I had dinner with my good friend and Bazaarvoice co-founder, Brant Barton, on Tuesday at the new Sway in West Lake Hills (yummy) and we talked about lessons learned in angel investing. It was on my mind as I’m doing an AMA (Ask Me Anything) webinar with my good friend and often investing colleague, Josh Baer, on Tuesday, Feb. 5 from 4-5pm CT (you can sign up here). During my conversation with Brant, I distilled down to seven lessons learned (in the spirit of Lucky7, of course). Brant is reading Jason Calacanis’s book on angel investing and told me that many of these are in there (maybe all of these, I haven’t read the book), so you may want to turn to that to really dig in as I’m going to do my best to keep this post short. My hope in sharing these with you is that it ignites more angel investing in Austin - it is vital to our startup ecosystem here. We are doing better on that front in Austin than ever before, but I believe we are only scratching the surface here. And I hope these lessons have an impact beyond Austin angels and startups as well.
I’ve been writing a lot lately, just not here on Lucky7. I finally decided to compile and refresh some of my best posts over the years into a free ebook named “The Entrepreneur’s Essentials”. In this article, the Austin Business Journal interviewed me about doing so. It is really fun to reflect on what I wrote years ago and have been applying to data.world for the past three years. If you would like to check it out, head on over to Medium. Here are the four lessons I’ve written so far:
The Entrepreneur’s Essentials #1: How to leverage advisors and investors as your extended team
The Entrepreneur’s Essentials #2: What’s in a name?
The Entrepreneur’s Essentials #3: The five critical ingredients to build a big company
The Entrepreneur’s Essentials #4: Seven lessons learned on the journey from founder to CEO
"I'll eat anything." - the most socially acceptable phrase of 2018 when it comes to ordering at a restaurant with friends.
It is hard to believe it has been four years since I wrote my two-part series on this subject, and even harder to believe how fast the trend I predicted would take place has accelerated since then. Before you get too far in this post, if you would like to backtrack on why I decided not to eat animals and where I think the future was going to take us (an entrepreneurial prediction), you can read 2014's Part One and Part Two of this series first. Those were my most popular blog posts of 2014 and the comments thread, especially in Part One, is very interesting. Every possible argument you can think of for eating animals is in those comments.
I haven't been straight with you. Like most entrepreneurs... I haven't told you everything. I told you why I decided to found data.world in this Lucky7 post. I told you the good part. What I didn't tell you is that I was living in fear during those first few months of getting started... being back in an office and back in the arena once again.
But why? I had started successful companies before, such as Bazaarvoice and Coremetrics. data.world was my sixth! I had a bigger network than ever before. I had more know-how than at any other point in my entrepreneurial career, including the lessons that hardened for me in writing Lucky7 over the years to help other entrepreneurs. I had spent three years in deep reflection. I had seen over 1,100 startup pitches, which really does have the effect of making new mental connections (VCs call this "pattern recognition"). I had worked behind the scenes at Austin Ventures, seeing how the VC industry really works. I had served as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at both The Wharton School and U.T. Austin. I knew company culture like the back of my hand - Bazaarvoice had been rated the best place to work in Austin when it was a small, medium, and then large-size company, winning #1 in all three categories as we rapidly grew. Alongside my excellent co-founders, I had spent months researching the viability of data.world. In short, I was, rationally speaking, more prepared than I had ever been before. So why was I afraid?
If you haven't listened to Kara Swisher's Recode Decode interview of Mark Zuckerberg, I highly recommend you do so here. It has been almost 10 years since Lesley Stahl first interviewed Mark Zuckerberg on 60 Minutes, when he was 23-years old, and wow has a lot happened since then, including this week's disappointing Earnings Report. Facebook was worth $15 billion back then - today, $506 billion (and that is after this week's 20% haircut).
