Adrenaline. Miami, 2013.
My roommate in college went through the extremely bureaucratic process of designing her own major. After much research she chose to study: “The Narrative: The Art of Storytelling.” It was a combination of history, comparative literature, and social studies. Her goal was to map the way in which historians, technologists, and artists frame their impact. The types of impact she studied varied - leadership, product, and revolution.
Spending four years of precious college time to study the ambiguous “narrative” did not make much sense back then, but it does now. More than ever. Storytelling and the framing of one’s narrative, both in one’s personal and professional life, is crucial. In venture capital, especially, an entrepreneur can have the best product in the market but without a narrative to frame his/her thinking (i.e. why he/she chose the space, how the product will transform the market in the future, and who will become the staunch competitor) — the company is stale.
Steve Jobs was my generation’s greatest storyteller, and talked us into the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. He gave us prologues to life-changing narratives, and then let his products do the talking. Apple products have the simplest and most compelling story lines. Short, but captivating.
Jobs and Apple continue to remind us that narratives command enormous importance in the technology landscape. The best companies start with a strong narrative, that in turn builds the foundation to a stronger product.
Does your product have a story?
A fly on the wall in the big city. I need an invisible New York afternoon.
(Source: ohbabyitsnatalie, via zeeley)
My week in a nutshell.
I went to support the project, not expecting to find parallels between Eve’s industry and my own, but was shocked at what I learned. Instead of finding glaring differences between the struggles of women in tech and women in the music business, I found similarities.
In no particular orders, a few learnings:
1) A Male-Dominated Industry: This is no shocker. For Eve, the world of rap was saturated with men. The rap precedent was a male one, and music labels were built around male rappers or producers. Eve made a name for herself among storied rappers like Dr. Dre of Aftermath Entertainment, and DMX of Ruff Ryder fame. Though grateful for their early support, Eve realized the glaring parameters of the perceived comfort. It was a luxurious prison and one that she needed to break free from. Female rappers who followed Eve’s success had similar problems; Pure rap was a boy’s club and success was more easily achieved through rap/hip-hop hybrids (think: Nicki Minaj.)
I see similar dynamics at play in the VC world. My VC idols are all men: they grace the Midas Lists, lead market-moving investments, and demand enormous respect from fast-growing startups. But where are the women? Why do we see female VCs starting funds specifically for women, instead of trying to break into large, top-tier firms where partners are mostly male? Can women make a name for themselves in the shadow of male precedent?
2) Women alienate other women: Eve said that one of the hardest things about being in the rap industry was that famous female rappers would not help young female rappers starting out their careers. Why do women view success as a zero-sum game? If some other woman wins, do we lose?
No, is the answer.
My friend, Eugenia Koo and I, brought together an informal community of women VC’s under the umbrella NYVC Women. When Eugenia put together the list of women VC’s in New York, I was shocked. I worked in the industry and didn’t know there were so many women doing exactly what I do! The premise of the group is to build community. We seek to get together to learn about each other’s career trajectories, discuss market theses we find interesting, and explore ways to collaborate between firms. The group is composed of partner level women and one’s in more junior positions. It is only just the beginning, but we think it is a step in the right direction.
For Eve, the best example, of a collaboration done right was her single with Gwen Stefani - the famous, ‘Let Me Blow Ya Mind.’ This was actually my all time favorite song as a teenager! At the time, Eve was discouraged from working with Gwen. Gwen and Eve had antithetical music visions, which was precisely why Eve pushed for it - seeing strength, not weakness in the collaboration. She was rewarded for this vision with a shiny Grammy, proving all the naysayers wrong.
3) Men Bring Validity: One of the fascinating questions brought up during the event was by another female MC. This young MC claimed that the women that ‘made it big’ in the music world got offers to open at a small concert or meet a big producer after collaborating with a male co sign. It was as if the partnership brought validity that did not exist inherently. I do not know if it was more a case of someone inexperienced being paired with someone experienced or if it was the gender variable that made the difference.
In venture capital, I rarely, if ever, see men seeking women to round out their exec team. It is, so often, the other way around. Find the killer sales guy who built up an enterprise team from scratch, or the rockstar CTO that build a robust ad engine. It is unfortunately true that there aren’t enough women in business roles within tech, but why does the male gender so disproportionately bring validity to the female gender?
4) Bouncing Back: Eve was criticized for singing about female empowerment and stripping concurrently to make ends meet early on in her career. But unlike other women that make mistakes and are too ashamed to keep at it, Eve blazed the course of rapper history. Men, haughtily wear their war scars, as they knock down new doors. Work on new projects. Found new collaborations. We should admire and seek to achieve that adaptability In the VC industry specifically, mistakes are aplenty. Technology investments have a high risk, high reward investment profile and it takes a thick skin to continue down the path of success. We just need to stay the course and look ahead.
5) Leaning Out: Eve hadn’t released an album for several years, citing her hiatus as necessary to explore what was important to her as an individual and an artist. For many, the time spent out of the limelight would be considered celebrity suicide. Eve understood the pitfalls of being away for so long, and said: “The music business has changed. It is so much more saturated now; Young people don’t know me!” I realized Eve’s hiatus was similar to the “hiatus” many women have to take for childbirth. Pregnancy brings physical and emotional difficulty in the work place and women are often blamed for being “distracted.” There are obvious downsides for taking yourself out of the running professionally, especially in venture, when all your male counterparts are racing ahead to find the next breakthrough company. However, recently, I talked to two women I deeply admire who told me having children actually helped their careers.
