Month: May 2021

May 26 2021

Monsters

Most of the quotes we discuss in The Entrepreneur’s Weekly Nietzsche we found by reading his work, but a few are well-known lines that you may have heard before. This is one, used in our chapter “Monsters”:

He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.

The quote leads quickly to questions of ethics. In the chapter, we discuss the fact that we each have our own views of what constitutes ethical or unethical behavior in business. It is a line-drawing game – there is no reference that everyone agrees on. The choices have both short- and long-term consequences for both the success of your business and for your own reputation. Further, once you choose an ethical approach, it becomes entrenched in your organization and is difficult to change.

These questions arise pretty much every day in business. It came up for us today with our own book promotion. Our publisher was excited that we had achieved “#1 Amazon Best Seller” status in a couple of categories and produced the graphic below for promotion. The thing is, the categories were things like “Existentialism” and “Philosophy Reference” where overall sales are lower – they are applicable to the book as categories, but not really our target market (for the record, the book is selling nicely in “Entrepreneurial Management”, where it was briefly #2.)

The question is, should we use it, or is it misleading and dishonest?

We expect that most of you will say that of course we should use it, because strictly speaking it is true, and it will help sell the book. A few might agree that it is a little uncomfortable, perhaps preferring that the language be changed a little. Others will say that the question is overthinking a simple thing, and why should one even worry about it?

This is indeed a simple example, and in isolation this is overthinking. It’s not going to show up as a scandal on the front page of the New York Times. But if you never examine such questions, the pressure of competition and the temptation of promotion can be an abyss that gazes into you. Eventually you may find yourself, or people in your organization, saying things like “A lot of people are telling me…” (where have you heard that before?) Such statements are strictly true, depending on one’s interpretation of “a lot.” How is this marketing image different?

Our book asks you to think harder about questions like this, and many others that may not have such an explicitly ethical component.

As another example, Dave wrote this post after a quick back and forth this morning about the issue on email while I was on another call. I read it, make a few light edits, and posted it. One approach would be to just post this. Instead, I asked Dave how he wanted it posted since he was the primary author. As we went back and forth in email (his answer: “Either say we both wrote it or credit me, either is fine. I’d lean toward the first.”) just reinforced our own alignment, while being a nice self-referential example.

And … we both just looked and the book is currently selling at #1 in both “Business Management Science” and “Business Technology Innovation.” Ahhh, that feels better.

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May 25 2021

Shipped! The Entrepreneur’s Weekly Nietzsche

My newest book, The Entrepreneur’s Weekly Nietzsche: A Book for Disruptors, shipped today. It’s available on Amazon in Kindle, Paperback, and Hardcover. If you are so inclined, go buy a copy today!

I’m particularly proud of this book, as it is a more philosophical approach to entrepreneurship than my other books. I wrote it with Dave Jilk, the co-founder of our first company (Feld Technologies, 1987) and one of my closest friends for 38 years.

The book contains 52 individual chapters (hence the “Weekly” in the title) and is divided into five major sections (Strategy, Culture, Free Spirits, Leadership, and Tactics). Each chapter begins with a quote from one of Nietzsche’s works, using a public domain translation, followed by our own adaptation of the quote to 21st-century English. Next is a brief essay applying the quote to entrepreneurship. About two-thirds of the chapters include a narrative by or about an entrepreneur we know (or know of), telling a concrete story from their personal experience as it applies to the quote, the essay, or both.

Our goal with this book is to make you think, rather than try to tell you the answers. For example, here’s the Nietzsche quote from a chapter titled “Obsession” from the section on “Free Spirits”.

“The passion which seizes the noble man is a peculiarity, without his knowing that it is so: the use of a rare and singular measuring-rod, almost a frenzy: the feeling of heat in things that feel cold to all other persons: a divining of values for which scales have not yet been invented: a sacrificing on altars which are consecrated to an unknown God: a bravery without the desire for honor: a self-sufficiency which has superabundance: and imparts to men and things.”

