David Cohen and Brad Feld muse on the terrific guests they’ve talked to so far and tease some new guests, announcements, and books coming soon.
Back in June 2019, David Cohen and Brad Feld looked back at their first six episodes of the Give First podcast, and decided that while they were pretty pleased, they’d probably need to do about 20-30 to really hit their stride.
Seven months later, they’ve passed number 20, so they’re taking another moment to check in. Listen for reflections from these persistent podcast hosts, plus reminiscences on highlights from recent episodes with Josh Hix, Rajat Bhargava, Elizabeth Kraus, Jason Mendelson, Jannet Bannister, Heidi Roizen, Marc Nager & Dave Mayer, John China, Sherri Hammons, and Rebecca Lovell — as well as Harry Stebbings, host of the Twenty Minute VC, who enjoyed his first experience on “the other side of the microphone” as David’s guest.
Brad teases a big new move for Techstars — the announcement, just last week, of Techstars Press — and talks about all the books he’s writing. Most of all, David and Brad want to hear what you think. Should the episodes be longer? Shorter? You can email them your feedback on the Give First podcast at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plated Co-founder Josh Hix shares his startup wisdom with student entrepreneurs in the first live episode of Give First. Listen for insights about how this self-described introvert learned to become an inspiring leader. Plus: when not to take a big valuation.
Plated Co-founder Josh Hix knows about leading a growing team. He remembers taking the company through Techstars New York City in 2013, coming into the program with about seven people, and leaving with closer to 37. The company was up to 1300 employees by the time it sold to Albertsons for a reported $200 million in 2017.
Leadership was a skill Josh had to learn. “I have always been an introverted engineer,” he says. He was comfortable with the management aspects of leading the company, but he came to realize that this wasn’t enough. “The leadership part is inspiring people and helping them connect to the mission at an emotional level,” Josh says. This was the part he had to learn, and the process wasn’t always easy: “As a geeky engineer, it feels irrational. But sometimes people need that. It was something that I had to learn to value and then learn to do.”
Listen for more about how Josh grew into his role as a leader, plus a fascinating conversation between Josh and David Cohen about valuations and VCs.
This live episode of Give First was recorded at LaunchPad Propel, a conference for student entrepreneurs hosted by Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars.
Listen for Josh’s take on…
Startup near death experiences:
“Everybody has challenges. I think that’s important. If anybody tells you that their startup didn’t have at least a few near death experiences, they’re probably lying — or it just hasn’t happened yet.”
What happens without mentorship:
Josh on what went wrong with an earlier company: “The complete lack of mentorship or of people that could be mentors was a huge reason that my company never got huge.”
You don’t have to take that valuation:
“Just because somebody offers you an insane valuation doesn’t mean you should take it. You probably shouldn’t take it. It comes with consequences down the road.”
Bonus! David Cohen’s advice to a student entrepreneur about how to pitch to VCs:
David Cohen: “I think the most important thing is to be yourself and be who you are as an entrepreneur. Make sure you have a real story and real belief around how you can become a sustainable business and not just be dependent on that capital.”
Why does Rajat Bhargava, co-founder and CEO of JumpCloud, keep starting businesses? How does JumpCloud, a B2B company, Give First? What does their 30 years of friendship mean to Rajat and Give First co-host Brad Feld? Listen for answers to these questions—and more.
Rajat Bhargava, CEO of JumpCloud, has started a lot of companies—the first, NetGenesis, while he was still a student at MIT. And his friendship with Give First co-host Brad Feld goes right back to that initial foray into entrepreneurship.
Rajat just keeps starting companies, and Giving First—including through his current B2B company, JumpCloud. How does a B2B company Give First? Rajat believe that every B2B can ask itself this question, and come up with practical ways to help anyone, especially entrepreneurs.
How B2C companies can Give First is another question. And both Rajat and Brad agree that those that offer “free” services in exchange for user data is definitely not Giving First—especially when many users don’t fully understand the transactional nature of the exchange.
Listen for more of Rajat and Brad’s thoughts on the complexities of Giving First as a company, as well as Brad’s earliest memory of the world wide web, and a thoughtful exchange where the two men ponder how their friendship has lasted so long, even through difficult times.
Listen for Rajat’s take on…
Why Rajat just keeps starting companies:
“It’s like a puzzle for me. There are these hazy pictures or puzzle pieces spread out and I love putting them together in a way that makes sense. JumpCloud is a great example of that.”
