Categories
Culture

Day 697 and Chivalry for Women

I was having a conversation with one of my girlfriends today about power. We are both exploring the new ways in which we’ve become more aware of our inherent power. Not that we were not powerful when we were younger but rather we have a new consciousness about it’s responsibilities. And it’s relationship to our gender is complicated.

One of the most dehumanizing aspects of Girlboss culture was how it forced female founders into rigid standards of acceptable behavior and emotions. We were surprisingly heavily policed even though we were allowed to use femininity to allure and entice. Girlbosses were empowered. Except occasionally we were only empowered with sex appeal.

Girlbosses looked good on magazine covers and in lifestyle content. It was honestly suffocating even as it was a massive tactical advantage. Imagine being given a cheat code or a level up. Of course you are going to play it but sometimes it takes the joy out of the game.

I am less adverse to the wiles of the feminine as I get older. Now I am able to wield the benefits of mutual viewpoints and seeking common ground. Women are trained to persuade from a young age. We are trained to be accommodating and without hostility or anger. It makes it easier for us to seek out where we might come together.

But those powers of persuasion can also feel manipulative and narcissistic. Men who have felt failed by their mothers can feel particularly hostile towards feminine power. Negative family orientations towards women from siblings to parents can sit in completely irrational and reactionary places for men. I say this because men occupy a similar place for me. Mommy and Daddy Issues can often materialize in stabilizing coping mechanisms. But ultimately it’s not a healthy exchange of power if it’s not consensual.

I dislike having power that I only wield because of my gender. I would prefer to have a less charged environment to pursue my fortunes. But I am also not adverse to playing my hand. You’ve got to play it as it lays. Different women have resolved these power discrepancies in wildly disparate ways. But we are not absolved of the ways in which we hurt men just because we have been hurt by them.

One of the great oversights of the feminist movements may be our lack of a developed gentlemanly style code for women. A theory of chivalry for not playing fair in the gender wars. We certainly expected it of men. If you wield power you must do it responsibly. Peter Parker principle applies to anyone with gifts that can be used for good or evil.

Categories
Startups

Day 688 and Hardcore

My generation of founders came of age during the peak of hustle porn. We were young and dumb, and even without the use of stimulants and nootropics like our Gen Z younger siblings, we got a lot done. Probably because we were well young and dumb. And it’s easier to do things with brute force when you don’t have better tools. Being hardcore made sense for some of us.

Alas if you burn the candle at both ends you may find yourself with an astonishing array of healthcare issues in your thirties. Which is astonishingly common in my cohort. I’m just one of the rare examples that is public about the dangers of overworking yourself. Hustle porn’s legacy is mixed. We lost founders to workaholism and occasionally much worse. A generation learned that mental and emotional health are just as important as physical health.

Hustle culture coincided with a lot amazing companies getting built but it’s not entirely clear to me if being hardcore is the only factor at play. Tempting as it may be to look for simple mono-causal relationships in life, the math of success is never that simple. Life isn’t an engineering problem. And even if life was an engineering problem, applying more force doesn’t solve all problems. It might even make a few worse.

I don’t want to knock hard work obviously. Im a firm believer that the basics never go out of style. Hard work is a given. Most of the greats are working hard because once you discover you have a natural talent then maturity generally encourages you to hone it.

Success is built from many fathers even if it’s mother is hard work. Proper resourcing, adequate incentives, teamwork and an effective hierarchy of respect within it are all factors. And let us not forget just plain old good luck matter just as much as being hardcore.

So tempting as it may be to give in to Twitter discourse narratives don’t get fooled into thinking someone that is successful has it all figured out. You don’t know what it took to get there and who brought it together. Don’t overweight success on its own. Nothing is ever that simple. Expect that the team you want to be a part of will demand that you demonstrate all of the above virtues and along with the necessities of hard work. But if it all comes together it is worth the sacrifice.

Categories
Finance Startups

Day 687 and Winter

It’s cold out there. And I don’t just mean metaphorically. Winter came early and hard to Montana just as the Farmer’s Almanac predicted it would. Driving back in from town last night after grocery shopping it was -3 degrees on the car’s temperature gauge just after sunset at 6pm.

It’s cold out there in the capital markets too. The federal reserve is raising rates to tamp down on inflation and the cost of capital is hitting the technology industry. Frankly I think we’ve all been waiting for an excuse to cut the fat and now we’ve got it.

