My first reaction to this photo was “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” My next reaction was the title of this post, “Humans Just Don’t Understand Complex Systems.”
The Covid crisis is a complex system. I’ve had my head deep in complex systems for the past year as I worked with Ian Hathaway on our new book The Startup Community Way. We never anticipated that the framework we used for the book around complex systems would broadly apply to the world beyond startup communities, but we find ourselves in the middle of a moment where, as a species, our lack of ability to understand how complex systems work is causing accelerating misery all over the world.
We are about to launch the pre-order campaign for the book (if you are interested in it, now’s the time to go preorder The Startup Community Way) and I spent the morning finishing up some content that our PR firm asked for.
A few of the things I wrote jumped out to me in the context of the above photo. One of the phrases was:
“As complex systems, these communities go through tipping points or phase transitions, where the overall state suddenly goes through a radical transformation. Seemingly small actions produce dramatic success but are the result of the infinitesimal, often unseen changes happening over time.”
Sound relevant to this moment? It’s framed in the positive, but applies equally to the negative, where “Seemingly small actions produce dramatic failure but are the result of the infinitesimal, often unseen changes happening over time.”
I’ll end with my answer to the question: Why do we need startup communities now more than ever?
Sustainable economic growth has slowed in many parts of the world. The income and wealth divide within many countries has been dangerously accelerating, and with the Covid crisis, massive global economic dislocation is upon us. Entrepreneurship is the means for upward mobility and wealth creation. Startup communities are critical for improving the impact of entrepreneurship in local geographics and dramatically increase the probability of success of positive economic growth over a long period of time.
In this moment, I’ve decided to create a Startup Community community—a global network for anyone interested in or involved in startup communities around the world. I just spun up a Mighty Network community to experiment and see if that’s a good approach, vs. a Slack community or something else. If you are game to engage as an early alpha user to give me feedback, please jump in and join the Startup Community community.
If you are a venture capitalist, I strongly encourage you to join the Valence Funding Network to provide Black founders with direct access to VCs. I’ve joined along with a number of my peers.
Kobie Fuller at Upfront Ventures started Valence in the fall of 2019. Valence launched our beta platform to provide a digital home for Black talent to connect, access opportunities, and aggregate their power. Valence exists to change the dynamic where Black founders receive a disproportionately low amount of venture funding (today – just 1 percent).
Kobe’s quote in the press release kind of says it all:
“For years, Black entrepreneurs have been told that Silicon Valley is a meritocracy, but at the same time most haven’t had access to the top networks, the warm introductions, and the mentorship that underpin lasting success in tech. Valence is upending this completely by bringing the top VCs to Valence to compete for the best Black founders.” said Valence CoFounder and General Partner at Upfront Ventures, Kobie Fuller. “We want to even the playing field with the goal of exponentially growing the number of Black-owned startups that get funded.”
The 27 VC firms who are inaugural members of the Funding Network have a cumulative $60 Billion+ under management and now have direct access to Valence’s membership base of ~8,000 and growing Black professionals.
One of thing I’ve committed to is the “Boost feature” which allows any member on the network to request a 30 minute meeting with me to pitch what they are doing. I’ll honor all the Boost requests and, at the minimum, provide constructive feedback and any introductions to my network that I think would be helpful.
Misty Robotics’ goal is to create a robot platform (hardware and software) that any developer can use to build useful and immediately applicable robot applications.
A number of early customers have started building solutions. When the Covid crisis hit, companies started to realize that to be safe, checking people’s temperature on entry into a building would be a powerful preventative measure. So, Misty decided to build a specific application for temperature screening.
It took about 30 days to go from idea to beta application that is validated in office environments. The application includes:
- Automated, contactless, and touchless temperature screening
- Interactive health question survey with configurable screening questions
- Customizable greetings
- Immediate pass/fail result determination and recording
- SMS or email notifications/alerts
- Web-based administration and reporting
- Choice of 25 languages
- Polite and engaging interaction experience
I think it’s an awesome alternative to the approach of having a human being do the screening. The idea of having a human greeter temperature screen people on entry into an office environment just sounds like an unsafe, tedious, and uncomfortable job to me right now.
