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How I Invest

vc-chest-300x201I was speaking recently to the team at NuOrder, an LA-based company we’re an investor in about “realism in startups” — an impromptu talk I have given to any of our portfolio companies who ask.

During the Q&A I was asked about how I make investment decisions in early-stage businesses. I was asked again in an LP meeting later in the week and then again at a founder breakfast gathering we hosted yesterday. I answered in the same way I always do so I thought I’d just write it publicly.

“I fall in love.”

Yes. I know that sounds trite but it’s the best way I can describe my early-stage investments.

I fall in love with both the founders and the concept. If I don’t do both then it’s highly unlikely I will invest. I know now that investments will consume many hours including late nights / early mornings and weekends. I know there will be good times and bad. I know there will be victories, set-backs and even some fights.

How else can I begin this multi-year journey if I’m not in love?

Maybe some people can be dispassionate financial investors. I cannot. I spend hours thinking about the products, competitors, market opportunities, recruiting and financing of these businesses. I feel personally committed and engaged. I often form very close friendships with the teams — even if I know that I still have a fiduciary responsibility and at times could even be at odds with the economic interests of a team. But frankly, if you’re honest, that’s the same exact situation every CEO/Founder often has with all of their team members, too.

For the most part I think life is too short to work with people you don’t deeply respect, admire and like or on concepts you aren’t deeply passionate about.

As a starting point I have to believe the founder has the attributes of an entrepreneur that matter most to me: Tenacity, resiliency, inspiration, perspiration, attention-to-detail, competitiveness, decisiveness, risk tolerance and integrity.

I have to believe the founder is cost-focused, mission-driven and aligned on cultural values to me, which mostly relates to integrity and how to treat other people. I like over communicators who err on the side of transparency and candor. I need to know when we’re in tough times that we’re in it together, with mutual respect and trust in each other to be good actors.

Of course I also have to the concept. It’s not enough to love the founding team. I don’t pretend to have all the answers about what is the best type of investor or the best type of investments so please don’t take this as my saying this is how everybody should invest. But I have a strong preference for:

  • Non obvious ideas. Often as I describe to people privately why I invested the first reaction is not to immediately get it.
  • Reasonably technical concepts. At heart I’m still a tech nerd from childhood and I love to see how technology is changing business and society. I am much more attracted to technical product teams than to new business concepts or commerce types.
  • Innovator’s Dilemma. I love businesses that aim to massively reduce the costs of products or services in a way that makes a product or service vastly more accessibility and in which incumbents would have a hard time competing. I prefer to compete more with other startups than with giants.
  • Mission driven, commercially focused. I tend to love concepts where the founder is driven by a larger mission but understand the need to earn financial results to have an impact. I work with two companies that aim to change education but both are indirectly aiming to do so. When you talk with the founders privately the list this as their motivator. I work with a few computer vision companies. One believes it can predict certain diseases through observation even though this has nothing to do with the core mission of the company. The other is driven by the need to increase privacy in providing its service relative to competitors using cameras.
  • Early stage. I think I’m better at the product stage of a business and helping with strategy, marketing, pricing, feature sets and so forth than I am at evaluating later-stage businesses based on financial results and business metrics and priced accordingly. I know investors who are great at this (including several of my partners) — but that’s not me.

I have fallen in love several times in the past 2 years and in a strange set of circumstances most companies prefer to stay below the radar screen for much longer these days so most of them have not been announced. That’s hard, too, because when you’re passionate about companies and teams it’s hard to conceal it! But obviously I respect the wishes of those teams.

Anyway, since I’ve now been asked three times in the past week I thought I’d just write publicly what I often say privately. No magic. But hope it helps you think about how one investor approaches his job.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

Facebook LIVE with SAP’s Millennial CIO: ‘Customer satisfaction is a competitive advantage’

Discussions about digital transformation and the CIO role usually evolve toward one of two conclusions:

SAP logo

  • CIOs are destined to become stewards of infrastructure, more or less disconnected from broader business strategy. Call this the doom and gloom case.
  • Digital transformation has created a golden era of CIO opportunity, where IT can participate in the most strategic discussions facing his or her organization.

