“Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.”
When I saw the article from Technical.ly today on the “reinvention” of Delaware I was at first buoyed with pride for my one-time address. That quickly faded as I realized how the founding story has been reinvented as well. I was especially struck by the fact that at least one of the authors knows better, much better.
As background, I starting working in Delaware starting in late 2001 following the dot com bust and moved to Wilmington in 2006. I worked with the people in the article and attended some of the events. I also pitched them to help out startups early on and helped introduce Technical.ly to some of them. This preamble is to say that I was there. I also want to say that I am not invalidating that there were many forces at play to make it all come together. What I am saying is that if you think the recipe for success for your startup ecosystem doesn’t include crazy, disrespected, marginalized, non-establishment, non-authorized characters YOU ARE WRONG.
A polarizing outsider whose investment often limited others’ participation. But when there was no investment capital in the state who formed the first home grown fund? Established in 1995, the Delaware Innovation Fund was the state’s first venture-capital firm. Freschman started the fund at the request of Delaware’s then governor, Thomas R. Carper. Combined with Early Stage East, his annual conference, it was a spark. David and I butted heads more than once. He style was direct and he always played bigger than he was. Characteristics I have come to respect. His legacy, and I hope the attitude, continues on in Delaware, in the person of Pedro Moore. Probably considered not as qualified by most, but isn’t that where the best surprises come from.
GO SEE FOR YOURSELF
I covered a whole lot of other examples, two plus years ago, when I wrote my founding story for Delaware’s startup scene. You may see some names there they you haven’t heard of. That is my point. Add to it the amazing supportive culture that allows people to create powerful podcasts, social change programs and a feeling that its OK to ask for help and you have a taste of it. But know it is just a taste. Go see for yourself. See the founders, innovators and others that are there…after all the rest have commuted out of town. And buy a T-shirt from Spaceboy because I am done giving them out.
I have a saying, “the lifespan of a mentor’s advice is the same as milk.” In a world that is moving as fast as as ours is, what worked last year is highly unlikely to work this one. It is only those who constantly seek to have new experiences who can have lasting value to those that they advise.
Time on the Bench
I have been fortunate enough to hang around the startup world for two(?) bubbles and close to two decades. I have been the person writing checks, helping others get checks and working with founders fix problems that checks don’t. I have spent countless hours on in coffee shops, bars, conference rooms and airplanes talking to founders and offering whatever perspective, experience and advice that I could. I have no illusions about the wisdom that I “dropped”. All I can hope is that it was a net positive.
For the last 14 months I have gotten myself back into the ring. Yes, I know I shifted my sports metaphor, but I really don’t care and if you think that growing a company is not similar to getting punched in the face then you haven’t done it. As CEO for VL Group I have become the very leader that I have been advising; passionate, idealistic, visionary, action-focused…and stupid. Really.
One of my most recommended authors is Ryan Holiday. His two books, The Obstacle is the Way and The Ego is the Enemy, are now on my annual re-read list. In Obstacle he outlines three core pillars; perspective, action and will. As mentors we often focus on the steps that our mentees need to take (action) or how they should be prepared for a marathon not a sprint (will). Sometimes we forget that our very perspective is different from theirs. This is a benefit but also a curse. It is easy to suggest cutting features from a MVP when you hold no emotional attachment to them. It is fine to suggest a team change when you haven’t spent weekends working with someone to make the company come to life.
As mentors we should really all work to remember the perspective of the founder. Like an Instagram filer it is is easy to remember our times as founders and business leaders in a more beautiful way. Building a business isn’t easy and it isn’t pretty. Remember firing a friend, being embarrassed in your community or having your mortgage company call? Now talk to a founder about why they didn’t have time to build a pitch deck or build a financial model.
I am fortunate to have known the pool which I chose to jump into the deep end of. Many don’t. Being a player (not in the rap “you go playa” sense, just in the continuing sports metaphor sense) has reminded me how I can be a better coach. Perspective, the founder’s, can almost always be a better place to start than from yours.