I won't repeat all of the news here, as I'm sure many of you have been reading along, but what really struck me after listening to Kara's interview of Zuckerberg is just how powerful podcasts have become. This podcast goes into so much detail as compared to a TV show, including one as great as 60 Minutes. If you are at all a fan of business and a leader yourself, I view this interview of Zuckerberg as a must-listen. We are living through an amazing moment in history - with the modern world being socially-networked for the first time, with all of the implications of that (including the recent Russian tampering of our Presidential election). Facebook was just recently one of the top five most valuable companies in the world by market cap and is certainly one of the most important companies throughout the world; their reach and impact cannot be overestimated. In my opinion, they'll be back stronger than ever. And, in my personal opinion as a leader, Mark Zuckerberg does a tremendously great job in this interview. I don't agree with some of his positions but I can also empathize with how difficult it must be to manage a social network of Facebook's size - and determine who the real arbiter of truth is. There is a lot to consider as a leader as you listen to this podcast - how would you handle a similar situation? Or, as Tim Cook says, would you have avoided the situation altogether (also a podcast interview with Kara Swisher, coupled with a new live TV show)? I think about that as I contemplate if Facebook was a B Corporation, would they have had this situation at all, but that is a topic for another day. Zuckerberg fired back at Tim Cook on his point, as detailed in this The Ezra Klein Show interview ... also a podcast.
On July 11 we celebrated our second year anniversary of data.world being live. We had a great time at SPiN in the first ever OWL Cup (the ping-pong championship) during the same week as the World Cup in the finals. It was a real upset, and you should ask us about it (as well as why OWL is all in caps) the next time you see us in person. We don't have to spill the beans on everything publicly!
But we did make a decision about how public to be in the release of our first ever Public Benefit Corporation Report. As a Certified B Corporation®, we are required by Delaware corporate law to report how we are fulfilling our public benefit purpose to our private shareholders every two years. Given our love for the data.world community, which is now the largest collaborative data community in the world, we decided to make our PBC Report public for all to read. You can read it here, and it really has been an incredible two years. I won't repeat the report here, as we all collectively put a lot of time into writing it, but I will say how proud it makes us to be a B Corporation. A lot of people don't understand B Corporations, thinking that they are social businesses that don't focus on financial performance or making money for their shareholders. That couldn't be farther from the truth - our business plan includes us becoming a top-tier financial performer and we are doing our best to generate a large shareholder return. We are fortunate to have raised $33.3 million from such a prestigious and helpful group, and we are very serious about performing well for all shareholders, including ourselves.
On the way to work this morning, I listened to The Daily, The New York Times podcast hosted by Michael Barbara. This is a typical day for me, and I generally find the podcast really balanced (I'm an Independent voter, for the record). As I mentioned at the beginning of this year, I take in a wide range of content to be on a continuous learning journey (you can read that post here).
Today's episode of The Daily really struck me. It was about another New York taxi driver committing suicide, apparently because of the dramatic decline in their medallion appreciation. This is due to the invention of Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing apps and specifically due to New York City's response to them. You should listen to it and then ask yourself these questions:
I've got the Conscious Capitalism Summit on my mind as I write this. Specifically, the main Summit (in Dallas this year), which my daughter, Rachel, and I are leaving for tonight. Rachel is one of the keynotes and I couldn't be more proud of her. She will be speaking about the process of writing her first book, Guardians of the Forest, which has been her dream since she was eight-years old and just happened this past January, after a year of work and years of saving up to pay for it (she paid 100% of her savings to the illustrator, Ryan Durney). My good friend, John Mackey, will be introducing her on stage. He has been a mentor to me for years and most recently her, for her book. There are many good lessons for living a fulfilled life in her book and she is certainly an emerging conscious capitalist. You can see all of the speakers here, and in the spirit of the post I wrote at the beginning of this year on continuous learning, I highly recommend you attend this Summit in the future (or the CEO Summit if you qualify).
