You know that tingling sensation as an entrepreneur when your customer absolutely loves your product? Love needs to run through all your veins of your startup, from you as the leader & founder of this incredible company, your team, your carefully designed and commercialized solution to a customer pain point, your startup culture, and of course, your passion towards impact. Love is a core business strategy for success and scale. The more you love your startup as a leader, the more your team will love working for you & your company, and customers will rave, or love your solution. Love looks like value, it's a chain of reciprocal passion for valuing what is important to a startup. This passion is the catalyst for ongoing positive creativity where innovation emerges and where impact flourishes.
“Love is far greater and far more powerful than just another thing that is one part of a good business – it is the thing that makes all the other things either possible or more powerful.”
– Steve Farber.
Love should be a core component of your startup business, as internal strength and as an external factor for tracking success. Let's dive deeper into LOVE. In ancient Greece, there are four (4) different forms of the word, LOVE, and all four have a connectedness to love as a business over the years: (1) eros (“romantic”), (2) storge (“affection”), (3) philia (“friendship”) and (4) agape (“charity”). Philia and Agape are powerful, the heartbeat of a founder's leadership to formulate and lead teams with a servant's heart. Eros is what you feel with your significant other, Storge is the feeling you have for that favorite teddy bear (or for me, that stuffed bunny) that your father, boyfriend, girlfriend, flame, gave you on a special day that you have kept for years. C. S. Lewis wrote about these four forms in 1960 in his book, The Four Loves. Admiringly, for Martin Luther King, the concept of agape was at the core of his assertion that love and nonviolence were essential to remedying America’s race problems.
Don't take it just from me, from the third richest person in the world and nearing 90 years of age, Warren Buffett, the ultimate guru of financial return and true Return on Investment, actually says that his number 1 measure of success is LOVE.
Warren Buffett's measure for success in one word: love
I. Love Creates a Timeless Competitive Advantage
Who wants a sustainable, timeless competitive landscape in a growing global marketplace that is always shifting? At the core of this strategy is LOVE. There are so many facets of sustaining a competitive advantage, so in business terms, love can show up as:
Creative problem solving because love breads trust
Employee retention because they love their job
Collaboration with each other in the startup & others in the network
A values-aligned corporate culture of reciprocal positivity & recognition of everyone's value
NPS (Net Promoter Score)
Passion-filled new business partnerships
Larger than life feeling towards impact
Innovation for the greater good
II. A Strong Corporate Culture is a Wide-Spread Love of the Good Work
I absolutely loved the equation given by Steve Farber in his book (I specifically read for this newsletter article) for building a culture of trust and love within a business that is not filled with “kumbaya” moments, but with intentionality and reciprocity. Steve says that “real love includes accountability and sets an expectation of excellence”. He goes on throughout the book to relate the love someone has for their husband and marriage to the type of love that allows for businesses to thrive. That type of love that endures through the heard ships. I also parallel this kind of love to how we raise our children. We love them wholeheartedly, but to create GOOD humans, we need to hold them accountable to the values we have as a family doing GOOD in the world, loving our neighbors, doing honorable work, and contributing to society. There is accountability and reciprocity of trust to sustain a GOOD family. The equation for a successful company, then, stems from all of those principles:
(kindness + high standards = love at work)*values
I just added an exponential of values to create a corporate culture that honors the love the team & leadership have for each other and the customers they serve.
III. Do What you Love in Service of Others
Love should have a chair at the board room table and standing room around the water cooler and be amongst customers at a farmers market.
“The best use of your hands is always love. The best way to see your love is always time. The best time to love is always now.”
Love in Leadership is defined as the essence or aroma of a good servant leader. Therefore, first of all, a servant leader must abundantly love. How, you ask, do you do this in a business setting and much less in the startup world? There are so many ways to bring love into the business and startup worlds, though it might be a slightly new angle to think about love than we often do. Foremost, you can have love of different points of view! This is the baseline for developing a diverse and inclusive startup workplace and is the puzzle piece that builds into the larger startup ecosystem. A diverse startup community is a strong and thriving startup community. A love of the uniqueness of humankind must also be embraced. These first two aspects of love are irrespective of a business lens or a personal lens. Then, jumping into the professional setting, loving your work, loving interacting with people on your team and your customers, loving connecting with the greater good of your community, and loving collaborating with others on projects and ideas. There are many ways Love can lead your everyday actions and be a source of servant leadership. Love needs to be louder than anything else. All the other characteristics must spring forth from a heart filled with love.
What love in leadership is not:
Not easy to microwave, perfectly popped popcorn.
Not something you can fake
What love in leadership is:
Love is energetic
Love is deep, restorative & reflective
Love is long-term & endearing
Love is intensional
Love is a call to self-discovery as a leader of greats.
Love is trust
V. Do what you love in service of others
Customers want to feel valued, they want to feel loved. When you serve others in that capacity, with an agape love core, your customers will love you back. What is amazing about love is that it multiplies throughout the company so that customer is not only loving you back personally but organizationally. Customers will love what they experience with you or a team member, will see those same values in the intentionality of your products, then they will love you more. This ultimately results in raving customers, who have high customer loyalty and can be promoters of you, helping to gain repeat business with the emerging culture of happiness, love, and values-alignment, which will eventually translate to low employee turnover and high engagement in meetings & other commitments. A prime example of winning customers over with service is Zappos which did this with their free returns policy and other perks focused on an exceptional experience for their customers. “In fact, 81% of companies who provide great customer experiences and customer satisfaction do much better than their competitors, according to the 2009 “Customer Experience Maturity Monitor” report from the Peppers & Rogers Group.” Did you know that on average, it costs 7x more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one? Keep your customers in LOVE with your products and services, make their lives so much better that they depend on what you give them.
Now let's make this lovey-dovey stuff more practical.
How can you increase love in your startup? Today, in honor of Valentine's Day, is a perfect opportunity to give your startup a little TLC, a virtual box of chocolates, some love, and help your business scale from taking the passion you used to launch and leverage strengths within the startup to plan & execute in the next year. This can look like thanking the team by buying a round of coffees or expressing appreciation to the customers who use your products with a love coupon code. Here are the top 10 ways to do just that, from easy small daily steps to longer systemic change within your startup:
Create a powerful love flow. This is taken from my new favorite book, Love is just Damn Good Business by Steve Farber. The flow can go like this: you love your startup, you lead with agape love (in service to others), you build products your customers love, your team loves each other because of alignment of good values and the customers they serve, and customers will engage and talk the love language of making their lives better because of the product that others start loving the startup and all that it represents.
“Do ordinary things with extraordinary love”
– Mother Theresa
Listen to your customer even more. Are you talking to your customers consistently and listening to them in their own way and asking for feedback in a digestible way for your to make pivots & decisions that are customer-centric? This all returns on impact. If your customer loves your product, but when you ask them, you find out they don’t like that the packaging is not recyclable, you can do something about that to make every step match the values of your business and your clients and community.
Take time in polishing your strengths as a leader, your teams and your startup. Take a look around and polish strengths instead of finding gaps. Identify and communicate the strengths everyone brings naturally. An easy way is to have everyone take a Gallup's strengthsfinders analysis. I have found that even if they had already done strengths finders or other tests, they appreciate the exercise to know what they are feeling at the moment. Then, connect the entire experience by making a grid of strengths for the team, showcasing those who are stronger in relationship-building and those that are more operational. Then, when they are working together, they can lean on each other's strengths continually. It becomes a habit if you can refer back to the grid to see who can help you in a particular instance.
Be a bit more pro-happiness. Embracing a happy mentality sends messages to your brain to love what you do and to find joy and contentment even if you hate your job. You will undoubtedly get to a state of happiness, then find what you love to do. This type of thought process has been dinged to be more “surfacey” instead of deep and sustainable, but in general, individuals and teams would opt to be happy than unhappy. I was transformed when I read the book, The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. About giving positive reviews of a restaurant or a circumstance, she says, “Giving positive reviews requires humility. I have to admit, I missed the feelings of superiority that I got from using puncturing humor, sarcasm, ironic asides, cynical comments, and cutting remarks. A willingness to be pleased requires modesty and even innocence — easy to deride as mawkish and sentimental.” Brilliant. This is a micro event you can change on a daily basis to embrace happiness just a bit more to find true love in the work you and others do.
