The Bolster Board Diversity Survey

Last June, I wrote about board diversity and suggested some things we are doing and that you can do to diversity your board.

In the ten months that have passed since I wrote that I am pleased to say that we have seen a noticeable increase in board diversity in our portfolio. I have personally stepped off a few boards to make room for diverse board members and I am prepared to do more of that. A number of my partners have done the same. It is that important to me and USV.

But I can also tell you that the state of diversity in startup/growth company boards and our portfolio is still awful.

Our portfolio company Bolster connects fractional executives and board candidates to startup and growth companies. They have done some of the board searches for diverse candidates in our portfolio and they are going to do a lot more.

They have been surveying the startup and growth sector over the last few months to determine the state of diversity on boards. They published the results today. The numbers are embarrassing.

We can do better and we must do better.

Here is how:

1/ Make room on your board for independent directors at the very start and fill those seats with diverse candidates.

2/ Ask your investor directors to become observers to make room for independent diverse candidates.

3/ Prioritize this.

4/ Use Bolster or other service providers to surface great diverse board candidates.

There are so many qualified diverse candidates out there for you to bring onto your board. I have participated in many of the board searches in our portfolio in the last year and I am blown away by the diverse talent that is out there waiting to help you grow your company. You just need to make room for them and ask them to join your board.

Just do it.

#entrepreneurship#management#VC & Technology

The Vision Thing

A well-known entrepreneur turned VC, who will go unnamed because I am not sure he would want me to share this conversation publicly, once told me “if you remove a founder, you must sell the company within a couple of years or it will start to decline in value.”

I don’t entirely agree with that and my experience with it has been different, but it brings up an incredibly important topic about leadership.

I like to keep things simple and in my simple mind, leadership comes in two flavors, visionary leadership and operational leadership. Founders are almost always visionaries (if they aren’t, run in the opposite direction) and hired CEOs are almost always operators.

What this VC was saying is that once you replace visionary leadership with operational leadership, the Company will stop innovating and start to lose value. I agree completely that companies that stop innovating will start to lose value. What I don’t agree with and have seen first hand, is that you can have a team that can provide both operational and visionary leadership.

Leaders who can provide both operational and visionary leadership are a rare but special breed. When you find one, get on their bus and stay on it for as long as you can. It will be an incredible trip.

It is also the case that you can pair visionary leadership with operational leadership and I have seen that model work very well for long periods of time. Most commonly, the visionary leader is “in charge” and the operational leader runs the business on a day to day period. That can be an Executive Chairman (visionary) and a CEO (operator) or it can be a CEO (visionary) and President/COO (operator). Most commonly in this model, the visionary leader is the founder and the operator is a hired executive.

Small early-stage companies can succeed without operational leadership but not forever. That is why founders who are great visionaries but weak operationally can be very successful for a while at least. Once a company gets into the hundreds of employees and is headed to the thousands, it needs operational leadership and this is where many visionary founders struggle. And this is when operational leaders are hired and the work starts to find the right long-term sustainable operating model.

Some founders are this rare breed of visionaries who can operate too. Most are not. So this work to find the right pairing is critical and is a lot of the work that board members do with the founders and their leadership team in startups.

But going back to my friend and his advice that I started this post with, it is true that operational leadership alone will not get the job done. And it is also true that operational leaders will have a hard time getting “the vision thing” from below. It has to come from the top. Operational leadership, fortunately, does not.

#entrepreneurship#management

Citibiking

Long-time readers know that I am a big Citibike fan. Citibike is the name of NYC’s bike-share program. I have been blogging about it since it launched in the spring of 2013, eight years ago now. I wrote this at the time.

Since it started getting warm in NYC about a month ago, I have been Citibiking to work, to home, to dinner, etc. And I must say that the Citibike experience in NYC has gotten a lot better in the last few years.

There are now a lot of electric bikes. I don’t use them because I prefer to get the workout, but I see a lot of people using them.

The newer bikes are really easy to ride. They keep improving the bikes and the latest lot of them are terrific.

The Citibike app has also improved. It now starts with a navigation map and you can easily see where to get your bike and where to drop it off.

And finally, NYC keeps adding bike lanes and making them better. I rode all around lower manhattan yesterday and was always in a bike lane, feeling safe and that I belonged there.

