How do you build a thriving partner ecosystem?

I worked on the Salesforce AppExchange for almost 10 years, overseeing its growth into the tremendous partnership powerhouse it is today. It was a wild experience — one I’m very proud of — and years later I’m still peppered with questions on how we did it, what benefits we realized, what made it successful, and what challenges we faced along the way. Here are some of those answers. 

What is an ecosystem?

In enterprise SaaS technology, an ecosystem is a group of products that integrate and work well together. The products enhance one another, offering additional value to the end user. The parent companies are partners in a mutually beneficial relationship.

What are the benefits of building an ecosystem? 

Ecosystems signify that your company is on a solid growth trajectory. Done well, an ecosystem leads to additional revenue, product expansion, market expansion, and valuable partnerships. Ecosystem partnerships can also lead to acquisitions, additional funding, new partnerships, and a whole host of other things that make your company stronger. 

When should companies start thinking about partnerships and ecosystems? 

Immediately. Your company is probably in several partner relationships already, whether you know it or not, so it’s wise to put a strategy in place as soon as possible. Think about what value you’re looking to achieve, as well as what value you have to offer; then build a roadmap for how you see your partner relationships working in 1, 5, and 10 years. 

What type of a team do you need to build a partner ecosystem?

Team is a good word for it — because the day-to-day functionality of an ecosystem is often overlooked. It takes a *major* effort not only to build your ecosystem, but to keep it running smoothly. So it’s not just a product team, it’s not just a support team, and it’s not just a marketing team. You either need a super-person who can do all that stuff or a super-group of people. Very few companies think about building out the support function of an ecosystem because it sounds expensive, but it’s absolutely necessary.

What’s important to consider as teams think about partnerships and growth? 

Ecosystem partnerships are relationships that can really last, but it’s important to make sure you position your company in a way that you can pivot both how and when you need to. Just because a particular relationship works for you today doesn’t mean it will work for you in the future, so be careful to allow yourself the freedom to evolve. This can be as simple as added language in your contract, but it’s something to think about as you build a strategy. 

How should younger companies approach their partnership strategies?

One angle is to think about building a cluster. You can’t be partners with everyone, so think about a couple of apps that surround yours and make it a suite that becomes supremely powerful for the user; then build partnerships with them in a way that lifts all of you. It can’t always work that way, but that’s definitely a strategy smaller companies should consider — Who are the other two companies that make us a powerhouse cluster? 

How do you not pick favorites inside the ecosystem but still build growth?

This is tough. Once you’ve got options in your ecosystem, customers will start asking, “Which one should I get?” But you cannot make recommendations. Again, you are building a democracy in the middle of a kingdom — Yes, you have to accomplish your sales objectives, but it’s vital to remain impartial while doing so.

What’s one thing companies underplan for in an ecosystem?

Channel conflict. Companies building an ecosystem always think it’s never going to get “that bad” or cause channel problems, but issues will arise. What you’re building here is basically an indirect sales team or an indirect sales channel — so you need to consider the impact this will have on your direct sales team and how their incentives align.  

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

How we’re 5x-ing black representation in venture

It’s no secret that venture capital has a problem. Despite a landslide of evidence supporting diverse teams, only 1% of venture-backed startups have a Black founder, and less than 3% of VC funds employ Black or minority professionals. If that’s not bad enough, Morgan Stanley says excluding those potential investors and entrepreneurs means the industry is leaving a trillion-dollar opportunity on the table. 

While individual organizations are working to fix this, the industry needs systemic change and a greater pipeline of founders and investors from underrepresented backgrounds. The current system will not right itself; if we want different people, we have to change the system.

Let’s flashback to summer for a minute and remember the feeling of desperation following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many more. While many felt hopeless, I felt a call to action, a need to use any resources I could gather and do something to create meaningful change. How could we turn those equality conversations into action – and make sure those actions continue once the newscycle ends? Our Operator Collective partner team – Mallun Yen, Ambrosia Vertesi, and I – agreed that one way is through education. 

The power of education for change

Venture capital isn’t something you can just pick up. Even if we could break down the barriers and throw open the doors, there’s still a huge learning curve. It takes time to learn the terms, understand the process, and make the connections. Some people grew up in that world, absorbing this knowledge through osmosis, but others need a leg up.  

What if we could create a curriculum to train Black executives on the fundamentals of venture investing? A program for experienced operators led by some of the industry’s most respected leaders and certified via a top institution? The idea felt larger than life, but soon we were working our connections and devoting hours every day of the week to build a framework and partnerships. 