Misty is in beta with this and already has several paid beta customers. If you are interested in learning more, sign up for a demo.
Oh yeah. That Covid thing is still around. And in the US, it’s getting worse again because it never went away as much as our magical thinking hoped it did.
I’m an optimistic worrier (like Madeleine Albright, who explores that concept with Tim Ferriss in this wonderful podcast that I listened to while running in loops around my 40 acres.)
This morning I read Joanne Wilson’s post Where Are We Going? and nodded my head up and down all the way through it. She starts off with “There is so much change going on that it is hard to pinpoint where we are going? One thing is for sure, we are chartering new territories.” Then, she covers COVID-19, Trump’s Tulsa Rally, Protests, Facebook, Hydroxychloroquine, Juneteenth, Bolton’s book, Voting day as a holiday, the Senate, Healthcare, Consumption behavior, anger, incompetence and wraps it up with
“There is no doubt we are living in a changing world but the bigger question is “where are we going?”
Yup. All those same things are wandering around inside my brain.
And then CovidTennis. Djokovic thought playing unprotected and horsing around was a good idea. He’s not the only one. It will be informative to learn how well athletes recover from Covid and if there are any lasting downstream effects. Generally, I’m a big Joker fan, but c’mon.
The first is one with me where Brian is the interviewer titled Brad Feld (Foundry Group) on never having “fake days”, how to be a better ally, the impact of second order effects, and the failure of warning systems to warn you when they are failing.
The other is from The Full Ratchet and is an interview with Brian titled Breaking into VC; Excelling at Goldman Sachs; and the Origin of BLCK VC (Brian Hollins).
Brian did a great job with both of them.
Today, I participated in the Juneteeneth 4.0 Celebration that was hosted by OHUB, ThePlug, and Living Cities and led by Rodney Sampson. In addition to being part of a panel, I made several commitments as part of the #RacialEquityEcosystemPledge. Here’s the fact sheet released by OHUB today.
I’ve agreed to:
- Do a monthly podcast called Equity.District with Rodney on racial equity in entrepreneurial ecosystems and other issues around racial equity in entrepreneurship.
- Help organize and co-host a Racial Equity conference inclusive of Rodney’s network, my network, and anyone else who wants to participate.
- Make a meaningful financial contribution to the OHUB Foundation from the Anchor Point Foundation. If you are able, I encourage you to donate as well.
- Make a meaningful financial contribution to at least two more Black-led ecosystem building organizations recommended by OHUB.
- Work with Rodney and the OHUB team on an ongoing campaign to raise money for Black ecosystem builders, funds, and founders.
The entire event is below. There’s a lot of awesome stuff in it.
In addition to the awesomeness, I made a mistake. Right after I spoke, I got a text from a White friend who is an entrepreneur I’ve invested in who watched the event live.
I immediately sent Rodney an email under the heading “I apologize for the microaggression.”
Apparently in my closing comments I said that you were “articulate” (I wasn’t aware that I used the word.) While I hadn’t seen this NY Times article I know that “articulate” is viewed as a microaggression.
So, regardless of whether it was intended, or you heard it, or anything else, I want to simply apologize.
You are incredible. You inspire me.
Rodney quickly responded:
Thanks for this. Tell your friend they are right. Apology accepted. However, in this case, I know that you meant “vocal in my leadership”. ?
We’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m up for it.
When I make a mistake, I try to own it, apologize, and learn from it. I’m far from perfect here, but Rodney’s response, by acknowledging my mistaking, quickly accepting my apology, and getting back to work with me motivates me even more to work with him!
I’ll be part of a fireside chat with Rodney Sampson (CEO, OHUB) and Ben Hecht (CEO, Living Cities) where, among other things, we’ll discuss the introduction of Racial Equity Pledge.
Rodney is one of the dozen or so Black colleagues that I reached out to and talked to over the last two weeks to learn more about what I could get involved in and immediately support with time and money. Ohub is one of those organizations and I’ve already learned a lot from Rodney, such as several different ways to think about changing the equation around racial inequity in tech. A framework I got from him that I immediately related to is his Economic Development Pyramid.
Rodney did an interview with CNBC several weeks ago that lit me up with enthusiasm for working with him.
