How to be an effective board member: 5 lessons learned

This year marks my tenth year serving as a Board member (usually in conjunction with being an investor). It’s been a fun ride with a lot of lessons learned. As I reflect on my “time served,” I’d like to share some findings from my vantage point on what it means to be effective as a Board member. 

Boards are inherently focused on two issues: governance and strategy. The goal of every Board is to ensure the company is making strong and ethical decisions (and complying with various laws and policies), and that there is a clear growth strategy in place. By their very nature, Boards are a consensus-based body that gives advice to the CEO. To me, the most important thing about both a private and public Board is whether they’re effective in giving that advice. 

Here are 5 things that help me be an effective Board member – but please note that 10 years in, I still find myself constantly learning. 

1) Rise above the endless details 

The most effective Board members I see are those who can accurately describe the forest, instead of focusing on the individual trees. I find those Board members frequently explain the context for an issue, as opposed to drilling into options and specifics. 

As an example, companies will have tough quarters; drilling down on the specifics of an underlying region (which you hope the operators have already done) is generally less effective than being able to judge if the miss was caused by a larger concern (competition or product). Instead, use your time to focus on the big picture. 

2) Empathy beats pedigree when making points  

Because Boards are consensus based, there’s often a temptation to use pedigree (“I’m on 7 Boards and none of them do this” or “When I was CEO…”) to short circuit decision making. But even if you have the greatest background and experience ever, the world still needs new ideas and fresh perspectives. 

A better way to be effective is try and show a deeper understanding of the challenges this particular team is facing. It may well be that once you listen and fully understand, a different approach is merited.

3) Prepare questions in advance 

CEOs prepare decks in advance. Good CEOs treat the decks as their “asks” for input from their Board (and even if you have a CEO who’s just in reporting mode, the deck should still be the starting point for questions to answer and debate in the Boardroom). 

A best practice here is to try and prepare your questions ahead of time. First, it helps you decide in your own head what is most important. After all, not every issue merits questions or discussion. Second, it allows you to focus and prepare for the answers. This makes your feedback less random and more useful.

4) Know when to dig in and when to defer  

I’m not an expert in sales management. Of course, there will be times I want to get my sales questions and opinions in the mix, but when other folks around the room who are experts weigh in, it is really not the time for me to hard position or grandstand. 

Know when to use your voice and when to pipe down. Many Board members do not seem to understand their impact in the room when they grandstand on issues where they have limited domain expertise. Save your influence for matters when your expertise is truly needed; this will help you have more of an impact.

5) Get to know the CEO  

The opportunity to serve on a Board is really about using your experience to help the CEO navigate the thousands of decisions they have to make every year. I’m sometimes shocked that Board members take little to no time to understand the CEO and their journey. 

As with most things in life, CEOs have experiences which shape and influence decisions. Some Board members never invest the time to understand those things (and can cross red lines without realizing it). Take the time to get to know the CEO as a person and a leader; it will be worth it in so many ways.

The journey to successful Board experiences 

Being a Board member is a privilege, and it’s not an easy job by any means. There’s no clear formula for success, and quite frankly, not a lot of great training programs in place right now. Fortunately there are people – like me – who are willing and happy to help as needed. My bonus tip, of course, is to look out for them. 

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.

8 powerhouse women you need on your board now

For years we saw the laws and mandates coming, and now they’re here. Publicly held companies in California must include board members from underrepresented communities. Goldman Sachs announced it will not take a company public unless it has at least one board member from an underrepresented background. NASDAQ wants to require every company listed on its exchange to include at least one woman and minority person on their boards. 

Historically, board seats have been filled with current and former CEOs and CFOs. While boards still require that expertise, of course, recent years have seen the rise of the independent operator as board director, a move which brings deep domain expertise, strong business acumen, and cross-functional scaling experience. Savvy CEOs value those wide-ranging skills and appreciate the additional perspectives, partnerships, and growth opportunities a diverse board provides. 

As a talent practitioner, I’m well versed on the intricacies of board placements. Now at Operator Collective, I work to connect our tech executive operator LPs with board and advisory opportunities. Having been on both sides of the placement equation, I’ve seen how corporate board recruiting strategies are evolving. One emerging trend is to avoid overboarding, and instead look at first-time directors who can bring fresh perspectives and new energy. 