Many people stepped up to help people who’d led successful programs of this kind before. Operator Collective LP Richelle Parham connected me to Sue Toigo, who shared invaluable advice from decades of promoting minority professionals in finance. The brilliant Freada Kapor Klein provided her expertise from decades of work as Silicon Valley’s diversity activist. And Kapor Capital’s Ulili Onovakpuri offered valuable insights from her own experience. All these wildly impressive people came together with the common goal of creating much-needed change in an industry too content with the status quo. 

Announcing Black Venture Institute

Now Operator Collective is proud to partner with BLCK VC, Salesforce Ventures, and UC Berkeley Haas to launch the new Black Venture Institute, an intensive program for Black experienced operators interested in learning more about venture, including angel and venture investing. The program will teach foundational venture principles like financing, sourcing, diligence, and corporate governance. Fellows will discuss how investors evaluate opportunities, collaborate, and negotiate terms. All while learning from top industry minds, business leaders, and UC-Berkeley professors. It’s a full package of education, exposure, and connections. 

There are roughly 75 Black check writers in venture capital today. Black Venture Institute will graduate 300 fellows in three years, to potentially 5x that number by 2023.

Putting this together was no small feat; many of us devoted significant amounts of time, energy, and resources to get it done. But it shows the power of what can happen when driven groups collaborate to bring about change. Through it all, it’s been uplifting to see the response and work with other organizations hell-bent on creating a more equitable industry. Special shout-outs to Jackson Cummings, Frederik Groce, Brian Hollins, Camden McCrae, and Toby Stuart for their tireless efforts.

2020 has drawn a line in the sand: We can actively push for equality, or we can keep our profoundly disappointing status quo. We proudly choose the former. 

We hope you’ll join us in supporting Black Venture Institute.  

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

The benefits of building an EcoSystem

When Salesforce launched the AppExchange in 2006, it quickly became a game-changer in so many ways – the first cloud platform, the introduction of platform as a service, the beginning of APIs – but what might be most impressive is that the AppExchange ushered in an entirely new model for partnerships. 

Until then, no one in the tech industry had partnerships like we do now – they just didn’t make sense. But all of a sudden with the rise of the cloud, everything became interconnected. We discovered that working together made technology products much, much stronger and that symbiotic relationships could pave the way to new levels of success.  

How techs first ecosystem came to be

It all started with forecasting. Back then, Salesforce offered basic forecasting tools, but companies also began to realize they could build their own forecasting apps and make them work with Salesforce. The resulting apps offered different functionality, integrated well, and made the product stronger. This was the aha that led to what’s now the AppExchange. CEO Marc Benioff had the brilliant idea to build a marketplace (originally called the AppStore!) and offer these products as add-ons so other companies could capitalize on them too. 

Once launched, the AppExchange became the start of a new partnership model, an exciting and innovative way for companies to build powerful, lasting relationships. It also led to plenty of other benefits for Salesforce, like:

  1. Increased Product Value
    A marketplace of partner apps would enhance the value of Salesforce and create multiple new revenue streams. Soon Salesforce customers had dozens of apps in every category to choose from, giving them a tremendous amount of value, not to mention a higher ROI on their purchase of CRM. Why would a customer buy another CRM when they could buy Salesforce and have all these other add-ons to choose from?

  2. Lower Attrition
    Once the AppExchange marketplace was built and fortified, another advantage soon became clear: attrition numbers fell drastically (in our favor). With these powerful new options to enhance the product, the likelihood of customers attriting went down significantly with each successful install.

  3. Built-In Community
    The AppExchange also gave Salesforce a huge new community of customers that came from our partners. The amazing thing was that they all wanted to share advice and best practices – with each other AND with Salesforce. Constructive ideas and feedback from the community really helped us refine and improve the both the AppExchange and the actual ecosystem.

Building a democracy inside a kingdom

I worked on the AppExchange for almost 10 years, overseeing its growth into the powerhouse it is today. The job was an education in itself and I’m grateful every single day for the experience. Looking back, I often think of what we did as building a democracy in the middle of a kingdom – We built an open marketplace that ran inside a company. This was unheard of at the time. The logistics of that were intense and overwhelming; this had never been done before, so we had no examples to follow and no one to turn to for help. 

