I recently met Renata George through a referral from Katie Rae (MIT Engine CEO, previously Techstars Boston MD). Renata told me about a book she was working on called Women Who Venture and asked me if I’d write the foreword.
I was honored to be asked to do this. The foreword I wrote follows. The book is out and available now in hardcover and on the Kindle.
As an avid writer and reader, I feel that a book is a unique medium that serves a different purpose than the other written media that we consume regularly. A book can display a variety of perspectives at once, providing enough details on the subjects it explores, while giving us space to contemplate.
When Renata George told me she was going to write a book about Women Who Venture, featuring around a hundred female investors of different generations, I immediately said I’d be supportive. Renata told me that she wanted to do in-depth individual interviews, to both learn and explain the true state of affairs in the venture capital, while celebrating women who best reflect this industry.
The existing bias in the venture capital industry is multidimensional and implicates career challenges not only for women, but also for other underrepresented groups. Many of the investors interviewed for this book, offer advice and solutions to address this issue. Their ideas are bold, opinions are candid, and the narrative sometimes goes against what we are used to reading in popular media.
Having unconventional perspectives to consider is helpful in understanding what true diversity looks like. By being exposed to it, we can identify particular actions that each of us, male or female, can take to generate positive change. It’s the critical mass of all the tiny changes that we can each make daily, that will eventually change the perception, and reality, of diversity in venture capital.
This book is an essential read for aspiring female venture investors who want to be inspired by the life stories of women who made it all the way to the top in venture capital. It is also a valuable resource for male investors interested in increasing diversity. Institutional investors can benefit from learning more about their investees, as well as find new general partners to consider investing in. Finally, entrepreneurs can benefit from the book by learning how the investors featured in it make investment decisions.
Fixing the diversity problem in venture capital will take a long time and require a continuous and steady pace of activities and changes. With Women Who Venture, Renata is helping us all along that journey.
I read Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things last weekend. This is the third time I’ve read it. It gets better each time. If you are a CEO and you haven’t read it, buy it right now and read it next weekend.
There are endless gems in the book, many of them from Ben’s own experience. My favorite of all time, that stays with me through all the work I do, is his distinction between “peace time” and “war time.”
I think the first time he wrote about this was in his post in 2011 titled Peacetime CEO/Wartime CEO. There has been plenty of commentary on the web about it (see The Myth of the Wartime and Peacetime CEO, which really only says a CEO has to be effective in both wartime and peacetime to be successful.)
Ben has an incredible rant in the post that starts off with:
Peacetime CEO knows that proper protocol leads to winning. Wartime CEO violates protocol in order to win.
The rant is worth reading every single word, but I want to highlight and comment on a few of my favorites.
The first one is:
Peacetime CEO always has a contingency plan. Wartime CEO knows that sometimes you gotta roll a hard six.
BSG fans know about rolling a hard six even though the definition is contested by pilots who think non-pilots confuse planes with dice. In wartime, the odds are often very against you. Sometimes you just have to get lucky.
Another one that I love is:
Peacetime CEO strives for broad based buy in. Wartime CEO neither indulges consensus-building nor tolerates disagreements.
Things during wartime are intense. Decisions have to be made quickly. Many will be wrong, need to be overturned, and new decisions have to be made. Sitting around arguing about what to do simply doesn’t work. Get all the ideas out on the table, but then choose. And then execute like crazy.
Peacetime CEO sets big, hairy audacious goals. Wartime CEO is too busy fighting the enemy to read management books written by consultants who have never managed a fruit stand.
Your big hairy audacious goal in wartime is not to die.
As an investor, I’m involved in some companies operating in peacetime and others in wartime. There’s a lot of emotional dissonance during the day as I go back and forth between them. I’ve learned how to be calm in both modes and deal with my emotions outside the context of interacting with CEOs, founders, and leaders. But, Ben’s metaphor of peacetime vs. wartime has been so incredibly helpful to me as an investor in identifying what mode I’m in that I should probably get him some sort of a gift as a thank you.
I had surgery recently and a few friends, including Chris Moody and Sarah Ahn, gave me some books as gifts. They knew I’d be spending a lot of time on the couch either napping or reading, so my pile of infinite books to read became more abundant with a few good ones including The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates.
While I’ve met Melinda’s husband Bill a few times, but I’ve never spent any time with Melinda. I know plenty of people who know her or work for her and have overlapped with a few organizations that we both support. However, after reading The Moment of Lift, I feel like I now know her. And, she is awesome.
The book is a combination of a memoir, a manifesto, a case study, and a roadmap. While it uses the backdrop of empowering women as the framework, it genuinely addresses how empowering women can change the world.
