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.

What I See

Pulling some of my thoughts together. What I see:

1. The 18 to 25 year-old set. These folks have to either know immediately that they want to be nurses (good economic choice, btw) or auto mechanics (ditto) OR they have to have the grades, focus and resources to go the Stanfords/Dartmouths/Yales of the world. There is a huge gap in the middle that is filled mainly with state schools, online universities (univ of phoenix) or community colleges. All are more and more expensive and often quite directionless.

2. The lack of high school counselors and good ones at that

3. The boom in career/life coaches

4. Reality TV and interactive TV (see Bravo Channel) as a distribution model; it’s still super hard to get anything to scale in the online world

5. The more and more entrepreneurial world – meaning because there are no IBMs anymore, people, in order to survive, have to become entrepreneurs – approach their lives like running a business

6. Self-awareness or lack thereof and the lack of these skills in young people – you seem to learn only if you’re lucky; no educational focus or system around it: Who am I? What am I good at? What can I do with that?

7. Life long learning – how education or taking a class can be viewed as a way into self-awareness and personal growth (even if the class isn’t about self-development)

8. Good teachers – there’s a trend online where more are being highlighted – see MIT Open Courseware Initiative

9. What we say about ourselves implicitly and explicitly – the beauty of online is mostly in the data; a way to use that data in a valuable way to the provider of the data, the consumer

10. Learning on the job – there are teaching hospitals, why not teaching businesses? Educational co-ops

This all amounts to something. I'm working through what.

Data and Language

A Ted talk by Deb Roy on the birth of a word:

What I'd like to see is the link between media consumption and thoughts, which I suspect affect beliefs. How to get at thoughts? A user's online journal, blog or social media posts.

Like a baby learns to talk, I can imagine a person's belief formations or reinforcement can be tracked. What do you think?