Here we’re proud to highlight 8 women tech leaders looking for their first board seats. Any company would be lucky to add their acumen, experience, and expertise to their board room. 

Nancy Wang
General Manager, Data Protection Services at Amazon Web Services

Nancy Wang is a global product and technical leader at Amazon Web Services, where she leads P&L, product, engineering, and design for its data protection and governance businesses. Prior to Amazon, she led SaaS product development at Rubrik, the fastest-growing enterprise software unicorn. Passionate about advancing more women into technical roles, Nancy is the Founder & CEO of Advancing Women in Tech, a global 501(c)(3) nonprofit with 16,000+ members spanning three continents. Recently, the a16z Women on Boards boot camp inducted her into its ranks.

LaFawn Davis
Group Vice President, Environmental, Social, & Governance, Indeed

LaFawn Davis is a respected technology executive with 15+ years of experience. Currently she’s a Group Vice President at Indeed, leading teams that focus on Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, Product Inclusion, Accessibility, Social Impact, AI Ethics, and Environmental Sustainability. Previously she’s held key senior leadership roles at global technology companies like Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Twilio. Recently she was named to Fast Company’s Queer50 – a ranking of the most influential and innovative queer women and nonbinary people transforming business and tech.

Jessica Rusin
Chief Technology Officer, Guild Education 

Jessica Rusin has more than a decade of experience providing technical leadership while designing and developing high quality web and mobile apps for both enterprise and small business. She served as CTO through Guild Education’s scale from an early stage EduTech company to a $1B unicorn. Jessica is an accomplished problem solver with strong knowledge of both front-end and back-end technologies and expertise in object-orientated software development. 

Monique Dorsainvil
Public Policy, Facebook 

At Facebook Monique Dorsainvil leads engagement with third-party think tank and advocacy organizations, and was a part of the core team that spearheaded the company’s Civil Rights Audit, which looked at policy and product from an anti-discrimination lens. Prior to that, she spent seven and a half years at the White House, most recently as Deputy Chief of Staff to Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett. Monique is known for her expansive, consensus-driven leadership and governance.

Eda Gultekin
General Manager, Asana 

Eda Gultekin leads sales, customer success, and partnerships for Asana’s Americas group. Previously she was a senior consultant at Bain Consulting before becoming the Director of North American Enterprise Sales at LinkedIn. Eda built LinkedIn’s talent ads business; her tour of duty at LinkedIn was detailed by Reid Hoffman in his book, The Alliance. Eda is passionate about leadership and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), driving change through the Women’s Initiative, a LinkedIn leadership program she co-founded.

Danielle Lee
Chief Fan Officer, National Basketball Association

At the NBA, Danielle Lee leads brand, creative, and multi-platform fan marketing globally. She’s an accomplished marketing executive, widely recognized for being a change agent, leading brand and innovation strategy, and delivering strong in-market results for some of the world’s most respected brands including Spotify, where she served as the Global Vice President of Partner Solutions when they went from $3B to nearly $30B following their 2018 IPO.

Ann Funai
Senior Vice President of Engineering and Interim Head of Product, MyFitnessPal

Ann Funai is an experienced technology officer, known for leading customer-focused technical organizations. Before her current position at MyFitnessPal, she was the SVP of Engineering at Under Armour and CTO of PeopleAdmin, where she was part of the leadership team who took the company through sale. On top of that, Ann has 20 years at IBM under her figurative belt, as well as a great deal of experience integrating and divesting teams through M&A.

Alka Tandan
Senior Vice President of Finance, Gainsight 

Alka Tandan has over 20 years of corporate finance, operations, and M&A experience in the technology industry, mostly focused on SaaS. Her career spans respected companies like SAP, Actian, and MetricStream and includes several successful exits. Alka has raised over half a billion dollars in venture and debt financing, while also being considered a strong strategic partner across the business. Most recently, she was part of the executive team that scaled Gainsight to a $1B unicorn. 

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.

 

Get ready for your first board seat with the 3 P’s

Bonita Stewart

Corporate boards have received much publicity over the past year as forward-thinking companies look to diversify their leaders and directors. Whether their impetus is economic, social, or legal, this is a welcome change after centuries of sameness. 

Securing your first corporate board seat is no easy task, but there are ways to set yourself up for success. You’ve gotten to where you are today through hard work and dedication; to be the most effective board director, consider planning and preparing for your first board seat with a similar mindset. Think about the 3 Ps as you go: preparation, positioning, and persistence.  

