How Will We Rescue Ourselves?

Here we are now going to the west side
Weapons in hand as we go for a ride
Some may come and some may stay
Watching out for a sunny day where there’s

Love and darkness and my sidearm
Hey, elan

– “South Side” from the Play album by Moby (1999)

Gotham Gal made some observations today about yesterday’s massacre in the U.S.

Note that we now write “yesterday’s massacre” and not “the massacre” because we now have so many massacres in the U.S., we have to be specific about which one we are referring to.

In reply to a comment I made, GG asked, “How do we think about shifting this tide?”

This was my response:

How can a disorganized majority counter a highly organized minority with a big profile and deep pockets? By organizing, fundraising, and being specific. The NRA knows exactly what it wants. We must know exactly what we want and raise the money to pressure the electeds to make it happen.

Everyone knows exactly who to point to when it comes to gun owner advocacy. Who do we point to when it comes to gun control advocacy? We need to know that, too.

There are basically two organizations, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. As a product person, I see a need for one marquee organization. And it needs a name that sounds permanent. “Stop” and “Prevent” are things that we don’t have to do once they’re accomplished. The NRA never stops. We need a Seth Godin to help us come up with something more inspiring, more bonding, more permanent.

We need to understand how to market to our ‘customer’ the way that the NRA understands how to market to theirs.

We also cannot ignore the mental health care aspect. Lack of access to mental health care and easy access to guns are a ‘perfect storm’, and I don’t think addressing one of these aspects alone will get us where we need to go.

Activist movements have worked complex issues like this before, so I guess we need to take a look at what succeeded for them.

It isn’t just high profile massacres that are the problem, either. The number of human beings who are shot to death every day in the U.S. is SHAMEFUL. We must seem to be a barbaric society to the rest of the world.

This movement needs a leader, I think. It needs a full-time evangelist. It needs a brand. Who will take the lead? How do we find that person and empower her to become the voice of our movement we need so badly?

Women Laughing Alone With Salad

Re/code published a post yesterday about Getty’s new “Lean In” collection of stock images.

While the news of the new collection is cool and interesting, one single phrase stood out to me and caught my attention:

“The idea is to get away from the women laughing alone with salad and provide alternatives,” says Jessica Bennett, a journalist and contributing editor at Lean In…

Follow the “women laughing along with salad” link and you’ll be treated to a Tumblr of images that are just exactly that.

Most women I know will recognize this subtextual meme that’s run through our lives since we can remember. And they’ll get how freakin’ funny, sad, ironic, meaningful it is.

Have you ever laughed alone with salad? I’ve tried laughing alone with salad countless times over the course of my life, and it never made me happy, perfect or healthy. Dammit.

Did The Solo Founder Die A Long Long Time Ago?

Though nothing will keep us together
We could steal time,
just for one day
We can be Heroes, for ever and ever
What d’you say?

– “Heroes” by David Bowie

My belief: you don’t need a co-founder. Period. But! If you have a great one, then wonderful. It’s just two different ways to do the startup thing. One is not superior to the other. It’s like insisting David Bowie become The Beatles.

These things can’t be forced, and I think the co-founder obsession has done some damage.

If you’re unconvinced (or need a little reinforcement, like me), give Jason Calacanis, Jerry Colonna and Mark Suster 17 minutes of your time:

I thought you died a long, a long long time ago
Oh no, not me
I never lost control
You’re face to face
With The Man Who Sold The World

– “The Man Who Sold The World” by David Bowie

How Vogue Magazine, George Plimpton And Andy Warhol Changed My Life

Andy Warhol looks a scream
Hang him on my wall
Andy Warhol, Silver Screen
Can’t tell them apart at all

– David Bowie, “Andy Warhol”

English: Andy Warhol

English: Andy Warhol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fred Wilson shared on his blog today a video of Lou Reed being interviewed by Charlie Rose. In the segment that Wilson shared, Reed is talking about Andy Warhol’s influence on him. In the comments, I stated that Warhol changed my life.

The first and second seasons of “Sesame Street” made me who I am (more on that in a future post). But Andy Warhol changed my life.

It was 1982 or 83, or so, and I was a stir-crazy kid growing up in The Middle Of Freaking Nowhere, Wyoming. My lifeline to the outside world was “Vogue” magazine. One afternoon while spending quality time with the latest issue, I came upon a feature article about a new biography by George Plimpton titled, “Edie.” “Edie” was all about some glamorous skinny socialite girl who hung out with that soup can guy, Andy Warhol.

