Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, July 12, 2021
by Neil Senturia
This is potpourri week, a heady stew of random craziness.
I am a grandfather to several (seven) grandchildren.
All four children are happily married and to the best of my knowledge not on drugs or in prison. That suggests that I had some impact, perhaps only minimal, but at least provided some modest guidance along the way for my children.
Well, it turns out I am now being replaced by an app.
Meet Alltruists, a subscription service started by Jessica Jackley, that has raised $1.25 million. This app purports to make me a better parent by assisting in my spirituality and helping me instill that belief in my children. She says she is “deconstructing religion.” For $50 per month, you get a box with a booklet and activities and volunteer projects connected to the world’s biggest problems.
Her current box teaches you about homelessness by giving you some cardboard and some glue and instructing you how to build a house. Other months to come will focus on hunger, climate change and food waste.
I will tell you what I think is one of the world’s biggest problems — subscription boxes that want to teach me how to parent. She says kids don’t want to learn about religion and the story of Noah, but they would like to build an ark. And she says, “there has not been a lot of innovation on volunteerism.” Maybe so, but if I am going out to sea, it will not be in an ark. Rather I am going with Jonah and the whale. I can cover more distance, and I can stay out of the rain.
OK, next up, one of my clients has a deal for multiple millions for him personally. It is supposed to close next week. He comes in to chat and decide what color Lambo, and I caution him about one loose end — the financing. He says, no problem. The bank says they are good to go. End of story, the deal is on hold, the problem is financing. So maybe I should create a subscription box with good advice for $50 per month. If I am right, I get a 10 percent fee. If I am wrong, you get your $50 back.
This week, I had dinner with my favorite VCs in a Van gang. We are thinking of bringing the band back together, but during the pasta and wine, we revisited the six companies we had interviewed and focused on during our television adventure a year ago. All but one are out of business. The data suggests that if we pass on every investment in the future, we would be right about 85 percent of the time. The startup game is treacherous.
Nine years ago, a UCSD scientist took the entrepreneurship class that my bride, Barbara Bry, and I taught at UCSD. I invested in the guy, and during the run, the company had six different near-death experiences. Our gang wrote checks and we hung on. Now nine years later, the company just merged with a public company, and my student is really rich. Sometimes, to quote Bob Dylan’s song, “Idiot Wind,” “I can’t help it if I’m lucky.”
And then, in case the topic of failure continues to be of interest, Harvard professor Tom Eisenmann has written a book “Why Startups Fail.” There is the usual list of chasms to avoid and mountains to scale, but one reason for failure he calls out in particular, “bad bedfellows.”
I invested in a company a couple of years ago, and on day one I identify that there is a mismatch between the CEO and the chief technology officer, but I assume that with my charm, charisma, persuasive reasoning, rational thinking and our mutual desire to get rich that I can manage the guy. Wrong again. Litigation, temporary restraining order, and wasted time, money and energy.
Here is the takeaway. Consider your marriage and your optimistic view at the altar that she/he will change for the better after the vows. Hah, call me after the divorce. Change is hard, and in my last startup story I should have walked away. Maybe another Idiot Wind will show up, but I’m buying storm windows from the fortune teller, just in case.
Rule No. 673
Is the world upside down or am I standing on my head?