An unusual place to have a transformational experience

Last year I purposefully and deliberately got punched in the face, multiple times. Let me explain.

I had been looking for inspirations in my workouts, and a friend of mine David Mandell convinced me to sign up for a charity boxing match called Founder Fights. It was designed for tech founders who had never boxed before. “C’mon” he beckoned, “It’s for charity, and no one will know what they’re doing. Worse case, you spend 3 months getting yourself in shape and learn something new”. I’m not a violent person, and have no real interest in boxing. However, I painted a picture in my head of goofy, silly boxing, with oversized gloves and lots of laughing.

I agreed, making the mistake of committing publicly on Twitter.


My first trip to the Corner Boxing Club, I panicked. No, this was not going to be goofy or silly. This was serious business. These are real boxers! They’re tough as hell! I”M GOING TO DIE!!! WHAT THE HELL DID I GET MYSELF INTO?!?! I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE NOW!!! But I had committed publicly, everyone knew I signed up for this, so I’d look like such a quitter if I backed out. Clearly my ego is stronger than my sense of self-preservation. So instead of quitting, I threw myself into it. I figured the only way to make this work was to WIN. Game on.

Turns out that a boxing workout doesn’t actually consist of boxing – it mostly consists of boxing conditioning. You punch things. Not people. In order to punch a person, you have to spar. So the workouts weren’t as scary as I had imagined. Also turns out that the workouts are absurdly hard. Spoken from someone who’s used to doing triathlons, road biking up steep hills, and hiking 14000 ft mountains in Colorado, a boxing workout will kick your ass. Go ahead and try to punch a pillow with a pound on each hand as hard as you can for 1 straight minute. Boxing uses every single muscle in your body. Your arms, your shoulders, your core, your legs… I’ve never gotten so winded so quickly in my life. Often at the end of the workouts, everyone would be laying down on the floor drenched in sweat and exhaustion, with that blissful, light feeling you get after a great workout. No part of your body goes un-touched.

Here’s the catch though, when competing in biking or running or hiking or swimming or basketball or tennis or whatever your chosen sport is, if you get tired, you simply slow down. You’ll lose, but you just slow down. In a boxing match, if you get tired and you slow down, YOU GET PUNCHED IN THE F’ING FACE! This is a huge motivating factor in a boxing workout. Huge. Whenever you get tired in a boxing workout, you push yourself harder. Do not slow down.

This is reason 1 of why I discovered I love boxing. It’s one of the best workouts on the planet.

In addition to a killer workout, sparing is also mental strategy. It’s not just about punching, it’s about not getting punched. There are moves, and countermoves. Offense, and defense. Often at the same time. You have to read your opponent and decide how you’re going respond, in a split second. They drop their left? You throw a right hook. They throw their right? You dodge LEFT. Do you let them throw and get tired? Or do you attack? Are their arms longer than yours? Then you have to play a short game. You’re constantly thinking, and that can be hard when you’re used to an individual sport like biking when you clear your mind and just go blank. Boxing keeps you present, conscious, and focused like a laser. And Coach Carrie has great sayings, like “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” – a saying I use to this day in non-boxing situations.

This is the 2nd reason why I love boxing. You’re practicing strategy under pressure.

However, the real reason that boxing stands apart from any sport is that you’re getting a great body workout, a great mind workout, WHILE YOU’RE SCARED SHITLESS. Honestly, when sparing and fighting, I’ve never been so scared in my whole life. Climbing glacier-riddled mountains? Not that scared. Scaling the 3rd pitch of a gnarly exposed climb in Leavenworth? Not that scared. Swimming with sharks? Not that scared. But with sparring, I WAS SCARED TO DEATH. Even when I wasn’t working out or sparring, I was thinking about it. But here’s the catch – the likelihood of getting hurt is really low, and you’d be surprised how little it hurts getting punched in the face. Really, it doesn’t hurt that bad. It more shocks you than anything. You’re wearing a head guard, so the fear of getting punched in the face is much worse than actually getting punched. I wonder why I was so scared when the repercussions are low, but I was. My heart was in my throat, I often felt like I was going to vomit. Every cell in my body was telling me to run. But yet, I still got in the ring. This is an incredibly empowering experience. When your body is telling you one thing, and your mind decides to override it, you realize that you are truly in charge of your behaviors and actions.

This is the third reason I discovered I love boxing – the physical, the mental, AND the emotional, all simultaneously. No other non-fighting sport will give that to you. Imagine for a moment that you’re in the ring – you can’t catch your breath, you have to THINK about what you’re doing, and you’re scared shitless, all at the same time. Boxing was powerful for me because it had the combination of 3 key factors that I haven’t experienced simultaneously before.