In the current entrepreneurial climate of “changing the world” and “making a dent in the universe”, this is the first book that I’ve read in a while that really hit home on these issues. I’ve felt discouraged recently by the tenor of the entrepreneurial discussion, where phrases like “changing the world” have become cliches and are really an entrepreneurial proxy for “making a lot of money.” While I don’t object to that, I get tired of the optimistic language as a shield, rationalization, or misdirection for the real underlying motivation.
Melinda turns this on its head in The Moment of Lift. The examples she gives are real examples of changing the world through foundational activities for women, mostly led by women, and supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She devotes a chapter to each of the following topics:
- Maternal and Newborn Health
- Family Planning
- Girls in Schools
- Unpaid Work
- Child Marriage
- Women in Agriculture
- Women in the Workplace
Buried in the middle of the book is an intensely personal chapter about Melinda’s own journey. Her level of self-awareness, humility, and discovery reinforced her awesomeness, and created my own moment of lift while reading the book.
Melinda, both personally, and through her work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation inspire me. It was a perfect book to read while healing. Thanks Chris and Sarah for the gift.
Yesterday, I started my day by finishing A People’s History of American Empire: The American Empire Project, A Graphic Adaptation and ended my day by finishing Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope.
In between Amy took me to see John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (or maybe I took her to see it.)
All three experiences were satisfactory.
Mark Manson is a phenomenal writer. While the book is about hope, it’s not in the way you might think. He mixes philosophy, literature, opinion, self-help, inappropriate jokes, and thought experiments. His footnotes are in the spirit of David Foster Wallace. He has mastered when to include the word “fuck” in a sentence, although his publisher is apparently afraid to use it in unmodified in the book title.
The first half of the book is a setup for the really good stuff in the second half. He defines what he calls “The Uncomfortable Truth”, navigates the reader through an excellent explanation of the Thinking Brain vs. the Feeling Brain, and does a great job summarizing this with his theoretical protagonist “Emo Newton” in the chapter titled “Newton’s Laws of Emotion.” He ends the setup with “Hope is Fucked” which lands with a nice, violent explosion.
Against the backdrop of our current existence, Manson makes Einstein, Kant, and Nietzsche accessible. I particularly loved his section on Nietzsche, since I’m in the midst of writing a book about Nietzsche and entrepreneurship. AI plays a part in Manson’s future view, and he does a good job of summarizing it in the chapter “The Final Religion.”
After spending the day consuming these three inputs, I went to bed feeling that all was ok with the world. It is as it should be, has always been, and will always be. “All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.”
Game of Thrones ends tonight. I think Daenerys melted the Iron Throne (physically and metaphorically) and no one sits on it. But we will see soon enough.
I wasn’t able to sleep last night, so after doing the final copy edit on Do More Faster 2nd Edition, I started reading J.D. Lasica’s new book Catch and Kill: A high-tech conspiracy thriller. My brain was toast and my head was full of dripping dead virus goo, so I hoped some good mental floss would help pass the time.
I finally crawled into bed at about
Instead of a marathon weekend, this has turned into a book weekend. It’s gloomy outside and I’m still fighting with Nev (Mr. Nasty Evil Virus), so as the cliche goes, Catch and Kill has been just what the doctor ordered.
Lasica does a great job of world-building in the near future, weaving together high-tech and super evil bad guy billionaires, a mysterious fantasy island, efforts to undermine and transform the geopolitical superstructure, and authoritarians who just want more, more, more.
The protagonist, Kaden Baker, is everything one wants in a kick ass 23-year-old female character who saves the world, but almost dies trying. Several times. Oh, and she saves her half-sister (who she didn’t know about) and her dad (who she also didn’t know about), along with a bunch of other people.
There were lots of twists and turns along the way and Lasica keeps the pace up throughout the entire book.
If you are looking for something powerful, creative, provocative, and beautifully done, go look at True Blue by Eliot Peper and team.
In 2017, I wrote a post titled A Clever Short Story About Discrimination about the short story that Eliot had written. It was an idea that David Cohen had. He shared it with Eliot, who then wrote the short story. David then funded a project for Eliot to turn it into an “internet public art project.”
Eliot describes how they made True Blue. It’s a fabulous integration of story, illustration, and design on the web.
Independent of the beauty of the project, the story is a critically important one for today’s society. While a cynic will say “same as it ever was“, consider if eye color (instead of skin color, or gender, or ethnicity, or sexual orientation, or …) was a key “categorizer” in our society.
He handed out copies of his recent book Do Better Work: Finding Clarity, Camaraderie, and Progress in Work and Life. His talk discussed his journey around writing the book, motivation for doing it, how it is integrated into the mission of Lessonly, and why he decided to self-publish it.
