How to Get That Coffee Meeting You Can’t Get

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


pexels-photo-324028

Reflecting on “Creating Value” and Reaching Out to Others

A couple weeks ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Poornima Vijayashanker of Femgineer. We spoke about startup failure, resilience, new opportunities, and networking. During the course of our conversation, we discussed the notion of reaching out to others—particularly the idea of reaching out to influential people in one’s network “without a reason.” It occurred to me recently that there is a massive difference between reaching out to someone in a tactless way and building a bridge with someone to facilitate dialogue and potential partnership in the future. Let me explain.

Poornima and I both expressed to be fans of the mantra “create value for others before asking for it for yourself”—a notion that I was opened up to and drawn to through following Chris Sacca and others. Part of what the mantra espouses is the belief that doing things for other people leads to people wanting to do good things for you in return. It underscores the idea of good karma and proving one’s worth rather than just saying it. Sometimes, actions do truly speak louder than words.

But it also presented a challenge the more I thought about it. In my mind, part of creating value for others is recognizing the importance of their time, and treating it, as Mark Cuban would say, as their most precious resource. That understood, what if you want to get to know someone simply for the opportunity to get to know them? What if you don’t (yet) have a company or idea you want to pitch, or a fund round you want them to lead, or even an intro you want them to make for you? What if it really is as simple as identifying someone whose personality has an impact on you and wanting to cultivate a relationship with that person?

In short, how do you build your Minimum Viable Network without alienating the very people you hope to forge connections with?

“Don’t Ask to Pick My Brain Over a Coffee Meeting”

Investors (and others) always say “don’t ask me if we can meet for coffee so you can pick my brain.” I’ve heard it numerous times from influential investors whom I respect. However, it didn’t match up with the private interactions I’ve had with a few influential investors myself (who shall remain unnamed to protect their inboxes). So, how do I have multiple standing offers to meet with some important people just to grab a coffee and chat—talk music—talk politics—talk relationships?

I put in time to get to know them beforehand. Before any coffee meeting was ever discussed.

I believe that when influential people say, “don’t ask me to meet for coffee or to pick my brain,” they’re not really saying “I’ll never have coffee with you.” (Though, as with all generalizations, there are always exceptions).

What they’re really saying is, “I won’t meet with you if I don’t know you.”

You Build a Minimum Viable Network Through People Knowing You

So what does “knowing me” mean?

Sometimes it means that someone in their network has recommended and vouched for you.

Other times, though, it means that they know we might share similar musical taste, a similar sense of humor, similar worldviews, and/or similar values. They’re articulating a desire to meet with people who’ve put in the time and effort to cultivate a relationship prior to the coffee meeting; time speaking on Twitter, helpful feedback on projects, and certainly time cultivating a good reputation amongst the other people in their network.

This is how you get that coffee meeting that it appears no one ever gets. Be real, be engaging. If you share a similar musical or movie taste with someone you want a relationship with, let them knows. Post funny gifs, make references, lurk in conversations and make great observations—show that you have things in common on a human level outside the work paradigm.

This is how great networkers build great relationships.

Then, when you do have a specific idea you want to pursue, fund, or are seeking feedback on, reaching out to these people will be so much easier because a rapport has already been established. Not every good relationship needs to begin with a double-opt-in intro (though this is certainly one of the best techniques). It is possible to build great relationships on the backs of numerous coffee meetings where you just shoot the breeze with a sought after investor—but these will take much more time and care.

Be prepared to be patient, and always reciprocate good karma with good karma. Be humble in valuing someone else’s time, and it will speak louder than any idea you try to pitch in the moment.   

***

Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

screen-shot-2017-04-03-at-11-58-16-am

What I’ve Learned from Chris Sacca: Value, Empathy, and People

TL;DR: Life is all about relationships. A reflection on how Chris Sacca’s notions of value and relationships have shaped my views on business and people.

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 7.31.46 PM

I was debating whether or not to write this a post under the Minimum Viable Network banner, but in the end it seemed that it was better as a stand-alone thought process. Frankly, I was going to save the whole reflection for another time, but sometimes when you have to write it out, nothing else suffices.

Creative Minds

No doubt that most of the tech and VC world is talking about Chris Sacca’s retirement from VC today. And while I won’t pretend I saw it coming, I also can’t say that I’m 100% surprised by it. Growing up, working, and socializing among artists and creative individuals, one thing I’ve come to accept as true is that truly innovative minds become restless and constantly seek new adventures and challenges.

In my time identifying as a writer, poet, journalist, painter, artist, founder, I’ve heard people who don’t quite understand the pull describe it as “lack of focus” or “a desire for obstacles over happiness.” But that cheapens the real feeling that we contend with; it’s not about lacking focus or not wanting to be happy. Just the opposite—it’s about finding happiness and meaning in new adventures and letting those new teachings sharpen our focus and perspective on life.

I’ve had the unique opportunity of speaking to Sacca just once, and in that short exchange, I saw in him what I’ve described above. And it made me want to get to know him even more.