Biking is a great way to get around NYC and Citibike makes it so simple. Get a bike, ride somewhere, drop it off. It is one of the great things that has happened to NYC in the almost forty years we have lived here.

#NYC

Commercial Real Estate

With new Covid cases down 30% in the last two weeks and partially vaccinated people approaching 50%, NYC seems ready to start getting back to work.

I have been going to the office several days a week for the last two weeks and will be there again today. As my USV colleagues get fully vaccinated, they are joining me and our office is starting to fill up.

But our Flatiron neighborhood still feels empty and there is not one good restaurant open for lunch during the week.

As we head back to work, what will the new normal be?

That is a huge question looming over the commercial real estate sector in NYC and around the country.

According to this NYT piece from last week, the vacancy rate in commercial office space in NYC is almost 20% and that number is north of 15% across the largest cities in the US. And in the face of these historically high vacancy rates, more new office buildings are coming to market increasing the supply of space.

We have surveyed our portfolio companies and we understand that many will reopen their offices this summer and fall, but most will not expect their employees to be back in the office five days a week. Some will not expect their employees to be in the office at all.

I think this Jamie Dimon quote I read in the NYT piece is about right:

Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, the largest private-sector employer in New York City, wrote in a letter to shareholders this week that remote work would “significantly reduce our need for real estate.” For every 100 employees, he said, his bank “may need seats for only 60 on average.”

We used to have 10,000 square feet in our old office that we left last month. We moved into 6,000 square feet and it feels like plenty. I think many/most companies will feel that way too.

Many of our portfolio companies let their leases expire during the pandemic, as did we. And they are now thinking about what to do going forward. I have a few suggestions:

1/ Take something temporary for the next year or two. Figure out what the new normal is before entering into a long term lease. This is what USV did. We took a nine month sublet to allow us to figure things out.

2/ Shop around and be aggressive in your offers to sublet or lease space. Many landlords will not engage in your bottom fishing. But some will, particularly in the sublease market.

3/ Avoid expensive office buildouts and focus on spaces that are extremely flexible. We have invested in office and conference pods in our sublet to reduce the need for expensive office buildouts. And the Gotham Gal and I made an entire co-working space in Brooklyn with office pods.

4/ Figure out how to integrate remote workers into your office environment. We have been investing a lot more in our conference rooms/video setups. I even suggested that we put some webcams in our office so our remote colleagues could see who is in the office at any time. I am not sure we will do that. Some feel it is creepy. But I think it’s a good idea.

5/ Offer perks to encourage your employees to be in the office. We have been ordering in great food for everyone in the office the last few weeks and everyone seems to appreciate and enjoy that.

I think occupancy expense will be a smaller percentage of our portfolio companies’ P&Ls in the future and those savings can be invested in our teams instead. That feels like a great trade and one that will lead to better companies and happier employees. And that is a very good thing.

#Current Affairs#management#NYC

Leadership Matters

Last night I watched the NY Knicks win their fourth straight game on the road in New Orleans. They are now 29-27 and have a fighting chance of being a .500 team this season with only 16 regular season games left.

This is essentially the same team that went 21-45 last year. Elfrid Payton, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson, Taj Gibson, and Reggie Bullock were all on that 21-45 team.

What changed?

The coach is what changed. Tom Thibodeau came in and has instilled an entirely different approach and culture. The Knicks are the league’s best defensive team, allowing the least points per game. Last year, they were 18th in defense.

This Knicks team is competitive in every game, even if they don’t win them all. Last year, we would regularly walk out of the Garden down 20 points in the fourth quarter.

I am going to the Garden on Sunday for the first time in fourteen months and I am excited at the opportunity to be at a game that will hopefully be competitive down the stretch.

Watching Thibs at work is a lesson in leadership. He sets the tone, expectations are high, players that don’t put in the effort don’t play, no matter who they are. Everyone knows what is expected of them.

I have seen this in companies too. The same team, with the same product, in the same market, can be completely transformed by a new leader. Leadership matters. A lot.

#life lessons#Sports

Entrepreneurship In Latin America

It is a little known part of my career, but for a brief period from 1997 to 2001, I was part of a small group of investors who helped to create a startup ecosystem in Latin America.