Our interpretation is:

In other words: A noble man has exceptional passion, but does not realize just how unusual it is: he has high standards for success, enthusiasm for things that others find dull, a sense of what will be valuable in the future, intense but unexplained motivations, courage without the need for praise, and the ability to sustain and revel in this intensity without support from others.

And the chapter begins with:

You may have noticed that this chapter is titled Obsession, but Nietzsche seems to be talking about passion. For several years, Brad has written and spoken about the pitfalls of “passion” in entrepreneurs, distinguishing it from “obsession,” which is a quality he looks for. Dictionaries generally speak of passion as a strong emotion, while obsession is a preoccupation of the mind. We have a hunch that Nietzsche is trying to make a similar distinction here. The word “obsession” did not come into common use until later. Earlier in the text, he says, “What then makes a person ‘noble’?…Certainly not that he generally follows his passions; there are contemptible passions.” It is worth asking yourself whether you are obsessed with your business and the problem it solves for customers or merely passionate about it.

If you intend to disrupt an industry or change the world, you must expect people to see you as crazy, intransigent, and possibly sociopathic. Maybe you are. To sustain yourself and your efforts in such a climate, you must find your drive within. You must know your vision and why it matters to you. Importantly, you cannot feel that its correctness depends on your ability to explain it to others. You must be obsessed.

Each essay from us is two to three pages long, so they are easy to quickly consume and then reflect on. The narratives from entrepreneurs telling their story as it applies to the quote are also a few pages long.

For one more taste, here’s the Nietzsche quote and our interpretation chapter called “Attracting Followers” from the chapter on “Leadership”.

“Men press forward to the light not in order to see better but to shine better.—The person before whom we shine we gladly allow to be called a light.”

In other words: People are drawn to light because it shines on them, not because it shows them the way. A person who makes us shine is someone we gladly call a light.”

I hope this inspires you to get a copy of The Entrepreneur’s Weekly Nietzsche: A Book for Disruptors. I’d love to hear what you think about it.

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May 24 2021

Google Enters Hologramland

Six months ago I wrote When The Big Companies Show Up about Sony releasing their first holographic display and what I thought about that development, given my role as an investor via Foundry and board member in the 40-person purveyor of fine holographic interfaces in Brooklyn called Looking Glass. In that post, I wrote:

“When I ponder my life in 2040, I am confident that I will not be spending 12 hours a day in videoconferences on a 2D display. I’m also not going to have a headset encapsulating my face. I’m ready for my holographic future, and I’m having fun being an investor in a company that helps create it.”

That future is coming fast, and last week I was involved in several discussions about holograms.

The first was with Shawn Frayne, the CEO of Looking Glass, reporting that by the summer they will have shipped a personal holographic display to 10,000 people around the world.

The second was a chat about Google announcing a holographic system of their own at Google I/O. Following is a brief excerpt from one of the articles floating around about that announcement:

“Pichai said “We have developed a breakthrough light field display,” probably with the help of the people and IP it scooped up from Lytro, the light field camera company that didn’t manage to get its own tech off the ground and dissolved in 2018.

Light field cameras and displays create and show 3D imagery using a variety of techniques that are very difficult to explain or show in 2D. The startup Looking Glass has made several that are extremely arresting to view in person, showing 3D models and photographic scenes that truly look like tiny holograms.

Whether Google’s approach is similar or different, the effect appears to be equally impressive, as the participants indicate.”

Needless to say, the Looking Glass community has some strong opinions about this new development.

Will Google or Sony or Looking Glass or some other contender deliver on the full potential of the holographic future we’ve all been waiting for? While my bet is on Looking Glass, this future now feels more inevitable than ever. 

If you’re interested in building out this future with the band of misfits at Looking Glass, drop me an email and I’ll connect you.

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May 19 2021

New Book: The Entrepreneur’s Weekly Nietzsche

My newest book, The Entrepreneur’s Weekly Nietzsche: A Book for Disruptors, comes out next Tuesday, May 25th.

This has been an on-again, off-again project with Dave Jilk that began in 2013. We were spending the weekend in Keystone with our wives (Amy and Maureen), which generally involved a lot of sitting around reading. Dave was reading On Nietzsche by Eric Steinhart. He read a quote to me and asked if I thought it sounded like an entrepreneur. Dave remembers me saying, “Hmmm, it sure does.” Then we both went back to our books. 