There’s a myth popularized by artist biopics that truly creative people prize art/winning/results above all else, especially relationships with others. Sacca proves that to be dead wrong. In so many ways, the greatest creators and innovators were great because of the relationships they cultivated, most times with oft forgotten people in the background. Van Gogh had his brother Theo to support him and keep him (mostly) sane, Jim Morrison had his long-time companion  Pamela Courson, and in many ways Steve Jobs had Wozniak (certainly not forgotten) to keep him balanced for a time.

Relationships don’t distract from incredible achievements; they are what make those achievements possible.

Relationships Define People

So what does any of this have to do with Sacca? Everything.

My first thought reading Sacca’s retirement post wasn’t “oh no, but I wanted Lowercase to fund my next company,” or “but why walk away, you’re winning.”

It’s simply: “Money or no money, I still want to know Sacca because of the things he’s espoused over the last few years which have shaped my perspective in tech and business, as well as life.”

I’m more grateful to Erik Torenberg and Product Hunt than I could even say for facilitating the aforementioned encounter. In life, sometimes the most transformative experiences can come from the most serendipitous opportunities, and that was certainly true here. (A full reflection on this experience for the Minimum Viable Network is forthcoming when the time is right.)

So why has listening to Sacca and reading his posts been “so transformative?” Because his notion of creating value for others before asking for yourself, prizing empathy, and networking through conviction have become central tenets to how I think.

Core Tenets

In creating the idea of the Minimum Viable Network, so much is centered around the concept of creating value for others, cultivating deep relationships through empathy, acting as a support network when your friends and allies need you, and projecting magnetic positivity and opportunity. When I talk to artists, I tell them to go out and project a powerful, positive persona—that’s what attracts people. In helping a good friend of mine prepare for a lecture on ethics at Syracuse University (happening tonight!), I told him to emphasize empathy, and that power will come from a conviction for honest networking.

To other founders who now tweet me and ask how to get into tech and startups (why they tweet me is still a mystery haha), I say simply: Go and create ridiculous amounts of value for other people; don’t worry about “getting your’s” right now.

Karma comes around when the time is right. Focus on making yourself so magnetic to others that they can’t not know you.

I’m Richer for Seeing Life Through Relationships with People

I’m in so many ways richer for shaping my perspective on life around these core ideas. I’ve had the good fortune of building an incredible network of friends and allies, seemingly through just running my mouth and doing things for other people. The irony? It was never a “strategy” I was employing—creating value for others to create value for myself. It was—and is—simply doing things for others because I can, and because I want to. But like I said, karma has a funny way of keeping track.

So at the end of all of this, where am I?

Still positive, still excited, and still looking forward to my first coffee with Sacca, whenever that might be. In tech as in music, everyone seems to know everyone, and reputation is everything. So I have total faith that people who endeavor to help others will see their paths cross at some point. Until then, I’ll keep learning, keep building, keep creating value, and keep empathizing with others.

Life is relationships. And relationships happen at the most serendipitous of times.

***

Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

How Changing Your Perception of Cold Emailing Will Make You a Better Networker

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


startup-photos.jpg

Cold Emailing Is a Necessary Skill

A couple years ago, I wrote a piece on why you should think of cold emailing as an opportunity, not a chore. The post was a response to a piece Hunter Walk had written on the topic, and it got me thinking about how we perceive the practice of cold emailing. So instead of discussing today how you should go about cold emailing, I think it’s first important to take a step back and discuss how you should go about thinking about cold emailing.

I’ve sent thousands of cold emails—to investors, to artists, to other founders—and what I’ve found is that it doesn’t really matter what industry you’re in. In the end, the lesson is always the same.  

In every industry, cold emailing is a fact of life to some extent. Whether you’re in tech, pharmaceuticals, law enforcement, law, real estate, etc., you will send some type of cold email at some point for some aspect of your job. Normally the goal of a cold email is to make a sale; to get some potential client to purchase something. But even in professions where your end goal isn’t to sell a product or service, you will undoubtedly need to reach out to someone you don’t initially know at some point.

Why Your Perception of Cold Emailing Matters

The reason that changing your perception about cold emailing can and will make you a better networker is because it changes how you perceive and meet obstacles. Look at cold emailing as another arrow in your networking quiver, and especially as one of the ones you may need to rely on to start building your minimum viable network. Though warm, double-opt in introductions are obviously preferred, cold emailing/messaging is still be an invaluable skill.

Not knowing someone—not having a prior meeting with them and/or not having someone to make an introduction for you—is a major obstacle in life. It will keep you from making that important sale which could sink or save your company. Sometimes the only way to reach that person is to take a stab and take your chances with an unintroduced email.

Instead of fixating on the fact that it’s a cold email and you have no history with the person, however, focus on how you can state creating a rapport with them. Do not think about it as you giving them a chance they otherwise wouldn’t have—rarely do cold emails with phrases like “I don’t want you to miss out” or “you’ll kick yourself if you don’t buy/invest” work. Those are just annoying, and reek of desperation.