Now, years later, I’m immensely proud of what we accomplished and what the AppExchange has become. Our team relied on innovation, strategic thinking, and an amazing crew of technical gurus to take this idea from concept to creation to sustained success.

As a result, I’m constantly peppered with questions on how we did it, what made it successful, and what challenges we faced. So stay tuned as I lay out the most common questions I get about how to build a thriving ecosystem.  

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or on Twitter and LinkedIn.

How to Build a Customer-Centric Org

The show must go on – except when it mustn’t. We loved our Challenge Series webinars, but when the recent social justice movement began, we chose to honor and prioritize our emotions and cancel our final session on Customer Success. It was the right decision, though we also missed hearing great advice from two experienced leaders. Since we couldn’t meet live, we asked our scheduled guests – Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta and Slack VP of Customer Success Christina Kosmowski – if they’d answer our questions anyway, and of course they were happy to do so. We hope you find their advice on building a customer-centric org as helpful as we did. 

What is customer success and how is it different from customer support? 

CHRISTINA: Customer Success (CS) is maximizing business value through the use of your product while ensuring a positive experience. It is proactive and business-value driven. Customer support, on the other hand, is more reactive – responding to a specific issue the customer or user is having. 

NICK: In business models where customers have power (such as SaaS), vendors are accountable not just for the sale or product, but also for the outcome. Customer Success is about getting customers proactively to their desired outcomes with a strong customer experience (CX). In our geeky Gainsight language, we say CS = CO + CX. Customer Support, by nature, is about responding when customers have issues – but what if they never call you and just silently disengage? Customer Success is about owning the outcome.

Nick, people often credit Gainsight with helping to create the customer success industry. Can you tell us a bit what that means and how that played out?

NICK: We definitely didn’t create the industry or category, but perhaps we were the chief cheerleader. We saw a tiny profession in 2013 when we launched Gainsight and knew every business would need CS over time. As such, we launched a conference (Pulse) all about Customer Success best practices and community. We hosted local meetups, online events, executive events, job boards, and more, and we just released our third book. It’s been a lot of heavy lifting, but so rewarding to see how CS has become a must for tech companies now.

Christina, I watched you create an amazing customer success org at Salesforce, and now you’ve done it again at Slack. What are the 3 things everyone needs to know when building a CS team?

CHRISTINA: I love Customer Success. It’s the perfect bridge between technology and business/humans and I’m fortunate to have found two amazingly customer-centric companies. Three things everyone should know: 1) Create a culture of innovation and agility. There’s no template for customer success. It iterates based on where customers are on the journey with your product. Recognize that and build that iteration and culture into your culture. 2) Create a culture of Customer Centricity within your company. Don’t limit it to just the Customer Success team; everyone in every department needs to feel responsible for Customer Success. And 3) Connect your customers. Your customers learn the most from each other, so don’t be afraid to connect them.

Nick, what’s the best way to think about how to create a customer-centric culture if you’re just starting out?  

NICK: Three core steps: First, make sure the leadership team is meeting LOTS of customers; I meet 500+ clients a year and build it into the rhythm of my work, from advisory boards to sales calls to executive business reviews. Second, integrate customer voices into every company event from All Hands to board meetings to internal comms. And third, encourage every employee to hear first-person customer stories – by joining EBRs, inviting customers in to speak, and more.

Christina, Slack has grown like gangbusters during the pandemic (and before). How have you been able to stay close to your customers? 

CHRISTINA: It’s important that we adapt to what’s most important to our customers. Slack is not a work-from-home product, per se, but it definitely helps keep employees connected. As we shifted to remote work, many of our customers were looking to us for advice, so we shifted some of our content and resources to support that. We utilized our connect product (formerly shared channels) to push content in a more dynamic way. And we accelerated launches to get them connected and update features as soon as possible. 

What’s the secret to maintaining a world-class customer success organization as you grow?

CHRISTINA: Keep an open, innovative mind. As your product and customers evolve and their usage with your product evolves, you need to evolve as well. Build processes that consistently bring the customer voice and feedback to your company and hold all the departments accountable to it. And connect with other CS leaders – Nick and Gainsight do an amazing job of connecting us all, and I find that network invaluable. I’m constantly learning from folks, and often the smaller CS organizations bring innovative ideas and remind me that anything is possible. 

NICK: There’s no one recipe and CS varies a lot based upon the complexity of your product and the average deal size for your business. If I had to give 3 tips: 1) have a Beginner’s Mind – read books, listen to podcasts, and attend conferences, 2) Build a peer network for coaching, and 3) Use an agile approach with your team where you change in sprints (every 2 weeks, for example). 

