Is Your Company a Friend of Mine or a Friend of Ours? Understanding VC Decision Making.

Bijan@Spark is writing again and I’ve enjoyed his return to blogging. One recent post, “Consensus driven,” covered Spark’s decision making process for making an investment. One often hears stories that the VC investments which were ultimately the most valuable for a fund were also the most contentious. That is, some partners wanted to do the deal and others didn’t.

Bijan emphasizes that while this might be true of some funds, they instead rely on consensus. Spark has always struck me as a collaborative and well-functioning partnership, but they’re also a sizable team, and I’d always assumed consensus at this scale would create slow, risk averse decisions (which they obviously aren’t).

If I could ask Bijan a follow-up question, which I guess I’m doing here, it would be: does consensus mean that each partner has to independently agree that, if given the chance, they would do the deal, or does it mean, the partnership has to all agree that the sponsoring partner should do the deal?

[Update: Bijan responded]

At Homebrew we also work by consensus because there’s just two of us and we want founders to know they’re taking money from the fund, not Hunter or Satya (even though one of us leans in post-investment as the point person). Additionally, consensus means either one of us would do the deal on our own, not just that the other person should do it. Early on I conjectured that we should do an investment Satya proposed, even if I didn’t think the company itself was as special as he did. He stopped the conversation and said, “no, that’s not how we’re going to work. I appreciate the trust but you need to have conviction too.” This has worked well for us thus far but we certainly keep an eye on our occasional disagreements and try to understand if that’s a sign of a bad investment or just a risky one.

As a founder you should understand your VC’s decision making process, both for navigating the pre-investment phase and also for understanding how the partnership overall feels about your prospects. Don’t necessarily equate “we didn’t all agree” with lack of ongoing support. Some funds can debate vigorously upfront but once an investment is made, pledge 100% support to a founder regardless of how many “Yes” or “No” votes were cast at the decision point.

It all kinda reminds me of that classic Donnie Brasco scene where Pacino tells Depp about the difference between being a ‘friend of mine’ (that means you’re a connected guy) versus a ‘friend of ours’ (which means you’re a made guy, and thus really in the inner circle).



This Week’s Best Podcast: Well Made’s “Getting Back to Basics”

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Giddy. That’s how I feel when I see two Homebrew portfolio companies hit it off and collaborate. Lumi is powering modern retail customer experience by supplying high quality, well-priced packaging. Primary clothes kids in fashionable, functional styles, all under $25. So together, they’re PB&J or chocolate peanut butter cups, or whatever your harmonious pairing of choice might be.

Galyn and Christina, Primary’s founders, recently appeared on Lumi’s podcast Well Made, hosted by their cofounder Stephan. It’s a wonderful listen – such a tribute to their partnership, clarity of vision and incredible execution. Loved it so much that I had a transcript made, in order to share some favorites portions below. Here’s the full doc.

The Importance of Great Cofounder Pairings

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Can Clothing Companies Be Technology Companies?

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There are a ton more gems in this podcast. Thanks to Christina, Galyn and Stephan for sharing it and for asking Homebrew to be part of your respective journeys!

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I Don’t Like Conferences But I Like Experiences. Trying WORLDZ.

INTP. That’s my Myers-Briggs type. The “I” stands for Introvert and it means I rarely enjoy conferences. Well, I enjoy a few hours of them each day but jut don’t find the 24/7 nature of them to be very fulfilling. So the ones which break through my “don’t make me go to this” shell usually have something other than the usual “opening keynote, panel panel panel, lunch, sponsored workshop, closing keynote, drinks” numbness.

My friend Roman Tsunder is not numbing. Quite the opposite, he’s intense, in an “I want you to be happy” type of way. When he throws events they’re never standard fare. From the earliest days of PTTOW I was introduced to people, thoughts and activities that broke from my Silicon Valley echo chamber. Such as when I got to watch Quest Crew really up close in 2009

This summer I’ll be attending WORLDZ, PTTOW’s sister conference. I don’t know exactly what to expect but am sure I’ll leave thinking differently about the world and my business. If you want to hang out there with me, you can register here.