Like so many young women my age that year, I read that article 15 times. Then I bought my own copy  of  “Edie” and carried it around the way a missionary carries around “The Book of Mormon.” I read it over, and over, and over. “Edie” struck some kind of chord with a generation of youngsters. They became captivated, mesmerized, obsessed with Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol. And I was the most obsessed of them all.

I took my obsession with Warhol to new extremes when I got to college. Instead of hanging out with friends and partying, I went to the library and absorbed every book on Warhol they had, photocopying all the pictures. I covered the walls in my dorm room with tin foil in an attempt to recreate Warhol’s “Factory.” I checked out every Warhol documentary video from the library and used the footage to teach myself to dance like Edie.

A-A-NovelI stole the library’s copy of “A, A Novel by Andy Warhol” by throwing it out a window and retrieving it from the bushes below. I still have it and the hours of audio recordings and transcripts that I made of my friends that were inspired by it.

Being a Warhol freak was literally my identity at college.

I decided to move to New York City because of Andy Warhol. The instant I graduated from college I got in a “drive away” car (who remembers those?) with a friend and headed for the Big Apple. And the rest of my life since then has been a result of that move.

Warhol taught me that it was wonderful to be different and that hard work was the most important part of great art. His weird view of the world resonated so strongly with me that I felt empowered. And all these years later, he still inspires me.

Is it a coincidence that he and I share the same birthday? I think not.

When I see  young people in New York City today, I think, someone like Warhol inspired them to leave where they were and come to the magic city to make their dreams come true. And I remember that article in “Vogue,” and thank my lucky stars that I read it.

Who or what inspired you at an early age?

I’m sticking with you
Cause I’m made out of glue
Anything that you might do
I’m gonna do, too

– The Velvet Underground, “I’m Sticking With You”

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Girl Develop It CoFounder Sara Chipps On Shaping Tech Culture To Include Women


Oh mother dear we’re not the fortunate ones
And girls they want to have fun
Oh girls just want to have fun

– Cyndi Lauper, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”

Sara Chipps has spent a lot of time working in and thinking about tech culture. She is cofounder of Girl Develop It, a system of low-cost software development classes geared toward women (but guys are welcome too). GDI classes are judgement-free, for total beginners who want to take their first few steps into the world of software development.
Sara recently left her role as CTO of Levo League to focus on getting Girl Develop It’s board and 501(c)(3) status together. Levo League is a professional community for Generation Y women.

In this podcast with some of the most thoughtful people in tech, including Joel Spolsky, Sara shares what she’s learned about tech culture and women, and how companies that are interested in reaping the benefits of a diverse tech team can shape their culture to both attract and retain women members.

This is important stuff, culture. Women are not going to stick around a company with a culture that feels unwelcoming. What makes a culture friendly or unfriendly isn’t necessarily a matter of just frowning upon misogyny or required training on preventing sexual assault. (Duh.) It’s pretty hard to see your own company culture from the inside out and understand how it could better support and encourage gender diversity. People like Sara can help.

Here’s a fascinating stat share by Chipps during this podcast:  In 1984, 37% of CS degrees went to women. In 1998, it was 34%. In 2010-11, it was 12%. That’s not progress.

I’m just a girl,
Take a good look at me
Just your typical prototype
Oh…I’ve had it up to here!
Oh…am I making myself clear?

– No Doubt, “Just A Girl”


5 Reasons Why Startups Are More Like Art Than War

It’s the same old theme since nineteen-sixteen.
In your head, in your head they’re still fighting,
With their tanks and their bombs,
And their bombs and their guns.
In your head, in your head, they are dying…

– The Cranberries, “Zombie”


The Marx Brothers in “Duck Soup”

If you spend any time hanging out at popular startuppy places online, like, say Fred Wilson’s blog, or Mark Suster’s blog, or Semil Shah’s blog (three of my fav’s), you know that war metaphors make a regular appearance in the discussion about startup life.

Famous warriors are frequently quoted. Startup strategy is regularly likened to war and battle strategy.

It’s useful. Even fight analogies can be enlightening. One of my favorites that gets recited all the time is from Mike Tyson: “Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.” I absolutely love the brevity of that one.

But I’ve never been to war or battle and neither have most of the people who use these gritty metaphors (although some have, and if they read this, I bet they’ll remind me in the comments). Personally, I feel much more energized when I think of my startup work as art.