What Give First does and doesn’t mean for B2C:
“In a B2B situation there’s not this monetization of data in the same way as there is on the consumer side. … The hitch is really to give first without the expectation of receiving anything in return. I’d say if it’s a consumer model where you’re going to monetize the data, then you haven’t really Given First. You’re making a trade and you should be honest about what you’re doing there.”
The experience of building a business on the early world wide web:
“The business was basically trying to sort through how do we take advantage of this thing called the world wide web, which was super brand new at the time. I mean, it came out, if I remember right, October of 93 is when the first browser hit. I could be off by a month or two, but it was in that zone. And we started our business in December ‘93 or January ‘94. We had no idea what we were going to do, but we said, this thing that’s the web is going to change stuff. Why don’t we just try and figure out how do we build sites or how do we do commerce?”
Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:
- Roger Federer
- Will Herman
- NetGenesis acquired by SPSS Inc.
- Play Bigger
- The Startup Playbook by Rajat Bhargava and Will Herman
As co-founder and Chief Investment Officer of MergeLane, Elizabeth Kraus invests in women-led startups and venture funds. And she hopes to one day make MergeLane obsolete—by achieving gender parity in entrepreneurship and VC.
MergeLane, a VC fund that invests in startups and venture funds with at least one female leader, has an unusual aspiration, written in bold on its website: “We want to make MergeLane obsolete.”
As co-founder and Chief Investment Officer of MergeLane, Elizabeth Kraus looks forward to a future when MergeLane will no longer be needed, because we will have achieved gender parity. She’s seen progress in the right direction over her career.
When Elizabeth first started out as an angel investor, David Cohen—Techstars co-founder and Give First co-host—invited her to the Seed Angel Forum, which brings together local startup investors to see deals from all over the country. Elizabeth recalls: “I was 29 at the time. I was the only woman in the room, and I remember feeling so intimidated.”
Fortunately, Elizabeth didn’t stay intimidated for long. And while the percentages are still scandalously low, the number of women entrepreneurs and VCs continues to grow. Elizabeth and MergeLane are one reason for this change.
Listen for Elizabeth’s take on…
Her first meeting of the Angel Seed Forum:
“I was 29 at the time. I was the only woman in the room, and I remember feeling so intimidated. But I quickly figured out I could leverage the wisdom of all those more experienced investors by simply finding creative ways to be helpful to them.”
The origins of MergeLane:
“Sue Heilbronner approached me and said, ‘I’ve got this idea, I want to start a venture fund to invest in women.’ And I originally told her that I had absolutely no interest in that because I’ve never felt limited by my gender, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to narrow my focus only to women. But Sue is a former federal prosecutor, and she’s quite persuasive. She said, ‘You know, I really think you should take a second look at the data and talk to the people you’ve been investing with and see what they think about the idea.’ The data was very clear that gender diversity did increase returns. Since starting MergeLane, I and I have now met thousands of people who have told me their stories of why they believe that investing in women makes good business sense.”
What VC needs now:
“We have this army of people who are willing to Give First to entrepreneurs, which is incredible. And I think it’s much easier today for entrepreneurs to find answers to their questions. There’s a lot more content than there used to be, and there’s also a lot more capital in the ecosystem. One of the things that I’ve recently realized is that every question that an entrepreneur might have is pretty Google-able these days. That’s not the case for venture capital funds. That’s one thing that I’m interested in working on now: we don’t have the same resources for venture capital fund managers as we have for entrepreneurs.”
What is Give First?
“To be honest, at first Give First seemed a little counterintuitive to me, that I would volunteer my time to help a for-profit businesses achieve a greater return. However, I remember Nicole Glaros saying to me that she was hesitant as well, and that David Cohen kept saying, ‘Just trust me, this is going to come back to you in spades.’ And that was her experience and that has 100% been my experience as well.”
David and Brad’s superpower:
“Being able to give really hard to hear feedback from a place of love.”
Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:
- Jermey Bloom
- Fund 81
- Fund 81 Podcast: “Mental Heath in Venture Capital with Brad Feld”
- Nicole Glaros
- Sue Heilbronner
- Run This World Podcast
- Seed Angel Forum
- Vail Women Elect
Jason Mendelson, Co-founder of Foundry Group, has spent over 15 years explaining how venture deals really work. From blog posts to a book—Venture Deals is now in its 4th edition!—to a free online course, Jason and co-author Brad Feld are determined to Give First by demystifying VC.
Jason Mendelson, co-founder of Foundry Group, can explain what matters in negotiations between entrepreneurs and VCs in just two words:
Control and Economics.