Derek Nelson Emails 25,000 People Each Week With Ways To Resist Trump

Re:act is a weekly newsletter reaching 25,000+ politically engaged recipients. It provides a few important ways to fight back against the Trump administration. And its origin isn’t tied to a well-established grassroots organization or George Soros 🙂 but instead a guy in Chicago who started last November by sending a simple email to a small group of friends. Derek Nelson joined me for Five Questions…


Hunter Walk: re:act was one of the grassroots progressive movements to spring up post Trump election. Can you give us some background on its origin?

Derek Nelson: After the election, I started writing down a list of things I could get done every week to keep myself accountable. At the same time, there was so much energy already out there, and a lot of people asking “what can I do?” So I decided to share my list, and turned it into a newsletter called re:act. The first edition went out to some friends in mid-November, and it took off from there. It’s gone out every week since.

At its most basic, it’s just a weekly e-mail with a few concrete things we can do every week to fight for those who are under attack by the administration’s policies. It’s an attempt to be as specific and actionable as possible in offering ways to be involved: context on what’s happening, who exactly to call or write (and some tips to do so), what organizations to support, who you can thank.

HW: Was there a particular moment where you realized “this is happening” and you decided to double-down on the time and energy you’d devote to growing the effort?

DN: The response was pretty immediate. I wrote the initial draft to my family and friends, sent out a few tweets, and there were thousands of signups before the next morning. For someone without much a following, it was exciting and bewildering and weird.

The second “moment” was in that very first day that Congress reconvened and the House GOP tried to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics. People immediately organized a pushback. They lit up the phones. The party leadership had full control over what happened next, so it was easy to be a fatalist and say that they’d never listen and nothing would change. They backed down the next morning. It was a telling moment, and reinforced the effectiveness of this kind of work.

HW: How has social media played a role in re:act’s spread and are there realizations you now have about its [social media’s] nature that were less obvious to you before?

DN: For sure. I wasn’t too active of a social media user before this, so pursuing re:act has opened up all the positives and negatives of that whole world. Field people like me have a grumpy mindset of “nobody gets registered to vote on twitter. Go knock doors.” I’ve learned that’s overly simplistic. I’ve met thousands of inspiring people that I would have never known otherwise (like you, Hunter, awwww), and real things have happened because of it. It’s no substitute for “real” action, but it can be a big organizing tool and driver of “real” action.

HW: Can you measure “success” or ROI on the effort? Do you get feedback from list members and how has that shaped decisions you’ve made with the newsletter?

DN: Looking through the analytics, the best days are when you get to watch hundreds of people clicking on the donation page of the Southern Poverty Law Center, or actions like that. More anecdotally, there are a lot of cool stories to come out of this. I’ve heard from readers who are now running for local office or Congress, who are writing letters to the editor when they never have before, who are building platforms of their own.

Everybody is so generous with their time, ideas, and feedback. People have pointed out more effective organizations to support or numbers to call, and it’s just been a process of always trying to get better.

HW: Do you have ongoing conversations with other “activists” to share tips, best-practices or just blow off steam? How do you sustain the energy?

DN: I only get to work on this in the dead of night, so the hours aren’t as conducive for collaboration as I’d like, but it still happens. It’s great to be able to turn to smart, experienced people like @Celeste_pewter, @katcalvinLA, @editoremilye or the Indivisible folks when there’s a specific question — “is the Department of the Interior really going to go through these comments?” or whatever. There have been a lot of helpful people with hill experience over email too. The other thing I’d note is that while there are a lot of new organizations popping up, so many organizations have been at this for years, and just need more support from all of us.

What keeps the energy up is that the consequences are too great if we don’t. We owe our best effort to all those who could lose their healthcare, be deported, or otherwise discriminated against. Important times.

Thanks Derek. Subscribe to re:act’s weekly email.

Earlier #Resistance Posts:

#GrabYourWallet Urges Consumers to Vote With Their Dollars, Not Just Their Ballots

I’ve got nothing against non-traditional politicians and realize those who come from the private sector likely have a long list of business ties they need to manage. But I also believe our current administration has done little to separate its private interests from those of the public good. Shannon Coulter began the #GrabYourWallet effort to help Americans vote using their wallets, highlighting brands and retailers who are associated with Trump. Just this week, Farhad Manjoo at the NYTimes cited Shannon as an example of consumers speaking out with urgency and impact. She joins me for Five Questions…

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Hunter Walk: #GrabYourWallet was one of the grassroots progressive movements to spring up post Trump election. Can you give us some background on its origin?