Be Positive and Opportunistic, Not Desperate

Your goal in any cold email is not to project desperation, it’s to project opportunity. It’s about letting the other person know that you’re genuinely interested in creating a rapport with them, and possibly starting a longer-term relationship. At the end of the day, the cold emails which emphasize a long-term relationship tone over a short-term sale win almost every time. They are opportunistic and serendipitous—this in turn is magnetic to the reader.

Change how you think about cold emailing and you will change the responses you get to cold emails. This in turn will help you build out a network that perceives you as positive and magnetic. That—maybe more than anything—is what will draw people to your network.

***

Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 11.58.16 AM

How to Build Your Network by Creating Value and Good Karma

An entry in the Minimum Viable Network series.


pexels-photo-40120.jpeg

A couple years ago (before AngelList acquired Product Hunt), AngelList founder and CEO Naval Ravikant did an AMA on Product Hunt during which a founder (Brent Summers) asked a fairly astute question: “If you were just starting out again, what are 1-2 steps you’d take to surround yourself with successful people?”

Naval’s answer?

Share freely.

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 2.26.48 PM

In so many words, Naval had underscored what I believed in work as well as in life: that introductions and great networking are a function of good vibes and positive karma. “Paying it forward” as Naval articulated.

Confidence and Good Karma Beget a Good Reputation

Everything good that’s happened in my professional career has come my way as a result of being open and sharing what I knew with others. Most every paid writing job I’ve had came my way because I published freely and shared ideas with people who were then in a position to throw some work my way. When I got into tech, opening myself up helped cultivate a paradigm in which new and exciting opportunities came my way, sometimes serendipitously. 

This is arguably one of the easiest things to learn and implement in your strategy as you build out your minimum viable network. When you know some something—when something is your wheelhouse and you can provide great feedback or ideas on something or to someone—do it, and don’t get caught up in the “what/when will you pay me?” question in the beginning. The good opportunities will follow, and compensation—monetary and otherwise—will materialize when the relationships have had time to germinate.

I’m not advocating for always doing work for free or selling yourself short. But this series isn’t about the hard realities of making money; it’s about how to put yourself in a position to cultivate long-term relationships that yield a broad, engaged network over time.

To Naval’s point, if you figure out something you’re really good at—something you know will benefit other people—then prove you’re the person they need to come to for that. How do you prove it? By showing people you’re confident and comfortable enough in your abilities that you’re happy to simply pay it forward.  Project this confidence, and you will become infinitely more attractive as a prospective network connection. You create your minimum viable network one relationship at a time, by building your reputation as always being around, and always being the right person for “that thing.”

Transactional Relationships Are Short-Term Relationships

This is a solid example of what Chris Sacca calls creating value for others before asking for it for yourself. By going out and doing things for other people—in this case, sharing what you know—without being transactional, you begin to make yourself indispensable, and therefore attractive as a candidate for someone’s network.

Transactional relationships make for short relationships—they are expendable as soon as they outgrow their utility. Symbiotic relationships, however, continue to grow and evolve as the people do, and this is born out of an ease of interactions—free exchange of ideas perhaps—between the individuals.

Plant the Seeds of Value

The best example I can give at the moment is this series: I know that I’m good with people. I like people; I like talking to them and building bridges between them.

So this is an exercise in how to help others do it. You want to start to gain influential followers on Twitter? Share things you know and freely reference other people in your blog posts and podcasts—and always credit them, because that’s a wonderful back-street way of building credit for yourself. Highlighting others’ value highlights your own value.

When that value seed is planted, it continues to grow—one connection, one lukewarm intro at a time—until you look back and realize you now have a minimum viable network that can allow you access to almost anything.

***

Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 11.58.16 AM

 

The Spotify-SoundCloud Supergroup Is Dead

Originally published on Mattermark on December 29, 2017. 


tl;dr: The SoundCloud and Spotify deal is dead. For Spotify, no deal avoids unnecessary headaches. For SoundCloud, the road ahead looks lonely as the platform heads into 2017.

Screen-Shot-2016-12-29-at-1.30.13-PM.png

Cream. Bad Company. Temple of the Dog. These were some of the greatest supergroups that ever existed. The Spotify-SoundCloud union could have been next, but like many supergroup concepts, it only lasted a short time.

The real question is why. Ultimately, in my view, the deal died because SoundCloud tried to become something that it wasn’t, alienating its core fan base in the process.

It was easy to argue that a Spotify-SoundCloud combination could benefit each party: SoundCloud’s independent-heavy catalog and Spotify’s major label material are natural complements.

But the prospect is no longer on the table. It recently became known that Spotify passed on acquiring the little orange cloud.

Let’s talk about why that happened.

Supergroup Not

2016 was not kind to SoundCloud.

Despite signing deals with major labels, securing its largest to-date funding round, and launching its own subscription service, key questions remain concerning its current operational results, where it fits into the M&A landscape, and what an independent SoundCloud looks like in 2017.

Fiscal Expense

Mattermark recently examined, broadly, who could afford to buy SoundCloud, now that Spotify has left the table.

To understand why Spotify might have passed—neither Spotify nor SoundCloud responded to requests for comments regarding this piece—on SoundCloud, it’s worth remembering the smaller firm’s P&L.