It takes enormous expertise to make something complicated really simple, and these bare two words speak to Jason’s profound understanding of venture deals and how they work, for the entrepreneur, the investor, and the lawyers. In addition to being a VC and a company founder himself, Jason has also been a lawyer, a software engineer, and a professional drummer.
Control and economics mean that, in the hundreds of pages of legal documents around an investment, the two things that really matter are control of the company and economic return from the company. Jason and his Venture Deals co-author, Brad Feld, coined this paradigm—and Jason is very proud that it has been used, and stolen, widely.
This is what Jason is most interested in: sharing information. He loves making complex things, like the legal negotiations around VC deals, simple. He works hard to pry open the black box of VC and show everyone how deals get made, and what aspects are most important to the parties involved, whether you’re a startup founder seeking funding, an aspiring VC, or a lawyer diving into the world of venture deals.
Jason has been on this path for over 15 years now. He and Brad started blogging on the subject in 2005, and their book Venture Deals first came out in 2011. The fourth edition just published, and Jason explains why they’ve needed every single edition—he cites both better explanations and better writing. Jason and Brad also lead the free and popular online course, Venture Deals.
Listen for Jason’s insights into the evolution of venture deals, how teaching helps him learn, and, best of all, for the story of a board meeting during which all questions had to be answered with Hall and Oates song titles. See? The professional drummer bit really does connect. To listen on all platforms, choose your favorite here.
Listen for Jason’s take on…
The response to the first edition of Venture Deals:
“We immediately got hate letters from a ton of lawyers and VCs, and that’s when we knew we had done it right.”
What Venture Deals includes:
“Everything that Brad and I know about raising around of venture capital financing, and it’s slanted toward the entrepreneur.”
Why Jason and Brad wrote Venture Deals:
“So we really wanted to give this to the community and say, ‘Hey, here are all the secrets.’ Now all the bad people in ecosystem, they can just go away.”
Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:
- Defy Ventures
- Ljubljana, Slovenia
- John Stewart
- Venture Deals – free online course
- Venture Deals – 4th edition of the book
- Fred Wilson
Canadian VC Janet Bannister, a partner at Real Ventures, loves investing in “conscious founders” who are trying to make the world a better place. Her style of “human-centered investing” prioritizes people and relationships, and investing in smart, self-aware, teachable entrepreneurs.
Today, Janet Bannister is a Partner at Real Ventures, but when Founding Partners John Stokes and Jean-Sebastien Cournoyer first approached her about joining to give the firm a presence in Toronto, Janet was nonplussed. “Why would I go into Venture Capital?” she asked. “Isn’t Venture Capital all about grinding the entrepreneurs down?”
But she listened, and she learned about what VC could be, when it was done better, seeing “entrepreneurs as the heroes, and as people who can be supported and helped” with a mission that involves “helping the next generation of entrepreneurs and building entrepreneurial ecosystems.”
Now she’s all in, with an approach that she calls “human centered investing.” Like Techstars, Janet believes that team is paramount in whether a startup will succeed or not. “What exactly is a great founder, what exactly is a great team? In my mind, in my experience, it’s not about years of experience. It’s not about whether they’ve worked in the industry or not,” Janet said. “It’s much more about how they are as a person and how they are as a leader.”
When she’s investing, she looks for the “conscious founder.” Meaning: “Are they self-aware? Are they transparent? Are they aware of where they need to improve? Are they continually trying to improve and be open to feedback?”
Most of all, Janet is thrilled to be working with entrepreneurs who are trying to make the world a better place. “I love working with entrepreneurs. I love their passion, their determination, the fact that they are going all in on something that they believe in,” she said. “If I can be in a place and have a role where my job revolves around helping entrepreneurs and doing so in a consulting, advising, mentoring capacity, where really my mandate is to help entrepreneurs be more successful—What could be better?”
Listen for Janet’s hints for how she manages to talk with (almost) everybody, and how she stays healthy while also working so very hard.
Listen for Janet’s take on…
The importance of physical fitness:
“I was a competitive athlete growing up. I was a long distance runner. Then I got into triathlons, and I was on the national triathlon team for three years. I still get up between 4:30 and 5:00 every morning to exercise for an hour or so. And that gives me a lot of energy. I think that being physically fit is incredibly important for everybody, but particularly for entrepreneurs.”
“I try for eight hours of sleep every night and then getting up early and exercising. Those blocks are not moveable. They’re not flexible, they’re not negotiable. It’s just something that I do.”