Attrition is a critical metric for customer success teams. What other metrics are critical to become a customer-centric company?

NICK: The other core lagging indicators are expansion and advocacy, but you need to identify leading indicators to manage toward. These could include product usage, sentiment, and other factors. We recommend bubbling these up into an overall north star leading indicator, or a health score. Our standard recommendation is to consider four core elements: Deployment, Engagement, Adoption, and ROI.

CHRISTINA: Yes, I agree – Attrition is an important lagging indicator, but we try to identify health and value earlier in the process so attrition becomes a nonevent. It’s important to measure business value up front and consistently measure. We do that through quarterly business reviews. We also measure health on three components: 1) Qualitative principles we’ve found in successful implementations such as executive sponsorship and training, 2) Quantitative usage metrics, and 3) Engagement with Slack – things like attending events, meetings, and more. 

How have metrics changed since COVID-19? What new metrics are you tracking or paying more attention to?

CHRISTINA: I think COVID-19 is just accelerating and putting more emphasis on achieving business value. We’re maniacally focused on ensuring our customers are getting value and looking at ways to accelerate our launches and activities. 

NICK: I spoke to our advisory board a few weeks ago and asked what they’re doing differently given COVID-19. In general, the theme was they were doing “everything we should have been doing all the time, just more and faster.” I think the biggest new metric is trying to understand the business health of your customers. This ties to also tracking the payment health of your clients in terms of their ability to financially survive.

How do you foster empathy for your customers across the organization? Do you have any programs or tricks you use?

CHRISTINA: Always use data and the customer lens. Tell the story in terms of the customer point of view and how they are experiencing it. 

NICK: A big trick I use is to change language anytime it’s not customer-centric. As a leader, if you hear “the customer is being unreasonable,” challenge it by asking: “Or is the customer just under a lot of stress?” Another example: “The client is so high maintenance” might become “The client is getting us to improve.” Or switch “This client is so frustrating” to something like “I can empathize with what they’re going through right now.”

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.

 

The Challenge Series: Adding inclusive voices to the COVID response

Global pandemics wreak their own special kind of havoc — not just on our health, but on virtually every aspect of our lives. Solving something as massive as a global health emergency takes a coordinated, collaborative effort and requires us to put our best minds forward. That means not just in frontline healthcare and government response, but also in education, recreation, nonprofit, and business. 

In times of crisis, leaders emerge. We’re all looking for answers and guidance. It’s widely understood that diverse teams lead to greater innovation, better outcomes, and more progress, so we cringe every time we see photos and events featuring homogeneous teams and panels in response to today’s challenges. (As it turns out, we’re not the only ones to notice.) The representation has improved recently, with women in leadership roles receiving kudos for how they’re handling their COVID-19 responses in federal governments, local governments, and science. Now we’re ready to add to that list from a business perspective.  

Join us for the Challenge Series

Introducing The Challenge Series, weekly online events designed to connect you with the specific topics and advice you need. Businesses are scrambling to address challenges they couldn’t have imagined just a month ago. As we work to keep our teams and companies going, it’s helpful for all of us to hear how some of today’s respected leaders are navigating similar issues. We’ve assembled an incredible line-up of speakers who are leading their companies through this time — and this first group happens to be all women. How are they shifting their operations, marketing, and finance? How do they lead with empathy and kindness through scary situations? Join us weekly to find out.

Learn how experienced executive leaders at companies like Gusto, Cloudflare, Zoom, Zendesk, Guild Education, TripActions, and Textio are shifting their models, protecting their budgets, and supporting their employees through every stressful moment. Got a question or two for these leaders? Please share with us on Twitter or LinkedIn and we’ll add them to the queue. 

Upcoming Challenge Series Events

  • April 28: How do you shift your operations during a crisis? (REGISTER)
  • May 5: Marketing and messaging in the time of Coronavirus (REGISTER)
  • May 12: How do enterprises manage their spend during a crisis? (REGISTER)
  • May 19: Leading with empathy and kindness in times of uncertainty (REGISTER)

Staying ahead of these situations requires diverse, inclusive voices

Scientists predict additional waves of COVID-19 and a rise in similar viruses in years to come. As we determine what that means for not only healthcare, but businesses, the overall economy, and even day-to-day human life, we ask organizations to prioritize diverse, inclusive voices in their preparations and responses. Put women and underrepresented minorities in leadership roles; listen to their voices. Make them not the exception, but the norm. Excluding these portions of the talent pool limits our collective ability to innovate and respond to the spidering effects of these situations. 

