Finding Community in NYC Tech Again

There's a thread going on Twitter about doing a BarCamp in NYC again.  I started with a tweet from Jeff Namnum about how he joined the tech community...

It touched off a whole discussion about putting on a BarCamp here again--a collaborative, open "unconference" where people could come together to share and learn about a wide variety of topics.  We haven't done one in NYC in a while, but moreover it feels like the sense of a common community we used to have in the early days of the tech community has been replaced by scale and a lot of heads down work.  Where there used to be the same crews of people Continue reading "Finding Community in NYC Tech Again"

Rethinking Our Heroes

As I sat in the movie theater watching Justice League, I thought a lot about the idea of a hero in the context of 2017.  

Generally, we've thought of heroes as possessing some kind of special power--or larger than life.  We've confused the powerful and influential for people we should look up to.  Yet, as we've seen in the retelling of a lot of the comic book stories on screen, our heroes aren't always purely good, nor are they as good at being people as they are at being powerful.  

This year has seen a toppling of those heroes the likes of which we've never seen before--Hollywood Actors and Directors, Former Presidents, US Senators, Would Be Senators, Midas List VCs, and yes, Confederate Generals.  We're being forced to reckon with our ties to everyone from slave-owning forefathers to Bill Clinton.  

We look up to heroes because we see them exhibiting Continue reading "Rethinking Our Heroes"

The Foolproof Way to Tell if Your Employees Have Issues

CEOs, founders and managers are more worried than ever about issues in their organization that they might not be aware of.  We've seen a ton of stories come out recently around bad workplace environments, and business leaders know that for every really bad story, there are a thousand festering smaller issues that need to be gotten out in front of before they get worse.  

That's why it's critical that they understand the one question that can fish out whether or not there are workplace issues lurking underneath the surface of their companies.

Here's the question...  are you ready?

You sure?

Ok...

Ask yourself, "Does my company have more than one human working in it?"

If you answered "Yes" then your company surely has workplace conflict and issues.  There is a 100% chance that when two individual humans work together in the same place, things will come up.  It's Continue reading "The Foolproof Way to Tell if Your Employees Have Issues"

Five Lessons to Learn from the Success of The Wing

Two years ago, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures became the largest seed investor in The Wing--a network of co-working and community spaces for women founded by Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan.  They recently opened their second location in Soho after raising an $8mm Series A from NEA earlier this year, and their 3rd and 4th will open in the next few months.  It's perhaps the most well executed company I've ever been involved with, and there are some key lessons to be taken from watching how they've become one of NYC's fastest growing rocket ships.

1) Don't assume anything.

What I said above isn't exactly true--I didn't really invest in "The Wing".  At the time, the company was a Powerpoint about a space called "Refresh"-- a four walls experience that was a lot more utilitarian than today's incarnation of The Wing.  What changed?  Well, instead of resting on the initial idea Continue reading "Five Lessons to Learn from the Success of The Wing"

Why You Shouldn’t Put VCs on a Pedestal

Influencers.  Kingmakers.  Sharks.  Power brokers.  Visionaries.

There are a lot of ways the startup world describes venture capitalists that portrays a certain power dynamic, real or perceived, that I believe is at the heart of so many of the industry's problems.  The industry treats VCs as if they hold all the cards, and the worst behaviors of investors reflect that.

Frankly, it makes me uncomfortable, because it's undeserved.

Here's why...

Who's really chasing who?

Do you think there is more money out there looking for good opportunities, or more fantastic opportunities?

Right.  Clearly, truly great ideas and great teams are at a premium--and there's a ton of money in the world.  It's rare that you really only have one option as a seed investor (follow on rounds are different, because it is expected that insiders are your first option, and their actions can influence others).  The idea that there's only one Continue reading "Why You Shouldn’t Put VCs on a Pedestal"

I Can Be Difficult

Last week, I heard the word "difficult" describing investors twice.  Once was about me and once wasn't.  