At the time, I knew nothing about Nietzsche. Actually, I knew less than nothing since everything I knew about him was wrong.

Dave is one of my best friends. We met over 38 years ago, on my first day at MIT, right after the freshman picnic, when I ended up in a van that took me to ADP, the fraternity I ended up joining and living at for four years. Dave was a senior, and we became best friends. We started a company that year with Sameer Gandhi and Andy Mina called Martingale Software that failed pretty quickly. Several years later, we started Feld Technologies, which we ran together from 1987 to 1993 when we sold it to Sage Alerting Systems, which later renamed itself to AmeriData Technologies. We kept working together – him as an entrepreneur, me as an investor.

But “business” is only a small part of our relationship. For any close friendship that lasts 38 years, he has a better understanding of me than almost anyone else on this planet (Amy has him beat.) So, theoretically, he knew what he was getting into when we decided to start writing a book together. I expect there was a moment, though, where he shouted at the top of his lungs, “Brad, enough with the fucking commas.”

We made progress in fits and starts. Most of the fits were a result of me getting distracted by something else. Sometimes it was work. Sometimes it was another book that got in the way. Sometimes it was burnout – writing, work, or just general lassitude. Dave hung in there each time, giving me space, moving things forward without me, and then when I resurfaced, quickly kicking back into gear on his end to respond to whatever I was doing.

I’ll write plenty more about the book, Nietzsche, and why we think Nietzsche is so relevant to entrepreneurs, but I want to end with two paragraphs of appreciate for people.

The first is Ryan Holiday, who was an inspiration for me with his book The Daily Stoic. I read a page almost every day. Ryan inspires me at so many levels, but his ability to make stoicism accessible to entrepreneurs has been magical and transformative for many people I know, including me. I’m hopeful Dave and I can emulate even a tiny bit of what Ryan has accomplished, but this time with Nietzsche.

The second is Reid Hoffman. He agreed to write the foreword several years ago when I first told him about this project. He waited patiently, and he produced a brilliant foreword that captures the essence of what we’ve tried to do with the book. In addition, as a bonus, he used Nietzsche’s writing style for some of it. Reid is a great human, and I deeply appreciate his involvement in this project.

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May 18 2021

Techstars Accelerating Black ParentPreneurs

I recently nominated James Oliver’s ParentPreneur Foundation for the new Techstars Accelerate Equity Program. Amy and I provided the lead gift of $100,000 through our Anchor Point Foundation. For a detailed look at what the ParentPreneur Foundation does, take a look at Techstars Foundation Empowers Black ParentPreneurs, So They Can Leave A Legacy For Their Children.

Through Accelerate Equity, the Techstars Foundation identifies early-stage nonprofits and ideas to empower and support underestimated entrepreneurs. We then call on the Techstars network to pitch in. The Techstars Foundation will add a 5% match to the total raised at the end of the calendar quarter.

Among other things, James has created a vibrant community for Black ParentPreneurs.

I’ve known James for a while, as we became friends when he started his previous company WeMontage. While I didn’t invest, we talked periodically and emailed regularly. I loved his book The More You Hustle, The Luckier You Get (it’s “pure James”). We connected after George Floyd was murdered, and he mentioned his initial dream of the ParentPreneur Foundation. I immediately jumped in to help.

It has been about a year since that conversation. Since then, a number of friends, including Mark Suster, Fred and Joanne Wilson, Seth Godin, and David Cohen have also supported the ParentPreneur Foundation. It has been awesome to see the progress that James has made. I’m delighted that the Techstars Foundation is including him in the Accelerate Equity program.

If you want to support James or support something I support around racial equity and entrepreneurship, please donate to the ParentPreneur Foundation through the Techstars Foundation.

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May 17 2021

Book: Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality

I’ve been reading hard science fiction lately, along with some actual science. The hard sci-fi includes Dragon’s Egg and Starquake by Robert Forward (wow – awesome) and Nova by Samuel Delany (also awesome). The science includes The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything by Michio Kaku and Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality by Frank Wilczek.

