Oct 19 2018

How Asking Someone How to #GiveFirst to Them Undermines #GiveFirst

I got an email this morning from a close friend who asked how I reconcile a particular issue around the concept of #GiveFirst. Following is the setup from the email I got.

“I was thinking of you yesterday. I recently met with someone in town who was looking to connect. I took the meeting because, well, I always take such meetings. I’m just wired that way and you never know what good things can come from such random meetings.

So I love doing them. But yesterday the person I met with showed up with an agenda and, at the top of his list was “GiveFirst to <my organization> and <me>.” He had an agenda…he had an ask of me…but he wanted to “give first” by asking me how he could help me.

I think he misunderstands the mindset. And I think he’s not the only one. By opening up with that, he put me in a position of having to do something–respond to his inquiry–I didn’t really have any need to do.

Moreover, he inadvertently put me in debt to him from the beginning. “Before we begin, let me ask you, ‘How can I help you?’ ” While I don’t really have a lot of asks it still felt yucky, insincere, and manipulative.”

This is a chronic problem with understanding how to implement #GiveFirst. While well-intentioned, it shifts the burden of responsibility from the #GiveFirster to the Receiver. Ponder that for a second.

Here’s an example from my personal life. Amy and I do a lot of things for each other, all the time. But, imagine a situation where she’s overwhelmed, or tired, or in distress from something. If I show up at that moment and say, “How can I help,” I’m adding another thing for her to do to the mix. She is now responsible for figuring out what I can do to help her. If she knew this, she probably would have already asked me. Instead of helping, I’m merely adding another log to whatever fire is already burning.

Instead of asking someone how you can #GiveFirst to them or their company, you should take the opposite approach. Do your research before you meet. Understand what their (or their organizations goals) are. In a lot of cases, you can often figure out a short-term need that they have. Then, when you meet, have a prepared mind for the conversation and listen to where it goes. In real-time, ofter to do something that fits with what you are hearing, or what you expect the goals or short-term needs are.

This doesn’t have to be an explicit part of the conversation (e.g. “I’m going to #GiveFirst to you by doing the following.”) Instead; it needs to be completely non-transaction – you are not doing something to earn anything, including brownie points. You are, instead, operating in a #GiveFirst framework, where you are willing to put energy into something without expecting anything in return. Ideally, you’ll just go #GiveFirst and do some stuff that is helpful to the other party. Not once, but as part of establishing and developing a deeper relationship that comes from a non-transaction perspective.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of mechanizing the #GiveFirst philosophy. It’s explicitly called #GiveFirst and not #TellMeWhatICanDoToHelpYou to stimulate you – the giver – to do the work to figure out what is helpful.

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Oct 18 2018

Refreshing Websites

Every year or two I refresh the formatting on this website along with a few others that I help manage and generate content for. I work with a great firm called Valet that I really like and everything is hosted on Pantheon, so the process works smoothly for me.

In addition to the refresh on Feld Thoughts, I also just refreshed Venture Deals (which used to be Ask the VC) and Startup Revolution. Amy and I also recently put up a website for the Anchor Point Foundation (our foundation). And, Seth and Micah did a big refresh on the Foundry Group website.

As part of this, each of them now has a separate subscribe by email option in addition to an RSS feed. If you want to skip searching for it and just subscribe, click on the following links as you desire.

I’m still cleaning up a lot of little stuff now that it’s all live (e.g. I know the favicon for Venture Deals shouldn’t be my face), so if you see something that is either broken, wrong, or that you don’t like, toss it in the comments or email me. And, of course, general feedback on things that could be better are very welcome.

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Oct 15 2018

Book: Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History was awesome. Given that Sears filed for Chapter 11 today, I’ll start with some perspective from 1976.

America is remarkably dynamic. Humans constantly create narratives about things and how they work. Suddenly, popular books are appearing, such as Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, that challenge the relevance of our narratives.

There is so much to reflect on when reading a book like Fantasyland or Sapiens. Pondering the meaning of life is an endless human pastime.

It’s particularly interesting in the context of the growth and development of a country, which in and of itself is a temporary construct, just like everything else.

I’ve always loved reading fantasy. And, after reading Fantasyland, I realize I’ve been living in it also.

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Oct 12 2018

The Expanse

As the weekend approaches, I sense the need in the universe for some people to find a new TV show to binge watch.

If you fit in this category and haven’t yet watched The Expanse, give it a try. If you are a BSG fan and haven’t seen it yet, start tonight. If you like sci-fi, drama, space opera, global political intrigue, underdogs, detective noir, the risk of mass extinction, and believable human history a few hundred years in the future, this one is for you.

There’s a ton of setup, so you need to hang in there for the first five or so episodes. As the friend who referred me to it stated, it’s “Boring boring PROTOMOLECULE…” You get there quickly enough.

There are three seasons, and Amazon just picked up the fourth, so there is a lot to catch up on along with a future. And, after reflecting on it compared to our current geopolitical situation, it’s easy to assert that “nothing ever changes.”

