, in a huge market.  Jan, like many VCs I know, prefers an A team & B product, over a B team & A product.

What do VCs do when they due diligence?

Try to learn as much as possible about tit!

  • Management
    • Track record
    • Relevant experience
    • Highly motivated
    • Honest & ethical (how are decisions made? how does the team communicate?)
    • Make sure you can recruit the right people
  • Financials & exit potential
    • capital requirements
    • exit price & timing
    • talk to strategic corporations to understand what they need to see in order to be interested in buying the company (*we at RPM don’t do this well)
  • Product need
  • Market size
  • Time to market
  • Competitive positioning
    • existing technologies
    • emerging technologies
    • IP

Material company provides & how long it takes to get the materials to the VC are indicators of how the entrepreneur will be like to work with.

What is the best way to get VCs’ attention?

Get a warm introduction/referral!

In addition to the insights Jan shared in response to those particular questions, she also shared a few notable quotables:

  • “Your career will not be a straight line. Be flexible”
  • “If it’s a great exit, every body wins. Even the janitor if he got shares”
  • “The more touch points you’ve had as problems the more successful you’re be as a CEO”
Selecting investment opportunities & selecting funders involves building relationships.  Getting to know each other.  Building trust.  Even if you are a great jockey, with a fast horse, in a huge race, if the investor doesn’t trust you, or you don’t trust the investor – that’s not a good way to start an investor/entrepreneur relationship.

Way to go Jan!  Keep up the great work & Venture On,

MEL aka Venture Gal

ES569: People and Culture featuring Serial Entrepreneur Josh Pokempner

Tuesday night’s class focused on People & Culture, the most important part of any organization (in my opinion).  Our guest speaker was Josh Pokempner, serial entrepreneur & founder of several successful companies.  Below are some of my raw notes for that night’s discussion with Josh:

  • Business is trying to control circumstances so intended results happen.  my response:  life is trying to control circumstances to intended results happen.
  • we can’t control how well a product does, but we can control our corporate culture.
  • how to create that great culture?
    • servant leadership
      • rich person = someone so in love with what they do, so much they can’t wait to get out of bed to do it. can’t wait for alarm to go off so you can get out of bed. my response: what is it that i can’t wait for? what is it that makes me wish my alarm will go off?!
    • create & practice a shared mission, vision & values
    • “5 ways of being”
  • book recommendation: “Man’s Search for Meaning” – achieve happiness by dedicating yourself to someone or something.
  • “there’s a soul to a company” – JP
  • “In this business you have to be comfortable with bumpy flights” – JP on the life of an entrepreneur

After Josh shared his stories & wisdom, students asked some thought provoking questions.  Some that were especially thought provoking for me include:

  • How do you balance sharing information with your company & sharing information that scares people? (for instance, the company is low on cash, & you don’t want to scare people into thinking they’ll be cut)
    • Josh recommended “Just tell them”
    • In my own experiences an open book culture is a powerful way to get the team to take ownership & better know how they can impact the success of the business.  People cannot act in the best interests of the company when they don’t know what those interests are.  Being honest & open beats little to no transparency.  Be authentic. Don’t unpleasantly surprise your team & they won’t unpleasantly surprise you
  • For companies early on, low on resources, how do you build a fun team environment?
    • My thoughts: So you don’t have cash to take your entire team to Cedar Point, how do you still incorporate fun team activities (if that’s part of your culture)…do it within your means.  You don’t have to spend a ton of money (or any at all) to build culture through activities.  Going to a park & playing frisbee will cost you the price of the frisbee.  At Iorio’s we do team bonding activities when times are flush & when times are less cash rich.  It doesn’t matter.  Be creative & find a way to make it work.
  • How did you find the people you hired?
    • Josh brought in people he had worked with before.
    • If you don’t have that luxury & you’re starting for the first time, or you need to hire more people than you have previous colleagues, remember this – building your culture starts with your job posting & application.  What do I mean by this?  The language of your job posting & application sets a tone.  If you are a fun & creative company, make your job description & application fun & creative.  This is the best way to attract talent aligned with your culture & give you a great pool of candidates to hire from.

