I’m a thinker, by nature – someone who’s calm in crisis. When something happens, I process and think; then I take action. Even so – and after much thinking – there are no words to convey how difficult the recent turmoil has been. I’ve started and stopped myself several times from blasting on social media the despair and frustration I feel as a black person in America. Still, I listened to my inner voice and took the time to think about measurable actions that can personally change the lives of those who need our support.
Thank you to everyone who’s reached out – What can we do? Who needs help? How can we act against each injustice? Here is my answer. What it boils down to for me is six simple words: Don’t wait, be intentional, give forward.
In the tech world, it’s easy to throw yourself into life as it happens, leaving little room for passion projects or anything outside the must-do category. We often just go with that flow, but is that how we want to live our lives? I didn’t want to wait to retire to have an impact. Even before I became an executive, I was always happy to help others along my journey and send that figurative elevator back down. The great Maya Angelou once said, “A legacy is not some big grand thing. A legacy is every life you touch.” Simply put: It’s what you do everyday that matters.
Your legacy is every stand you take – and the sooner you start, the more you achieve. Reach out to those Black founders, or take their calls. Offer feedback and make connections. Talk to your Black colleagues, diversify your networks, make the hire, write the check. Don’t wait until “someday” to take action and be the change. Every call you make, every note you send, and every expression of support means more to us than you realize.
I hope my legacy will be that I made meaningful contributions to the technology and venture capital worlds, while bringing as many people as possible along with me on this journey. What will your legacy be?
In a recent conversation with Squawk Box, Ariel Investments CEO Mellody Hobson said, “I love the saying: ‘Math has no opinion.’ None. Just count.” Why? Because counting, she points out, will prove that “at all levels of corporate America, people of color – black and brown Americans, underrepresented minorities – do not show up in the numbers in which we exist in this country.” To fight this, Hobson suggests companies hold themselves accountable by setting targets, just as we set targets and track metrics in so many parts of an organization.
As a numbers-oriented business leader, this idea really resonated with me. I’ve consistently made John Doerr’s Measure What Matters a requirement for my leadership teams. If you want to achieve audacious goals through OKRs, you must align everyone to maximize those results. Setting OKRs is strategic planning at its core, a powerful tool for prioritization, even when it comes to diversity.
In fact, that purpose and intention is one of the things I love about Operator Collective; partners Mallun Yen and Leyla Seka were deliberate about the LP base they wanted to create. They reached out with purpose, asking several LPs to open their networks so they could build the kind of fund that matched the image they had in their minds. I and others extended our networks to them, and they embraced it. Organizations everywhere would be wise to emulate this intentional diversity.
A more tangible way to make a difference is to give forward: volunteer your services or donate to reputable organizations doing ground-level work to move the needle on racial equality. But the movement is huge – where do you start? Before you offer your time or reach for your wallet, let your interests guide you and consider which organizations will have long-term, forward-looking impact. Core to my personal values are entrepreneurship and education, so I always look to aid organizations that support passionate founders and fight educational inequity.
I never set out to be an angel investor, but I saw the dearth of support for women and minority founders; plus I’m always looking for those customer problems that can be solved while building a durable competitive advantage. That led to my first pre-seed investment (which was actually more of an investment in founder Morgan DeBaun and her vision). It’s powerful to see your dollars helping someone else; since then I’ve been fortunate to have so many chances to champion small businesses and those who dare to dream, both as an executive at Intuit and as a director on a public bank board. Spreading good is addictive.
According to the Kauffman Foundation research project in partnership with Marlon Nichols, more than 75% of venture rounds raised go to all-White founding teams. As you invest in, mentor, or advise, if you see an all-White team, speak up. Be an ally. Make a connection. This is another simple way to give forward and build the future you want to see now. Silence is implicit acceptance of the status quo.
In the spirit of transparency in our forward-giving, I’m proud to share a few measures our Operator Collective community has taken as a starting point. We are:
- Supporting Black and LatinX founders affected by COVID19. Last month, we joined Paladin’s Project Lifeline as a founding member. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on underrepresented founders and small business owners. Project Lifeline will offer equity-free cash grants, a 4-week accelerator program, and an investor showcase for Black and Latinx startups founders affected. Paladin was founded in 2018 by LP Terell Sterling. Please click here if you’d like to make a donation.
- Funding education for Black and LatinX founders. We’re sponsoring a scholarship program for 50 Black and Latinx founders to attend Arlan Hamilton’s intensive course on How to Raise Capital for Your Company from Scratch. If you’re a Black or Latinx founder and would like to apply, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Empowering the next generation. We’re giving our time and dollars to SMASH, a rigorous five-week residential STEM education program for Black, Latinx, and Native American high school students. Founded in 2004 by LP Dr. Freada Kapor Klein with a single location at UC-Berkeley, SMASH has now served more than 1,000 students across 10 college campuses. Join us in donating here.
- Reimagining our deal flow. We’ve put measures in place to increase our deal flow from Black and Latinx founders in the enterprise. Among other measures, this includes working with Backstage Capital to increase underrepresented founders in our investment pipeline.
- Offering training and assistance for portfolio companies. We’re developing resources to help portfolio companies drive inclusive practices from the ground up. Not only does starting from the beginning make diversity core to the company, it also generates better returns.
Who will you give to? How will you make your voice heard? Please consider investing your time, services, or money in a worthy organization that can affect long-term change.
Make these 6 words a daily practice
Resolve to make a difference. Not only now in the wake of obvious tragedies and intense protests, but always. If you’re ready to put a permanent end to racism and discrimination, I hope you’ll keep these six words in mind – Don’t wait, be intentional, give forward.
We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or on Twitter and LinkedIn.