I spent 3 months training at the Corner Boxing Club. The owners Carrie and Kirsten created a gym unlike other boxing gyms because it’s less of a gym and more of a community. In those 3 months, I did get into great shape. I sparred maybe 8-10 times before getting into the ring for my official match. The night of the match was a great one. Almost everyone I knew and loved in Boulder was there. This was an official USA Boxing sanctioned event, complete with ring-side doctors, referees, the whole works. The crowd was rowdy, loud, energized and added to the adrenaline of the evening. The girl I fought is taller than me, but just as new to boxing. We both wanted to win – I could see it in her eyes. I respected her fighting, as we both trained at the same gym.

2016_12_29_21_00_39When I got into the ring, it felt like I was going to have a heart attack, and every instinct was telling me to RUN!!! But when the bell rung, I didn’t hear anything else except for the sound of my breathing as I repeated to myself “storm of punches” and “breathe”. We fought 3 rounds, 1 minute each, and each minute was an eternity. (I’ve never been so happy to be in the masters level!). I remember almost nothing of the fight. I just remember it being over – and – I lost. When the fight ended, I hugged my opponent in the biggest bear hug I could muster. However, I I didn’t really lose, because went all the way through with it. I got into the ring. I stood up against my fear and did it. And I got into great shape over it.

Fighting in a boxing match was the last place I thought I’d find inspiration, confidence, and power. And yet, I did. It was transformational. It wasn’t my opponent that I fought. It was myself. And I won.

Huge thanks to David Mandell for getting me there in the first place, and to Carrie and Kirsten who own the gym – you’ve created one of the most special communities I’ve experienced in a while. Thank you for all you’ve done for me and for boxing.

If you’re interested in having a similar experience, the next Founders Fights is being planned for May of 2017. Start training now with The Corner Boxing Club for an experience that will define who you are.

Become a diversity leader in tech

Techstars and Chase for Business just launched a new project who’s goal is to increase diversity in tech. With over 700 founders of tech startups surveyed, we posted data, resources, an infographic and more on how you can become a leader.  And because reading about diversity isn’t nearly as good as taking steps on becoming a diverse company, there are great actionable and tactical things you can do to become a more diverse and inclusive tech startup.

Check it out!

 

 

An entrepreneur loving on strangers

A friend of mine (and a Techstars company), Jackie Ros from Revolar, emailed me a few days ago with a fantastic offer.  Revolar makes a personal security device – it’s like a little button that you can ‘wear’, and if you feel unsafe, it will call for help on your behalf.

Jackie’s email said “My Muslim friends are telling me they are having their hijabs ripped off, one was told to hang herself with it because it is no longer allowed here. My Latino friends are being yelled at to stop speaking in Spanish and told to go back where they came from. One of my female friends on Facebook was told to “shut up (b word I won’t type)” because she is a woman and “our country has spoken.”

To combat this hate, Jackie & Revolar are offering the Revolar device for $59 – which is normally $99, to anyone that currently feels unsafe.  If you feel like you’re at risk because of the election, Revolar wants to get it’s device in your hands to help keep you safe.  Enter discount code #givefirst in the shopping cart, and if you’re REALLY broke and can’t afford the $59, and you really are in danger, please email jacqueline@revolar.com and she’ll find a way to get you a device.

Thanks Jackie for loving on people that need it right now.

 

 

