Friday, August 15, 2014

Alfidi Capital at Startup and Tech Mixer August 2014

I attended the Startup and Tech Mixer for the first time ever last week.  This series has been a fixture on the local scene for some time, so it was about time I made my presence known.  The multi-floor event at the W Hotel was crammed with artisan vendors, glow-light fun, and parts of the local startup ecosystem.  I'm pretty sure I'll cross paths with Sustainable Silicon Valley again now that we've formally connected.  I couldn't stay with the exhibitors forever because I needed a front-row seat for the speakers.

The kickoff panel discussed alternative ways to work and live in the 21st Century.  Eliot Peper pitched his fiction book Uncommon Stock, which resides in a genre of literature called the "startup thriller."  I did not know this niche existed, although the Tom Clancy style of "techno-thriller" has been around awhile.  The panel's insights on piecemeal work as the new career paradigm dovetailed with the stuff I've been doing for the past few years, but the panel should have discussed just how difficult it's going to be for most people doing it.  Check out the panelsts' backgrounds in Eliot Peper's blog article.

The single most important take-away from this panel was one founder's description of how he graphed his company's weekly results in a 2x2 matrix.  The X-axis was for things they're good at doing.  The Y-axis was for things they enjoy.  The goal of all of their decisions (operations, hiring, etc.) is to move their cloud of data points to the upper right quadrant.  Getting stuck in the lower left quadrant means you're on the wrong path in business and life.  See folks, the 2x2 matrix comes in handy in the real world.  Startup founders who didn't learn this stuff in grad school should jump into accelerators like Techstars.

Fred Kofman discussed his Conscious Business work.  Business could use more philosophical thinking and Fred really delivered.  Bounded rationality helps us sort information to manage our typical cognitive load.  The challenge for thinkers like Fred is to help people find ways to take control of situations instead of making excuses for victimhood.  I've got a real-world application already.  Someone needs to tell San Francisco's anti-gentrification protesters that they're wasting time throwing righteous indignation at landlords and Google's commuter buses.  Those agitators need some conscious business to take charge of their earnings and be productive.

The conscious stuff made me more conscious of what enterprises can do to encourage their employees.  Startup founders can start by creating a culture of personal responsibility.  They can model take-charge behaviors and refrain from whining about unfair things that are out of their control.  Don't obsess about the market size of your competitors, the complexity of regulations, or the expense of multiple taxes.  We can't change those things at our level.  We can only impact them once our startups' revenues are big enough to give us a seat at the adults' tables.

I had to run to another event, so I missed hearing Chip Conley speak about his role with Airbnb.  He did a brilliant job building the Joie de Vivre hotel chain and I want to know why he made the switch to a sharing economy enterprise.  It is rare for an establishment icon to risk cannibalizing his primary business' revenue by endorsing a disruptive startup.  Startup founders often know they're winning when one of two things happen.  First, the establishment gangs up on them with lawfare, and many hotels and homeowner associations are pushing zoning challenges to Airbnb hosts.  Second, a respected establishment player jumps ship to back the startup.  We have not heard the last of the Airbnb story.  I have not heard the last of Startup and Tech Mixer.