Several months ago I agreed to be part of a funding campaign for Gaza Sky Geeks. This is an organization that we had previously supported through the Techstars Foundation, which is how I was introduced to them.
The goal was simple – provide enough funding for a generator for the organization. I can’t remember what the first goal was, but I think it was around $60,000 total.
The support for this effort has been awesome and the campaign has expanded as it blew through the original $60,000 goal. The handful of initial supporters has expanded to a now impressive list, that includes recent support from Marc Benioff.
The campaign is now shooting to raise enough money to Launch Gaza’s First Coding Academy. There are two days left in the campaign and are currently at $210,000 of a $270,000 goal.
If you are game to donate, please give us a hand. And spread the word.
If you are curious about the matching funds, they are coming from the following list of people.
Marc Benioff: Founder, Chairman, and CEO, Salesforce
Brad Feld: Managing Director, Foundry Group
Paul Graham: Co-Founder, Y Combinator
Eric Ries: Entrepreneur, blogger, and author of The Lean Startup
Dave McClure: Founding Partner, 500 Startups
Fadi Ghandour: Co-Founder, Aramex
Badr Jafar: CEO, Crescent Enterprises
Hala Fadel: Partner, Leap Ventures
Jon Bradford: Co-Founder of F6S and Tech.eu
Freada Kapor Klein: Partner, Kapor Capital
Mitch Kapor: Partner, Kapor Capital
Zahi Khouri: Founder, Chairman, and CEO – National Beverage Company – Coca Cola Palestine
Samih Toukan: Chairman of Jabbar, Co-Founder of Maktoob and Souq
Blaise Aguera y Arcas: Principal scientist, Google
Mustafa Sezgin: Head of Engineering in Amsterdam, Uber
Khailee Ng: Managing Partner, 500 Startups
Jenny Lawton: COO, Techstars
David Cohen: Co-Founder, Techstars
Christopher Schroeder: Investor and author
Gisel Kordestani: COO, Crowdpac
Hussain Al-Shorafa: Co-Founder, Second Act
Zohre Elahian: Co-Founder and Board Member, Global Catalyst Foundation
Zoe Adamovicz + the Neufund Team
Krista Marks: CEO, Woot Math
In September, I joined the board of Kauffman Fellows.
If you aren’t familiar with the Kauffman Fellows Program, it recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. I was around at the beginning, spending a day a month in Kansas City with the Kauffman Foundation as an entrepreneur-in-residence when the program was originally created by a team at the Kauffman Foundation to identify, develop, and network the next generation of global leaders in the venture capital industry using a two-year apprenticeship program. In 2003, it was spun out of the Kauffman Foundation into a separate non-profit but, at the 20th reunion in Kansas City, the Kauffman Foundation made a new gift to the Kauffman Fellows Program to accelerate the midwestern venture capital ecosystem.
Kauffman Fellows now has almost 500 Fellows in 40 countries across the world. The power of the network and how it impacts both the venture capital industry and the startup ecosystem is profound. Some of the early Kauffman Fellows are now leading major firms. Consider a few people from the first three classes, including Jason Green (Emergence), Rob Coneybeer and Ravi Mohan (Shasta Ventures), Susan Mason (Aligned Partners), Jennifer Fonstad (Aspect Ventures), and Bryan Roberts (Venrock).
As someone who is now 20 years into his own journey as an investor in companies as well as other VC funds, when I was approached about joining the board by Jeff Harbach, the CEO, it was an easy yes for me. After spending some time with Jeff, who recently took over the CEO reins from long time CEO (and now Chairman) Phil Wickham, I realized that by engaging with Jeff and the board I could support a new CEO running a non-profit organization to train the world’s future VCs. Jeff blew me away with his vision and energy, which is the primary driver for me – beyond the mission of the organization – when I engage with a non-profit.
In one of our longer conversations, Jeff focused on the non-investment activities that he viewed as critical to the success of investors. We talked about topics like authenticity and mental fitness. We talked about a common paradox – the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know – and how difficult it is to acknowledge and process this concept in whatever context it appears. I’ve experienced this many times in my career and have deep empathy and understanding around the challenges. I believe that peer-mentorship, one of the key activities of Kauffman Fellows, is essential here.
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a strong advocate for diversity across all dimensions. This is not new for me in business – when I was at the Kauffman Foundation, I heard it, among other values that I cherish, as being attributed to Mr. Kauffman. When I looked around the room at the Kauffman Fellows Reunion, it was easy to see why they are having a huge impact on diversity in venture capital, with over 30% of the most recent class being women, 11% being African-American, alongside numerous participants from all over the world.