Find more balance in your everyday. Recite your gratitude list every day, walk outside, draw something, find a couple of more minutes of exercise, or stay more hydrated. This balance is hard to come by in a world where hustle and bustle, over-scheduling, and 12-hr days are somehow applauded. Find a way to be grateful for the little things, for just being, for your team mats for activities and events you have planned that bring you JOY. This simple reflective practice of gratitude will change your minds, your heart and your actions.
Show employees that they are valued. From an email letting them know how proud you are of their accomplishments to setting up a bonus incentive plan or carving out a couple of more dollars for professional development, expressive your gratitude for your employees’ value to the company and culture makes all the difference. Other people matter. Indicate safety and connectivity with others by reaching out and letting them know they matter. This may be a hand-written note to showcase not only the eloquent words you write but the TIME you spent writing it out. Touch is a magical thing as well, warmth and universal connection. Sense of commonality can be even shared through a simple smile – and that can be done through zoom or a meeting. Quickly energize the social space around us. This can also communicate acceptance, a sense of belonging. I absolutely LOVE this video of Dr. Angel Fredrickson talking about positive love and connection through micro-moments for human health.
Continue to learn & stay curious. Listen to podcasts, read articles, attend a virtual seminar, carve out the time. As an entrepreneur, it’s important that you never stop learning. Having a thirst for knowledge and innovation will allow for you to truly continue doing what you love which will lead to a lifelong commitment to creativity and joy.
Grow your emotional bank accounts by making more deposits than withdrawals. Just like a real bank account, you need to deposit more than you withdraw to stay healthy. Marriage expert John Gottman asserts that when we appreciate and authentically connect with our team and clients, we’re making deposits. When we turn away, we’re making a withdrawal. Barbara Frederickson, professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, suggests aiming for a 3:1 ratio of deposits to withdrawals. Positive psychology researchers and insights have all come from the genesis of the field with Christoper Peterson (1950 – 2012). Dr. Frederickson states that 80% of Americans fall short of the 3-to-1 positivity ratio that predicts flourishing. We have some work to do and it takes only one person at a time exemplifying the deposits to have a catalyst effect.
Make positive requests. For startups, especially, being aware of positivity within a board room (or zoom room ) with a potential investor or dealing with the growing pains of a scaling business, staying positive goes a long way in sharing love. This also goes back to promotion-focused questions that should be based of founders from investors instead of prevention-focused (see one of my former newsletters), so that better discussions are had and more investments get into the hands of deserving founders. The research of Dr. Frederickson continues in the theories of positivity, in her book, Positivity. The brain is a powerful thing. As she mentions, “experiencing positive emotions broadens people's minds and builds their resourcefulness …. thus creating a healthier, more vibrant, and flourishing life.” Dr. Frederickson even has a Positivity Ratio calculator on her website, “your score provides a snapshot of how your emotions of the past day combine to create your positivity ratio.”
Acknowledge emotions & understand needs. Humans being emotions into everything we do, and esp in the startup world where our companies are an extension of our passions and deep desire to solve a problem, emotions are here. But we also need to understand the needs of our own wants and desires as well as our teams. Here is a needs inventory that can help gain insight: Needs Inventory | Center for Nonviolent Communication
Often, when it comes to startup scale & leadership success, all you need is love. As Steve Farber drives home in his book, Love is Just Damn Good Business, “Do what you love in service of people who love what they do”. Agape love shines in ways you have no idea it does because when you serve others, magic occurs. As a startup founder, you inspire others to e the best they can be, as a team, you develop incredible products that serve a need for your customers and your market, and as a community, we can serve others in time of need. Take the love challenge, today and every day.
An investment thesis is a compass for angel investors to guide them on their own startup investment journey, guide entrepreneurs they seek to invest in to find their way to them & find guidance, advice, and funding, as well as for their ecosystem to gain insight into their guiding principals to join them along the journey. The thesis is a roadmap for investing, a sense of gravity around what an investor cares about. It guides the investor towards the investments that fit their objectives.
As one of the most useful and insightful tools in the innovation economy, the INVESTMENT THESIS guides, connects & clarifies. From angel investors having their own personal statements to angel groups developing a collective affirmation to VC funds, this simple yet impactful statement should be used as a trust-building tool. For investors, you can keep clear on your objectives for being an investor and not falling in love with a charismatic founder and investing in a deal that you cannot bring any value to and thus, should not be investing in. A strong investment thesis will help guide you to your true north star along your winding path as an investor, will inform how you will source deals, how you will make critical decisions, and ultimately, build a more diverse, impactful, and growing portfolio. For entrepreneurs, you can ask an investor what their investment thesis is to start a wonderful discussion about their passions, aspirations, and experience, allowing for deeper conversations and better investor relations.
Some Caution, bias & patterns.
A good investment thesis sits at the intersection of experience, aspirations, assets, passion, values, and opportunity. It should fit the financial objectives & goals of the investor. You, as an investor, bring so much value to a founder & company, on top of your $$. This will inform your investment thesis. However, be aware of the unconscious bias that our society has placed in front of us from birth about what “successful” patterns to “bet on” and remember diversification. While you should focus on a particular industry or sector that you are familiar with, you can diversify other variables, such as geography, business model, technology, or customer segment to create a more balanced portfolio of angel investments. This should also be calibrated with your personal net worth. Developing a personal angel investment thesis will guide you towards what you want to invest your time, treasure and talent into and guide others to find you, collaborate with you, and syndicate deals for more values-aligned opportunities.
“As an investor, people are always talking about what’s your thesis. And a thesis is important, but it can be really intimidating. You may not know your thesis right away. So think about your why, what do you want to accomplish in investing?”
Have a clear, simple purpose for the why and what you are investing in. Consider the following considerations to outline:
What would be your typical check size? Angel investors can invest $5,000 – $200K into a single startup company, typically the average is $10K – $25K.
What stage will you be investing in? Friends and Family to early Series A is the range of where angel investors are active, but predominantly in the Seed to Seed+ stage.
Do you want to stick with a specific geography? In multiple HALO Reports done by the Angel Capital Association & Angel Resource Institute, there is a direct correlation between the success of an investment and how close the investor is in geography to the founder. With our new zoom-heavy world, this has been eroded, but consider how close you want to be and how you can conduct due diligence with the founder & their HQ (albeit manufacturing, offices, labs) to promote a positive & effective due diligence experience.
Are you specific with the type of founder, team, or investment lens you prefer to invest in? Will you invest only in women-led startups, cognitive diverse teams, underrepresented founders, 1st-time founders, impact-driven companies or tech-enabled startups?
What sector are you knowledgeable in or are passionate about? This could be from your professional experience because you have a specific competitive edge when evaluating companies in your area of expertise or a personal passion in a sector. alternatively, you can also join an angel group to learn and gain expertise from the collective knowledge of other experts in the field you want to invest in.
Any special sauce needed in a startup that you feel is an opportunity to invest in? This could be that there needs to be a heavy AI component or Web3.0 strategy or CPG (Consumer Product Goods) companies with a strong community component that produce a stickier customer retention strategy. These all would be indications that you feel would de-risk your investments significantly for you to invest.
Then, put this all together:
You can add some more specificity if you would like…
“I provide [assets you can bring to the company] to all portfolio companies because I am [your background/interest] to [Secret Sauce].”
“I like to [how do you interact with companies/founders], I [prefer/ not prefer] a board seed, and request [typical asks of founders, like information rights, etc]”
“I look for liquidity in less than [typical horizon of investment periods].”
HERE IS MY PERSONAL INVESTMENT THESIS:
“I invest typically $10,000 – $25,000 each deal at the seed stage in the US to fund women-led or BIPOC-led or LGBTQ+ impact-driven startups. I am industry agnostic but prefer tech-enabled solutions. I focus on looking for difficult problems that I believe can be solved with the right team. I can either lead a round* if it is in my wheelhouse of expertise or follow on. I like to take an active role in the advising of the founder, prefer a board seat but not necessary, & request information rights. I look for a liquidity event in 3-5 years and 5-7 years for life science.” -Dr. Silvia Mah (*note: for me, personally, to lead a round, the startup has to be at the right stage (typically pre-seed) & the right funding opportunity (syndicaion with other individual angel investors or angel groups who accept individual due diligence) or platform (like Wefunder) to bring other investors on board for the benefit of the founder – I know, super-specific, but it's what it takes.)