I have an art (theater, drawing, music, writing) background. I know a little about the lives of different artists both living and dead. So maybe I’m just inclined to think of things on those terms. In any case, here’s my barely-thought-out list of why startups are more like art than war:

  1. When artists suffer, it’s by choice. OK, I suppose a lot of artists would say they had no choice. But on paper, they have a choice. They could go work their way up the ladder at Quizno’s or something.  To suffer for your startup is a choice. Even when we fail, founders often can’t wait to do it again. Most people, I think we can agree, who are involved in war are not there by choice. They want out as soon as possible, and they typically never want to do it again.
  2. Art is about imagining something that doesn’t yet exist and setting out to see if can be created successfully. Any battle involved is usually with one’s own shortcomings or limitations – the internal enemy. With startups, even when there’s intense competition, success or failure often comes down to the ability to execute and differentiate, to understand what the market wants (even if it doesn’t know it wants it yet). War, on the other hand, focuses on the outside enemy. Success or failure has to do with how much damage one is able to inflict upon the enemy. While hurting competitors is often a result of a startup’s activity, it’s (usually) not the focus.
  3. Art has the ability to create new territory where there was none. So does the startup. In both cases, this new territory benefits colleagues thereafter, indefinitely. In war, territory (when involved) is won or lost. Someone must lose, and the losers are often negatively impacted for generations afterward.
  4. Artists can surrender with little more than a bruised ego and a limping bank account. So can founders. (I’m not saying this is always the case, but it can happen.) Surrendering in war typically isn’t so simple. Therefore, I submit that it takes even more fortitude and focus to wage art and startups because, again, it’s by choice.
  5. When people experience great art, they want more of it and want it to last forever. I certainly want more of a great startup when I see it and want it to last forever. Can the same be said for war? Even when a great victory has been secured, few want more of the war.

When I need inspiration (which is pretty much every day at this stage), I always seek out the stories of artists who were told they were no good, or crazy, or who were otherwise rejected and went on to prove the naysayers wrong. These, to me, are much more applicable than, say, the Battle of Gettysburg.

By the way, if you’re currently in the struggle with your startup, rent and watch “From The Sky Down,” a documentary about U2’s do or die moment. I found it inspiring.

Never stop the action
Keep it up, keep it up
Work to the rhythm
Live to the rhythm
Love to the rhythm
Slave to the rhythm

– Grace Jones, “Slave To The Rhythm”


No Technical Co-Founder, No Love

Mystery achievement
You’re so unreal
Mystery achievement
Where’s my sandy beach yeah
I have my dreams like everybody else
But they’re out of reach
I said right out of reach
I try to ignore you
Your demands are unending yeah
I got no Ts on my skin,
But you know me: I love pretending.

– The Pretenders, “Mystery Achievement”


From the first issue of British punk fanzine “Sideburns” in 1977

Entrepreneurs do one thing. They find a way.

As a non-developer, sole founder of a tech startup, I am often asked how I am going to overcome not having a technical co-founder.  My answer: I just will.

How else would you expect an entrepreneur to answer?

I know a lot of startups that have non-developers as the only founders. They do what I’ve been doing, outsource their software development, usually to offshore talent.  And, yeah, it never goes as well as it does for startups who have a developer on the founding team. That’s putting it mildly.

I know, absolutely, that my startup’s journey has been hampered by the fact that I am outsourcing its development. It’s been painful. Expensive. Frustrating. At times, maddening. And I’m in a better position than most non-techies. I AM technical. I understand code and architecture. I can sling html, css and javascript (even if it’s awful) in an emergency. I’ve been building things on the web for 16 years.

There is an epidemic out there. There are no developers who want to work for free on somebody else’s idea. In this startup tsunami, everyone has their own idea that they want to work on. Why would the very person who can execute on an idea throw in with somebody else for an experience that is going to be wickedly challenging and gut wrenching? Most of us really need to believe in the dream to sign up for that. And that dream typically needs to be our own.

If I waited until a developer was ready to stop working on her own great idea and join with me to work on my dream for free, I’d never start.

I would never start.

But I have started. I have a product, and people are using it. It has cost tens of thousands of dollars more for me to get where I am now than it would have cost me if I was an even mildly skilled developer. It’s taken too long (and continues to take too long). But I have something. Imagine what I’ll be able to accomplish once I can attract a great developer.

The bias against non-technical solo founders is almost total when it comes to obtaining funding, incubation, acceleration. There are exceptions. I’ve been very lucky to find people who believe in me and my company despite my “handicap.”

But how many great non-technical entrepreneurs and their ideas would never get off the ground if those entrepreneurs let a little thing like not having a developer in their back pocket stop them?