1) Preparation  

If you’re looking for a corporate board seat, the first thing you need to do is learn the responsibilities involved and really understand the fiduciary role of being a private or public board member. Board service is not for everyone; educate yourself first to make sure you’re ready to make the commitment.

Fortunately, there are many programs available to help prepare you for the responsibilities and necessary steps to hone your value proposition. Here are some resources I’ve found helpful. 

  • Egon Zehnder’s The Path to the Boardroom includes helpful content on how to write a board bio, position yourself, interview, and start off well.

  • Black Corporate Board Readiness (BCBR) is an online program for Black senior executives interested in public or private corporate board service.

  • NACD Accelerate is a two-year program to help executives with little or no experience in the boardroom prepare for board service.

  • Northwestern’s Women’s Director Development Program offers a more rigorous approach to corporate director training.

  • HBS Women on Boards gives women executives the right tools and direction to secure a seat on healthcare and related industry boards.

  • Yale Women on Boards helps women understand the skills required of board directors, acquire the insights needed, and launch a search for a board seat. 

2) Positioning 

Think about your career journey more intentionally. What unique skills or experiences do you have to offer that could be of use in a boardroom conversation? Look beyond your title and role to develop your professional reputation as a thought leader in your industry

Companies looking to fill a board seat generally create a “board skills matrix,” or a list of the desired skills, knowledge, and experience needed to help a board meet particular challenges. Consider your career moves carefully to garner skills and experience most commonly seen on a matrix. Remember: Not all career moves catapult you closer to the boardroom. Stay close to the P&L streams.

3) Persistence  

Securing a board seat is a long game and doesn’t happen instantaneously. The search may take a while and feel daunting at times. After all, most boards have an average tenure between six to ten years, meaning turnover and open seats are rare. 

Until your opportunity arrives, be persistent. Advocate for yourself and let others who reach out to you know when you are ready for a board nomination. Keep your bio up to date, continue to educate yourself, and be resilient in your efforts. The first board seat is the hardest to get, but after landing one, you might find more opportunities soon coming your way. 

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.

Ensuring change in insurtech: Meet AgentSync

The company: AgentSync

AgentSync is modernizing one piece of the complex, fragmented, and antiquated insurance ecosystem – how brokers and insurers connect and do business – by building a modern producer management tool. The deeply entrenched insurance industry is far from a “sexy” space for a startup, but AgentSync fundamentally believes that technology can bring scaled innovation to this unsexy sector. 

By bringing state-of-the-art technology, transparency, and accountability to high-risk regulatory requirements previously handled in spreadsheets, AgentSync’s compliance-as-a-service solution is disrupting insurtech, and gaining notable attention in the process. 

Why you should pay attention 

Insurtech is just getting started. Insurance as an industry is around 300 years old and represents $1.32 trillion per year in the US alone. Its enormous size, multifaceted surface area, established processes, and highly regulated nature make it especially tricky to disrupt. One particular pain point is that insurance carriers and insurance agencies are required to track licensing data and carrier appointments to protect their customers and stay on the right side of compliance regulation.

The existing systems that carriers and agencies rely on to track vital producer data are stuck in another era. AgentSync is rocketing the sector forward with a SaaS solution built directly on the Salesforce platform that includes seamless integration to the industry’s repository of licensing data, the National Insurance Producer Registry (NIPR). 

The details 

The cycle of managing insurance producers – onboarding, contracting, licensing verification, and ongoing compliance management – must be carefully managed to maintain compliance in this highly regulated industry. As you may guess, the details of doing so are incredibly complex. Licensing requirements vary state by state, as do renewal deadlines. Agencies and carriers must keep up with the latest regulatory changes in each state and pass those through to their producers. 

AgentSync helps businesses navigate this with features like batch onboarding and applications, saving hours of time and eliminating tedious manual data entry, as well as automatic alerts and compliance reports, which reduce risk and offer peace of mind. It helps everyone move faster by eliminating friction and making the end-to-end experience better. Best of all, producers love using AgentSync – it takes the burden of paperwork off of them, so they can focus on doing what they were hired to do – sell insurance. 

The platform can be set up in a week and customized to fit the needs of each unique carrier or agency. AgentSync is built to evolve and scale alongside each business using it, and the team is constantly listening to customer feedback and building new features to best fit their needs. 

