Category Archives: Venture Capital

A Full Circle Moment / SCale: The Future of Tech & Entertainment

March 23, 2017 Entrepreneurship, Startups, Technology, Uncategorized, Venture Capital

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Yesterday was a special day for USC and the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, as it held its first full-day tech conference at Shutters in Santa Monica. It was also a special day for me. You see, when I was 14 years old I confidently announced to my parents that I would be heading West for college to study entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California.

My announcement caught my parents off-guard because: 1) in Indiana, my hometown, the expectation is that you go to IU, and 2) studying entrepreneurship was not commonplace at that time. It was my sophomore year and I had gotten my hands on the college rankings edition of U.S. News and World Report. I was fascinated by a lengthy spread that discussed a new type of business track, called “entrepreneurial studies,” that was only offered at two schools – Babson and The University of Southern California.  A family trip up the California coast as a child had sparked a love affair with the West Coast so USC became my #1 target.  And a campus visit with my Dad (a Notre Dame football fan who was not thrilled to be on enemy grounds) sealed the deal.

Cut to almost exactly 20 years later (yikes and shhhhh!) and I consider my decision to go to USC to study entrepreneurship the most important and impactful decision of my life to date. I have spent my entire career working with entrepreneurs in the early stage tech space.  Having held just about every role (operator, consultant, advisor, investor, coach), I truly could’t imagine doing anything else.  And as a bonus, I get to co-teach one of the entrepreneurship classes I took two decades ago.

This past year, working on the SCale event, has been surreal and also an incredible honor. With only a small team of amazing Trojans, we pulled off a tremendous day of content and community that perfectly highlighted both the university and the city I love.

SCale covered entertainment, digital media, gaming, esports, AR/VR, and more.  We were fortunate enough to get Bob Iger (Disney), Sarah Harden (Otter Media), Adam Cheyer (Siri, Viv), and Brandon Beck (Riot Games) to join us – to name just a few of the amazing folks we had on stage.  And Eric Garcetti,  the most tech-forward Mayor in the country, also stopped by.  It was truly surreal to have it all come together so wonderfully.  Thanks to all the amazing founders, investors, techies and media & entertainment folks who spent the day with us.

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Yesterday was no doubt the kickoff of what will be an amazing yearly event. USC, with its world-class schools (business, engineering, film, gaming and beyond), has a tremendous impact on the talent and innovation here in Los Angeles. I am both #LongUSC and #LongLA. I cannot wait to see what the next 20 years brings.

#FightON

PS – David, Jeymi, Anthony, Suzy – you are the best! #dreamteam

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PSS – Thanks, as always, to my mom & dad for always supporting me.

The Tech World Mirrors The Ad World (despite being more Richard Hendricks than Don Draper)

October 6, 2016 Entrepreneurship, Gender Equality, Startups, Technology, Venture Capital, Women in Business

If you have not read the New York Times article, “Brands to Ad Agencies: Diversify or Else,” you should. The similarities between the Startup and Ad industries are pretty uncanny, except the fact that Silicon Valley looks like this…

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And Madison Avenue looks like this…..

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In reference to major brands demanding that agencies diversify their teams, the article states, “The efforts reflect a growing concern among marketers that Madison Avenue’s largely white, male leadership may be hindering their efforts to connect with American consumers.” Kudos to Verizon, HP Inc. and General Mills for taking a stand!

In the startup world, there should be (and I hope is) a growing concern among LPs (the folks that fund VCs) that Silicon Valley’s largely, white leadership may be hindering their efforts to connect with – and fund – entrepreneurs/founders. Of course, LPs are mostly white men themselves, adding another layer of complexity to diversifying the startup ecosystem.

Hopefully, the statistics coming out of recent studies will help impact true change. Here are a few:

• Women led startups receive less than 3% of VC funding, yet we know from a Babson study, among countless others, that women women-led, VC-backed tech companies bring in 12 percent higher revenue than similar male-led companies and have a 35 percent higher return on investment.

• Only 7% of VC partners at the Top 100 firms are women, yet a recent study in partnership with PE Hub, VCJ, Women VC, showed that the overall performance of female VCs’ portfolio companies is 3.78x, ahead of the overall industry average. In addition, having more female investors is important, as they are 3x more likely to invest in startups with a woman as CEO.

The NYTimes article also states that, “In order for us to create work that’s more connected with the consumer, it needs to come from a deeper connection to what’s going on in society and what’s going on in culture.” Nothing has the potential to be more transformative to society and culture than technology innovation. Funding and supporting a diverse set of founders and investors (women and people of color) is imperative. The same goes for hiring women and people of color at the big tech companies. By improving diversity across the entire technology ecosystem, we will facilitate more, and better, innovation across the board.

