data.world

Seven critical lessons learned in angel investing

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.

The Paralyzing Fear of Getting Started

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?

Two incredible years at data.world

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.

The Taxi Driver's Plight and Internet-Enabled Disruption

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:

An unusual, but beautiful, method of forming your company's values

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.

The importance of an Always Be Learning life

Happy New Year's, everyone!  I wish you much prosperity and love in 2018.

As you may have seen me tweet earlier this week, my New Year's Resolution is to write more.  I truly love writing - to write is to serve, to write is to learn, to write is to meditate.  I'm going to take a different tact this year, though - I'm going to write more frequently and hopefully much shorter.  I like writing longer posts but I'm spending over 70 hours per week on data.world and then some time on our startup investments - and of course I very much care about spending time with my wife and children.  So, in short there just isn't much room for more.  As a matter of fact, in 2017 I resigned from two non-profit Boards (Conscious Capitalism and Entrepreneurs Foundation) that I really love just to create more time for data.world.  Both were painful decisions for me but a startup really needs that type of focus, and I'm truly having a blast working alongside an incredible team at data.world on a very important mission.

I've already got a running list of seven more topics (and growing quickly) that I plan to write about as soon as I can but for now - for my first post in a long time - I want to talk about the importance of having an Always Be Learning mindset and practice. 

Back in the arena: the beginning of data.world

It has been a long time since I wrote anything on my Lucky7 blog and there is good reason for that.  Back in June, I started to brainstorm my next big idea with long-time friends Jon Loyens and Matt Laessig (both of whom were amazing at Bazaarvoice and had moved on to HomeAway).  Bryon Jacob (a 10-year veteran at HomeAway) soon got involved as an idea he had been thinking about was better than anything we came up with and one thing led to another until we founded data.world.

It may feel curious to my regular readers that I would jump back into the arena as the CEO of a company built from scratch.  After all, our investments in startups and venture capital funds have been performing well, including a recent exit with Deep Eddy Vodka being acquired (and us subsequently investing in Clayton Christopher’s VC fund, CAVU).  There are many factors that led to this calling for me: