Five Lessons on How to Thrive in a New Environment with Gary Stewart (FounderTribes)
During the Included VC 2021 Retreat we had the pleasure of meeting Gary Stewart, Founder and CEO at FounderTribes, who gave some incredible advice on how to thrive in this new environment, venture capital.
Before we start, some highlights:
- 💥 Make sure you open opportunities for others
- 🤔 Take time to understand the ecosystem
- 📖 Don’t wait for the book to be written
- 🔨 Build more than just a ‘good brand’
- 🧠 Create your own opportunities
1. Make sure you open opportunities for others
Coming from a diverse background and having relocated on several occasions to very different cultures (from the USA to Spain, from Spain to the UK), Gary has had to build his network from scratch on several occasions and prove that he added value to the community and was capable.
During his talk, Gary mentioned how he had been able to tap into some incredible opportunities in his career by supporting others climbing the ladder with him. These opportunities encouraged Gary to empathise with other diverse folks and encouraged us to remember those coming behind one. As the old saying goes:
What comes around goes around; one must support if one wants to really increase diversity in spaces like VC.
2. Take time to understand the ecosystem you are entering into
Gary highlighted the importance of understanding the existing ecosystem you are entering when transitioning into a new role or organization. We are often advised to “be the change we want to see in the world” as per Gandhi. However, ‘when’ and ‘how’ we should be this ‘change’ is often left to interpret.
During his talk Gary somewhat echoed these sentiments, but added a proviso; “be counter cultural when you have made it…”. Whilst you are making your way up, ensure that you build meaningful relationships and align yourself with people who share your values and have influence. Change is not effective unless sustainable; a changemaker is only effective when they are trusted, understood and whose views are valued.
“What are the rules of this game? Figure out the context before you start making noise.”
3. Don’t wait for the book to be written
When the infamous question, ‘what is your favourite book?’, was posed to Gary, he paused for a while then confessed that he prefers to study the lives of those he admires instead of waiting for books written about them. The first reason he noted was that not all people of influence have books written about them and the books that have been written do not always offer a comprehensive summation of the lives and principles that have led to the said individuals’ success or failure. Instead, Gary advises:
“Study the lives of those you admire, look for clues to how they have reached their accomplishments and deduct your own meaning from these clues as a way of self-development.”
4. Build more than just a ‘good brand’
What do you want others to say about you when you are not in the room? In other words, what should the lived experience of your brand be to those around you? This was one of the points that resonated with us during the retreat. Such a simple yet powerful statement. It took several moments of pausing and reflecting on unpacking what this meant for us. What is the difference between a good brand and a great brand? How does one go about building not just a good but great brand?
Given the opportunity, what would others say the golden thread representing your brand is, as you embody different roles? For example, as a parent, child, sibling, friend, — the list goes on — how do these differing roles shape who you are and impact how you engage those within your sphere of influence? The same question can be applied to one’s professional life:
- What do you want colleagues to say about you when you are not in the room?
- What would you want the founders that you back to say about you as an investor?
Upon reflection, we agreed that our brand should speak to our values. It must also reflect our personal stories i.e. the ups, downs, personal struggles, and lessons learnt. Who we are daily and how we engage with others should align as together these qualities are captured and experienced as the manifestation of our brand. In life, you can only go as far as your brand takes you. A good brand can get you into the new environment; however, a great brand (and consistent one) can get you into a position of influence.
5. Position yourself to create your own opportunities
Evaluating what it means to be always switched on with a more introspective lens, you realise there’s a broader question to address: ‘How can we position ourselves to create the best opportunities?’
Part of the answer is to always bring our ‘A game’ to the table. However, there is more that we need to do to create opportunities for ourselves, or as some like to call it, create your own luck. We need to be:
- Uncomfortable and become comfortable being uncomfortable
- To take more calculated risks
- To earn and seek to improve continuously
- To be open to new/opposing views
- To show more empathy
- To help more and expect less
- To ask and not be scared to hear ‘No’.
We need to understand that it is ok to admit there are things we don’t know, we need to realise that it’s ok to ask for help- the list goes on!
“The better we position ourselves, the better our chances are at creating our own luck.”
In summary, as people from diverse backgrounds, we should set our eyes on incredible opportunities and understand the rules of this game, that is, we must figure out the context before we start playing the game.
It would work to our advantage to also study the lives of those we admire. Look for clues and cues about how they have navigated similar contexts and deduct our meaning from these clues as we chart our paths.
When we discover an opportunity, we should take the time to understand the rules of this game, that is, we must figure out the context before we start playing the game. Thereafter, we need to take advantage of these opportunities without forgetting the need to support others who are climbing the ladder and align ourselves and build meaningful relationships with the people who share our values and have influence.
As aspiring VC’s, what we have learnt from Gary is that:
“Change is not effective unless it is sustainable. Changemakers are only effective when they are trusted, understood, and their views are valued.”
Gary Stewart is a member of the Included VC Board of Advisors, the founder of FounderTribes and formerly served as Director of Wayra — Telefonica’s digital Accelerator in Europe and Latin America. He is a Yale trained lawyer and throughout his career has served as a mentor to start ups and as a professor for IE(Instituto de la Empresa)’s Business School.