10 Takeaways From My Day in Prison

10 Takeaways From My Day in Prison

Personal Development Uncategorized

Yesterday I went to prison…

I spent the day at a women’s prison with Defy Ventures for their Business Coaching Day. Along with a powerful and warm-hearted group of women (and a few good men), I provided live coaching/feedback to underdog aspiring entrepreneurs in prison to help empower them to transform their lives.

Spending the day with 100 female prisoners (most were mothers, some had been in gangs, one had an MBA from my alma mater and another was a 74 year old who signed up for the program to work on a business idea), re-enforced the following:

1) We are all more similar than different. Our hearts all beat from the same place.
2) We should not be defined by our past. We have all made mistakes.
3) We must forgive ourselves and others to heal and live in peace.
4) We must never ever give up hope.
5) We must learn to be as gentle and compassionate with ourselves as we are with those around us.
6) We must live in the present, as the only time we have is NOW.
7) We are never too old/it is never too late to change, grow, learn.
8) We must avoid making assumptions about others backgrounds, experiences.
9) Empathy is the key to a more harmonious world.
10) Entrepreneurship is color and gender blind.

Many volunteers have written about their day in prison in moving detail. Google them – they are all worth reading and deeply moving. Just keep in mind, reading about others’ experiences can not quite prepare you for how emotionally impactful and rewarding the day will be for YOU. The only real way to understand this is to volunteer! There are several prisons that are part of the program in LA. I plan to stay involved with my new sisters at the women’s prison and will likely be organizing a bus for the next visit. If you are interested, please LMK.

To learn more about Defy’s awesome work and meet some grads (who turn street hustle into legal startups), check out www.defyventures.com.

VC Discussion on Diversity & Walking the Talk (SXSW 2017)

VC Discussion on Diversity & Walking the Talk (SXSW 2017)

Diversity/Equality Founders/Startups

Last month, I had the honor of curating and moderating a VC panel at the TFQ Girls’ Lounge at SXSW.  If you take a look at the video thumbnail below, you will see that this was not your typical investor panel. It was a truly diverse group, made up of:

Christine Herron, Co-lead – Intel Capital Diversity Fund
Sean Jacobsohn, Partner – Norwest Venture Capital
Suzy Ryoo, Venture Partner – Atom Factory and Cross Culture Ventures
Aditi Maliwal, Corporate Development – Google (formerly w /Crosslink Captial)

Much of our conversation was focused on fundraising but, as we were in the TFQ Girls Lounge, we also spent time discussing diversity, or the lack thereof, in the tech industry. I purposefully opted not to recite the dismal statistics of how many women VCs there are or how little money goes to female founders. Constantly regurgitating the numbers is not a way to encourage up and coming entrepreneurs or investors.

It is clear we need more diverse folks at every level of our ecosystem – LPs, VCs, Angels, Founders, Board Members, etc. It will take some time to see significant change but I, for one, am very optimistic. There are a handful of amazing organizations and groups focused on tackling these issues, like Project Include, Pipeline Fellowship, and The Boardlist. Over the past 18 months, just about every major tech company has published diversity numbers, and has committed to finding best practices for attracting and retaining women and people of color. In addition, many notable VCs have been focused on bringing more diversity into their partnerships. There are also more women than ever out raising funds of their own. Again, none of this is easy or happening overnight. As Christine Herron points out, funds have a 10 year life cycle so our industry doesn’t lend itself to quick change. At the end of the day, this is an industry that is driven by returns, and research has proven that women-led companies and companies with women (and other minorities) on their senior teams perform better. The numbers are driving the change and the numbers cannot be ignored.

In our panel discussion, we also talked about diversity and inclusion on a micro level. In other words, what are the steps that each of us can take on an individual basis to impact change in our ecosystem. Suzy Ryoo offered up some specifics, which she had recently shared via a thoughtful blogpost entitled, “The Only Woman in the Room”.

Special thanks to Sean Jacobsohn for joining us on the panel.  As we say at TFQ, if we could have done it alone, we would have by now. It takes men and women working together to impact change.

You can listen to the entirety of the conversation in the video below.

 

 

 

The Year of the Woman at Milken Institutes Global Summit

The Year of the Woman at Milken Institutes Global Summit

Diversity/Equality Founders/Startups

Kudos to the Milken Institute for putting on an amazing Global Summit this year.  Yes, they do a great job every year, but this year was special.  They chose to place an emphasis on girls and women, both in their programming and in their attendance.  30% of the attendees were women this year, a significant increase from prior years.  Day 2 of the conference was particularly impactful as the lunch program (which everyone attends) was a 2 hour program that featured Patricia Arquette speaking about pay equality, Frida Pinto discussing how to help advance young women in India, and Willow Bay moderating a panel called “What Would You Do to Make the World Better for Women and Girls? A Conversation and Call to Action”.

