GiveFirst: I Feel Like I Don’t Know How To Help You

Periodically, at the end of a conversation, someone will ask me, “Is there something I can do for you?” I used to answer with “Do something that is helpful to something or someone in my world.” I usually get a pause and occasionally get a response similar to “I’m not really sure what to do to help you.” Over time, I modified my response to “Do whatever you think is useful to grow your startup community.”

I thought this was a good answer until someone paused, looked at me directly, and said “I’ve been listening to you talk about GiveFirst. I think I get it, but I feel like I don’t know how to help you.”

I realized that for many people, the vague answer I was giving wasn’t helpful. I was trying to create a lot of space for them to do whatever they wanted to be helpful. But the person, like many of us, was looking for something tangible to grab on to, in order to start with something specific that could cause them to feel like there was no question about them helping.

I now try to respond with something specific the person can do. I try to incorporate it into the person’s work. I’ll ask some questions to try to identify something that I know will be helpful to me, but also helpful to them. This is particularly easy for me, since doing something that helps with my global goals around entrepreneurship, rather than a specific, narrow task, helps me.

The magic trick is that if it’s helpful to them, they’ll realize that GiveFirst isn’t altruism. By helping me, they are helping themselves, and the flywheel of GiveFirst begins to turn.

Thoughts From A Female Friend on Locker Room Talk

Yesterday, Elizabeth Kraus, a good friend and the co-founder of MergeLane (we are investors), sent me the following blog post and asked me if I would reblog it on my site. After reading it, I felt she expressed her thoughts on Trump’s “locker room talk” extremely well. The original post appears at Please, Mr. Trump, Stop Calling This “Locker Room Talk”

Dear Mr. Trump,

Thanks to the hard work of many before me, I, an entrepreneur born in the same year as your daughter Ivanka, have grown up believing I could do everything my brother could do. I’ve never really felt the weight of the glass ceiling. I co-founded MergeLane, an accelerator and fund for high-growth startups with at least one woman in leadership. I’m proud to say that we’ve outperformed all of our projections because so many people believe investing in women is the smart thing to do. I’ve always imagined that you also believe this to be true.MergeLane Co-Founder Elizabeth Kraus

It is hard to deny what you’ve achieved as an entrepreneur. Before this election, I would have jumped at the opportunity to have a meeting with you.

Today, I woke up with the sad realization that I would be afraid to be alone in a room with you.

I experienced what you are calling “locker room talk” at my first job when I was 16 years old. I overheard my superiors talking about women in a way very similar to how you and Billy Bush spoke in that video. Although they never said anything like that directly to me, it was paralyzing to think about what they might be saying behind my back or what they might do to me when no one was watching.

I started wearing baggy clothes. I stopped wearing makeup. Most sadly, when my boss told me I was the best employee he had ever had, I dismissed the compliment because I was also the only female employee he had ever had.

It took me years of meeting with supportive, trustworthy men to overcome this paranoia. I’ve gone back to wearing fashionable and feminine clothes. I regularly meet alone with male CEOs and powerful public figures. I’ve experienced and overheard the occasional slightly inappropriate comments, but as a whole, I have felt extreme gratitude for the respectful men who have supported me throughout my career.

Since the age of 16, I have not felt the feeling of fear and sadness that I felt when I listened to your tape. To hear this from the man who may be the next President of the United States was more disappointing than you can ever know.

I know you’ve apologized. I appreciate your apology, but please, I beg of you, stop calling this “locker room talk.” When you and your supporters refer to it as such, it feels as if you are dismissing it as something that is normal. While I would be severely disappointed if it is common practice, I, and women and men everywhere know that it shouldn’t be. More importantly, we  have hope that one day it won’t be.

As you’ve acknowledged, it was a mistake. Please refer to it as nothing but a mistake.

If, as I predict from your previous responses, you would ask why I am not asking the Clintons to address the questions the public has raised about them, I have. I wrote my first public article at the age of 14 to express my disappointment in how President Clinton handled his affair. I will be releasing a letter to Secretary Clinton this week to express why I – a daughter, an entrepreneur, and an American – desperately need her to take the moral high ground.

