Cat Hoke’s book A Second Chance: For You, For Me, And For The Rest Of Us is out.
I wrote a long post about it in October when I read a draft of it. Cat is remarkable and she lucked out by partnering with the amazing Seth Godin on this book (Seth is the publisher).
I’m sending a copy to every CEO in our portfolio. We’ve got a pretty regular Foundry Group book club thing going at this point, as I know Rajat Bhargava and Will Herman’s book The Startup Playbook is also going out to a bunch of the CEOs. And each of my partners is getting a copy of Lee McIntyre’s Post-Truth this week.
I read a lot and encourage everyone around me to join in on the good stuff. Cat’s book is definitely good stuff. She mixes her own life journey with the mission of Defy Ventures along with the impact that Defy has had on so many people – both “entrepreneurs-in-training” and the volunteers who work with the EITs.
I’ve talked about Defy Ventures a lot on this blog and Amy and I have become significant supporters through both The Anchor Point Foundation and my volunteer engagement. I’m particularly proud, however, of my partner Jason and his wife Jenn who have picked up the mantle as co-chairs of Defy Ventures Colorado and launched the Colorado program. I was in prison with them, 50 volunteers, 50 EITs, ten people from the Defy team (including Cat), and Governor Hickenlooper two weeks ago.
All of this has been inspired, and led, by Cat. I didn’t know much about the US prison system prior to meeting Cat several years ago. My own journey with this has been incredibly powerful. Being able to experience it with other entrepreneurs and investors, including Jason and Jenn, a number of the Techstars team, and many others who I know has been wonderful.
If you want a pre-book taste, the Reboot podcast that I did with Jerry Colonna and Cat is a good start.
But, do yourself a favor. Buy Cat’s book A Second Chance. Read it, let it into your life, and ponder what a second chance really means.
P.S. I have several people in my life who I need to give a second chance to. I’m not ready yet, but I hope I will be at some point. And yes, the book will help you go deep on what this means for you.
As we start spinning up Defy Ventures in Colorado, we are doing a Business Coaching Day at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility in Ordway, Colorado. It’s one of our first Defy Colorado events and Governor Hickenlooper will be joining us for the day.
There will be around 80 Entrepreneurs-in-Training. While we were planning on having spaces for 50 volunteers, we’ve already filled over 40 of them before even talking about the program so there are only a few spaces left.
If you are interested, the event is happening on February 8th, 2018 from 9:00 am – 4:30 pm. Contact Melissa O’Dell to sign up or get on the list for the next Defy Colorado event.
For a taste of what the experience is like, watch the video above or go to my post Understanding Privilege – My Experience in Prison.
I just finished the near-final draft of Cat Hoke’s upcoming book Second Chance. It is incredibly powerful on multiple levels.
I’ve gotten to know Cat reasonably well over the past year. I first heard of her through the Techstars Foundation, where we gave her organization – Defy Ventures – one of our very first grants. I first met her a few months later in my office. After hearing her pitch for 15 minutes, I said “Cat – I’m all in – no need to sell me. What can I do to help?”
Cat, in her inimitable style, said, “The first thing you should do is to come to prison with me.”
A few months later I spent the day at California State Prison, Los Angeles County in Lancaster with Cat, 50 EITs (Entrepreneurs-in-training), and 75 volunteers. I wrote about it as one of my top ten life experiences in my post Understanding Privilege – My Experience in Prison. Amy and I made a significant gift from our foundation (the Anchor Point Foundation) immediately after the trip and I joined the Defy Ventures board two months later.
Since then I’ve gotten to know Cat, her husband Charles, and the Defy Ventures organization. While I’ve learned a lot about prison, the criminal justice system, and the concept and experience of privilege, I’ve learned even more about myself. And I have Cat, Defy Ventures, and all of the people around Defy (both inside and outside of prison) to thank for that.
But, as Cat so eloquently says, she doesn’t scale. When I first heard of Defy, it was about 20 employees. Today it’s over 50 going to 100. Like many fast-growing startups, the CEO (Cat) has to evolve in her role. While it’s hard, Cat is doing a magnificent job of it. It was logical that she’d write a book about herself, her own second chance, Defy, the work that it does, and how/why it matters and impacts people and society.
Writing this book must have been incredibly challenging. Cat is an extremely hard worker. She travels constantly. Her work is emotionally intense and she puts 100% of herself into it. So, when I was on about page 80 of Second Chance, I thought to myself, “This is incredible. I can’t imagine how much extra energy of Cat’s went into this.”
She had one of the best guides in the world – Seth Godin. I’ve been friends with Seth since the mid-1990s when I met him doing diligence for SoftBank in conjunction with Fred Wilson on the investment that SoftBank and Flatiron Partners (Fred and Jerry Colonna’s new VC firm at the time) made in Seth’s company Yoyodyne (later acquired by Yahoo!). I felt a deep connection to Seth from day 1 and even though we don’t spend much time together, ever interaction with him is treasured by me.
I can see Seth’s fingerprints all over this book. As an enormous fan of Cat’s, I’m so glad Seth took this project on. I expect their collaboration will have an important and lasting impact on the world.
You’ll get more specifics, and a full review, once Cat’s book is published. Until then, if you are interested in learning more about Defy Ventures or getting involved in any way, just email me and I’ll connect you.
I recently joined the Defy Ventures board. If you aren’t familiar with Defy Ventures, here’s a post that I wrote after my first prison trip with them at the end of last year.
Early this morning, on my run in Melbourne as I tried to shrug off jet lag, I listened to a Reboot podcast that Jerry Colonna did with me and Cat Hoke, the CEO of Defy Ventures, a few weeks ago.
I had tears in my eyes while running, and I don’t think it was from my pace. Among other things, I’ve committed to bring Defy Ventures to Colorado in 2017. If this is something that is interesting to you either reach out to me or keep your eyes open for a broader fundraising initiative coming up (we’ve already raised 40% of the money needed to do this.)
And – enjoy the podcast. I think it’s one of the most powerful (at least to me) that I’ve participated in.
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.