SoundCloud’s revenue quickly expanded from $1.8 million in 2010 to $9.6 million in 2012, to $19.6 million in 2014. Its losses tracked upwards, however, from $2.01 million in 2010 to $14.9 million in 2012, to $44.2 million in 2014.

desk-music-headphones-earphones-1.jpg

Much like Spotify and other streaming services, some SoundCloud revenue quickly passes through its books. In SoundCloud’s case, around 80 percent of its revenue from a portion of its aggregate top line goes right to labels. Spotify’s results are similar.

The context for those numbers is simple: SoundCloud has raised around $193 million to-date over a series of five rounds. Just comparing the company’s through-2014 losses, SoundCloud has spent around half its raise so far. And since we’re not including more recent operational results, that figure is very conservative.

The Sophomore Slump

If 2010 to 2013 was SoundCloud’s breakthrough album, then 2014 to 2016 was its disappointing follow-up.

Beginning in 2015, SoundCloud started to move away from its initial user base of independent artists and began courting major labels. The company inked a deal with Warner in later 2015 and Universal Music in early 2016.

Warner and Universal were joined by the last remaining holdout in March of 2016 when Sony signed on. That effectively marked the end of SoundCloud’s days as the independents’ playground.

Following the three major label deals, SoundCloud released SoundCloud Go, its entry into the music subscription wars. The company has yet to report major gains from the subscription product. I’d posit that it may be difficult for SoundCloud to entice music fans to the service. If potential subscribers are interested in mainstream music, they can already go to other music services.

Money Talks

While Spotify sports extensive independent material, its focus is major label artists. That fact did not escape those who made the argument in favor of the combination. SoundCloud’s huge base of independent EDM, acoustic, rock, and other artists could help balance the scales and provide a funnel into the Spotify nest.

If the argument for Spotify buying SoundCloud was that the latter could help the former pull in independent music, do SoundCloud’s operational results matter?

The answer is yes, as Spotify doesn’t want anything to threaten its impending IPO.

Earlier this year, I took a deep dive into Spotify’s own financials, examining the numbers and reasons that they already might have a tricky path to IPO. New cost centers could make that already difficult-looking trek nigh impossible.

Even with SoundCloud’s legal issues seemingly taken care of by major label deals, SoundCloud’s subscription service arrived to lackluster reviews, and its sizable debt may present too much of a headache for Spotify just before their looming IPO.

This is all especially stark considering SoundCloud’s desired price-tag of $1 billion. Even with Twitter’s most recent $70 million investment into the service, valuing it in the neighborhood of $700 million, Spotify would still need to pay an additional $300 million to close the difference.

2017

What does this all mean for SoundCloud’s future?

As with Spotify, the major labels now have a vested interest in SoundCloud’s existence. But that doesn’t mean that they have a long-term interest in its health. As I noted in my previous Spotify piece, the labels may not want to kill SoundCloud, but they also don’t have to go out of their way to help it. So long as it sends in revenue, who cares?

Some people will care. The danger could be that independent artists may care enough to go somewhere else more focused on them. (Since they operate independently, SoundCloud’s major label deals have no sway over their prospective decisions.)

SoundCloud’s challenge is that the faster it rushes to catch up with Spotify and Apple in the mainstream arena, the faster it may alienate its key demographic of independent artists; in working to compete with the larger, mainstream players, I wonder if SoundCloud has become what its initial user base—its core point of differentiation—was trying to avoid

We’ll see in 2017.


Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

Stop Telling Me I Need to Code

Originally published on my Medium on September 15, 2016.

1-cmysgxsibbtifn63bqzdpw

An argument for those of us who write best with sentences, not code.


I’m Not a Coder

Let me start off by saying that I am not and have never been averse to learning a new skill, even one outside my general comfort zone. In fact, I quite enjoy expanding my horizons and learning how to see the world in different ways.

But I’m not going to learn to code.

At least, I’m not going to learn to code well enough to build something completely on my own. I’ve done various courses on Codecademy and it was interesting to me to begin to see the possibilities of tech and information in a new light. But that’s not my background and not my wheelhouse. My wheelhouse is broad trends, analysis, synthesis, and communication.

In college, I studied a wide variety of non-tech/coding subjects. And I’m not alone. I studied:

  • Art (as did Brian Chesky)
  • Psych (like Jason Calacanis)
  • Sociology and philosophy (as did Chris Dixon and Stewart Butterfield)
  • English and Poli-Sci (like Jessica Livingston and Morgan DeBaun)
  • And come from a family of lawyers (something I feel Chris Sacca might relate to)

I also studied a ridiculous amount of history. These things—not code—are what help me put the world into a larger context.

First Coming to Tech

When I first got into tech, I felt overwhelmed. And I felt inadequate. It seemed that everyone knew how to code except me, though I resolved to find a way to learn. And I powered through a few Codecademy classes. But it didn’t stick in the way that would allow me to build an app or site myself.