In between runs this weekend I finished Nova (I was listening to it on Audible), Fundamentals (I was reading it on Kindle), and read most of Starquake (It’s only available in physical form.) I also started listening to Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. The only thing that would have made this weekend better would be a third day to it, instead of the Monday in front of me.

Frank Wilczek is a legendary physicist who won the Nobel Prize in 2004 for “for the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction.” with David Gross and David Politzer. His office at MIT is in the same hallway as Bernard Feld, my MIT namesake (Prof B. Feld, something I never became.) He also happens to be a spectacular writer.

Fundamentals is extremely accessible. After reading Michio Kaku’s The God Equation, I realized that I knew a lot of surface-level physics (and science in general), but there was a layer down, especially from the past 20 years, that was elusive. Kaku’s presented it in a way that one could understand without any deep quantum physics knowledge, so I went looking for more.

Wilczek delivered. The first part of the book, called “What There Is”, has five chapters.

  1. There’s Plenty of Space
  2. There’s Plenty of Time
  3. There Are Very Few Ingredients
  4. There Are Very Few Laws
  5. There’s Plenty of Matter and Energy

It’s brilliant.

As I read hard sci-fi, the entanglement of known science at the time (Nova was published in 1968; The Dragon’s Egg was published in 1980) along with speculation of where things were going (e.g. each book took place far in the future) created a contextual backdrop for me for Fundamentals that helped bring what we know, and what we don’t know, to the surface. Or, more specifically, what we knew (in 1968, 1980) that was right, and what doesn’t seem right anymore because it wasn’t known, or understood.

The shocker is how much is directionally correct. When I read Asimov from the 1950s (I, Robot is a good place to start), or Philip K. Dick from the 1960s (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a good place to start) I have the same feeling. Many details are completely wrong (e.g. how data is stored on auxtape) but others are completely correct (e.g. massive underground data centers). Hard sci-fi takes more risks on this dimension, and both Forward and Delany do an amazing job of both the science and the storytelling.

In the last 20 years, I’ve read a lot more sci-fi than science. That’s a miss on my part. Going forward, my diet will include both. And I hope to someday meet a Cheela. And a Shrike.

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May 14 2021

Eat Your Frogs First Thing In The Morning

Each morning during the week, after morning coffee together, Amy says, “Ok, time to go eat my frogs.” She’s usually told me about the one or two or three frogs she has for the day, and her statement is a rhythmic part of our morning.

Yesterday, I asked her where that phrase came from. She pointed me at Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, a productivity book by Brian Tracey that she read a few years ago. (Note, a blog reader sourced the original quote to Mark Twain.)

While I haven’t read the book, we are using the phrase a little differently than the motivating language on the Amazon book website.

It’s time to stop procrastinating and get more of the important things done! After all, successful people don’t try to do everything. They focus on their most important tasks and get those done. They eat their frogs.
 
There’s an old saying that if the first thing you do each morning is eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re done with the worst thing you’ll have to do all day. For Tracy, eating a frog is a metaphor for tackling your most challenging task—but also the one that can have the greatest positive impact on your life.

Stop procrastinating is correct, but it’s mostly aimed at a task that is difficult for some reason. And, what is difficult for Amy is different than what is difficult for me, and vice versa.

If you recall my post, Something New Is Fucked Up In My World Every Day, you will see the link between Milarepa and eating frogs, even if demons aren’t involved.

Between Monday and Friday, my work as a VC includes an endless number of difficult things. I say no all day long. I give people news or feedback they don’t want to hear. I deal with conflict, angry and frustrated people, and strange situations that cause emotional pain. Often the pain is from exogenous factors that dramatically influence things, but which we have no control over.

And yes, Something New Is Fucked Up In My World Every Day. I can’t predict when it will show up, but it’s often late enough in the day that I can’t solve it before I stop working. And many of these things extend over many days and have numerous frogs contained within them.

