On Growing and Building
The many unexpected moments in the past six months have forced us — as individuals, as communities, as nations — to reflect on our purposes and priorities. Few things are certain following the transition of power in Washington D.C., but we’re certainly living in the golden age of entrepreneurship.
To my immigrant family, entrepreneurship is simply the pursuit of market opportunity that may lead to wealth. They find new terms like “political entrepreneurship” and “identity entrepreneurship” as perplexing as the rapid rise of our new businessman-turned-President.
To me, entrepreneurship is a way to effectuate changes and a means of self expression. Like democracy, entrepreneurship is more about participation than it is about outcome. And whether by the ballot or with an investment, every vote and every voice matters.
The active participation of our Republic community of investors has added to the fabric of our country. If you invested $10 or $1000, no matter the amount, an impact has been made (thank you!). Six mission-driven startups now have capital to build and grow. And Republic wouldn’t have been here without the support of our friends, family and people who believe that entrepreneurship can and should be more inclusive.
Growing was one thing
When I joined AngelList, there were 20 of us working on an established brand. The product-market fit was clear, and deals were launching and closing quickly. My role as a Venture Hacker was to innovate on the brilliance of those before me. Growing the business of AngelList was intellectually challenging, deliberate and thoughtful.
Decisions were rooted in data. We had a wealth of information to assess and millions of active users to poll. We didn’t always have the answer, but we knew what questions to ask and what problems to prioritize. We were dealing with the known unknowns. Our market position was strong. Customers were active and vocal, attentively serviced by a robust team of smart, dedicated people who quickly became my second family.
And now? As Paul and I left AngelList’s San Francisco office this past April to set up shop in New York, I realized that growing was one thing, very different to building. I felt it so viscerally. The known unknowns became unknown.
Building is another thing
The day-to-day experience, the skills, the feelings in your stomach, the decisions, the speed — all those aspects have been different with the experience of starting and building Republic. Of course, I expected this, but no amount of expectations or intellectual understanding can prepare you for the actual experience of being a founder. Funny how when I had it, I didn’t fully appreciate the comfort of walking into an office with products, processes, culture and a large team with defined roles.
Day 1 in the new New York office was myself, Paul and Peter. We recognized the opportunity and the impact that the newly passed JOBS Act would have. We were energized by a new way to raise money. We were inspired by the window that opened up just enough to see — and feel — that there was an incredible opportunity waiting on the other side.
We met with people that believed in the vision. We made them our advisers, and we enlisted them to work with us. We didn’t have a domain, logo, nor projections. But we did have (and still do!) have a hellva a lot of conviction. A team can bootstrap, but they’re good as dead without conviction. The first year of Republic taught me this in a raw and real way.
Some say that entrepreneurship is synonymous with loneliness, but not for me. The stress and competing priorities have at times been overwhelming, but I never felt lonely. Republic is a team of close friends on the same mission. I drew from every corner of my ecosystem, and every work experience, for insights, encouragements, introductions and yes, investments. Somewhere along the way, I noticed that the founders raising on our platform seemed to experience the same thing. I definitely wasn’t alone.
With a fast start to this new year, I took time to reflect on what I’ve experienced and learned thus far. Here are some of the things that we — the Republic team and the founders raising on our platform, together have experienced:
“Real investors don’t window shop” — Katherine Krug, Betterback
Investors move fast. If they hesitate to say YES, move on. Find investors who are as excited as you are about your vision, who believe in you first, and who have the understanding that the product and market will evolve from the moment you release the first version of your product. Absolutely tap into your friends and family when raising money. They want to see you happy, to see you reach your goals, to be a part of your journey. Bring them along for the ride. That’s what I did to find investors for Republic and the first four campaigns we launched in July. I went to friends and family, and to the people with whom I’ve worked and who inspire me.
Entrepreneurs fundraising on Republic experience the same thing. The most passionate customers and believers immediately invest. When it comes to crowdfunding success, you’ve got to count on your friends, your family and your most passionate customers to win the battle, with some support from strangers compelled by an effective pitch.
“The biggest impact you can have is to enable others.” — Shiza Shahid, NOW Ventures
We’re building Republic first and foremost to help entrepreneurs get financing, so that they can pursue their own visions of change. Naturally, we want to work with companies that enable people to be better versions of themselves, to be more efficient and inclusive, and to grow. From our experience, there’s a clear trend of entrepreneurs adding a purpose to their effort in building a profitable business. Do good and do well.
Missions and visions aside, the highlight of my day is often that phone call or meeting I take from a student or an overseas entrepreneur who reaches out for advice. There are so many things, large and small, we can do everyday to enable one another.
“If you can’t see yourself working with someone for life, don’t work with them for a day.” — Naval Ravikant, AngelList
This one is especially hard. Republic is a small team, and I’ve had to be direct and honest with people who aren’t right for the culture we want to build. A founder confided in us that she had to fire her head of marketing in the middle of preparing for her Republic campaign. The process of preparing for the raise revealed the misalignment of their employee, and to fire fast was the only option.
It’s not always easy, but in order for your company to succeed, you have to work with people who complement your skills and bring diversity of experience, perspectives and knowledge. Our team spans venture, legal, engineering, social impact, design, medicine, management consulting, and more. While we are all very different, we absolutely can imagine working with each other…for the rest of our lives.
Building is an expression of self
If there’s a single, most important observation that I’ve made of myself, and of the founders I’ve met, it’s that a startup is a true expression of self — what you believe in, your values, your ethics, your excitements.
Now more than ever, we need people to share their true selves. We need entrepreneurs to integrate their beliefs, values, ethics and excitements into their startups. We need people to build things with the intention of making a difference, any difference, in the world. And we need people to invest and support startups that align with their vision for a better future.
So many of us are unsure how we can drive change in this uncertain environment. It couldn’t be more clear to me now that mission-driven, inclusive entrepreneurship is the answer. For founders, customers, advisers and investors alike.
I speak for the entire team at Republic when I say: whatever you are building, creating or dreaming, we are here to help. Let’s co-create a future that all of us can be proud of.