Why were obsessed 

The sector is ripe for disruption. The outdated manual tools agencies and carriers have available to them are slow, inefficient, and highly prone to introducing errors.

AgentSync co-founders Jenn Knight (Dropbox, Stripe) and Niji Sabharwal (Zenefits) are the dynamic duo that’s well positioned to bring change. They have deep experience in both compliance requirements and technical infrastructures. (CTO Knight has built a technical team that’s mostly female, yet another way in which AgentSync is blazing the path forward.) And we’re not the only ones who can see AgentSync’s star is rising.  

Get involved

It’s easy for insurance carriers and agencies seeking compliance-as-a-service to get into AgentSync’s orbit. And that gravitational pull is also attracting top tech talent as the company grows to meet demand and capture the potential of this enormous market.

(P.S. They’re hiring!)  

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.

Operator spotlight: Revenue leader Erica Schultz

Looking for practical help and advice on an operational area that may be outside your realm? Each month we spotlight one of our talented operators, who’ll share their expertise and offer insights and ideas that may help improve your own operations. This month we spoke to Erica Schultz, President of Field Operations at Confluent.  

The world feels a little unsteady these days, which manifests differently in every employee. How are you supporting Confluent’s employees? 

ERICA: We’ve done a few things as we’ve navigated this past year. We’ve spent some time with our leadership team on “Managing Inclusively,” and on coaching all leaders how to really check in with their team members. We’ve offered extra “re-charge days,” in addition to our existing vacation policy. We’ve launched ERGs for 6 under-represented groups and introduced lots of (optional) fun activities. The past year has presented many challenges, but through it all, I do believe we’ve grown more connected as a team and more authentic, vulnerable, and resilient as human beings.

As we kick off 2021, what are some of your top strategic priorities?

ERICA: At Confluent our #1 company value is “Earn Our Customers’ Love.” To us, customer success is not just a functional area, but a company sport. Everyone gets involved; it is our north star. So in 2021 we continue to make investments in customer success such as hiring and training more CSMs, creating Customer Advisory Boards, and adding technical architects — we will do everything we can to help our customers realize maximum value from our technology.

What do sales leaders need to be successful right now?

ERICA: Sales and GTM leaders are always well served by deeply understanding their customers’ journeys and the needs of the various stakeholders involved in a technology decision. How can you communicate with and engage each of those customer stakeholders in a way that best meets their needs? For developers, it may be a great self-service experience and technical documentation. For change agent CTOs, it may be forums with peers who are also leading bold change at their companies. Think persona-specific.

What will change for sales leaders post-COVID, and what’s here to stay?

ERICA: Digital is here to stay, both as a way to engage with your customers, as well as a key initiative that your customers are investing in. What role does your technology play in your customers’ digital transformation, and are you doubling down on your unique value prop to address that need?

What’s one thing sales leaders can do to foster teamwork and a sense of belonging? 

As you create culture on your own team, think about the behaviors you reward. Sales is often hyper-focused on the outcomes and results, yet how you get there is just as important. If you want a collaborative and inclusive culture, consider how you’ll recognize and reward that. How do you call on all leaders in your organization to set that tone?

AOC often talks about the skills she picked up as a bartender, and others talk about what they learned working retail. What were some of those formative jobs for you?

ERICA: I was a competitive swimmer growing up, and in my late teens I coached a competitive swim team. I loved that job, even though when I did the math I made about $1/hour. But it was amazing to help those young swimmers learn how to set goals and work hard. It brought me such joy to see them realize new possibilities for themselves, in the pool and beyond. It’s what I love my role today – the ability to find and unlock potential in individuals, teams, businesses is so rewarding.  

What’s your secret super power?  

ERICA: Well, my 10 year old says I am excellent at ping pong, and my 8 year old says I have a big vocabulary. Can those count?

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.

13 business trends and venture opportunities for 2021

After the turmoil of 2020, we’ve opened our 2021 calendars with renewed optimism. We’re still feeling the effects of COVID-19, social unrest, and political strife – and will be for a while still – but in its own strange and somewhat masochistic way, last year paved the way for opportunity. Here are 13 business trends and venture opportunities we think are poised to take off this year and beyond. 

  1. Digital transformation
    No surprise here. According to McKinsey, the first few months of the pandemic accelerated the digitization of business operations by roughly seven years. While many companies were basically forced to go digital, the resulting efficiency and business continuity left them ready for more. We expect the move to SaaS to continue to grow.

