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Archive for May 2014

Tombstones, Billions, & Dreams

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The past four months have been a whirlwind.  Yet from the maelstrom of experiences, three themes have emerged: tombstones, billions, and dreams.  Each one of these could encompass multiple posts on their own, but I’ll do my best to highlight the key points briefly here.

Tombstones

Perhaps the greatest insight from the past few months came from a simple statement:  I was having lunch with one of my closest friends, Ben Rattray, whose company Change.org is one of the best examples of a purpose-driven, for-profit organization.  Change.org is the platform that spurred the Boy Scouts to end its anti-gay policy, that empowered Trayvon Martin’s family to unveil their side of the story, that has equipped citizens from almost every country  on the globe to campaign for change.  And they also happen to be a tremendous business, doing tens of millions in revenue.

Like usual, we were talking about all sorts of stuff, from capitalism and impact investing to that perennial best city debate: New York, Boston or San Francisco.  But the question that most changed my thinking was this:

“What do you want your tombstone to say?”

That question has fundamentally changed my outlook on careers and money…which is for a future post.

Dreams

  • The Portuguese Dream: In March, I was invited to speak at the GoYouth Conference in Lisbon, Portugal alongside the founders of HotelTonight, Cloudflare, and Siri.  Portugal is plagued by a 35%+ youth unemployment , yet  GoYouth’s organizer, 19-year-old Tiago, expressed  zero interest in hearing it and thus created a forum for entrepreneurship to lead Portugal out of a deep recession. At both the conference and Startup Lisboa, which we later visited, I was blown away by the hospitality, hope, and capabilities of the Portuguese.
  • The Immigrant & Refugee’s Dream: At the end of 2013, I joined the board of Business Center for New Americans, a burgeoning nonprofit that provides  microloans to women, immigrants, and refugees building companies in New York City. These are individuals like Sonnie Selma, a Liberian refugee who founded an African specialty foods business that imports products like African Palm Oil and sells them locally. For immigrant heritage week in New York, we brought together 100+ of our entrepreneurs just like Sonnie into one room to recognize the transformative role of entrepreneurship– from the mom-and-pop laundromat in Queens to the taxi cab company in Brooklyn– in changing their and their families’ lives.  I have never seen a better representation of the American Dream than on that day.
  • A lover’s dream: India is a country whose Supreme Court recently ruled that homosexuality is a crime.  That made this 1st place dance by Northwestern Anubhav at Bollywood America that much more powerful.

Billions

  • Pinterest – The company, which Bessemer invested in when I was employed there, recently raised at a $5 billion valuation despite just starting to monetize.  In due course, this will prove to be a steal of a deal.
  • Snapdeal – My first venture deal was Snapdeal, a company I have written about before as a study in America’s broken immigration system(summary: the founder of Snapdeal wanted to start a company in the USA but couldn’t get a visa).  They just raised at a $1 billion valuation, taking yet another step closer  to becoming India’s Alibaba/TaoBao.
  • Berkshire Hathaway – I was at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in Omaha thanks to an invitation from Tracy Britt. It was a great dose of investing reality (who would think that businesses could be valued off of free cash flow or EBITDA instead of users and eyeballs?).  And on Sunday night, I had dinner at a steakhouse that apparently is good enough for these two.

And so much more.  In general, I’m not a fan of these diary-like posts as opposed to more substantive ones, but as I resume my blogging cadence, I hope to revert to the latter.

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