I understood the concepts behind basic design, and had a better understanding of the work it took to make something materialize—but I knew I was never going to be the one to do it. It never got easier, and it’s still challenging for me.

Easy for me is sitting down for a couple hours and drafting, editing, and blasting out a solid, synthesized argument. But in those early moments, that didn’t seem to be on par with knowing how to code in java.

1-3x8rzvijokgf2zhbs209xg

While in the headspace of “I need to learn to code or I don’t belong,” I seriously underrated what I was good at. And that’s people.

I’m Good at People

I love networking; I never knew there was even a term for it—I just figured it was called talking. I love hearing the stories of others, connecting them to potential partners, and trying to identify mutually beneficial opportunities for both (or all) parties involved.

I’m better at reading people than I am at reading code. People are flexible and creative—code is not. (That is, it’s not to me).

I come from lawyers. I come from the mindset of there is never one right answer;” it all depends on how good your argument is, and how you can continually restructure your thought process. The notion that a line of code doesn’t work because one character is out of place is foreign to me. The same way that lateral thinking—that there might be multiple, arguable right answers—is foreign to others.

Unintended Microaggressions

Whenever I read the sentence “you should learn to code,” my first thought is “you should learn to write (well).” The concept that code is the new literacy is—frankly—bullshit. It’s undeniable that coding is a hyper-important skill in the 21st century—but it’s not the end-all, be-all of literacy. Literacy spans a variety of languages, communication tools, and colloquial, idiomatic trends. There is no “one” magic bullet.

1-cdujzefcc83zxrac6ahiww

Treating it as such is short-sighted and arrogant. Arguably, it’s an—albeit unintended—micro-aggression that dissuades non-tech founders and Humanities majors from taking the dive into tech. Similarly, telling me that it’s “easy to learn” is a matter of opinion, not fact. And again, it’s arrogant.

How Good Is Your Writing?

I read staggering amounts of material online. Much of it is posted by super smart founders, investors, and thinkers. And from a writing perspective, a ton of it sucks.

A lot of it rambles, comes off as tone-deaf, is too splayed, and hasunforgivable grammar errors. In fact, some is so grammatically jarring simply because the writers use grammar rules that are ancient, while ignoring new colloquially correct dynamics. This makes the writing unbearably stilted. When writing an article in my world, you make it tight and you make it bullet-proof. I don’t understand writing that isn’t structured like this (creative writing aside, of course).

1-pmwofcv5vuismhawsqzwqw

Growing Into My Skin as a Non-Tech Founder

I’m not bitter, though. I know I’ll never write code like Mark Zuckerberg, and I’m ok with that. I have amazing team members and connections who can do a better job there than I ever could. So why not let them win where they naturally win?

I’ll continue to refine the coding skills I have as much as I can, but I harbor no delusions of coding grandeur. I’ve now grown more comfortable in my non-tech founder skin. I’ve grown more adept at identifying the real things in code that I need to understand, and the ones that are nice, but superfluous for my skill-set.

1-ayddzj5ri7sivb4noohizw

Instead of telling me I “should learn to code,” lend to me a plethora of tools I can use, and articulate to me that I’m not inadequate and no less a founder if it doesn’t come so easily.

In an industry with such a high rate of failure, teamwork, communication, and vision should be prioritized above most everything else. That’s the only way any of us succeed.


 Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

What Artists Can Learn from Startups, Part 2

Who Do You Promote?

Recently, I wrote a post entitled, “What Artists Can Learn from Startups” in which I began looking at a number of strategies which startup companies (mainly tech) use to generate leads and interest in their products and services.

The more I think about it, the more certain strategies really stick out as things that artists should be considering and implementing. One in particular is something which holds my attention.

In tech (startups, at least), there isn’t the same reticence to publicize and promote someone else’s product or service as there seems to be in music. Among artists, there seems to be this gospel-like belief that if you promote an artist or song you don’t love with all your soul, then you’re somehow being disingenuous. In all forms of art, and music especially, the concept of reputation is taken extremely seriously. Sometimes to a fault.

Whereas I see founders from all over the startup world promoting one another, I see more resignation in the music community to follow suit, and truthfully for no good reason.

I have no qualms about promoting a product or service that I don’t use, or don’t use regularly. Before you come down on me for having a hidden agenda, though, take a moment to think about all the things you can promote someone for that have little to nothing to do with their service or product.

So often, I find myself tweeting and posting about the people behind the product, either because they’re so magnetic, so innovative in their thought process, or so willing to help others. It has so much more to do with their character than anything else. And this is something artists could so easily cash in on and make their own.

When someone helps you set up a show, helps promote your band or music online, or introduces you to someone new, tweeting out a “thank you” and promoting them isn’t being disingenuous at all. Quiet the opposite. It actually solidifies you as someone who returns favors and good karma, and thus builds your own reputation, even if it’s in the service of others (for the moment).

Positive service of others is service to ourselves, if only indirectly. Artists would do well to begin to reexamine their practices in how they promote others, from the decision process to the execution. Starting to have more fluid strategies here could greatly expand their networks in relatively short amounts of time.

More to come on this soon.