Here at Operator Collective, we’re lucky to have a community packed with talented, experienced leaders, the majority of whom are fearless women. We look forward to sharing their insights with you. Learn more and register for The Challenge Series here

The Challenge Series from Operator Collective

 

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.

 

30 at-home activities to keep you connected, full, and fit

As we learn to navigate our shared new reality, it’s important to find worthwhile ways to maintain our mental health and physical well being. It’s easy to get bogged down in the news reports and case maps, so we at Operator Collective try our best to reframe the situation and find positive outlets when possible. Perhaps we can mold our abundant home time into an opportunity to learn and connect in new ways.

To that end, we turned to our own community for suggestions. Here’s how our Operator Collective LPs are staying engaged and active. What activities are you enjoying? We hope you’ll share your recs with us on Twitter at @OperatorCollect

GET COOKING.

Many of us have been flexing our cooking muscles lately. Elena Gomez suggests a comforting chili poblano soup with corn, while Robin Joy has been making slow-cooked dishes like these red-wine braised short ribs and Monique Covington says her family can’t get enough of this Garlic Knot Chicken Alfredo.

If you enjoy celebrity cookbooks, Katy Dormer recommends both of Chrissy Teigen’s, adding that Teigen’s recipe for Cacio e Pepe has become her go-to dish. Ambrosia Vertesi prefers Snoop Dogg’s cookbook (yes really), especially this recipe for Orange (but Really Kinda Burgundy) Chicken.

On the lighter side, JJ Ramberg suggests these vegetarian lettuce wraps, while Ruthie Miller raves about this Power Plates cookbook. And for something totally different, Laura Butler recommends a fondue night: cheese, wine, veggies, and meat in endless combinations. For a treat? Mallun Yen and her daughter have been making bubble tea, dragon fruit smoothies, and amazing scallion pancakes.

CONNECT ACROSS THE MILES.

Had enough of the #QuaranTiki parties? Cathy Polinsky has been staying connected to family and friends by doing remote escape room boxes; participants need only to order the same mystery box and then open them at the same time from their own homes and discuss via Zoom. Nicolas Dessaigne and his family have been using Roll20 to play board games online with family and friends.

MAKE TIME FOR WELLNESS.

Lisa Campbell recommends the Headspace app, which offers exercises and videos on things like meditation, stress, and healthy living. Similarly, JJ Ramberg likes Ten Percent Happier, an app offering guided meditations to help with stress, happiness, and sleep. Molly Ford, on the other hand, says part of her wellness routine focuses on purging and organizing her closets.

If you need something more physical, do as Nick Mehta suggests and try a Peloton bike. And if you can’t get your hands on one, Erica Dorfman has been streaming yoga and meditation classes via the Peloton app — no bike required, and it’s currently free for 90 days.

LISTEN TO MUSIC.

Meagen Eisenberg has been filling her brain with the soothing sounds of The Very Best of Kenny Rogers lately, resurfacing some nostalgia from when she listened to the same album with her parents via 8 track. If that’s not enough, try our Operator Collective #Quarantunes playlist, which is full of positive vibes.

WATCH SOMETHING LIGHT.

Looking for a show to binge? Anirma Gupta recommends The Great British Baking Show on Netflix. And when you’ve watched all those episodes, but still need the soothing tones of British accents, Katy Dormer suggests Repair Shop. If that’s not your style, she also suggests Tiger King (since we are in absolutely crazy times, it’s good to watch a show of a world that might be crazier) and Crip Camp (which offers an incredible reminder of what people are capable of; have a box of Kleenex ready).

Laura Butler recommends Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, a series about a glamorous and rebellious lady detective set in the Roaring Twenties in Australia, while Robin Joy suggests The Morning Show and Stumptown. Molly Ford likes to watch Self Made, Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker on Netflix, Lolita Taub prefers 100 Humans and Night on Earth, and Reshma Saujani enjoys Hulu’s Hillary series.

Whew! We hope these suggestions add a few positive vibes to your day. What are some activities you’re enjoying at home? Don’t forget to share them with us on Twitter at @OperatorCollect.


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.