I was honored to be on a panel alongside a handful of powerhouse women called “Women Challenging the Status Quo.”  Check out the video below:

Early Stage BD -What Exactly I Do?

Founders/Startups

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/

5 Educational AND Entertaining Business Books to Read NOW

Founders/Startups Personal Development

I love to read.  And I almost exlusively read business books.  My favorites are both educational and entertaining.   Yes, business books can be entertaining – and even exciting.   For me, these are the ones that tell true accounts of the failures and successes of entrepreneurs/startups, and provide gems of wisdom, and lots of humor, along the way.   Below is a list of 5 of my 2010 favorites.  They make for great Holiday reading as well as great Holiday gifts.

1) Stealing Myspace – the myspace story is one of countless twists, turns, villains, and saviors.  Not only does it include a Who’s Who in today’s Internet space (Richard Rosenblatt of soon-to-go public Demand Media, Ross Levinsohn who was literally just hired last week to take control of  Yahoo!  Americas, and countless others), it also includes Sumner Redstone and Rupert Murdoch.   It reads like a great fiction book, but is an accurate account – which makes it all the more entertaining.

2) CRUSH IT – if you don’t know who Gary Vaynerchuk (“Gary Vee of WineLibraryTV”) is by now, get with the program.  This guy has more passion and energy when it comes to business development than I do – I am a HUGE fan!   The book is a quick read and a must read.  Its all about hustling and the best ways to leverage social media to build your personal brand and “cash in on your passion”.   Here are Gary’s 3 Secrets to Success – which I LOVE:

        Love Your Family
        Work Superhard
        Live Your Passion

Be entertained and educated by Gary daily by reading his blog www.garyvaynerchuk.com  and following him on Twitter @garyvee.

3)  The Accidental Billionaires – you have most likely seen (and loved!) The Social Network. This book is just as good, if not better. It is a tale of sex, money, genius and betrayal, and also a tale of how one of today’s most prominent and dominant Social Networking/Internet companies came to be.

4)  Delivering Happiness – this is a book by an amazing entrepreneur and human, Tony Hsieh.  I had the privilege of listening to him speak at last month’s PerfectBusiness Summit 2010.  DH is an important book, as it is as much about passion and purpose as it is about profits.  It tells the story of Zappos and provides great insight into the importance of company culture in building a brand and growing a company.  It also includes thoughts on tribal theory, happiness, and what one can learn about business by playing Poker.

Keep up with Tony by following @zappos on twitter.

5)  Do More Faster – this book was put together by David Cohen and Brad Feld of Techstars.  They, as I, believe that mentoring and community are key factors in flourishing entrepreneurial ventures.  There is no better way to avoid the many pitfalls of launching a business then learning from those who have gone before.  This book is filled with 1-2 page chapters by Techstars Mentors and Mentees and is chockfull of great insights.  I read this book in 2 days and bet you will too.

I have learned a great deal by reading Brad’s blog site Feld Thoughts . You should definitely check it out as well as follow him on Twitter @bfeld

Happy reading!  Please share your must-reads with me via the Comment Box.

Architects of Change – Maria Shriver, The Women’s Conference, Empowering Women/Female Entrepreneurs

Diversity/Equality Personal Development

I have long been a fan of Maria Shriver.  She is a strong woman who uses her voice to implement change and do good. She authored one of my favorite books – “Just Who Will You Be.”  It is a small book with a big message.   In it, she offers up a very candid look into some of her own struggles with her identity and purpose in life.   She then shares a poem that she read at her godson’s college graduation.   The crux of the book is “It is not what you do in your life that matters, it’s who you are”.   The book is ideal for high school and college kids, but really appeals to anyone looking for a life of meaning (which I hope is everybody!).   This book was my Holiday present to absolutely everyone of my family and friends a few years back.

In 2004, Shriver became First Lady of California and took over what, at the time, was a small conference called The Women’s Conference.   She has since turned into the largest one-day conference for women in the nation.   As such, TWC attracts high-profile speakers – world opinion leaders, entrepreneurs, visionaries, tastemakers, spiritual figures, authors, journalists, artists, and, yes, THE OPRAH WINFREY.   It is an event in which women from all walks of life to share perspectives, find common ground, and undergo transformative experiences.   If you are not familiar with this conference, you must spend some time at www.womensconference.org.     This year’s speakers included  Jane FondaDeepak Chopra, Carol Bartz, and Michelle Obama, among a long list of others. You can check out the First Lady’s emotional speech here:  http://www.womensconference.org/michelle-obama/.