  2. Unsexy products in unsexy industries
    We’re not shy about our preference for the unsexy – the often not-super-visible solutions that have the potential to transform industries in need of disruption. That rise we mentioned in digital transformation opens the door for more of these under-the-radar products to hit the market and make a big impact.

  3. Black founders and investors
    2020’s push for social equality renewed our focus on the stark data on Black founders (who get a miniscule percentage of the venture pool) and Black investors (there aren’t many). Organizations and programs (like our own Black Venture Institute) are working to address this, and we both expect and look forward to seeing more efforts from more sources this year.

  4. Investing in companies with diverse teams
    The landslide of evidence proving diverse teams are more effective than homogenous ones has investors piqued. A silver lining of 2020’s racial reckoning is that leaders are working harder to build inclusive teams, rather than reach for the low-hanging fruit in their current networks – which is great since investors everywhere are eager to showcase more diverse portfolios.

  5. Diversity on the cap table
    And speaking of diversity, more and more venture-backed companies are taking a hard look at who’s on their cap table these days. Sure, many of them still want traditional VCs, but savvy founders are also seeing the benefit of bringing in diverse voices, backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. We especially love seeing more women on cap tables and anticipate those numbers to grow stronger this year. 

  6. Disruptive models
    We’re seeing a rise in founders who start from scratch, dismantling the traditional way of doing something in favor of building a company from the ground up (SetSail and Cube, for example). Some of these are first-time founders or new to the industry – founders who don’t come in with preconceived notions of how things should be done. We appreciate this trend and look forward to seeing more of it this year.

  7. Women CTOs and technical co-founders
    Let 2021 be the year of technical women. We’ve seen a slow-but-steady increase in technical women leaders over the past decade, and we expect that number to begin climbing higher and faster – this year and beyond. We’re proud that 30% of our portfolio companies have a female CTO or technical co-founder, and hope to increase that number ourselves.

  8. Workplace flexibility
    One thing we learned last year is that employees want and need greater flexibility in order to thrive. Just as companies have worked hard in recent years to create personalized experiences for their customers, now they’re starting to create personalized experiences for their employees, and that includes the freedom to decide how and where they work best.

  9. The globally connected economy
    Great minds, ideas, and employees are not limited to one area, and the increase in video conferencing and virtual events brings the entire world within reach. Yes, our world is full of distinct, separate economies, but we expect to see more togetherness – more global collaboration and global investing this year.

  10. Models like Goldbelly
    Goldbelly was a 2020 highlight for us. From rainbow cakes, PieCakens, and giant cupcakes to breakfast favorites, bacon samplers, and New York bagels, we tried a ton – and there’s still much more on our wishlist. This model brings the world to you; Goldbelly, specifically, lets you try famous foods from across the country and support these small businesses when they need it most. We foresee its popularity translating to new areas.

  11. Content marketing in b2b
    The content revolution has been strengthening for years, but it’s just one more thing elevated by the pandemic. We’re hungry for something (anything!) to consume – blogs, podcasts, webinars, videos – and the content marketing and social media worlds feed right in. Savvy businesses (Fast is a great example) are building enthusiastic followings on social media, and then have an incredible way to disseminate their messages.

  12. Athleisure
    We’ve been living in sweat pants for nearly a year, and honestly there’s just no going back. It’s why established consumer brands are doubling down on their work-life hybrid products, and new brands are popping up like mushrooms to compete. So go head and get going on those branded joggers you’ve been thinking about. Also, Crocs – Can we just go ahead and remove the stigma already?

  13. Work/life balance apps
    Several weeks into the pandemic, many of us had to take a step back from work; we were spending far more hours at our desks and in front of screens than we did pre-COVID. Work/life balance doesn’t happen magically; it’s up to us to create and enforce it. So look for related business opportunities to help, like apps for scheduling, productivity, fitness, wellness, self improvement, and more.  

What else is on the rise in 2021? 

So what’d we miss? We’d love to know what business trends and venture opportunities you see on the rise in 2021. Send us a tweet at @OperatorCollect with your thoughts. 

From all of us here at Operator Collective, we’re wishing you a happy, healthy, prosperous year. 

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.

Wanna checkout fast? Check out Fast.