15 tried-and-true tips for working from home

The coronavirus outbreak has highlighted our need for flexible work structures, with many organizations mandating remote work this month. Certainly distributed teams and satellite offices have grown in popularity in recent years, thanks to the wonders of high-speed Internet, cloud applications, and fancy collaboration tools, but it’s been something of a learning experience for this surprise new WFH-force.

Perhaps you’re still in the honeymoon phase, that blissful period when you realize you no longer have to wear pants with zippers, but the psychological aspects of remote work may set in before long. We’re here to help. Our Operator Collective team is fully distributed – from New York to Berkeley, Vancouver to Houston – so we’ve had to figure out what works for us. Here are our top tips for getting into that remote work groove. We’d love to hear your tips for working from home, too – Please share them at @OperatorCollect.

Mallun Yen, Founder and Partner

  • It can be easy to forego exercise. Two mornings a week, we block out time for exercise and don’t schedule meetings until 9:45. But don’t cheat – Sign up for classes in advance to keep yourself accountable.
  • Keep your video on when you Zoom into meetings (try these tips). It keeps everyone on task and connected. 
  • Look to the pros. Zapier, a pioneer in distributed teams, has been sharing tips for a while.

Leyla SekaPartner

  • Make your desk area beautiful. I cover mine in flowers and things that make me happy.
  • Get moving! I try to walk 10K steps around my house before noon. I may look crazy yapping on the phone as I circle the house like a shark, but it keeps me sane.
  • Do something for you. My friend April suggests growing a vegetable garden. I dress my cat up in costumes (a lot), but you could try learning a language or making every recipe in a cookbook. 

Ambrosia Vertesi, Operating Partner

  • Reserve the first five minutes of a virtual meeting for watercooler talk. At Duo, Dug Song would start meetings by sharing appreciations which helped build connectedness.
  • Play Team Chatroulette to connect with people outside your immediate orbit.
  • If you don’t schedule snack breaks and bathroom breaks, nobody will. 

Ruthie Miller, Head of Marketing

  • Create a basic schedule and stick to it. Resist the urge to sleep til noon.
  • Don’t work from your bed. As tempting as it is, that’s a slippery slope.
  • Use your regular commute time to do something for yourself – read, send a card, get an #OfficeDog.

Marley Sarles, Events and Operations

  • Don’t forgo team building. Use Zoom for a team coffee, happy hour, or remote dance party.
  • Throw in a load of laundry between meetings. You can be so productive at home!
  • If you don’t have a lot of calls, switch things up by working at a coffee shop or restaurant.

Your turn! Please share your tips for working from home with us at @OperatorCollect.   

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more at our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Growing up on HBO: The early feminist movies that inspired me

For several years now Hollywood has been engulfed in a trend of remakes, redoing the old movies we loved in our youth in hopes of giving them new life as modern-day classics for a new generation. Most of these remakes have fallen flat for me, but I have to admit I was pretty excited about the new Top Gun

My husband and I decided we should show our kids the original movie so they can see its greatness for themselves and note the differences. Old versus new fight scenes! Bigger, badder explosions! More beach volleyball! We knew they’d love the both versions.

Top Gun movie imageBut 20 minutes into the classic, my 12-year-old turns to me and says, “Mom, I can’t believe you like this. These guys are sexist jerks. This movie is awful.” I was totally caught off-guard. Yet as I continued watching, his point became painfully obvious: inflated male egos everywhere, a cocky student hitting on his female teacher, testosterone to the max. Afterward, my 9-year-old commented: “The only good part was the end when they finally started blowing things up.” 

How did I ever think this movie was great? As I thought more about it, I began to realize that Top Gun is a classic snapshot in time. It was, unfortunately, where we were as a culture in 1986. I loved Top Gun back then (and still love The Hunt for Red October now), but the basic message I got was that the men were out there doing things and in charge… and the women weren’t. 

My parents are foreigners; my Dad left early every morning and came home late, while my Mom worked to keep the home running smoothly. From my own house to the Brady Bunch, I saw the way the gender roles stacked up. Fortunately one day my parents invested in a new invention – The Home Box Office – and that’s where I connected with some key movies that helped me find my place in the world. So in honor of Women’s History Month, I’d like to share a few of the feminist movies that defined me.

Women dominating the working world  

9-5 movie imageThe number of working women has steadily increased since WWII, but there was a seismic shift in the 80’s with movies that portrayed women as taking control, rising through the ranks, or becoming entrepreneurs. 9-5, for example, tells of a gaggle of secretaries who scheme to transform their office into an inclusive workplace that offers flexible hours, equal pay, and onsite daycare. In 1980! Companies still struggle with those things today! 