The founder and investor relationship is, in fact, a difficult one to get right.  Both sides walk in with a lot of cognitive biases and style differences unique to every pair.  Meanwhile, the work of trust building is hard and takes a long time.

In one instance, there was an investor holding up a round after agreeing to sign off on something verbally.  They weren't wrong about the term in question, but the dollar impact to their investment was so small that it wasn't meaningful to a fund of their size.  That's the kind of thing where you have to choose between being right and seeing the bigger picture in order to facilitate a transaction that was good for the company. 

No one wants that kind Continue reading "I Can Be Difficult"

The Cold E-mail and the Crazy Big Idea: Industrial Organic Announces Seed Round

"Hi Charlie,

I've requested a meeting with you during the first week of March. Here are ten reasons why you should take the meeting..."

This is an e-mail I got from Amanda Weeks in February 2014, and the beginning of a two and a half year journey that culminated with Brooklyn Bridge Ventures leading a pre-seed round for Industrial Organic that kicked off about a year ago.  The round, which was raised in two tranches, was recently announced by Inc Magazine.

Amanda and her co-founder Brett Van Aalsburg researched for two years and developed an anaerobic fermentatio process that quickly breaks down food waste in a matter of days.  Byproducts of the process can be turned into other goods like organic fertilizer and natural surface cleaners.  When I funded the company, it was little more than a science project in a garage in Brooklyn and soon, Continue reading "The Cold E-mail and the Crazy Big Idea: Industrial Organic Announces Seed Round"

My Least Favorite Part of Venture Capital

I'm a lead investor.

That means I'm usually the first person to put down a price on what your company is worth--a dollar value on months, if not years, worth of your work, blood, sweat, tears, stress, etc.  

"Here's a piece of paper that says how much I think your dreams are worth."

The reality is, any price that I put down at the stage that I invest isn't going to feel like enough--and if it doesn't feel like enough, I'm probably grossly overpaying.  But, you don't feel like that as the founder.  

Your company is special, which, I 100% agree with.

That's why, out of the 2,000 opportunities I saw this year, you and your company are one of the 8-10 I gave a term sheet to.  So, congrats!  All the reasons why you think you should get a much higher price for Continue reading "My Least Favorite Part of Venture Capital"

Not Just Any Given Sunday #takeaknee

Posted this in what used to be my tech newsletter, and what has lately been about more...

Yesterday wasn't just any given Sunday, was it?

I would imagine most of the NYC-based readers of this newsletter don't take the position that "these athletes should just stick to sports" nor do they feel that way about Jimmy Kimmel and his recent conversations around healthcare.  So, telling you that I support their willingness to share their views and why seems a bit like preaching to the choir.

What I will say is that there's no way either side of this conversation is going to "win" unless both sides start asking each other why they feel that way, and actually listening.  No, I don't mean listening to Trump and asking him why he feels the need to call private citizens SOBs.  Honestly, he's got the least important opinion in this whole equation--it's just Continue reading "Not Just Any Given Sunday #takeaknee"

Work Like You Mean It: Why I backed Wethos to change the future of work.

If economists tried to measure the cost of the malaise that the election of 2016 left, we'd undoubtedly see billions, if not more, lost in worker productivity. 

At the same time, I don't think I've ever seen more political engagement in my lifetime--and not just political engagement, but all sorts of action around causes they care about.

These two realities are linked.  If you're not doing something to positively affect the world around you, you've likely been overcome by a lack of motivation.  You're realizing that passing your work hours for pay alone, without meaning and impact, just isn't cutting it anymore.  

We've seen the move towards more flexible work, but I think it will pale in comparison to the shift towards meaningful work.  The best and brightest are going to need a much better reason to work for your company than the perks and Continue reading "Work Like You Mean It: Why I backed Wethos to change the future of work."

