My main aim in the world is to be a good man. Full blooded. Full tilt boogie. Using the body & brain & heart & spirit I’ve been given, all of which hunger for novelty & experience & craft & excellence and kindness & connection & care for others & tenderness & completeness of being. Living with much gusto & taking my family and pals along. Staying enchanted with the world.
Folks that join an early stage company or invest in early stage companies are both drawn to the same thing: an idea that is so compelling along with a founder/founders that are equally or even more compelling.
But here’s the thing: the very best founders aren’t normal, not by a country mile. They are creative, ambitious, and likely crazy. It’s not that they have a high tolerance for risk, it’s just that they can’t imagine the alternative.
At the same time we are drawn to these folks we (employees and investors) expect these very same founders to become or act in a way that isn’t who they are. And in most cases, thankfully so.
Board members can fall prey to this trap. They see a successful CEO in another portfolio company and they want (expect) the other CEO to replicate that behavior almost exactly. But forcing the founder to do things they aren’t is a recipe for a very unhappy/frustrated leader which does more damage than previously anticipated.
Life isn’t perfect and no human is perfect either. The question is does the founder’s greatness exceed some of the human flaws. You can’t have it all.
It is true, if you are going to scale as a founder/CEO you need to grow and improve your leadership skills. But at the same time, it’s our responsibility (team and boards) to avoid breaking the bronco.
We need to provide feedback and help supplement/support the CEO but not dilute or nuke the natural gifts that helped create the company in the first place.
Before shaving with Bevel, I figured I would take a before/after picture, to really scrutinize how well it worked. You can see them below.
My face is, to borrow a joke from Twitter, like a Nestlé crunch bar. Nasty. I probably have the curliest hair you will ever see. I break combs at the barbershop, even when I’ve combed my hair beforehand. I had dreadlocks when I was younger, and could shower every day and they wouldn’t come out, because of how curly my hair was. I have had folliculitis thrice in the last 12 months: wherein the ingrown hairs create an infection, enlarging my lymph nodes to golf balls and causing very, painful migraines, and sometimes other complications. And here’s the rub, if you’ll allow the pun: until I spoke to Tristan Walker about it, I had no idea how incredibly common this issue is. 45-83% of black men have it. I could have sworn I was just unlucky. Or not shaving right.
When I first tried out Bevel, a razor specifically designed for people with coarse and curly hair — the unboxing experience, the form factor on the bottles of primer, lotion, and the razor itself are all world class consumer products, but that’s actually not the point — I followed the instructions to a T, applied the restorative balm, and went to sleep. When I woke up, my chin felt great. It seriously felt great. And in that moment I felt like I was finally being taken care of, in a way that I had never realized I even needed taking care of.
As a person of color in America, that is a common refrain. Even though Blacks overindex on Twitter, take a guess at the company’s demographics, to say nothing of their executive leadership or board of directors. While TV consumption and social media participation skew to Black and Latino women more than any other demographic, the advertisers, producers, platforms, and networks don’t take care of them. We invested in Walker & Company Brands, Tristan Walker’s company to create a consumer products group for people of color, because he was building into a very large market, because he has insane hustle and a varsity team, because ads targeted to the “World Star Hip Hop” demographic convert at eye-popping premiums over the average, and because by 2040, the United States will be a nation of color again. But I invested in Walker & Company Brands because it pushes the world forward by taking care of people who don’t even realize they need taking care of.
When venture investors speak about “signals” that point to their comfort level in an investment, they often don’t speak about unconscious bias. Game recognize game, and investors, like all people, react well to things they recognize. And just as good salesmen are trained to mimic the body language of their target, we are social beings, and so the more common ground the better. In the case of Walker & Company, as an investor, the common ground was that in Tristan, I saw someone I recognized — someone who had been on the outside looking in, and knew there was huge opportunity in solving that problem.
Bevel’s attention to detail in the packaging is fantastic. It’s hard to open the box fast when it first arrives, so you have to reflect on it. The obsession with the extrasensory, so to speak, elements of the experience, are delightful. The little side-box for the used razors makes my shelf and trashcan look that much better. The shapes of the tops of the bottles are intentionally wrought, and fresh. Their Zappos-like customer service is natural, personal, and quirky enough to be real. Bevel makes me feel like I was using a product that was designed to be world class, but that was designed for me. And for someone for whom my demographics are instinctively a disadvantage, it was an utter revelation. People who crack business models like these will win big.