I read the book on the plane home. It’s short but full of great stuff for any CEO. If you are a CEO of a Foundry Group investment, you’ll have a copy from me as part of our “book of the almost every month club” on your desk soon.
The Kindle version looks like it ships today. If you are a CEO, go grab a copy. It will inspire and teach you a few key things that will immediately help with your business.
Several friends have mentioned that I’d love Cal Newport’s writing. I finally got around to reading his most recent book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World and my friends were correct.
Newport is famous for being a millennial, computer scientist, and a
Digital Minimalism is complementary to Jaron Lanier‘s book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, but I found Newport a lot more comfortable and convincing. More importantly, it reinforced a number of changes that I’ve already made in my life over the past few years.
I’ve deleted Facebook, shifted almost all of my interactions on the few social media services that I use (Twitter, LinkedIn) to broadcast only (where I broadcast out things to anyone who cares to follow them). I’ve limited my online writing to my blog, which I’m fine being reposted in other places. My inputs are now what some refer to as Slow Media, where I can read and consider the input, rather than react to endless stimuli.
I’m an introvert in an extrovert’s world. I like to be alone, with Amy, or with a maximum of four people (usually me, Amy, and another couple.) In contrast, I spend a large portion of my work time with groups larger than four people. Figuring out how to manage this duality, while staying mentally healthy, has been a life-long challenge.
Newport’s concept of digital minimalism helps me with all of this. He refers to a distinction that MIT professor Sherry Turkle makes in her 2015 book, Reclaiming Conversation. In her book, Turkle draws a distinction between connection, her word for the low-bandwidth interactions that define our online social lives, and conversation, the much richer, high-bandwidth communication that defines real-world encounters between humans. I care deeply about
Newport has an entire chapter on solitude, nicely titled “Spend Time Alone.” He makes the important distinction between spending time alone with other stimuli (music, podcasts, audible, streaming media) and real solitude. I immediately understood this as well, as I almost always run alone and naked (without headphones). The examples of how Lincoln used solitude was extraordinarily well written and inspiring.
In addition to the framework around digital minimalism, Newport unloads on the reader with numerous tactics. I use some of them but found a few new ones to add to my repertoire.
A big thanks to Ben Casnocha, who was the most recent person to push me over the “you must read Cal Newport’s stuff.” I’ll read Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World soon, after I enjoy some sci-fi mental floss next since the last few books I’ve read were heavy-ish.
I read Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister recently. It was recommended to me by Tami Forman, the CEO of Path Forward and I was immediately cheered on by Amy when I started reading it.
It was extraordinary. Every man I know should read it. I’m now officially a Rebecca Traister fan. I learned a lot, was forced to think about a bunch of uncomfortable stuff, and formed some new ideas about how to address some gender-related issues in our society.
And then I read the Bloomberg article Wall Street Rule for the #MeToo Era: Avoid Women at All Cost and got mad at some men.
The article starts strong.
“No more dinners with female colleagues. Don’t sit next to them on flights. Book hotel rooms on different floors. Avoid one-on-one meetings.”
It then goes on and references this as “The Pence Effect.”
Call it the Pence Effect, after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who has said he avoids dining alone with any woman other than his wife. In finance, the overarching impact can be, in essence, gender segregation.
I thought the idea of the Pence effect, as stupid as it is, had come and gone. But I apparently am wrong.
“For obvious reasons, few will talk openly about the issue. Privately, though, many of the men interviewed acknowledged they’re channeling Pence, saying how uneasy they are about being alone with female colleagues, particularly youthful or attractive ones, fearful of the rumor mill or of, as one put it, the potential liability.”
Then I came upon a quote that was advice for men which seemed fitting and was a solution that I expect Rebecca Traister could be supportive of.
“Just try not to be an asshole.”
If you are living in fear around the #MeToo issue, go read Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. Confront your fear. Examine any guilt you have. Get real with yourself about the issue. Change your behavior. And just try not to be an asshole.
Amy and I love to read. Growing up, one of my favorite places in the world was the hammock in our backyard with a book. As an adult, one of my favorite places is our living room, on my couch, with Amy on her couch, and the dogs laying on the floor between us, while we read.
I also love DonorsChoose. Whenever I’ve had a crummy day, I often go online and fund a project or two.
Today, DonorsChoose has a match across the entire site for any donations for books. It’s DonorsChoose Book Match Day. How cool is that?
Amy grew up in Alaska and we have a house there so I just went and funded all the book projects in Alaska. Hopefully, by the time you read this post, there won’t be any left.
If you are a reader, love books, or want to help kids around the US read more, I encourage you to go fund a project (or a few) on DonorsChoose today. Search for the city you live or grew up in and have at it. It feels good and helps the next generation of readers.