Give Me Discipline Over Talent Everyday

Recently, I helped one of my portfolio companies make a VP of Marketing hire.  The founder asked me early in the process if I thought the candidate was good.  

Having not worked with her previously, I didn't know how talented she was firsthand, but what I did have confidence in was that her strategy would be well thought out, and if it wasn't working, she'd analyze why, proactively address it, and describe what steps she would take to find a solution.  She struck me as having an disciplined approach to her job, and over time I think discipline wins over raw talent everyday.

Discipline comes with a reasoned approach--a way of breaking down any situation into component parts, addressing each carefully, and sometimes finding help to address the ones you're not able to handle.  Startup life comes with a ton of variables and if you're not trying to bring order to the chaos, you won't be able to scale your effort as things get bigger.

Discipline also helps take responsibility off of a founder's plate--and that's something every founder needs and welcomes.  When you build in methodologies to your job, the founder that you work for can trust your approach in future situations, and they can make like for like comparisons in your performance over time--essential to oversight and process improvement.

Raw talent, on the other hand, has a limited shelf life.  Things change very quickly--so while you might shine in a particular situation, that approach might not work in your next job.  Someone who is great at writing blog posts might struggle in the shorter form media that has become more popular.  A community manager of fans and users might not have the same knack for inspiring user-owners who are participants in a token-based ecosystem where they benefit from improvements in a system in which they are also stakeholders.  A recruiter who is just really good with software developers might not be able to switch to sales recruiting when needed if they don't come with a disciplined approach that can be tweaked for a new situation.  

Lastly, talent without explanation of approach and discipline can actually just turn out to be luck.  When you hire the person that took X company to success, you might find out that if they can't tell you what it was that worked and why, and the logic of how they approached things when they first started, its possible that the company succeeded in spite of them.  Perhaps they weren't really so much the driver versus just coming along for the ride.  

How to Build a Relationship with a Venture Capital Investor

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Building a relationship with an investor, someone who is drowning in pitches and requests for their time, can be difficult.  How do you cut through the noise?  In this video, I share three ideas for kicking off a relationship with an investor you don't know.

Backing Radformation: How Many Physicists Does it Take to Build a SaaS Company?

Long gone are the days when NYC was just a place to build a fintech company or an ad platform.

In the first half of 2018, we saw Flatiron Health’s $1.9 Billion acquisition, Quentis Therapeutics picking up $48 million in financing, and raising $25 Million--all to fight cancer.  Making cancer treatment easier to plan for clinicians was the goal of a founding team of three physicists who cold e-mailed me around New Years.  They had unique insight into a tool that would save time, reduce errors, and improve quality in cancer clinics.

Part of my criteria at Brooklyn Bridge Ventures is trying to figure out whether the person sitting across the table from me has taken the right path to knowing enough about what they're trying to tackle and is eyes wide open about the challenges ahead. 

Radformation, founded by Kurt Sysock and co-founders Alan Nelson and Elisabeth van Wie, is an early-stage oncology software company that works with state of the art radiation equipment.  They began laying the groundwork for Radformation in 2016, after all three left their jobs working as medical physicists in the cancer clinic.  It was during their time working in the cancer clinic that they saw first hand the frustrations of manually putting together complex treatment plans for patients.  Having this in-depth knowledge as potential users of the product helped them get nearly 100 clinics using their platform in just their first year of having a product.  Radformation's FDA 510(k) cleared software allows clinics to catch errors quickly at the source and automate generation of high quality treatment plans much faster than today’s current manual methods. 

No amount of Googling around on my part is going to catch this team sleeping on what's going on in this space.

Finding this is more rare than you think it would be--as many pitch meetings fall apart quickly, like someone who thinks they're passable in a foreign language until they talk to a native speaker.  

Plus, it's always great to back a team making a positive impact on the world and doing so in a lucrative space.  Over $150 billion is spent annually on cancer treatments in the United States alone and cancer accounts for 1 in every 7 deaths worldwide.  Radformation leverages clinical best practices and advanced algorithms to automate the error checking and plan generation process to create the highest quality plans possible.  In this way, Radformation helps clinics provide their patients with optimal treatments and avoid patient harm.  The software is compatible with a wide range of cancer treatment sites, and generates optimal treatment plans in minutes, expediting a process that used to require hours to perform.

I'm also very excited to be in a deal with The Fund.  I first met Matt Brimer in the Ace Hotel lobby back in 2009 when he was interviewing companies to join his new co-working space called "Superconductor", which obviously became General Assembly.  This will be my third co-investment with Jenny Fielding, who is awesome--first on Homer Logistics and the second being another unannounced deal with The Fund.

One Reason Why Your Technical Recruiting Isn't Working

Time and time again, I hear how hard of a time startups are having recruiting, especially for software developers.  While candidate quality is sometimes an issue, or culture fit, or some other quality, most of the time the issue is that the company just isn't getting enough people into the top of the funnel.  