Shannon Coulter: The #GrabYourWallet movement sprung up in the days following the release of the Access Hollywood tapes. I was looking for a constructive way to protest not just Donald Trump’s remarks about grabbing women, but his divisiveness and disrespect in general, plus the tendency of his campaign team to look the other way. I knew from my work in marketing that women drive between 70 to 85 percent of all consumer purchases, so I knew if I could effectively tap into that, we could get some things done.

I found another woman online who was thinking along the same lines. She and I joined forces without ever having met. We announced on Twitter that we were boycotting companies that do business with the Trump family and got a big, immediate response. When Ivanka returned to the campaign trail in the wake of the Trump tapes, I saw another early surge.

HW: Was there a particular moment where you realized “this is happening” and you decided to double-down on the time and energy you’d devote to growing the effort?

SC: It’s always felt more like an imperative than a choice to devote a lot of time and energy to #GrabYourWallet. I feel a deep sense of urgency and purpose around it. For me, this work has significantly expanded beyond the scope of just the Trump boycott and is now about flexing our consumer power in ways that promote respect and inclusion in general.

I was thrilled, for instance, when the #GrabYourWallet community was credited alongside organizations like Color of Change and Ultraviolet with helping to bring about Bill O’Reilly’s exit from Fox News by focusing on a few key advertisers. That’s exactly the kind of work I want to be doing: work that will help companies and workplace cultures move in a more thoughtful, humanistic direction.

I had no idea how much innate passion I had for that until I started to explore the possibilities. I feel no drop off whatsoever between the levels of energy I felt in the very early days of #GrabYourWallet and what I feel now.

HW: How has social media played a role in #GrabYourWallet’s spread and are there realizations you now have about its [social media’s] nature that were less obvious to you before?

SC: Social media has played an absolutely vital role in the success of #GrabYourWallet and I seriously doubt if 23 companies would have already stopped doing business with the Trump family without the influence of social media. Not only has the #GrabYourWallet hashtag been seen over a billion times (a figure I can’t quite believe myself sometimes) but social media in general works to keep the conversation alive at the brand level for the companies that remain on the list.

Whenever Team Trump does something egregious like withdraws the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, I see people reengage with the boycott on social media. They’ll directly ask companies, “How can you do business with people who are doing this?”

As for whether or not I’ve had realizations about social media that were less obvious to me before, I would say that before I had much less understanding of how powerful a lever it can be for gaining rights and power. Social media is so much more than just an amplifier. It’s a game changer. Watching individuals approach large publicly traded companies and affect positive change just dazzles me. I’m constantly telling people not to underestimate the power of their single voice.  

HW: When brands/retailers stocking Trump-related merchandise reach out to you directly, what’s the tenor of the conversation?

SC: It’s almost always extremely respectful. People who participate in #GrabYourWallet genuinely want to return to these retailers as customers as soon as possible and I come from a corporate background, so I tend to approach the companies on the list with a lot of empathy and respect, particularly the communication and marketing teams because I’ve been in their shoes.

For #GrabYourWallet participants, it’s not at all about punishing or shaming companies on the list. Before it dropped Trump brand products, Nordstrom was voted the number one most “boycott-able” company on the list by #GrabYourWallet participants precisely because of how much they missed shopping there.  

HW: Which retailer still on the list bothers you the most?

SC: Without a doubt it’s Amazon. I’ve worked a lot within the tech community so that one just feels more personal to me and I’m just so deeply bothered that Amazon still advertises on Breitbart.

Plus, while there are several retailers that still sell Ivanka’s clothes, Amazon is the only retailer I know of that still sells Donald Trump’s line of suits. Macy’s dropped Donald’s line the moment Trump equated Mexican people with rapists, but Amazon seems to believe it’s somehow exempt from such decisions.

I think that’s not only a big ethical blind spot on Amazon’s part, but a dangerous lie about tech in general—that it’s somehow inherently neutral or ‘just a platform.’ I’m not comfortable with the vacuum of accountability that mindset creates.

It’s particularly worrisome to me when Amazon is so big and dominating so many industries. Now it’s moving into groceries with the Whole Foods acquisition. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not Amazon having more of a physical presence in communities across the country helps its leaders be less aloof. I hope it will.