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Oct 11 2018

Eniac Ventures Seed to Scale Podcast

While we aren’t LPs in Eniac Ventures, we are big fans of the team. So, it was my pleasure to be interviewed by Hadley Harris as part of their Seed to Scale Podcast.

The interview ended up being two episodes and, while listening to it in the car, I felt like it was one of the better recent interviews that I’ve done. Hadley and I talked for about an hour and then he edited the discussion down into two ten minute podcasts, so he pulled out the good stuff and left all the garbage on the cutting room floor.

Episode 1 includes advice I’d give to a much younger me and discusses why I think it is important to build long-term fund strategies with conviction and consistency.

Episode 2 covers what makes an excellent board member, the biggest reasons startups fail, and the three machines that must work together in order for a company to scale.

Enjoy!

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Oct 9 2018

Book: The Messy Middle

This summer I read the page proof version of Scott Belsky’s new book The Messy Middle. It is excellent and is now out and available. I bought 100 copies and am sending them out to every CEO in our portfolio. If you are a CEO of a fast-growing company, I strongly recommend it.

The letter I sent out to the CEOs in our portfolio (with the book) follows:

Since you are a member of the Foundry Group Book of the Almost Every Month Club (bet you didn’t know that was part of the deal when we invested), enclosed is a copy of The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky.

It’s outstanding. Many of you are either in the messy middle or aspire to be (whether you realize it or not.) And, if you don’t aspire to be in the messy middle, but hope to one day be a large company, you may as well deal with the reality that you’ll enjoy time in the messy middle.

Scott was the founder of Behance, a company funded by USV and a bunch of seed/angel investors, that was acquired by Adobe. Scott then served a tour of duty at Adobe, left to spend some time at Benchmark, but then went back to Adobe and is now Adobe’s Chief Product Officer. He’s also had a great track record of angel investments, so he’s been around a bunch of different blocks multiple times.

Rather than read from start to finish, take a look at the Table of Contents while holding a pen and circle the sub-chapters that are interesting to you. There are a lot of them, they are short, and almost all are highly relevant. But, start with the ones that call out to you as a way to get into the book more deeply.

And, if you find something particularly relevant to you, mention it, with an example (if you are brave enough to name names) and put it up on the CEO list.

Scott – thanks for putting so much energy into this book.

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Oct 8 2018

We Just Got It Simplified – Now Let’s Complexify It

Complexify is such a delicious, underused word. I’ve been using it a lot lately, hopefully with great effect on people who are on the receiving end.

CEOs and founders struggle with this all the time (as do I). They are executing on a strategy and a plan. A new idea or opportunity comes up. It’s interesting and/or exciting. Energy gets spent against it. Momentum appears. While some people on the team raise issues, suddenly the idea/opportunity starts taking on a life of its own. Things get more complex.

Eventually, there’s a reset. The core of what is going on is good – there’s just a bunch of complicated crap happening that is distracting everyone and undermining the goodness in the business. So, the CEO and the leadership team go on a mission to simplify things. This takes a while, usually involves killing some projects, and often results in some people leaving the company. These aren’t big restructuring exercises but rather focused simplification exercises. The end result is often a much stronger business, with more focus, faster growth, and better economics, especially EBITDA.

This happens regularly in the best companies that are scaling. In my view, it’s a key part of the job of a CEO who is working “on the company” a majority of her time, rather than simply working “in the company.” It’s particularly powerful when a company starts to see its growth rate decline (it’s still growing, but at a slower pace than before) or a company is spending too much money relative to its growth rate.

Six months (or twelve months) later the simplification effort is complete. The company is performing much better. EBITDA has dramatically improved (or the negative EBITDA has gotten a lot smaller.) Growth is happening in an economically justified way. The product is improving faster. Customers are happier. Everyone around the team is enthusiastic.

And then a new idea or opportunity appears. Energy starts being spent against it. Momentum appears. You get where this is going.

I call this complexifying, a word I rarely see in the entrepreneurship literature. Maybe it’ll start creeping in now. All I know is that I’m using it a lot these days.

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Oct 5 2018

Community, Creativity, and #GiveFirst Event at CU Boulder on 10/18/18

I’m participating in an event at CU Boulder (sponsored by Silicon Flatirons) on 10/18/18 called Community, Creativity, and #GiveFirst.

#GiveFirst: A New Philosophy for Business in The Era of Entrepreneurship is the name of an upcoming book of mine. It’s also the mantra of Techstars.

In addition to a few of the usual cast of characters (me, Brad Bernthal, Jason Mendelson, Nicole Glaros) and some CU folks, a number of interesting people are joining us including Sam ZellStephanie CopelandAnnaLee (Anno) SaxenianBrian BroughmanSonali Shah, and Krista Marks.

The first panel is titled #GiveFirst and is a moderated chat between me and Sam Zell. I promise it won’t be dull.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, already view #GiveFirst (which I first talked about in my book Startup Communities in the section “Give Before You Get”) as part of your life, or just want to engage in a stimulating SIlicon Flatirons sponsored afternoon, come join us.