The good news is that both industries have been under intense press scrutiny for the last few years and now seem to be taking action. With major brands leading the way in advertising and folks like Melinda Gates tackling diversity in tech, we are certainly moving in the right direction.

May both industries learn from each other and move forward quickly to impact change. We will, as a society, be better for it.

Less Talk, More Action (My Trip to DC)

December 29, 2015 Company Culture, Entrepreneurship, Female investors, Technology, Venture Capital, Women in Business

I have been in the startup community (NYC and LA) for nearly 20 years, first as an operator and now as an investor. There has always been a diversity issue (a very big one) so I am, of course, thrilled that it has been getting so much attention as of late. Though I am eager to move from talking about it to ACTING to eliminate it.

I am a strong believer that each of us is responsible for putting into the world more than we take out. That each of us can, and should, make a positive impact – whether that means on a community, industry, state or global level. Obviously, it is easiest to make a difference locally, in an area that you are passionate about and familiar with. Starting out in early-stage tech in the late 90s, I have countless stories about being the only woman in my company, at a party, or at a conference. Because of my experience, I dedicate a good deal of my time to advising and mentoring both my female colleagues as well as the many existing and aspiring female founders I meet. I want more women to join / start / invest in tech startups. The more women that do so, the more that will follow in their footsteps (see my post “Choose Possibility”). Of course, we should all want this, not just women, as the numbers show that companies with women in management report higher returns on equity and better net income growth than those lacking female leaders.

Last year, I had the good fortune of meeting a “soul sister” by the name of Shelley Zallis. Shelley built and sold an online research company and, for the past few years, has been producing “The Girls Lounge”, a destination for female executives to connect and inspire one another, at a handful of major industry conferences. As everyone does, I immediately fell in love with Shelley. I believe our meeting was kizmet, as we met right at the time I began to think about gender equality on a national and global (not just tech ecosystem) level and right at the time Shelley was just beginning to think about how to build her Girls Lounge into a much bigger initiative.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 4.23.35 PMJust before Christmas (and exactly one year after our first meeting), Shelley invited a group of 35 female executives to join her on a trip to DC. This was a venerable crew of badass women from Fortune level companies including IBM, Viacom, iheartmedia, Unilever, The New York Times, and Caterpillar (to name a few). I was honored and elated to be invited.

 

The purpose of the trip was to bring women from the public and private sectors together to begin to formulate a plan for moving beyond articles and studies and into creating an executable corporate roadmap for achieving gender equality. The first day we met with Megan Smith, the CTO of the USA, and discussed/brainstormed topics ranging from STEAM education to how to involve big media companies in bringing greater visibility to workplace diversity. The second day was spent with US Treasurer, Rosie Rios. She is the woman behind the initiative to get a female on our currency (if they see it, they can believe it!). Rosie had McKinsey & Company come in and present to us. If you don’t already know, McKinsey has a partnership with LeanIn.Org and, together, they produced a study called Women in the Workplace 2015.

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The study is a short read, chock-full of charts and to-the-point summaries – definitely worth 15 minutes of your time. Check it our here. I will provide you with the take-away sentence that is most important: “Based on the slow rate of progress…it will take 25 years to reach gender parity at the senior-VP level and more than one hundred years in the C-suite.” 

This is absolutely NOT OK. That’s four more generations of our daughters being passed over for high-visibility projects/promotions, feeling like they cant take reasonable maternity leave without it impacting their performance reviews or career trajectory, and working just as hard (if not harder) than the guy next to her while earning 77 cents to his dollar.

The good news is that workplace diversity and gender equality are hot topics today. You can’t peruse the tech pubs on any given day without an article on this topic. And there have been a multitude of high profile articles on diversity (or lack thereof) in Hollywood this past year. These are the two industries in which I play – I am hoping, and assuming, the same goes for all industries.

The bad news is that we are at a stage where many companies are just providing lip service when they are publicly claiming diversity is a priority. In fact, according to the McKinsey study, “74% of companies report that gender diversity is a top CEO priority, but the message is not reaching the majority of employees. Less than half of workers believe that gender diversity is a top priority of their CEO, and only a third view is a top priority for their direct manager.”   One example here is Twitter. Twitter joined alongside several Silicon Valley heavyweights in releasing their diversity numbers (which were beyond dismal) and proclaiming that diversity was a key priority. Recently, an employee (now ex) posted this resignation letter that went viral stating that he was leaving the company because he believed its diversity initiative was more talk than action. To be fair to Twitter, tackling diversity in the workplace is a huge task and one that won’t happen overnight.  The company did release an apology letter and just this past week announced that they hired away Apple’s Worldwide Director of Inclusion and Diversity.