Why Silicon Valley Is Rebuffing the Wall Street Journal’s ‘Andreessen Horowitz’ Piece

Marc Andreessen (left) and Ben Horowitz (right); image courtesy of Forbes

Marc Andreessen (left) and Ben Horowitz (right); image courtesy of Forbes

First Serve

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran an article on the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz (hereafter, ‘a16z’). The piece took a look at the firm’s raise-rounds and returns, and was critical of a16z’s placement among other “venture-capital elite” like Sequoia, Benchmark, and Founders Fund.

While the article is quick to throw around numbers and buzzwords like “elite” and “blockbuster [investments],” the main premise is that a16z hasn’t yet earned the “premier reputation” that it has amongst those in the tech community.

Second Serve — Response

The response from the tech world basically ate up the rest of yesterday afternoon and night.

It started with a response blog post from a16z managing partner Scott Kupor, which was posted not long after the original piece went up: When Is a “Mark” Not a Mark?

One thing Kupor points out immediately is that “marks” and “returns are two very different things in the realm of venture capital. Further, “[c]ash or stock actually realized and distributed to LPs is the only real, non-manipulable measure of a firm’s interim success.”

Kupor is articulating that the data which the WSJ published is somewhat misleading because it chose the metric of unrealized returns to match the title of the article. He further fleshed out this argument as the post went on.

Then the flood began.

Mark Suster wrote a great response of his own here: What to Make of Andreessen Horowitz’s Returns?

One of Suster’s most intriguing points is when he plots the line of thinking lot of VC’s have had about a16z over time, from “ ‘We love Ben and Marc’ and ‘they raised how much’ to ‘…they sure are hiring a ton of staff…’ and ‘How can we hire more staff to keep up with the services they offer?’. ”

More importantly, though, Suster puts into context a reason why a16z might already have the reputation that it does — that most entrepreneurs perceive it as a place of great connections and services, and that he himself has had positive experiences with the firm when they’ve done deals with Upfront Ventures (oh which Suster is a part).

Twitter Thoughts

All the while, I was intrigued to see the flow of responses over Twitter:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why the WSJ’s Focus on a16z’s “Rivals” Is Misplaced

Part of what I find so intriguing is the direct aversion to a dynamic that is perpetuated in the original piece. Whereas the WSJ article paints a broad picture of a16z in relation to its “top rivals,” here are numerous responses from VC’s who run other funds seemingly going to bat for Andreessen Horowitz. In my opinion, this is something exceedingly important which the article skates over.

Yes, these different funds and investors compete for the best deals and the best founders/companies to work with. But most don’t do in a way that makes it easy to label them as rivals.

The term “rival” has a finality to it, as if it’s a forgone conclusion that those two parties will always be on opposite sides of the table. Yet inasmuch as everyone in this business wants to “win” at deals, the metaphor I see is more of a music one than a sports one. In the latter, there’s one winner, one champion. The former, however, creates a paradigm where multiple winners can exist, and where there is a fluidity regarding partnerships and mutual benefits.

Funnily enough, the WSJ added this little blurb to the original article not long after, though really without restructuring its initial argument to account for Kupor’s points:

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 12.03.58 PM

So what’s the takeaway in all of this?

  • First and foremost, understand the numbers, terms, and dynamics you’re working with and writing about. That seems to be a point of disconnect between the original article and the response pieces.
  • Second, things are rarely ever as simple as they appear to be.
  • Third, there is a way to write hard-hitting journalism without [publically] making enemies; if you don’t know how to do this, you should alter your writing strategy.

While I wouldn’t call the response to the initial article “biblical” by any sense, it nonetheless provides a good window into the dynamics of venture capital thought and strategy. If nothing else, founders have now been given a good variety of response posts to read and understand, particularly with regard to VC fund calculation and long-term plays.

I know what I’ll be doing this weekend.


If you enjoyed this, find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

Takeaways from AngelList Radio’s Podcast with Tyler Willis and Jason Calacanis

Yesterday I listened to Tyler Willis have Jason Calacanis on the AngelList Radio podcast. Despite the fact that the episode was recorded a couple of months ago, I couldn’t stop listening to it. In fact, I was about halfway through it the second time when it occurred to me that I should take a few notes on it to summarize the incredible amount of information that Tyler and Jason discussed (it is an hour and a half long, after all).

Jason Calacanis; image courtesy of the AngelList Radio podcast

Jason Calacanis; image courtesy of the AngelList Radio podcast

The sheer amount of important information covered makes summarizing all of it challenging, but I’ll give it a try. I should note, though, before delving in, that some of the most poignant things covered were in the form of life stories and philosophies from Jason, a summarized transcription of which does not do them justice. To really soak up the underlying meaning of what’s listed below, you really need to listen to it for yourself. Possibly multiple times.

Moving along though. The points which Tyler and Jason hit can most aptly be placed within a number of areas of thought and consideration.  

These are:

  • People
  • Mentalities
  • Entrepreneurs and Founders
  • (Angel) Investing
  • Democratization

I’ll do my best to tackle each one of these, but keep in mind that these are just a few of the points which struck me as the most powerful. I will discuss some in more depth than others, as a number of them are self-explanatory.