The company: Fast

Fast is the one-click, no-password e-commerce shopping disruptor that is making buying online faster, safer, and easier for both consumers and merchants. By making it simple to complete transactions across devices and across platforms the company is shaking up the multi-billion dollar ecommerce market. 

Co-founded by serial entrepreneur Domm Holland (Tow) and operations heavy-weight and tech investor Allison Barr Allen (Uber, PwC), Fast lets consumers track shipments and reorder items all in one place. It helps merchants improve the e-commerce checkout process and push those dreaded abandoned carts through the checkout process and onto business’ sales ledger. 

Why you should pay attention 

The young company was named as one of the Retail Tech 100 innovators who are transforming retail and it made Business Insider’s Top 100 Starutps of 2020. It’s garnering such early attention because it’s improving the online purchase checkout process, which has remained stagnant for 30 years. Customers abandon up to 80% of potential online purchases because of friction during checkout, which can involve filling out an average of 23 fields just to make a single online purchase. Fast is making buying online fast, easy, and safe and in doing so they’re building the world’s fastest online login and checkout platform. 

How it works

Fast Login and Fast Checkout enable a one-click sign-in and purchasing experience. The company’s products work on any browser, device, or platform to deliver a consistent, stress-free purchasing experience. Fast is entirely consumer-focused and invests heavily in its users’ privacy and data security.  

Why we’re obsessed 

Fast lets consumers forget passwords, skip long entry forms, and shop securely online with a single click. It gives businesses the checkout button that increases conversion, boosts sales and delights customers. Fast Checkout installs for businesses in minutes and Fast Login gives consumers a hassle-free experience and lets them check out in seconds. It’s safe, easy, and fast.

How Fast? 

One click. No passwords. Get the world’s fastest checkout. Get Fast. 

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.

 

Any company can make giving back a part of its culture. Here’s how.

Companies everywhere have seen the benefits of integrating philanthropy into their business models – and for good reason. Cultures that give back are linked to higher levels of employee happiness, collaboration, and innovation, all of which are great for business. Another benefit? Values-based organizations stand the test of time. Recent data suggests these organizations are more resilient and built to withstand crises like pandemics, disasters, social unrest, and more – because in challenging times their values keep them anchored.

In the early days of philanthropy, social impact was kept separate from business practices. Today, there’s a more powerful model of philanthropy built on the belief that the business of business is to improve the state of the world. The two are interconnected; business today is about going beyond the paycheck and getting behind those social issues via technology, time, and money. 

Some leaders believe philanthropy is akin to frosting on a cake – a nice-to-have or once-a-year kind of thing. But that’s not enough. It’s a new business imperative to build giving back right into your corporate playbook. For those just getting started, here are 5 questions to ask yourself as you make giving back part of your company’s culture. 

Q1: Where should you start? 

Companies of every size can create measurable impact. In fact, our founders built giving back into Salesforce’s DNA before they even had anything to give. My suggestion is to start, as they did, with employee time. It’s the easiest resource to give – but keep in mind that this also means you have to give your employees the permission to take the time to volunteer. 

It’s likely that your employees are already involved in giving back; perhaps they help with a Girl Scout or Boy Scout troop, volunteer at their church, or organize drives and fundraisers. Think about how you can encourage those activities and integrate them into your culture. There are also some amazing organizations, like Pledge 1%, that offer tools and resources to help you create a structure and dedicated program, whether you want to give time, resources, equity, or something else. 

Q2: What’s your long-term plan? 

One of the biggest pitfalls I’ve noticed is when companies don’t commit for the long haul. Our CEO Marc Benioff talks about overestimating what you can achieve in one year, and underestimating what you can achieve in 10 years. For instance, when we made our commitments 20 years ago, it was hard to imagine a time where we’d donate 5 million volunteer hours or $400 million in grants like we have today. 

Another common mistake is “peanut buttering” across too many focus areas, or spreading yourself too thin. At Salesforce, we like to say if you focus on everything, you focus on nothing.  Building a long-term plan can help you maintain your focus and measure results. 

Q3: Is the leadership team truly bought in? 

A commitment to philanthropy must start at the top. Having a CEO and leadership team involved helps to shape the  program, while the employees are the ones who make it grow. I’m grateful to work for a CEO who’s really passionate about giving back, and this trickles down to the rest of the company.

When employees see the leadership team make philanthropy a priority, they’re empowered and encouraged to do the same. You’ll see greater outcomes and stronger engagement if this behavior is  being modeled at the highest level. 