How Janet schedules her time:
“I think I’m very efficient. My schedule is generally booked back to back. I have a 14 year old son, often I’ll drop him off at school and then I have a call booked in my car from the time I’m driving down to the office. And then from when I get into the office to when I leave, I’m back to back. Then on the way home I usually have a call booked. I don’t know if that is best practice, but it’s what I do to try to fit things in.”
“It’s something that I do struggle with. I try to make time for everybody, but at the same time I’m wrestling with, okay, at some point I need to say No because I need to prioritize the companies that we have invested in and make sure that I have enough time to spend with them and to think deeply about their businesses.”
How Janet Gives First:
“What helps me is, when I give, I never expect anything back. I don’t even expect a thank you.”
“My attitude is, I just give because I sincerely care about people and I want to help them. I want to see other people succeed and I don’t expect anything back. And I think, for me anyway, that helps my peace of mind, because I genuinely get a huge amount of satisfaction from helping other people. If I can help people, that is amazing.”
“I learn from every interaction. I think that so much of the venture business, of entrepreneurship, of building a business—It’s all about making connections. And I find that I learn from every interaction—and then I make connections.”
“I think that every time you meet somebody, if you’re open and curious, you’re going to learn something, and everything that you learn can somehow be applied to make you better in your next meeting.”
Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:
- The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success, by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Klemp
- Abraham Lincoln
- Parkinson’s Foundation
- Real Ventures
- John Stokes
- University of Waterloo
- Upside Foundation
“The true path to happiness is to have meaningful work and meaningful relationships,” Heidi Rozen says. She brings these two elements together as a VC working with entrepreneurs who are changing the world for the better. Her humane take on being a “mentor capitalist” is deeply Give First.
Heidi Roizen has called herself a recovering entrepreneur. Wendy Lea has called Heidi “the epitome of Give First.” Both of these are true, and go a long way toward describing the deeply humane perspective on the role of venture capital that Heidi brings to her current role as a partner at Threshold Ventures.
Heidi was an entrepreneur herself for 14 years before exploring other career options (VP of Worldwide Developer Relations at Apple, for example) and eventually settling in as a venture capitalist—or “mentor capitalist,” as she sometimes says, in a nod to the profound importance of mentorship in the role.
Heidi likes to joke that “entrepreneurs should be really careful about picking their venture partners, because the average VC relationship lasts longer than the average American marriage, and it’s probably easier to get rid of your spouse than it is to get rid of your venture capitalists.” There’s truth hidden in that joke: the VC-entrepreneurship relationship is a human relationship, not just a financial one. Heidi takes the human side just as seriously as the financial. She wants success in all areas, and sees how thoroughly the two are entwined.
For Heidi, “the true path to happiness is to have meaningful work and meaningful relationships.” She’s achieving this by working with amazing startups that are making the world a better place, and helping to make them better companies.
That sounds like Give First to us.
Listen for Heidi’s fantastic insights about how life and work mesh—and listen all the way through for stories about Heidi’s epic underground casbah from the dot com boom and why one of Heidi’s kids calls Brad Feld “toenail boy.”
Listen for Heidi’s take on…
The true path to happiness:
“The true path to happiness is to have meaningful work and meaningful relationships. And I think one of the beauties of the entrepreneurial environment that we live in is very often you form your meaningful relationships through doing meaningful work together.”
“I go into life thinking I’m about building relationships. I’m not about transactions, I’m not about win or lose or this is what am I going to get out of this deal. I’m about, you are a fellow traveler in life that I have met and if I can build a relationship with you, out of that will come good things. Or if not, not. But I’m always trying to optimize for the relationship over the transaction.”
“I’m such a huge believer in serendipity or what I call controlled randomness, right? The idea that you don’t necessarily know when you go into something what you’re going to get out of it. But if you position yourself in a place where you’re going to find other people that are doing interesting things, it’s likely that something good will come out of that. If you just put yourself in the mix and say, ‘I’m here to be helpful, what can I do?’”
“Just remember, we’re all people first. We’re our jobs second.”
The relationship between entrepreneurs and VCs:
“I only succeed if the company succeeds, and I really enjoy that alignment. I also really enjoy the idea that I get to be a part of a team for a long period of time.”
“I often joke that entrepreneurs should be really careful about picking their venture partners because the average VC relationship lasts longer than the average American marriage, and it’s probably easier to get rid of your spouse than it is to get rid of your venture capitalists. So both parties should go into this with their eyes wide open.”
“I say this to my entrepreneurs a lot, there are things you are doing that no one’s ever done before and those should be hard. There are things you’re doing that other people have done before. And those should be easy. You know, it should not be hard to design compensation schemes. It should be not difficult to put your financial operations in order. Those are all places where we can use best practices and stand on the shoulders of others to create the best situation we can.”
Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:
- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear
- Case Study: Heidi Roizen
- Memphis Meats
- Stan Meresman
- National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT)
- Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA
- San Francisco SPCA
- Tina Seelig
- There There, by Tommy Orange
You don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to start a successful company. Marc Nager, Co-founder of Startup Weekend, and Dave Mayer, Founder of Aspen Entrepreneurs, are pros at building ‘non-urban’ startup communities. Listen for insights into how Give First helped them grow startup ecosystems in Telluride, in Aspen, and beyond.
Too many people believe that you have to be in Silicon Valley—or some similarly hyped tech-obsessed locale—to be an entrepreneur. Techstars knows this isn’t true: successful entrepreneurship can happen anywhere.
Marc Nager and Dave Mayer are living proof.
Marc is the Co-founder of Startup Weekend, the former CEO of UP Global before it was acquired by Techstars, and Techstars Chief Community Officer after the acquisition. He is on a mission to bring entrepreneurship to rural America.
Dave is the Founder and CEO at Technical Integrity and Massive Impact and the Founder of Aspen Entrepreneurs, and an active and passionate member of the Colorado startup community.
Both are hugely active in their local startup communities, Marc in Telluride, CO and Dave in Carbondale, CO outside of Aspen, and both see how entrepreneurship can thrive in these relatively small places—and what entrepreneurship can bring to them to make them economically sustainable for the long term.
Listen to hear Marc and Dave talk with Brad Feld—who literally wrote the book on Startup Communities—for a deeply thoughtful exploration of the how and why of entrepreneurship in a ‘non-urban’ environment.
Listen for Marc’s and Dave’s take on…
Marc and Dave on the economic benefits—and potential—of entrepreneurship in a small town:
Marc: “I fundamentally believe entrepreneurship is the most powerful force in advancing human welfare.”
Marc: “We can look at Telluride as a microcosm for what’s happening in the rest of the country through the lens of economic development, and see how can entrepreneurship can play a massive part in a vision for creating a more sustainable economy over the long term.”
Marc: “You find some incredibly accomplished people in these small towns. Likely they’re the people who grew up here who went off, had careers, and came back, and they’re looking to participate in different ways, as entrepreneurs or as investors. You end up with a vast resource of this intellectual and financial and network capital in these small towns.”
Dave: “For me it’s about quality of life, right? Broadband means that people can work from wherever they want now. All you need is a laptop and a great internet connection and a great idea—and obviously an ability to execute—and the ability to build a great team around you.”
Dave: “The word entrepreneur, the word startup—some people worry that we’re going to attract a Facebook to some 50,000 person valley and it’s going to change everything. That’s not really the goal, right? It’s getting five or 10, $10 to $20 million companies that can create real jobs for people and give them great health care. Those people can raise their kids here, live the life that they’ve dreamed of, and not be forced out by these rising prices around Aspen or Telluride.”
Marc and Dave on the new definition of success:
Marc: “The new American dream isn’t getting a fancy job and climbing the corporate ladder. It’s about living and working where you want—and having meaningful work.”
Dave: “Everybody has their own definition of success. And if that means working out of a coffee shop and hitting a powder day and then working with your friends and on something that you’ve been dreaming about forever, then that’s an easy one. That’s an easy success.”
Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:
- Techstars Startup Weekend
- Stephanie Copeland
- Greater Colorado Venture Fund
- Telluride Venture Fund
- Jesse Johnson
- Justin Lewis
- Mercury Payment Systems
- Roaring Fork Technologists
- Hunter S. Thompson
- Telluride Venture Accelerator
- Aspen Entrepreneurs
- Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Startup World (12016 Boulder Startup Week)
- Technical Integrity
Can you give too much? John China, President of SVB Capital, reflects on how mentorship helped him grow into an executive, and on whether, at some point, you need to see payback from all your giving. Spoiler alert: the answer is no. Never stop giving.
In over 23 years at Silicon Valley Bank, John China has made it his mission to make connections between entrepreneurs, investors, corporations, and more. Many, many entrepreneurs at Techstars and beyond have benefitted from his Give First perspective on working with startups: that you “give, give, give” and you have to “be willing to do that for a long time.”
David Cohen asked John, “At what point do you need to see some payback from that giving?” You should really listen to hear his whole, fascinating answer, but the short version is: You keep giving.