There have been lots of folks hired in the last year with fancy titles like the one above. But what can and will these people actually do to implement change. That’s where we are back to the good news. There are action items that can be taken – and companies like Facebook (go Sheryl), Salesforce, Netflix, Goldman Sachs, and Intel are leading the way. What we need is for these major companies to be transparent about what is and is not working – and to track and report their progress – all the way down to the bottom line.  We must prove to CEOs (and shareholders) that diversity strengthens a company in every aspect, including financially.

And this is where The Girls Lounge (consisting of leaders across multiple industries) and Megan & Rosie come back in. Having corporations and organizations tackle this issue in silos is a sure way to get to 100 years before we create the change we want to see. I will not share the plan for more unified action here – as it is still under construction and it is not mine to share. But it includes bringing together companies, organizations, and the government to evaluate, promote, and enact best practices for eliminating the gender/race wage gap, building corporate practices that promote diversity and eliminate discrimination (including changing Family Leave Policy – for more on this, watch this TED talk), and tackling the very difficult subject of unconscious bias.

As Shelley likes to say #TogetherWeCan  
As I like to say, let’s #GetShitDone   

Stay tuned….
And be sure to follow The Girls Lounge: Twitter / Instagram / Facebook

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The One Book Every Entrpreneur MUST Own

August 25, 2013 Books, Business Development, Startups, Technology, Venture Capital

Business Model Generation is the book I refer to as “The Entrepreneur’s Bible”. I have one at home and one at work. If you don’t have this book, buy it HERE NOW. Along with a terrific Website, the brilliant BMG folks have recently released a new “toolbox” called The Strategyzer that helps you build a better business model. Check it out HERE. Trust me, you will thank me later for this tip;)

BMG

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

September 3, 2012 Business, Entrepreneurship, Internet, Startups, Technology, Venture Capital, Women in Business

The topic of the dirth of women in technology has been written about ad nauseum for the past few years.  But that’s a good thing, as bringing the issue to the forefront is finally leading to a good deal of action.  And actions, as we all know, speaks louder than words.

I came across an article on TechCrunch today, entitled “Twitter bets on Girls Who Code,” that literally made my day (and it’s Labor Day so that means a lot!)   Huge props to Reshma Saujani, who founded  the New York-based initiative to help teach girls ages 13-17 how to code so that they can pursue careers in technology and engineering.  The most exciting part is the number of businesses, including Google, GE  and eBay, that are helping to support Girls Who Code.  The big boys are finally stepping up to the plate after acknowledging that women programmers are few and far between, and realizing that they can have an extremely positive impact on their predominantly testosterone tech teams.  Women bring a different perspective and style to the table, and often approach problem analysis, solution discovery, and general communication in ways different than men.  Many studies have proven that teams with a mix of both sexes are often more successful than teams dominated by one sex or the other. Gender diversity, not just ethnic diversity, is important. Period.

Kudos to Twitter for recognizing this.  Twitter is one of GWC’s biggest supporters, having provided both volunteers and financial support to the organization.

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Below are some important stats pulled for the Girls Who Code website:

Today, just 3.6% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women, and less than 10% of venture capital-backed companies have female founders. Yet females use the internet 17% more than their male counterparts and represent the fastest growing demographic online and on mobile, creating more than two-thirds of content on social networking sites. Technology companies with more women on their management teams have a 34% higher return on investment.

The numbers speak for themselves. By 2018, there will be 1.4 million computer science-related job openings, yet U.S. universities are expected to produce enough computer science graduates to fill just 29% of these jobs. And while 57% of bachelor’s degrees are obtained by women, less than 14% of computer science degrees are awarded to women.

Accolades to Girls Who Code for taking action and targeting young women.  I believe making changes at the youth level is key to making progress overall.  I certainly hope to see this organization grow its presence on not just a national scale, but a global one.

This is an exciting time for Women in Tech and Female Founders.  A time where individuals, organizations and businesses are in action mode so that we can start to see the percentages above steadily increase.  Stay tuned for my next post, as I will be creating a list of more folks that are making a significant impact.

 

 

Female Investors – “Ladies, we got this!”