People

Jason’s view of people in my mind basically splits into three main veins: human calculation, relationships, and arguably the most important one, empathy.

Human Calculation

This goes to “Jason’s Law of Angel Investing,” which according to Jason is: “I don’t need to know if the idea’s going to win, I [just] need to know if the person’s a winner.”

Jason looks for and reads the things that other people might miss: body language, personality, and interactive cues. As he mentions, he will talk about the [founder’s] idea through the lens of trying to figure out if [s/he’s] a winner or not. This sort of human calculation sets Jason up for the long game, something which he discusses as being a part of his overall strategy.

Relationships

Jason is extremely bullish on his relationships, wanting to be the first call a founder makes when things are going wrong, when the situation looks dire, or just when founders are having a hard time. He discusses understanding that being a founder is lonely, and sometimes all one needs is an ear to vent to; someone to “shoot the shit” with. Perhaps this goes back to Jason’s major in psychology; certainly his ability to read people and situations benefits from such a thought process. 

Life is relationships, pure and simple. Everything else is secondary, and Jason aspires to (almost obsessively) cultivate his relationships. (That’s a good thing, by the way).

This however, leads into what I consider to be one of the central theses of the discussion: empathy.

Empathy

Startups are hard. Actually, that’s a lie; startups are fucking hard. And sometimes the best thing is when someone will just sit and listen while you vent and fume for a little while. Loneliness kills, and having a friendly ear can make all the difference on those tough nights.

One quote seems to capture what Jason’s mentality would be during those nights on the phone with a founder having a hard time: “When I invested in you, I knew the odds were against you, and I still believed in you.” That pretty much sums up all that needs to be said.

Jason’s philosophy of accomplishing close relationships simply by being a nice human being—“buying [the founder] a cup of coffee, buying them dinner, or just saying ‘I believe in you’”—is exactly how I see the world as well. Cultivating relationships means doing what you can for other people because you can do it, not because you see some reward at the end of the tunnel. In the long run, good relationships do tend to reward people in often unexpected ways, but that should never be the crux of the relationships. Relationships are empathy and positivity. It’s about being magnetic.

Mentalities

Within the context of mentalities, Jason hits on a number of notions, though the one that sticks out to me the most is his focus on the “journalistic mentality.” Clearly a holdover from his time as a journalist, Jason discusses how he looks for people who exhibit great journalistic skills: an inquisitive mind, good communication skills, and being able to read situations well. In many ways, this connects with a lot of his poker metaphors. (There are lots of poker metaphors).

As he points out: “What happens when you interview [people] for a long time is you start to understand when they’re full of shit and you start to tell…who’s full of greatness…” Bluntly put, this is very true. I experienced it a lot during my time as a music journalist, speaking with artists and other industry professionals. Being a journalist is one of the best ways you can get to know the industry you want to be in.

“[A journalist] equals an inquisitive person who can communicate well.”

Entrepreneurs and Founders

Jason spends a lot of time talking about how he identifies great founders and what anyone should be doing and/or thinking about if they want to be an entrepreneur.

Know “Why”

First and foremost, know “why.” Why are you doing this, what is the underlying reason?

For Jason, answers like “the market seems open” or “I wanted to try being a founder” don’t cut it. It speaks to the authenticity if a founder is doing it for a larger reason than just trying to take advantage of a particular market situation. There needs to be a certain inevitability to what they’re doing, and how they see the world (something which Chris Sacca has also touched on).

As Jason sees it, there needs to be a real sense of purpose in the founder(s), a mission: “The world needs to evolve in this way, and we have the solution, and we NEED to implement our solution to change the way the world works.”

Jason: “Really talented people tell you where the world is going, and then you get to be part of it. And then you get to help them launch the rocket.”

Don’t Screw Your Supporters

They need to have the integrity not to screw the people who supported them early on. This is exactly in line with a well-known adage in the music industry which I always quote: “For those who forget us on the way up, we’ll see you on the way down.” Don’t forget the people who made your rise possible.

Be a Punk

Founders need to be punks.

Ok so Jason didn’t actually use this word, but as I explained in my post here, that’s really the type of mentality he is describing when he articulates what he looks for in people.

Additionally founders need:

  • To have an armor; a relentless drive, and be relentlessly resourceful
  • Have maniacal execution skills
  • Unstoppable determination

(Angel) Investing

Jason relayed a lot of information about investing and investment strategy. He discussed a lot of his personal strategy as well as how new investors can get in the game and start to learn the ropes.