John recently moved into a new role as President of SVB Capital, with $4.5 billion under management, and he’ll be supporting entrepreneurs and startups at their earliest stages. John and David talk about what this new role means for him and for entrepreneurs. And they get into how John’s mentor at SVB helped him grow into an executive, and how John is paying it forward by mentoring women and other POC. He describes himself as “first generation Mexican American from immigrant parents”—and his life experience has contributed strongly to making him the Give First person that he is.
Companies and resources mentioned in this podcast:
- Give and Take, by Adam Grant
- Adam Grant
- David Hornik
- Abraham Lincoln
- The Lobby Conferences
- Meals on Wheels San Francisco
- Silicon Valley Bank
Edited highlights from the conversation:
Can you give too much?
David: One of the things I’ve heard you tell your team is: Guys, it’s give, give, give, expect it to be two or three years of give, give, give before you ever get anything back. It’s not quid pro quo. It’s be willing to do that for a long time.
How do you know that that’s paying off, or when you decide that maybe you’ve given too much? Adam Grant in his book talks about, there’s some people that’ll just take, take, take on the other side of that. So at what point do you need to see some payback from that giving?
John: You know, it’s a really interesting question. I’m very inspired by Adam Grant. I’ve had a chance to meet him and spend time with him thanks to David Hornik and his Lobby Conference. And I’ve actually asked him that question. I’ve actually pondered this idea of a world of takers, matchers, and givers. Can givers long term win? Certainly Adam Grant’s work proves that givers do win in the long haul.
I’ve thought a lot about this, and from where I sit, I don’t know how you eventually ask for something. I think if you are in a giving mindset and it’s an authentic voice within you to give, I’m not sure you ever really need to ask.
Certainly the way we measure, if you want to get technical, is we do look for what we call client advocacy. I know this is something you care about deeply, David. We think that the best loudspeaker for our brand are the clients we serve. And so the way we long term measure our effectiveness is around client advocacy. And so again, I’ve often asked the question, is there a point where you’ve given too much? And I actually think the answer’s no, I don’t think that you ever need to ask that question.
Advocating for Women and POC
John: You know, people always ask me, Why do you have such a commitment? As a first generation Mexican American from immigrant parents, for me, it’s simple.
Women form 50% of our society. And if they’re not getting advantages, or being disadvantaged, then certainly people of color have a lot worse chance. And so for me, it’s just a very rational way to look at the world. We’re not using the talents of half of our society.
Especially in our industry, David, where VCs generate less than 3% of the capital being raised by women. And then when you look at the entrepreneurs statistics, they’re just slightly better at under 10%. And so at my time of the bank and in my new role, I’m really excited to try to bring products that really support giving capital to women in both the GP side and on the entrepreneur side. I’ll be spending a great amount of my energy focused on: How do we go to the LP community and get them to commit funds to women GPs and women entrepreneurs? I think it’s a perfect time, and I really believe that from where Silicon Valley Bank sits, we sit at a unique place in the ecosystem where we get a chance to potentially debt the universe a bit. I’m really looking forward to that opportunity.
David: I see the same opportunity, we’ll talk more offline about that, but I see the coupling of that with these managing director roles that we have here at Techstars where you get 10 investments a year and you can build a portfolio of 50 companies in five years. It’s hard to do anywhere else, and it’s an apprenticeship model, you learn from doing. There might be something fun to collaborate on there as well.
Rapid fire round
David: First question. What give, give, give relationship, that you’ve had with a CEO, are you most proud of today?
John: There are several, of course, but for me it’s when a CEO is in a turnaround situation and you’ve been there in the worst of times, and you’re able to come out the other end, and you had to do some pretty difficult discussions with that CEO. But more importantly, you also had to restructure things and convince people on your side to do the same. When I think about the CEO relationships that are most meaningful, it’s the ones where we went through some really dark times together.
David: How about your favorite city in the world, someplace you think everybody should visit?
John: Well, I’ve had several. Paris, Paris always comes to mind, one, two, three. But I’m really falling in love with the North American cities. I think North America is underrated. And so I keep real track. So I’m gonna cheat and tell you that I look at Toronto, New York City, and Mexico City as three shining examples of cities that are really taking on more prominence in the world ahead of us.
David: John, is there a charity that you might be involved with that you would urge people to take a look at, and why?
John: Yeah. You know, I just joined the board of Meals on Wheels San Francisco. I’ve been part of Meals on Wheels for many, many years. But I love causes where we can solve the problem, where we can see the solution, the light at the end of the tunnel. And ending hunger for elderly people in San Francisco is something that we collectively can all solve. And so I’m very passionate, very committed to helping Meals on Wheels San Francisco achieve its goals.