I used to procrastinate on things I didn’t want to deal with. In my 20s and 30s, I’d carry them around with me, waiting for the right time to address them. By the time I hit my 40s, I had stopped doing this with most things and just dealt with whatever came up head-on. When I found myself procrastinating on something difficult, I realized I was avoidant, often passive avoidant, and would go deeper on why I was procrastinating which often helped me understand the thing better. Occasionally, I’d continue to be avoidant, sometimes unconsciously, but the demons eventually showed up, and I had to embrace the lessons of Milarepa to get rid of them.

I still procrastinate, but it’s on things that either don’t have a deadline or things that I’m looking forward to doing. If you’ve written a book with me, you understand this statement well (Ian, I’m thinking of you.)

The frogs? I eat them whenever they show up or first thing in the morning. And, even though I’m a vegetarian, I’ve come to get satisfaction from eating my virtual frogs. So that’s another life lesson from Amy.

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May 13 2021

The Founder’s Story of The Path To Us Investing in Gig Wage

In February, we announced our investment in Gig Wage. After some entertaining back and forth, I encouraged Craig Lewis, the founder/CEO of Gig Wage, to write up a quick story of how things unfolded, as he remembered them, and I’d post it here. I love founder stories, and origin stories, and always learn something from reflecting on them. So, in Craig’s words …

Two tech guys from Dallas walk into a bar…

(Note from Brad: that’s my dad Stan on the far left – he and I go everywhere together when I’m in Dallas.)

Before I met Brad in person, I had known about him because he’s pretty much startup-famous from his books and from co-founding Techstars, but I didn’t know much about Foundry Group. I hadn’t even read any of his books at the time, but I knew I was interested in meeting him.

Brad and I first met at an event two years ago at UTD (University of Texas at Dallas), where he would be speaking. We met at the bar, I had my favorite go-to drink, the “Black American” (my concoction, inspired by a White Russian), and Brad was having water since he doesn’t drink. 

My first impression of Brad was that he’s freaking brilliant. You can tell when someone’s done a lot and is smart from their experience. I figured, ‘this guy’s seen it all from A to Z and has probably seen it from Z to A and then back again.’ And he could have easily been not cool, but he was totally humble and down-to-earth, and we just kind of vibed. When we spoke, it didn’t seem like an investor-entrepreneur thing, just two guys from Dallas talking tech.

Fast forward to about a year later, we had recently received an investment from Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest Revolution.  Entrepreneurs who are part of his portfolio take part in a quarterly book club, where we all read a book and one entrepreneur is chosen to interview the author of the book. I happened to be able to interview Brad when we got an early look at the latest edition of his book Venture Deals. Between meeting Brad and interviewing him, he had set up a few introductions for me, which was cool of him, and when we got to the interview, it was casual, like we knew each other from around and had kind of been in touch before. We did a live webinar Q+A for all of the entrepreneurs in the book club. After getting through all my questions about his book, we ended up talking about entrepreneurship, technology, and venture capital.

That’s when I started to realize that he’s a prolific investor, and I started to understand the Foundry Group a little better, although it didn’t fully click for me until we went through Techstars and I met Jaclyn Hester.  She was able to quickly get up to speed on the company we were building and my vision for Gig Wage. Funny enough, we still didn’t think we were going to do anything, but the managing director for Techstars (who I later ended up hiring) told me that Foundry Group is super legit. Eventually, we connected the dots and realized that my relationship with Brad was just organically building up to an investment from Foundry Group. As it was happening, these events just seemed like different moments, but looking back, it’s obvious that every piece of it mattered and eventually led us to where we are today.

When looking for an investment, it’s more about who wants to invest in us and what steps they take to invest in us than the other way around. We typically aren’t going around reaching out to see whose investments we can secure. What happened with Brad and the Foundry Group came down to them showing excitement for Gig Wage, not by me strategically or intentionally pursuing them by any means. I realized our goals aligned, and that’s pretty much how it happened.

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May 12 2021

427 Mondays In A Row

I was talking to a friend yesterday and he said, “Just another Monday.” But yesterday was Tuesday. I asked him what he meant. He said, “Every day feels like a Monday – I just get up and do it again.”

