On Monday, June 1st, I told Amy that I wanted to engage deeply in helping eliminate racism in the United States.
I’ve been involved in gender inequity issues since I joined the National Center for Women & Information Technology board in 2005 shortly after it was formed. 15 years later, I’ve learned an enormous amount about gender, especially in tech, and while I am nowhere near finished on that particular journey, I feel that I understand and can be helpful in my role as a male advocate (or “male ally”) in eliminating gender inequity in tech and entrepreneurship.
While Amy and I have been philanthropically supporting social justice issues for over 20 years through our foundation, I don’t feel like I’ve engaged in a meaningful way. I have an enormous amount to learn about racial inequality in our country and my network for and advocacy of Black entrepreneurs and investors is woefully inadequate.
In my discussion with Amy, we decided to personally fund and get involved in at least 10 initiatives right away, which I defined as “by the end of June.” I’ve spent several hours a day each day since last Monday reaching out to Black friends I know with one question.
“What are two initiatives you are involved in right now that I could put time and/or money into in support of you and your activities?”
In each case, I offered money along with a desire to actively engage in support of them and their activities. This is not “I’ll do a mentor call with you” or “Email me anytime you have a question” but an open-ended “tell me what I can do to help you execute a particular initiative.”
The conversations have been excellent and extremely enlightening. Given that almost all of them were with people I already knew, I don’t need to do any diligence on the organizations they are asking me to get involved in as their reference credibility is enough for me. In a few cases, I had inbound from people I didn’t know and I also chose several of them to engage with.
Right now, these are philanthropic contributions to non-profit organizations or sponsorships for people going through some kind of program (non-profit and for-profit). This is a completely separate initiative from investment activity with my partners at Foundry Group, which we’ll be talking about more soon once we’ve made clear decisions about what we are going to do over the next few years.
My first of these commitments is to the Zane Access Inaugural Pre-Capital Program Cohort. I got an email from Shila Nieves Burney asking if I would donate 20 copies of Venture Deals. I responded yes and asked if there was anything else I could do to help their first cohort. Shila responded that they’d love to do an AMA and asked if I would be willing to underwrite the tuition for one of the founders, as there were eight in the program who were accepted but would have to forgo the opportunity to join the program due to the financial investment obligation.
I told Shila that I’d do the AMA and underwrite all eight founders who were not in a position to make the investment. I wanted to ensure that no founder who reached the high barrier to be accepted into the program would have to turn it down due to financial concerns.
I’ll be doing the AMA early in the program, so my hope is that I’ll get to know some of the founders, can help them throughout the program, and then connect them into some of my networks proactively where appropriate.
In my previous post, I said that for a while I’ll include one powerful thing each day that I read about racial injustice and Black Lives Matter. Today’s is from Donna Harris, a long time friend who I met through our work on the Startup America Partnership. She’s the co-founder of 1776 and now runs Builders and Backers. When I read her post The Hurt is Everywhere I cried (a “Jerry Colonna induced type of cry.”)
The hurt is everywhere. In every community. If you don’t see it, it just means you’re not talking to the people who are experiencing it.
That’s where we must start. We cannot create a society where all men are truly equal and every community flourishes if we don’t understand how badly the deck is stacked against so many of us and listen to and acknowledge the deep anguish that causes. Then, all of us must commit to repairing the broken places. In our nation. But also in our families, in our schools, and on the streets of our own neighborhoods. To that end, the next time you see a black man walking down your street, stay on the same side of the road and say hello.
Please go read The Hurt is Everywhere.
Over the past week, I’ve done a handful of podcasts to help entrepreneurs, leaders, and employees at startups to help think through how to respond in a crisis. I’ve requested that anything I do right now on this front is made public, so if anyone is interested, they can watch them.
The first, hosted by David Cohen, is with Scott Dorsey, Paul Berberian, and Berne Strom. Scott, Paul, Berne, and I are all “older entrepreneurs and investors” who have been through multiple crises dating back to 1987.
As a bonus, Fred Wilson also did a Panic with Friends with Howard which was excellent.
I’ve allocated a max one hour a day during the weekday for participating in creating content like this during the week as the Covid-19 crisis unfolds, but I’ll continue doing this as long as I feel like I have fresh things to contribute.
Recently, I read a well-written article in Fast Company by Jon Dishotsky titled We need to be more honest about what tech culture is doing to our mental health.
In it, he had a list of lessons he has learned over the years.
- Look out for your wake-up call
- Create routines that prioritize mental health
- Work in line with your body’s rhythm
- Make time for silence
- Find space to unplug
- Give your emotions credit
- Cultivate (and listen to) your inner circle
These mental health suggestions are all right on the money. I encourage you to go read the article if this is a topic that interests you.