July 26, 2012 Business, Entrepreneurship, Startups, Uncategorized, Venture Capital, Women in Business

Per usual these days, much is being written about the lack of women in tech and the difficulty for women to get funded. The always honest and entertaining Dave McClure (his 500 Startups blog is a must read) had some hard-hitting words this week in an article titled “Women in Tech: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.” While I don’t agree with the entire piece, and the problem is much bigger than the lack of female investors, I do give kudos to Dave’s new project, Women Investors NOW.  WIN challenges women to publicly commit to invest a total of $15,000 in three start-ups over the next year. Per Dave, “I’d like to CHALLENGE every woman in tech who’s a) got a nice care, b) owns a nice house, or c) is making over $125K a year to start thinking of themselves as the next Ron Conway or Esther Dyson in the making and commit to investing in startups…”

I often talk (and write here) about the need for women to help women. And this is a GREAT way to do it. Once I get a few months of my new gig behind me (more on that soon!), I am totally up for this challenge – and I hope you are too.  Click here to learn more about the WIN Challenge.  Personally, I plan to be a force in the LA Angel Investing community.  There are definitely not enough women funding and advising companies in Silicon Beach.  Yet, there are a ton of  successful entrepreneurial women here.

Speaking of kickass chicks, I am adding Kirsten Green to my list.  Her female-only VC, Forerunner Ventures, announced is raised $40 million today.  How do you like that, Mr. McClure!  I had not heard of Forerunner before, but they already have a stellar portfolio that focuses on consumer facing ventures that are predominantly in the digital commerce space.  They have funded a number of companies I love, including Warby Parker, Birchbox and Chloe + Isabel.  Also, I went into online stalker mode on Kirsten and discovered she is married and has a kid.   This might upset all the authors/bloggers who took part in the “Women Can’t Have It All” meme a few weeks back.

 

Oops…I Did It Again

September 5, 2011 Business, Startups, Venture Capital

OOPS….I did it again. I promised myself, and you, that I would begin blogging in a semi-regular fashion. I started this blog the week I started Docstoc – then InterWebs silence for over a year. Then, I got back on the blogwagon right about the time we started BetterWorks. And it happened again. Building a business is exhausting and if/when one has some personal time, blogwriting is not the first activity that comes to mind. Regardless, I have had so many amazing experiences helping launch this company, I regret not having taken time to share. I will do my best going forward to do so.

As I left off with a “stayed tuned” to learn more about my new BetterWorks adventure, I will pick back up with a killer video that does an amazing job, way better than words, at explaining our Perks Platform.

BetterWorks – Make Work Rewarding from BetterWorks on Vimeo.

Feels pretty great to be working in sync with such a kick-ass team, helmed by Paige Craig, Zao Yang and George “Mitsubishi” Ishii, to execute on such an impactful vision:  “to make work rewarding.”

We have been executing at the speed of light, and lots of folks (customers, vendors, investors, press peeps) have taken notice.  Check out this awesome Forbes coverage announcing our funding by stellar San Fran Venture Capital firm Redpoint Ventures.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevenbertoni/2011/08/01/betterworks-valued-at-nearly-100-million-after-redpoint-investment/

GO Team BetterWorks – Aka Team Banana, Team Kicking Ass and Taking Names, Team HoneyBadger and Team Amaze Balls!!!

 

 

 

Early Stage BD -What Exactly I Do?

November 29, 2010 Business, Business Development, Entrepreneurship, Sales & Marketing, Startups, Venture Capital

When people ask me what I do, I often say I help build very early stage Internet/technology companies.  This often leads to the follow-up question – “What exacly does that mean?”  On the flip side,  I meet countless Business Undergrads, and even MBAs, who tell me they want to work in startups, but seem to have very little idea of exactly what the job entails.  I recently came across a great post on 500Startups about what it means to be the “Business Guy at a Startup” by Charles Hudson (@chudson).  It is dead-on (for pre-RevGen stage), so I am sharing just about all of it below:

Being the businessperson at a startup is not easy. While the engineering team is busy checking in code and the product team is busy revising the product plan, you’re out meeting with people. Everyone else, from the finance person to the engineering team has measurable and observable deliverables in terms of code checkins, PRDs, and other key tasks that show up on a weekly progress report, while what you’re doing isn’t easy to measure. You’re not closing deals because you don’t have a product. You’re not generating revenue because the product is still in development. You’re out trying to sell a dream (literally) – some day the startup will live up to all of the promises you’re making to potential partners. So what should you do every day?

I believe there are 4 core activities that every startup business guy should do if you join in the early days:

1. Be an early advocate for a business model and revenue model discovery. Everyone in your organization is going to be focused on building a killer product that users will love. But someone has to worry about the business model and distribution strategy. The good news for you as the business guy at your startup is that you can focus on that issue as a core part of your day. Even if the business model isn’t clear, it’s your job to take advantage of your seat at the table to advocate for potential business models, run early experiments with customers who believe in what you’re doing, and constantly make the case that what you’re doing has to turn into a business if the company is to ultimately be successful. If you don’t agitate for revenue and customer development and discovery, it’s easy to have that work deferred into the future. It’s never too early to start thinking through those issues.

