entrepreneurship

Advice for Founders

I recently hosted a Founder Friday for Women 2.0. You missed it? Well, you missed out! On meeting fabulous entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs-to-be.

I was honored to be able to speak about my journey and offer a few bits of advice. Here’s what I shared:

When I reflected on what I could offer from the lessons I’ve learned from working in venture capital, founding and running a company on my own and selling it, I came up with three items to consider.

1. The word entrepreneurship comes from the French and means “to undertake.” Which I think is a lovely definition. It’s also a term not necessarily owned by Silicon Valley’s interpretation. Still it gets thrown around a lot and I don’t think enough people stop to ponder it. If language makes up our thoughts and thoughts create our experience, then I believe it’s a word worth questioning. It’s important then to step back and ask yourself why. Why are you pursuing “entrepreneurship”?

Is it because you want to play the game? This game is incubators, accelerators, generators, VCS, funding, hackathons, hacking houses, etc. This is a game and that means it’s not always fair; it’s stacked – there is an in group, etc.

Is it because you want to build a business? This is about the money making opportunity. It’s about hustle and not necessarily the next great technology. Building a business is not about getting venture financing; it’s about finding customers and making money.

Or is it because you want permission to do something else? Something other than what you’re doing right now, even if you don’t know what that is?

Ask yourself why and then own the answer. Embrace it. Play the game or focus on the P&L or do a lot of experimentation. One is not better or worse than the other. But if you’re honest with yourself about what you’re in it for, you’ll make better decisions for yourself and won’t find yourself stuck or down a path that ultimately is not where you wanted to go

2. Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, and one of the very few self-made female billionaires in the world has some great advice – don’t let your good ideas get killed too soon. She cautions sharing them. I agree, but don’t get too black and white about this. You have to be selective about how and with whom you share your ideas.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the whole “lean” methodology that is touted so much in the Valley right now is being taken too far. People feel pressure to put their babies out there and then see how consumers interact, etc. I think this is great if you’re testing an incremental idea, but when you’re testing a truly innovative idea, you can get your vision squashed harshly and needlessly.

I also see this with teams scrambling to put up profiles on Angel List before they’ve even launched products. They think go fast, get it out there, minimally viable product! But they forget that investors, regardless of what they may say, are fundamentally about financing. They want to see a return on their money. Which often means they’re pretty linear thinkers. They are less forgiving. You really only have one good chance to make an impression on them. I know there are a lot of articles written on the pivot, but when people are choosing whom to back, they’re looking for confidence and togetherness. It’s okay to not be ready. Don’t go out too soon.

3. Finally, you’ll be the most successful when you are true to yourself. You’ve heard that all before. But what does that mean? It means you stop yourself when you use the word “should”.  When you tell yourself “I should do this” or “I should do that” you aren’t in touch with what is authentically you. So how do you be true to you?

First, you need to invest in self-awareness. Self-awareness is the the ability to identify, express and manage your emotions. You do this by paying attention to your body. Often your body will be communicating something you haven’t let your conscience know about.

When you talk about a particular subject do your shoulders scrunch up around your ears? These are physical signs pointing you to how you’re really experiencing something.

Next, get in touch with your feelings. Not sure how you feel? Start by regularly asking yourself – how do I feel? 

Even if you can’t answer the question clearly, the very act of asking is an act of mindfulness. Asking will start to bring emotions to the forefront of your consciousness where it will be easier to identify them and then deal with them.

Then, check your thoughts. Once you’ve identified a thought, it’s important to question it. Is it true? Is it helping? Doing this will help you to detach yourself a bit from your thoughts and recognize that thoughts come and go.

There you have it. Some advice. Take it or leave it, but no matter what you do, I hope you enjoy the journey.

UC Davis Startup Hub

I was honored to be invited to hear pitches from UC Davis students this past weekend as part of the 2017 Startup and Innovation Panel put on by the Startup Hub. UC Davis students are only two hours from San Francisco, but in many ways, in a different world. The Startup Hub aims to foster a startup culture among students on campus.