Foundry Group is closed on Friday in celebration of Juneteenth. We had an email thread go around yesterday among the entire team discussing what we are doing tomorrow, which includes attending a number of Juneteenth events, along with reading and reflecting on racial injustice.
If you are available and interested, please join us for the Juneteeneth 4.0 Celebration.
I have a few minutes each morning between when I wake up and when I go downstairs to meditate. I do two things during this time: (1) basic hygiene stuff and (2) let whatever thoughts are in my head roll around.
This morning I had the following thought.
It would be nice to just fast forward to 2025.
During some of my recent public talks, I’ve described how the Covid crisis has accelerated work and technology change in a dramatic way. While I’ve said that “when this is over, we are going to wake up in 2025”, I then have to explain what I mean by “wake up in 2025.” My idea of simply fast-forwarding to 2025 emerged from that.
The Covid crisis has generated four crises – health, economic, mental health, and racial inequity – that are intermingled. Each individual crisis is complex, not new, and ebbs and flows in the forefront of our collective societal mind.
I recently had someone question me about the idea that the economic crisis was continuous. They asked, “Haven’t we had a bull market for a decade?” My response was, “Income inequality, the occupy movement, Venezuela, European Debt” and they interrupted with “Ah, I get it.”
Usually one of these crises is front of mind for a period of time. I was on sabbatical with Amy when the Ferguson Protests occurred after the Michael Brown murder. We talked about it for several days, explored our own feelings, but didn’t take any meaningful action other than a few philanthropic contributions after the moment passed.
After I had a six-month depressive episode in 2013, I put energy into trying to destigmatize depression and mental health issues, especially in tech and entrepreneurship. While my effort here has been consistent, the impact is slow and often invisible.
Remember #MeToo? Gender inequity in tech has lessened, but it’s still a major issue.
It goes on, and on, and on. Yet, right now, these issues, and others, are all colliding in the foreground, with incredible intensity, interwoven in a way that makes an already complex system extremely difficult to navigate.
And then there’s technology. In January, no one would have said “the vast majority of the office-based workforce around the world with be working from home, doing video conferences all day long.” Or, “business travel will be largely non-existent.” Or, “the only restaurant meals you will eat will be takeout or home delivery.” Or, “telemedicine adoption will make a decade of progress in four weeks.” Each of these activities is dramatically impacted by the technology we have today and enabled in ways that technology providers might have envisioned, but that mainstream society didn’t expect to adopt broadly until it suddenly had to.
I recognize that most of us are processing an enormous amount of stimuli in real-time. That’s incredibly challenging and ultimately exhausting.
I fully expect several other crises will emerge this year. If you wonder what else could possibly come up, I’ll just remind you that it’s an election year in the US, which is just another massive input into a very complex system.
I’m not a prognosticator or a predictor of the future. Instead, I like to pretend I’m in the future, look backward, and try to figure out what to do in the present. While I’m living in the moment, I’m going to simultaneous pretend that I fast-forwarded to 2025.
Shortly after George Floyd was murdered, I started calling Black VC and entrepreneur friends asking them “what are two things you are involved in that I can immediately support with time and money.”
Arlan Hamilton was my first call. In addition to asking me to spend more time with Backstage Capital portfolio companies and founders, she told me about a non-profit called Cover that she created in 2016 with Bryan Landers and Dianne Cherrez.
Arlan decided to give away copies of startup and investing books to help more people gain access to content that could change their career path.
Venture Deals was one of the books that Arlan gave away and she has occasionally talked about how impactful the book was to her own journey to learn about and become a VC.
I love to read. Arlan loves to read. And Arlan appreciates the power of books to help people learn. And, it’s even fun to see how people get Arlan’s attention using Backstage Capital and Venture Deals together.
Cover 1.0 was giving away books. Cover 2.0 started with the following tweet and shifted to gifting $500 to recipients to help them reach their goals.
With this new approach, Cover allowed access to knowledge (books, courses…), networks (introductions, memberships…), and opportunities (events, job applications…) to those who are working hard to achieve great things.
For Cover 3.0, Arlan is including the Covid crisis in the mix to include Covid-related help. For example, PPE–especially for high-risk, low-resourced places like prisons and other non-profits, higher education and experiences for Black women, and resources for displaced Black students.