 

One of my favorite aspects of TWC is its emphasis on entrepreneurship and women in business.  I believe it is very important for successful women to share their knowledge and experiences with other women through networking and support groups.  I am also a strong proponent of investing time, through volunteer work and mentoring, to teach young women entrepreneurship, as it empowers them to achieve their dreams and take control of their destinies. Check out Ladies Who Launch and SMARTYpeople for the former and Girls Leadership Institute, Girls, Inc., and Girls CEO for the latter.   The following  is a Women’s Conference compilation of “How I did it” stories from successful female entrepreneurs – http://www.womensconference.org/how-i-did-it .  Make sure to read the amazing story of the first female space explorer ANOUSHEH ANSARI, Co-founder of Prodea Systems.   Some of the tips that most resonate with me and the advice I often give to young entrepreneurs are:

Believe in yourself and in your success
Be humble enough to seek guidance from others
Stay flexible
Pay attention to your team and their needs

The last gem I will share about Maria Shriver and her legacy of empowering women is her 10 Ways Women Can Be an Architect of Change.  I am sharing it with every woman I know and I hope you do the same.  My favorite Ghandi quote is  “each of us must be the change we want to see.”   Read this list, get inspired, become empowered, take action, and impact change.

1. Find your own unique voice and listen to what it’s saying.

2. Empower a young woman. Become a mentor by connecting with a young woman in your workplace, neighborhood or place of worship. Find small ways to reach out, listen and support her.

3. Act locally to make a difference globally. Make informed choices about what you buy and consume, as well as how you dispose of items. Reduce your carbon footprint, use energy and water responsibly and green your life.

4. Advocate for a cause that you care deeply about. Your time and expertise could help make a difference as a volunteer, counselor or board member.

5. Invest in women entrepreneurs. Join Team Maria in the WE Invest/Kiva partnership to give women the tools to start or expand their own businesses. For as little as $25, you can “Become a lender. Change a life.”

6. Speak up & ask for what you need. If you need to take time off of your job to care for a child or parent, ask for it. Families need more flexible work schedules, better child care policies and changes in family and medical leave. We need to use our voices collectively to improve workplace policies.

7. Engage your children in the world. As a mother, get your children involved at a young age in seeing the world through the eyes of others, respecting diversity, developing empathy and understanding the gift of giving back.

8. Donate to nonprofits that help women. Instead of purchasing a birthday, anniversary or holiday gift for family, friends and colleagues, make a donation in someone’s name to a nonprofit that works on improving the lives of women and girls.

9. Be an informed citizen. Educate yourself about the world you live in, share your knowledge, educate others and ignite a conversation.

10. Invite 10 of your friends to join The Women’s Conference online community at WWW.WOMENSCONFERENCE.ORG — The Home for Architects of Change.

Startups Uncensored #19 – BOOTSTRAPPING

Founders/Startups

Last night was Docstoc’s StartupsUncensored #19. We started SU two months after I began working at Docstoc. The idea was to build up the LA tech community  (a la the kids up North) by holding monthly educational and networking events. The first SU was about 20 people.  It grew quickly and we changed venues to the Santa Monica Library, with folks heading to Docstoc for food, drinks networking after each panel.  Tonight’s event blew my mind, as there were over 400 folks at the Milken Institute and, instead of packing like sardines into the cramped Docstoc office, the “after-party” was also at Milken –  fancy patio with heat-lamps and all.   Congrats to Jason Nazar for creating such an amazing, monthly event!  If you are local and want to attend these events, check out http://www.jasonnazar.com or feel free to contact me.

Tonight’s talk was on bootstrapping.  As a Bus Dev Exec and entrepreneur, I go to ALOT of events, and have helped to organize and produce a number of panels and conferences (see PerfectBusiness 2010 post).  It has always bewildered me why the VCs are the superstars in the room and why there are so many panels on how to raise Venture Capital. First off, most attendees are nowhere near ready for VC money. And, lets be honest, most entrepreneurs will never receive VC money. VC’s are only interested in a BIG idea – a game-changing one – one that will give them a 20x exit. Most upstarts do not and will not qualify.  The fact of the matter is that most businesses are funded via family, friends and taking on some (or a lot) of debt.  And they are built the “old-fashioned” way – through hustle, hardwork and being smart about expenditures & cash flow.