David: Well as you know, you never know what you’re going to get back from Giving First. So we here at Techstars, we’ll make a donation to that one for you in your name, and also make one to the Techstars Foundation, which is focused on diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship. Just a little thank you for being on the show.
John: Thank you. David.
David: Last question, rapid fire. The last question and I’ll let you go. Is there somebody, dead or alive, in history, it doesn’t matter who, that you would love to have dinner with and why?
John: The person who has inspired me over the years is Abraham Lincoln. Obviously I’ve read his books and the books about him. And I think about that point in the war, when it comes to civil rights and the choices he had to make to keep a tattered government together to fight, to do the right thing. He has always inspired me. When I’m put at my toughest challenges, will I rise to the occasion and do the right thing? And I am constantly inspired by his leadership and what he did to keep this country together at a time that it frankly wanted to break apart.
David: Great. John, on behalf of everybody at Techstars and everybody listening, thank you so much for all you do for startups and the startup community and all that SVB does. It’s noticed and appreciated, and thanks for being on the show with us today.
Do you know how to be a great ally in the workplace? Why all startup founders should do karaoke? What the secret sauce of the Seattle startup ecosystem is? Create 33 Director Rebecca Lovell knows the answers to all these—and more.
Rebecca Lovell plays, as Brad Feld says, “a very important role in the center of gravity for the Seattle startup community.” Currently Director at Create 33, a resource center for tech entrepreneurs, Rebecca teaches entrepreneurship at the University of Washington and has held a number of roles in Seattle city government, from Startup Advocate to Acting Director of the Office of Economic Development.
Listen for more of her interesting career trajectory, which has gone through unexpected turns because of “nudges” given by mentors and others, resulting in Rebecca’s strong belief in the power of mentorship and giving first.
Then keep listening for actionable advice on how men can be allies to women in the workplace as well as Rebecca’s hilarious dive into why all startup founders should do karaoke.
Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:
- Backstage Capital
- Create 33
- Marie Curie
- Arlan Hamilton
- Illuminate Ventures
- The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates
- Janelle Monáe
- National Center for Women & Information Technology
- Cindy Padnos
- Eleanor Roosevelt
- Lucy Sanders
- Sayulita, Mexico
- Chrissy Teigen
Edited highlights from the conversation:
The secret sauce of the Seattle startup ecosystem
Rebecca: As I like to say, the secret sauce of the Seattle startup ecosystem is coffee. And it’s not just because we’re so highly caffeinated, but that can’t hurt. I think it’s that we have this undercurrent of collegiality and collaboration where you can get a cup of coffee with anyone that you want or need to meet. You combine that ethos with the lived experience of entrepreneurs and investors who just raised their hands and said Yes to supporting Techstars. That’s the moment that [Techstars Seattle, which started in 2010] stepped into. And now, you know, almost 10 years later there are 40 coworking spaces, there are 80 engineering centers located in greater Seattle. Facebook has the biggest footprint in Seattle, outside of its headquarters. We’re not just a one horse town dominated by Microsoft or even two horses, Microsoft and Amazon. It’s a really rich ecosystem. But you got here at pretty interesting inflection point in our story about ourselves as a community.
How can men be allies?
Brad: I’ve been very involved in an organization called National Center for Women & Information Technology for a number of years.
Rebecca: Lucy Sanders, absolutely.
Brad: I was board chair for a while and worked very closely with Lucy, and I learned a lot about this notion of male advocates or male allies. And I’d love to hear, in your words, how men can help around the issue of diversity and inclusion. From your frame of reference as a woman, how can men be allies?
Rebecca: Absolutely. I gave a couple of examples of when men can use their power and their privilege to promote women. The first case in my own personal history was that recruiter who happened to be a man who convinced me that I was management material and my classmate who was a man who convinced me that I just win things. They both had positions that they leveraged to open a door for me knowing that I would succeed. Those are just a couple of small examples.
I also think it’s in just everyday behavior and creating a discipline around making room for women. I kind of don’t like the phrase ‘lifting up’ women. What you really need to do is quit pushing us down. But here’s one way you can make room for us. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been in, whether it’s in the tech sector or in city hall, where I’ll be one of just a few women in the room, and men categorically have a tendency to talk over us.
For example, if my colleague Jessica would make a point and the man running the meeting would run over her, I would make a point of saying, “to Jessica’s point,” then repeat what she said—it’s very critical to use her name—and then maybe add my piece to it. This is a technique that men can use. You can amplify women’s voices, but I can’t tell you how important it is to use their name when you do it. If you just repeat what she said, you will instantly be given credit for it. So be mindful of sharing credit, you know, shining a light on the incredibly important voices of women. Those are just small daily practices that you can engage in.