It has been 427 days since I mark the start, for me, of the Covid crisis (March 11th – the first day I stayed home.) As the world, at least in some places, loosens up a lot, people are anxious to get back together in physical form. I see it everywhere around me – dinners, meetings, people in Zoom in offices, background noises, air travel, and endless requests to get together in person.

Fred wrote an interesting post titled In-Person vs On-Screen that starts out:

Last week I spent three hours with my six partners in a conference room talking through what we are investing in and why. It was a terrific session and I had more “ahas” in those three hours than I have had in many many months. There really is no substitute for sitting together with your colleagues working things out face to face.

The post describes his thinking around remote, hybrid, and in-person. He talks about his, and his partners, current dynamics. He ends with a strong assertion.

Each company needs to figure this out in a way that works for their team and culture and I believe that there is no “right way” for everyone. But I also believe that in-person interactions remain critical to making better decisions, better products, better cultures, and better companies and so I would encourage everyone, including the fully remote teams, to figure out how to make in-person interactions happen on some regular cadence.

I see this in my own partnership. Several of my partners are regularly getting together in person. While I’m supportive of that, I have no interest in it and would rather continue to be fully remote for now. Fortunately, they understand. We are working on understanding and implementing our own hybrid dynamics that work for each of us and the team as a whole.

While we are privileged to be in a business and an industry where this is something we can explore, I immediately think of Susan Cain’s essential book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. When I read it in 2012, a few puzzle pieces slid into place for me.

I strongly agree with Fred’s statement:

Each company needs to figure this out in a way that works for their team and culture and I believe that there is no “right way” for everyone.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been in numerous “back to the office” conversations. I’ve participated in public discussions about remote vs. hybrid vs. in-office. I’ve talked with almost every CEO and board that I work with about this topic.

I’ve been asserting, like Fred, that this is a custom answer for each company. However, I’m adding a twist. I encourage the CEOs not to let their personal bias drive the answer. For some CEOs, that’s intolerable. For others, it has been enlightening.

I know several CEOs who are desperate to get back to the office. They hate working at home. They struggle not traveling around and being with their team. They are miserable with remote work. So, regardless of what anyone on their team says or wants, they will not have a remote work option. And, in one case that I’m aware of, there is not going to be any semblance of a hybrid option.

I know several CEOs who have let their leases end or sublet their offices. They love working at home. They have no interest in going to the airport. They deeply embrace remote work. No matter what, they are going to be a remote-first company in the future. And, in more than one case, there is no plan ever to rent any office space again.

When you suspend your individual bias, I expect you’ll find interesting and unexpected answers from different people in your company. When you ask them for approaches, you might find some that you hadn’t thought of. Knowing that there is a wide spectrum of desires among your current team, especially after 427 days of Mondays, is an important starting point for figuring out the best configuration for your company going forward.

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May 11 2021

The New Builders: Discussion on 5/18/21

My partner Seth Levine and his co-author Elizabeth MacBride recently wrote an important book called The New Builders: Face to Face with the True Future of Business. It is out and available.

Foundry Group is hosting an open virtual event to discuss the book. Seth and Elizabeth will be moderating the discussion with special guests Colorado Senator John Hickenlooper, Makisha Boothe of Sistahbiz, Colorado Congressman Joe Neguse, and Lorena Cantarovici of Maria Empanada.

Sign up here for the virtual event at May 18, 2021 12:00 PM PT; 1:00 PM MT.

Seth and Elizabeth have spent the past year talking to entrepreneurs all over the United States as they’ve developed their thesis around The New Builders. The Covid crisis has accelerated the growth and development of many high-tech companies, including the largest companies that were recently young, entrepreneurial businesses. But, unfortunately, the Covid crisis has decimated many local businesses and dramatically impacted communities everywhere.

The New Builders are the future of business that will emerge from the Covid crisis, and the book argues for the future of American entrepreneurship. That future lies in surprising places and will rely on the success of women, Black, and Brown entrepreneurs. However, our country hasn’t yet recognized the New Builders’ identities, let alone developed strategies to support them.

Join the conversation about The New Builders with Seth, Elizabeth, John, Makisha, Joe, and Lorena on May 18th.

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