I also fully admit that I also just really want to watch some of Amazon’s original shows, like Jill Soloway’s new one. Amazon is doing great work as a producer of original content and I’m a cord cutter, so I definitely miss having those options.

Thanks Shannon! Support #GrabYourWallet

Earlier #Resistance Posts:

Tommy Vietor is Saving the World, One Podcast at a Time

Data analysis of my 2017 calendar would suggest a strong correlation between drives down to Silicon Valley and the Crooked Media podcast schedule. It’s really the only way to deal with 101 traffic. I’ve met the Crooked Media team at different events, starting with Dan Pfeiffer while he was still at the White House, and love seeing them build their new company with equal doses of mission and arched eyebrows. Tommy Vietor (host, Pod Save the World) and I have a deep and meaningful online friendship which basically involves fav’ing each others tweets. Here he joins me for Five Questions…

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Hunter Walk: When you formed Crooked Media one of the points of emphasis was to ramp up the ‘activism’ aspects of the platform. How has that manifested itself in the content so far compared to the pre-election podcasts?

Tommy Vietor: I should stipulate that we have a lot more work to do on this front. We’ve started a series of conversations with smart organizers and activist groups to figure out how we can help without reinventing the wheel. What’s clear so far is that the key objectives will be the 2017 gubernatorial races and then winning back the house in 2018. 2018 is the whole ballgame.

That said, we’ve tried to do a better job of not just talking about what awful thing happened that week, but also helping listeners understand what they can do about it. That last step is what I think distinguishes us from even progressive news outlets. Sometimes our suggestions will feel small and not particularly satisfying. Often what we recommend will be as basic as call your member of Congress, or donate to to raise money for the candidates who challenge Republican members of Congress, but in the aggregate it will add up. So we all have to stay focused.

HW: How do you measure success right now—is it looking at podcast download numbers and iTunes ratings? More qualitative sense of what your friends, insiders and general audience are saying about the pod?

TV: There’s a bunch of scattered metrics that matter to us. Some of them are traditional business KPIs like audience growth, not just for Pod Save America but for all of the Crooked Media shows. We view our first round of hiring as a huge success. But the important work is ahead of us. We want to grow out the podcast network to include more voices. We want to get into video. We want to find a way to be a real value add for people who want to get more active in politics, and we want to help push Democrats to be better and communicate more effectively. So….whole lotta’ work to do. But so far so good!

HW: The sponsor live reads are a very, uh, humorous part of the pods. Are sponsors just a business model, or over time do you think it’s an opportunity for brands to take a stance because their customers or employees want to see their values tangibly. Have you turned down any brands that you thought didn’t belong on the pod?

TV: We didn’t make a conscious choice to have fun during the ads as much as we just got bored of reading the same copy and the jokes slipped out. Then it became a fun part of the show and a competition to see how far we could push it (turns out there are boundaries). The good news is that listeners seem to enjoy them and are less likely to hit the skip button, which means sponsors are getting good returns. I absolutely think there’s an opportunity for brands to take a stance and talk more about their values. In places like San Francisco where you have a largely progressive, highly educated workforce, I think it’s going to be a strategic imperative for companies to have values and a voice, especially if they want to recruit young people. We all want to feel like our jobs amounts to more than just a paycheck (or equity allocation!) and I suspect CEOs have been paying attention to the backlash against companies and CEOs that stayed involved with the Trump administration after the Muslim ban. That was a huge mistake.

HW: Post-election, what’s the tech industry doing well in resisting Trump and pushing back against the administration and where are we still naive or complacent?

TV: I should caveat this by saying that the entire political world called 2016 wrong, myself very much included, so I approach all political predictions and advice with humility and a grain of salt. The biggest disconnect between the tech community and Washington (in my humble opinion as a guy who admittedly only knows the tech community as an observer) is a default assumption that politics is governed by logic and reason. That’s just not true. It’s a wildly inefficient process driven by irrational humans, and the logical explanation of how or why something should happen is rarely the way things play out. It sucks and is infuriating. Unfortunately that means it’s harder to apply technology to solve problems that are political or human in nature. And sometimes folks with nothing but good intentions can end up frustrated by the lack of progress and end up looking naive, especially when you have a problem like the refugee crisis that just can’t be hacked and instead require major government involvement and political support to solve. That’s also why the libertarian view that things would be better if government just got out of the way isn’t always true.