My biological father died on Friday morning. Before you pass judgment or offer condolences know that we were estranged for much, if not all, of the last three decades. Combined with the decade following his divorce from my mother, when I was seven years old, it has been a long time since he has actually been any part of my life. That said, he represents 50% of my DNA and his passing offers a odd moment of reflection.
I am the product of a mother who was a math teacher and Joe, an art teacher. This combination has both served and limited me. I wouldn’t have it ay other way. My chosen profession, working with early stage companies, requires both. Building a strategy or company is an art informed by data. Something I am very comfortable with. So while Joe was not around to teach me to shave or talk to girls he has likely contributed to whatever value I have brought to the companies I have had the privilege to work for/with/around.
This is not meant to be a eulogy. Our relationship passed long ago. Rather this is meant to be a reminder to myself that for all the things that were either bad or missing there were parts that weren’t. And in any in any case, they all make me what I am today. I am numbers and pictures, art and science, all combined in a mind and heart both divided and stronger for it.
Rest in peace Joe.
We ain’t never going back, but the path forward ain’t clear.”
– some country song, (I think)
By some account the music industry has been “decimated” by the digitization of music. Piracy, freemium models and the consumer’s unwillingness to pay for music are often cited as the villains in this fairy tale. While you can go to any of the multitude of music conferences and hear someone or even a panel of someones bemoaning the current fate, few are talking about what comes next. Maybe in the point solution way, block chain can “fix” complicated licensing labyrinth or algorithms can solve the problem of new music discovery. But not in a holistic way that looks at the industry and envisions the “new” industry. In part, this is because the ones doing the crystal ball gazing are existing insiders with vested interests. We can talk about block chain but can’t talk about the fact that in a block chain world the massive infrastructures that are rights organizations would be reduced to authenticators, a role that requires many fewer people. We can talk about the direct-to-fan movement but can’t acknowledge that this could cause the current label system to collapse (making them well-funded barriers to change). But the real driver of the current lack of vision for the industry is that we just don’t know.
Unknowns to knowns
There is a species of organization purpose-built to thrive in a world where the “unknowns” outnumber the “knowns”…startups. That is why I, and VL Group are focused on this critical market of mass innovation. I don’t know where the innovation will come from but I know it will come from startups. That is why, from our API, to our pricing, to our collaborative approach we are making music startup ready. How do we use music to drive enhanced user engagement and user experience? How do we help fans find the next sound that they are going love? How do we help artists monetize their work, their audience and their brand? The answers to these and other questions will emerge in the coming years and we are betting it won’t come from inside the industry.
We have just started and there is a lot more to do (this shit is hard). But we are moving. From our API to our artist stores to label relations, we are working on every front to ensure that we enable startups to explore and experiment. So put on your headphones, set your sights high and build something amazing. Our industry is counting on it.
I have been telling myself I need to get back to blogging. The kickoff of NOEW this Friday seems to be a good jumping back in point. So here are my Top 5 tricks for making your NOEW experience even better (it’s already going to be good).
5. Go To Sessions
This seems pretty straightforward. However, I am not just talking about the ones you circles on the agenda. Go to random ones as well. You never know who will inspire you, what you will learn or even who you will be sitting next to. There are a lot of great sessions regardless of your interest. Take this week to stretch yourself. “Audit” a few classes and I am sure you will come away with some lagniappe.
4. Introduce Yourself
Networking 101, say hi to the person you are sitting next to. NOEW is always full of pitch competitions and showcases. Take a minute and prepare your own personal pitch. Be able to answer the question, “why did you come?” Make your goals known and you will be happy to se that people are eager to help you achieve them. Practice the, “what do you do?” question as well. Make sure that it is short and makes the questioner say “that’s cool.” Also no apologies. No, “I am just a…” or “I am a X but I don’t really like it.” You are not your job. You are what you love to do. The goal of entrepreneurship is to make them one in the same.
3. Wear Something Unique
IRL connections are made easier when you can tell someone that you are the person in the bright red dress or the Johnny Cash trucker cap (that’s me). In a town where everyone has a costume collection don’t worry about going too far. There is a reason that startups all wear the same logo t-shirt at these types of things. People can’t help/meet/connect you if they can’t find you.