When I was a startup founder, I had this same issue.  That's when I had a conversation with Max Ventilla, the founder of AltSchool, who at the time was running Aardvark.  Max was telling me how he was interviewing 4-5 candidates a day, which stunned me.  I couldn't figure out how anyone could fill their calendar with that many qualified people.  His reply was simple--he was outbounding to 5-10x that many people each day.  


Yeah, I definitely wasn't putting in that kind of volume.  I immediately started writing a ton of notes each day to individuals that I thought looked promising or who could connect me to candidates.  After a couple of weeks, I had written to 500 people, talked to at least 20, and made a hire, after failing to do so for months.  

The other day, I was in a board meeting and we were talking about the need for a software engineer.  The team already had a lead on board.  I asked the founder how much time they were encouraging their lead to do recruiting--and whether they had made it clear that despite a backlog of feature requests, that they were willing to compromise on development timelines in order to make sure their lead had enough time to personally get involved in recruiting.

The reality is, no one likes getting recruiter form messages.  You'd much rather get a personalized note from the person you're actually going to be working for.  That person, unfortunately, is very busy (mostly because your team is understaffed).  When deadlines are fast approaching, their instinct is most likely to double down on their own hours worked rather than pull back and invest the time into recruiting.  They can't do that forever and you need to remind them of that.  The only way your team is going to produce more in the long run is by growing, not by burning out the few people it has.  It's everyone's job to recruit and it should be something everyone should carve out a portion of their day for.  

When you have a software team of 1 or 2 people and you have the money to grow, each of those people should be spending an hour a day on outreach and interviews minimum.  There are, however a couple of shortcuts that can scale their time:

1) Hire an intern or outsourced person to help with the outreach.  Give them access to this person's account or maybe a version of their name, like first letter at startup dot com.  Your team member should just be sending this person links and a short explanation as to why they found this person interesting enough to reach out to.  Let the outsourced person handle the finding of e-mail addresses and composing of actual e-mails, making any editing adjustments that need to be made, as well as handling responses and interview scheduling.

2) When you do get to the point where you think the person has an interesting skillset and you'd like to get a better idea of where they are talentwise--outsource your assessment to Headlight (A Brooklyn Bridge Ventures portfolio company).  There's no reason why your team members should spend time developing and marking tests when a standardized test has already been created and teams of people who have been trained to assess are standing by willing to jump in.  

3) Collaborate with other companies on sourcing through events.  At Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, we run a series of events called Stackup Talks.  We'll get multiple companies together in the same room sharing brief overviews of their stack--be it the code they use to run their applications or even the marketing processes in place for their "acquisition stack".  If you think about what your target talent pool would find most interesting, hearing from one company isn't nearly as interesting as getting a taste of several companies and how they're using the same tools they work with everyday.  Add to that having that conversation in a way that's about the code and the people, not about recruiting, even if you know they're actively hiring.  This Wednesday, we have three companies joining us to talk about React and React Native.  For the time and effort it takes to give an overview of what you're up to, being able to share your stack with 50 or so talent leads is a great use of ROI, making events a really efficient means of connecting on both sides.

Failure is Always an Option

I was talking to another investor the other day about the stress that surrounds the ups and downs of the job--winning and losing deals, and having some companies succeed versus others going south on you. 

I shared with this VC my secret to keeping stress at bay: 

I concede the fact that the possibility exists that I'm not good at this.

My fund performance is positive and things seem to be going in the right direction--I've been fortunate enough to back a lot of interesting companies--but there's a lot of uncertainty still.  The possibility exists that things might not all turn out in the end--that I might very well lose investors' money or underperform the market.  

And that, oddly enough, keeps me calm and level-headed.

I find that if you don't admit that failure is a possibility, you find yourself in a situation where your brain can't process even the hint of failure.  When things don't go right, that goes against a feeling of how things are "supposed to" go and your definition of yourself as one of succeeds.  

Stress comes from your inability to accept.  I tell myself, "Despite the fact that I try hard and follow disciplined thinking, I may not have what it takes to create success--and that's ok." 

If you can't handle that reality, you're going to feel some pretty haywire emotions, start misplacing blame, and generally fail to observe reality as it is happening, resulting in erroneous feedback loops.  

When failure isn't an option, you start doing irrational, and potentially dangerous things for your own health and that of others.  It's always an option, because some things just won't work out and you'll need to figure out another plan.

For now, though--you're not there, and you know that because you can be honest about its existence and identifying what it looks like.  That gives you the confidence and the focus to keep at it when you're not there yet and to improve enough to avoid it. 

I can fail.

I might not be good.

I am trying really hard to be better everyday and too succeed. 

All of these things can be true and are healthy things to tell yourself.