It is my deepest hope that we will elect leaders who will make me feel proud to be an American and safe as a woman.

Thank you for listening.


Elizabeth Kraus
Daughter, granddaughter, and Chief Investment Officer, MergeLane

2016 Portland Marathon

I can now check Oregon off the “marathon in every state list.” After a four year hiatus, I ran marathon #24 in Portland today. My official time was 5:38 but there are some caveats that bring it down almost 20 minutes (to around 5:20). More on that in a bit.

Once again I ran it with my running buddy Matt Shobe. This is the fourth marathon we’ve done together (Portland, Detroit, St. Louis, and Huntsville). Matt is much faster than me but he patiently jogs alongside me, tells me jokes, and asks me to do a systems check about every other mile. This time he had to take a dump around mile three that added five minutes to our time. We also each had three other bathroom breaks, which added another five minutes. We’ve decided that eating Pho the night before is not the right food strategy for a marathon.

There were a few things about the marathon that were great. The volunteers and staff were awesome. This is the 45th year for this marathon and Portland shows up to take care of the runners. We stayed in the Hilton a few minutes from the start and finish – that was nice. And the marathon started at 7am which means I’m now on a plane heading home so I can spend the evening with Amy in Boulder.

Other than that, the marathon sucked. The weather was awful – it rained the entire time. Matt and I bought some MontBell shells the day before so our upper bodies were sort of dry. My iPhone, which is carried in my fanny pack is busted and Matt’s Nexus is as well. I have a few blisters on my toes, which never happens, and is a result of 27 miles in soggy shoes. Both of our fingers were numb and waterlogged by the end. And there were long stretches of the course that were just dark, wet, and soul sucking.

Normally a marathon is 26.2 miles. But this one was 27.

We didn’t ever see the mile marker for mile 1. When we eventually saw the mile marker for mile 2, our watches said 2.5 miles. When I crossed the finish line, my watch said 27.02 miles. This fucked up my running strategy way more than I expected as I spent miles 3 to 7 obsessing about the extra distance. My plan was to walk through the water stations but they weren’t consistently spaced so at some point I had no sense of what my run:walk pattern was. This contributed to us going out to fast, which was probably the most painful part of the race, which was completely self inflicted.

Other than the bathroom breaks, we were either at or below 11 minute miles for the first 11 miles. We drifted up to 12 minute miles for the next few and the I completely hit the wall at mile 16. A string of very slow miles – times I’d typically see in the last few miles – started. 13:42, 12:36,13:54, 14:53, 14:36, 13:36, 14:52, …

At mile 18, I told Matt to just go ahead and we’d meet up at the end. He said “no fucking way – I have one mission today and that’s to get you across the finish line.” I love him.

At the system check around 20, I finally figured out how to describe how I was feeling. “Globally great, locally shitty.” We chucked a bit and I said “all my global variables are in an acceptable range but my local variables are completely screwed up.”

We crossed the 26.2 mark at 5:27 on my watch. This wasn’t my PW (personal worst) – that’s 5:47 – but it was close. If you subtract the bathroom time, It’s a little under 5:20, which is still slow for me (I’m usually in the 4:45 – 5:10 range with an occasional 4:30.

It was an incredible relief to cross the finish line. I was done. We hugged, walked to the hotel, took showers, had a beer, ate some food that wasn’t Gu, pretzels, or gummy bears, and then headed home.

Dreams and Garbage Collection

I love dreams. Mine are often very detailed, clear, extremely colorful, linger for a while (several hours) after I wake up, and full of strange and complex linkages between things that often cause me to make associations I wouldn’t have otherwise made. Ever since I learned about the concept of garbage collection in 6.001 at MIT in 1984 while using Scheme on HP Chipmunks, I’ve always thought of dreaming as the same as garbage collection for a computer. When I read Minsky’s The Society of the Mind I started referring to dreams as garbage collection for the mind.