Having a focus can help you stay efficient and become a better angel investor
Here is some insight from another angel investor about their investment thesis:
“We want to invest in companies with underrepresented founders which means women, people of color, LGBTQIA+. The CEO herself needs to be diverse, but also the founding team needs to represent diversity.”
An investment thesis keeps you disciplined on your selections and focused on where you want to go with your investments. With a deep understanding of the types of industries and businesses you want to invest in, the risks you’re willing to take (and those you’re not), and the parameters you want to see in companies, you are much better equipped to find the right fit for your money.
Being the right investor. A thesis is a clear indicator to start-up founders of whether you are the right investor for their companies. It's a win-win when the right investor funds the right startup in the industry that they have expertise or interest because capital is a 3-part benefit: Relational/Network Capital, Financial Capital, and Resource Capital.
Saves time. PERIOD.
Share insights. Provides founders with insight into how you will work with them during due diligence and post-investment.
Increased communication. Better communication through a clear thesis with co-investors, entrepreneurs, and your ecosystem, in general, will allow for you to gain access to great deals, help in due diligence needs and post-investment advice.
Increased referral efficiency. The efficiency of referral, incoming and outgoing, both are crucial in delivering more value to the innovation ecosystem
Stay laser-focused. It's the same principle of going after a customer persona or a specific beachhead market, the more you focus, the better you are in attracting the right customers who will become evangelical customers of your product or offering. A strong investment thesis with laser focus commitment to the startups you want to invest in for the RIGHT reasons will build a stronger individual portfolio with startups exactly in your wheelhouse.
Become more proactive instead of reactive. By having a clear direction as to where you as an investor want to allocate your funding of startups, your process becomes more proactive towards finding the right investment instead of reacting to shiny bright opportunities.
Increased trust with the ecosystem. Trust is the most valuable currency in investing. By having an investment thesis, transparency increases as does trust amongst entrepreneurs an investor serves and the investors in their networks.
Decreases anxiety. Angel investing is a risky endeavor, so knowing the core principles of your investment decisions can lend a grounding presence to your investor activities, conversations, and discussions.
Helps you gain clarity. The act of writing an investment thesis in itself can help an investor gain clarity. Then, as a tool for meeting and speaking with entrepreneurs, the thesis affords clarity of the type of startups you want to hear from and those you don't.
B. Benefits for the startup founder:
An investment thesis, from very high-level thesis' to super specific, also benefits the entrepreneurs seeking funding. It assists them in gaining a glimpse into the mindset of an investor and understanding if there is a good fit for investment. This can only happen when expectations are delineated clearly from the beginning. so, entrepreneurs, as your investors about their investment thesis and also compile the thesis from what you know about the investor.
Saves time. This happens in two ways, (1) pitch to only those investors who want to invest in you and (2) better target your entire list of investors. I know what you are thinking, “how would I know what their investment thesis is?” Well, see what they talk about on social, what they share and reshare on Linked In or post in Twitter and be a detective in finding out what they have already invested in. Secondly, knowing the investment thesis of many investors saves you time in knowing who is actually on your list of investors & what they invest in.
Increases efficiency. Understanding the investment thesis of your potential investors narrow down the list of investors to reach out to. You only pitch to and interact with the investors who are interested in investing in your type of company with the amazing team you have amassed.
Saves energy. Even the fact of being aware of angel investors having an investment thesis allows for you to save your energy, because the fundraising journey is an energy-draining experience for most, as you research each investor and recognize the signs of a thesis (helps to use the template).
Focuses conversations. Speaking about the investment thesis between the founder & funder when conducting a coffee meeting allows for better conversations and during a pitch, a focused question at the very end about the investor's thesis has a personal touch to a typically more transactional pitch. As part of follow-on meetings, a great topic of discussion is the investor's thesis and who else shares the thesis with them (growing your list of the exact investors who would be interested in hearing from you).
Assist in building your network. Allows for entrepreneurs to piece together who are the right investors at every stage of their fundraising journey by connecting the thesis' together to build a stronger ecosystem of investor support & guidance.
Helps in building an investor persona. Every entrepreneur should have an investor persona built out, knowing WHO is your ideal investor for your industry, team, stage, product, and geography. By anchoring on a certain investors' thesis and building from there allows for you to get super focused on the exact investor who you are pitching to and evolve that persona with more detail as you ask different investors about their own thesis'.
C. Benefits for the Innovation Ecosystem
A clear investment thesis signals professionalism, intentionality, openness, and reciprocity to your growing innovation ecosystem, from other investors to entrepreneurs to service providers to mentors.
Increased effective deal flow. Deal flow is very important to the success of angel investors, and those deals often come from other angels, venture capitalists, accelerator directors — other early-stage investors.
Helps syndication success. When you syndicate, or share, great deals with other investors or in your angel group, there is an exchange of trust and value. This connectivity helps syndication in knowing through practical & actionable steps that there is success in doing deals with you as an investor.
Saves time. It's easy to know what you want to invest in so your ecosystem can easily know how to bring you value and vice versa.
Better communication with co-investors. If you have a focused investment thesis, there are richer communications & cross-collaborations with co-investors from syndication to sale.
Remember, all early-stage investments are risky and can fail even with the best idea, perfected product, aligned product-market fit and amazing team. Building a way to guide you through fantastic & passionate entrepreneurs and their transformational products is key. An investment thesis will decrease your risk as an investor and increase the probability of investment success aligned to your own beliefs & experience.
Do not rush it.
Developing & refining a personal investment thesis as an angel investor should take thought, research, and time. An angel investor's investment thesis is very important to get right because if seriously considered the right investor finds the right entrepreneur in the right industry to make magic happen.
Investors should invest in the innovation & impact they want to see in the world.
There are tangible and intangible benefits not only for the angel investor but for the startups they serve and the ecosystem they collectively build with their trusted network of other investors, experts, mentors and advisors.
Without an investment thesis, investors are likely to find it difficult to stay disciplined and concentrate on the startups that match their investment objectives.
Without an investment thesis, investors don't have an intentional compass to guide their deal flow sourcing & make the best investment decisions for their portfolio.
Without an investment thesis, investors are likely to waste a lot of time talking about the wrong things to the wrong people.
Developing and using a compelling investment thesis as an angel investor not only minimizes their risk and exposure but also increases an investor's ability to help more companies scale, increasing return on investment. As a dynamic tool, the investment thesis can evolve and be refined as an investor grows their portfolio and talks to more founders. Intentionality from the beginning makes for more efficient sourcing, better decision-making, and an efficient way to build the right portfolio with the right types of innovation to make the most impact.
The deal room, or data room, is where important information about a startup is housed. It's an information exchange hub between the startup team and their potential investors. It calms the nerves for both entrepreneurs and investors during a due diligence process; and since it's put together by the startup team and their advisors, mentors, lawyers, it is supported by their strong support system. It’s all in one place, so convenient to share, edit, add to, and point to. Most due diligence processes these days, especially with a heightened sense of risk in the innovation markets, take a bit longer, are a bit more arduous. The use of data rooms / deal rooms where the startup will post many documents that contain useful *and confidential* information about the startup and its people allows for the due diligence process to be more efficient, less time-intensive, and streamlined. Note: I will be referring to the data room / deal room from now on as the “Deal Room” for ease.
A Deal Room is a space used for storing information about a startup company (legal, financial to patents) with the intent to share that information in a secure and/or confidential fashion with others (such as with a potential investor).
A data room can be physical or virtual.
Time is of the essence, so the faster and further a startup can cast its net to potential investors in a professional manner, there is the increased likelihood of receiving funding and closing the fundraising journey. For later-stage startups considering M&A, typically a VDR (virtual data rooms) is set up for storing and sharing sensitive corporate information. So start now to create a process and repository for all your startup information.