I’m lazy blogging this week as I get ready to go on vacation for the July 4th holiday. So, here’s another set of videos to watch, which is the entire Street Level Startups series from Colorado Public Television. I’ve watched them all now and they are a great history of how the entrepreneurship scene in Colorado has evolved recently, along with a bunch of fun highlights of people and companies.
Street Level Startups: The New Gold Rush
Street Level Startups: When an Idea Strikes – Stories of Inspiration
Street Level Startups: Three Phases of a Startup
Street Level Startups: Mentorship & Integration
Street Level Startups: Startups to Watch
Michael Natkin at Glowforge recently wrote a great post titled Strong Opinions Loosely Held Might be the Worst Idea in Tech.
I have never liked this entrepreneurial cliche. While I have a large personality, I don’t have a temper and I’m not argumentative. I try hard to listen (although I’m not always great at it), try to express my thoughts as “data” rather than “opinions”, and try to evolve my thinking based on the inputs that I get.
I’ve always felt that people who had “strong opinions loosely held” (SOLH) were simply being bombastic. Sometimes I could see that they were being provocative. Occasionally I’d give them credit for changing their mind about something based on new data. But usually, I discount their first opinion (or assertion) since I knew they didn’t have much conviction around it.
Michael’s post opened up an entirely new way for me to think about this, and to continue to dislike SOLH. He has two magic paragraphs in the post. The first is the setup:
“The idea of strong opinions, loosely held is that you can make bombastic statements, and everyone should implicitly assume that you’ll happily change your mind in a heartbeat if new data suggests you are wrong. It is supposed to lead to a collegial, competitive environment in which ideas get a vigorous defense, the best of them survive, and no-one gets their feelings hurt in the process.“
There’s that word bombastic again. Hang on it to it while we get to the punchline of Michael’s post.
“What really happens? The loudest, most bombastic engineer states their case with certainty, and that shuts down discussion. Other people either assume the loudmouth knows best, or don’t want to stick out their neck and risk criticism and shame. This is especially true if the loudmouth is senior, or there is any other power differential.“
Unless the other people in the room are also bombastic, the discussion shuts down and the strong opinion loosely held is accepted, or at least reinforced. Power dynamics amplify this – if the leader is bombastic, head nodding ensues. If you are an underrepresented minority in the room, challenging the SOLH can be even more difficult.
Even if, as a leader, you have tried to establish a culture of challenging everyone’s’ opinions, the loudest, most forceful, and most assertive person in the room will often have the leading opinion. It’s exhausting, at least for some of us, to have to fight against that.
I’m not even sure that a “strong opinion loosely held” qualifies as something useful. I’m fine with “strong opinions supported by data and experience.” I’m less good with “strong opinions supported by belief” as I don’t really know what underlies “belief” for many people. But it’s the loosely held part that I struggle with.
Basically, a SOLH is simply a hypothesis. If someone says to me, “I have a hypothesis”, I assume they are asking me my view about their hypothesis. So – when someone presents me with a SOLH, you’ll often hear me ask “do you think that is the truth or is that a hypothesis?” I’ve found this pretty effective for breaking through the LH part.
Michael’s article has a gem in at the end about how to interact with the SOHL person that he goes through in the final section called This (Actually) Won’t Hurt A Bit. I won’t spoil it for you – go read it.
EforAll’s mission is to accelerate economic development and social impact through inclusive entrepreneurship in emerging communities. They are focused on fostering small business development and entrepreneurial activity amongst under-networked and under-resourced populations in communities that have been traditionally overlooked for economic investment.
The decision to support EforAll was easy for us as they focus on two distinct issues that we care about: building entrepreneurial ecosystems and supporting underserved entrepreneurs. Their metrics speak for themselves as their entrepreneurs have been: 57% unemployed or underemployed (when they started the program); 70% female; 41% immigrant; and/or 55% minority.
They also locate their programs outside, but near, communities that are traditional hubs for entrepreneurship. In Massachusetts (where they are based), they run programs in cities like Lawrence, MA, and Lowell, MA – both recovering factory/mill towns that lost their economic driver years ago when most of the factories closed down. In these two cities, EforAll has launched more than 130 small businesses and startups which have created almost 400 jobs in the community.
While there’s been tremendous growth in Colorado, it has been uneven across the state. We believe the importance of investing in the types of entrepreneurs and communities that EforAll works with is crucial, especially as the wealth inequality gap in our country continues to grow.
I’m particularly excited that EforAll has decided to launch their first Colorado site in Longmont. I’d like to invite you to come to an event on April 17th from 8:00am-9:
If you are interested in getting involved or supporting the effort, email Harris Rollinger who is the Executive Director of EforAll Colorado.