But I've got the Conscious Capitalism Summit on my mind for another reason, and it is because of what it has taught me as an entrepreneur. Last year, at the CEO Summit version of their events, I heard a CEO say on stage, "If you want to learn something amazing, just ask each of your employees to share with you the core values that they bring to work each and every day." This immediately resonated with me as I had been thinking about how beautiful our culture was becoming at data.world but yet we hadn't written our core values down yet. This isn't that unusual, BTW. We didn't write down our core values at my previous startups, Coremetrics and Bazaarvoice, until we were around this age. You want to get some operating history and some significant team build-out going before you do this exercise or it is just aspirational with no real resonance for how you've actually been living your day-to-day business life as a collective.
This past weekend was a very proud one for me and Debra as parents. Our daughter, Rachel Leah Hurt, became a Bat Mitzvah on Saturday. Her Torah portion, Parshat Beshalach (Song of the Sea), was an especially challenging one and she read it just perfectly. This took her hundreds of hours of study in 2017 (and she had an amazing teacher in Nancyellen Seiden). Alongside this study, she also wrote her first book, Guardians of the Forest, which also took hundreds of hours in 2017. It is a truly beautiful book for children ages 6-14 and I know she would appreciate it if you bought a copy at that link. And, during all of this, Rachel made all top grades at her middle school (including in all of the AP classes that she can take). I truly consider my most important job in life to be a good parent. I have had many influences in this regard, including my own parents (Lucky7 is named in tribute to my mom), Debra's parents, and even my friend Michael Dell, who has had a hugely positive influence on his children, including the one I know best, Zachary (watch him become an extraordinary entrepreneur one day). I'll write a blog post on parenting one day, but I certainly don't want you to think I've got it all figured out. In many ways, to be a good parent is more challenging than starting a company and I'm certainly trying my best. It requires constant work (and innovation), but I digress.
I woke up this early this morning, around 4:40am, thinking about this past weekend. There were some good leadership lessons in this Torah portion, especially the one given by Nachshon ben Aminadav. Nachshon is certainly a lesser known figure in the Parting of the Red Sea, especially as compared to Moses. To that end, I would love to share with you a portion of Rachel's speech, given by her after she read from the Torah. And I would love to hear your stories of where either you've been a Nachshon or you've seen someone close to you be a Nachshon. We all know the stories of Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, MLK Jr., and many other incredible leaders throughout history. But who are the lesser known figures that took the first actions to show the rest? Please share those much lesser known stories with me (and all of the Lucky7 readers) in your comments below - it would be a lot of fun to get a dialogue going about this.
I received a text a little over a week ago from a CEO I coach (I've served on his Advisory Board for years now and have loved seeing his company prosper - and him grow so much personally through a lot of adversity). It read, "How much collaboration with the rest of leadership would you expect from your [insert executive title here] when it comes to [insert critical for the entire company task]?". Obviously I'm being careful not to disclose the details to protect confidentiality.
Here we find ourselves on Martin Luther King Jr. Day - a celebration of one of history's ultimate collaborators and change-agents. Everyone in American schools studies MLK, of course, but I got to go a little deeper on his leadership in my studies at The Aspen Institute as a Henry Crown Fellow. One of our readings was "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and I couldn't recommend more highly that you read it (you can do so here). It is one of the most amazing leadership readings I've ever been introduced to. It is a systematic, gentlemanly takedown of one of the most challenging times in American history - by the ultimate collaborative leader. Pay close attention in the letter to how MLK challenges his opposition to collaborate with him by looking within themselves and within their own religion. The religious undertones are reminiscent to what is probably the best speech I've ever read, also introduced to me by The Aspen Institute, by Frederick Douglass. It is titled "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?". It is also a systematic takedown with a strong uppercut punch (you can read it here). I highly recommend you study both of these incredibly historic speeches on this MLK day - the most appropriate day to do so. At a minimum, all lovers of leadership should bookmark and read these pieces in 2018.