I know, there has been controversy over the years around the Deal Room being truly “necessary” for fundraising, and yes, it is a “nice to have” instead of a “must have”, like the pitch deck, but it’s an “extremely effective and efficient nice to have” alongside that snazzy “must have” pitch deck.
Let me be clear, this newsletter topic is super specific, but the why, how, what of the deal room has come up in at least a dozen meetings/events I have been a part of in the last 2 weeks, that I just HAD to dive in and not just share “the list” of folders of the deal room, but go into the insights around the WHY, some action items around how to set it up and of course, the WAY you can leverage it to streamline investor relations in your startup journey. For investors, this is a resource for you to point your founders to so that they can set it up correctly and for you, too, to build awareness of the WHY from my perspective so you can build a more relational investor relations process with the companies you are advising/finding so that the request can come off as a benefit for the entrepreneurs, not a chore.
In full transparency, this advice and structure is primarily for the SEED / SEED+ stage startup seeking funding from individual angels, angel groups, syndicates and some seed-stage VCs. I will be updating this list and content as I get more information & examples, so keep on coming back for more 🙂 These are recommendations from an active angel investor / VC and do NOT replace the need and review of lawyers, seek legal help if needed.
Deal Room Folder Structure
Documents that support the overall startup to showcase the structure, strengths, and investment opportunity.
Pitch Deck. You can include (and clearly mark) a short deck and a longer deck. It is up to the entrepreneur, but you can include your technical tech in this section. As mentioned in the “Don'ts” section below, you don't have to include everything in the Deal Room.
Executive Summary. A reminder that platforms like Gust can automatically format an executive summary for you to get an idea of the format.
Q&A document. This is something that a dear VC colleague of mine recommended recently to entrepreneurs, as you are pitching, competition in pitch competitions, going through due diligence, start a document with some of the questions that investors are asking you with your responses. You are already doing the work in countless emails, so just create a doc (scrub it of course), then add it to your deal room.
In this section, it's all about just placing all of the bios and/or resumes of your team so during due diligence with investors, they are in one place.
Resumes of the leadership team. A reminder that you can download your resume from Linked In automatically for ease.
Summary Document of team, board & advisors. I always like it when a founder has a document like this. I typically create one or snag this one for an appendix for a due diligence report I am writing. It includes a short bio of each person on the leadership team, a short bio of any other employee, and then a list of the board members and advisors. You can leave it as a list or add a short 2-3 sentence bio of each. You are essentially connecting the dots for the investor in WHY these people are on the team.
3_Contracts & Agreements
This is simple, any pertinent contracts and agreements that you have with customers. This is a perfect place to add Letters of Intent from future customers (especially in the life sciences). For super early-stage startups, this might not have any information in it and that is OK. I prefer for an entrepreneur to just place a document, labeled “see me first” explaining why this is empty.
Pertinent contracts/agreements with customers (of course, scrubbed if needed)
Letters of Intent (LOI's for short)
4_Products & Solutions
This is the perfect folder to showcase your product and a *sometimes* a product roadmap.
Product pictures & explanation. Include, if you know it will be useful, screenshots, pictures, a document with a couple of pictures explaining each product.
Research. Any research conducted around the product, just add the PDFs of the published article.
White Papers. This is a perfect place to just add white papers written by the tea or partners. If it's not clear why you are adding the white paper (you are not cited because you contributed data, etc, I would add a cover page to the PDF explaining the connection)
Market Data. You could add market research data your team has conducted in this section.
Patents – only those available publically at the USPTO
Summary of all environmental considerations
9_User / Customer Research
Customer discovery document (Persona, summary of customer discovery interviews)
Information about users, downloads, user interaction data
10_Press / Media
List of press references
I found the Cooley GO resource especially helpful in this topic, even if they focused mostly on deal rooms when you are considering an IPO or M&A.
Review before posting. Scrub documents, reviewing the content and structure by sending to your trusted internal resources, like your advisory board, board of directors, team, and *if needed* lawyers before posting documents to a data room. This allows for you to double-check if there is sensitive information being divulged and uncover any gaps in information before sharing it with potential investors.
Correctly label your documents to help make them searchable. The deal room is a resource for not only potential investors to have an easy system to reefer and grab information, but also your team to have one place where all of the most recent information is located, checked by many for sensitivity & correctness. Effectively labeling will allow for investors & your team to find the documents any time they are needed.
Control access. All forms of deal room platforms, from simple Google folder systems to platforms like Docsend or DealRoom (more for later-stage companies considering M&A) can limit access to certain people to the information contained in the deal room.
Limit time. If you are pitching to an angel group or going through due diligence after a pitch competition, consider limiting access for a certain amount of time. The deal room is a snapshot in time, so giving people access for a limited amount of time allows for you to retain control. As a reminder, take advantage of other restrictions that the platform you are using has like not allowing files to be downloaded or printed.
Watermark it. Add a marking to all pages with a “Confidential” watermark. *highly recommended*. You can also go a step further and date the documents so that they are clearly marked as being confidential from a particular date in time.
Keep it updated. I cannot emphasize this enough. When you set up a deal room, you will be referring to it a ton, so keep it as updated as possible. Not every single variation of your pitch deck needs to be there, but keep it updated with any new designs or a new slide that was created in a better way from feedback from advisors and investors. You don't want an investor to watch you in a pitch competition, consider investments, ask for deal room access, and then see a different pitch deck in your first folder. That decreases trust.
Be careful with e-mail. Unless you are password protecting or encrypting files, almost anything you send by e-mail can easily be forwarded to other parties.
If you can track, TRACK. I believe that only the platform you have to pay for allows you to track, so this is a NICE to have, but if you can track to see who is viewing, downloading, and uploading specific documents, that will help you track what documents are the ones interested by investors and also who is actually reviewing your documents so that you can follow up accordingly.
Do not post everything to a data room. You are creating the deal room so that your team and investors can have a great place to store & share pertinent company information. You will probably receive a long due diligence request checklist from angel groups or individual angel investors or VCs for documents needed. Keep in mind you don't have to post everything in the deal room. From Cooley GO, “For example, if you have government classified information, do not post this. And remember that it is possible to breach a contract just by disclosing its existence. If the information is crucial, there are other even more secure means available to share.”
Do not post a trade secret to a data room. You can speak about the high-level trade secret that your company has as a competitive advantage to build a larger barrier to entry in investor meetings, but don't post it to the data room.
Do not post highly sensitive information. Review, redact, edit the information and post a summary of it in the data room for verification of existence or to increase trust during the due diligence.
A bit about NDAs
One of the biggest questions I get between setting up a deal/data room and pitching is if professional investors sign NDAs. I absolutely love this statement from Cooley GO, “Most VC’s (other than perhaps those in the life sciences space) will not sign an NDA with an entrepreneur looking for funding in the US.” They have an article HERE that describes the nuances between TRUST, REPUTATION, and EXPENSE.
Deal room platforms:
Google Folders (safety: Medium)
Dropbox (Safety: Low). However, their new service, Docsend has increased security and tracking
DealRoom (Safety: High). Ideal for later-stage companies considering M&A)
I really hope that this is helpful, useful, and informative. It is not exhaustive, but realistic for startups considering fundraising and actively pursuing due diligence with investors. If you have any questions or comments to add to this information, please do not hesitate to contact me through Linked In messages for a time to talk.
Visions of impact, products that solve real problems, and funding to ignite & scale product development are what entrepreneurs' dreams are made of. These are GREAT inspirations to help continue the entrepreneurial journey of any startup founder, but SMART goals are what makes dreams into reality through realistic execution & attainable milestone. Resolutions made typically in the new year are also like these visions of rainbows & unicorns fueling a heart's passion. Goals are much more structured, attaching those rainbows to a plan for the outcome to be even brighter, fueling the unicorns to run the marathon of a startup, and allowing the founder & their team to have a higher chance of succeeding.
Locke & Latham, two of the most prolific authors of goal-related research, define goals as “the object or aim of an action, for example, to attain a specific standard of proficiency, usually within a specified time limit.” Kleingeld, et al (2011) linked goals to success Similarly, Merriam-Webster succinctly defines a goal as “the end toward which effort is directed.” Importantly, setting goals is linked with better self-confidence, motivation, and autonomy (Locke & Latham, 2006).
