I am honored to call Brad Feld a friend. Brad is an influential venture capitalist and co-founder of one of the world's best startup accelerators, Techstars. Brad's foundation gave a $50,000 grant to the ParentPreneur Foundation to get it started. This morning Brad released his latest book, The Startup Community Way, and it's already an Amazon best seller across multiple categories. So when Brad asked me to talk with him about his book, I was excited to do so and share his words of wisdom with the ParentPreneur Foundation community.
Let's get right to the interview!
In the book dedication you write, “For Amy, who tirelessly supports me in all my endeavors.” I know it’s important for entrepreneurs to have a supportive spouse or partner, but what do you think we as entrepreneurs need to do to make it easier for our spouses/partners to be able to support us on an ongoing basis?
As an entrepreneur in a relationship, have your words match your actions. Amy and I wrote a book together about this titled The Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur. There are many suggestions, tactics, hints, and stories there, but the one that I keep front and center in my mind is that “my words need to match my actions.”
When we were a younger couple, I would regularly tell Amy that she was the most important person in my world. Then, when my phone would ring in the middle of a conversation with her, I’d pick it up and answer it. Or, I’d be 30 minutes late to dinner because I had to do “just one more thing.” While none of these things were as hurtful as an affair would have been, the endless stream of activities where my words didn’t match my actions created enormous stress and hurt our relationship.
When I finally understood this, it was clear the importance of snapping the two into alignment. While this wasn’t easy, it has paid off over the years, as it results in Amy being able to support me when I’m clear that I have to prioritize my work in a moment in time.
In the book, you encourage entrepreneurs who have been successful to ensure the next generation of founders have a smoother path than they did. What are some of the most effective and practical ways successful founders can give back?
Mentor, mentor, mentor. Invest your time in the next generation of entrepreneurs. View this as a long-term investment - over time the relationship will turn into one of “peer mentorship” where you will each learn from each other. Also, if you care about your local startup community, pay attention to entrepreneurial recycling with both your money (as an angel investor into new startups) and your time (as a mentor).
You talk about the importance of deal-makers in a startup community; these are people who are bridge-builders and connectors who facilitate the flow of resources. You say deal-makers are valuable because of their social capital and you write about their outsized impact on the overall effectiveness of a startup community. The problem for Black entrepreneurs though, is we tend to lack social capital. So how do you recommend we build relationships with this critical piece of the startup ecosystem when we probably can't get to them?
After the murder of George Floyd, I’m hopeful that more investors are paying attention to the extreme racial inequity in tech. I certainly am and encourage any Black entrepreneurs to simply reach out to me at email@example.com. And while I might not be a target for investment, I’m happy to try to help get them connected into my network, any virtual startup communities I’m part of, and be an ongoing resource for them.
There are also new online networks like Valence for connecting Black entrepreneurs with capital. Finally, as I learned from a Black friend recently, it’s both directions - I need to get involved in your network as much as you want me to extend my network to you. That’s something I’m trying to do and that I encourage all investors, especially in local startup communities, to do.
I'd like to add that you have to make it easy for people to make introductions for you. Here's an article Brad wrote with tips for how to do so for email intros. And if it wasn't for Brad making an email introduction to someone who never would have returned my emails, this foundation wouldn't have started for at least another one-to-three months, and we wouldn't have given away $10,000 in grants to ten super-deserving Black ParentPreneurs.
Social capital matters and I'm thrilled to see Brad recognizes this, too.
In the book, you describe the entrepreneurial mindset of founders as wanting to grow quickly and independently of geographical boundaries; they believe their customers are all over the world. Can you talk about the mindset of the most successful entrepreneurs you’ve worked with? And do you think those mindsets are conducive to good mental health?
My favorite entrepreneurs to work with are servant leaders. They lead, but by helping and supporting everyone on their team to be successful. This is a humble and powerful approach to leadership and stands in contrast to self-centered, narcissistic leaders who try to dominate everything.
These servant leaders run lots of small experiments, are comfortable with them failing, and are endlessly curious about what is going on around them. They are introspective, listen carefully to feedback from others, and are inclusive in everything they do. While they are obsessed with their work, they are also on an endless journey of "radical self-inquiry,”according to Jerry Colonna in his book, Reboot,
The book describes diversity as a feature and not a bug in startup communities. You say, “We realize that as white, well-educated, heterosexual, American males, we are in a privileged position. We are both strongly committed to diversity and inclusion, and we are self-aware of the resources and power dynamics that our privilege provides us.”
Can you please talk about the specific things you have done lately with your privilege and resources to help address racial inequality, specifically as it relates to Black people? And what do you hope to accomplish having done so?
After George Floyd was murdered, I realized that while my wife Amy Batchelor and I have been long-time supporters of social justice through our Anchor Point Foundation, I was a passive participant in eliminating racism. So I reached out to a dozen of my Black friends, including you, with a simple question: “What are two things you are involved in that I can support with time, money, and influence.” Several months later, I’m actively involved in a number of initiatives being led by these friends, playing the role of a white-male-ally in these activities.
In addition, I’ve committed to reading one book a week by a Black author (fiction and non-fiction) and have actively engaged in a leadership education program in Colorado called the Colorado Tech Coalition for BIPOC Support, led by Equity Solutions.
If you're involved in a startup in any way, I encourage you to read Brad's new book, or any of his other books (there are about twenty of them), for that matter.
People, Brad just gave you his email address, use it! As you can imagine, he is super busy, but he always gets back to you eventually. So if you need help, reach out to him. Thanks, Brad, for sitting down with me for this interview and I appreciate your support for this foundation, startup communities around the world, and for Black people writ large.
P.S., Please make a tax-deductible contribution to the ParentPreneur Foundation.
P.P.S., If you're a Black ParentPreneur, please join our online community.