Posts from entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship And The Climate Crisis

Vinod Khosla penned a fantastic blog post this week outlining how a few entrepreneurs have made a material impact on clean energy and reducing our collective carbon footprint in the last decade and how a few more can move the needle even further in the next one.

Vinod starts off with this statement:

12–15 entrepreneurs, driven by entrepreneurial energy and passion for a vision, and a little bit of luck, could change the climate crisis into societal transformation

This is music to our ears as USV has started to back climate-focused entrepreneurs. I hope that we can back one or two of these 12-15 innovators in the coming years. That would be great for society and great for USV too.

#climate crisis#entrepreneurship

When Do I Create A Board?

I’ve been asked this question a bunch in the last few weeks in response to my post about more diversity on Boards.

My answer to this question is simple.

A Company should have a Board the day it is formed. The Board should contain one Founder (or possibly two) and at least two independent Directors.

I know that many founders want to control their Boards for as long as possible. I would prefer to see a Founder give up control right away but place control in the hands of independent Directors they nominate. That way they can be comfortable that the independent Directors will have both their interests and the Company’s interests at heart.

This will also make it a lot less likely that the Investors will eventually control the Board as the Board will have institutionalized the notion of independent Directors early on and ideally they will remain the majority of the Board forever.

Finally, it’s a great idea to pick diverse candidates for those independent seats day one. Diversity means “not like us” so it could mean gender diversity, racial diversity, industry diversity, experience diversity, or ideally more than one of those things.

#entrepreneurship

Crawl, Walk, Run

I am a fan of the slow and steady approach to building a business. I call it “crawl, walk, run.”

I have seen many founders try the “run right away” approach and it is super hard to make that work.

An example of “run right away” would be to raise a $30mm seed round, hire a couple of hundred employees, and go for broke. That mostly results in being broke.

Of course, there are examples of founders who did that and succeeded. But they would be the exceptions that prove the rule.

Crawl, walk, run generally means start small, do one thing really well, then get a little bigger, do a few things really well, then get a little bigger and do a few more things really well.

Crawl, walk, run is more resilient. It allows for mistakes that aren’t fatal. It takes a bit longer to get to the finish line this way, but the probability of success is way higher with crawl, walk, run.

Crawl, walk, run is a mantra for doing a startup and I recommend it to everyone.

#entrepreneurship

Board Diversity

This is a topic of great importance and one that we in the tech/startup sector have not done a good job with. We wait until a company is ready to go public and then address it. While that is better than nothing, it is not good enough.

The board diversity problem is a symptom of a much broader problem around lack of diversity in founders that get funded and lack of diversity in VC firms. Most startup boards are made up of a few founders and a few VCs. No wonder you have no diversity on the board.

Here are some suggestions for addressing this situation. I am working on this in my portfolio and USV is working on this in our broader portfolio. We are not control investors so this is a process of advocacy and persistence. This post is a part of that effort.

1/ When a startup board is created, there should be two independent seats on it. Day one. I know that will mean that founders will be unable to control their boards early on but these “independent seats” can be nominated by the founders to allay those concerns. And founders should put diverse people (gender, race, life experience, etc) into these independent seats.

2/ VCs should accept observer seats instead of board seats when they invest in companies. Boards don’t need three or four VCs on them. One is often enough. Two maximum. Instead VCs should negotiate for an observer right and the ability to nominate an independent director. And they should nominate diverse people for those seats.

3/ There should be term limits on board seats. Nobody and no investor should have the right to sit on a board forever. I could argue that in some situations, the founder might be the exception to this statement. That does not mean a valued board member should step down. That valued board member can always be asked to serve another term. What term limits do is raise the question about whether a person is the ideal board member for the company for the next few years. Often the answer is no.

4/ We need more resources like The Board List, Athena Alliance, and ELC to surface great board candidates. One of the many problems with boards that aren’t diverse is that they are not well connected to diverse candidates.

5/ We must commit to addressing this issue and make it a priority. Board development in general is not a high priority for founders. They are rightly focused on their company, their products, their customers, and enormous challenges of building a business from scratch. But boards are important. They need to be a priority and a diverse board is a better board for everyone. So we need to increase our efforts here.

Ten years ago the the tech/startup/venture industries started to make gender balance a priority in management teams, boards, and the venture capital industry. While we are not where we need to be, we have made good progress. We can do the same with diversity across the board. We can use the same approaches and the same persistent approach to the issue.

I am committed to making this a priority with the founders and companies I work with and I hope that all of you will too.

#entrepreneurship#management#VC & Technology

Contact Tracing and Technology Conference

As I wrote about a few weeks ago, I am excited about the possibility that technology, particularly mobile computing technology, can supplement the work of manual contact tracing to keep us all safer until a permanent solution is found to this pandemic.

But there is a ton of confusion about what contact tracing is, what exposure alerting is, what the role of legacy contact tracing systems are, and what role new applications can play in this moment.

So I was thrilled that a group of organizations that operate at the intersection of public policy and tech innovation are putting on a series of online conferences on this topic.