James Oliver, Jr. has written a fun book that is part memoir, part advice, for what he calls Parentpreneurs (entrepreneurs who are trying to raise kids.) He’s got a website with a bunch of history about him, his journey, and the book. It’s also got some pictures of his twins, which even I, as a non-kid kind of person think are pretty adorable (although they are apparently
I’ve had an email correspondence with James going back to 2015. In November, I got an email from him that, among other things, said:
“Brad, I think I mentioned I’m raising money for a WeMontage relaunch, which is taking a while-as expected.
In the meantime, the way I’m taking care of my kids is mostly via book sales. The book reviews have been wonderful-someone called it the
realestbook about being an entrepreneur they ever read. And the amazonreviews are fantastic.
In order to provide for my kids, I need to sell 300 books this month via my website (www.themoreyouhustle.com – because
amazondelays royalty payments by two months); that’s only 10 sales per day. “
I read it during my Q418 vacation. It was a quick read, fun and interesting, and game me perspective on James’s life as an entrepreneur and parent. The book also made clear how awesome his wife is and how important she is to his entrepreneurial journey.
If you still have some holiday spirit left in you, grab a copy of James’ book The More You Hustle, The Luckier You Get. You’ll be doing James a solid by helping him get WeMontage back up and running and get some valuable perspective and lessons along the way.
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.
In the fall of 2007, my friend Phil Weiser, Executive Director of CU Boulder’s Silicon Flatirons Center, convened 25 leaders from CU Boulder and the Boulder / Denver startup community. We spent an afternoon talking about the idea of an entrepreneurial university. Phil called the meeting a Roundtable, even though the table was long and rectangular.
The discussion that day was heated. Some in the room that day questioned whether entrepreneurship should – or even could – be a significant part of CU Boulder. Others made the case for entrepreneurship. Few of us anticipated the level of follow up from that discussion and the report that emerged set the stage for a lot of activity at CU Boulder over the ensuing decade.
One of my suggestions at the 2007 Roundtable was to borrow some ideas from the MIT 100K competition, which was started in 1989 as the MIT $10k. I got involved as a judge in 1993 and was active through 1997 with occasional visits to the finals in subsequent years when I was around Boston. When I reflect on my investment activity, including companies that went through the MIT 10K (NetGenesis, Harmonix, abuzz, and a bunch of others), I probably should have just invested $25,000 in every finalist company over the last 25 years.
In 2008, a group of student and faculty volunteers from CU Boulder launched the CU New Venture Challenge. Nine years later, the CU NVC today provides a platform for anyone – faculty, staff or student – who wants to start a company. The NVC integrates the campus by including all schools and departments. Mentors from the Boulder / Denver startup scene are deeply involved and many companies are emerging from the NVC, including Revolar, Pana, and Malinda.
Amy and I have decided to help take the NVC to the next level. Our foundation (the Anchor Point Foundation) is teaming up with the Caruso Foundation (Dan & Cindy Caruso) to offer a $50,000 investment prize offered to the “Most Fundable Company” at the 2017 NVC 9 Championships. This is in addition to the $25,000 prize money that the NVC already has available. Jason Mendelson will select and announce the Most Fundable Company winner, who can elect to take investment in the form of a convertible note, at the NVC 9 Championship.
So, the CU NVC is now is $75k competition. Next step, $100k … Finals are Thursday, April 6, at 5:30pm.
At the MIT Celebration of 50 Years of Entrepreneurship in November, I heard a number of fantastic lines that have stuck with me. One of them was from Noubar Afeyan.
“Entrepreneurship is intellectual immigration.”
As I sat in an audience of about 200 extremely accomplished MIT graduates spanning over 50 years, I thought to myself “he just fucking nailed it.”
I’m a huge fan and supporter of immigration, especially around entrepreneurship. If you look at the landscape of success entrepreneurs in the United States you see a remarkable number of first and second generation immigrants. We can argue about immigration policy all day long (and plenty in DC do, mostly to insure that nothing actually gets accomplished) but the historical statistics around immigration and entrepreneurship in the US are undeniable.
Noubar talked about immigration being “going someplace outside of your comfort zone.” Every first generation immigrant I’ve ever met has talked about immigrating to the US as something akin to this. Many entrepreneurs I’ve met have articulated a similar emotion around their experience leaving whatever they were doing to start a new company.
My whole life has been built around the idea of intellectual immigration. I’m constantly exploring new things, getting out of my comfort zone, and moving toward new “things.” As part of this, I’m moving away from (emigrating away) from old, established things.