The students came from across the campus and there were some interesting ideas:

RoboNurse = in home medicine dispensary for the elderly

MarbleMosaic = a discovery app for college students to learn about student organizations and events

Culer.me = a color matching algorithm focused on apparel

VitalLinkTechnologies = a personal health alert system

Courser = a class discussion app for students and instructors

There's a lot of talent on campus and I hope to see more of Silicon Valley pay attention.

 

Emails Like These

It's emails like this one from a reader of my ebook, 20 Things I've Learned as an Entrepreneur, that make my day and inspire me to do more.

Alicia,

Thank you so much for your work. I am a new entrepreneur, and I am working on following your guidelines religiously!

I am 24 years old, I spent my first year working in Pharmaceuticals and absolutely hated the day to day Robotic self that I was becoming. I took it upon myself at the end of 2012 to change this and to live my life in the present, and not in the future (I always said one day I'll own a business, one day I'll do this, one day I will etc. etc.). I decided to start off in a way that will teach me the background of business, so I decided to franchise a home health agency in Philadelphia. WHAT A SHELL SHOCK!!! Customer service, thinking on your feet, working with a whole different breed of employees, and finally keeping a positive outlook on the business. I have to tell you, I beat myself up everyday for about 6 months and did not grow at all. I was in such a self hate kind of mode, and I was not learning anything at all! I decided to become a student of business again, and take on all of the problems head on so that I could fall on my face 300 times, and ensure that I was to pick myself up 301 times. The last 6 months have been unbelievable. Anyways, I picked up your book last night, and it reminded me of all of the values that I needed to keep to. I can happily say, I was practicing 15/20 of these already! But I now have a list of your 20 Things That You Have Learned about my desk, so I can keep learning and know that it is all part of the ride! I also truly loved when you stated, "No one is without fear, if they're an entrepreneur they feel it regularly". This made me ease up a bit, it is hard being a 24 year old working all of the time always thinking of a big sale, or if someone is going to miss a shift and you'll lose a client at 11 pm on a Saturday night (while your friends are out without a care in the world!).

I just wanted to thank you and say what a pleasure it was to read 20 Things I've Learned As an Entrepreneur. In my quest for as much knowledge as possible, this will definitely be a monthly read.

Best Regards,

K B

What's Happening in Self-Help

Boris Kachka's article in New York Magazine lacks a thesis except to say self-help has changed and it's now under different guises. It's changed: "The guru has given way to the data set" - meaning more science is involved.

It's everywhere: "books on 'willpower' and 'vulnerability'—self-help masquerading as ‘big-idea’ books.”

Is this a bad thing? He hints that it might be.

"Strains of self-help culture—entrepreneurship, pragmatism, fierce self-­reliance, gauzy spirituality—have been embedded in the national DNA since Poor Richard’s Almanack. But in the past there was always a countervailing force, an American stew of shame and pride and citizenship that kept these impulses walled off, sublimating private anxiety to the demands of an optimistic meritocracy. That force has gradually been weakened by the erosion of all sorts of structures, from the corporate career track to the extended family and the social safety net."

What do you think?

Rejection

They're unmistakeable. Two young men in suits carrying what looks like a Bible. You can spot them blocks away. Mormon missionaries. I was walking home the other day and found myself walking toward two Mormon missionaries. I prepared mentally what I would say if they asked to stop and speak with me, but I didn't need to. The two young men passed right by me and made a beeline for the older gentleman shuffling behind me.

"I know you guys are Mormon and I don't want to talk to you," he shouted.

I looked back and saw the two young men struggle to react.

Rejection. It's the part of failure we don't talk about. Even though it's likely at the core of why we fear failure. We don't want to be rejected by our peers. It's social, it's primal, it's human.