Moving forward post election

While I do vote at every election, I have always stayed out of public conversation around politics.  As a child, when the extended family dinner conversations turned to politics, it always resulted in anger and yelling, ruining the evening for everyone and dividing the family.  I don’t remember constructive, curious conversations, only defensive and offensive ones.  And with the proliferation of political rhetoric on Facebook, I deliberately opted to keep my opinions to myself, wanting to preserve the relationship with my family and friends and not wanting to add to the political raging in people’s feeds.  I believed (wrongly) that, in this case, silence could keep us together.
This last election was no different for me.  I did vote.  I voted for Hillary, with confidence that I selected was the right one “given the options”.
But I kept silent on why I voted for Hilary b/c I didn’t want to invite argument.  At the time, it didn’t feel like it mattered anyway, most everyone I knew were voting for Hilary.  My twitter feed was full of Hilary supporters, ditto on Facebook.  The news was basically mocking Trump for his last imbecilic contradiction.  I went to Lisbon for WebSummit mildly nervous for being out of the country during the elections, but predicting that Hilary would win by a landslide.
Wow.  Was I wrong.  Horribly, terribly wrong.  I was blindsided. My bubble, and my silence, was a huge part of the problem.
My initial reaction to Tuesday was total disbelief. The election was rigged!  It HAS to be rigged!  Trump yelled so loudly and often that the elections were rigged, of COURSE he’d rig them!  Then I was convinced we needed to move to a different country and honestly thinking about where we would go.  Basically I’ve spent the last 5 days feeling scared, angry, and betrayed.  Scared because what does this mean? Trump likes to hurt anyone who speaks negatively about him, does that mean my first amendment rights are at risk if I speak negatively about him now?  Angry at myself mostly – how I could be this  insulated from how the rest of the country feels??!  Realizing the thickness of my bubble, and the insulation I have from the rest of the country was a harsh and painful awakening.  And I feel betrayed, betrayed that the media led me to believe (or I let myself be led to believe) the rest of the country felt how I did.  Betrayed that my fellow Americans don’t have the same set of values that I have.  I’m not talking about position on political issues, I’m talking about values.  Values like respect for one another, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status.  Values like truth.  Values like modesty.   Values like respecting our planet.  Because to me, this election wasn’t about political issues.  It was about values.
As I’ve slowly started to accept what has happened, I’ve talked to a handful of Trump supporters (to get out of that bubble I mentioned above), I hear that their election wasn’t about values, but it was about change.  Hilary meant more of the same to them, while Trump represented radical difference.  It was less about his stance on issues (although some did believe his stance was better), less about what he thought about building a wall, or his position on global warming, or disrespecting women – it was about the radical shakeup he’d bring.  Trump was, as Norman Lear said in his talk at #SummitAtSea, the proverbial middle finger of America’s right hand.
In America, I don’t believe we’re having the same conversations, which is why nothing ever feels like it’s moving forward.  And I think the only way we’re going to start having the same conversations, is to get back to the basics of values.  Let’s all get on the same page about values, because until we can all agree that “all people are created equal” and “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” and “religious freedom” that our constitution and history declares – we can’t ever agree on the political issues at stake today and we will continue to have subpar candidates, on both sides of the aisle.
So today, in order to become a more active participant in the shaping of our futures, I uncomfortably  and publicly commit to 2 opposing actions:
1) Actively seek out and listen to others who don’t share my beliefsfor a genuine attempt at understanding those outside of my community.  We can’t move forward if we don’t understand.  Understanding doesn’t mean agreeing, but it does mean hearing and embracing and respecting those who disagree with me.
2) Speak out about the values I hold to be self-evident, not to preach but to invite conversation, and to  help shift media’s attention from negative hate mongering, to positive attributes like love and trust we share as humans.  As Seth Levine has just said, “…the US needs a strong and vocal counterbalance to the hate and bigotry we just empowered”.
I hope you join me in both actions.

Just jump

My friend Ryan Frankel is publishing a book, and he asked me to write an excerpt for it.  I made some edits for this blog, but I thought I’d share it.

*****

When I was in college in Gainesville, FL, on the weekends my friends and I would visit a nearby rock quarry that was filled with water. Picture a limestone, man-made lake surrounded with high cliffs, with alligators lurking lazily in the waters below (all freshwater in FL has alligators in it!) The highest point of the quarry was about 50 feet above the water, and our weekend activity was to hang out at the top of that cliff, drink too much, and dare eachother to jump in. Occasionally someone did.

The day I jumped is seared in my mind, as an out-of-body experience.  One where I watching myself as an observer. A mist had settled over the water so you couldn’t see the surface, the air was thick with humidity so you were perpetually perspiring, the sky gray with low clouds. Frogs and alligators croaked, cicades were so loud you had to shout at someone next to you, the smell of damp earth was pungent, and the air was cool on my skin. I don’t know what compelled me to jump. I was relaxing comfortably on a blanket listening to my friends prattle on about nothing important, and suddenly there I was, standing at the edge of the cliff, trying to see the water through the mist, listening to the alligators I could not see, and hearing nothing other than my blood thrashing in my ears. And without thinking about what I would land on, I jumped.

The way down was exhilarating as a 50 foot freefall takes longer than you’d think. The water was hard and cold, and I’ve never swam faster to the shore than I did that day for fear of alligators. I wasn’t hurt in any way, other than stinging body parts from the impact of the water. By the time I got back to my blanket, I was breathing hard, trembling with adrenaline, and felt more alive than I had in a long time.  My friends thought I was crazy (I was), but every time we went back there, I jumped again and again. And I dreamed about jumping when we weren’t there. To this day I dream about going back there and jumping into the mist to the sound of the unseen alligators croaking their warnings beneath me.  I’m honestly not sure I’d have the courage to jump again, but I dream about it.