On the positive side, I have been impressed by how many leaders in the tech community have spoken out against Trump’s policies early on during his administration when a lot of people were scared. Elon Musk waited too long to get off of Trump’s advisory council, but he did it. Tim Cook’s lobbying in support of the Paris Agreement was powerful even if ultimately unsuccessful. These are big, respected brands, and the business critiques of Trump matter.

HW:  After commuting back and forth, you’ve recently moved down to LA from SF. Better weather but we’ve got better coffee, right?

TV: I have amazing friends in SF. Brilliant, funny, nice, awesome people from all different parts of my life, and I really miss them. And living in SF you sort take for granted how cool it is to live in a city where people are so comfortable with taking big swings and not afraid of failure. That is a rare, awesome culture. Moving was sad. I loved my little (expensive) one bedroom in Pac Heights. I often stare longingly at my Fremont Diner coffee cup. But LA has been great so far, and I am more excited about work than I’ve been in a long time. Also the weather is pretty great…

Thanks Tommy! Please support the Crooked Media team by subscribing to Pod Save the World and buying some merch

Earlier #Resistance Posts:

Indivisible: How A 23-Page Google Doc Gave Birth To A National Progressive Movement

My Twitter feed is historically filled with tech snark and startup news but in 2017 I’ve seen a disproportionate number of #Resist House Parties, protest signs and town halls. For this I credit Indivisible, a new grassroots org which is really mobilizing local level progressives. Indivisible started as a viral Google Doc, which is just an amazing story. Thanks to their cofounder Ezra Levin for joining me for Five Questions.

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Hunter Walk: Indivisible kind of burst on the scene post-election as one of the new progressive groups putting voice to the frustration and surprise that many of us woke up with on Nov 9th. What’s your origin story?

Ezra Levin: The Indivisible Guide traces its humble beginnings to a bar in Austin, Texas, my hometown, where my wife Leah Greenberg and I were visiting my family for Thanksgiving. We met up with a college friend of mine for drinks. Like a few other friends we had talked to, she was newly politically engaged (through a private Facebook group), and she was trying to figure out what she could do beyond petitions and online activism. As former congressional staffers, Leah and I decided in that bar to write a guide aimed at demystifying the congressional policy process and copying the Tea Party strategies and tactics (minus the racism and violence).

By the end of Thanksgiving break, we had a draft, and we worked with a couple dozen our friends finalize a 23-page guide on Google Docs outlining best practices for influencing your members of Congress. We ran it by our parents, and other friends outside the Beltway, and asked them if they’d find it useful. After work on December 14th, I tweeted the guide out to my roughly 700 followers on Twitter. To our amazement, it got promoted by some very influential people, like Robert Reich and George Takei. Within a couple hours, traffic was so heavy to the Google Doc that it crashed — people couldn’t download or print the guide. That weekend, we had a couple dozen friends over to our house to throw together a website and figure out a way to start responding to all the messages coming in.

The most amazing thing that started happening almost immediately was that people were forming local indivisible groups. By January there were hundreds (and now there are around 6,000), and they had a ton of questions for us — about congressional process, about policy, about running a group that went from 20 people to 500 people overnight. We started the Indivisible Project organization in January explicitly to support this growing movement of local indivisible groups.

HW: I see lots of local Indivisible groups. What does Indivisible “HQ” provide to these groups and is there a tension between a centrally managed message versus distributed action?

EL: All of our work here at the national level comes down to one truth that we’re really proud of: we are not the leaders of this movement. There are 6,000 group leaders across the country changing what is politically possible in this country. They are not “astroturf” or “paid protesters” — they are real constituents, leading real resistance efforts in their communities. We’re committed to standing indivisible with these local leaders, and providing the support we can to ensure they can stand strong against the Trump Administration’s racist, misogynistic, and broadly bigoted agenda.

Our role is support this local leadership. Every week we provide new resources our groups need to be able to effectively advocate to their members of Congress. On the policy front, this is everything from sample call scripts on certain bills, to legislative process explainers, to comprehensive action plans on major issues, like healthcare or the Russia investigation. We also provide resources to help groups sustain their activism and make a difference in their communities — like how to organize a group or how to get local media to cover their event. We keep our groups up to date on what’s coming down the pike in Congress so they can know exactly what issues to focus on week by week.