But it’s going to have consequences for startups. Founders who have never had to live with the harsh realities of a down market are in for a surprise. Those juicy valuations in the private markets don’t work so well when the public markets can find safer returns in a Treasury finally paying out on a t-bill.

Let me play with a tortured metaphor to help you understand the situation. You think you understand how cold winter will be until you realize you haven’t had to work through a chill for over a decade. Sure maybe in your closet you’ve got a nice coat but when was the last time you wore it? If it was for a ski retreat with one of your venture partners then this metaphor is absolutely about to do double duty.

Surviving a bitter cold isn’t just about having a bulky down coat. Think of that as your cash runway. Without adequately rated cold weather gear to keep you alive you may find yourself tapping out. But it’s not just about the coat.

Keeping warm and staying productive requires some technique. Do you understand how to layer correctly? Do you have hats, gloves and scarves? I bet you walk around with ankle socks and Allbirds. That’s not going to go well in a foot of snow. Do you know how to eat for the cold? How about hydration?

Your team will need more than runway. They are going to need motivation to work with less fuel. You have to show them that the climb up the snowy mountain is worth it.

A winter startup team will need the skills and flexibility to work around problems that can’t be solved with money. Shit can and will go wrong on a long cold climb out of an economic winter. Creativity and belief must overlap with intuition if you want to make it.

And it’s important to remember lot of your team won’t have those intuitions. We’ve all been living in Miami and suddenly it’s -3 in Montana. And guess who gets to teach them how to adapt? You. You need to teach your team gently and with empathy what it will take. And they will makeup mistakes. Have you ever watched someone try to lace up boots for the first time? You might need to help them cinch.

I promise it is worth it though. If you are climbing the right mountain, and prepare adequately for your journey, the rarified air of a successful startup is invigorating. And the view from the top isn’t bad. If you need some help thinking all this through as a founder drop me a line Julie (at) chaotic dot capital and I’m happy offer some Sherpa advice. I lived though 2001 and 2007 (I even got laid off during RIP Good Times) so you can rely on me for some elder millennial wisdom. Stay warm!

Categories
Emotional Work Finance

Day 683 and Goverance

I’m not a big fan of early stage venture investors meddling too much in the day to day of their portfolio companies. Asking for too much reporting and too frequent board meetings can be a huge source of momentum friction.

But I am a big fan of corporate governance. Even right from the very start. You should have agreed upon avenues for settling issues and disputes from the moment you have assets bigger than an Ikea couch let alone a 32 billion dollar valuation company. A lack of governance structures can lead to deeply destructive behavior even if you aren’t a sociopathic rich kid bent on committing fraud.

As much as it may seem irritating to set up formalities like a full board and agreed upon voting rights structures, you will regret not having it if something goes wrong. And something will go wrong. I’d go so far as to say Murphy’s law is an immutable law of the universe. What can go wrong will go wrong.

The intense pressure of a startup is what turns the lump of coal that is your vision into the diamond that will be worth something in the open market. And pressure is often destructive. People who otherwise respect and trust each other can slowly find themselves deeply at odds.

Just think of your worst breakup and imagine that intensity playing out in ways that impact everything you’ve worked to build. If you’ve ever gone through a divorce I’m sure you understand. Let me tell you a little story about one of my breakups to illustrate why you should set up governance right form the start.

My easiest personal breakup was also one of my worst. We’d moved in together and devised an elaborate set of budgets and savings protocols. We’d combined belongings. We even set up a shared bank account. He was a corporate governance lawyer at a very aggressive firm. I was working a lucrative corporate job but preparing to go back to startups.

While he wasn’t a contract lawyer, he did have enough common sense to suggest we write up a relationship contract complete with dissolution protocols. I thought this was absolutely brilliant which I’m sure tells you a lot about how I operate. Absolutely all of our friends thought we were nuts. Including a colleague and friend who would go on to be one of my board members down the road.

I was in Colorado for my mother’s wedding. I’d expected my boyfriend to join me. But we’d been discovering that all our good faith attempts to arrange the perfect relationship structure was nothing in the face of widely disparate personalities and risk tolerance. No amount of mitigating structure could overcome those differences.

When I came home he’d triggered our breakup clauses and moved out. Everything was done by the governance protocols we’d set out. If I’m absolutely honest I was relieved. My biggest annoyance was losing the Vitamix blender that was his property. As furious and heartbroken as I was at the time, I didn’t have any avenue to engage in my worst most defensive reactionary emotions. Neither did he. Which was extremely valuable as I hadn’t at age 26 gone through the therapy that helps me productively channel negative emotions now.