Q4: How will you measure success?

Create focus. I suggest starting with one or two important areas, and then working backwards from there. What results do you want to see? Maybe you’ll start by tracking employee volunteer hours or dollars donated. Taking a data-driven approach increases your impact and garners greater participation with your employees because they’re sharing the goals and the success with you. 

Once you get past those initial metrics, you’ll want to think about impact: What do you want to achieve? What’s important to your company and the legacy you want to leave behind? 

Q5: Who will manage these efforts? 

I’m often asked at what point should companies consider making a full-time hire to support philanthropy. While companies may be able to get started by having a team of employees oversee the function, creating a role and providing dedicated resources signals, both internally and externally, that it’s a priority to the company. 

That creates a ripple effect – people will want to work at your company because they can see the dedication to giving back.

Impact is everyone’s job.

Philanthropy is not a competitive sport. There are no losers! I’ve been so inspired seeing companies come together around a shared goal and driving a double ROI – a return on investment AND impact. I’d love to hear your questions and experiences in building philanthropy and giving back into your company’s culture. You can find me on Twitter at @EbonyBeckwith

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 great 2020 knowledge exchange

How much can you learn in a year? That depends on your mindset – but perhaps 2020’s unique challenges gave us an even greater knowledge exchange. We learned a tremendous amount from others, shared our own expertise, and expanded our minds in new ways. As we celebrate Operator Collective’s first birthday, let’s look back on all we learned. 

We started out with value learning

We kicked off the year by offering tips to build a thriving community from scratch and discussing how we brought so many first time investors into venture capital. We even threw back to the OG feminist movies that moved us. Inspiring topics – clearly we had no idea what was coming in the weeks ahead. 

Angel investing is always a hot topic for investors (and those who want to be). First Susan Kimberlin told us everything we wanted to know about angel investing, but were too afraid to ask. Later we offered a legal checklist for angel investing, and Einat Meisel led us through the financial aspects

We shifted to pandemic learning

Then COVID-19 hit and our community immediately jumped in to help. Our Operator Collective core team shared their tried-and-true tips for working from home, while our LP base shared their favorite at-home activities, books, and podcasts to keep us all productive and sane. We learned to steady on from the amazing Dan Scheinman, while Iris Choi told us what companies should strive for in a down market. Jenny Sohn gave us her best 3 CFO tips to adapt your finances in a downturn, and Erica Schultz gave us 6 tips to keep building revenue and sales

Around that time we also launched The Challenge Series so our wildly experienced operator LPs could offer their support and advice to others in our community… but then we chose to cancel the final one in solidarity as the country struggled through multiple devastating racial and social injustices. (We’re grateful our amazing customer success leaders ended up answering our questions anyway – thank you, Christina Kosmowski and Nick Mehta.) 

We supported equality and social justice 

In light of those devastating social injustices, LP Merline Saintil offered 6 wise words to help you act against injustice. Then Lexi Reese and Bernard Coleman explained how voting helps us create the future we want to see. Behind the scenes, under Leyla Seka’s leadership, we created and launched Black Venture Institute, a curriculum-based program to bring more Black operators into venture capital, in partnership with BLCK VC and others. 

There were moments of good news, too. Three of our LPs published books within weeks of each other, and we celebrated the rise in women’s voices in publishing. Leyla Seka let us in on why it’s important to build a partner ecosystem and answered some of the questions she gets on the topic. The fabulous LaFawn Davis offered four tips to help you build an inclusive org

We love to lift up our operators

Through it all, we wanted to showcase some of our radically accomplished operator LPs, so we shined a light on HR leader Cindy Robbins, DEI leader Aubrey Blanche, executive recruiter Lynn Carter, partnerships leader Bonita Stewart, Chief Technical Officer Rathi Murthy, data and analytics queen Anita Lynch, engineering leader Yanbing Li, fashion mogul and activist Suzanne Lerner, founder and COO Michelle Zatlyn, executive producer Danielle Renfrew Behrens, and talent leader Michael Kieran

We also shared solid words of wisdom and operational advice from Leyla Seka, Ambrosia Vertesi, Tekedra Mawakana, Lexi Reese, Bonita Stewart, Erica Schultz, Li Fan, Dug Song, LaFawn Davis, Rathi Murthy, Monique Covington, Cindy Robbins, and Claire Hughes Johnson, plus a few words from me too. Whew! 