Many startup founders are more comfortable in the visionary and creative zone of genius. However, research shows that “Goal setters are comfortable with risk, prefer innovation, and are energized by change.” Rick McDaniel goes on to mention that, “goal setters see future possibilities and the big picture”. Innovating and goal setting are not mutually exclusive, they feed off of each other for innovation to be encouraged and more problem solving to be accomplished for the greater good.
Goals are a critical part of success in any business
The five key principles that support the creation of effective and motivating goals were developed and published by Locke & Latham, in their seminal work in 1990, the theory of goal setting and task performance.
Clarity – The focus afforded by a clear, specific goal allows for actionable behavior.
Challenge – Challenging & specific goals lead to higher performance. Research has shown that 90% of the time, specific and challenging (but attainable) goals led to higher performance
Commitment – The mind is powerful; whatever the mind believes, the body achieves.
Feedback – Reporting & regular check-ins on challenging goals allows for specific direction & motivation to accomplish goals.
Complexity – The degree of goal's demands for an individual and/or a team increases the success of accomplishment
Planning is pivotal for more streamlined business processes and planning is an essential part of the startup process to keep all of the craziness running a smoothly as possible. Make sure that you are setting yourself up for success. Get into an optimal flow, coined by Csíkszentmihályi, when he outlined his theory that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow—a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation.
When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.
-Confucius 551-479 B.C.
Goals Give You Direction
One of the reasons goals are so important is that they give you direction. When you've got clearly set and well-def
We have to get out of our own way. We are all visionaries, changemakers we want to do. That’s what is exciting and fun about being and terror right. But dreams and visions of unicorns running through rainbows are just dreams if they don't have milestones and some focus. Goals are simply drama with deadlines
Entrepreneur goal setting is important because starting a successful business takes time, patience and dedication. If you're launching a new company, defining your goals can help you track your company's progress. Goal setting helps you visualize your thoughts and ideas more clearly. With proper planning, you can make necessary adjustments at every step of your entrepreneur journey, which could improve your efficiency.
SMART goals are
Specific – Clarify what you are trying to achieve, in the most succinct way possible so clarity can match focus.
Measurable – the goal should be able to be quantified in order to know that the goal has been completed or is still in the progress and by how much.
Attainable / Acceptable – You must not only identify with the purpose of the goal but also feel like the goals are in line with your values, thus not leading you to compromise your sense of integrity.
Realistic – You have to work with the strengths you have as a founder, the resources you and your team have, and challenge a bit how much you think you can achieve, but not so much you won't be able to achieve the goal.
Time-bound – The time framework of any goal is pivotal, yet probably the easiest aspect to identify, and coordinate with your calendar of events & personal responsibilities.
This allows you to breathe, have a concrete plan of action within a specific time frame, commit to spending time dedicating yourself to your goals, and with all the dependencies & milestones written out, you have a better chance of turning your blue-sky ideas into realities.
Goals have an energizing function. The higher the goal, the greater the effort invested
Locke & Latham, 2002
Getting Goals Done
There is substantial evidence and research around setting goals for success, so here is a framework to get all of your goals for your startup written down. Prioritize on 10-12 goals that will get you through the next 12 months. Setting more than 12 turns out to be a to-do list that is unmanageable and frankly, unattainable. Be focused on what are the RIGHT goals for your business to get to your next inflection point – like to be ready for fundraising or hitting $1M revenue or impact 100 families with your product. Here it goes …
Define the goal: Be as specific as possible in the type of goal (around marketing, financials, operations, fundraising, financials, team or your own personal/professional development)
Set realistic deadlines: When looking at your goal, set a realistic deadline for that goal to be achieved, taking into consideration your strengths, your team, and deadlines outside of your control (like a conference you need to present your research or a trade show that you need to be at with X amount of products & team members).
List actionable steps. Actions listed should be attainable and like a to-do list to be able to achieve your goals easier and more efficiently.
Prioritize. There are dependencies and/or immediate needs that should be done first, second or third. By prioritizing, you will be less stressed because you know there is a process to get to all goals in the right time and place.
Define obstacles. This is a hard one because some obstacles or biases are internal and some are external; internal being personal like knowing you go after shiny bright objects instead of being methodical or internal being that your team is small but mighty so goals are achievable but need to be resourced correctly.
Take action. Inch your way toward a goal, but inch forward by taking daily steps towards the goals you know need to be accomplished for the success of your startup. Email gets in the way and meetings start piling up, but when you take action on those goals, the purposeful direction of your startup will be achieved.
An Example Always Helps
Examples are helpful in bringing theories and frameworks to everyday living and the journey of entrepreneurs.
Valeria wants to launch a SAAS platform to bring successful Latinx leaders together with budding startup entrepreneurs because believing is seeing. She wants to set realistic and specific goals to build a robust platform for her ideal customers. She sets her first goal of building out lo-fi (low fidelity) wireframes for the platform. can repeat this process for multiple goals. He sets his goal by following these steps:
Define the goal. Valeria wants to build a set of 6 wireframes that will provide a good visual outline of the SAAS platform
Set realistic deadlines: Valeria wants to build them within 2 weeks (because she has a full-time job and can only work on the startup on weekends and evenings)
List actionable steps. Valeria lists steps to meet with Sofia (a programmer friend) to see what are the best ways to build wireframes and then meet with Miguel (a UX designer friend) to find out the best programs to build wireframes on and then have all 5 built
Prioritize. Valeria decided that she should just write out on a white sheet of paper some ideas first before talking to her network, then talk to her network and then build the wireframes out with technology.
Define obstacles. One challenge Valeria might face is that she gets too busy, so she sets a deadline on her calendar to check on her progress.
Take action. Valeria creates a 30-min block on her calendar every day in the evening to check on her goals and actually accomplish the tasks.
She can repeat this process for multiple goals, creating a plan for launching an impact-driven, values-aligned, purposeful platform for Latinx startup founders.
Where should I start?
From mentoring and advising MANY entrepreneurs through this process, here are some actions to get started:
Start with passion. When you think about it, passion fuels innovation, the mind fuels actions, and actions with a plan … well, that's genius.
Vison board it. If you are a big picture person, then do that first, construct a huge Pinterest board or be creative with glue and scissors and do a vision board, dream big.
Don’t neglect to establish regular check-ins — with yourself or with your team — to review goals and determine how well they are coming to fruition. Tracking your progress means asking yourself each day, “What can I do to move one step closer to achieving my goal or solving my problem?”
Chunk it out – forwards and backward. What’s a huge strength to most entrepreneurs is that you work great in the gray area. Use that to your advantage to write out what might go before and after a specific goal.
Track it. Figuring out a way to track your goals in a way that is quantitative rather than qualitative can set you up for more success, especially when working with a team because everyone is focused on the same metrics, and the room for error decreases.
Writing it down is a feat in itself. People who write their goals are more likely to achieve their goal than those who don’t by 50%.
“Motivation is the desire or want that energizes and directs goal-oriented behavior.”
Kleinginna & Kleinginna, 1981
Motivational Reminders for Goal-setting Success
Some tips on overcoming common mistakes made by entrepreneurs when working on achieving goals and hustling through the startup journey:
Be clear, specific, and challenging so you understand the outcome you’re trying to achieve and it’s challenging enough to energize and motivate you (straight out of goal-setting theory.
Be as bite-sized and task-specific as possible, giving you fewer opportunities to fail and more chances to take pride in your accomplishments
Goals should be coupled with frequent and ongoing feedback from your group, team, personal board of directors, friends, or yourself (I know, discipline is hard if you are relying on yourself for feedback, so find another solopreneur you can hold each other accountable)
Put our own health first. For so many of us, being mindful of our mental and physical health and wellbeing has never been more important.
Make goals that matter. If they matter to you, you will get them done!
Love the journey. Love the outcomes. Allow room for adjustments. Be human
Identify the barriers to achieving your goal. For me, my barriers are diving deep, researching too much, analysis paralysis, whatever you want to name that, I have it. I have to watch myself and put timers on my time to research.
