An interview from Authority Magazine by Misty Schwartz on June 16, 2020.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up as an only child in a middle-class suburb outside of Milwaukee. My dad was a hotel manager and my mom was an elementary school reading specialist. I had a very tight group of friends that I am still close with today. I went to school at the University of Minnesota, and returned to Milwaukee after graduating. It was a normal, middle-class upbringing. I was very privileged.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
My favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ve always admired the resolve of Atticus Finch to do what he knows to be right in a situation that is presumptively hopeless. I admire his will and stoicism. I’ve always had a strong reaction to injustice and inequality. I hope to channel more Atticus as I grow and mature.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
My favorite life lesson is, “You’re one of today’s lucky 10,000”. Its from an XKCD comic showing that for each thing “everyone knows” there are 10,000 people hearing it for the first time. It acts as a reminder to get excited with people when they’re learning new things. Early in my career, I had a lot of ego tied up in looking smart. I was afraid to say, “I don’t know”. This comic gave me confidence, and has served as a great guide for leading others. It’s a lot of fun being on of today’s lucky 10,000 and getting to learn something new.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?
In the United States, there is very little diversity in venture capital. Startup founders that are female, people of color, or LGBT+ combined receive less than 10% of capital. Black women receive just 0.0006%, which is functionally nothing. 70% of capital is deployed in only four regions: Silicon Valley, New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. We need to do more to support our underrepresented founders.
We built Uncrowd.io to efficiently connect underrepresented founders with interested investors. There are investors that understand the value that exists here. If the next transformational product (think UBER or Facebook) were created by a woman of color from middle America, it would almost certainly miss out on investment. That is a tremendous loss for both the founder and potential investors. We’re working to make it easy for investors to find underrepresented startups that would have otherwise gone overlooked.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. We just don’t get up and do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
I think a lot of people who are intimidated by entrepreneurship view it as a binary option. You either keep your stable job or you quit and put everything you have into your new venture. My experience was a lot more organic. The “aha moment” for me was when I learned about the disparity in venture capital. That is the inflection point when I knew that (a) this was a problem worth solving and (b) it was an opportunity that had economic incentives. However, the development of the product and the move to making it my career was done through incremental steps over three years. It wasn’t until very recently that I was in a position to quit my day job.
As far as turning an idea into reality, it does help a lot that I’m passionate about the mission. The work itself brings me a lot of joy.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
We launched Uncrowd knowing we would be supporting underrepresented founders and I’m very proud of that work. However, the story of help that stands out the most to me came from the investor side. I had an angel investor reach out to me who was so grateful that our platformed provided him access to the types of founders he wanted to work with. This angel is a wealthy individual, but was unsure how to navigate investment on his own. He ended up, like many people in his position, joining an angel fund. However, he was disappointed that he wasn’t presented with many opportunities to invest in founders that looked like him. Our platform gave him the opportunity to connect directly with the types of founders he cared about supporting.
Are there three things that the community can do to help you in your great work?
The number one thing we need is more capital in the hands of underrepresented founders. More capital to diverse founders will create greater representation of successful entrepreneurs. Over time, these successful founders will turn into investors. This cycle will continue, cultivating greater wealth equality.
The second thing that is needed is more guidance and mentorship. If you are already successful, recognize that there are budding entrepreneurs in your community who need help, but don’t know where to start. Reach outside your network to find the founders that lack connections. Be there to teach and support them.
The third thing is collaboration. Solving this funding gap does not have to be charity. There does not need to be any losers. I’m betting on underrepresented founders to build successful businesses. That means there is money to be made for everyone involved. However, we need to recognize the systemic problems that currently exist. For those of us that are aware and/or impacted, we need to be working together to make this change. Collectively, we are infinitely stronger than the sum of our parts.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I’ve always respected and been drawn to leaders who care, in a very real way, about their constituents. However, I always thought that was a secondary characteristic behind more “important” leadership philosophies. It wasn’t until this COVID-19 pandemic that I realized putting people first, is the real definition of leadership. The leaders that have gone out of their way to make humanity an organizational priority are taking an important stand. Compassion does not have to come at the expense of growth. More leaders need to understand this.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
It’s cliché, but when you love what you do it doesn’t feel like work. In terms of hours invested, I’ve never worked more in my life, but my days go by very fast. Even when I do have days that feel long, or am emotionally taxed by hearing another “no”, this work is still important. I know that the underrepresented founders I’m working to support have an uphill battle every single day. Having a mission as a guide is a tremendous motivator. Young people have incredible ideas for social change, and are unencumbered by societal institutions. My plea to young people considering a social impact career path: We need you. We need you now more than ever.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I was once told to spend more time listening than talking. This has been a vital skill while consulting with entrepreneurs. Nobody knows a founder’s business better than they do, and the last thing a founder needs is someone uniformed providing unsolicited advice. By listening, I’ve been able to complement founders and intuit their needs. The ability to listen has proved vital for the growth of Uncrowd, too. I’m a straight, white man. I know there is a need to improve the funding gap for underrepresented founders, but I don’t know what its like to live that experience. Its vital that I learn from founders about their experience. The only way that I can make an impact is as an ally, in collaboration with the founders I’m supporting. Effective collaboration comes from listening.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
My greatest inspiration for this endeavor is Arlan Hamilton. I’ve been watching her story unfold for years, and have been thrilled and inspired by her success. For anyone unfamiliar, she was homeless in 2015 and by 2018 she had not only raised her own venture fund, she made 100 investments in “underestimated” founders. I’ve gotten the chance to see her speak a few times and she is an absolute force. She has a new book out, About Damn Time, and it is a great read. From a personal standpoint, I’d love to dive deeper into her tenacity. From a professional standpoint, I’m curious to get her thoughts on ways to overcome or circumvent the systemic inequality in venture capital.
How can our readers follow you online?
Please also connect with me on LinkedIn.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!