Not a day goes by that I don’t think, “My next startup is going to help non-technical founders get their ideas off the ground.” But I hope by the time I start my next company, someone else will have solved that problem.

In the meantime, I can’t let a little thing like that stop me. I find a way to pay contractors. And I’m learning to code.

Got brass in pocket
Got bottle I’m gonna use it
Intention I feel inventive
Gonna make you, make you, make you notice

– The Pretenders, “Brass In Pocket”


Women Entrepreneurs: To Succeed, Be Men!

I wanna be where the boys are
I wanna fight how the boys fight
I wanna love how the boys love
I wanna be where the boys are

– The Runaways, “I Wanna Be Where The Boys Are”


Just One Of The Guys, 1985

Fiona Murray is the Alvin J. Siteman Professor of Entrepreneurship at the MIT Sloan School of Management and associate dean for innovation and co-director of the MIT Innovation Initiative. On November 3, 2013, in the Boston Globe online, she offered up four pieces of advice for female startup founders who are trying to secure venture funding.  This advice is based upon her long experience engaging with venture capitalists and running studies on the subject at MIT.

Please read her piece.

I don’t know Fiona, but I’m going to go with the assumption that she’s fairly brilliant and totally worthy of my respect. In fact, I’ll say that following her advice will probably work for the most part. But, I’m going to nitpick, nonetheless. Because I believe fiercely that women need to go beyond trying to be like men in order to secure and own our success and our futures. I think changing our thinking is this regard is crucial.

I’ve specifically got a bone to pick with the first and last items in her list of four pieces of advice. Those two items are titled, “Wear a Uniform,” and “Watch Sports,” respectively.

Regarding wearing a uniform, Fiona states, “I’ve watched hundreds of MBA students and engineering PhDs pitch investors. Men are rarely self-conscious about their clothes, while women (including me) agonize over what to wear or fiddle with dresses that don’t accommodate microphones.” She advocates that we, as women, agree upon a uniform (not necessarily a masculine one) that we all can adopt in order to put the focus on our ideas instead of our clothes.

Let’s just call this situation like it is. Why are women wearing uncomfortable dresses to pitch? Why would a woman choose to be uncomfortable on such an important occasion? To LOOK PRETTY. There, I said it.

Deep down inside we ladies think that our prettiness will influence these men to give us money. We do. Admit it.

Well, FUCK pretty.

Ladies, I believe the moment you buy into the pretty trap, you have disempowered yourself. You send the signal that you think your appearance is more important than your work, your ideas, and your charisma.

But, I can’t agree with Fiona that adopting a uniform is the answer. That’s still doing something other than being true to yourself, being authentic. Real charisma and self-confidence come from being comfortable with who you are. Who are you? Own it, baby. OWN IT.

I’m not saying be a slob or disregard your appearance. I’m saying own your appearance. Let it reflect who you really are. Whether you’re a Kate Middleton, a Katy Perry or a Kat Von D, don’t try to hide it when doing business. It’ll show. The person on the other side of the table will sense the dissonance in you. A person who is harmonious in persona and appearance, and who relishes both, can have a magical effect on others. If your style happens to be a “uniform-like” pair of khakis and a polo shirt, fine. Just make sure it’s really you.

Now, let’s tackle (!) the idea of being able to talk sports. Oh, Sweet Jesus, why did Fiona say this? I know, she’s backing it up with data from studies about “the role of sports in social bonding in the male-dominated private equity world.” But: no.

If you are not interested in and do not follow sports, I don’t believe you’ll convince anyone that you give a shit about it by trying to fake it. It hurts me to see that advice in writing. And I happen to love hockey. I predicted the Bronco’s first loss this season. I also predict many awkward moments to come for women who aren’t interested in sports trying to utilize this advice.

Ladies, I say you will not find success in a man’s world by trying to remind men of themselves. This kind of thing wouldn’t even work with other women. It won’t work to dye your hair red if you want to work for Arianna Huffington. In fact, yikes.

It’s a tricky maneuver, to be sure. Be you. Be a woman. But don’t be bound by the rules for women that have been subtly taught to you by society. Make your own rules. Above all, believe in yourself. Believe in yourself. Believe in yourself.

Move beyond the idea of being a woman (or a man) and evolve to the idea of being a force. To be a force you must believe in yourself and your mission.

There’s so much more to say on this subject. But I want to keep my posts short. What do you think?

I don’t give a damn ’bout my reputation
You’re living in the past, it’s a new generation
A girl can do what she wants to do and that’s what I’m gonna do

– Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, “Bad Reputation”

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