In addition to financially supporting Cover 3.0 at a level to support 100 gifts, I’m going to donate 100 copies of Venture Deals to Cover 3.0 to give away to each recipient.
If you want to support Cover 3.0, please Donate any amount. I’m confident that Arlan and team will put it to good use.
Arlan – you inspire me and so many others. Thank you.
I started with the Wikipedia page for Wallace Thurman.
Langston Hughes described Thurman as “…a strangely brilliant black boy, who had read everything and whose critical mind could find something wrong with everything he read.” Thurman’s dark skin color attracted comment, including negative reactions from both black and white Americans. He used such colorism in his writings, attacking the black community’s preference for its lighter-skinned members
I didn’t know the phrase colorism nor had I ever thought about bias around it. Over the weekend, Lucy Sanders pointed me at an NCWIT article on Colorism Bias in the Tech Industry. I then went down a rabbit hole on colorism, which caused me to realize how oblivious and ignorant I was to this type of discrimination.
Emma Lou Morgan, the protagonist of The Blacker The Berry, geographically follows Thurman’s life, from Boise, the USC, to Harlem. The book is beautifully written and deeply engrossing as Emma’s story unfolds. Some of it is a coming of age story, but also a continual struggle, from a Black woman’s perspective, on dealing with discrimination from all sides, since she is darkly colored and subject to endless colorism.
The book was written in 1929. It was Thurman’s first novel. Per Wikipedia:
The novel is now recognized as a groundbreaking work of fiction because of its focus on intra-racial prejudice and colorism within the black community, where lighter skin has historically been favored.
Thurman died in 1934 at age 32 of tuberculosis. He only wrote two other books: Infants of the Spring and The Interne. I just purchased Infants of the Spring but couldn’t find The Interne.
My digital sabbaths are often running, reading, and napping days. That’s tomorrow for me as I’m feeling fried from another week. I’ve ordered (and received) most of the books from the NY Times Antiracist reading list along with a number of other recommendations. Most are physical books and will be my digital sabbath reading this summer.
A month ago, I read Arlan Hamilton’s book It’s About Damn Time: How to Turn Being Underestimated into Your Greatest Advantage. It’s been on my to blog list since, which is kind of lame on my part since I usually write about books right after I read them, so I’m just going to own that I missed here.
Arlan’s book is outstanding and everyone should read it, especially if you are in tech as an entrepreneur, investor, or aspiring entrepreneur.
Arlan is also outstanding. She first emailed me in January 2013, I was an early investor in her first fund, and have tried to be available anytime she’s reached out. I’ve been an avid listener to her, especially when she’s called me out on something I missed, was stupid or ignorant about, or just needed to change my perspective on something around gender, race, or sexual orientation.
That said, I haven’t invested in any of the Backstage Capital companies. I’ll own that. I’ve committed to Arlan to get to know her portfolio better and try to be helpful with some of them. I understand that ultimately investing in them is the key goal, so I’ll engage with that perspective.
Back to It’s About Damn Time: How to Turn Being Underestimated into Your Greatest Advantage. I love books that combine memoir with personal philosophy with life lessons with deep and personal experience. I prefer storytelling over lecturing or prognosticating. And while straightforward biographies can be informative, I prefer autobiographies (which I often refer to as memoirs.)
Arlan completed rocked it. Like Jerry Colonna’s book Leadership and the Art of Growing Up and Melinda Gates’ book Book: The Moment of Lift, Arlan navigated the challenge of an autobiography and wrote something that will stand the test of time. It’s her story, but it’s a story that everyone can learn from. It’s not a linear biography, but a book full of experiences and lessons, including for the reader. It’s crisp and easy to read with endless moments that stopped me in my tracks, even though I knew some of Arlan’s story.
I count Arlan as a friend and mentor. I hope she does also, as peer mentors (where both people learn from each other) is my favorite type of relationship. And, I look forward to doing a lot more with her over what hopefully will be a long future for both of us.
My book recommendation for this weekend, if you haven’t read it yet, is Arlan Hamilton’s It’s About Damn Time: How to Turn Being Underestimated into Your Greatest Advantage.