Kauffman Fellows is not necessarily for people just entering the venture industry but for experienced VCs looking to accelerate their growth. The program is centered around established innovation leaders – if you are looking to grow and become a better investor you should think about doing this program.
I talk often about being intrinsically motivated by learning. It’s the primary driver of most of my activity. When I struggled with a depressive episode in 2013, I realized that I had a glitch in my thinking about my own motivation. I had separated learning and teaching into different concepts. As I have gotten older, I am spending a lot more time teaching, which was taking away from time I had previously spent learning, and that was bumming me out. When I thought harder about this (with the help of my therapist), I realized that I learn an enormous amount in contexts where I’m also teaching. Consequently, I was able to repair the glitch by linking the concepts of learning and teaching as the core of my intrinsic motivation.
By joining the board of Kauffman Fellows, I get to do both. I’m now a node on another network – one shared by 20 years of experienced VCs around the world as they work together to help identify, nurture, and develop the next generation of VCs. I expect I’ll teach a lot, but as with many things in life, will learn even more.
Jeff – thanks for asking me to be a part of things. I’m honored.
When I woke up this morning, I wondered which non-profit that I should highlight today on #GivingTuesday.
Path Forward began as a program at Return Path, a data-solutions company with more than 500 employees in 12 offices around the globe. The company’s CTO, Andy Sautins, came up with the idea of an internship program aimed at women who were interested in returning to work after a career break. The program began in 2014 with just one participant. Under the leadership and guidance of Cathy Hawley, VP of People, the company brought in six women in January 2015, four of whom were hired. The program expanded later that year to include a larger cohort at Return Path and also to bring in partners who also wanted to create return to work programs. The first partners were PayPal, SendGrid, ReadyTalk, Moz, and MWH. Along with Return Path, these companies assembled a cohort of nearly 40 women and men. From this, the idea to create a nonprofit focused on bringing return to work programs to even more companies was born.
If you want to support an organization that supports women (and men) who want to return to the workplace after an extended absence for any reason (health, children, aging parents, or caregiving of any nature), consider making a #GivingTuesday gift to Path Forward.
A month ago Mark Suster (Upfront) and I hosted 75 colleagues for a full day at the California State Prison, Los Angeles County – also known as Lancaster. We did this as part of Defy Ventures, an entrepreneurship, employment, and character development training program for currently and formerly incarcerated men, women, and youth. It was a top 10 peak life experience for me – easily one of the most profound things I’ve experienced to date.
Mark wrote an incredibly detailed post about the experience. Rather than repeat it, I’m going to point you to his post How I Promise You One of the Most Meaningful Days of Your Life. In order to understand this post, you have to start there. So – go read it now – I’ll be here when you get back.
If you want more views of the day, read Ali Berman’s (Techstars) The Day I spent in Prison, Kerri Shea Beers’ (Techstars) White Privilege, Prison, and a Shot at Redemption, Ben Casnocha’s Visiting Prison Again — With Defy Ventures, Caroline Fairchild’s (Linked) I spent 12 hours in prison with 75 venture capitalists and founders. Here’s what happened, Rick Klau’s (GV) Last month, I went to prison. Next month, I’ll return, Jason Wang’s Going back to prison as the founder of my own startup, Kobie Fuller’s (Upfront) How a day in prison could give you a lesson on judgement, and Kara Nortman’s (Upfront) Spending a day in prison lead me on a path of radical self-improvement. Everyone wrote about the same day (we were all together) if you want to triangulate on the experience.
I’m going to focus on the part of the day where I finally began to understand the notion of privilege. It’s worth starting with one of the definitions from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
“the advantage that wealthy and powerful people have over other people in a society.”
The exercise lasted about an hour and was just before lunch. We’d had a lot of interaction with the EITs (we are volunteers, they are entrepreneurs in training or EITs) and were feeling as comfortable as one can feel in a level four maximum security prison. Catherine Hoke, the founder and CEO of Defy who ran the event, told us it was time to shift gears. As she described what we were going to do, she told us that it was imperative that we respond honestly. This wasn’t going to be a legalistic exercise, but it was going to be uncomfortable. We then got the rules.
The exercise was called Walk the Line. There were two strips of tape running diagonally across the gymnasium we were in. They were a yard apart. The EITs lined up on one side. The volunteers lined up on the other. We then all took five steps back from the line. As Cat called out questions, if our answer was yes we walked to the line. If our answer was no, we retreated to our position five steps behind the line. We were instructed to look around and connect visually with empathy across the line. We were not to look at the ground or at Cat. We were allowed to shake hands across the line and hug on our side of the line. Cat ended by reminding us that the dominant emotion we should be carrying is empathy.