In addition to providing these training and policy resources, we also help coordinate groups to help them take district-wide and statewide actions. We’ve set up knowledge sharing platforms for group leaders to coordinate by state, we hold regular Facebook Live and other public events to mobilize and answer questions around specific actions, and we do state and district-level coordinated events to help groups work together. There are an average of 13 groups in every single congressional district in the country, so this coordination work is crucial to ensuring the indivisible groups can have collective impact.

HW: What’s the role of the DNC vis a vis these new orgs? Do you work totally outside of the established structures?

EL: While Indivisible is explicitly progressive, we are also explicitly not an arm of the Democratic Party — and we think that’s important. A central part of our theory of change is working to ensure Democrats in Congress have spines. It’s worth remembering that early in Trump presidency, fifteen Democrats voted for Mike Pompeo CIA Director — a man who slanders Muslim Americans and is open to torture. We were happy that Indivisible groups rallied outside Democratic districts offices of Senators like Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to demand that they vote against Trump’s extreme nominees. That said, we’re happy to fight with Democrats when they’re fighting for progressive values. For instance, once Schumer committed to fighting against Trump’s extreme Supreme Court nominee (after some pressure from the resistance), we strongly supported Democratic efforts in the Senate.

But while we don’t coordinate with the Democratic Party, we do work with a ton of existing organizations that have been fighting for progressive policy for years. We’ve coordinated with Organizing for America, MoveOn, Working Families Party, and others on grassroots days of action. And we’ve worked with policy organizations like Families USA, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Planned Parenthood to fight against TrumpCare. The fact is that we’re facing an existential threat from this country, so we believe it’s crucial to band together against his assaults.

HW: Some donors are waiting on sidelines, thinking they’ll put money behind candidate races in 2018 midterms. What’s the call to action that gets them donating to Indivisible? Do you need money? Why would $100 or $1000 now make a difference?

EL: Yes! It costs money to support the Indivisible movement (if you want to donate, you can here!). For instance, currently we have 45 local indivisible groups in Darrell Issa’s district in California (a very vulnerable Republican outside of San Diego)…and we have exactly 1 organizer for the entire state of California (and she covers Hawaii too!). This is not enough. We have over 900 groups in California alone, and we want to support them, and the rest across the country. We are building out our field operation now, and we are trying to do it as quickly as possible so that the local groups are as strong as possible come next year.

So what does your $100 or $1000 donation get you? It means we’re going to be able to support more organizers in the field. It means we’ll be able to help grow these groups to be big centers of local power for 2018 and beyond. And your small donation means that Indivisible gets to remain independent and responsive to the movement, rather than to corporations or any individual big donors.

On this note, it’s also worth explaining that Indivisible is driven by small donations by design. We have self-imposed limits on the amount of funding we’ll take from other sources, because we want to be responsive and accountable to our local groups. Ever since we put this donate button on our website, small donations have been the single largest source of funding for Indivisible. Again, this is a conscious choice. We know that organizations are responsive to their funders, so we are committed to being driven by small donations from the Indivisible movement. You can learn more about this in our fundraising philosophy here.

HW: What role has social media played in Indivisible’s growth? Which social tools or platforms have been most useful?

EL: Given that the Indivisible Guide started on Twitter, social media has been integral to our success since the beginning. Social media is still the primary way we disseminate information quickly to our entire community, which is key when our groups are responding to rapid developments in Congress, and the primary way by which we communicate our priorities and positions to the public. Our local groups use Facebook heavily to communicate amongst each other, and to spread the word about events they’re doing like “die-ins” and “empty chair town halls.” They also use it to share photos and videos from their actions — sometimes directly with reporters who amplify their stories (a tactic we suggest in the Guide). We use roughly weekly Facebook live events to reach thousands of Indivisible members and answer their questions about organizing and policy in real time. And we use an internal Slack-like communication tool to help group leaders coordinate within states and between states. There’s no denying the power social media gives Indivisible to be able to organize and share information quickly and effectively.

Thanks Ezra! Please consider supporting Indivisible!

Earlier #Resistance Posts: