My partner Seth Levine and his co-author Elizabeth MacBride recently wrote an important book called The New Builders: Face to Face with the True Future of Business. It is out and available.
Foundry Group is hosting an open virtual event to discuss the book. Seth and Elizabeth will be moderating the discussion with special guests Colorado Senator John Hickenlooper, Makisha Boothe of Sistahbiz, Colorado Congressman Joe Neguse, and Lorena Cantarovici of Maria Empanada.
Seth and Elizabeth have spent the past year talking to entrepreneurs all over the United States as they’ve developed their thesis around The New Builders. The Covid crisis has accelerated the growth and development of many high-tech companies, including the largest companies that were recently young, entrepreneurial businesses. But, unfortunately, the Covid crisis has decimated many local businesses and dramatically impacted communities everywhere.
The New Builders are the future of business that will emerge from the Covid crisis, and the book argues for the future of American entrepreneurship. That future lies in surprising places and will rely on the success of women, Black, and Brown entrepreneurs. However, our country hasn’t yet recognized the New Builders’ identities, let alone developed strategies to support them.
My long-time business partner Seth Levine has written a book with Elizabeth MacBride titled The New Builders: Face to Face with the TRUE Future of Business. It’s extraordinary – buy a copy now!
For many years, Seth has been frustrated about the entrepreneurial narrative around the White male tech founder. He’s been active as an investor and philanthropist around entrepreneurship in rural Colorado and with organizations, such as Entrepreneurship for All, that are focused on accelerating economic and social impact in communities nationwide through inclusive entrepreneurship. He’s been exploring this and investing both in the US and other places globally, including Africa and the Middle East.
Pre-Covid, he started working on The New Builders with Elizabeth MacBride. They made good progress, and I remember saying hello to Elizabeth in our conference room after she and Seth had taken it over for a few days of writing, back when we met in conference rooms. As the Covid crisis began, they started writing a series of OpEds that got a lot of play, including To save the US economy, policymakers need to understand small business 101, and Communities across America rush to save Main Street as federal relief for small business stalls. These articles foreshadowed what they were digging into as part of their research for The New Builders.
Seth and Elizabeth obliterate the myth of the White male tech founder. Through detailed history, current stories, and many interviews, they bring life to new businesses started by Black, Brown, Female, and Older people. These entrepreneurs, including immigrants, are the next generation of business owners. Post-Covid, they will be key to redefining our economy.
While this group of founders and business owners may not get the same press that tech entrepreneurs get, they profoundly impact their local communities. Their efforts are foundational to the health, development, and growth of American cities, enabling a future where people have the economic freedom to pursue their passions.
Seth and Elizabeth have issued a powerful wake-up call for America with The New Builders. It’s time to see, understand, and value the next generation of business owners.
In addition to his leadership at Foundry, the companies he’s involved in, a number of initiatives in Colorado generally and Longmont specifically, and with his family, my partner Seth Levine has written several excellent posts in around the Covid Crisis.
His first, Dealing with evolving information about Covid-19 was deeply personal and explained why it is so important to “being open to new and evolving information is so critically important in a time when what we know about Covid-19 is changing so rapidly.”
Then, he had a post about Decision making in uncertain times. He explored several ideas: Don’t Panic, Move quickly but don’t rush, Prioritize, Be comfortable with ambiguity, You can’t control what you can’t control, and Make contingency plans. This helps explain why even though we want to make the “right” decision, we should endeavor to make the “best” decision since the idea of “right” doesn’t exist in times like these.
At the end of last week, which feels like several months ago, he has a series of practical thoughts for all CEOs that were a synthesis from all the stimuli of that week. And yesterday, as layoffs are starting to roll out extensively across all types of businesses in the US, he had a series of tips for anyone who is job hunting in the midst of a crisis.
Seth has really found his writing voice in the past few weeks. He’s always been an excellent writer, but I’m finding incredible value in many of the things he’s saying, both privately (inside our partnership) and publicly (on his blog) as we all do our best to help out in this crisis. I encourage you follow him and read everything he’s putting out right now.
I spent the past few days in Tokyo at the Kauffman Fellows Annual Summit. Over the past five years, there has been a large increase globally in the number of venture capitalists and people interested in becoming VCs. As a result, an organization like Kauffman Fellows is more important than ever as it helps build an incredible community of the next generation of VCs to learn from each other.
In the mid-1990s, I learned how to be a board member by sitting on a lot of boards, learning from other experienced board members, and making a lot of mistakes. I still make a lot of mistakes (that’s that nature of venture capital, and of life in general), but I like to believe that I’m a much more effective board member than I was 25 years ago. That said, I still have my bad days and walk out of a board meeting feeling unsettled for one reason or another.