She then started asking us questions. I’m going to list them all below along with comments in italics on how I felt in response to some of them. I encourage you to read them out loud – it’s the only way you will go slowly enough to really understand what was going on. Each question consumed about a minute as people walked to and back from the line, shook hands, looked at each other, hugged, and cried.
Even if I don’t know all of you at this line …
My beliefs and values before the age of 18
Past Criminal life – Cat reminds us that Defy doesn’t work with criminals, but with people who have committed crimes in their past.
If you could see inside my brain …
I know that words above doesn’t do the experience justice, but at the end of the hour I was emotionally exhausted. There were at least 25 of the EITs who I had made eye contact with that I wanted to go talk to. There were an equal number of volunteers who I wanted to talk to. Instead, I tried to relax a little. I grabbed on to one word – privilege – that I knew represented a fundamental difference between most of the people on either side of the line.
While it’s easy to talk about privilege it’s hard to really understand it. It’s even harder to experience it if you are the one with privilege. I thought I understood it, but I didn’t. As I let the next five minutes quietly unfold in my mind, I decided that I was no longer going to assume I really understood privilege. Instead, I was going to engage with society in a way to help those without privilege have a better opportunity. Through that, I’d understand it better, have empathy for others who didn’t have privilege, and channel my actions as a human into making the world better from that frame of reference.
I’ve committed to go to prison with Defy four times in 2017. If you want to join me as a volunteer on one of the trips, just reach out. I can promise you a life changing day.
SRS Acquiom and Pledge 1% have teamed up to created EscrowUP by SRS Acquiom. As investors in SRS Acquiom and members of Pledge 1%, we are excited about the creative idea the two organizations have come up with to increase charitable giving as a result of merger transactions.
When one company buys another, a portion of the proceeds (usually between 10% and 20% of the deal) goes into an escrow account for a period of time (usually a year or two). This escrow is used to cover any undisclosed or agreed to liabilities that come up for this period of time after the transaction. One of the shareholders, called a shareholder rep, is responsible for managing all the activity on the sellers side. It’s a thankless task and a number of years ago my partner Jason Mendelson helped create SRS Acquiom to address this. Instead of a VC, board member, or founder being the shareholder rep (and doing what can turn into a lot of work for free), you can now outsource this to SRS Acquiom.
The money kept in escrow is typically held by a bank. Not surprisingly, the bank makes a spread on the money for doing nothing other than holding the money. Often, the accounts are interest free because it makes tax and accounting easier, and the interest on the escrow accounts isn’t material in the context of the individual deal. But, the numbers across multiple deals adds up. Therein lies and interesting opportunity.
Imagine the following situation: Assume GiantCorp agrees to buy AwesomeStartup for $1 billion. As part of the deal, GiantCorp insists that $100 million of the $1 billion (10%) be put in escrow for 18 months after closing to ensure everything AwesomeStartup represented about its business is true.
GiantCorp and AwesomeStartup could agree that the escrow will either go into an interest bearing or non-interest bearing account. Whatever they select, they get the same terms with EscrowUP as they would without it so there is zero impact to them. But if they agree to have it participate in EscrowUP, then money goes to charity.
That money comes from SRS Acquiom, not out of the deal parties’ pockets. SRS Acquiom gives a portion of their revenue (up to 24 basis points) from the deal to the awesome group of designated charities that support entrepreneurs.
The result is that up to $360,000 would to go to the designated nonprofits from this single example deal of GiantCorp buying AwesomeStartup. If lots of deals join in, it drives many millions to Pledge 1% and the other nonprofits.
For a different summary, Erin Griffith wrote a good article in Fortune titled How the Merger Boom Can Drive Donations to Charity.
One of my core values is diversity of everything.
I’ve been involved deeply in several organizations, such as National Center for Women and Information Technology, that have been focused on increasing gender diversity in computer science and entrepreneurship. More recently, I’ve expanded my lens a lot to include many other dimensions of diversity. The mission of the Techstars Foundation, which is improving diversity in tech entrepreneurship, is an example of that.
One thing that I learned from my work with NCWIT is the power of examples. So, Amy and I have been supporting independent filmmakers for a few years. The first film we helped fund was CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap. Then, following the leadership of Joanne Wilson, we helped fund Dream, Girl which you can watch for free on their website until November 14th.
Recently, a group of us have been helping a young filmmaker, Ashley Maria, who is on her own personal journey to find out why careers are much more complicated and difficult when a woman tries to have one.