And then I think writ large, if you look at the deplorable share—disproportionately low share—of venture capital investment that women get, part of it is about the institutional bias that might be brought into a partner meeting on a Monday afternoon, where your bias is going to be towards investing in men. But the real issue that was uncovered by Illuminate Ventures out of the Bay Area, Cindy Padnos’ group, is you literally have to take more meetings with women. If you think about the venture funnel, if you take 900 meetings over the course of the year and that gets you to nine deals, you want to start at the top of the funnel by taking as many meetings with women entrepreneurs as you can.
So that’s a daily behavior change: just think about ways to find and say Yes to meetings with women entrepreneurs, and over time, both by changing the behavior of the men who dominate the VC industry and making room for more women to become investors and lead a VC firms—like Arlan Hamilton and Backstage Capital—that’s when we start changing the narrative and changing the results.
Karaoke as a metaphor for pitching your startup
Rebecca: The point of Karaoke is that it is 40% song selection, and in startup language that’s product market fit. You need to know your range, that’s your product, and you need to read the room, know your audience and try to pick a song that’s gonna resonate with them—that you can sing. That step one, that’s 40%. 50% of it is just selling it, getting on stage and acting like you own it. And that comes down to the grind and the execution that startups face. And if you do the math, that only leaves 10% for talent.
I love Karaoke, as I said, almost as much as I love entrepreneurship.
Rapid fire round
Brad: All right. First one. Favorite city in the world other than Seattle.
Rebecca: Well, would it be to visit, to live, to retire?
Brad: Oh, you get to define the way you answer the question.
Rebecca: All right. Just because I have such a hard time unplugging and truly chilling out and getting off the grid, I would say Sayulita in Jalisco, Mexico. I’m a scuba diver and there is no better way to get off the grid than sitting around with great food, amazing beach. This little town probably has as many chickens and dogs as it does people. And I’m almost hesitant to say it because it’s been this beautifully kept secret, but I love it there.
Brad: Second one, how about a book that you’ve read recently that you thought was fascinating?
Rebecca: Yeah, I have been this total podcast and audio book junkie of late and the one that I just finished up is Melinda Gates’ Moment of Lift, and it’s not for the philanthropy—I think that commitment as well known and the impact is well known.
I love reading books and learning stories when I can get some new insight. And what I loved about this book was hearing directly from the author—Melinda read the audio book—and she had this, what I think is a real startup-y, entrepreneurial approach to their theory of change. Like they went into the market of the developing world, knowing that there was a global crisis around children’s health and easily preventable diseases.
Their plan was to focus on kids, but when they did their customer discovery phase, in startup parlance, they spoke with so many women, mothers and learned that the most life changing thing they could do would be to provide birth control for these mothers. So they went in with a set of assumptions, but they did such a great job of listening. They pivoted to where they felt like they could make the biggest impact. That was a wonderful discovery that I got through that book.
Brad: I’d strongly recommend that book as well. I read it a couple of weeks ago and I think it’s going to be on my list of top nonfiction or memoir-type books of the year. I don’t know Melinda Gates personally, but you really get to know her from the book, which was another thing. It’s very hard for an author to do when they are going after a specific topic, and not have it just be an autobiography, and this certainly isn’t. You really get a sense of her as you read it, which is awesome.
A charity that you’d urge people to get involved in and why, especially for the listeners in Seattle?
Rebecca: Absolutely. I am a huge fan of a program called Apprenti that was launched by the Washington Technology Industry Association. This directly addresses the talent shortage that we have in the tech sector and seeks equitably shared prosperity. This is an accelerated training program for career changers who are seeking living wages and meaningful careers in IT. And they primarily focus on barriered and underrepresented populations like women, like people of color, like justice-involved individuals, like veterans. A remarkable story. They’ve now served hundreds of graduates with life-changing training.
Brad: Last question. Guns N’ Roses themed: If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive.
Rebecca: Hmm. So I was a history major in college and have long been an admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt, just in terms of her commitment to race and social justice and gender equity. But if I were hosting, I would make it a dinner party and I would have Eleanor Roosevelt, Marie Curie, Janelle Monáe, and Chrissy Teigen. I think that would be a delightful party.
Brad: That’s a great group.
Thanks for the time today. And more importantly, thanks for all the awesome stuff you do for entrepreneurs and for everybody, both in Seattle and everywhere else.