It all started with a company called StarMedia which created a Yahoo-like “portal” for Latin America. My partner Jerry Colonna and I met StarMedia in early 1997 and we brought it to our partners at Chase Capital Partners because we wanted to lead a Series A investment in it. In that Chase Capital Partners meeting was a woman named Susan Segal who ran Chase’s Latin American private equity investing. She pulled me over after the meeting and asked me if there were other startup companies like StarMedia in Latin America. I told her that there must be but I wouldn’t know how to find them. She said, “I can help with that.”

So began a five year investment partnership between Flatiron Partners (our VC firm) and Susan’s Latin American private equity business. Susan and her team worked their Latin American connections and they brought the deals to us and we vetted them for team, technology, market need, etc. We did something like a dozen investments together including MercadoLibre (one of the greatest Internet companies ever in any region), and Patagon.com (where I met the founders Wences Casares and Micky Malka).

But it was StarMedia where I learned the most. I made and lost more money personally (at that time in my career) on Starmedia. I have a StarMedia stock certificate in my office that I look right at that was made out to one of our family entities. It was once worth tens of millions of dollars and is now worthless and has been for decades. It takes messing up on that massive of a scale to learn some things.

StarMedia is also where I met my good friend Jerry who would have been 70 today. Jerry grew up in Mexico and moved in and out of Latin America and Silicon Valley with ease. He understood both places and helped to bring them together. I miss Jerry so much. He was a mentor, advisor, and coach to many of the earliest Latin American Internet entrpreneurs.

I was reminded of all of that history yesterday as our firm listened to a pitch by a Latin American team that is building a very exciting company. It reminded me that we seeded something twenty-five years ago that has gone on to become a vibrant startup ecosystem. Jerry, Susan, and I made a great team and we did something really important together.

#entrepreneurship#VC & Technology

My New Metrocard

For years, one of my prized possessions has been my MTA EasyPayXpress Metrocard.

It’s a little worn down from a lot of use because it auto refills itself. It is a Metrocard that is connected to a “card on file” and it automatically refills itself so that it always has money on it and you never miss a train because your Metrocard has run out of funds. I’ve had one of these for something like twenty years. And yet many NYers don’t know that this product exists.

But last week, I realized that my Metrocard’s days are numbered. I walked into one of the subway stations I use the most and saw that the turnstiles now accept Google Pay and Apple Pay.

You just wave your phone and the turnstile lets you in.

This has been in the works for a while and I knew it was coming but seeing it in place and using it was great.

When we moved to NYC in the early 80s, we used metal tokens. Then we moved to Metrocards. And now we use our phones.

It is exciting to see NYC adopt technology in ways that makes life in the city a bit easier.

#NYC

Funding Friday: Burn Alpha

Emily Segal is writing her next novel called Burn Alpha and she is crowdfunding it on her Mirror blog.

I contributed 0.1 ETH to the effort yesterday evening and she is now approaching her 25 ETH goal.

If you have an Ethereum wallet, like Coinbase Wallet or Metamask, you can participate in her crowdfunding project here. The rewards are pretty cool as is the premise of the novel. You can see all of that on her blog.

If you read this post on my Mirror blog, you will see the crowdfunding project embedded in this post. That’s pretty cool too.

#Books#crowdfunding#crypto

Vaccinations At Scale

There was a day in the last week when four million Americans got a Covid vaccine. That’s more than one percent of all citizens of the US. One in every hundred people in the US got vaccinated on the same day. Think about that!

Mayor de Blasio tweeted yesterday that 4.7 million doses of the Covid vaccine have been given out in NYC. Assuming that 2/3 of those have gone into new arms and 1/3 have gone into returning arms, that means almost 40% of adults in NYC have gotten introduced to the Coronavirus via a vaccine.

As an aside, another 20-30% of people in NYC got introduced to this nasty and deadly virus the old fashioned way and that means that we could have two thirds of adults in NYC with Covid antibodies in their systems.

But returning to the point of this post, we are vaccinating at scale in the US now.

One of my favorite Churchill quotes is:

You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.

That’s not exactly what is going on here but it is not far from it. While the US got a lot wrong in the first year of Covid and way too many people died as a result, we got one thing right. We bet on vaccines and we have now operationalized the delivery of them.

This is not a political point. The last administration should get as much, or more, credit for vaccines as the current one.

This is about me being proud to be an American once again. This mass vaccination is a beautiful thing to behold. It is breathtaking in its scale and it’s efficacy. It fills me with joy.

#Current Affairs