2. Takes Notes
Not just in sessions. Take time between sessions and throughout the day to jot down ideas, learnings, people you meet. There will be not shortage of great ideas and inspiration. Be ready to catch them.
1. Be Grateful
Entrepreneurship can be a lonely pursuit. It doesn’t have to be. NOEW is a great place to find kindred spirits. Making it happen each year is a lot of work. Having worked with Idea Village for year now on their accelerator program I have had a inside peek. So when you see a staffer from Idea Village say thank you.
See you there.
“You Can’t Knock The Hustle”- JayZ
“Everything in New Orleans is a good idea.” – Bob Dylan
Yesterday I had the opportunity to do the first-ever AMA for Technical.ly on Slack. We covered a wide range of topics but much of the thread focused on on the growing startup scene here in the Crescent City. Having spent a lot of time in the East Coast startup scene, first in Boston during Web 1.0 and then in the 95 corridor between D.C. and Philly, I tried to sum up my experience on the 3rd coast. While cost of living, tax credits, and a growing investor community definitely play a part of the rationale for startups to come to New Orleans there are 3 other less quantifiable reasons.
Successful founders and investors know that without passion the trials of a startup are often insurmountable. So what if you were in a city where almost everyone was chasing their passion. Rather than being the outlier you were surrounded by musicians, bartenders, teachers, artists, chefs, and other founders all chasing their dream. New Orleans is not only tolerates your quest but in fact requires it. You can do a lot of things here but you can’t do anything half way.
From the Mardi Indians to the multitude of Krewes that populate the colorful floats in the parades New Orleans is full of groups of people supporting a common cause. You may find yourself feeling alone in many places but here all you need to do is look around to find others that are going through a similar experience. Need proof check out the 610 Stompers, Pussyfooters or NOLA Meetup. Being a founder can be a lonely job and sometimes it is the community around you that makes the difference between staying the course or stopping too soon.
The culture and resiliency of New Orleans are two of the characteristics that make a startup successful. You can’t swing a daiquiri in this town without bumping into examples of these critical factors. From the school system to the neighborhoods to the loose coalition of crews that come together every year to make Mardi Gras the celebration that is known around the world culture and resiliency are always on display.
That’s My Pitch
This is a city where being in the high school marching band is very cool and the Scrabble score for the word that sounds like “go” is a minimum of 13 points. I encourage all founders to find the place that is best for them not just the place that is closest to them. And in that search, I suggest everyone to “Geaux to New Orleans”.
We all make mistakes sometime. As individual we are taught to apologize and hopefully the transgression will be forgiven. However research shows us that the a mistake can impact trust and my friend Ed Trolley used to say that with trust, “you take the elevator down but have to take the stairs back up.” Some research shows negative stories are more than 4x more viral than positive ones and that it can take 10+ positives to overcome a negative. Perhaps this is why roses come by the dozen.
This is not to say that the effort required to recover is not worth it. Especially as a startup. Loyalty to a brand has been shown to INCREASE after a mistake is recovered from. This is especially true when the recovery exceeds the expectation of the impacted. Think Zappos, Nordstrom and others that are storied as “over-recovery” companies.
You start by admitting it. Tell your users, clients and team that something went wrong. Don’t ever try to ignore it. This is the time to channel your inner Stoic warrior. Focus on what is not what you wish it was.
Missteps often have a strange gravity on us, turning our focus to the past rather than the future. Acceptance does not mean internalizing it. You and your team are not the mistake. You remain a smart, focused, execution machine. You just had a bad day. The key is to not let that day become a week.
Now it is time to get to the fixing. There are plenty of resources, such as root cause analysis, to help you here. My contribution to this is simply to go back to where your startup began…focused on the problem to be solved and user to be delighted.
We all try not to make mistakes. But in a world where we are also required to constantly be trying new things, it is inevitable. The key is to focus on the recovery and the learnings that come from the process. In doing so, you may be creating even more loyal customers. And that is no mistake.