During several conversations with SAP’s new CIO, Thomas Saueressig, fellow ZDNet columnist, Dion Hinchcliffe, and I explored these topics in some depth. Here is a video of one of those discussions, which was streamed live and entirely unscripted to Facebook:

Talking with Saueressig, one point becomes immediately apparent – his age. At 31, he is a Millennial and certain among the youngest Fortune 500 Chief Information Officers. At the same time, he has worked at SAP for 12 years, first as a CRM implementation consultant, then rotating through various positions that gave him an overview of how the interlocking pieces of SAP connect. For the last five years, Saueressig has worked in IT, building SAP’s mobility center of excellence.

The conversation started with Saueressig presenting his view that the CIO must “understand the business in its entirety and have empathy for end-users.” Techniques such as “shadowing users” and “shop rotations” can help IT understand how users engage with software.

Although I believe this view is precisely right, few CIOs have the luxury of Saueressig’s training inside SAP. As a board assistant, he was exposed to company functions at the highest strategic level. Clearly, his basis as a CIO is grounded in the business. The lesson for CIO’s: do whatever you must to understand business users and their goals; being a technologist alone is not sufficient.

The topic of culture was among the most interesting parts of our discussion. Here are paraphrased comments from Saueressig:

There is a lot to do culturally from a mindset perspective. Taking people with us as we ramp up the new journey, ensuring we have the right skill sets. Culture is a key topic for IT.

We have to be highly collaborative and work across all functions, including the CDO, CMO, CFO. IT is the glue that holds everything together, so we need to play a highly collaborative role. The CIO needs to take a leadership role while supporting the goals of other C-Suite colleagues. For example, the CMO may have specific goals around digital marketing, which the CIO must support with technology.

To drive closer engagement with the business, SAP has switched to an agile delivery model. By working closely with users, their needs become the starting point for IT activities. Accordingly, user adoption is a primary goal for Saueressig:

Great work in IT only comes to value when users adopt those solutions. At SAP, this means developing solutions that 78,000 people around the world will find sufficiently useful to adopt.

To increase adoption, Saueressig plans to follow the marketing model of personalization. Based on each employee’s personal interests and technology (including platforms, tools, software, and devices), tailor technology distribution with targeted change management to meet the individual’s specific needs.

We asked Saueressig about his metrics for success:

My most important KPI is customer satisfaction [among internal employees]. Happiness is a competitive advantage; if we have happy employees, they will make our customers happy. This is a direct correlation. We need to put employee productivity at the center of our activities. The key goal for every IT employee is customer satisfaction and put the user at the center. We want to excite them and inspire them.

The bottom line. In a world of digital transformation, collaboration is the core competence and foundation of modern IT. With collaboration, IT automatically becomes part of the business conversation. Without collaboration, IT becomes little more than a commodity supplier of technical goods and services.

SAP is a CXOTALK partner and paid most of my expenses for travel to SapphireNow 2016, where this discussion took place.

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Beyond IT Failure Blog)

Why Solving Big Food & Healthcare Problems Will Yield Spectacular Companies

I’ve spoken before about our desire at Upfront Ventures to fund really big ideas that solve hard problems, are science led and if successful will both have a positive effect on people’s lives as well as make great financial returns.

We’re not Pollyannaish about this. We believe that it is incrementally harder to differentiate on simple Internet products or mobile apps and while great companies are built doing this, our goal as a fund is to try and fund things that can be 100x returns if they work. In short, we’re after venture returns.

We know to do this we need to fund projects that are more difficult in scope, more ambitious in industry transformation, less obvious in market adoption and a higher probability of not working. We know that to be successful we need to fund truly transformational entrepreneurs grounded in unique academic skills and with the self confidence and ambition to try and achieve results in which the market will naturally be skeptical.

We have have been funding agriculture technologies, water conservation, wireless electricity, aquaponics and so forth in addition to our standard investment themes in software, data, video and retail innovation.

One of the companies we’ve been proudest to watch its evolution is Nima, a company that is solving the problem of food allergies for people with severe problems such as Celiac disease and also addressing the much broader market of people with gluten intolerance. They have plans to go after they peanut allergies and move on to a host of other food-related illnesses and problems including dairy.