I woke up this morning with a particularly vivid dream that has stuck with me for the past hour as I get ready to head to Seattle and Portland for a few days. After 30 days off the grid, I’ve had an expectedly intense full three days as I get back in the flow of things. I’m processing a lot and when I went to bed last night around 11:30 my brain was full. As I laid down next to Amy, she said “I can feel you thinking.” We murmured a few things to each other and then I promptly fell asleep.

I woke up in the midst of the dream to Amy saying “Did you set an alarm?” (Answer: “No, but I’m awake now!”) In my dream I was walking down the hall with the Chief Information Officer of a health care company I’d somehow ended up as a consultant for. The CIO was an older white guy – classic last generation CIO – who was totally panicked about a security breach but had no idea what to do about it. He and I had just walked out of a board meeting with about 30 people moments after they’d fired the CEO. The board was in an uproar, trying to figure out how the CEO had let the security breach happen and why there were all these Twitter accounts posting images of patients with posts in weird / poor English saying things about how great Trump is.

In the board meeting I had explained to the board that the Twitter accounts were geo-coded with locations in Russia, so it was likely a Russian hacker and a focused attack that had nothing to do with the company. One of the board members was emotional. “I don’t give a shit – just fix it!” Other board members were talking over each other about who the new CEO should be. The consensus was “We don’t care what it costs – just solve the problem.”

Immediately prior to walking into the board meeting, I had been in an underground office below a parking garage meeting with a small team of white hat hackers. They had previously gotten my attention by breaking into several highly secure systems unrelated to me, sending me evidence of their break ins, and suggesting that they were for hire. I had been going back and forth with Rob Hayes at First Round Capital about his experience with them, since he’d hired them in the past. The lead hacker showed me how he’d spoofed Rob’s response to me and replaced it with an image of a gigantic hairless cat.

As I go back further in the dream, it’s fading now so I’m losing the thread. But you get the idea.

And yes, Amy and I love the movie Inception. It’s on a semi-annual rotation in the Feld/Batchelor household. It is entirely possible that everything we are experiencing is just one of the levels.

Mentors 13/18: Guide, Don’t Control

It’s been a while since I wrote a post deconstructing the Techstars Mentor Manifesto. The last one I wrote was number 12 of 18: Know What You Don’t Know. Say I Don’t Know When You Don’t Know. Since I’m now working on the first draft of my next book #GiveFirst (or maybe it’ll be called Give First, or GiveFirst – I haven’t decided yet) it’s time to get my shit together and write the last six posts.

Throughout Techstars, we tell the founders that “it’s your company.” The implication of this is that they make the decisions about what to do. Everything they hear from mentors is just data.

A lot of mentors are successful CEOs. As CEOs, they are used to being in control. However, in the context of being a mentor, they don’t control anything. The best they can do is be a guide.

Interestingly, the best investors understand this. One of the lines my partners at Foundry Group use regular is that we only want to make one decision about a company – whether or not we support the CEO. If we support the CEO, we work for her. If we don’t support the CEO, we need to do something about this, which doesn’t necessarily mean fire the CEO.

In the context of being a mentor, you still get to make one decision, but it’s a different one. You get to decide whether or not you want to keep being a mentor. Assuming you do, your job is to support the founders, no matter what.

Ponder the following situation. The company has three founders. While one of them is CEO, it’s not clear that the right founder is the CEO. In addition, two of the founders (the CEO/founder and one other founder) are struggling with the third founder.

It would be easy to size up the situation and tell the founders what to do. But that’s not your job as a mentor. Instead, your job is to guide them to an understanding of the situation. The best mentors will invest time in each founder, keeping an open mind about what the fundamental problems are. You’ll surface the issues, guiding the founders to understand that there are real issues, what they are, help them talk about them, and help them work through them to a resolution or a better situation.

You won’t try to solve the problems. That’s not your job as a mentor. But you will be a guide. At some point, it will be appropriate, as a guide, to say what you would do if you found yourself in a similar situation. But, as a great guide, you won’t force this outcome, nor will you be judgmental if the founders go down a different path.

Remember – you get to make one decision – whether or not you want to keep being a mentor.