Whatever you think of Mormons or missionaries, you have to respect the amount of rejection they endure. It made me think of the story Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx and a self-made billionaire, tells. She spent her early career selling fax machines door-to-door. She encountered a lot of rejection and credits that experience for her Spanx success.

I definitely think there is something to it. When you are rejected in some way, you are forced to look at your situation with different eyes. When you are rejected over and over again, you end up spending time outside the herd, as part of the unpopular, the misunderstood. Outside of the commonplace can be scary and lonely, but it's also incredibly freeing. And really, only the free can innovate.

So are you getting negged on a regular basis? If not, you might not be taking enough chances. So how do you go out and experience rejection that's helpful? Here are my suggestions.

1. Volunteer with kids - they usually have no time for you and getting them to hear you requires getting real

2. Go on a mission of your own - try to develop a cause, start a company, get a book published - use the rejection to hone your message or idea

3. Try and raise money for a company, cause or university. Asking someone for money is one of the more difficult things to do and the resulting rejection teaches you that most things are not personal. And when it's not personal putting yourself out there doesn't threaten your ego quite so much.

How else are you taking chances?

Who Cares?

Start a company. Do consulting. Work for a company. I've been going back and forth between these options - stuck in the thinking that these are the only options. As I try to step back and reorder my thinking, one memory keeps playing itself like a broken record. I was talking on a panel about entrepreneurship at Stanford University. It was me and another guy (younger than me) who started a company. I explained that I thought passion was a large component of entrepreneurial success because it is what can carry you through what are sure to be the many rough spots in the experience.

My panel partner objected. He believed that the only thing an entrepreneur should worry about and/or needed was a profitable business model. He could have left his comments at that but instead he turned to me and said, "You know what your problem is Alicia?"

I pulled my upper body back steadying myself for the blow (childhood habits die hard) and unfortunately never even questioned whether I had a problem. I was sure I did.

"You care how you make money," he sneered, emphasis on the "care."

I didn't know how to respond and thus, didn't. But his words have cropped up for me ever so often. Especially when doubt and uncertainty clouds my vision, my possibilities as a person.

Is it wrong to care? Does caring automatically hinder my judgement or thus makes me ill-equipped to be an entrepreneur?

I don't know that there is a right answer. Everyone has their own way of approaching a problem. His is maybe more analytical than mine, but it doesn't make his right. Even when business can seem so black and white.

My way is how I approach my life. I care. I care deeply about the things I do, the people in my life and how I live my life. It's not everybody's cup of tea and many might cringe at my earnestness, but it's who I am. So who cares? I do.

Why Starting is Difficult

Remember last year? How about Q3 of last year when people were still talking about a potential tech bubble? Well it definitely wasn't in early-stage investing. Check out these stats:  

Investments By Stage Of Development Q1 2012

Expansion: $2.5B, 260 deals, 35.92% of investments

Later Stage: $2.3B, 186 deals, 33.37% of investments

Early Stage: $2B, 341 deals, 28.14% of investments

Startup/Seed: $179M, 89 deals, 2.57% of investments

"The majority of last quarter’s deals were in the form of expansion and later stage investments, while startup funding made up only a fraction of total investments."

Data is from FindTheBest.com

89 deals kids. 89.  And not just in Silicon Valley.

Why Entrepreneurship is a Skill

Here's what I'm thinking: The state of the economy means more and more people will be forced to become entrepreneurial. While the rest of the globe intuitively embraces entrepreneurship as a means of survival, the U.S. became complacent and believed in the IBM guarantee (you could stay at one company your whole life). Well there are no more guarantees and it’s therefore more important than ever to be able to make your way in the world. Entrepreneurs carve out their livings and their lives.

Los Angeles Entrepreneurs

I didn't need a study. I could have told you most people in Los Angeles are hustlers. That's because I'm from there. Still, a report by the Kauffman Foundation points to an interesting trend - entrepreneurship. There are more entrepreneurs per capital in Los Angeles than any other city in California.

In a post-recession world with no guarantees survival looks more and more like entrepreneurship. Are you ready?