This may sound straightforward but to test for conditions with extreme accuracy and speed requires designing a small hardware device that is capable of creating a chemical reaction with food, interpreting the results in real time and doing so for a cost that is acceptable for consumers.

When we met Shireen (CEO) and Scott (Co-founder & CTO) in late 2014 they had been inspired to create Nima to address their own personal food issues and empower other people to live their healthiest lives. We are predisposed to backing founders who solve problems in which they have personal knowledge that is authentic. Shireen had been studying for her masters in business at MIT and thinking about her own food allergies and Scott was a graduate of the mechanical engineering school at MIT with an emphasis in product design.

We were inspired by their vision and determination so we led their first large funding round (co-investors SoftTech, SK Ventures, Lemnos Labs and others) and we participated heavily in their most recent $9 million funding led by our good friends at Foundry Group that was just announced today. They have raised $14 million to date.

It seems that many others were impressed as well. Since our initial funding round the company went on to win the TechCrunch Startup Battleground in a head-to-head competition with some very impressive startups.

Since their seed, the team has been working hard to test and roll out an effective, trustworthy product, Nima, which detects the presence of gluten in food products. It’s still in pre-sale, but reception from beta testers, previews and the industry (tech and consumer) has been enthusiastic.

I’ve seen firsthand how food can impact your well-being, in my case with helping me keep my ADD in check. I also have an aunt with Celiac Disease and a nephew who carries an EpiPen to deal with his severe peanut allergies. So it immediately resonated after Kevin Zhang and Yves Sisteron brought the deal into our firm (Yves is on the board) after a visit to see our friends at Lemnos Labs.

As a market, food allergies are unfortunately on the rise — estimated to affect 15M Americans, food allergies have grown 50% in past 20 years — and food intolerance to gluten, soy, dairy is growing.

As healthcare costs have risen dramatically in the past few decades we believe that the market will shift to more preventative approaches led by science, data and devices and billion-dollar companies will be created.

We have been so encouraged by the progress of Nima and couldn’t think of a better board member, mentor and co-investor than Brad Feld at Foundry Group.

We can’t wait to see what the next few years bring.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

What is it Like to Wake Up and Have the Press Ready to Torpedo Your Business?

In case you missed it, the press yesterday ran several stories questioning the viability of a wireless charging company I invested in called uBeam. Obviously my day turned out very differently than I had anticipated when I woke up, but it wasn’t half as bad as the entire team at uBeam must have felt yesterday.

I received a flurry of emails and texts and I was going to write a letter to the many investors in uBeam reassuring them that we are indeed making strong progress on releasing a product but then it occurred to me that it may be more constructive to do so here since so many people are asking.

So What Happened?

Several months ago the VP of Acoustics for uBeam, Paul Reynolds left the company on his own volition. I was disappointed to see him go because he was technically very strong and throughout my time working with him he reassured me we could solve the technical challenges and our approach was viable.

I asked him to reconsider leaving but when it was clear that he had made up his mind I realized we couldn’t change it. I knew he wasn’t happy for reasons I won’t go into.

He recently wrote a series of blog posts that were negative about the company and spoke with several journalists about his views. Throughout my many discussions with Paul over our time together, he never questioned the viability of uBeam and the technology that he was critical in developing. In stead he expressed concerns that we not overstate our capabilities or fall pray to hyperbole. I don’t want to put words in Paul’s mouth — but that’s how I’d characterize our many discussions.

Obviously I wish he wouldn’t have written negative posts but it’s a decision he made and we can’t erase his words or actions. Of course I wish he understood that the consequences of his actions are much wider than he may have thought when he began his critiques.

But there’s no reason to spend undue time getting angry about what’s been said. I’m pretty on record as saying that if you harbor anger, you lose twice.

What is the Reality?

Wireless electricity using ultrasound works — that isn’t in question. The questions that arise are: can it work at long distances, can you produce equipment cost effectively and will it be useful enough that businesses will install it or consumers will want to use it. Yes, there are other questions skeptics have raised as well — but it’s not worth trying to refute every point.