The first one will be next Wednesday from 11am ET/8am PT until 2pm ET/11am PT and will focus on the consumer apps that are being built on top of the Google and Apple APIs. There will be demos of many of these new apps and a series of panel discussions. If you are interested in attending (attendance is unlimited), you can RSVP here.

There are four of these online events planned over the next two months (roughly every two weeks) and they will cover enterprise contact tracing applications, what is happening internationally, and more.

The organizations behind this series of online events are The COVID Tech Task Force, Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, NYU’s Alliance for Public Interest Technology, TechCrunch, Betaworks Studios, and Hangar.

If you work in government and are involved in making tech decisions in this area, if you are interested in how tech can help address large scale public health issues, or if you are just curious about all of this, I hope you will attend. I plan to do that myself.

#Current Affairs#entrepreneurship#health care#mobile

Growth

One of the great joys of the work I do is I get to watch the leaders of our portfolio companies grow over time.

I’ve had a number of moments over the last few months where I got off a call or a meeting and thought to myself “wow, she’s a new person.”

Growing as a leader takes time, mistakes, failure, feedback, and a lot of work. You don’t magically show up as the CEO and you are good to go. It’s not like that at all. The authority to make the final call doesn’t mean that you are good at it and that people will line up behind your decisions.

It is a process and like all processes, it requires time and patience. But for those who are committed to personal growth, there is a path.

Two syndromes I see quite frequently are “deer in the headlights” and “I’ve got this.” They are both tell tale signs of a leader who isn’t there yet.

Deer in the headlights is pretty obvious to everyone. The leader just doesn’t seem steady and solid. You can see it in their eyes. I like to provide a leader with deer in the headlights syndrome a lot of support, advice, and constructive feedback. I have seen people go from deers in a headlight to strong decisive leaders in less than a year. It helps to have a gauntlet or two to have to run through. The greater the challenges the deer in the headlight faces, the more quickly they can emerge as a strong leader.

“I’ve got this” is more problematic. The leader acts like they know what they are doing, but they don’t. And everyone around them knows it except them. I like to provide a leader with “I’ve got this” syndrome with a lot of tough love but that is usually not enough. The answer to “I’ve got this” is usually failure of some sort, often a very significant one. The key is to be there for the failing leader in that moment and help them get through the failure and come out of it with self awareness and a desire to address the issues that have gotten in the way.

These are just two of the immature leader syndromes, but they are two very common ones I have seen.

I believe that most people have the capacity to be leaders if they want that for themselves. I also believe that leadership is a skill that you never stop learning. And I believe that it requires self awareness, courage, and deep empathy.

Sitting at a table and watching a skilled leader work is quite a sight to see. And watching someone grow into that person is one of the great joys of my work.

#entrepreneurship#life lessons#management

Event Driven Growth

I realize that most businesses are suffering greatly in this pandemic. Many have been shut completely.

But there are some that are experiencing the opposite situation. They have a growth spurt as a result of this moment. Businesses in food delivery, e-commerce, online education, telehealth, remote work, and cloud infrastructure are examples of such situations.

I’ve seen event driven growth spurts over the years. A plane lands in the Hudson and everyone heads to Twitter to see it. A competitor is shut down and everyone shows up on your door. Crypto gets hot and everyone wants in on the action. That sort of thing.

And I’ve been talking to leaders who are experiencing this and wondering how to model out what happens when and if things return to normal.

Each situation is different but a framework I like is to take your pre-event baseline, your event driven peak, and assume you will give up half of the delta when things return to normal and that will be your new baseline.

That won’t be right of course. It’s a model. You can revise as real data comes in.

But what it suggests is that not all of your new customers will stick around. But some will. And you will have a new and higher baseline. That has been true of almost every event driven growth spurt I have seen in my career.

#entrepreneurship#life lessons#management

The AVC Cap Table Template

I woke up to this tweet this morning:

I went to that blog post and clicked on the link and sure enough someone had swapped out my cap table template from 2011 with their own cap table. I am not entirely sure how that happened and for how long that has been the case, but I was not going to let that stand.

So I went to my google drive and searched and found the cap table that I had built for that post back in 2011, made a copy, made it public on the web but view only, and fixed the link.

Phew.

If you want to see a cap table and waterfall template in the style that I have become accustomed to over the years, here it is. Hopefully, nobody will hack it again. I will be super careful not to permission anyone to have edit capabilities (which is what I think I may have done accidentally).

#entrepreneurship#hacking education#VC & Technology

From Start-up To Stand-out: What Distinguishes High Growth Potential

My partner Rebecca brought an appreciation for and an understanding of marketing to USV and it has made us better investors and it has helped us assist our portfolio companies with their marketing efforts.

Rebecca is going on Simulmedia Live tomorrow at 2pm ET to talk about startups, marketing, growth strategies, and how she thinks about all of these issues in identifying attractive investments and helping our portfolio companies with their growth strategies. If you want to listen in, you can register here.

Simulmedia is a USV portfolio company that offers internet style advertising products via a national scale television advertising network. As more and more internet channels have become saturated, many startups and growth companies have turned to Simulmedia to help them make TV work the way that their tried and true internet channels have worked for them.

It should be an interesting discussion tomorrow.

#entrepreneurship