No, being pregnant for 9 months was no fun.
Taking meetings in your third trimester was a pain, but the mental and emotional re-calibration that children offered reminded them of what was important. It improved time management, focus, and intellectual curiosity Children forced women to want to change the world with more ferocity. For Eve, the hiatus, was the best thing that could have happened to her. Her success had come at an early age; a time when she hadn’t yet discovered who she was, how she dealt with stress, and how best to engender creativity. Time away from the limelight and travel around the world in a non-business context made all the difference to her art. Her new album is slated to be released on May 14th, a first after eleven years.
In keeping with the theme, below are my favorite Eve lyrics. Write them down, and remember them. Girl power.
If I had to give you more, it’s only been a year
Now I’ve got my foot through the door, and I ain’t goin nowhere
It took a while to get me here, and I’m gonna take my time
Don’t fight that good shit in your ear, now let me blow ya mind
Today my sister accepted her offer to be a part of Stanford’s Class of 2017. I am so excited for her.
UP 3.0 - “The Map”
From my good friend, Josh Owens. Such a loaded sketch. Love it.
I like this.
Roger Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, and often called the “most powerful pundit in America”, died yesterday at age 70. Three days ago, on April 2nd at 9:37 pm, he posted what would become his last column titled “A Leave of Presence.”
I have never heard the term – leave of presence – before, but it encapsulates all that I believe when it comes to leaving an indelible mark in the world. The gut-wrenching, are-you-kidding-me reality is that he died two days later. Ebert had become a poster-child for the fight against cancer for eleven years. He lost his voice and had to drink and eat through a tube for several years. But no matter how hard he fought, in the end it is the cancer that took him.
Cancer is unforgiving. It rips you apart, even if you put up a good fight, and then tells you that you have won, only to rip you apart again. Ebert continued writing through the diagnosis, the remission, and the reemergence of this cancer, because for him, taking a break from what he loved was worse than death.
Till the end, despite infinite accolades including the only film critic to win a Pulitzer Price, Ebert was working to become better. Like the very best entrepreneur, he saw opportunity in the status quo. He was re-launching robertebert.com on April 19th with 10,000 of his reviews dating back to 1967, and was finally relieving himself of his day-to-day column quota, critiquing only the movies that inspired him most. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be an engagement call, became his farewell message – breaking the hearts of all those that admired him.
I have not studied film criticism, nor do I follow film religiously. I am what you would call the average film consumer. Pass me a bag of extra buttered popcorn, and I will sit myself down at the local AMC for any kind of movie – the best film Oscar contender or the run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. But Ebert expected more out of film. Film was a reflection of our lives: the triumphs, the darkest secrets and the journeys. To Ebert, film was one of the most sacred mediums.
One of my favorite Ebert quotes summarizes this best:
“If you pay attention to the movies they will tell you what people desire and fear. Movies are hardly ever about what they seem to be about. Look at a movie that a lot of people love, and you will find something profound, no matter how silly the film may be.”
To impress Ebert, you had to make a big difference to the small. You had to create magic through the unexpected; bring emotion to normalcy. You had to make a dent in the post-Sundance universe, not where the A-listers played, but where we, the normal folk, spent our time. And if a movie didn’t do that, Ebert was ruthless. A critic many feared.
As investors, this passion for one’s art is a characteristic we look for on a daily basis. I like to call it the fighter’s DNA – the one who will power through all roadblocks, an electric force. Ebert grew up in the world of traditional media, but realized that the world of content was expanding with the advent of the internet. He saw opportunity in the change, claiming that “because of technology, the opportunities to become bigger, better and reach more people were piling up too.” Not only did he embrace changes in how writers shared content, but also made these changes his own. Ebert Digital was to become a continuation of his work with the Chicago Sun-Times. He was also a frequent tweeter at @ebertchicago, but according to his obituary in the New York Times, “never tweeted during a movie” – a great example of embracing change but respecting craft. Ebert’s motivation for a visceral presence and his dogged resistance to absence is something we should all aspire to build into our lives: to be present, even in our absence. He was one of the greatest, a true pioneer of his craft.
You will always be in our hearts, Mr. Ebert, at the movies and beyond.
Will NYC ever compete with Silicon Valley as ‘the’ hub for technology? I get asked this question almost on a daily basis and although I think there are qualitative reasons to support NYC, the numbers provide a different story.
Dan Primack’s Term Sheet is one of my favorite morning emails. He is probably the most trusted source of daily venture capital and private equity information. Recently he published MoneyTree numbers for 2012 VC investments (sourced from the NVCA).
New York: 322 deals for $1.78 billion (186 deals were seed or early-stage, raising $580.37 million and an average of $3.12 million.)
New England: 252 deals for $1.5 billion (121 deals were seed or early stage, raising $558.64 million and an average of $4.6 million.)
Silicon Valley: 892 deals raising $7.95 billion (492 deals were seed or early-stage, raising $2.47 billion and an average of $5.01 million.)
Clearly, the Valley is miles ahead of both New England and New York in terms of number and size of investments. It sees almost 3x more deals than New York. However, all three regions were similar in that almost half of their deals were seed or early stage and the average deal size between the Valley and New York was only about $2 mm more, suggesting that the Valley will continue to have an appetite for early-stage deals despite discussions around a present Series A crunch.