After Josh finished speaking, the discussion about culture & people continued.  A few nuggets of wisdom to share:

  • “Culture is based on 99% of what the CEO does & 1% on what he says” – Fry
  • “Culture is the single most important factor in recruiting & retaining key employees” – Fry
  • “Employee behavior consistent with the culture should be recognized” – Fry
  • CEO plans culture, lives it, reinforces it, manages it, tracks & measures it, modifies as needed
  • “Personnel selection is decisive. People are our most valuable capital” – Joseph Stalin
  • “as leadership changes, the effectiveness of people may also change”

And some questions that were asked:

  • Should vision statement be about 1 product (if company only has 1 product) or something bigger?
    • Tony thinks it should be bigger
    • I think a vision is big.  Your core vision for your company is that north star…what are you reaching for.  For instance, Disney’s vision is to “make people happy”.  At Iorio’s our vision is to “deliver sweetness”.  These visions are big & broad.  I have found it helpful to also write “vision statements” that may reflect more tangible, shorter & longer term visions for specific aspects of the company.  A vision statement that is written out could be short term focused & looking out at 1 year from now & that may only include 1 product.  I recommend writing vision statements when launching a new product, taking on a new initiative, starting a new company etc…answer questions like “what does this product/company look like?” “how do our customers respond?” “what are the challenges we are overcoming?”  paint a picture of the future.  Put yourself in the future.  A vision statement should be written as if you are in the future.  For more visioning tips I recommend reading some of Ari Weinzweig’s tips on visioning. I, and many others, have learned from him.
  • What do you think comes first, the culture or the people?
    • Tom mentioned that half the people he meets that start companies don’t think about the culture, even if, as an investor, he hints at its importance.
    • I think culture is an iterative process, especially early on.  Like product iteration.  Create culture consciously. Bring on people that align with that culture, learn from them & team dynamics, iterate culture consciously, bring on more people. Rinse & repeat.

Bottom line: Create culture consciously & continually.  All this talk about culture in class has me enthused about learning more & sharing more about what I’ve learned about culture.  What questions do you have?  What would you like to learn about culture & people?

Venture on,

MEL aka Venture Gal

Has your company outgrown you? Or have you outgrown your company?

It’s that time of year when I run errands in the morning, eat dinner in my car, & spend more time at the University than I do at my house…that’s right…it’s the second half of Winter Semester at the University of Michigan (UofM).  During this time, both partners at RPM Ventures teach classes at the UofM.  Marc’s class, “Venture Business Development”, is taught through the Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering.  It’s a two week intensive course where students work on teams to evaluate a real business idea – everything from developing an elevator pitch, to rapid prototyping, & talking with customers.

Tony’s class “Managing the Growth of New Ventures” is taught through the Ross School of Business to second year MBA students.  This course takes place once per week for half a semester and is co-taught by Tom Porter.  This year is my second year involved with this course & my role is basically the person who does whatever needs to get done to be helpful.  I found articles for course readings, grade homework, track participation, take attendance, & brainstorm ways to improve the course for future sessions.

This week’s class included introductions and a roadmap for the course, as well as a discussion about the five stages of business growth.

  1. Existence
  2. Survival
  3. Success
  4. Take Off
  5. Maturity

The class focuses mostly on the first four stages, building a company from absolutely nothing to a company and navigating the stages of growth along the way.  There is so much more than building product when building a company.  Building team is equally if not more important.  Team, culture, strategy, are the less glamorized aspects of starting a business, but so important.  In this first class I pulled away a couple reflections:

Know Thyself & Discover Wealth

As a leader of a company, being able to be reflective & introspective about your role with the company is very important.  In light of my recent unplugging & reflecting on so many things in my life, this is especially relevant.  During quiet time to thing about life, interests, passions, I learned a lot.  In an organization, for a CEO or leader, it’s important to take that time to pause & reflect on what you’re doing from a high level & ask yourself “am I the right person to be doing this or could someone else do it better?”, “would I be better suited somewhere else in the organization?” “would I add more value somewhere else in the organization?” because someone who may be great at creating and figuring out if something works may not be the same person who takes it from 10 employees to 50 or 50 to 100 and scale the business into the next stages of growth.  Think of companies where the CEO/Founder has been the same throughout all stages…it’s very few…Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell.  Being abel to figure that out as a leader is very important.