My ex-boyfriend and I are still friends to this day. Sure it took a few years for us to come around but we’d avoided a scorched earth situation despite the significant risks we’d engaged in by moving in and combining our lives and fortunes after a relatively a brief period. The damage was mitigated by a shared understanding of how we’d manage downside protection and whose rules we’d consider binding.

While I’m sure this sounds a bit weird, I do think it’s a helpful illustration of why even the most optimistic scenarios benefit from guardrails and mutually agreed upon avenues for pursuing a dissolution or change in status.

No matter how calm and rational you think you are, there will be scenarios that trigger deep emotional patterns. If you vomit up those childhood coping mechanism emotions, you need to clean it up even if it feels shameful and embarrassing.

I’d also say it probably tells you a lot that I’m telling you a deeply personal story about a breakup in a personal relationship and not my actual board experiences. There are some secrets you take to the grave and how you failed your business partners tends to be one of them. How they failed you is another. I’ve had reason to be grateful for corporate governance guardrails at all of my companies. Because that is human nature.

So no matter how early it is in your startup journey you should be considering how you’d handle tough times. Set up a board to help you work through and arbitrate disputes. I know you cannot imagine it now but you won’t regret it.

No one is ever fully immune from disagreement (or even disaster) and you owe it to yourself and your partners to set up fair resolution issues from the start. Plus if you happen to have partnered with a sociopath you will appreciate the modicum of protection offered by binding contract law or consensus mechanism contract execution. And if you really want a Vitamix make sure you put that in the contract.

Categories
Emotional Work Startups

Day 655 and Accountability

Being accountable to myself is much harder than being accountable to someone else. I suspect this is true for most people. We all wish for ideal childhoods with parents who provided for all our emotional needs. And so we look to bosses, spouses and authority figures as substitute parents.

Most of our adult lives are spent trying to find some ideal mommy or daddy to soften the trauma and lack of our childhoods. We remember these issues far too vividly as adults through the perceptions of our inner child. It is a huge challenge to recognize that feelings are not facts but these feelings nevertheless run our lives.

The unfortunate truth is that the only ideal parent that can ever exist for our inner child is ourselves. We must comfort, protect and nurture that part of ourselves that still feels lacking because no one else can give it to us. No one is coming to save us. We are the parent to our inner child.

Which brings me back to my challenge with being accountable to myself. I struggle to care for myself the way I need as I too often perceive myself as not being good enough. If I just worked harder or spent more time preparing or if I just did one more pass on my pitch deck. You get the idea. I’ll push myself right over the edge of success into inaction and self torture.

One way I’ve been able to overcome this need to push myself into a fantasy of accountability is simply by building in public. If I’ve said what I plan to do then I’m no longer just cultivating it inside myself but I’ve let the idea come forth into reality. Once it is outside of my own tortured bubble of personal accountability it can gain momentum.

I am raising money for a venture fund and now that I’ve put that in public it’s not just about me. It’s about the thesis, the LPs, the founders, and the market. And it’s much easier to be accountable to a shared reality with other people than some fantasy version of perfection inside my head. If you’d like to be a part of it and are an accredited investor here is a link to my calendar. If you’d like to read more about the fund I’d be thrilled.

Categories
Finance Internet Culture

Day 651 and Best Guess

I’ve loved the discourse of indignation that has surrounded rich men doing deals via text messages. There was lot of hand waving about the death of genius and the meaning of it all. Isn’t it such a scandal our best and brightest are just saying shit on Twitter DM?

I suppose if you never worked in startups or finance it might come as a genuine shock that rich techie people are no better or smarter than anyone else. Why the fuck do these dorks control all the money and resources then? I’d say it is because they are willing to make their best guesses.

One of my favorite scenes in Star Trek is Spock struggling through a series of calculations and informing Captain Kirk that he may need to make a guess. Kirk’s response? That’s extraordinary! Spock is naturally confused. Dr McCoy or Bones has to do some translating.


Bones: He means that he feels safer about your guesses than most other people’s facts.
Spock: Then you’re saying… it is a compliment?
Bones: It is.
Spock: Ah. Then I will try to make the best guess I can.

Star Trek IV The Voyage Home (The Whale Movie)

Everyone is just muddling through and making their best guesses. Even the best and brightest among us are struggling to make it all work. I’m not suggesting the folks making the Twitter deal are as good as Spock but they are just making their best guesses too.