Rejoice / celebrate in goals being accomplished. This will keep you motivated to get across the finish line and create incentives for your team.
Find an accountability partner. This is especially important for solopreneurs, find someone you can meet o a regular basis to check on each other's goals or create a Personal Board of Directors that you check in on every quarter.
Work with your natural rhythms to find the right pace to accomplish your goals and leverage your strengths to do more. For example, you work best in the morning so prioritize your day to get the most effective work done at that time.
Stick to a routine to build more structure to make it easier to follow what you have planned. For example, every first week of the month you plan your monthly marketing calendar and review your revenue goals from the month before)
Be purposeful and optimistic. Research conducted in an academic setting, around goal-setting among students to understand success factors for them to graduate on time suggests that factors such as hope optimism, and social support have a significant impact on how you can achieve your goals (Bressler, Bressler, & Bressler, 2010 & Youssef & Luthans, 2009).
To Help Build Your Goals, Here are Some Examples to Inspire
One last thing, if you need some examples of smart goals for scale, here you go;
Diversify your revenue streams (with the resources you currently have and the assets under the umbrella of your biz – low hanging fruit people – identify 1-2 new revenue streams you can tackle in a specific period of time – and don't forget to test assumptions of the new streams of revenue/products)
Create or upgrade your website in 3 months with X new pages, updated copy on X, Y, and Z pages, and refresh all images to better reflect company values, so your ideal customer can engage with you more frequently and readily
Build out your ideal customer persona
Streamline operations through automation with online digital platforms Ana virtual hacks like PandaDoc for e-signatures, asana for group tasks, slack for group messaging, Google suite for everything, ai note takers for zoom meetings, Carta for cap tables, Mailchimp for newsletters, and Hubspot for CRM & analytics
Today is YOUR day!
Goals also provide many people a sense of purpose
-Boa et al 2018
Goal setting, innovating, and holding yourself and your team to collective milestones to reach your startup dreams will enable you to be inspired, happier, purpose-driven, fulfilled, and prosperous (the quadruple bottom line: People, Planet, Profit and Purpose). Get your pen & paper out today. Today is a perfect day to start.
You can also join me for one of my two goal setting sessions for FREE:
Coffee & Confidence: 2022 goal-setting session TOMORROW, January 18, 8 – 9:30 am PST. RSVP here.
Through many formal and informal cafecitosy charlas (coffee meetings & conversations) over the years with founders, funders, advocates, champions and other members of the startup community, I have met leaders with vision and passion around innovation being a catalyst for good change. We have spoken about how our shared values of integrity and impact intersect, especially amongst my fellow investors who INVEST in the change they want to see in the world. The startup ecosystem has taught me that even though the journey is crazy, rough, and exhausting, the light of progress through innovative new products and solutions for the world's biggest problems is something worth launching, scaling, and funding. My academic interest in servant leadership stems from my deep belief in helping others, from leading a life of volunteerism even as a young girl in Venezuela; my mother taught me through concrete actions to be willing to take the shirt “off my back” for anyone in need. I give of myself, ALL OF MYSELF, to my community, from taking founders' calls at all hours to strategize on launch or scale challenges to my prayer calls every Friday with my small groups of purposeful leadership sisters to equipping college students to reach their full potential through entrepreneurship to putting my family first always. Diving into the theories of servant leadership, initially coined & researched by Robert Greenleaf in his historic 1970 essay, “The Servant as Leader”, I learned to appreciate the path of servanthood in a purposeful, trustworthy, giving, positive, motivating, uplifting, yet POWERFUL, determined, driven and committed way.
“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.”
-Robert K. Greenleaf.
The modern leadership ideas and practices around servant leadership, however, for me, seem to be predominantly around the corporate world or faith-based institutions. I was fascinated by seeing the interconnections between what I was researching and the practicality of the startup ecosystem from BOTH sides of the venture table. By deep diving, my community taught me that serving before self, believing in others, growing an ecosystem of proud entrepreneurs, advocates and investors, is what I have wanted & yearned for every day.
I strongly believe that my actions will make this world a better place. This is what it truly means to be a servant leader. I am not leading for myself but for others; for a higher purpose, standing on the shoulders of greats AND rising all around me, because we are #StrongerTogether. You should imbibe this thought pattern as a leader in any sphere of life. If you lead out of a place of service, you would always seek the best option for the common good, not for yourself only. Hence, as a business leader who wants to exude servant leadership, you would place the general good (this could be the good of the company or the good of a relationship or the good of a community and so on) above what you want for yourself. Like the Ubuntu culture says, “I succeed because we succeed.” We should never forget this; we are all parts of a big body; when the whole body is thriving, we are all thriving.
The Four (4) Practical Pillars
To address servant leadership in a more holistic manner at the individual, team, and community levels, here is a 4-part framework to guide the understanding of servant leadership for the startup ecosystem. The core of the framework is divided into four (4) practical pillars that servant leaders should embrace & continue to hone daily:
Others Before Self
Lift as You Lead
Let's dive into some discussion about each pillar:
Practical Pillar #1: Others Before Self
Servant leadership is rooted and amplified by empathy and soft skills of a leader who seeks impact above profits and others before self. A framework is a logic model, and this framework is based on my observation as well as the survey and data collected in pursuit of verifying my hypotheses.
As a leader, you need to realize that the people you are leading look up to you and will copy what you do as well as listen to what you say. If you place others before yourself, they will do the same and this will encourage a healthy relationship in an organization, company, and community. A healthy relationship will translate to a healthy workplace atmosphere and this will mean higher levels of productivity.
As a good leader, you create selfless leaders from your followers. Your followers are not people who mindlessly follow what you say, but they will be people who are leaders in their own right and lead selflessly at that. Below, I will show you the attributes you need to have as a leader who places others above self.
Practical Pillar #2: Higher Purpose
The aim of a business should not only be to make a profit but to actually solve a problem. There should be a particular thing that drives the company. This is important because money may not always come in. However, the purpose of the company should stay. This is especially true when the business’s purpose is not something ordinary but a higher purpose, something that is bigger than even the CEO of the company. That is what makes companies go from good to great, to have a social purpose of existence. This social cause or mission can only be drafted by the servant leader, who will of course naturally integrate the contributing ideas of those involved.
Another way to define a higher purpose is to have a calling in life. Having a calling is having a mission greater than yourself. A higher purpose is also having a vision of a world, a better world. Having a calling or a higher purpose gives a servant leader access to the characteristics they need in order to be a servant leader! Yes, they are a circle that feeds each other, and they tend to coexist. Having a calling that comes from a true passion to give back or change the world drives the servant leader. A higher purpose comes in infinite forms and fashions; each person tapes into their own sense of drive and purpose. For some servant leaders, their purpose is to help their team and the people who are part of the venture be the best versions of themselves they can be. The business may have another purpose, but a servant leader can serve in the capacity of serving the dreams and visions of those they work with. That creates a better community, better culture, and a more just and mindful world.
It requires a certain amount of faith that the human race is good and the human race can innovate our way out of the challenges we face to serve as a leader with a higher purpose. This is at the core of a leader who embraces servant leadership and this
Practical Pillar #3: Abundance Mindset
Abundance is a mindset every servant leader should embrace. When you have the consciousness that your business will definitely succeed, it will. When you know people are intrinsically good, you will find those people. When you feel you have enough to give, that enables you to impact others in a massive way.
When you have an abundance mindset you’ll pass this mindset on to the people working with and for you, and you’ll create a healthy workplace atmosphere for everyone. Those with an abundance mindset are often visionaries and see the limitless possibilities in the world.
Practical Pillar #4: Lift as you Lead
As you are leading, you are not only encouraging others, listening, and building your network, but you are also encouraging others to be lifted, grow, and develop in positive ways. You are more focused on helping to build up others by getting them opportunities that they could not obtain on their own, connecting them to the right people for the exact need in their lives, and appreciating the small and large things they do.
As you lead and connect with others, you can lift your colleagues and your team to new heights. It takes guidance and encouragement all at the same time. This type of leadership characteristic has a multiplier effect because as you intentionally lift others , others grow and embrace the servant leadership qualities they see in you. Having a grateful heart through all of the mindful connections you make allows for others to see the power of purpose, the power of a servant’s heart.