A little more than three years ago, we launched Collaborative Fund with the goal of “investing in startups focused on two themes: collaborative consumption and those which use their values as a competitive edge.” We continue to believe that the underlying values of collaboration are core to successful 21st century businesses and hope our portfolio is a reflection of that belief.
Today, I am excited to share that we’ve quietly continued to build out our portfolio, our team, and investor base, resulting in a second fund, $33 million in size.
One of the things I am most proud of is the fact that our original investors were the driving force behind this second fund. Their belief in our mission and thesis has provided a sturdy foundation for Collaborative Fund to build on for many years to come.
It is not often that venture capital funds talk about where their capital comes from. In our case however, we think it is an essential ingredient to who we are as a team and where we are headed as an organization. Our Limited Partners provide a sense of origin and purpose.
With our second fund, we’ve added several new investors that each bring a unique perspective and set of experiences into our group, ranging from a former Sequoia Capital General Partner, Tom McMurray, to the iconic artist, Shepard Fairey. (**note this is the first time in history these two people were ever mentioned in the same sentence!)
In addition to welcoming new investors, we have grown the investment team. Specifically, Jungju (Jay) Kim has joined us as a Venture Partner. Originally an investor in Collaborative, we’re delighted to have Jay take an active role — working out of our New York office, evaluating new investment opportunities and providing support to our portfolio companies.
It is hard for me to capture the impact of Jay’s involvement and experience. Having founded Nexon Corp in 1994, Jay built a game publisher and developer which released a few titles at a time, slowly building momentum into a business that went public on the Tokyo Stock Exchange as the second largest technology IPO worldwide in 2011. He never took venture capital, and to-date is a majority shareholder in his business, twenty years later. Along the way, Jay became one of the most well-respected entrepreneurs in the world, and a thought leader whose perspective on building businesses for the long term has already shaped our thinking.
Beyond the day-to-day expertise that we have gained from having Jay come aboard, his decision to join us is another signal that our investment thesis resonates on a global scale. Consumers are evolving and businesses have to rapidly adapt in order to keep up. Brands, products, and company strategy all factor into consumer choice more than ever. Our purchasing behavior tells a story about how we align our values.
We believe our portfolio demonstrates our values. But that doesn’t mean we have stopped evolving — we know we have a lot more to learn and a lot of hard but interesting work ahead. We look forward to those next steps as our fund and team continues to grow!
The other night my good friend & fellow cryptoenthusiast Ryan Shea suggested we head to a new Bitcoin meetup neither of us had been to before. I agreed to meet him there, and though the conversation was stimulating, much of the experience was pretty demeaning.
I walk in and a group of people are already sitting at a long table. I say hi and hover for a second, determining where to sit. Entirely uninvited, and before I even have a chance to react, one guy proceeds to grab me by the waist and pull me into an awkward, grope-y side hug next to him on the bench. To reiterate, I’ve never met this man in my life. I try giving him the benefit of the doubt and make some quip about his being a friendly sort, but it gets uncomfortable pretty quickly when he puts his hand on my leg and leaves it there until I squirm uncomfortably.
Unsurprisingly, this type of treatment wasn’t specially reserved for me. The person who actually suggested the event to Ryan was another young woman (the only other woman at the event), a VC who was in town from San Francisco and was interested in checking it out for the first time. The aforementioned groper knew Ryan vaguely from other Bitcoin events, and greeted their arrival with a warm “Oh, nice to see you! I see you brought your girlfriend this time.” When the two of them try to point out that a) they are not together and b) she was actually the one who had brought him, they are cut off with a swift “Sure, sure, I just wanted to see what the dynamic was between you two.” Apparently that’s code for “checking if you’re ok with my hitting on her,” as that’s exactly what he proceeds to do.
The guy sitting on the other side of me turns and introduces himself. Turns out, he’s the organizer and leader of the meetup. He follows with a swift, “So, how did you find out about this?” I’m honestly not sure if he means the meet up group or Bitcoin in general, so I go with the latter and tell him I’ve been interested (ok, obsessed—my friend Sam Smith may or may not have nicknamed me Cryptoqueen) since around mid 2013, which is when I started buying some.
