December 5th marked my first year of blogging personally (I had previously been a corporate blogger for 7 years at Bazaarvoice). I began blogging primarily as a service to entrepreneurs - a form of giving back to the community that I believe is the greatest force for change. I named my blog Lucky7 as a tribute to my amazing mother, who passed away last year. My first Lucky7 post on December 5, 2012 was a revisit of my manifesto to Bootstrap Austin on March 15, 2005. Looking back, it was clear I deeply cared about the development of our entrepreneurial community in Austin. That caring - and passion - drove a year of many highs in 2013. I've been actively investing in startups since December of last year with my wife, Debra, and I formally chose this as a career a few months ago, forming Hurt Family Investments. We've made 14 startup investments so far, 9 of them Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies. I've also joined the Advisory Board of 6 additional companies, all of them SaaS. Out of the 20 startups we are involved in, 16 are headquartered in Austin.
Last Monday, I had the honor of keynoting the Texas MBA Class of 2015 Orientation. This is the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin's largest class to date - I believe around 270 students. Around 80 spouses were also present. Tina Mabley, Assistant Dean of the Full-time MBA Program, introduced me. She introduced me as the Vice Chairman and Co-founder of Bazaarvoice and also as the incoming Entrepreneur-in-Residence at McCombs, a position I'm glad to begin in September. My grandfather, James Mann Hurt, taught at U.T. Austin for his entire career and I'm proud to follow in his footsteps. I promised the students I would post my speech, complete with links, and that is what follows here:
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Melissa Lombard at Gary Hoover's open house for the iSchool (U.T. Austin's Information School, a top-ranked program for it's kind in the nation). Gary is one of my favorite people in Austin, and he is generously serving as Entrepreneur-in-Residence for the iSchool after doing so a few years ago for McCombs (U.T. Austin's Business School). He invited "friends of Gary" to attend and Melissa was there with her husband. Melissa told me about her 5-year project to have coffee with 260 strangers and live this mantra:
If you want to build a strong company culture, then you should care about your company close to as much as you care about your family. That was my goal at Bazaarvoice as our CEO (you can read my 7 lessons learned on the journey from founder to CEO), and I deeply thought about how our family showed that we care about each other. One thing we are particularly good at, especially my wife, Debra, is taking photos while we are on vacation. We want to document the very important time we spend together, and we know that our children will only be this age once. This, of course, is the natural thing for most families to do, especially with young kids (as their appearance changes so much from year to year).
As an entrepreneur, I fostered an unusual communication practice with our investors and advisors. I treated them as I would have wanted to be treated if I were in their shoes. This is the Golden Rule in action.
You need to have empathy for those that you raise money from. They aren't the "man in the arena" (one of my favorite quotes from Theodore Roosevelt), but they can be very supportive - should you choose to treat them as part of your extended team. They are putting their money (if they are angel investors) - or their investors' money (as is the case for venture capitalists) - into your venture and you should treat that capital as if it were your own. And if it were your own capital ask yourself, "What kind of updates would I want?" My guess is you would want to always know how the business is doing and how you could help the business - and therefore help your investment. Part of the thrill of investing is to see the entrepreneur succeed - both changing their life and many other people's lives in the process. Investors enjoy telling their friends - other investors and family - about the success of your business. The journey is more important than any return they get (although to be clear they don't want to lose either their money or their investors' money). The more they help you, the more they live vicariously through you - and their fingerprints are all over your business. This is called a "helper's high" by my good friend and CEO coach, Kirk Dando (you can read more about Kirk and the value of CEO coaches in my Lucky7 post about the 7 lessons learned on the journey from founder to CEO).