As a busy investor & entrepreneur, I need quick and easy ways to incorporate the professional and personal development goals that I am working on. I am always seeking to improve myself, my interactions with others, and my leadership skills. Here are three (3) doable (and daily) actions that you can use to become more of a servant leader, embracing the 4 practical pillars above.
Action #1: Acknowledge that your people (team, employees, & community members) are gifts.
It took an awareness of self to realize that turning inward is myopic while turning outward and empowering others is expansive. It took personal exploration to realize that creating inclusivity is an honor and a privilege and that when the uniqueness of every person in your community is exalted the whole world benefits. I dream of a world where all believe that all voices must be heard and an inclusive culture then embraces all unique people. It is this dream and this passion that shapes actionable steps that it takes to “Acknowledge.” The people working with you are gifts. It is a privilege that they work with you and not someone else. Acknowledge their efforts and commend them for it. Yes, giving credence to your team goes beyond passing nice positive comments to them (preferably through spoken words in a zoom call or in a meeting), but it’s a good start that will go a long way. Another easy way to acknowledge people is to just listen to them, intently listen and provide a space for them to voice their opinions and ideas.
Action #2: Level up your gratitude
Gratitude is truly a powerful force. You may have used the word a lot or practiced gratitude, but there is a great deal of power that comes with utilizing the art of gratitude first in our individual lives and then when leading people.
Begin with morning mantras
Set up space (I have them taped to my mirror) where you can read your mantras every day. Create mantras that make you feel hopeful and optimistic every day; they will help you generate positive feelings about your entrepreneurial or investor journey. You can start with these examples (if they resonate):
« I am enough. My talent & gifts to this world are enough
« This day is another day to serve, to love, to live
« I attract good fortune from the people I meet, the path I am on & the
« I am grateful for the very air I breathe, the fact that I can feel my heartbeat. (this gratitude mantra can be nice to start your day with as well)
End with gratitude
Set up a gratitude journal at your bedside where you jot down what you are grateful for that day. The journal can be a lined notebook, a set of index cards, a white sketchbook, whatever it takes to be free to do this EVERY NIGHT to get into a habit. When I started, I had a hard time, honestly, with writing them down, so here are a couple that could help jump-start this habit:
« I am grateful to be live another day
« I am grateful for the text I received from a friend that they are recovering from covid
« I am grateful for sun today
« I am grateful for family & friends
Action #3: Create Micro-moments of connection
Trust is all about building relationships, and relationships are all about connection. Great servant leaders are more relational than transactional. They commune, they talk, they are empathetic. Whether these qualities come naturally or not – you can use the tool of “micro-moments of connection” to build these qualities.
Micro-moments of connection are deceptively simple, you might think you are already doing them, but go through the following checklist and make sure you actually are. Micro-moments of connection build trust amongst your colleagues, and this is one of the “stupid simple” things you can do.
To end with inspiration to do more, be more
Servant leadership should be embraced. Especially embraced in the startup world, where getting ahead is everything, but also where truth, integrity, and morals make for good partners, great startups, and a healthy economy.
Explore servanthood. Research time to work on you. Create community around a north star of guiding values. Create change inside you and around you. Impact until it hurts, because true impact is servanthood, sacrifice, solitude, civility, & honor. Be the servant leader you are called to be, not constructed by someone else, nor dictated by self-serving pop culture. You are beautifully and wonderfully made.
The innovation economy is driven by passion, creativity, impact & economic growth, from the founders who invent a cure, democratize a system, fill an unmet need, solve a global _____ (fill in the blank, environmental, economic) crisis to the investors who fund the best innovations with the most aligned product-market fit for significant financial gain and impact to the change they want to see in the world. Innovation can lead to higher productivity, an essential driver of economic progress benefiting consumers, businesses, communities and the economy as a whole. However as many know, there is a gender and racial gap in all areas of our innovation ecosystem. As a gender-lens collection, we have leveraged unprecedented capital, catalyzed the power of womxn investors, and womxn founders have continued to close the gender gap while shifting patterns of innovation recognition for sustained impact.
A snapshot of the womxn innovation economy of 2021
Even though 2021 has been an incredibly difficult year for many, our notions of self-care, corporate culture, education, and sustainability are still in complete flux. As a proponent of an abundance mindset and as an avid innovation analyst, I couldn’t help myself, I had to create an impact snapshot for the gender lens advocates who strive for equity. Data informs decisions, helps anchor missions, and fuels visions. Let’s dive into gender lens data and anecdotes from Seed stage to IPOs, understanding the trends and the breakthroughs (yes, I am talking about the innovation ecosystem and NOT the COVID-19 surges and resurges).
Womxn Invest in Womxn
I’m going to start with the solution upfront. It seems simple, more decision-makers in this innovation economy, VCs, investors, need to be women. I’ve read that over and over again. I believe that when you have more women investors, they will undoubtedly invest in more women. We know that a recent ACA (Angel Capital Association) American Angels Report says that women investors are twice as likely to invest in women-led startups. The gender gap is not due to the low performance by the female founders, because they outperform their male counterparts by 63% (First Round Capital), it’s not that women don’t start enough companies (42% of small businesses are womxn-owned), and it’s sure not the performance of women fund managers because they made huge strides in performance and number in 2021. “Even after adjusting for risk, female-managed funds have outperformed their counterparts amid the pandemic-related market swings,” Goldman strategists led by David Kostin wrote in a note to clients. The tech sector “is the largest source of disagreement between female-managed and all other large-cap mutual funds.”
It’s about breaking bias patterns in traditional settings where women are not seen as leaders while balancing being not too warm and nice nor showcasing delicately competence and toughness and not selected for investment due to ingrained patterns of successful male founders who have exited (IPO or acquisition). It’s about more women at the table making decisions about funding and impacting this world through innovation. I well know there are more ways than these that we can solve this gender gap, but if we just focus on neutralizing bias, having more success stories, and exercising the power of the purse from seed to exit, we will continue to make significant strides.
The womxn economy is thriving in 2021.
Activated capital at the hands of womxn investors means a huge potential increase in funding to women-led startups. As many women investors, over 10 years ago were swimming uphill in having a gender lens in their portfolios, like myself and others like my mentors, Angela Lee of 37 Angels, Trish Costello of Portfolia, and Alicia Robb of Next Wave Impact Fund, we have been steadfast in our individual convictions that investing in women-led companies who are making an impact on this world with translational innovations or products, I absolutely love this quote from another trailblazer, Jesse Draper of Halogen Ventures, “This isn’t charity”. We all want higher financial return that the typical, we have higher expectations of capital-efficient models by the founders we support, we want to impact more, and support the womxn economy.
“This isn’t charity”
– Jesse Draper of Halogen Ventures
In the seed stage, angel investors are more diverse than VCs, with 22.1% of US angel investors being womxn (pre-covid). From the ACA report, 29% of female CEOs were female in 2020. Therefore angels are narrowing the gender gap by investing in more diverse founders than ever before. With movements like Founders of Color Showcase by Next Wave Impact & others, to the ACA’s new initiative to bring more diverse angel investors to the table and many more, diversity funds diversity, and traditional investment patterns are also aware of the increasing financial and ESG returns.
Womxn investors have also been super activated in the last 5 years, with 30% of new angels being women and 76% of women-led VC firms being started in the last 5 years with many more emerging in 2021 alone and more to come in 2022. Our team at Stella is continuing our mission-driven work with all of our offerings to entrepreneurs and investors under one umbrella, Stella.co, with a dream team of gender lens leader investors & advocates, Raven O’Neal, Lauren Rowley, Flossie Hall, April Enriquez, Stephany Russell, Christine Lustig, Anna Raptis, Debbie Chen, Andrea Giralt, and Kirby Brady.
San Diego Innovation Ignites Impact
As an avid supporter of my own ecosystem in San Diego, I wanted to pause and acknowledge all the hard work so many people have made in our ecosystem for it to thrive and grow, but 2021 was a HUGE year for San Diego with women founders inching their way more into the mainstream innovation success stories.