He then starts to look at me like I’ve suddenly morphed into a unicorn. Literally: bulging eyes, mouth slightly agape, the whole nine yards. Apparently the expected response would have been that I was Ryan’s friend/girlfriend/sister who had somehow accidentally ended up there. “Seriously? You mean you actually own bitcoins? You don’t look like someone who would even know about Bitcoin!”
Err…thanks? It’s not a reaction I’m unfamiliar with (I usually get the same one when people hear I have a motorcycle-and no, it’s not a vespa) so I just smile it off and start explaining my interest in the international implications of widespread bitcoin adoption, especially in countries where currency manipulation by corrupt governments has caused rampant hyperinflation and a host of other economic woes. I conclude the thought, and he (again, staring like I’m some sort of extraterrestrial creature), goes, “Wow. Women don’t usually say that type of things”.
I mean, what do you even respond to that?
Undeterred, I try to sidestep it and go on with my argument, concluding that what I am describing is “much more effective and efficient” than the current system. “Well,” he says looking at me knowingly, “Women don’t usually think in terms of efficiency and effectiveness”.
A few minutes later he starts describing an app he is working on to someone else at the table. “You see, women don’t care about crypto currencies, so we don’t have to design for them”. When I tell him he’s wrong, he smartly replies, completely in earnest, “Oh ok cool, so if we start dating I can use the app with you!”
The irony here is that he actually meant these things as compliments. But what he was implying that the bar for women is so low that my entirely unremarkable comments put me lightyears ahead of the “average woman” (whatever that even means).
Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I’m pretty thick skinned. My self esteem remained intact throughout the exchange; if anything, it made me more determined to learn. I was not even made to feel unwelcome; these fellows were clearly thrilled at the presence of two women at the event. The problem lies in the conditions under which our company was desired. We were not treated as peers or individuals who might be able to contribute intelligently to the discussion. We were ogled and clearly assumed to be someone’s girlfriend, or someone’s potential future girlfriend.
Was either of us mistreated? Technically, no. But the conditions under which our presence was accepted were such that from the moment we entered the room, the other attendees’s preconceptions were at a distinct disadvantage. Perhaps this would be a good time to recall Warren Buffet’s comment that one of the reasons for his great success was that he was only competing with half of the population. We can view it as an opportunity. Being underestimated can be a surprisingly effective tool in the appropriate context, but perhaps that’s just me being overly optimistic. I know many women, many of whom are far smarter than I am, who would have felt seriously out of place there. Would they go back to the next meet up? I doubt it. If the organizer of the meetup makes people feel so unwelcome, it sets the tone for the rest of the conversation.
I’m not bringing these comments up because my feelings were hurt, and the last thing I need is sympathy. I’m also not concerned that one particular guy thinks women couldn’t possibly know about Bitcoin, or that another grabbed at me, but unfortunately this is representative of a larger trend. The current generation of hackathon organizers (largely led by the singular efforts of Dave Fontenot —hellllllyeah) is making a concerted effort to encourage the participation of women at their events, and while I’ve still gotten my share of off-color comments, the situation is gradually improving. Since Bitcoin is still so new, we have the rare opportunity to get onboard before the ship has sailed, becoming knowledgeable before a vast majority of people have ever even heard of it. Learning about it now, instead of trying to play catch-up as it often seems like we are in terms of women in STEM fields, programming, or traditional finance, will surely reap great benefits.
I think my experience at the meetup is worth sharing because Bitcoin lies at the heart of both finance and tech, two industries that carry tremendous weight and which have traditionally struggled to attract women. Given the events of the other night, this is hardly surprising. I am undeterred and if anything will be even more proactive about attending these events. In my mind, it’s a little preposterous that if I want to do so, however, I have to be ok with being felt up and indirectly insulted. If women fail to take an active interest in Bitcoin now, when it is still in its infancy and its potential is largely untapped, we will have yet another sector in which the gender is underrepresented and trailing. Bitcoin as a currency has the ability to revolutionize the banking and financial system, but the implication of Bitcoin as a protocol extend much further than that. I’ll write a post of my own on that soon, but in the meantime I recommend you check out Mark Andreessen’s excellent post on why Bitcoin matters.
Anyways ladies, ignore the naysayers and get out to those Bitcoin meetups! If you want to attend a meetup or chat crypto anytime, shoot me a line on Twitter.