Out of the Office, Into the Paint

Out of the Office, Into the Paint

Two years ago we started playing basketball with local startups.  The purpose is to get to know people in a setting different from the way you typically meet VCs. It was spur-of-the-moment at first– a way to simply get a foot in the door with a company we were interested in. And all our team enjoy the sport, so why not? For me, it’s turned into something more fundamental to how I think about the relationships in my corner of the venture capital industry. This past week we enjoyed a best-of-five series with an exciting Utah company, ObservePoint (pictured). The time together was valuable, the sweaty exercise a plus. Here’s why: Know your people, business aside. I’m not talking about life philosophy or feel-good business tactics here. Look, every venture capitalist is in the business of backing great people. We all say this. And it’s not lip service. We track all our best deals back to remarkable individuals. Fighters. Scrappers. Winners. And if VCs at large are people-focused, then early stage VCs are hyper-focused. Why? Because with more business uncertainty & greater odds of failure that’s a recipe for “you better have massive belief in these people.” And belief in a person in the very earliest of stages is all about knowing everything you can about them other than their business. Their business has little to no history for goodness sake! I will frequently stop an entrepreneur from telling me about how they started their business to repeat, “No, please tell me about you, before your business, aside from your business, and what will make you tick after your business.” Press the flesh. A friend of mine and now fellow investor, Nobu, hails from Japan and happens to...
Startup Milestones and Broken Bones

Startup Milestones and Broken Bones

Let me take you back to a time in my startup, Zinch, to an afternoon that was almost typical.  Change was in the air as the Utah autumn shifted leaves from green to bright reds and yellows–and so, too, our startup was a-changin’…  We had outgrown our office and had hired more sales people.  They brought with them new competitive fire, and, on this day, aggressive ambitions took an unexpected turn for the worse, as the office expansion had unintentionally created a struggle over who got what in the new space.   In the early days of startupdom, you learn to give just enough guidance to your salespeople and then let them have at it. What this meant for the team vying for the best desk space that day was a head to head match at arm wrestling. I was in a neighboring office when, after a few whoops and hollers, I heard a distinct “pop!”  I thought someone had punched a wall.  As I entered the room, I saw one of the arm wrestlers on the ground, his right arm hanging limply at an odd angle. His opponent (let’s call him the ‘arm breaker’) stood dumbfounded, trying to process what just happened.  A broken arm bone was what just happened!  A few hours and an ER trip later, Lance’s arm was declared to have a spiral break at the bicep.  Unbelievable!  To this day, it’s still unbelievable! Just like moving into the office and expanding the sales team created a momentous (and memorable) milestone, startups experience notable transitions.  One of those is summiting the $1 million mark of annual...
Why You Need Those Willing to Block for Your Startup

Why You Need Those Willing to Block for Your Startup

After the local parade of friends, family, and all those rah-rah’ing your startup, comes the reality that there are many more who would rather you not enter the race. What’s more, time is your enemy, assuming you require money to live. But since you started, and certainly once you start making some noise in that race, both the incumbents and time are coming after you… “I’d never been manhandled… and the physical power and swiftness of the attack stunned me.” Last year my 11-year old chose to do her U.S. history report on one of our nation’s heroes, Kathrine Switzer. I got the chills every time she would practice reciting her report in our home. If you’re fuzzy on the name, then tune in, it’s quite the story: Kathrine was the first woman to ever run in and complete the Boston Marathon. She had registered for the 1967 race as “K. V. Switzer,” in a group of 3 male friends, after checking both the rule book and the entry form to find nothing about gender. From the initial milling before the race with the other runners until mile four, she was received amicably by the officials, spectators and other runners. But then came a dramatic near-end to her race, which she weathered thanks to her 235-pound ex-All American football player boyfriend. I’ll share this part of the story through her own words, below. As for the marathon, she eventually completed it. Since then, Kathrine’s pioneering example transformed the sport of running, from the Boston Marathon which accepted women officially the year after her race, to the Olympic Committee, which...
Back to the Future in VC:  A Conversation with a16z’s Mark Cranney

Back to the Future in VC: A Conversation with a16z’s Mark Cranney

Andreesen Horowitz (a16z for short) has accomplished what few can claim:  a meteoric rise to the apex of venture capital.  To put it in a context many of us can relate to—it’s as if a new American university had been created less than a decade ago and in that short time is now competing head to head with Harvard, Yale and Stanford.  Shouldn’t it be impossible to attract the same caliber of talent as the firmly established industry juggernauts after only a few years?  a16z has approached venture capital so differently that they’ve fundamentally altered the relationship between entrepreneurs and VCs. I’m reminded of a snippet from the documentary “Something Ventured,” (a great documentary for the next time you are flipping through Netflix trying to find something worthwhile to watch) from the early days of venture capital,  where Arthur Rock is working with a team he has backed… a time when VCs were nearly indistinguishable from full-time business operators, and when they meaningfully moved the needle of the businesses they backed. Recently I had the pleasure of getting to know one of a16z’s operating partners, Mark Cranney, who shared with me one aspect of the firm’s model: augmenting the sales of its portfolio companies.  I was captivated, and asked Mark if I could bring some of our Peak Ventures portfolio companies to a16z’s Go-to-Market Bootcamp (a regular event that they put on for their portfolio companies’ leadership teams), and he graciously welcomed us to attend.  That full-day event was incredible, and so obviously useful to the teams who attended.  It inspired me to share the experience with you all...
We’re all Chicanos on the Train

We’re all Chicanos on the Train

At dinner several years ago with long-time friends, I dug into brick-oven fired pizza while we spoke about ethnic backgrounds. These were not friends who I’d just met or thought lightly of. They were good friends, people who contributed to our community, and who crossed paths in schools and churches. I identified with them, so you can imagine my confusion when one of them turned to me and asked: “So Sid, do you get offended when someone calls you Mexican?” My instinctive response was simple, but wrong on so many levels; and because of this, it has stayed with me these many years. Let me now share with you how I responded and how I think we all share a common card, and motivating force, as minorities of one type or another. My instinctive response My response was as bad as the question. I muttered, “No,” and then changed the subject. In doing so, I validated the notion that calling someone what they are can inherently be a bad thing. And, as it relates to my ethnicity, I perpetuated an existing negative stereotype. I moved to Utah when I was 4 years old–old enough to remember our orange trees in the backyard of our home in Whittier, California, and old enough to remember shying from my ethnicity as I acclimated to Utah. Technically (and I now have an ancestry DNA test that can show you all the beautiful detail) I’m ½ Mexican, ¼ Dutch, and ¼ German. My parents split when I was still young and I was raised by my mom, who hails from the Mexican side. And...
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