82 local startups pulled in $2 billion in venture funding during Q2 2021 and 66 startups raised $3.5B in Q1 2021
The San Diego innovation economy is healthy, thriving & growing
The San Diego-Tijuana region won historic designation to become 1st binational design capital for 2024
Womxn founders & CEOs rock SD innovation economy from seed to exit
From Seed to Exit here are some notable women-led companies in San Diego who are rockin’ (in order of funding stage):
Nostalgia, founded by Taylor Fields – Seed round closed 12/2021, successfully running a Wefunder campaign
Cooler Heads, founded by Kate Dilligan – FDA clearance in 12/2021, raising Series A in early 2022.
Hydrostasis, founded by Debbie Chen – Conducted consumer pilot testing & closed Seed+ round in 2021
Luna DNA, founded by Dawn Berry – Raised a total of $8.6M in funding over 3 rounds.
Aquacycl, founded by Orianna Bretschger – Secured Fortune 50 company contracts and closed $5M+ funding in 2021
Dermala, founded by Lada Rasachova – won Cosmopolitan‘s 2021 Holy Grail Acne Award with their patented, microbiome-powered OAT So Sweet™ Daily Moisturizer was selected by Cosmo as the BEST MOISTURIZER!
Truvian, founded by Dena Marrinucci – Closed a $105M Series C round in 3/2021
Uqora, co-founded by Jenna Ryan – Acquired by Pharmavite, the makers of Nature Made® vitamins and supplements, in 7/2021 and honored as a best place to work in San Diego in September 2021
Womxn Founders are breaking records in 2021, but disparities still exist
The pandemic hit womxn founders harder than all-male teams, women began outpacing national and historical trends so by the end of 2021, womxn-led companies broke records & challenged trends. Even though the womxn became the number one caretakers in their children & family care, and the strengths of womxn founders shined, like being more capital conscious, exiting faster, and getting higher returns. The tides are shifting.
Public markets gained unprecedented gender gains
Since 2013, over 2,000 companies have gone public in the USA, only 18 of them had a female founder/CEO.
That is less than 1%
Making history this year, Bumble’s founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd became the youngest female CEO to take a company public in America.
5 women-led companies went public in 2022, the most since 2013.
Rent The Runway
23 & Me
However, only 7% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. These wins at the public markets are huge for progress, but as we have companies grow, representation matters as well. These women are trailblazers, so as we champion more leaders as women, provide opportunities for diverse ways of thinking and servant leadership rises, more cognitive diversity will be seen in leadership positions for more innovative growth in the increasingly competitive global markets.
Let's talk unicorns: 2021 Set a Record for New Female-Led Unicorns
Why is this important? Again, patterns are changing. Having more female-led unicorns signals to the VC market that there are more bets to be made on female-founded companies who have, now, a higher degree of success to make it to the coveted unicorn list. In addition, diversity of sector is being seen in the growing herd of unique unicorns, consumer retail luggage manufacturer Away in 2020, mattress retailer Casper, beauty brand Glossier, and sneaker marketplace Goat.
39 US women-led unicorns emerged in 2021
“Unicorns” are venture-baked companies worth $1 billion+, a term coined by VC Aileen Lee, founder of Cowboy Ventures, in 2013.
Number of women-led unicorns has increased 425% in seven years
YET STILL only 11.4% of total unicorns
VC markets are surging around the world, with more money being deployed to a homogeneous set of startup founders who fit the “right” success factors of a unicorn or a desired exit multiple. However, 2021 has shattered these patterns.
COVID-19's impact on Womxn CEOs widened deal activity & valuation gap
The toll of the 2-year pandemic on womxn extends beyond layoffs across the board, womxn turning to entrepreneurship to lessen the load, and women leaving the workforce, to the venture capital funding of female entrepreneurs. Let’s just take the salaries of these success stories emerging in 2021. This title of a recent Inc magazine says it all: “Female Startup CEOs Cut Their Salaries 30 Percent During the Pandemic. Men Gave Themselves a Raise”:
Female CEOs earned 93 cents to every dollar earned by a male CEO in 2019, but post-pandemic they are making only 89 cents.
Of the 2.7% of VC funding to women founders, only 2% of the female founders who raised equity financing were Latinx (0.32% of total) and 4% Black (0.0006% of total)
I find in investor meetings with founders, the use of funds is brought up many times, dissecting every decision that is being made by the founder from R&D to salaries. In this competitive market, to keep the best of the best actually in their startups, founders should not be diluted to a place they are not incentivized and founders should be paid what they are worth (of course as soon as enough funding is raised to support salaries). This is not just a numbers game, but a mindset shift of leadership and the VC decision-makers to be aware of bias, the data trends, and act on having better discussions with founders.
Let’s get back to some positive impact stats – to better align individual behaviors to the collective good.
Women lost more jobs than men and took on a greater share of the additional child care burden.
Reports say that Covid set back efforts to close the gender gap by 36 years.
From new products and services, to adapting to an increasingly digital status quo, we’ve witnessed female-led businesses show even more resilience in the face of the global economic downturn.
– Ann Cairns, Global Vice Chair, Mastercard
A banner year of womxn-founded co. exits
Indeed, investors can achieve higher returns for quicker turnarounds by investing in womxn founders.
Women-founded companies outperformed overall market trends for exits in 2021: Almost $59 billion was sold off through Q3, of 2021, 143.6% higher than 2020's level, while the overall market is up 101.5%
This is an amazing trend of how quickly womxn-founded companies exit has strengthened, from 2018, when the median “time to exit” was about 7 years for either gender, in 2021, time to exit for womxn-founded companies decreased to 6.6 yrs and increased to 7.7 yrs for all USA companies.
So much more work to be done
It’s evident that across all tech sectors, there is more representation of women, more unicorns being birthed every year led by womxn, an increased number of womxn being invested in at all stages and with higher amounts of funding, the gender gap in venture capital, angel investing and the startup ecosystem is still gaping wide.
Women are championing other women.
“Still too small, but woohoo to these awesome firms! (speaking about Acrew Capital, Inspired Capital Partners, & Fika Ventures) Female-founded U.S. venture firms on track to raise over $7B In 2021”
– Eileen Lee, Founder Cowboy Ventures
Dollars going to women at the seed round are in the 20s (the highest of all the gender gaps in the innovation economy), in the single digits for VC investment dollars going to women, and in the teens for the number of decision-makers at US venture capital firms being womxn.
9% of VC investment dollars went to companies with at least one female founder.
10% of decision-makers at US venture capital firms are women
Why does this gender gap exist? When we know that womxn investors invest in womxn founders twice as much, getting more women decision-makers at all levels of the VC ecosystem, from Seed to Series D. More women-led companies need to join the unicorn list to re-print the pattern of most investors that successful startup founders ARE indeed women. More IPOs of companies lead by women will led the way to similar pattern breaking and re-aligning the bias.
There is hope if awareness is heightened & bias is neutralized
There is value in funding womxn founders if investors track the trends, their awareness is heightened to these issues and bias is neutralizing.
Teams comprised entirely of female founders exist (sell or go public) faster, in less than 7 years on average, compared to the nearly 8 years on average it takes all-male-founded teams to exit.
Female founders sell or go public at higher valuations, on average
The new, female-founded VC funds, equipping not only new emerging managers but engaging diverse LPs have a specific focus on tapping into the often-overlooked opportunity in backing diverse founders.
Let this quote sit with you a bit…
“So if women-led companies were a country & if you looked at that revenue being the gross domestic product, they would be the 5th largest country in the world. They’d be just behind Germany, but ahead of France, UK & Italy”
– Lorine Pendleton, Portfolia, Rising America Fund
Our early-stage portfolio companies are receiving funding, but since upstream from angel investors and Series A micro-funds, is still predominantly homogeneous, investors and the female founders we fund should work on strengthening those next level bonds to ensure a more heterogeneous fundig lanscape for the next stage of funding.
There is progress, the numbers are climbing, but we have so much more to do. What are YOU willing to do to change these numbers? It takes a collective, let's kep on swimming upstream to make the change we want to see in the world, one founder & investor at a time.