For the last several months, I’ve heard or read the phrase “the new normal” 7,354 times. I’ve steadily grown tired of it and now I believe it is an invalid concept.
There is no new normal. We have move forward and get better.
Steve Case wrote a great OpEd recently titled There’s no going back to the pre-pandemic economy. Congress should respond accordingly.
This week, Congress will likely take up the next steps in the economic response to the covid-19 pandemic. If the package is like previous efforts, it will focus on trying to turn back the clock to February 2020: treating the economy as if it were Sleeping Beauty, merely needing to be awakened to be fully restored. This strategy is a mistake: Congress needs to stop solely backing efforts to restore the old economic reality and focus on how to develop a new one.
The Kauffman Foundation recently came out with a mission to Rebuild Better.
Comprised of more than 150 entrepreneurship advocates across the country, the Start Us Up coalition is working to elevate the voices of entrepreneurs so policymakers reverse decades of misplaced priorities that have made it far easier for big businesses to grow than for new businesses to start at all. Our goal is not just to restore the economy, but to rebuild better by ensuring all Americans — especially female, minority, immigrant, and rural entrepreneurs who have historically been marginalized by investors and lenders — can turn their ideas into businesses.
The goal should not be the new normal. The old normal didn’t work for many Americans. The old normal had incredible income inequity, racial inequity, gender inequity, and many other inequities. When I wrote that I’m Fast-Forwarding to 2025, I had this in the back of my mind, but I couldn’t articulate it.
Change is unpredictable, bumpy, impossible to predict, challenging, stressful, and non-linear. But, as humans, all of these things make us incredibly uncomfortable. Often, we want to go back to “the way things were” since that felt safe, or predictable, or even if we didn’t really like it, was at least something we understood.
Going back to the way we were, with some adjustments, is how I interpret the phrase “the new normal.” I don’t think it will work. I don’t think it’s desirable. I don’t think it’s progress.
So many of the leaders I respect like Steve Case and The Kauffman Foundation are being clear about this. They may use different words, but I feel completely aligned with their vision.
I have no interest in a new normal. I’m only interested in something much better across our society that what was the old normal.
I encourage leaders to embrace change. Embrace complexity. Embrace uncertainty. I certainly am.
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.
Yesterday Techstars announced the launch of Techstars Kansas City. This is a city-based horizontal accelerator similar to the ones we have in Boulder, Boston, Seattle, Austin, New York City, London and Berlin. Applications open in January 2017 and the program will run in July 2017.
I have a long history with Kansas City. I almost grew up in Kansas City, as the two cities my parents looked at when moving from Boston were Kansas City and Dallas (they chose Dallas.) In the mid to late 1990s, I was an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Kauffman Foundation working with Jana Matthews on “learning programs for high growth entrepreneurs.” During this time, Jana and I initiated a deep partnership between the Kauffman Foundation and YEO (the Young Entrepreneurs Organization). I spent about a day a month in Kansas City, during which time I developed a deep respect for the Kauffman Foundation, Ewing Marion Kauffman (Mr. K), and his value system around entrepreneurship and philanthropy.
In 2013 when Google announced that Kansas City would be the first city in the country to have Google Fiber, I bought a house in the first neighborhood that was being wired up with Google’s gigabit Internet. This was inspired by Ben Barreth, who was the first person to buy a house in the neighborhood and turn it into a hacker house. Lesa Mitchell, at that time at the Kauffman Foundation, found the house for me and did all the on the ground work for me. Later in 2013, Techstars and Sprint launched the Sprint Accelerator, which Techstars ran for three years.
As a result of this activity, Kansas City has become an important startup city in Techstars network. Earlier this year we started talking more about our long term view for our involvement in the Kansas City Startup Community and recruited Lesa Mitchell to lead the effort for us as the Managing Director of Techstars Kansas City.
I giggle with joy when I think about working with Lesa closely again. There’s a long list of things we did together when she was at the Kauffman Foundation, we share very similar visions for startup communities, and – well – she’s just dynamite.
I’m going to be in Kansas City on Monday for the Kauffman Fellows Reunion VC Summit and the 20th anniversary of the Kauffman Fellows Program. I joined the Kauffman Fellows board last month (more on that in a post soon) and David Cohen (Techstars co-CEO) and I are doing an event Tuesday afternoon about what Techstars is doing next in Kansas City. Come join us if you are in town and interested.
My friends at the Kauffman Foundation have released the Kauffman Thoughtbook 2015.
It’s a beautifully done, well-organized, and super rich with content web document about entrepreneurship. There is extensive content and examples around Startup Communities, included in the Paths to Entrepreneurship section. I made a few guest appearances, including in the long article about the Kansas City Startup Village.
If you are interested in startup communities, entrepreneurship, and how it grows and develops, spend some time online with the Kauffman Thoughtbook 2015.
An event called Startup Phenomenon is happening In Boulder on 11/13 – 11/15. It gets to the heart of how startup communities are developed and I’d love to have you join me at it. If you register to come, use the code “feldfriends” for $100 off the $995 price.
You may have seen the recent Kauffman Foundation study that ranked Boulder tops among all cities in the U.S. in terms of tech-startup density. That Boulder was number one was interesting, but what’s more exciting is that there are so many emergent startup communities around the United States that it’s now worth ranking them.
Startup Phenomenon is designed to bring attention to these communities, from small towns to large cities, as we explore how this startup phenomenon works. We’ll cover topics including:
On the third day of the conference we will provide a deep look into what’s going on here in Colorado. That Kauffman report of densest startup communities actually had four Colorado cities in the top 10 (Boulder, Ft. Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs.) And you may have seen that the New York Times recently dubbed Boulder “Silicon Valley for Ad Agencies.”
The speakers list is awesome. As a special treat, I get to interview Jim Collins author of Built to Last, Good to Great, How the Mighty Fall, and Great By Choice who happens to live in Boulder.
This will be a great opportunity for you to bring attention to your work and to learn about the entrepreneurs and investors who have come together around the world to build vibrant, open startup communities.
My friend Paul Kedrosky – who spends some of his time as a Senior Fellow at the Kauffman Foundation – has a thoughtful short video (as part of the Kauffman Sketchbook series) on where entrepreneurs get their money. While it’s easy to get confused and think that VCs are the center of the financing universe, Paul reminds us that most entrepreneurial companies are funded by the entrepreneur’s savings, cash flow, credit cards, friends, and family.
It’s a creative three minute video with plenty of meat to it.