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Oct 1 2018

Q318 Staycation: Resting, Reading, and Little Running

I took last week off the grid for my Q318 vacation. Amy and I were originally going to Alaska to look at polar bears but canceled everything after I got sick and did a staycation in Boulder instead. I got at least 10 hours of sleep each day, did a bunch of self-care things (PT, massage, meditate), ran a few times (to the extent that 14-minute miles can be considered running), and read a half dozen books.

I’m feeling a lot better. I’m off antibiotics, feel well-rested, and have renewed energy as Q4 begins. The vacation was well timed and it was awesome to spend a full week just relaxing and recovering.

For the readers out there in blogland, here are quick summaries of the books I read.

One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer: Recommended by Christopher Schroeder, I wouldn’t have ordinarily picked up a book like this. It was awesome and another great read in the memoir category. While I had a view on the Marines, I learned a lot from this book and was engaged from start to finish. I realize all the memoirs I’ve read recently were by men, so I added a few female memoirs to my Kindle to read.

Late to the Ball: A Journey into Tennis and Aging: Another memoir, this time about tennis. Gerry Mazorati started playing later in life and, in his sixties, decided to see how good he could get as a competitive tennis player. His self-reflection, both about tennis and aging, as he pursues this quest, are delicious. I played competitive tennis as a junior (age 10 – 14), stopped for many years after completely burning out, and started playing casually again around age 30. This was a fun nudge in the direction of being more competitive when I play, rather than “just hitting.”

Dietland: When I grabbed some memoirs written by women, I also grabbed some female-centric fiction, which I realized isn’t part of my regular reading diet. I just read the Amazon book summary on Dietland, which follows: “Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. With her job answering fan mail for a teen magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. But when a mysterious woman in colorful tights and combat boots begins following her, Plum falls down a rabbit hole into the world of Calliope House — an underground community of women who reject society’s rules — and is forced to confront the real costs of becoming “beautiful.” At the same time, a guerilla group begins terrorizing a world that mistreats women, and Plum becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive.” It was super provocative and when I finished, I said out loud “three for three so far this week on the reading front …”

Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are: This was the best book of the week and made things “four for four.” Dave Jilk (my first business partner and, at this point, other than my brother, my longest standing friendship) and I are working on a book project currently titled Nietzsche for Entrepreneurs. John Kaag wrote a magnificent mix of a memoir and exploration of Nietzsche while spending a month with his wife and child in Sils Maria where Nietzsche wrote a number of his books. I learned a lot about Nietzsche, how his philosophy evolved and fit together, and enjoyed intellectually wandering around in mountains that I expect I will be visiting in my future.

Lying: by Sam Harris was poignant and relevant. It was short and should be read by everyone. It’s a great argument for why one should never lie. It felt especially relevant last week.

Blitzscaling: The Lightning-Fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Companies: Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh’s new book showed up in the middle of the week so I tossed it on the top of the infinite pile of physical books. If you are in a fast scaling company, are curious about some details about fast-growing companies that you know, but might not have heard from, or just want a big dose of “here’s how it works in Silicon Valley when it works”, there’s a lot of good stuff in this one. Dear Reid and Chris – please tell your editor that it is “startup”, not “start-up.”

On reflection, I would have benefited from more fiction last week. I’m in the middle of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History which is incredibly awesome, so once I finish it I’ll queue up some more fiction.

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Sep 19 2018

Book: The Fixer

I enjoyed Bradley Tusk’s new book, The Fixer: My Adventures Saving Startups from Death by Politics. It’s another memoir, a category which seems to be ending up on the top of my reading list a lot these days. It also was in the pile of books I get sent regularly by publishers hoping I’ll read and review them (as in “Dear Brad Feld, here is a form letter about my book, I hope you like it.”)

While I don’t know Bradley Tusk, I know of him, have heard him speak once, and like his first name. When I started reading The Fixer, I had no idea whether I’d end up engrossed, or end up turning the pages every 15 seconds as I skimmed through it looking for the good bits.

I was engrossed, at least for the first half. I started it on Monday night after dinner and got halfway through before I noticed my eyes closing as sleep beckoned. It was about 9:15 pm, which is a typical call it quits time for me on a weekday, especially since I’m still sleeping 10 or so hours a night as I recover from my two weeks of misery.

Last night Amy and I watched Sicario: Day of the Soldado. It was exactly what we were looking for, so I took a night off from reading.

Tonight, I got home at about 7 pm, ate dinner, and finished up The Fixer. The second half had a bunch of startup stories, which were shorter, but also less interesting to me in the context of a memoir. It also shifted from “here’s my story” to “here’s what my business is doing to help startups” which, while better than most memoirs that try to walk the line of self-promotion, still was less stimulating (at least to me) than the first half. Well, except for the chapter about Bloomberg almost running for president, which I loved.

Overall, it’s a winner of a book. And, if you are an entrepreneur who is doing anything that touches on any heavily regulated industry (which is a lot of you), I’d put it in the must-read category to get more context and ideas about what you are up against and how to think about it.

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