Recently, Mark Suster, Fred Wilson, and Seth Levine each wrote excellent posts on how to be a good board member. Each post is worth reading from beginning to end carefully.
Mark Suster: How to Be a Good Board Member
Fred Wilson: How To Be A Good Board Member
Seth Levine wrote a five post series: Designing the Ideal Board Meeting
I especially love Fred’s punch line, which I strongly agree with.
“Which leads me to my rule for being a good board member.
It comes down to one word.
If you care, really care, deeply care, like the way a parent cares for a child, you will be a good board member.”
If you are a board member (or interact with a board as part of a leadership team) and want to go even deeper on this, I encourage you to grab a copy of my book Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors
And, if you are having a board meeting that I’m a part of, take a look at my post from 2014 if you want hints about My Ideal Board Meeting.
My partner Seth Levine has written several posts over the years on the
His 2019 post, titled creatively How To Get A Job In Venture Capital is excellent. Things have changed in the last decade since his 2008 post titled How to get a job in venture capital (revisited), which was an update from his 2005 post titled How to become a venture capitalist. All three posts are worth reading.
Following is a teaser for each of the key points Seth makes.
If you are interested in a job in venture capital, go read Seth’s posts How To Get A Job In Venture Capital (2019). And How to get a job in venture capital (revisited – 2008). And How to become a venture capitalist (2005).
Seth and I have each attended over 27,367 board meetings. Ok, I don’t know the actual number, but it’s a lot. We’ve both been on good boards and bad boards. Boards that have helped companies and boards that have sunk companies. Boards that know how to resolve conflict and boards that have multiple passive-aggressive actors engaged in a complex dance that serves no one, especially the company.
So, I’m totally digging Seth’s new series. Not surprisingly, since Seth and I have been working together for over 17 years, there’s a lot that is the same as my board approach. But, I’m also learning something from each post which I plan to incorporate into my board world going forward.
The first four posts are up. In order:
If you are a founder, CEO, investor, or outside director who is on a private company board, this is a must-read series. And, if you want to go deeper on how boards work, grab a copy of the book I wrote a few years with Mahendra Ramsinghani ago titled Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors.
I’ve become a huge fan of Harry Stebbings, the intrepid entrepreneur turned VC whose age (20) matches the title of his podcast (The Twenty Minute VC.) Today, at SaaStr at 1:40pm in the Hypercritical section, Harry is interviewing me about – well – whatever he wants.
Harry has done hundreds of 20 minute VC interviews over the past few years. It’s a staple of mine on my podcast listening rotation so I’ve heard a bunch of them. It’s fun to watch Harry evolve as an interviewer as his knowledge of the industry has increased dramatically and his point of view about various VC-related things has become crisp and clear. And his hustle is relentless and has led to him also doing the SaaStr podcast and joining Atomico.
All five of the Foundry Group partners have been interviewed at this point. I think our interviews are a great way to get to know us quickly since we each tell our story, our strategy, and our approach in our own words and from different perspectives. Over the past few weeks I’ve probably talked to over 100 VCs between my trip to Australia, LA, and SF. When I find myself telling our story in response to being asked, I often wish I had a short cut to point people to.
This post is now the shortcut. I’ll use Harry’s original titles so you can see how his SEO prowess has evolved.
Yeah – I don’t love the capital letters either, but there you have it.
In case you are wondering about the tone of the 100 VCs I’ve talked to, I’d rate it as very high on the anxiety meter. Some of the tone is from the macro dynamics post election, but some seems deeper and more unsettled. I don’t know what it is, but I switched my Headspace meditation pack from Motivation (which I don’t need any help with) to Anxiety, just to be proactive.
After all these years, I’m still a heavy RSS user. Every morning I click on my Daily folder in Chrome, open it up, and spend whatever time I feel like on it. The vast majority of what I read is in Feedly and includes my VC Collection as well as a bunch of other stuff. It’s almost entirely tech related, as I stay away from mainstream media during the week (e.g. no CNN, no CNBC, no NYT, no WSJ, no USA Today, no … well – you get the idea) since I view all this stuff as an intellectual distraction (and much of it is just entertainment anyway, and I’d rather read a book.)
This morning I came across a number of interesting things that created some intellectual dissonance in my brain since they came from different perspectives. I’d categorize it as the collision between optimist and pessimist, startup and already started up, and offense vs. defense. However, they all shared one thing in common – the message and thoughts were clear.
Let’s start with Tim Cook’s remarkable Message to Our Customers around the San Bernardino case and the need for encryption. My first reaction was wow, my second reaction was to read it again slowly, and my third reaction was to clap quietly in the darkness of my office. I then went on an exploration of the web to understand the All Writs Act of 1789 which is what the FBI is using to justify an expansion of its authority. I love the last two paragraphs as they reflect how I feel.
“We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.
While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”
Thank you Tim Cook and Apple for starting my day out with something deeply relevant to our near term, and long term, future in a digital age.
Shortly after I came across Danielle Morrill’s post Surviving Whatever Comes Next and Heidi Roizen’s post Dear Startups: Here’s How to Stay Alive. I’m an investor in Danielle’s company Mattermark and was partners with Heidi at Mobius Venture Capital. I have deep respect for each of them, think they are excellent writers, and thought there were plenty of actionable items in each of their posts, unlike many of the things people I’ve seen in the last few weeks about how the technology / startup world is ending.
Unlike the sentiment I’ve been hearing in the background about deal pace slowing down (not directly – no one is saying it – but lots of folks are signaling it through body language and clearly hedging about what they are actually thinking because they aren’t sure yet), our deal pace at Foundry Group is unchanged. Since we started in 2007, we’ve done around ten new investments per year. I expect in 2016 we’ll do about ten new investments, in 2017 we’ll do about ten new investments, in 2018 we’ll do about ten new investments – you get the picture. We have a deeply held belief that to maximize the value and opportunity in a VC fund, investment pace should be consistent over a very long period of time. We did about ten investments in 2007, 2008, and 2009 – which, if I remember correctly, is a period of time referred to as the Global Financial Crisis. Hmmm …
So it was fun to see my partner Seth’s post titled Welcome to Foundry on the same morning as Danielle and Heidi’s posts. That started the intellectual dissonance in my brain. If you want to see what Seth sends every company he joins the board of after we make an investment in, it’s a good read. It also clearly expresses how we approach working with companies the day after we become an investor.
I then read Ian Hathaway‘s great article for the Brookings Institute titled Accelerating growth: Startup accelerator programs in the United States. There are a few people doing real research of the impact of Accelerators and Ian’s work is outstanding. If you are interested in accelerators, how they work, how they impact company creation, and what trajectory they are on, read this article slowly. It’s got a bonus video interview with me embedded in it.
I’ll end with Joanne Wilson’s post #DianeProject. Joanne shared a bunch of info about the #DianeProject with me when we were together in LA two weeks ago. While I don’t know Kathyrn Finney, I now know of her and her platform Digital Undivided. I strongly recommend that you pay $0.99 (like I just did) to get a copy of the report The Real Unicorns of Tech: Black Women Founders, #ProjectDiane. The data is shocking, and there is an incredible paragraph buried deep within it.
“A small pool of angel and venture investors fund a majority of Black women Founders. For those in the $100,000-$1 million funding range, a majority of their funders were local accelerator programs and small venture firms (under $10 million in management). One angel investor, Joanne Wilson and Gotham Gal Ventures, has invested in three of the 11 companies that raised over $1 million. On the traditional venture rm side, Kapor Capital and Comcast’s Catalyst Fund have invested in at least two of the Black woman-led startups in the $1 million club. Wilson, Kapor, and Comcast often invest together, aka “co-invest”, in companies, thus increasing the amount of funding a company receives.”
So – was that more interesting than CNN or CNBC?
I don’t listen to that many podcasts, but I like ones that are a short (< 45 minute) interview format. I can listen to one of these on a run or a drive to/from my office.
Until recently, the only one I was listening to regularly was the Reboot.io podcast. Jerry Colonna, the co-founder of Reboot.io is a dear friend and his interviews are often magical.
A few months ago I noticed The Twenty Minute VC by Harry Stebbings. I can’t remember which one was the first one I listened to, but I thought his style and interview approach was great. It was fast, started with an origin story, but quickly moved on to the present and then ended with a set of short questions.
Jon Staenberg, a long-time friend from Seattle who did an interview with Harry on episode 034, dropped me the following email at the end of April:
He seems like a good guy, want to be part of his podcast?
Ever in seattle?
I told Jon I’d be game. Harry responded immediately and we did a podcast together six weeks ago. I’d been listening regularly since Jon introduced us and heard several great podcasts, including mentions of me in 055 with Jonathon Triest and 059 with Arteen Arabshahi.
Last week Harry releases two episodes 065 with me and 066 with my partner Seth Levine. I had fun doing mine but absolutely loved listening to the one with Seth, especially around his version of the Foundry Group origin story.
Harry promises to interview our other two partners – Ryan McIntyre and Jason Mendelson – so he’ll ultimately have a triangulation (or maybe a trilateration) of our origin story.
In the mean time, enjoy the interviews with me and with Seth if you are looking for a podcast to listen to.