And then there’s Baby Boom. Should women have to choose between having a kid and having a job? Not Diane Keaton and not me. Melanie Griffith was Working Girl, which postulates that just because someone starts out answering phones, doesn’t mean she’s going to end up answering phones. And finally, Selena, the biographical story of the Tejano mogul who sang, danced, and toured her way to a clothing line and cult following. 

Women breaking cultural archetypes 

Princess Leia imageThe movies of my youth also started to break the archetype of the frail, incapable woman. First there’s Private Benjamin, which shows Goldie Hawn join the Army on a whim and discover the value of inner strength. The lesson? The life set before us is not the one we have to lead; we are tougher than we think we are. And then there’s She-Devil, which portrays women not as helpless victims, but as clever and resourceful opponents. Perhaps a Vesta Rose is what the technology industry needs right now. And my absolute favorite, Star Wars, which created the ultimate feminist idol, the woman who took absolutely no sh*t and ruled the galaxy: Princess Leia.

Behold the power of female friendships

Waiting to Exhale imageOf course, there were plenty of feminist movies that depicted the power of friendships among women, like Waiting to Exhale, which shows how women watching out for each helps them build power. We all need those trusting relationships in our lives.

At the time, grief was still a matter largely kept private, but thank goodness for two classics – Steel Magnolias and Beaches – who opened us up to emotion. Those movies highlight just how much we need to rely on our friends when the going gets tough. Truly they both are tearjerkers that present the comic with the tragic in a beautiful way.

Inspiring a new generation of women

These old storylines, which were totally outnumbered by slapstick comedies and male heroes, came at just the right time to launch a new generation of feminism. We began to see what was possible, what could happen when women take charge. As a result, the women who watched those movies are now pushing for equal pay in Hollywood, amplifying the #MeToo movement, and working for greater diversity and more representation

They’re also bringing women into venture capital, helping women invest, leading companies, starting companies, and running for office in record numbers. And now that we have models for what these roles actually look like – on the big screen and in our very own world – the girls of today will know what’s possible. There is no limit to what we can do.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

How we brought so many first-time investors into venture

Why is the world of investing so insular? That was one of the questions we thought about as we created Operator Collective, our new venture fund designed to give talented operators from diverse backgrounds a safe, comfortable way to join venture. It was a good idea, right? A respectable pursuit?

Yet as we spoke to our wide networks of operators – most of whom happened to be women – there was notable trepidation. We saw it beneath their poker faces. These confident, ultra-talented operators with an absurd amount of collective experience building, growing, and running the world’s top enterprise companies were intimidated by the thought of investing in venture capital. Few had invested before, and if this experienced, savvy bunch shied away from the opportunity, how could we ever expect to bridge this gap?

It’s no secret that venture capital has long been an industry dominated by white males. As we’ve noted, this isn’t necessarily because no one wants a change, but rather because there hasn’t been a natural way for it to happen. And considering the gender pay equity gap and “gap table,” there never would be a natural way for this to happen unless we made one. If we want different companies, we need different venture capitalists We needed a new model. 

1) What if our LPs invested on a sliding scale?
So we started by creating a sliding scale to invest in our Operator Collective Fund. 90% of our LPs are women and 40% are people of color; because so many of them began their operator careers before the Equal Pay movement took hold, they’ve lost out on thousands (or even millions) of salary dollars comparable to others in their industries. A sliding scale for LP investments allows these experienced leaders to join the venture ecosystem at a level they’re comfortable with.

2) And they want more active roles
Even the sliding scale wasn’t enough, though. Beyond the financial side of the equation, our LPs wanted more. They didn’t just want to throw their hard-earned money at founders – there’s certainly no sure return on that investment. No, they wanted to help them build. Get hands-on, answer questions, serve as a resource. They wanted to share their experiences and lessons learned to advance the next generation. Refreshing, isn’t it? 

3) All while learning and sharing together
So now we’ve got our sliding scale and hands-on opportunities, but we still needed one more component to create the perfect trifecta for LPs. And it came from right within our own community: education. Operator Collective also has an education component designed to increase our business and investing acumen. Our own LPs lead webinars and host Office Hours. They meet 1:1. They offer up their expertise to anyone looking. It’s deliciously selfless. 