When thinking about a leadership role in a growing company, I think there are two aspects to consider:

  1. Role, in terms of what functions you are  best at doing.  Where do you add the most value?  Where do you thrive?  Is it the operational details, making sure money is the bank, paychecks are sent out, wheels are turning day to day. Or are you more strategic, thinking about where the company is, where it’s going.  Are you great at graphic design? etc.
  2. Stage.  What stage of growth is your paradise?  What time during the company do you want to be there?  When the company is 3 people with an idea & lots of ambiguity?  or when the company has 100 people with more developed systems & lots of names & faces to remember?  Holding your role constant, if you’re doing the same role in a 10 person company, it’s going to be different (even in that same role) than in a 100 person company.

I don’t think you need to figure out one before the other.  For me, I’m still trying to figure out what the function is optimal for me & even more broadly, what industry, general space interests me most.  What’s the space? What makes me tick?  Now I have several interests in broad areas & am exploring them further to discover what really could be right for me.

In terms of stage, I like the early stuff…the ambiguity, figuring things out, the creation, having a blank canvas.  I’m energized by a small team, setting the culture, & taking on the start of something with big plans. in a small team.

Transitioning Leadership

Another thing that came up when discussing the 5 stages of growth was this idea of transitioning from each stage, when you need to transition leadership.  Let’s say a leader isn’t a right fit in a company that is going from Survival to Success & that leader could better be replaced by someone else to lead the company, & the original leader could be better off somewhere else in the company (with a different role perhaps).  For the original leader it’s tough to make this transition…this is his/her baby, his/her creation. It’s very difficult.  I’ve experienced this personally with Iorio’s.  Just two weeks ago was the first time handing the reins over to someone else to run Iorio’s Gelateria in Ann Arbor.  I think our delay in transitioning leadership has limited our growth because things are funneled to go through few people & there’s not breakup of decision making at a higher level.  My biggest challenge & opportunity is preparing transitions so the company can successfully operate without the presence of the founders & early leaders.  The first experiment for this went well. Transitioning leadership also illustrates the importance of hiring people & building a team of people you trust.  It makes it a smoother transition if you trust the person you’re transitioning to.

I have also seen this play out in RPM Ventures‘ portfolio.  In particular, there is a company where the CEO is doing a lot of operational/day to day things that maybe he doesn’t have to bother himself with. If he brings in someone else, he can step into a more strategic role, which is what he loves & is really good at.  For instance, he could spend more time on things like product, vision, & leading the team in that direction.

Transitioning leadership is a common thing for companies.  Though not just high tech, as Iorio’s is a great low tech example, it is prevalent in high tech as well.

What does this all mean?

When starting a company, think about how you are going to work yourself out of a job.  How do you develop a company, build a culture, put systems in place, that will exist without you?

Sometimes the best thing you can do is pull yourself out of your company, or take yourself out of your current role, & do something else.

Have you ever transitioned leadership in your company?  What did you learn?  Do you think your company is ready for a transition?  Is your current leadership team holding your company back?  I’d really like to hear about your experiences!

Venture On,

MEL aka Venture Gal

If I Didn’t Run a Business…

A couple weeks ago I hit an edge…it was a day in which everything seemed to be pulling against me.  The day included needing to replace our iPad POS because it was dropped & shattered, someone not showing up to work on time (a big deal with a brick & mortar store), my car dying, my nose bleeding, leading to cancellations of meetings & surviving off trail mix all day.  It was the universe’s way of telling me to breath. Sometimes I go, go, go until I break.  Or have a wakeup call of sorts.

Since, I made some changes & am making more time to reflect…at least an hour a day.  On one my reflections I started thinking about all of the things I want to do & things I would do if I didn’t run a business.  Here are some things that came up:

  • own a dog
  • go to my friends’ concert with Snoop Dog (the night I was reflecting on this happened to be the night I was missing their concert)
  • volunteer
  • exercise more
  • read & write everyday
  • sleep more
  • create improv videos
  • travel more
  • try new things
  • cook more & develop more of my own recipes
  • finish writing my book
  • spend more time with friends & family

Reviewing that list in my head I realized that these are all things that I CAN do while running a business.  It all comes down to time management.  How am I spending my time.  How am I not spending my time.  How am I making the most effective use of my time without coming out of balance & reaching my “breaking point.”

I also listed things that running a business allows me to do, including:

  • meet new people
  • lead
  • create
  • inspire
  • learn
  • experiment
  • impact peoples’ lives
  • make money
  • develop an expertise
  • invest in myself
  • travel
  • try new things

Examining this list it becomes clear that there are lots of other ways to accomplish these things.  These are all things I can do without running a business.  What does this mean?  Being an entrepreneur isn’t a “job”.  It’s a “lifestyle”.  Running a business is not easy.  Consider your objectives.  If you want to “be your own boss” or “control your schedule” think again, as these are not necessarily true of running a business.  Consider aligning your interests with your business objectives.  Then these two lists become one: what you are doing.

Venture on,

MEL aka Venture Gal

The Energy Flair Story: From Flair to Finish



RIP Energy Flair

At the end of 2011 Energy Flair was officially shut down.  Here’s the story:

A couple years ago I was brainstorming ways to solve the problem of too much energy use. And I’m talking unnecessary energy use…like using a less energy efficient light bulb, or having electronics plugged in sucking up phantom power when no one is actually using what is plugged in.

Inspiration came when shopping with my dad at Menards.  He was looking for more light bulbs, so I went & grabbed some compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs (way more energy efficient than incandescent).  He looked at the CFL bulbs, noted the price difference from the incandescent, & opted for the cheaper incandescent bulbs (even after my spiel about time value of money & saving money from lower electric bills, in the long run).  At that time, a light bulb went on in my head! (haha pun intended)

The light bulb – maybe people need an additional incentive to take actions that reduce their energy consumption.  Maybe “savings in the long run” wasn’t enough.  Initially I thought a service like Recycle Bank, which rewards people for recycling with coupons & discounts, would be perfect for energy….reward people for using less energy!

This was 2009 – I was attending the University of Michigan & was a regular entrepreneurial event attendee.  I went to a Mingle N Match event to share my idea for “Energy Bank” – an online service to reward people for using less energy.  At the Mingle I met Rajesh – my future business partner.

Rajesh & I met regularly, usually at the business school, & ended up titling our company “Carbon Perks”.  We did usability studies, consumer research, market research, putting together mock ups, entering business plan competitions, talking to potential customers, & then some.  We had the cutest logo too – a flower that resembled an electric plug.  Clever – yes.  Thanks to a talented student/graphic designer for that one!

We raised a couple thousand dollars through all the business plan competitions, grants, & other programs available to students.  We also applied to Momentum (basically the TechStars / YCombinator of Michigan).  After a couple intense interviews & trips to Grand Rapids, we were accepted & we decided to enroll & move out to Grand Rapids for the summer after graduating from UofM.

Early on we learned valuable lessons, including:

  1. There was a negative connotation with the word “Carbon”.  Carbon Perks’ name had to change.
  2. Real rewards just weren’t economical.  We did analysis to discover that we probably wouldn’t be able to cover the cost of providing real rewards that were meaningful or inspiration.
  3. People were motivated by virtual badges on some new (at the time) mobile app called Foursquare.  People were shoving each other to become Mayor of their favorite local spot (okay maybe that’s an exaggeration, but people were pretty serious about it).

As a result of this, we changed our name to TerraPerks & decided to call our service Energy Flair – where people could earn virtual flair (aka buttons) by using energy more efficiently.  They could share & compare their flair with friends via Facebook, adding an element of social pressure & gamification to the whole thing.

For more on Energy Flair, check out coverage on the company at MLiveEarth TechlingMichEEN, YouTube.

A Sampling of Energy Flair

We continued speaking & meeting with a lot of potential customers & learning everything we could about utilities, working with utilities, consumer behavior, behavioral psychology, & beyond.  About midway through the summer we had learned some more critical findings:

  1. Utilities are slow moving.
  2. We couldn’t move fast enough.  Not being able to hack away at something ourselves really impacted the speed at which our iterations happened.
  3. Jennifer Aniston did not answer her phone when we called.  (If you’ve seen the movie “Office Space”, you may have an idea why we would be calling her.  If not, watch this scene from the movie & you’ll figure it out)

We “pivoted” our model so our revenue did not depend on utilities.  We explored other business model options & continued to learn & grow.  We developed partnerships with energy affiliated organizations, attended energy efficiency seminars, developed a lot of educational content, & made regular updates to our site.  We even did a program for students at an elementary school in Ann Arbor.  The kids learned a lot & had fun doing so (we led a “beer less pong” game for the students at their big school event).  We received some revenue after adjusting our business model. Screenshot

After the summer I made the decision to leave working with Energy Flair full time.  I said I’d still be involved in a much lesser role & help where I could with introductions, talking through some challenges, & brainstorming solutions to problems.  There wasn’t enough evidence for me to keep forward at a full+ time pace.   Rajesh stayed on to work on Energy Flair & learned even more since that time.

About a month or so ago Rajesh & I had the conversation.  The conversation when we decided to officially shut down Energy Flair.


  1. Team.  Rajesh was working on Energy Flair full time, alone.  After I left working on Energy Flair full time, I’d chat with Rajesh from time to time to touch base & take action depending on what I could do to help.  We didn’t have the people on board to really make this sustainable.
  2. Traction.  It didn’t go viral.  Oops.  Lesson – just because you build a cool thing that you think is awesome & everyone should use, & you add in features to build in “virility”, doesn’t mean it will go viral!  We didn’t figure out the model on a per unit scale…& as a weis (intentionally spelled wrong) person once told me – “optimize first, scale later”.  We didn’t try to go big before figuring out the unit economics.
  3. Tender.  Aka Money.  An important factor when building a business.  It may not be as important at first, when you’re figuring things out & have low personal expenses.  At some point it is more needed though.

What did I learn?

A lot!  Some of the highlights which inform my current & future endeavors:

  1. People.  Make sure you have the right people on the bus.
  2. Product – be able to build it yourself.  Hiring an outside consultant, firm, or freelancer to build your product for you does a few things:  a. slows you down. If you can’t build the product yourself, you can’t always iterate is quickly, something that is important at an early stage when first trying to figure things out.
  3. Customer feedback.  Listen to it, but filter appropriately.  We spoke with dozens of electric utilities, users, auditors, utility consultants, & other relevant parties, & a lot of what they said was supportive of our proposal.
  4. Long sales cycles suck.  Selling something to anyone who takes a year & a day to decide which brand of water to buy for the staff lounge is not an ideal situation.  Utilities are slow movers.  When we “pivoted” (I put pivoted in “” because I think it’s an overused term…but at least people know what it means) away from selling to utilities it definitely saved us from the waiting game.
  5. Make it easy.  Minimize friction on your site.  Don’t make users think.  If your grandparents can navigate the site without your help, you’re golden.
  6. It’s easy to start a company.  It’s easy to shut down a company.  It’s challenging to build a company.