Introducing Petal, Providing Access to Credit to Thin File Consumers

One of the biggest fears about the future of data is that everyone will turn into a number--that algorithms will turn everyone's personal experience into a single score that will decide whether or not you get what you want, a job, a house, a car, financing for a new business etc. or whether you get shut out.

Actually, you don't have to wait for that to happen.  Consumers have been living this reality since 1956.  That's when a company called Fair Issac, or what we now today as FICO, started selling consumer credit data to lenders.  A four billion dollar publicly traded company basically decides who gets credit and who doesn't--and if you don't already have credit and you're invisible to FICO, you're going to get financially left behind.  As they say, it costs money to make money, and without access to credit at key moments in

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Continue reading "Introducing Petal, Providing Access to Credit to Thin File Consumers"

Not Interested: How to know whether you’ve actually got an investor on the hook.

I don't think there's ever a time when I feel more like I'm raining on parades as when founders tell me how interested other VC firms are in investing.  I've seen it time and time again where founders, understandably apprehensive about fundraising, read too much into their engagement with investors--especially non-partners at firms.

The founders will say things like the following--and then comes my splash of cold water, which is honest, but also makes me feel like the bad guy, or not enthusiastic about the company.  In reality, I just don't want the founder spinning their wheels and wasting their valuable time.

"They're interested, but it's too early."

There are tons of examples of later stage venture firms not only placing seed bets, but also skipping right to Series A with huge "seed" rounds right out of the gate.  If Mark Zuckerberg was going to start a new company Continue reading "Not Interested: How to know whether you’ve actually got an investor on the hook."

On No Sides…

On no sides is genocide an ok thing to promote with your free speech or to organize a group around.

On no sides is the Confederacy, the sole purpose of which was to defend the institution of slavery, a thing to be admired.

On no sides is the eradication of Nazis and the KKK a slippery slope to the end of free speech in our country.  It is perfectly right and acceptable for a society to draw lines--to point to levels of despicable behavior and say "No--in no uncertain terms.  No way.  Not here."  We certainly do this around the abuse of children.  These things do not belong in any kind of healthy, functioning society.  They have no more right to be here than anyone would suggest that cancer cells are a living part of your body that deserve a home.  I'm perfectly ok if a corporation decides that Continue reading "On No Sides…"

Turns Out I Wasn’t Crazy: Tinkergarten Raises $5.4 million

I send out a monthly mailer of deals that I'm investing in that I'm looking for co-investors for.  Because I'm investing so early, a lot of times these companies are not only pre-revenue, but they might also be pre-product.  I also invest in a really wide range of opportunities, so many of them don't look like you're typical venture deals.

Tinkergarten is one such company.  At the end of 2015, I backed a husband and wife team expecting their third kid to build a network of outdoor kids classes--not an Uber for kids classes, Classpass for kids classes or Airbnb for kids classes.  Actual kids classes: finding teachers, vetting them, training them, creating content--all of the unscalable things you'd never want your tech startup doing.  They barely had any tech and I think they had maybe three teachers at the time I backed them.  I couldn't even get the round

Continue reading "Turns Out I Wasn’t Crazy: Tinkergarten Raises $5.4 million"

Some Rules for Fundraising

Fundraising sucks. 

No one likes it.  Founders don't start companies so they can spend half their time asking people for money and VCs don't love the dance either.  

However, it's a necessary animal, so the least everyone can do is act professionally, and most of all value each other's time.  That's what I'm most frustrated by--the lack of respect for other people's time.  Too often, both sides walk away from fundraising processes feeling like a lot of it wasn't time efficiently spend--even when it does lead to a round.

So here are a few things both sides should do to make the whole thing go a lot smoother.