We have a lot to prove. The team knows that. It’s hard work. We haven’t yet shipped product or shown the public our prototypes. The product isn’t yet where we want it to be — like most startup products, it is a work in progress.

But we do have detailed plans for four generations of product releases through 2019 and we have a very talented COO, Jeff Devine, who is leading our efforts. He was VP of Global Supply Chain for Cisco and held similar roles at Nokia and Palm. He is a calming force, an experienced hand, a straight shooter and a great long-term planner. I have huge confidence in Jeff.

We also have a very talented VP of Engineering, Sean Taffler, who is a Phd from Oxford, and has been with the company since shortly after I funded it. We have a VP of Acoustics, Paul Chandler who is a Phd from UC Irvine and formerly with Philips Ultrasound.

Of course no amount of Phd’s guarantee that uBeam will deliver a successful and compelling product but as a board member and as the investor closest to the company I can tell you that this team is incredibly hard working, heads down and making progress every day and week.

Ultimately we know that if we deliver product the market will judge us for the quality of what is produced and its efficacy. Are we behind schedule? Of course. But the overwhelming majority of products I’ve ever built have been late or cut scope and I’ve never personally built anything nearly as ambitious as what uBeam’s engineers are attempting.

What I can tell you is that Meredith Perry is amongst the most driven, committed, hard-working and smart entrepreneurs with whom I have worked. Meredith is in her twenties and this is her first rodeo. I wish I had half of the determination, grit and ambition at her age.

Has the company received enormous press? Sure. Has Meredith at times been prone to promising revolution or hubris? Of course. I think she would even acknowledge this, but having a grand vision is vastly different from making fraudulent claims. Has her vision risen to the level of personal attacks she has to receive in the press or the claims of falsifying information?

No. These claims are abjectly false. Any references to Theranos are spurious at best.

At heart Meredith is a nerd and loves the most inane, geeky things to do with space or scientists or technology theory. Were she a shy, pimply, awkward male engineer with a pocket protector she would fit an archetype that would make sense to observers. But she’s not. She’s confident, communicative, outspoken, young and blonde.

She’s still a geek. And a geek in the way I appreciate and respect. And on occasion she makes some really strange video or joke or comment that makes me think she’s from a different planet and then I remember that looks can be deceiving. Geeks come in all packages.

Meredith has made claims that she will deliver a working product and I believe her whole heartedly based on my experience in working with the team over the past 18 months. She has never lost her confidence or determination in doing so and she knows the world is watching her. How would you fare under this pressure? Wouldn’t you want the time and space to deliver without vitriol?

uBeam is far more than any one individual and there are an entire team of engineers working hard on delivering product to the market. I continue to be encouraged that this group of people will deliver a working product and I have seen nearly every version of the hardware, software, prototypes and algorithms.

But.

If for any reason we fall short of expectations we have set in the market, I will be the first person in line to admit it and then to immediately fund Meredith’s next company. Her strengths so vastly outweigh any weaknesses and her vision, tenacity and resiliency far exceed any perceived limitations.

What are the Consequences to the Company?

Of course we lost two full days of productivity. We had an all hands meeting yesterday and Meredith and I encouraged the team to do their best to ignore the constant emails and texts from friends and family members — but how can you, really? Nevertheless they are already back at work delivering a product that they plan to demonstrate when it’s ready.

Of course it will make it harder to recruit candidates because we’ll now have to spend more time explaining the situation. But we’ll redouble our efforts and continue to persuade engineers who join by showing them actual products in progress.

The uBeam team will keep their heads down and either deliver or not. That’s what the startup industry does. And if you are afraid of failure and if you never take risks and if you never try to push the boundaries of what is possible — then you certainly will never succeed in break-through innovation.

I’m not at all afraid to put my name behind Meredith, Jeff, Sean, Paul Chandler and all the other great engineers hard at work. I feel confident they will exceed expectations.

What Next?

Back to work, I hope. I told Meredith I would write this because I really want her focusing her energy on the only thing that ultimately will decide the fate of uBeam — shipping a product.

I’d rather be asleep right now. It’s nearly 2:00am and I have a board meeting in the morning and I could do without all of the drama. But that’s startup life.

