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Aesthetics Finance Startups

Day 390 and Pitches

So I think pitching is bullshit. My husband has a great analogy. He thinks an hour long pitch to an investor is like a white board coding interview. Have any of you ever done developer work that didn’t have access to StackOverflow and Google? Yeah didn’t think so. It’s a completely artificial environment. Real work is collaborative and input driven and not at all tied to your capacity to memorize and perform on the spot.

I think this is pretty revealing. We force intuitive input driven thinkers, our founders, into a situation where they have little to no feedback. They can’t get anything from us as investors for like twenty minutes. They lead an investor by the nose through a narrative but what if it’s a narrative the VC doesn’t care about. Then what you lose the deal? Fuck no.

You should anchor a conversation based on expressing interest and seeing together where the biggest vision might lay. I’ve legitimately talked to founders who can see their way into imploding corporate legal apparatus or building clean energy through on chain gaming. That is some science fiction level shit. But could they tell me that in a 12 page deck? Fuck no they would look insane. But I want to see you for who you are.

So if you want to pitch me just hop on over to a Telegram chat or my Twitter DMs. Let’s talk and learn and share and then I can really see your passion and vision and we can both avoid canned performative shit.

You want an investor that sees you for you. I want a founder that is building with such a keen passion it’s all I can do to stop from wiring the money that day. Our incentives can align from first contact. So pitch me however you like to communicate. Plus, don’t we all die inside a little every time someone sends a Calendly link?

Categories
Internet Culture Startups

Day 236 and Founders Who Write

A heuristic I’m playing with for assessing founders is how good they are at writing.

And while this approach to vetting a founder is a practical method (everyone writes) it’s obviously limited. But I think it is nevertheless sufficient for reaching an approximation of founder capacity in a swift and asynchronous way. I like to see examples of founder writing whether it is Tweets, blog posts, technical documentation or a Notion document.

It’s my belief that we’ve overweighted salesmanship, pitching & synchronic communication methods (remember reality distortion fields) which has led to prioritizing messianic style founders. A rousing keynote speech used to be the gold standard. But this may be less relevant as teams go fully remote and more work is done asynchronously. Your capacity to document and communicate meaning at scale is crucial as a founder.

The canonical example of a founder who telegraphed competence and meaning through writing was Joel Spolsky. The Joel on Software blog established him as ur technical writer and gave us documentation culture which blossomed in Stack Overflow.

A more recent example for me is Devin Finzer who I discovered through his technical writing. Long before OpenSea was a clear winner in the NFT space, Devin’s writing caught my attention as his crisp clear articulation on the basics non-fungible tokens was legible to everyone.

My guess is this heuristic of focusing on writing instead of showmanship will improve overall diversity of founders & companies in a portfolio as less bias creeps into asynchronous documentation whereas mirroring & social cues easily tilt pitching in favor of certain classes of people

I’m also keen on folks who like messaging culture. Being able to hop in and out of conversations is crucial to team building & scaling. Those that are happy to DM & chat to build rapport in distributed fashion more easily will succeed at building relationships in a remote first world.

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Startups

Day 155 and Momentum

Startups don’t really operate on logic, plans or “objectives and key results” to name and shame. Founders and executive teams get really good at planning and strategies only to have it all blow up in their faces. Generating momentum in spite of startups being incredibly resistant to planning is part of the trick.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the emotions that go into that “no plan survives contact with the enemy” reality of startup life. The past two days Alex and I have been enjoying a victory lap after the 1.8B acquisition of his former startup Stack Overflow. It’s a process of mixed emotions and shared experiences with other families that lived it with us.

But one central theme is that nothing changed in our skills, planning, insight or capabilities after we got the market validation. We didn’t suddenly get better and got rewarded overnight. Our plans got exploded like everyone else in startup land, over and over and over again. Till one day it was worth a bunch of money. Now everyone involved looks like a genius. But the reality is that the momentum of startups live a life and logic unto themselves. No one set an OKR for “billions” nor did they plan out a straight line from day 1 on acquiring customers consistently. No one planned out a ten year roadmap for creating enough value or revenue for a substantial exit. No one micromanaged shit for a decade. The momentum just worked itself out eventually.