None of the panelists tonight came from money and none of them took VC money to start and grow very successful businesses. T hey were driven by their vision and did whatever they could think of – maxing out their credit cards and taking equity lines of credit – to realize it.  The panelists were:

Paige Craig – successful entrepreneur and one of today’s most prolific Angels
Mark Verge – owner of westsiderentals.com, among 8 other ventures
Josh Hartwell – Co-founder and now CEO of MobileDelux

Here are some of their bootstrapping tips (with some added thoughts from yours truly):

1) Leverage your past relationships – this is why networking is so important folks. And, as a rule, always think about how you can help the person you meet so that when you need something, they are compelled to return the favor.

2) Don’t take office space until necessary – we live in the “cloud” now folks. There is no reason to spend money on office space until you have a team. Even then, I would look into co-working locations, suchas CoLoft in Santa Monica.

3) Make your company seem much bigger than it is. Have someone else leave your voicemail message so it seems as if there is an assistant or office manager. Refer to other departments, even when you may be completing those functions/roles as well.

4) Get creative, go guerilla.  Hosting Startups Uncensored has done a tremendous amount to build up the Docstoc brand amongst our core target market – entrepreneurs and small business owners.  And it has helped to make Docstoc CEO, Jason Nazar, one of the most recognizable names in the Los Angeles Tech game.  The point is – think outside of the box and do whatever it takes to build brand awareness with as few dollars as possible.

5) Be willing to LOSE MONEY on your first customers. Consider them loss-leaders – just make sure you take care of them so they will make referrals and provide testimonials.  This means get to know them –  what are their hobbies, do they have a family, what sports teams do they like, etc.

6) Convey absolute CERTAINTY and FAITH in your vision so that you can defer payments and/or provide equity in lieu of payment. This can help you get employees, legal work, vendors, etc. without, or with very little, cash spend.

7) Last, but certainly not least, build the best possible product or service that you can and deliver it with the best possible customer service that you can.

PerfectBusiness Summit 2010

Founders/Startups

Wow!  I’m exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.  Just got back from The Perfect Business Summit 2010 in Las Vegas.  It was the first-ever national conference for Entrepreneurs & Investors  and, by all accounts, it was a huge success!  The Summit was produced by Dan Bliss, co-founder of PerfectBusiness.com, a  site dedicated to entrepreneurship that provides professional business planning software, startup resources and inspiring interviews with leading entrepreneurs.  PerfectBusiness was one of our first Docstoc partners so I have gotten to know Dan well.  He is a scrappy entrepreneur from the Midwest, as am I, so we have become good buddies.  When Dan shared with me his intention for the Conference, I immediately hopped on-board.

As we all know, there is no lack of Conferences or Trade Shows these days.  But they tend to be industry-specific.  There really was no broad-based, national conference addressing the key issues any entrepreneur faces when launching a new venture, regardless of whether he/she is opening a store, has invented a product or is delivering and product or service via the Internet or mobile app.   My role was to wrangle kickass speakers, VCs and angels to participate and solidify marketing partners.  Basically, it was a Bus Dev role for a startup Conference that was focused on starting businesses.  A dream come true for someone passionate about entrepreneurship and fascinated by entrepreneurs and their stories.

The speaker list for the Conference was outstanding.  We had over 60 great entrepreneurs, across many industries, discussing all manner of relevant concepts from bootstrapping to how to get your invention into stores and how to drive traffic to your site.  Some of the keynote speakers and panelists were:

Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com – his book Delivering Happiness is a must-read.  This is my favorite Tony quote: “Profits are like oxygen. You need it to survive, but ultimately what matters is passion, growth, and a higher purpose.”

Jeff Taylor of Monster.com – this guy is wildly entertaining and lists being a DJ as one of his best talents.  According to Jeff, “Some people think that they’re great at everything. I happen to know that I’m terrible at a lot of things, but I’m good at a few things. So I had the advantage as an entrepreneur of hiring into my weaknesses.”  Love this statement as it is so important to hire a great team that fills your “holes”.  Of course, being able to actually delegate to them and let them take ownership and shine is also another great skillset of successful entrepreneurs.  For more info on Jeff and his fellow panelists on the CEO Roundtable, check out this great article from moderator Laura Petrecca of USAToday.

Kimberly Fowler of YAS Fitness Centers – Kimberly was the lone female entrepreneur on the main stage.  Her talk on bootstrapping and perseverance was inspiring and educational. If you want to learn from her story – check out her amazing DVD Overcoming Obstacles.

You can check out the entire line-up and a schedule of all the break-out session topics here: http://www.perfectbusiness.com/summit/.

For more insight into the successful entrepreneurs that shared stories of their “start”, check out this great blogpost from Tina Ong

Hope to see you at next year’s Summit!