I wrote a little post a few years ago to try and help others who have to go through this situation, “What Startups Can Learn about PR and Crisis Management.” While I don’t envy any of you who have to go through this — I hope this guide can be of some comfort in moments like this.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

CIO alert: Information technology is a $4 trillion global business

Research from IT advocacy group, CompTIA, offers interesting data about the size, scope, and growth of the information technology industry. For CIOs and other IT professionals, understanding the trends can help you create company strategy, identify job opportunities, understand areas of growth, and sidestep the impact of industry weakness.

For example, there is a skills migration taking place from managing on-premise infrastructure to designing for the cloud and helping companies become more user-centric. Every person working in IT should be aware of these trends and recognize the potential impact on both company strategy and personal employment.

CompTIA conducted its analysis based on research from a survey of 673 respondents along with data from IDC, EMSI, Burning Glass Technologies Labor Insights, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, and others.

Based on the data, CompTIA concludes that the global IT industry generates almost $4 trillion annually, including $1 trillion in the United States. In the US, IT employs over 5 million people.

Global IT market

Key segments of this market include IT hardware, services, software, and telecom:

 

IT market segments

The following chart shows the composition and size of the IT workforce in the United States:

 

IT workforce size

The report lists these as the top seven IT growth roles in 2015:

  1. Cybersecurity Analysts
  2. Web Developers
  3. Software Developers, Applications
  4. Software Developers, Systems Software
  5. Systems Analysts
  6. IT Support Specialists
  7. IT Managers / Directors / CIOs

Importantly, these are the IT jobs expected to gain most traction through 2016:

  • Chief analytics/data officer
  • Data scientist
  • Dataviz/Data visualizers
  • Social media analyst
  • Augmented reality designer
  • Content manager/strategist
  • Marketing technologist
  • Container developers and architects
  • Cloud systems engineer
  • Internet of things architect
  • Information Assurance Analyst
  • Computer security incident responder
  • Agile project manager
  • Responsive web designer

For IT professionals wondering which industries offer the greatest number of jobs, the top five are:

  1. Professional, scientific and technical services
  2. Information
  3. Government
  4. Finance and insurance
  5. Manufacturing

 

IT workers by segment

Of course, IT is a technical discipline, and so the report offers a list of up and coming technologies, including blockchain, machine learning, containers, many others.

 

IT technologies 2016

 

(Cross-posted @ ZDNet | Beyond IT Failure Blog)

How Would You Build a Movie Studio if You Started Today?

I met Andrew Stalbow and Petri Järvilehto from Seriously several years ago after they had just left Angry Birds where they were responsible for international business development / licensing and the game studio, respectively.

They had a new company in mind and they posed a question to me

“If Walt Disney were to try and build a movie studio from scratch today — how would he do it?”

I took the bait.

They told me that if you look at modern studios they have many diverse revenue streams: movies, TV, online media, toys, licensing, video games and so forth. But the idea that you could start a new studio today — with the hundreds of millions required just to launch one blockbuster hit — is absurd.

They pointed out that the most successful franchises are built around characters that people fall in love with and the narrative that surrounds their lives. Look at Harry Potter. It started with a series of books and is now a multi-billion dollar franchise with products, theme parks and games.

Andrew & Petri told me that a modern movie studio would start with video games and then branch out into other media. But the problem with most games companies is that they build products more than character franchises.

We bought the narrative and backed the team at Seriously, whose hit first product is called Best Fiends. Since then the product has been downloaded more than 35 million times and has more than 2 million daily players. They are doing tens of millions in revenue and the first product hasn’t even been live for 2 years.

It has been amazing watching Andrew, Petri and team. What I’ve learned most is that they pay excruciating attention to details that other companies don’t. They hire world-class animators and sweat every detail of the drawings. They pay for composers to create original music.

When they put out toys they did limited edition runs and kept the quality very high. They did several partnership launches with social good campaigns including the World Wide Fund for Nature and Malaria No More.

And they have used influencer marketing on YouTube like nobody else I’ve seen, running authentic competitions with top YouTubers including PewDiePie.

So every company that I now work with or talk to that has a need for character-based IP — I always direct them to Andrew.