Entrepreneurs do this every time they start a company. They fundamentally understand the risks of ‘jumping’ into a startup, but they don’t dwell on it, or they would never do it. They have confidence in themselves that they’ll figure it out during their freefall, and they ignore the sounds of alligators croaking their warnings. They have that level of “crazy” one needs to jump without knowing what they’re going to land on.

For those of you thinking of becoming an entrepreneur, there are no guarantees.  You could fail.  The odds are stacked against you.  You have you enjoy operating with extreme uncertainty, high stress, very few clear answers, wearing every hat, with little to no income…  but if you think too hard about all that, then you’ll never do it.  The best guidance is to just jump and figure the rest out on the way down.

And for those of us that work with entrepreneurs, that exhilaration rubs off on us.  We bask in their adrenaline and they help us feel alive.  When they jump, we get to help them create something, to author our own future, to expand our own skill sets, to participate in the blanket party at the top of the cliff and hope no one lands on an alligator.  They take the risks, they create jobs, they change our realities, and the rest of us soak it up.  Every day I am thankful I get to work closely with entrepreneurs, I salute their bravery and hope that I can be there for them when they get hurt.  Founders, I salute you.

 

A perfect summer weekend in Boulder, CO

I was recently asked by a founder, who was interested in moving to Boulder, what should he do and see while here to get a feeling for the town?

I came up with this list.  If you have other suggestions for how to spend a perfect weekend in Boulder, let’s hear them!

Hike Sanitas,  it’s a classic. Hike up the western side trail for a great workout.  Come down either the valley trail or the dakota ridge (east) side.
Any hike in Chautauqua is a winner, but hiking the 1st and 2nd Flatiron will give you views of the continental divide.
Go take a picnic lunch to the lawn at Chautauqua.
Have tea at the Dushanbe tea house, even if tea isn’t your thing.
Go rent a tube and float down the Boulder Creek Path (don’t do this if the water is raging!)
Or rent a city bike and bike down the Boulder Creek Path.
Or rent a mountain bike and check out the Valmont bike park.
Check out the Farmers Market on Saturday from 8am-2pm.
Have breakfast at Lucile’s (order the biegnets) and Snooze.
Have a margarita (or two) on the rooftop deck at The Rio, but DO NOT have 3. You will not be able to walk out of there. Skip the food.
Have a sunset drink at The Flagstaff House, the views are spectacular.
Eat at Pizzeria Locale, T*aco, The Kitchen and/or the Kitchen Nextdoor, and Frasca. Frasca is spendy but worth it!
Rent a standup paddleboard at the Boulder Reservoir.
Drive out to Red Rocks in Morrison, and hike around. Or go see a show there this weekend.

Good investors will be on your side

Last week I had a conversation with one of my portfolio companies, one I hadn’t spoken to in a while.  He wasn’t great at communicating over time, and honestly, neither was I.

When I asked him how it was going, he broke down in tears and unleashed a torrent of issues on me.  The biggest issue was the death of a loved one which was traumatizing to him, causing him to evaluate his own life, and deciding that being the CEO of his company wasn’t where his heart was anymore.  But there were a series of other issues that had been going on for a while, including some operational mistakes, and some fighting with one of his other key investors.

We spent a long time talking about possible solutions for the businesses (hire a new CEO, sell the business, etc).  We also spent a lot of time digging into why he felt that his heart wasn’t in it – he felt that he was in over his head (most entrepreneurs I know feel this way).  We talked about possible solutions for him, individually to find peace.  By the end of our conversation, he expressed remorse at not coming to me sooner.  He was afraid of how I would judge him.  Yet he was relieved when all I did was support him.  I gave him some guidance on how to talk to the investor he was fighting with – which was basically just be honest, open, and vulnerable.  This founder left my office, headed straight for that investor’s office, had that difficult conversation, the result being the investor is now trying to help the CEO navigate this tough time.  The CEO turned an antagonistic relationship around.

I see this behavior happen often, where CEOs are afraid to come to their investors.  Maybe they’re afraid of being judged, or what the investor will say, or developing tension and friction in the relationship.  But any experienced early-stage investor will tell you that bad stuff can, and will, happen to your company.  We don’t think the world is perfect.  In fact many angel investors get involved just so they can help entrepreneurs figure out problems.  But hiding issues, or glossing over them, not communicating with your investors about what’s working (so we can celebrate with you!) and what’s not working (so we can help you figure out how to solve it) is detrimental to your startup.  We’re on the same team as you, we want what’s best for your startup.   If you find yourself in an antagonistic relationship with one of your investors, you should be asking yourself a) in what way am I contributing to this relationship being antagonistic, and b) did I do enough homework on this investor to know if they have a pattern of bad behavior with an entrepreneur.  Notice that both the subjects there are you, the CEO.  Not the investor.