And yes I’m using the Royal We here but mostly to make a point. Startups and their teams and the entire ecosystem around them are team efforts. Together we turn nebulously ideas into sketchy plans and eventually great things. Don’t get so wrapped up into the need to manage everything so closely.

A graph showing a bell curve distribution. The two outlier “make stuff”

The momentum of making stuff can and should eventually pull you into your goals. So don’t kid yourself all your numbers or plans do shit. Be the Jedi.

Categories
Internet Culture Startups

Day 154 and Mixed Feelings

I’ve been in a hazy “did that happen place” emotionally after the news that Stack Overflow, where my husband spent 8.5 years, sold for $1.8B. Obviously it’s a lot of money to just appear into our lives. It’s not the first exit for Alex Miller or me. I’ve had 2 acquisitions for companies I have founded & he’s had an IPO for a company he was early to join. I also lived through multiple exits, financings IPOs & bankruptcies as a kid as I’m the child of a startup family. So why does this hit different?

I think part of it is that our other wins tended to come from “faster” companies. My first acquisition came within 2 years of founding. It wasn’t a lot of money but let me pay off student debt & get more stable. Alex was with Yext for a comparably shorter period and when it IPO’d he’d long ago left for Stack Overflow. And that was only a win because he was lucky enough to be able to borrow money to exercise his Yext options or it would have meant nothing. That happens a lot to early stage employees. They cannot afford to exercise and get nothing when a big exit happens. It happened to me when the company that bought mine exited to someone even bigger. I couldn’t afford to exercise. I never had the heart to calculate how much I would have made.

We’ve had secondaries over the years. Sometimes equity gets taken off the table in later stages financings and it benefits early employees. Those changed our calculus a lot when it happened to us. We put together a financial plan and a future as a family with our startup earnings. We made decisions based on whose turn it was to risk & who to run downside. Being a startup spouse means a constantly balancing act of supporting years of low salaries, long hours and stress. And while it’s not easy to be the wife of an early stage employee it’s probably even harder to be the husband of a founder. Startup families live through a lot together.

Stack Overflow was “the” company in many ways for Alex where he spent the better part of a decade and the majority of our marriage working to build the company up. He was employee 32 when he joined as chief of staff. When he left it was over 300 employees and he was the GM of the SaaS business.

When he left Stack we didn’t expect a payday beyond what salary he had earned and perhaps a bit of secondaries. He’d done good work and built amazing things but when you leave you don’t want have the emotional capacity to think about things like big acquisitions or IPOs. When Alex left Stack it was a deeply emotional process for us. A lot of therapy for both of us. Because startups aren’t just the person it is their family that consents as well to these long journeys. Remember that every executive team member or founder has a family that will live through this startup experience too.

After 8 years I knew Alex needed a change. He had given Stack his all. His absolute best. But leaving was hard. In order to leave a company where you invested your whole self (and your family’s) you have to come to terms with how you feel. We cried. We worried. But Alex made the choice. And we didn’t look back. It’s too painful in some ways. You love your startup

You keep in touch with everyone. Alex remains friends with the entire team. We share hobbies & interests and a million group texts with topics as varied as hydroponic tomatoes m, our crypto portfolios and hunting season. We stay at each other’s homes. The bond is deep in startup teams.

Given that bond it’s almost funny how when you leave your imagination on big outcomes can stop. The thing you dedicated yourself to for years is now growing and thriving without you. It never leaves you even if you need some distance.

When we got the call the number was overwhelming. The distance we had created suddenly evaporated. Alex burst into my room where I was meditating and told me the strike pierce. We did some calculations. We checked them. It couldn’t be? It was. The startup had finally delivered the check. We’d done it. Another startup made it.

I want people to know that this kind of largess is mostly random. Everyone works hard in Silicon Valley. Startups are a choice & a state of mind and those of us that chose to do it willingly go into ideas doomed to failure. Or meant for the stars. And it can feel like a crap shoot. Idiots get enormous paydays and brilliant innovators barely make enough to scrape by. The meritocracy isn’t as real as we think. This isn’t to suggest that the Stack Overflow team doesn’t deserve every penny. They do. We earned the payout. The bad years were hard. Miserable. But everyone believed in the community & the power of software developers. But also no one earns these big paydays. It’s a gift. And we are grateful for it.