If you want to learn from Andrew — he’s written a great post on what they’ve been up to. If you work at all in this world I think you’ll really enjoy it and learn from watching where they take the company.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

Getting Your Series A Mojo Back

You Need to Find Your Mojo

A Chip On Your Shoulder

A few years ago I wrote a blog post on entrepreneurs with a chip on their shoulders.

I think it’s an important read. A chip on one’s shoulder as in, “Fuck the system, it’s broken and I want to fix it” is exactly the energy I look for in entrepreneurs.

My internal compass says that “country-club” entrepreneurs struggle to make as big of an impact because it’s really hard to totally change a system that you’re part of and have a vested interest in.

So positive chips are a great signal for me. But chips come in multiple flavors and it’s a fine line between positive and negative.

If the chip on your shoulder is, “I’m not treated fairly by the system, boo hoo, I’m different and that’s why you aren’t helping me” that chip can be a big negative in getting others to want to back or help you.

I see this a lot in funding where an entrepreneur has struggled to raise money and spends all his or her time lamenting how lame investors are.

The best lesson to learn for yourself if you’re struggling is self reflection.

“If my objective is raising capital and I’m struggling, what can I learn about those who do get funded and how can I improve my odds by changing me?”

Maybe it’s the system, maybe it’s me — but either way what could I do differently to change outcomes?

From Aspiration to Hero

For companies that do have that moment of success where everything seems to come together: funding, hiring, customers, PR, product releases and so forth — you have a “hero” moment where you feel invincible.

This is a very predictable phase of the startup journey and a lot of good can come from it. The founders and team develop a huge confidence level that appropriately increases risk-taking, output, expansion, deals, revenue, press and everything that is a consequence of initial successes.

This is a very common post Series A phenomenon. Everything has gone well to date. Everything seems possible. Nothing has started to sour, nobody is frustrated, nobody has move on because it all still seems possible that you’re the next great company.

Of course it’s a fine line between hero and hubris. There is also a predictable moment in many companies where teams convince themselves that everything they’re doing is great. It’s why sometimes I fear when teams raise too much money too early in a startup because capital can mask underlying problems for a long time.

One example is that capital funds team growth which funds product output which funds press coverage and accolades which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Without the tension of scarce capital some teams paper over the fact that eventually money must be made. Or some teams who start driving revenue paper over the fact that they aren’t acquiring customers profitably.

Another predictable sign of hubris in startups is when the founders start looking for other companies to buy. If you’re an early-stage startup and even contemplating acquiring other companies slap yourself in the face and focus on your own business instead. M&A junkies are hatched from businesses where the core isn’t working and it seems far easier to acquire another startup than to do the hard work of refining your own.

When Hero Slips Into Failure, Self Doubt and Anxiety

As predictable as the hero’s journey is — so, too, are the conflicts and bumps along the road. Almost all companies hit those tough moments when customer growth slows down, competitors launch products and dilute your good press coverage, employees start doubting the future and cash reserves start to dwindle.

It’s what you do in these moments that often determine success from failure. It’s really important to get control of your own emotions as you go through this phase of your startup journey as your non-verbal queues will be picked up by the entire team. A lack of confidence will also cloud your ability to take positive steps in tough times.

When you started you had the youthful (from a company perspective not age) energy, enthusiasm and naïveté that comes from actually thinking you can change the world. Nobody goes into a startup expecting to fail — we all imagine the next big startup movie is going to be about us. Our inner script is heroic and the struggles are mere battle scars on the inevitable journey to slay King Joffrey.

In your hero phase you got invited to speak on panels. You attended speaker dinners, went to entrepreneur parties on ships or in Europe. Your high school friends sent you messages on Facebook that maybe you were “most likely to succeed.”

But building a successful startup is hard. And back home when you land and come into the office on Monday your staff still knows the truth. Your app isn’t getting enough repeat visitors. Your churn rates are too high. Your eCommerce company has too much unsold inventory. Your lead developer quit to join the new, new thing.

We’ve all been there — every entrepreneur. You start off by believing your own hype, drinking your own Kool Aid. And then you meet reality.

And some entrepreneurs can maintain their enthusiasm, optimism and energy: Working hard and staying positive. But that’s hard.