We shared our diligence

And along the way, of course, we made some investments! We are a venture fund, after all. Of all the investments we made this year, we were able to tell you more about our obsession with Guild Education, our uncomplicated love for DataGrail, and why our tie to Ironclad is simply binding. We showed you how to SetSail with a unique take on sales productivity, get smarter with Forethought AI, and check your productivity with Spekit. Need more? Find out how Textio helps your words matter, and learn how your sales team can Outreach, outlast, and outperform. Finally, we’re ready to introduce you to the Origin of financial wellness, as well as a new BFF for your CFO: Cube

How much will we learn next year? 

We learned a lot this year, but our number #1 lesson wasn’t from any of the great content above. We learned that our community is what keeps us going and grounded. We’re so thankful to have an amazing group of operator LPs who are not only radically accomplished, but also so happy to share their knowledge and support our #RiseTheTide mission.  

We barreled through our first year like a freight train. And as we look to 2021, our momentum is still going strong. We picked up and shared a huge amount of knowledge – but as always, this only gives us a baseline to beat next year. Onward!

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 secret behind our awesome venture community

Community is our everything. As we celebrate our first birthday and look back on a year marked by change and instability, it’s only natural to reflect on what we’re grateful for, and here at Operator Collective, that’s our community. Somehow we put together this bang-up group of LPs, 130+ of the most sought-after operators in Silicon Valley and beyond – 90% women, 40% people of color. How lucky are we, right?

But it wasn’t luck – Not at all. We were very intentional with how we wanted our community to look and engage. We sought an active and diverse group that would help us surface new founders, participate in our diligence efforts, and support our portfolio companies. As it turns out, this wasn’t just wishful thinking – Our LPs are unbelievably gracious with their time and expertise.

So how were we able to do this? By making it a choice, not a chore. We made two important changes to the traditional venture fund model: 1) We built in functional breadth and redundancy, and 2) we did away with minimum time commitments.

We intentionally created a large community of LPs so if and when we need seasoned operations advice, we don’t have just one COO – we have a dozen. When we need technical advice, we don’t have just one CTO – we have six. So if one of our operators is overloaded and can’t handle a request, we have several others to ask, and we can always find one with contextual experience. Our LPs know they can step out if they get busy, which gives them the freedom to engage more. 

We’ve seen all kinds of successes from our large and varied community, but here are a few of our favorites. 

Our community makes us all stronger

When COVID-19 took hold and businesses everywhere floundered, our operator LPs went into overdrive, changing their strategies and operations to steer their businesses to stability. We asked them to share their expertise with our larger community and audience – and they didn’t hesitate. 

12 of our most respected LPs joined us for The Challenge Series, weekly webinars to let others know how top leaders were addressing the changes brought on by the pandemic. They answered our questions, tackled audience questions with glee, and even took time afterward to answer the questions we didn’t get to. They truly demonstrate our #RiseTheTide value – we’re all stronger together. 

Our community make us more innovative

Social justice reform took hold in new ways over the summer. As we checked in with our Black community members, we heard their frustration. Our LP Merline Saintil shared her words with us and we brainstormed ways to push for equity. Operator Collective is about action, and in hearing their words and ideas, we were inspired to create the Black Venture Institute, bringing in partners BLCK VC, Salesforce Ventures, and UC-Berkeley Haas to build a curriculum-based program designed to give Black operators the access and education they need to become angel or venture investors. 

After an intense amount of work, we launched the first cohort of 50 Black operators in November. Not only did the fellows blow us away with their energy and excitement, the speakers and panelists we invited to join were amazingly generous with their time and advice, too. 

Our community makes us a connector 

When we created Operator Collective, one of our goals was to build a naturally diverse network. We believed a diverse community would help us find and invest in more founders from underrepresented backgrounds – and it did. What we didn’t quite realize was how our community would become a natural connector for executive hires and board seats. 

We field frequent requests from our community wondering if we have someone to recommend for an open role. Companies and recruiters pick our brains to fill board seats. But what makes us particularly happy is that our matchmaking has resulted in several strong board placements and executive hires. 

We do we go from here? 

As they say, there’s strength in community. Certainly our community has become our strength this year, and we look forward to seeing how it grows even stronger and more connected in the years to come. Won’t you join us

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.