Failure?  No.  There are no mistakes, only gifts.  I learned a lot from the experience & don’t regret it.  I’m smarter for it & will be even better next time around!

Venture on (& go turn off your lights =),

MEL aka Venture Gal

What Everyone Can Learn from Taylor Swift

U.S. Country music singer Taylor Swift perform...

Image via Wikipedia

Last weekend I went to a Taylor Swift concert in Detroit.  What I really like about her music is that her songs tell stories.  Relatable stories.  For instance, what girl did not know a girl that got so wrapped up into a guy in high school?!  And who hasn’t wanted to tell someone “you’re so mean!”?!

Taylor Swift is very talented and a great entertainer.  The concert was more than her music, which is good since I not only heard Taylor singing, but thousands of screaming high-pitched girls.  It was an entire production.  Since her songs tell stories, the set, background dancers, costumes all added to the story, making the songs performed more like an entire show.  I was also impressed by her genuineness.  She did seem truly happy to be there and appreciative of all the people that came.
Between the opening acts and Taylor, the screens next the stage streamed texts sent in from the audience.  There was a few common themes: inspiration, role model, love.
  • Inspiration – many of the texts said Taylor inspired him/her to be a better singer and/or musician.
  • Role model – parents thanked Taylor for being a great role model for their child.
  • Love – not surprisingly there were the “TAYLOR I LOVE YOU MARRY ME” texts

I was left impressed during and after the show.  I also learned a few things that are not specifically targeted for musicians, entrepreneurs, or anyone in particular.  They are relevant to everyone:

  • Do what you love.  To truly by successful at something you must have passion.  Taylor clearly loves what she does – it is apparent when she is on stage.  For the text messages people sent about Taylor inspiring him/her to be a better singer, songwriter, musician, that’s great.  But really Taylor should inspire people to pursue their passions, do what they love even when obstacles stand in the way.  Not everyone is going to pick up a guitar, love it, be amazing at it, and years later be performing in front of millions of people.  But everyone is capable of finding something that makes him/her tick, pursuing it, being amazing, and be recognized for it.  Find that.  Do that.  Thrive.
  • Age is just a number.  Taylor is 21.  She started distributing her demo tape at age 11.  She was 17 when she released her debut single.  At 19, her second album debuted #1 on the Billboard charts and she became the youngest artist to win the CMA Entertainer of the Year Award.  These are the type of accomplishments that people often dream about.  Clearly age has not been the limiting factor for Taylor, nor should it be for anyone else.  Don’t use age as an excuse.
  • Reflect.  It’s important to take time to yourself to reflect on life, discover more about yourself, your interests, and to get your mind off work, school, friends, whatever.  I think this is important for a couple reasons:  It helps in passion discovery.  Going through the motions day by day and keeping up with a fast paced lifestyle doesn’t leave much time for thinking about what you are doing and why you are doing it….unless you make time.  Spending time thinking about what you do, what you enjoy doing, what you want to do less of, what you want to do more of, and the like is time well spent.  It fuels creativity.  How long do you think it takes Taylor to write a song?  I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m guessing it’s a process, and takes more than 5 minutes of thinking about what to write about.  She must reflect on her experiences to package them into creativity crafted stories/songs.  There are other benefits to reflecting.  Individual results may vary so try it out for yourself.  Spend time focused on you.  

There you have it.  Lessons from a stadium full of screeching girls, their parents, spellbound guys, and me and my cronies.

Here’s a little something from the concert…

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YouTube Direkt

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The Ten Commandments for Startup CEOs

Want to keep your role as CEO in a venture-backed company?  For a start, follow these ten commandments:

  1. Thou shall openly communicate with the company team and investors.
  2. Thou shall keep one’s clothes on at a board meetings and any company function for that matter.
  3. Thou shall not surprise board members at meetings.
  4. Thou shall not spend investment funds on fancy European cars or espresso makers.
  5. Thou shall not aspire to run the company as a lifestyle business.
  6. Thou shall keep the cap table clean.
  7. Thou shall not sleep with interns.
  8. Thou shall return calls of and take meetings with potential partners, acquirers, investors, and rock star potential hires.
  9. Though shall execute.
  10. Thou shall track metrics and share with analysts and associates at venture capital firms =)

Follow these commandments and at least be doing (or not doing) things that can make or break a startup CEO!

