Happy 2017! I’m thankful to be surrounded by so many wonderful people and for good health in 2016. I look forward to a great new year ahead of us.
A few shoutouts and highlights from 2016:
I feel so lucky and grateful to have such an amazing family. Juggling our household schedules isn’t easy — especially with all my trips (Asia, Europe, LatAm, Canada, US) in 2016. Those trips are a blast to be able to meet so many amazing driven entrepreneurs, but I realize it’s my family who ends up picking up the slack at home in order for me to do this. I don’t ever forget that or take it for granted.
2. My 500 Startups family
2016 marked my first full year as an investor. I never intended to go into VC. Honestly, I never thought I would work for someone else for so long (just passed my two year mark at 500)! I’ve been fortunate to have had the chance to see, champion, and be a part of so many deals — probably more than most people will see over a lifetime, and it’s been amazing to learn so quickly from those. Most of all, I’ve appreciated having the best team ever. Teams and culture are the lifeblood of any company (including VCs), and it’s teams and culture that make people happy with their work — not compensation and not the day-to-day work itself. I feel lucky to have such a great team.
3. My blog readers
My new year’s resolution for 2016 was to consistently blog at least once a week. In the beginning, I started the blog because writing was cathartic for me and was a way for me to write down what I was advising founders already on a 1:1 basis. I thought that keeping up the blog would be very difficult for me, but in the end, I missed just 4 weeks and ended this year with ~3k email subscribers. Thank you for reading!
4. My Rejectionathon supporters
This year I started a half-day event called Rejectionathon to help entrepreneurs get over their fear of rejection. It took me years to get comfortable with being rejected while I was selling ads for LaunchBit, and so I started this in order to help entrepreneurs develop a thicker skin more quickly. At these Rejectionathons, entrepreneurs would receive a list of challenges and would run around trying to accomplish those challenges. The challenges ranged from really tough tasks such as asking a stranger if he/she could help you figure out if your deodorant is working to easier tasks such as high-fiving a bunch of people in a restaurant or bar. Special thanks to my Rejectionathon co-founder Thea Koullias, whose primary gig is being the CEO/founder at Jon Lou, who has helped me pull this all together.
These past couple of weeks, I’ve had some time to sit around and think about how I want to change things up in 2017.
A few goals and things I’m looking forward to this year on a professional front:
1. Focusing on earlier stage entrepreneurs
One of the things I’ve seen over the last couple of years is that a lot of seed investors start out investing in idea-stage entrepreneurs but as they build a track record and raise bigger funds, they tend to move downstream and invest more money in later stage seed companies. My own employer 500 Startups is a great example of this. Newer VCs, who don’t yet have a lot of deal flow then fill this void and the cycle repeats itself. Because these investors don’t yet have a brand, entrepreneurs often don’t know they exist, and funding at this “pre-seed” level is very difficult to come-by.
When people say “there are more seed investors” than ever, usually they are talking about the ample seed dollars available for companies who are already thriving and growing. But if you are just starting out and don’t yet have traction, this doesn’t really apply. There are a couple of things that I aim to expand on in 2017 to help with this pre-seed stage and a couple more ideas that I have in the works that I’m not ready to announce yet.
A. Changing Rejectionathon
One of the issues that I see with so many pre-seed entrepreneurs (including myself when I was starting LaunchBit) is that so many people are incredibly timid in approaching activities that could lead to rejection. Founders at this stage often are too afraid to sell products, establish business partnerships, or ask hard questions when fundraising because they are afraid of being rejected. When we go through about 20 years of school, we never once learn how to develop a thicker skin, and yet, it is probably one of the most important skills you can develop in life. This is what we set out to help entrepreneurs with via Rejectionathon.
Being able to get over rejection quickly to build momentum and traction is particularly important for the pre-seed stage because you just don’t have any runway to sit around and lollygag. I’m going to talk more about this in a future blog post, but we are changing the nature of Rejectionathon. It will still be a difficult set of challenges for entrepreneurs to tackle — to help them get over their fear of rejection. But, we’re tweaking things so that it will be directly applicable to their businesses so that they can make progress on their startups while at a Rejectionathon. In addition, in 2017, we tested the Rejectionathon concept domestically, but we plan to roll out more of these worldwide in 2017.
Our next one is in Mountain View on Sunday, January 29, 2017. Use my code EYFRIENDS for 50% off.
B. Blogging 3x per week
In 2017, I am aiming to blog 3x per week. Don’t worry, it won’t just be me blabbering more. I still plan to only write about 1-2 posts per week with my own thoughts on fundraising. But, towards the end of 2016, I started experimenting with other activities on my blog including “Ask a new investor” which is an interview series to highlight new investors and allow a curated group of entrepreneurs have a remote conference with them. This is still in experimental stages, but the initial feedback from the first one was promising, so I plan to tweak this concept more and continue it in 2017. The goal here is to illuminate more new investors (which is a fundamental problem at the pre-seed stage) and also make it easier for entrepreneurs to approach these people to better understand what they are looking for.
2. Focusing on high impact activities
I’m sure many of you have seen this 2×2 matrix before. This way of thinking drives how I structure my life, but it is so easy to fall into the trap of doing activities in #3. This year, I aim to be better at this by doing these things:
A. Ignoring more emails
2016 was the first time I ignored a lot of emails. At first I felt guilty. (I still haven’t written back a whole bunch of people who applied to our seed program in the spring of 2016! 🙁 ) But the reality is that unfortunately, there just isn’t enough time in the day to respond to every email. 🙁
This has forced me to think about both my professional and personal email differently. I now have more canned responses and automated emails than ever in order to write emails faster. And I’m much more adamant about taking action right away on emails. Either I respond or archive an email. But, I shouldn’t let it sit around. If an email sits around, it means I won’t respond to it ever, and I plan to be more decisive and proactive about that this year.
B. Moving more conversations to email
In addition, I now have gotten comfortable taking more initial conversations with people over email. And then later moving them to phone if it makes sense to hash through the details. A lot of my best mentors are people I’ve primarily talked with over email, and at first I had wondered just how helpful that could be compared to a phone call. But, I’ve come to embrace email as a conversation medium and have learned that this allows both parties to respond whenever it’s convenient — even if it’s at 2am. Phone calls, in contrast, need to be slotted for specific set times and don’t always fluidly work into schedules.
I’ve written a bit before about outsourcing various personal chores. In 2017, I hope to do more of this.
In addition, I’m always interested in playing with new tools to help save time. I’m most interested in tools that can help me respond quicker to emails while on the go. What I would really love is to be able to just quickly send a voice memo as a response to an email. I don’t need a voice-to-text translator — I just want to be able to respond in some format quickly because that’s better than no response.
If you have any tools that help you with productivity, I would love to hear about them!
Lastly, I quit exercising for the latter 5 months of the year in 2016 because of my travel schedule. In 2017, I’m going to resume swimming and hope to sign up for 1-2 lake races. I never swam on a team as a kid and took up swimming just a few years ago because it’s a low impact exercise. So I’m still a novice here and have even watched YouTube videos to improve my stroke! In the past, the races in the Bay Area I’ve done and have really liked are the Tri Valley Masters Del Valle Open Water Festival in Livermore and the Splash and Dash Evening Series in the Stevens Creek Reservoir in Cupertino. (The water is warm at both events and the best part is that they have hot dogs and pizza! 🙂 )
Wishing you a great year ahead – happy 2017!