Our holy trifecta: Sliding scale, hands-on help, and education
What we’ve ended up with is a new model for venture investing, one that’s intentional and unique. By assembling these talented operators, offering education and experiential knowledge, and sourcing new opportunities together, we hope to #RiseTheTide in venture capital and create an industry where
everyone looks like an investor.

 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn

Alpha Girls: 5 lessons from the women who earned their way to the top of Silicon Valley

Venture capital needs a hero right now, and it just might be the Alpha Girls. Alpha Girls is the story of four women whose hard work and dedication pushed them to the top of the venture capital world. It’s an undertold, yet necessary piece that details not only the rise of the title characters, but also of the venture and tech industries.

The four Alpha Girls — Magdalena Yesil, Sonja Perkins, Mary Jane Elmore, and Theresia Gouw — are an inspiration and a force for good, which is why we’re so proud that three of them have partnered with us at Operator Collective (and we’re working on that fourth). Here are five things I’ve already learned from Alpha Girls — and now that these women are on the OpCo team, I have a feeling these kinds of lessons are just beginning.

1) Emotional connections are incredibly important.

Venture capital has typically been ruled by white males — ambitious leaders with dominant personalities. As charismatic as they come across, they’re often lacking in emotional intelligence. Sonja Perkins filled that void with great success as a VC at Menlo Ventures. In the book, she talks about connecting with founders and forging relationships that lead to future deals. Presenting to a room full of experienced VC can be incredibly intimidating for a founder; Sonja’s easy-going demeanor and outgoing personality helped to put them at ease, leading to smoother presentations and more investments.

2) It’s OK to make the first move.

There’s an old philosophy that women shouldn’t make the first move, but that kind of thinking is laughably antiquated. Like many industries, venture capital is all about timing, connections, and the flow of information, so waiting to make a move only opens the door for the next person to come in and take it. Theresia Gouw’s quick moves helped her firm land several deals, including Facebook, while Magdalena Yesil’s foresight and connections helped her become the first investor in Salesforce (for which I am very thankful!). These successes and others are largely dependent on the Alpha Girls’ abilities to think and act quickly.

3) You never know when or where a connection will resurface.

Connections are important in any industry, but in venture, they’re vital. You never know when an old acquaintance or former colleague might resurface, opening the possibility of a deal. Magdalena Yesil recounts the story of confronting Larry Ellison at the gym, of all places. MJ Elmore and Sonja Perkins discuss how their networks and connections lead to major new deals. And what a strange connection that Theresia worked with Timothy McVeigh at a Burger King in high school. It’s a small world after all, or so the song goes.

4) Find people who support you at work and at home.

It’s always important to find your people — the ones who support and challenge you, and the ones who’ll have difficult conversations with you when needed. Theresia Gouw was at her desk one day when fellow VC Jim Goetz came in to let her know about rumors circulating that she was sleeping her way into deals. Rumors like these were nothing new to her, so she blew them off — but how great to know Jim had her back. At the other end of the spectrum, MJ Elmore realized after many years that her marriage wasn’t an equal partnership. Her husband had been supportive of her career and they worked equally hard, yet MJ was the one handling all the household responsibilities. Eventually the imbalance lead to divorce; today MJ advises women to discuss things like this early on with their partners to establish expectations.

5) Pick your battles when it comes to sexism.

The feminist movement has shined a light on equality and is doing wonders for women around the world. More and more women are rightfully calling out sexism when they see it. But at the same time, as the Alpha Girls demonstrate, you’ve got to choose your battles. Theresia Gouw recalls stories when founders asked her to get coffee, assuming she was in the meeting to take notes. Sonja Perkins shares a time when she lived in a pool house for free, but was expected to babysit the homeowner’s triplets. Both women could have made a stink about gender norms, but chose not to: Theresia said the embarrassment these men felt when they realized their mistake was palpable, and Sonja didn’t mind the work exchange. Sexism is rampant, they said, but there’s no need to go looking for it.

Alpha Girls and Operator Collective

Alpha Girls offers a fascinating window into Silicon Valley as the four title women use their grit and intelligence to succeed in an industry that’s heavily dominated by men. Given their intimate experience in venture, the Alpha Girls are an incredible asset to the Operator Collective team as we work to diversify the industry, break down the barriers to entry, and encourage wealth redistribution. This book is a treasure trove of stories and inspiration, and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead for these four women — at Operator Collective and beyond.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.