The other natural byproduct of working as a revenue and business model advocate is that it forces you to get more involved in understanding the product roadmap and prioritization of pending features. It’s critical that you find a way to be a part of those conversations early on. Most great Internet startups are driven by product and engineering people who have strong views about where the product should go and which features should be prioritized to achieve that end. If you wait until the product is nearly complete or about to ship, it’s too late; the major opportunities to influence the direction of the product or at least understand why and how key features are being prioritized has been lost. The most frustrating experience many early businesspeople I’ve talked to encounter at startups is a feeling that the product people “just don’t get it” when they come in with a big revenue opportunity, partnership, or deal. You’re right – they probably don’t get it. They’re focused on building the product that they believe customers want. If you haven’t invested the hours it takes to get to understand the product and engineering teams longer term plans, why they want to do what they want to do and when, and to build relationships with them, you’ll never be a part of the process. Spend the time to connect with those teams and work with them – yu can rarely get anything meaningful done if it doesn’t fit into the company’s longer term product plans and vision.

2. Be the one man or one woman combination of sales, business development, and marketing. In the early days of any startup, you’re probably going to be the only person responsible for the “business stuff.” You’re not going to have business counterparts in other key business functions such as marketing and sales. If you’re nominally the VP of Business Development, that’s not actually your job. Your job is to drive all of the business functions to the best of your abilities. Someday you might have a counterpart in sales, marketing, or other key business functions. But until you do, it’s your responsibility to drive those functions forward to the best of your ability and help the company better execute across all business functions, even though you’re only one person.

For those of you coming from big companies, this can be a jarring transformation. I know it was from me. For my first full-time business development role, I went from Google (15,000 employees when I left) to Gaia (about 65 employees at the time I joined). The nice thing about larger companies is that you can afford to staff all of those other business functions – if you’re in business development, it’s not your job to run marketing. And let’s not overlook one critical difference between being at a big company such as Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft. When you call, people will pick up the phone because of the company you represent. Getting meetings is relatively easy. Getting small and large partners to line up behind your new product or vision can be easy when you have the power of a big brand behind you. That is rarely the case at a startup – you have to make it happen and it will take a lot of hustle to do so.

3. Start building relationships that will pay off when your company starts to scale. Similar to the points raised in the first point, there are key relationships you want to start building early, even before it’s entirely clear how the product will turn out. In every early stage business, the management team knows the initial market you’re planning to target. And in every market, there are key other ecosystem participants you want to get to know for distribution relationships, corporate development opportunities, or for other reasons that will help both of your businesses. It’s never too early to start those conversations. The best part of starting those conversations early is that you get an opportunity to better understand how other people in your ecosystem are thinking about the problem you’re trying to solve. Do they have internal efforts already underway? Are they desperate to partner with someone else who has traction? Do they have strongly held beliefs about how the space you’re in is going to play out? These are all things that are good to know as you plot your strategy. And as the person who is focused on life outside of the four walls of your company, this is valuable intel you can bring back to everyone else in the company.

4. Keep your ears open about the chatter in your industry so you don’t get blindsided. Don’t forget that the vast majority of your colleagues are focused on the internal issues that could keep your startup from succeeding. They’re working on product planning and customer development issues that are unique to the product your company is building. But that’s not 100% of what you need to know to succeed. Sometimes it’s really important to know what’s happening in your industry. Is one of your competitors raising a major round? If so, what does that mean for your company? Will that major round allow them to out-spend your on sales and marketing or hire more engineers? Is there a big deal out for bid that doesn’t involve you? If so, what would it mean for the space if one of your competitors closes that deal? Is there a big public company actively looking to acquire someone in your space? These questions and 500 others are important to know if you’re running a startup. Those things can impact your startup’s perceived chances of success. As the business person at a startup, it’s your job to stay on top of industry chatter to make sure your startup isn’t left out in the cold if changes are afoot in your industry.

Last but not least, you need to get comfortable with the fact that many of the activities you’re doing won’t show up in a weekly progress report. Building relationships, pushing for revenue models, and staying up to speed on what’s happening in your industry might not pay immediate dividends in the same way that code checkins and PRD revisions do. But nothing hurts startup morale more than being blindsided by a major industry development that you hear about on TechCrunch without being part of the conversation.

You can read the entire post here:  http://blog.500startups.com/2010/11/08/what-does-that-business-guy-at-your-startup-do-anyway/