Pioneers in Skirts focuses on cultural and personal setbacks women still face in our society when they pursue a career. The film focuses on hot social topics that women encounter – like the mommy penalty and unconscious biases we find in our culture, the need for mentorship, sponsors, and men to advocate for their female co-workers, and how to nip the problem in the bud during adolescence.
Pioneers in Skirts is currently in post-production aiming for an early 2017 premiere in festivals and then VOD, Streaming and Television. Ashley and team need a little more funding to get things done so if you are inclined to support an ambitious young female filmmaker working on what Amy and I think is an important film, go to her support page and make a donation to the effort.
Tami Forman, the Executive Director of Path Forward (a new non-profit that I recently joined the board of) just did a powerful five minute presentation on making space for moms in the workforce. I knew that Tami was a great speaker because of my interactions with her at Return Path, but she just totally blew me away with this talk.
My favorite one liner in the talk is “In the S&P 1500, there are more CEO’s named John than women CEOs.” This is definitely worth five minutes of your life to watch right now.
Last week, I joined the board of a new non-profit called Path Forward which has a mission to get people back to work after they’ve taken time off for caregiving. Specifically, Path Forward works with companies to create mid-career internship that are an on ramp back to the paid workforce.
Andy Sautins (at the time Return Path’s CTO) and Matt Blumberg (Return Path’s CEO) came up with the idea two years ago. After running two cycles at Return Path, they expanded it to other companies including ReadyTalk, SendGrid, MWH Global, SpotX, and Moz.
It’s now an independent non-profit organization that was launched last week with posts from Fred Wilson (who is on the board of Return Path with me), Joanne Wilson (who is the board co-chair of Path Forward), Matt Blumberg (CEO of Return Path and board co-chair of Path Forward), and Tami Forman (Executive Director of Path Forward). And, as a bonus, Fortune had a long article explaining things in This Nonprofit Wants To Put Stay-At-Home Moms Back to Work.
I’m very selective about the non-profits I’m on the board of. While I’m involved in a number of them and Amy and I support many others, I’ve limited myself to three non-profit boards at a time. I’ve been chair of NCWIT for many years and co-chair of Startup Colorado since inception. Until last year, I was on the UP Global board, but left the board when UP Global was acquired by Techstars. So, I had an open non-profit board position and immediately said yes when asked by Matt given the mission of Path Forward.
If you have a company in New York, California, or Colorado (they are starting in these three states) that would like to start doing returnships, go to Path Forward and fill out this form. If you are ready to restart your career after taking time off, go to Path Forward and complete this form.
Finally, Amy and I are making a substantial financial contribution and would encourage any reader who (a) supports the mission and (b) wants to give back in some way to go to Crowdrise, hit the donate button, and help support our launch.
When I sat down this morning with Amy she started reading off people who had funded entire cities worth of projects on DonorsChoose this morning. Amy has DonorsChoose in her twitter feed and we quickly figured out what was going on. I saw Fred Wilson’s post on #BestSchoolDay and we agreed to fully fund projects in a number of cities that we have connections to.
We ended up fully funding all the DonorChoose projects in Alaska, Boulder, Longmont, Brighton, Breckenridge, Richardson, and Detroit.
Some of these cities may be obvious to folks who know us. Amy grew up in Alaska and we have a house in Homer. We now live just outside of Boulder in Longmont. We have a ski place in Breckenridge (and it was the only city we could find in Summit County that had active projects.)
Brighton is a fun one for us. The wife of one of Amy’s cousin (Brie) is a teacher there. We just saw her at Amy’s mom’s funeral and talked about the amazing work she does as a teacher (she supervises / trains teachers in K – 8.) Funding everything in Brighton in honor of Brie felt good.
I grew up in Dallas and went to school in the Richardson Independent School District (RISD – Spring Creek Elementary, Westwood Junior High, and J.J. Pearce High School.) I had a number of teachers who had a meaningful impact on me and fondly remember several who became close friends as adults, especially Mrs. Wonderly. Funding all the projects in Richardson schools felt karmically good.
My partner Jason grew up in Detroit. We enthusiastically helped expand Techstars to Detroit and bought a house there for Techstars teams to live in during the program if they wanted to. We all think Detroit has the opportunity to be a great city again and Amy and I happily added it to our list of places to fund, even though we’ve never lived there.
We ended up funding around 50 projects to fully fund everything that was still active in these cities. If I’m inspired later today, I might do a few more cities so I’m open to suggestions – mostly of projects to fund that other readers of this blog have supported at some level.
So – go to DonorsChoose, fund something, and leave a link to the project in the comments and I’ll fund whatever you’ve contributed to.