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2014

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Tragic begging and triumphant benevolence.  Paper gains and palpable losses.  Newfound empathy and noticeable disdain.

I’ll never forget seeing thousands of Syrian refugees – mothers who fled the Assad regime clutching toddlers – on the streets of Istanbul.  They had a small cup or piece of cloth in front of them, asking pedestrians for spare change in Arabic – a language Turks don’t speak.

I’ll never forget the smile on the faces of the BCNA loan officers who had given small business loans to immigrants in all of NYC’s boroughs.  These loans allowed these immigrants to realize their American dream through their corner stores, their laundromats, their beauty salons, and their restaurants.

I’ll never forget the phone call from a fellow investor that my first venture capital deal, Snapdeal.com, was about to announce an investment from Softbank at a $2 billion valuation.  Or, the text message about Hired.com, a deal that I had seeded at NEA, had closed a round at a $200 million valuation.

I’ll never forget the phone call from a portfolio company CEO that he had run out of money.  He was going to have to shut down his business and, in the process, I would lose all my invested capital.  He was in tears.  He had given it his all, sacrificing everything for his business.  He hadn’t even paid himself in the last few months to keep the company afloat – and he was broke.  I was, in the next 5 minutes, defeated and encouraging, confused and consoling.

I’ll never forget meeting General David Petraeus 1:1 in his office, and the many emails, discussions, and meals that continue to follow.  He’s a man who led our armed forces in Afghanistan and also was the Head of the CIA.  He was—and still is—the quintessential American hero: a gentleman, a class act, and a selfless leader.  But one mistake caused him to give up his career in government.  I think the world of him—and if he can make a mistake like the one he did, then I’m pretty sure anyone can.  We’re all just human.

I’ll never forget meeting Lance Armstrong in New York as part of a group dinner.  Because the event was off the record, I am not at liberty to share quotes.  However, I could tell Lance was noticeably frustrated at the doping scandal; not necessarily because he was upset at the backlash and the titles that were vacated, but because he still feels like he was wronged.  He had brought a knife to a gun fight.  And if everyone was doing it, then why was he the villain?

What a year 2014 was.  2015, you’re on the clock.

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Written by sheeltyle

December 31, 2014 at 4:41 pm

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.