For VCs:

  1. Be upfront about the possibility of you investing now versus whether this is a "get to know you" kind of thing.  It's fine if you want to learn about blockchain or you never do pre-product and maybe the Continue reading "Some Rules for Fundraising"

Some Rules for Fundraising

Fundraising sucks.  No one likes it.  Founders don't start companies so they can spend half their time asking people for money and VCs don't love the dance either.   However, it's a necessary animal, so the least everyone can do is act professionally, and most of all value each other's time.  That's what I'm most frustrated by--the lack of respect for other people's time.  Too often, both sides walk away from fundraising processes feeling like a lot of it wasn't time efficiently spend--even when it does lead to a round. So here are a few things both sides should do to make the whole thing go a lot smoother. For VCs:
  1. Be upfront about the possibility of you investing now versus whether this is a "get to know you" kind of thing.  It's fine if you want to learn about blockchain or you never do pre-product and maybe the Continue reading "Some Rules for Fundraising"

There’s Always Other Money

In reading the NYT piece about the negative experiences of female founders raising, one quote stuck out to me: "They put up with the comments, Ms. Renock said, because they “couldn’t imagine a world in which that $500,000 wasn’t on the table anymore.” If you've ever had to fundraise, you can understand this.  It's an extremely vulnerable time where you're getting a lot of rejection.  When you finally get someone willing to fund what by now seems like a crazy idea, especially after all the criticism you've gotten during the process, you get in a mode of pushing for a close.  You're willing to overlook just about anything because you really need this money.  Rent is due.  Credit cards are maxed.  You don't want to lose this fish while it's on the hook.   That's why so many of these founders went down rabbit holes that, in hindsight, maybe Continue reading "There’s Always Other Money"

Why hasn’t anyone else funded this?

This is the worst question a VC can ask. It presupposes that the only good deals are the ones they can't get into--which is an odd way to think about the world.  I suppose the only club deal they would want to get into is the one that doesn't want them as a member. There are lots of examples of huge deals that could have been had by anyone early on--Airbnb, Casper, Uber, etc. And there are even more examples of oversubscribed companies that flopped.   In the seed round, there seems to be little to no correlation between the "hotness" of a deal and its eventual success--and even less so with the returns.  Hot deals get bid up.  Prices go up, and returns go down.  The more you pay, the less you make.  It's simple math.   Yet, so many investors--those who tout their networks and ability to see Continue reading "Why hasn’t anyone else funded this?"

A Call to Brains: Can We Mobilize Education Like Manufacturing in WWII?

"In May 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt called for the production of 185,000 aeroplanes, 120,000 tanks, 55,000 anti-aircraft guns and 18 million tons of merchant shipping in two years. Adolf Hitler was told by his advisors that this was American propaganda; in 1939, annual aircraft production for the US military was less than 3,000 planes. By the end of the war US factories had produced 300,000 planes,[2][3] and by 1944 had produced two-thirds of the Allied military equipment used in the war."  Never before and not since then had any country mobilized itself, and so dramatically reshaped its economic focus, around a singular focus.  The ability of the US economy to churn out the mechanisms of war at such a scale in such short order changed the tide of history. Today, we face different kinds of threats--and while we hear of stories about bombs and guns--the real wars Continue reading "A Call to Brains: Can We Mobilize Education Like Manufacturing in WWII?"

You Can Hear the Desperation When They Pull the Trigger: Gun Control or Empathy

I didn't grow up in a neighborhood where gunshots were a thing--and I know I am incredibly lucky for that.  That's why when I pulled up to the corner of Atlantic and Fourth by the Barclay's Center yesterday at a couple of minutes after 2pm, the sound of gunfire was pretty startling, and it's not something I can easily shake. Pop!  Pop!  Pop!  Pop-pop-pop!  Pop! I knew what it was right away.   A car or motorcycle backfires once.  Construction noises are mechanical and repetitive.  Fireworks go off with a kind of chaotic randomness that you only get when timing is dictated by the burning of a fuse. These pops had intent, and moreover, desperation.  You hear it in the cadence.  Those three quick squeezes in broad daylight on what is perhaps the busiest intersection in Brooklyn can only come from someone who has long stopped Continue reading "You Can Hear the Desperation When They Pull the Trigger: Gun Control or Empathy"