And for whatever reason they are willing to put a lot of money, time and reputation on the line to see where their best guess might go. That’s pretty courageous in its own right.

Categories
Finance Startups

Day 649 and Build in Public

People love building in public. The universe loves a specific ask. Today for my 39th birthday, I am doing both.

I would like to raise $5m for chaotic.capital’s rolling fund before I turn 40 next year. #5Before40 has a nice ring as a hashtag right?

Chaotic is the first check into founders and companies that adapt humanity to complexity. Personal flexibility, organizational agility, and societal sustainability.

Our founders capitalize on chaos.

You may have noticed I’m a bit of a doomer. I keep close tabs on the opportunities presented by an increasingly unstable world.

Climate change, distrust of institutions, geopolitical unrest, resource scarcity, rising tides of populism. There are founders who can help us address and survive these pressing issues.

My goal is to raise $500K per quarter via a rolling fund. There is 155K per quarter committed from folk like Joel Spolsky of Stack Overflow and Michael Pryor of Trello so you will be in good company.

With a base like that, I want to do the rest in public here on the blog and Twitter. You can read the fund overview here. Building in public has generally been my preference and it has felt weird doing any of this fund work quietly behind the scenes.

You can sign up on Angellist through the above link or get on a call with me and we can discuss the fund, our portfolio construction and my thesis.

I’ve got big ambitions for accelerating into maturity as I have no intention of letting entropy win.

Humanity deserves progress, and I demand growth for myself. I’d like to make us both money with that. 

______________________

FAQ TIMES

Haven’t you been investing through chaotic before? 

Yes but just with personal capital and an SPV. I want to scale it up as we believe our performance warrants it.

Go check out some of our best investments here. https://chaotic.capital/fund-overview

______________________

Why didn’t you raise more during good times? Why the fuck are you raising a rolling fund at the end of the world?

Did you miss the part where I am a Doomer? We are a bad times fund. This moment is where our thesis matters.

Good times return and you’ll appreciate having written a hedge check or two into weird companies that are designed for the power laws of institutional chaos.

Or if the fear of the moment feels overwhelming you can sit back and die the slow death of uncertainty. Trust me I’ve considered it as well.

But personally, I’d write me $10,000 check and come along for the climb back. Entropy only wins if we don’t fight back.

Categories
Culture Politics

Day 644 and Status Equivalence and DAO Leadership

Capitalism has largely been a triumph of hierarchy as an organizing mechanism. As we evolved from mercantilism into corporatism, appointing and holding accountable a single point of failure in a chief executive officer has become an effective shortcut for managing complexity when deploying capital. Leadership is responsible for the outcome.

The aphorism “failure is an orphan but success has many fathers” abuts against the reality that while we love to lavish praise upon executives, monarchs and other singular nexuses of responsibility it’s often not reflected in reality. Our bias in the post-industrial revolution has been towards leadership via individual even as post Enlightenment values valorize democracy and community participation. It’s been a tension for since the Industrial Revolution. America exemplifies this as the country most committed to both participatory federalism and corporate capitalism.

I am particularly interested in this tension as I believe we may be on the crux of larger organizational needs and are seeing them begin to coalesce in crypto. As decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs, make an attempt to become the new corporate governance structure in Web3, it seems worth studying the question of whether leadership is a singular or collective exercise for humans.

What does the historical and anthropological record have to say about how we organize? What are we evolved to prefer and are we capable of evolving further?

The bias we operate with now is great man theory. But what if that is not just wrong but not even the predominant form of human organization through history? Critics of cooperation might do well to explore this in particular.

I came across a Rob Henderson blog post which is an extended overview of a piece of sociology Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior by the UCLA anthropologist Christopher Boehm. According to Rob’s post, the main question of this work is whether humans are by nature hierarchical or egalitarian. And it turns out our hunter gatherer forefathers were mostly egalitarian. The bulk of our history is egalitarian.

The anthropological record along with research on extant modern hunter-gatherers suggests that for most of human history we have been egalitarian, defined as “status equivalency among the decision-makers of a group.”

Rob Henderson reviews Hierarchy in the Forest

If you extrapolate this into a modern corporate context, the C-Suite or executive team, or perhaps even the founding team, are roughly the status equivalent decision makers. Maybe there is a first among equals in the CEO or founder but they can, in theory, be replaced by a board. But what if instead of a C-corporation you are managing a cooperative like a DAO? What then?