Many still put in the hours but you can see the stress in their eyes and hear it in their voices. In stead of telling people how they are going to change the world they start to show self doubt. They qualify every initiative with, “well this didn’t prove viral adoption last time so I don’t expect a silver bullet this time.”

Sometimes the silver bullet does come. Often it doesn’t. Usually success is about working hard enough and long enough and eventually getting a lucky break.

In order to make the magic work another few months, years, you need to keep up blind belief in yourself. Confidence is THE single most important attribute in being able to attract money, hire staff, stave off creditors, get press, do biz dev deals, close big sales and one day sell your company.

I really fear this phase of a company’s journey and if you’re perceptive and have seen many startup journeys before it is really easy to pick up on that moment where the entrepreneur has self doubt.

Confidence.

That magic you had at your Series A — at the start of your hero’s journey.

Mojo.

You need to dig deep.

Athletes visualize and focus on positive energy and confidence and we don’t think that’s strange yet too few startup entrepreneurs focus on their own mental states and self-confidence. And too few visual success.

Here’s the truth — even to this day I still daydream about the future. I think about what Upfront needs to become and what we can do differently. Better. And as I zone out sometimes I visualize things I wasn’t thinking about before. Mind matters. I do it in the shower, on the treadmill or on long drives. These are the three biggest sources of my creative breakthroughs for a reason.

I’ve written before about visualization and creativity and how important this has been to my career.

Mental toughness matters. Confidence matters even more.

I wish more startups would get personal coaches so they could let out their angst to neutral people — not staff, not investors. It’s why YPO is such an important organization.

If you’re in a startup that has struggled know that you’re not alone — we’re all naked in the mirror in the morning. We all have self doubt and anxiety. We all have set backs. Don’t let the press about others in the industry fool you into thinking everybody else’s life is perfect.

If you’re in really bad shape (10% of you) — seek help. Life is more important than your startup and there is always another day. Your reputation won’t suffer if your business does. You can evolve.

If you’re in the norm (90% of you) please think about how to let out your steam, talk to others, get mentors, re-find the energy / confidence, or bring in new staff who can help re-energize you and/or your business.

If you plan to raise more money, improve your business ops, or sell your company you need your Series A mojo back. You need to rekindle that feeling, rediscover that belief in you and your company’s mission.

And if you can’t find the mojo then you need to think about whether it’s time to let somebody else pick up the baton at your business or whether it’s time to find a safe landing for your employees’ sake.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)

The TACO Challenge

Yesterday was Cinco de Mayo. In the US this is often confused with Mexican Independence Day, which is actually September 16th and is called Grito de Dolores.

That made some people think of taco bowls and love Hispanics. Whatever.

Our portfolio company mitú, the fastest growing digital video company focused on the Latino market in the US (in English) and globally (in Spanish) has taken a different approach to the taco.

T.A.C.O. — Take Action, Commit Others

mitú wants to mobilize 1 million of them into voting with an emphasis on mobilizing Millennials. Sometimes in the US presidential electoral system it can feel like your personal vote doesn’t matter enough. Perhaps you live in a state that seems likely to vote in one direction or the other and you know the battleground will be elsewhere since we operate on an electoral college and not a popular vote.

mitú has a way that you can help wherever you live — as long as you are willing to help spread the word. T.A.C.O. Take action, commit others. Help spread to word to encourage more Latinos to register and make their voices heard in every state and stop the hatred and xenophobia spread by those who try to divide us as a nation.

So join the chorus of voices that include Magic Johnson, Russell Simmons and thousands of others in spreading the word for Latinos to mobilize.

Please Tweet

“I’m joining the @wearemitu #TACOchallenge to help register 1 million Latinos to vote. RT to join me! http://bit.ly/mituTACO” or similar to help spread the word.

The link takes readers to an event tomorrow — May 7th — in Los Angeles to take the t.a.c.o challenge that will be opened by Mayor Garcetti, encouraging young Latinos to vote.

Will you join me in a T.A.C.O?

You can read more about the Taco Challenge here.

Besos y abrazos, Beatriz, for taking up this initiative. You’re an inspiration.

(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)