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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.

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.

Middle school students and entrepreneurship

I just spent the morning alongside David Brown, talking to 115 middle school students about entrepreneurship.  I do this periodically and it’s one of the most fun days of my year.  The amount of unbridled energy and enthusiasm in the room is always palpable, and the kids have wonderfully insightful questions on how to startup a startup.  Questions like:

  • What should I do if someone tells me my idea is stupid?
  • How do I know if my product is a good idea?
  • What happens when you fail?
  • How do I identify my target market?
  • Once I identify my target market, what kinds of questions do I ask them?
  • What is better, a product business or a service business?
  • How do I get the money I need for my startup?

Rewording some of these questions, they sound identical to the same topics we often discuss at Techstars.   I can only imagine that if we really taught entrepreneurship to kids at this age, imagine how much more quickly adult entrepreneurs could move through the stages of a startup.  Maybe they would be less afraid of failure, know more about when they’ve hit product/market fit…

I’m all for teaching kids entrepreneurship and wish more middle schools did it. Consider pushing your local school to add it to their curriculum, or mentoring a young student if they have a program in place already.

 

Evening Events

I get a lot of invitations to evening events – all for great things.  Startup judging events, student entrepreneur events, networking events, happy hours, open houses, startup launch parties, and more.  I could go to an event a night easily, and often times its more.

When I was in my 20s, evening events were great fun.  But now that I’m, uh, not in my 20s anymore, evening and weekend events are really hard because I have two young children.  I travel a ton, I’m often away, and the only time I get to see my kids is 2 precious hours in the evening and on weekends.  And weekends are even tough because I’d like a LITTLE personal time – so even on the weekends I’m not with them 100% of the time.  So when asked to attend an event at night – I want to join you, I really do, but the decision I have to make is between your event and my family.

I’m often asked how to make startups and the tech environment more female-friendly, and my easy answer right now is “hold lunch events instead of evening events”.   So tech, consider hosting more lunches!  Bonus, you don’t usually have to buy alcohol and the food is less expensive.  🙂  Or at least hold happy hours where the event is done by 5:30 or 6.   That way people (notice I didn’t say women, I said PEOPLE, because this is a family issue not a female one) with families can still get home for dinner and bedtime, like we did with our 7 Weeks of Awesome series at Techstars.

As an aside, I look forward to the day when my kids are old enough that they don’t want to hang out with me anymore and my evenings will be more free.

Random Act of Kindness

I spend a lot of time meeting new people who are interested in becoming Techstars mentors.  Recently, at the end of one of those quick 30 min meetings, the guy I was meeting with, Ben, said to express his gratitude, he’d like to extend his personal Apple Employee Discount to me, giving me 25% off anything in the Apple store (for personal use of course).  Fabulous! I’d been wanting an iPad mini!  So I bought myself one on the spot, enjoying that discount.

Later that evening, I got an email from Apple telling me my order was cancelled because Ben was over his hardware discount quota.  I didn’t think this was a big deal AT ALL, it was overly generous of him to offer in the first place, but he was embarrassed when I told him and he spent too long profusely apologizing.

Two days later, when I got to my office, there was an iPad Mini (the expensive one!) sitting on my desk from Ben.  WTH???  There was no way I could accept a gift like that.  I don’t even buy my husband gifts like that!  When I tried to give it back, Ben basically said he wouldn’t take it back and that it was his ‘random act of kindness’ for the month.  So in an effort to make it right, I donated what is equivalent to a few iPad Minis worth to Impact on Education who provides tablets & training to at-risk youth who are struggling to read.  I can’t tell you how great that felt, just to keep Ben’s kindness going.  So I kept it going…

With friends that owe me money, I ask them to redirect their repayment to one of a few different charities instead (like KanguEFCO, Application Developers AllianceKiva or Impact on Education!)  Almost every time I buy coffee, I also buy a cup for the person behind me.  I’m constantly looking for opportunities for random acts of kindness.  In fact, you were one of the reasons I decided that my TEDx Brooklyn talk was going to be on Giving First.  Which led to discoveries of other generosities including this homeless guy who was rewarded nearly $200K for returning a diamond engagement ring, or this tragic story about the Gruners and their 18 month old son.

So thank you Ben.  The iPad was the smallest of the gifts.  You reminded me how much fun and rewarding it is to surprise and delight people on a regular basis.  Keeping that momentum going is one of my big goals for 2014.

Karen Nyberg should be mama of the year

Karen Nyberg, a female astronaut, landed back on earth today after 6 months in space.  I saw the news with photos of her reuniting with her preschool aged son Jack.  I don’t know why, but the story really affected me.  I can’t imagine saying yes to a ride on a rocketship with the knowledge that survival rates are low and I might be killed leaving behind 2 small children.  But I can’t imagine saying no to the opportunity either.  I mean, it’s a ROCKETSHIP!  I imagine the decision must have been excruciating for her, and all I can say is Karen, today, you’re my hero.

Personalization is boring

I completely understand why personalization is necessary in today’s tech world.  Because there is just too much content, we become overwhelmed by the sheer number of options, and we shut down.  So the sites that have figured out how to do personalization well are crushing it with higher engagement metrics.

But there’s a dark side to personalization.  Personalization runs the risk of making us more close-minded simply because we’re not exposed to things outside of where we might first click. Because we’re exposed to the same types of content over and over again, we begin to believe that’s the way the whole world is.  We can get bored of it, and even tune it out completely.

An interesting analogy is what’s happened in retail shopping. Go to any shopping area and you’ll see identical stores – Banana Republic, Old Navy, The Gap, Nike, Macys, Bed Bath & Beyond, even the top brands like Michael Kors, …..Wherever you go, it’s all the same.  And they feel like they carry the exact same stuff, they’re all inspired by the same designers that season, so there isn’t a ton of variety.  Lots of options, but very little variety.  And I hate shopping because of it.  Its uninspiring to me.

But I was in London recently just exploring the city and was fascinated by all the cute little stores carrying unique items I’ve never seen before.  I fell in love with stuff I wouldn’t call ‘my style’, mostly because it was so new to me that it was exciting.  And the times I’ve traveled outside of western culture, I really fall in love.  In fact, my favorite trip on memory was to Bolivia where I witnessed a dying culture of people who live on floating rafts, built of reeds.  It was beautiful and amazing because it was unique and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.  I believe the single biggest downside of globalization is the loss of that cultural uniqueness.

I don’t know about you, but I like being exposed to content, clothing, ideas, books, food, people, religions, (insert whatever noun you want) that is outside of my immediate circle of ‘interest’.  It helps me discover things I didn’t know I would like.  It helps prevent tunnel vision.  It helps me be empathetic and more worldly and more grounded. It helps me be a better mother/wife/investor/managing director.  It helps me think bigger.

So tech world – I get why you personalize things for me, but I’d really like some variety too.  In fact, I’d love to see an exploration area on your site where I can get exposure to the complete opposite of what you would otherwise show me.  I might just learn something.

Ontological Arrogance

My husband Mark and I have fundamentally and radically different taste in music.  He listens to a lot of jam bands, like Widespread Panic and the Dead.  I’ve been to a lot of the Widespread Panic shows because many of our friends love the music as well, and the scene is a complete blast.  But when being honest, it’s pretty much the last music on the planet I’d chose to hear if given options.  In fact, I’d rather listen to silence than that type of music.  It’s a source of tension in our marriage because I’ve resorted to snide remarks about it.  (yes, not good, I know).

One day, rightfully so, he had enough of my nasty comments.  And he said to me something like “It’s not that the band sucks or that the music is shit.  Its that YOU don’t like the music – so quit projecting your opinion as fact.”  His comment has stuck with me (and is yet another example of why he’s such an amazing human being), and I began to realize  how often I’ve taken my perspective and generalize it to the rest of the world.  Its more often than I’d like to admit, so I’ve been actively working on rephrasing how I say things to more accurately reflect that something is my opinion rather than a widely-held truth.  It’s true at Techstars as well, we tell mentors to state things as opinions, to share with teams their experiences, rather than stating perspectives as fact.  And we warn teams to beware of the person who states their opinion as fact.

Today, I’m reading Conscious Business and the author put a term to this patten.  He calls it ontological arrogance, and its the belief that your perspective is privileged, that yours is the only true way to interpret a situation.  He goes on to use the example of his daughter, that she says she won’t eat broccoli because its yukky.  But the real truth is that she calls broccoli yukky because she doesn’t like it.

I find this fascinating, and since I’ve discovered there’s a term for it, I’ve noticed how often it happens outside of my own actions.  Nearly daily, if not hourly, someone I interact with does this.

I’m curious as to all the ways ontological arrogance is holding us back, and holding me back.  Off the top of my head, I can tell you it’s probably a huge driver in startups as they seek product/market fit.  A team has a hard time getting out of their own head (hence why customer development methodology has really taken off).  I know it happens in board meetings, I know it happens with investors.  I’d argue that not being able to see other people’s perspectives is a major factor in entrepreneurial and investor success.

So today, I’m making a public commitment to massively reduce my ontological arrogance.  I’ve started by simply rephrasing how I talk In an effort to affect how I think.  Just by saying “my opinion is xxxx” will help (I hope).  But I need your help too.  If you catch me doing it,   highlight it for me.

Maybe we’ll all be a little more successful for it.