Apparently we humans are rather good at maintaining status equivalence. Richard Wrangham’s Goodness Paradox discusses how humans have self domesticated to avoid too much resource and power aggregation.

Over time, early humans eliminated those who were overtly aggressive. They killed or ostracized upstarts hungry for power; men with aggressive political ambitions. Other men would quietly organize to commit collective murder of troublesome male

Rob Henderson on Goodness Paradox

Moral communities evolve and punish those who deviate from acceptable standards. If you are too ambitious as an individual we swoop in as a species. It seems a bit miraculous in that light that we live in an era of kleptocracy and power consolidation given our tendency to murder upstarts. Great man theory isn’t all that sustainable. Or is it? Perhaps it’s that we asset influence obliquely. I’d wager any woman would agree.

Oftentimes, headmen display “self-effacing” behavior. Headmen and informal leaders usually obtained their roles through talent in hunting or warfare, storytelling ability, or congeniality. They rarely assert direct authority.

Rob Henderson on Boehm

If indirect authority is a sustainable organizational preference in the anthropological record, perhaps corporations are more amenable to reconstruction as DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) through the principle of status equivalence.

The autonomous part seems the trickiest, but decentralized authority inside tribal organizations are at least recognizably human. If as a group we disliked a status or resource hungry “great man” we leaned on the leadership preferences of status equivalent equals and forced you out.

I see no reason we can’t write in similar parameters into a smart contract as an experiment. At the first hint of a rug pull let the burning begin! We are already seeing political battles for resource allocation inside bigger organizations like MakerDAO. Crypto may be a worthy space for experienced leadership to show that figureheads like CEOs or founders are not the crucial lynchpin for progress and stability we believe.

Which would be quite a balm to me personally as I’m deeply skeptical of authoritarianism as a solution for our technical and social problems. I’d much rather we explore the wisdom of past tribal knowledge to guide us than look to a mythical great man to save me.

Categories
Preparedness

Day 602 and Doing It

I never had a wedding so I missed out entirely on “you did a big thing” gifts. City hall weddings don’t inspire Boomers to open their wallets as it turns out. But buying our first home seems to have triggered a celebratory mood amongst our nearest and dearest. People are happy for us.

While we don’t have a gift registry (though maybe we should), I’ve been impressed by the thoughtfulness with which our friends have approached our house warming.

One of our friends sent a card that perfectly captured the intensity and joy of the situation.

“There is no better feeling in the world than than going from ‘wondering if you can do it’ to realizing you’ve just done it.”

I assume this was some kind of Hallmark graduation card but it really did capture some of the awe of the moment. Having spent 18 month searching for a homestead I’ll admit I wasn’t entirely sure when we’d actually graduate to the “just done it” phase. It sort of happened all at once when we stumbled onto a property that met every single one of our criteria.

We took a very research intensive approach to deciding on where to live and what to invest. Maybe it was the founder mindset that plagues both my husband and, I but we just couldn’t help but do an aggressive deep dive into all the variables. Some people move on vibes but we needed the numbers to back up the feeling. Checking the math is probably a good habit.

It’s a relief to get to the “we just did it” phase though as with any long play you find yourself wondering if it’s all just an elaborate fantasy. In an age of quick fixes and instant gratification, the slow roll isn’t that glamorous. Trusting that your preparedness will positive yield action is hard. Trusting that you will act when your preparation are needed feels even harder. But here I am. Having done the thing.

Categories
Startups

Day 490 and Startup People

One of the more transformative experiences of my young life was attending a founders only conference in 2010. I’d never been around that many other people who did the same thing as me before. I felt so seen.

The most unexpected thing was how relaxing it was to be among other people who understand the context of my life and my work. All of the weird and idiosyncratic elements of being the CEO of an early stage company are hard to translate to someone who has never had to live it. Startups are lonely work and being the CEO is the loneliest job in the company.

Obviously the last twelve years of bull market have greatly expanded the pool of people who have worked in startups. It’s gone from a niche to the driving force of American industry. Everyone grew up. Some of us made money. We’ve professionalized. We’ve developed best practices. What was once a scrappy singular experience is now a repeatable innovation.

And like that conference it is transformative to be seen. don’t feel so alone anymore. There are more people who can share in the context and specifics. I’m in Montana this week with friends who have a similar life path to myself and my husband. Our friends completely understand the context of our lives and we understand their context. We are all founders and executive team members and angel investors and LPs. And yes it’s relaxing. I highly recommend it.