The earlier we’re brought in the circle of trust, the earlier we can help fix what’s wrong.  Being honest, open, authentic, and vulnerable with your investors is an advanced skill that every entrepreneur should learn.   Communicating regularly with your investors about the highs and lows is a reflection of how open you’re being.  It could just mean the difference between success and failure of your startup.

 

Why the diversity conversation is so hard for me

I read this awesome post by Katie Womersley and I love it.  The quick synopsis is that people who identify with a specific stereotype could cause them to do WORSE.  I believe in diversity and think it makes all of us stronger, but I don’t actually identify with ‘being a woman in tech’.  I have never liked the label, and part of me resents it a little bit. I am just ‘in tech’.  Or rather, I just ‘am’.

Recently, I’ve become fascinated with this idea of the player and the victim, and I’m seeing it everywhere.  The player is someone who looks at the situation and wonders how they impacted the outcome.  “Wow, that was a big fight.  In what way did I create or contribute to the situation to cause that fight?”.  The victim is someone who takes more of a blaming stance. “That jerk took his bad mood out on me”.  I’m seeing it literally everywhere.  “The investors don’t get my business” vs “I’m not articulating my business in a way that makes investors excited”.  “You don’t trust me” vs “What am I doing that causes you to doubt me?”.  “My startup failed b/c we ran out of money” vs “My startup failed b/c I didn’t understand the economics of my business well enough”.  “This meeting is brain damage” vs “I have an experiment I’d like to try with the format of this meeting, if you’re game”

I worry that being identified as the victim here, as a woman in tech, creates victims.  In fact I can think back on 2 specific  situations where I walked out of a meeting extremely frustrated from not being heard, thinking “I’m just in a room full of men, THIS is what they mean by being a female in tech”.   But in retrospect, I took the victim stance. I should have asked myself “What am I doing that’s contributing to my inability to get my point across?”.  If I can answer that question, I can take myself to the next level (which I have by the way!).  Blame them for not being included in the boys club, and I move backwards, never in control of my own destiny.

I’m not saying that prejudice and bias don’t happen.  They do.  And they did in both of those meetings where I was frustrated. But the only way I can change what the world thinks of me is by not playing the part of the victim.  I don’t want to play the part of a woman in tech – but rather of someone who excels in her role, who can adapt to constantly changing and fast paced environments, with people that I do and do not identify with.  It’s not about me being a woman.  It’s about me kicking ass at whatever I chose to.

Thanks Katie.  Don’t lets stop this conversation.

How to move the needle on diversity…

As a female in tech, entrepreneurship, and investing, I’m often asked how we move the needle on diversity.  We have all seen the data around why diversity is important (stronger companies, bigger bottom lines – not to mention that it’s just the right damn thing to do).

I got to where I am because I come from a long line of strong, fighting women who taught me that I’m in control of my life.  Not because I’m a woman, but because I AM.  I got to this point because my father is an entrepreneur, and he also taught me that I’m in control of my life and financial independence through entrepreneurship.  I didn’t grow up believing I was powerful because I was a woman, I grew up believing I was powerful because I make my own decisions and can change the things in my life I don’t like.  Gender wasn’t at the center of the conversation – rather independent thinking was.

But I’m often asked how to move the needle, specifically for women, and the truth is, I don’t know.  Sure I have my hypotheses, but at the end of the day, I believe what works for one won’t necessarily work for another.  And that’s why I’m so excited about the Techstars Foundation.

The Techstars Foundation seeks to support organizations, that want to move the needle on diversity (not just gender, but ethnicity, and even age).  We’re not focused on companies run by under-represented individuals, rather companies whose mission is to help those underserved populations gain advantages, pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps.  We’re not taking a one-size fits all approach, we’ll support many efforts and many approaches to solving this problem. Because what works for one might not work for another, and supporting many organizations is a great way to seed change across all populations.

If you’re passionate about the diversity topic – consider donating to the Techstars Foundation.  No dollar amount is too small.

If you’re an organization who has a mission or a program around supporting underserved populations in entrepreneurship – apply for a grant from the Techstars Foundation.

Fundraising? Here’s a great resource…

My friend John Bliss just shared with me this great study by DocSend on what they learned by studying 200 startups that successfully raised capital.  The info in it is great, everything from sample decks to # of investors you need to contact to where to focus efforts.  There are a few areas I disagree with (mainly the structure of the deck), but they are minor and overall agree with the items in here.

If you’re looking to fundraise at the seed or series a level, check it out!