Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, September 14, 2020
This is potpourri week. A few thoughts thrown in the crockpot (not crackpot), and maybe something edible comes out.
I am currently coaching a young man who grew up in a foster family, one of 12 children, eight biological and four foster sisters. He has clearly learned how to navigate in a crowd. Currently, he is a finalist in the Just In Time Foster Youth business plan competition. His idea is to provide a mobile application for young mothers seeking parenting advice from celebrities. His premise is that parents today are not looking to the hoary Dr. Spock’s 1946 book, “Baby and Child Care,” but rather they want a relationship and guidance from their heroes in social, sports, music, movies, etc.
I was intrigued. At first, I was trying to understand exactly what qualifies famous people (who are not pediatricians, if you will) to opine on parenting, but it turns out (no surprise), there is a white-hot start-up that connects celebrities and their fans. It is called Community, started by Guy Oseary, and it is backed by some big-name venture capitalists along with Ashton Kutcher. And it does not take a great leap of imagination to understand their virtuous cycle and a would-be partnership with my entrepreneur.
Celebrities and influencers are backed by brands, and the celebrities can then promote these brands to young mothers, along with some advice on how to stop their most prized possession from crying for an hour at 3 a.m.
Now, what is interesting here is that advice matters less for its accuracy than for its provenance. If Brad Pitt says that lemonade is good for little Bobby, well then, all mom wants to know is what brand to buy. My entrepreneur’s motivation for the project came from the fact that his birth mother could not cope, could not get the advice she needed and finally had to give the kids up, unable to parent effectively. She did not want to give up. She simply needed someone that she felt she could trust for guidance.
I don’t know if he will win or not, but his idea demonstrates perfect founder-fit. My guy lived it up close and personal and he knows the pain and disappointment of the foster system intimately. And he knows that young mothers will turn to their own heroes and heroines, regardless of whether they have a Ph.D.
Next, I puzzled on why can’t the ups and downs of life be more even. In the specific, I had two major problems in two companies that have consumed a large amount of my unsettled misery over a long period of time. Last week, in the span of 11 minutes, both were resolved successfully. A phone call from one attorney, and an email from the other attorney. Deals done. Successful resolutions. Huh. All that good news at the exact same time. Look, I am not complaining. I am simply noting that life would be easier if you could space the good news and the bad news more equally. After all, it would be nice to know that ice cream was on the menu right after the brussels sprouts.
As for the infamous Zoom calls, I channeled some entrepreneur advice from a few venture firms in the Valley. First, from Gigi Levy-Weiss, NFX, he suggests the founder request a short meeting, “15 minutes is all I need for you to fall in love with the demo.” This improves your chance of getting in the door, maybe not your whole foot, but perhaps two toes.
From Charles Hudson, Precursor Ventures, his suggestion is to be sure you have high-quality video and audio. Sounds obvious but pixelation does not engender enthusiasm. “We have been able to compress time; nobody needs to travel.”
Alan Patricof, Greycroft, says he will close without meeting the founder in person. His newest fund focuses on platforms and products for aging Americans. (The young founder can walk in, while his customer might arrive with a walker.)
Sarah Tavel, Benchmark, says she relies even more now on “backchannel references” since it can be hard to get to know someone over Zoom. But she recently closed a deal and says, “I seriously can’t wait to meet the founders in person for the first time.”
Rule No. 676
30 minutes on high heat,