Any to add to the list?

MEL aka Venture Gal

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Show Me the Data!

Over the past 6 months working at a venture capital firm, I have developed a pet peeve – not having readily access to data for our portfolio companies.  This is especially coming through the woodwork as we put together our end of year financials, report, valuations, and a host of other things that we need portfolio company data for.

So note to others and note to myself – include relevant information (financial information, headcount, burn rate, cash on hand, and other key metrics specific to your company) in board decks and updates to your investors and your team.  It will be a help to the VC (well the VC Analyst at least =) and it will free up some of their time tracking down this information so that they can help you!

MEL aka VentureGal

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What I learned when I was sick

I make an effort to never say “I don’t have time” because I do have time for whatever I make time for.  Being sick is one thing I do NOT like to make time for and for the past week I have been recovering from the flu and an upper respiratory infection.

For the first few days I was in my bed all day, with occasional trips downstairs to make tea, eat soup, refill my humidifier, or replenish my cups of juice and water.  Laying in bed resting is not something I do well.  By day three I was at least feeling a bit better, enough to add a work station to my rest station.  I had my laptop on the table next to my bed to respond to some email here and there.  I also watched some videos online and a documentary that were enlightening, and I took notes to share:

Advice for starting a company

  1. Find the right cofounder.  Someone with intelligence, energy, and integrity.
  2. Tackle a big market problem.
  3. Create a minimum viable product and then iterate the product to fit the market needs.
  4. Raise money from people you trust.

Founder facts & tips

  • Someone who works before money is available.
  • Will do any job. No VP titles.
  • Won’t give up.
  • Doesn’t need to be managed.
  • Intelligence, drive, integrity.
  • Vests!
  • Someone you already know
  • Split equity 50/50
  • 2 founders with complementary skill sets (e.g. one product/tech, one marketing)
  • Domain expertise is overrated!

Market tips

  • Pick the biggest possible addressable market
  • Learn everything about it
  • No niches

Need passionate users. Some people will love your product and some will hate.


  • Trust people they’ve backed in the past (confirmation bias)
  • Know within 10 minutes (usually) if they are going to invest.  Look for traction (social proof from customers), team, social proof (other investors in), and product (prototype, mockups).

Beware of:

  • Teams with all executives, no founders.
  • Teams with all thinkers, no doers.
  • No focus or a niche idea.
  • No demonstrable product.
  • Heavy focus on legal or accounting.

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away.” – Antoine De Saint-exupery

Facts about gaming:

  • 3 bilion hours per week are spent playing online games
  • To solve problems like obesity and climate change that needs to increase to 21 billion hours
  • An epic win is an extraordinary outcome
  • In the game world we are the best versions or ourselves
  • By age 21, average gamer spends 10,000 hours playing online games.  By age 21, with perfect attendance, a person spends 10,080 hours in school.
  • There are over 500 million global gamers (spend more than one hour per day gaming)
  • Gamers are super empowered hopeful individuals.  They think they are capable of changing virtual worlds.  They have urgent optimism (desire to act immediately), social fabric (like people better after playing game with them), blissful productivity (happier working hard at the game), epic meaning (love to be attached to missions)
  • World of Warcraft is the second biggest wiki

Facts about credit card debt…

  • The average U.S. household carriers $9,205 in credit card debt and spends more than $1,300 per year in interest payments
  • Between ’94 and ’04 10 million Americans declared bankruptcy.  In ’06 more will declare bankruptcy than graduate from college or get cancer.



Before you raise money on Venture Hacks

Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk “Gaming for Good”

“Maxed Out” Documentary




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