It was my last day of the CEO Swap and as usual I was running from Moz Building 1 to Moz Building 2. I looked at my phone and started running to lunch (literally) and on my way I started to check Rand’s e-mail. Suddenly I realized, “oh shit!” I was supposed to meet Michelle Goldberg from Ignition Partners back at the Moz office. So I ran (literally) all the way back to Moz, waited downstairs for three minutes so I could catch my breath. Once I did, I calmly took the elevator up to meet her; I was going to go meet myself one of them thar "Venture Capitalists."
Definitely not my circle. I don't want to be in it, don't aspire to be in it, but hey it’s only an hour, right?
I wondered, why in the heck was Rand going to have ME of all people meet with a VC? They are bloodsuckers, right? People who only care about money, right? I had a client who sold his business to Alibaba (we worked together for 5 years.) He flew to China and in a mere 7 hours had signed the deal and took the next flight back. The process took a lot out of him and out of his team. Ages ago he told me something that struck me to the core when he said "Wil, it’s better to own a LOT of something small than a little of something big.” Here he was- a guy who sold a company to a HUGE e-commerce company, so it was time to pop bottles right? Not always.
Those words he said to me echo in my mind on a regular basis.
While I am fascinated by Mark Suster, I think it’s more his style than his content (don't tell him). I’ve run into Josh Koppelman around the Philly tech scene and even in San Francisco once, so we share that passion to put Philly on the map. I get calls from foreign agencies who want a US presence, I get them from private equity and VCs, all of them. Sorry, not freaking interested.
Time and time again they ask the same questions, they use words I don't even know how to define, they talk about recapitalization and taking money off the table, all the things I could care less about right now. Instead I’m focused on 3 things:
1.) Help me to help my team. 2.) Help me to help my clients. 3.) Spend more time with the people I love.
If the answer is no, it’s a waste of time. Pardon for my getting off on a tangent; let me reel back into my meeting at Moz.
I thought it would be cool to meet a VC for lunch. Why not? But at that point I was still scratching my head as to why Rand set this up.
First of all Michelle was amazing (my meeting with her was one of the most impactful moments), and the other was when I walked home with Sarah Bird talking about all things life. The meeting was not what I expected AT ALL (that Randfish is a genius!) As we shared an amazing Thai meal, I sat there enjoying the conversation as she told me what she saw in Rand that made her want to invest so early on, and I asked her about her journey into the world of Venture Capital.
I waited though. I could tell it was coming, so I waited for it.
The questions, I knew they were coming:
“Tell me about your exit strategy.” “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” “What's your revenue? Your run rate?” “Why run a business that doesn't scale?”
Or my favorite by far... “It sounds like you run a lifestyle business.”
But the finance questions never came. The future questions never came. Instead, the conversation took a very interesting turn, one I never expected...
I opened up about my family, how my Dad grew up on welfare and had never met his Dad, the whole nine. We talked about the role volunteering plays in our founding, and honestly it felt more like meeting with a shrink, and I wondered:
Is she bored? Asking herself why in the heck Rand would waste her time to meet with me?
Had she hoped the conversation would "pivot?" It didn’t, as we talked about her journey, her family, her relationship with Rand and Sarah. It wasn’t about money, not about new ideas, we just shared facts about our lives.
Maybe she too was waiting for it, maybe she too thought certain questions were coming...
“So Michelle, I have this idea. It’s the Facebook of "___________." We need a few angel investors, do you know any?” “Whats your take on the Twitter valuation?”
But they never made their rounds, either.
Instead, I took this opportunity to ask Michelle for her insights on how I can help women at SEER to level up. This is a POWERFUL woman that I was sitting with and I have felt for some time that I failed some women on my team as a mentor. I would see things in them that they wouldn't see in themselves. At least not as quickly as I saw it.
She asked me a great question…”Wil, how many of your mentors are women?”
Oh, I thought. Zero.
When I told her this she said that isn't a problem in and of itself, but she asked me a very good question. She asked me how I’m going to find mentors for my woman leaders if my exposure is so low.
Makes sense. So am I looking for more women mentors now?
I don't look for mentors. They have all found me or we found each other through some type of serendipity (one I met at a charity event just to find out that he sold his search business after starting it in 1995 and his company got to around 170 people). The moral of that story - your mentors can be all around you if you get out there.
I'll say this for sure: if Michelle was available, I'd grab her in a heartbeat, and for now it’s nice to know that I have someone who I can e-mail or call.
She got me thinking about something I had never considered before in figuring out what role can I play in helping women at SEER and in the tech community to find mentors. Guess what Michelle, I am taking action thanks to you and our lunch discussion.
In 2014, SEER will have at least one if not two tech events focused on women, our leadership team is already 50% women, our company is usually somewhere between 55-75% women depending on the timeframe, yet I am not doing all I can to help create the serendipity of finding mentors for them or for other women. I need to hunt down more women in technology, bring them to SEER for the event, and DO THIS! The plans are already starting to unravel, people are getting assigned to this (yes Rand, I'm learning to delegate more), and Michelle, it was your idea. So I expect I'll be begging (yes, begging) you and Sarah to come.
So Rand, maybe in your wizardry and in your genius you knew that only good things could come from a meeting with Michelle, whether you want funding or not, whether you want to grow or not. She is just an amazing person who cares deeply. In turn, I learned that I should maybe ease up on preconceived notions about people. We hate it when people paint SEOs in broad strokes like spammers, right?
Michelle, thank you so much for the time. I hope our meeting, in some way, was even 1/1000th as valuable to you as it was to me. So when are you coming East in 2014? I've got to get some speakers lined up for this event you've inspired me to have and I think I might know someone who can help. No pressure. :)