For the sake of time (and because a lot of this is fairly self-explanatory), here’s a rundown of what he discussed:

  • Tips (for Angel Investing)
    • Spread your bets
    • Start by making investments slowly over a year
    • Even if you lose money, you’ll learn something
    • Always try to learn before diving in head first
    • Join syndicates
    • Get in the game and start
    • Double and triple down on your best bets
    • Meet with founders as much as you possibly can
    • Play the cars of the best investor at the table if you’re new to investing
    • Do the work, be proactive
    • Play the long game
    • Be patient and learn
    • Financial performance will come; focus on a portfolio strategy
    • Investing is a fight/struggle
    • Don’t ever discount anybody
    • Make a 5-year plan
    • Pro-rata rights
    • You want the “difficult” people; these people “mix it up”
    • Focus on being the most valuable and helpful person to the founder
  • Need to Have
    • A comfort losing a lot of your money (which you invested)
    • A comfort with the “shitshow” realities of investing
  • Don’t Be an Investor If
    • You’re annoying
    • You’re a control freak/obsessive person
    • You can’t remain cool and calm
    • You can’t remain classy in the face of defeat
    • You can’t deal with bad news
    • You can’t be a mensch

As Jason articulated: “I have to be the most valuable [person] to the founders. [I ask myself,] ‘Am I doing the most for that person?’”

How did Jason get to this thought process? When he started investing he made a list of all the things he could do for founders to provide value to them. Then he did them.

Democratization

The last major point which Jason discusses is democratization. In this case, he’s referring to the democratization of knowledge and power, and how dynamics have totally shifted in the last 10 years, allowing for entrance into entrepreneurship for tons of people who previously had very little recourse.

Interestingly enough, as he’s discussing the democratization of knowledge which can be used for growth, development of new skills sets, and other such things, I’m just reminded of an article I wrote a few months ago on the democratization of music. True, Jason is describing a different type of democratization process, but the parallel works. In the same way that scarcity has become an obsolete mentality for music, so too has scarcity of startup and entrepreneurial knowledge become obsolete in the worlds of business and tech.

I said it once and I’ll say it again: scarcity is obsolete; democratization wins.

“[Entrepreneurship is] stumbling around in the dark room, fumbling around, until your hand hits the wall, and flicks on the light switch.” – Jason 

Jason also briefly touched on the differences he sees between his LAUNCH incubator and Y Combinator, but that’s a whole other discussion for another time.

All in all, the podcast was intriguing enough for me to listen to it twice all the way through, and then take notes on it for a post. I give it up to Tyler Willis for conducting a great interview, and look forward to a hopeful follow-up with Jason again.


If you enjoyed this, follow me on Twitter, where I talk tech, music, and funny junk 😀

Or, ya know, on that new Snapchat thing 🙂

CdhrnNSXEAEa2t1

Empathy, and Creating Value for Others Before Yourself

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 7.31.46 PM

Speaking with Chris Sacca and Erik Torenberg on Product Hunt LIVE

Empathy and Humility Are Disarming

Earlier this weekend, there was a great Medium post on Chris Sacca, and how he asks questions in a particular way. Phrasing it as “people-hacking,” a term which I found as quirky as it was vague, the post described the Q&A session which Sacca held following his most recent appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank, and which was moderated by Matt Mazzeo.

What I found most intriguing about the whole post was the ease with which it captured Sacca’s approach to not only answering questions, but asking them. The post itself seemed modeled on Sacca’s “ask vague, unloaded questions” approach, getting right to the heart of how and why someone in Sacca’s shoes (as a well-known investor) still seems approachable and down to earth. Humility is disarming and positivity is magnetic, whether you’re a founder, VC, employee, or customer.

Empathy—for other founders and everyone around you—seems to be a key trait which Sacca looks for. The focus on empathy falls directly in line with the thesis of Sacca’s earlier posts and Periscopes: karma, and creating value for others before asking for value for yourself. Last summer, I examined this focus on empathy and creating value for others within the greater context of relationships.

Creating Value for Others Before Yourself

I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with Sacca on these concepts a few months ago during a Product Hunt LIVE discussion he did. During the course of our short back-and-forth, he mentioned as an example how Mazzeo appeared on his radar simply because he created value for what Sacca was doing.

It was this initial value-for-nothing that then coalesced into a working relationship between the two (sans any formal interview); an example that underscored (at last for me) how important it is to continue to be a positive force for others even if the benefit for yourself is not yet clear. Good karma begets more good karma.    

Asking intentionally open-ended questions like “What does success look like?” and “How do you envision success with this product?” (from the original post) enable Sacca to do two things:

  1. He is able to maneuver the conversation away from stock answers and see how the founders really relate to their products, and
  2. He allows an element of freedom to flow through the process which eases the pressure and arguably allows him to see how a founder thinks when not completely flustered.

Relationships → Communities → Identities

The real takeaway from both the Medium post and Sacca’s initial Periscopes and articles is a focus on, and underscoring of, people. Understanding how people think, and being able to relate to those thoughts and emotions are what build relationships, which then turn into communities, and then into identities. Great companies cannot be built without these things, no matter how well everything else might work. Life is relationships, and there’s no substitute for knowing how to relate to people in empathetic and positive ways. These emotions in turn inspire trust and loyalty.

As they continue to build great things, I would encourage other founders to take these things to heart. They ring true regardless of whichever industry or walk of life you come from.

Thanks to Chris Sacca for taking time to answer my question, and to Erik Torenberg from Product Hunt for making it possible to do so!