Rethinking the Employer-Employee Relationship (The Alliance – Reid Hoffman)

This post from Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn) has opened my eyes to rethinking the idea of family-type relationships in work environments:

Essentially, the idea is that companies are not families so it’s dumb to treat employees like we do. Families don’t “fire” their members yet we pretend employees will never leave and feel hurt if they do.

(Reid wrote extensively about this topic in his book, The Alliance)

The Alliance Book Cover

Companies today should be treated more like all-star teams. There is a right position at the right time for each employee. Sometimes, the company grows (or shrinks) to where you’re not the best to fill any need for the company. Similarly, employees may outgrow a company.

All of that is natural.

As a manager, this approach is liberating. We can kindly discuss their future choices without judgment. We can truly be servant-leaders by supporting employees’ life journeys. Given we’re all going to have dozens (if not more) jobs in our lifetime now, this makes much more sense.

Best part of the article? They talk about the San Antonio Spurs as the type of organization that gets this new way of thinking about employment. Makes one proud.

San Antonio Startup Community: We aren’t done yet?!

Not even close. We have a long road ahead of us to transform San Antonio into a startup city.

Building a startup community from scratch is a 20-25 year process. It can be longer depending on the gaps that need to be filled.

Look at this chart of large tech employers in the Austin region:

Except for Apple, all started in the 1980’s or 1990’s. Only 30 years later is Austin at a scale that matters to a VC in Silicon Valley.

If you’re more interested in how it’ll be done, I recommend reading Brad Feld’s book called Startup Communities:

In it, he makes the case for his Boulder Thesis. One of his contentions is that this community transformation must be lead by the entrepreneurs themselves. If you want to help, holler at your boy. 🙂

San Antonio’s Museum District

There’s a little secret about the tech scene here: It’s actually really tiny. In our best years, we’ll get about 10% of the total investment an Austin or Houston gets put into tech annually.

So, why does it feel so real? Other industries like medical startups are much bigger. But, there’s no concentration of them. No branding of the area where they’re located.

We have a great opportunity to repeat what’s happened in San Antonio’s tech district. It’s on Broadway from the McNay museum at the north end to the San Antonio Museum of Art on the south end. A bona fide museum district:

San Antonio Museum District

There’s 4 high-quality museums and a great zoo.

We also have the emergence of a performing arts district on the north side of downtown with the Aztec, Majestic and Tobin theatres all within walking distance of each other.

Why aren’t we more passionate about our city parks?

My opinion is that today’s city parks are designed to appeal to everyone. So, they appeal to no one.

In San Antonio, it seems every park has the following:

  • Some benches
  • Some walking trails
  • Some water fountains
  • A lawn or two
  • Some fences
  • Some trees

So, our parks seem to be mostly just generic and boring.  I don’t know anyone that is truly passionate them.

It’d be great to see some city parks be designed to appeal to more specific communities so we have public spaces that excite our residents.

There’s lots of examples — though most are from parks designed in the 19th century. One of my favorites is in San Francisco. A portion of Golden Gate park is dedicated to skate dancing:


Sea Machines

Our Geekdom Fund portfolio company, Sea Machines, presented at the Techstars Boston demo day on May 11th, 2017. Here’s the company video of the presentation:

We love these type of companies. It’s a very hard problem just like autonomous cars and trucks. Michael and his team are working on something with a real opportunity to change huge industries like shipping, fishing and even pleasure boating.

RSVP For My Talk at Geekdom Next Week

I’ll be giving a workshop at Geekdom next week (May 16th, 2017). I’ll be talking about the options for funding a tech-related business. It’s free and not just for VC-backed businesses.

5/16/2017 – 3:30PM Facilitator: Michael Girdley

Funding Your Tech-Based Startup

Have questions about the types of funding that are available to your tech-based business? Come join Michael Girdley, the managing director of the Geekdom Fund and learn about how to fund a tech-based business through various funding models (i.e. venture capital, bootstrapping, and angel networks).

You can RSVP here:

Goodbye Uber; Hello Lyft

A few weeks ago, I tweeted that I’d deleted Uber:

News article after news report about the bad behavior of Uber finally got to me.

The first person accounts are hard to read as well. Most notable is this one by Susan Fowler:

It’s hard to read that and still be a customer of Uber.

It appears I’m not the only one. Lyft is doing much better. It seems the obvious cause is the PR nightmare that Uber has become:

If you have the ability, consider ditching Uber in favor of competitors. This is a bad organization and doesn’t deserve your business.

How to become a valued member of Geekdom (or any startup community)

So, when people ask how they can get into a community like Geekdom, I talk about “giving first.” You get paid back in multiples of what you give. This is the essence of a book I’ve recently learned to love called Give and Take by Adam Grant.

Give and Take Cover

There tend to be three types of people in a community:

  • Givers: Who give to the community often more than they receive. These people make themselves valuable by helping others without expectation of return.
  • Takers: Those who look for the community to do for them. I’ll hear these people saying things like, “I joined Geekdom to find xyz.”
  • Matchers: These people give but only in a quid pro quo fashion. “Do this for me and I’ll do for you.”

In four years at Geekdom, I’ve seen the Takers grab what they can and disappear. Over time, the community has learned to not help those people.

The Givers become trusted members of the community. They give time, money, or effort without expectation of a specific return. In a sense, they’re depositing in the “Karma Bank” and someday the universe will  pay them back.

It’s also not that hard. Ask around: “What gaps are there in the community today?” Try to solve for those.

How to Get Hired

Go accomplish some things. Show you’re a person who makes magic happen. Employers/Investors bet on people with a track record of success.

I get referred lots of candidates. Many of these people have few if any “wins” on their resume. (To be fair, in many jobs, there aren’t lots of opportunities to do great things. Or, perhaps someone is very young.)

The great candidates have taken initiative to make things happen. That’s how folks get noticed and employers (or investors) get satisfied that the candidate is a winner.

Making things happen requires some thought, resourcefulness and effort though.

A great example is Matthew Espinoza. After Startup Grind in San Antonio folded, Matthew decided to take it over while still finishing his degree at UTSA.

Matthew Espinoza

Each month, a  startup leader in town is interviewed. He organizes the monthly event and recruits the speakers. The events are well-run and have become monthly 90-minute showcase of his abilities. As a bonus, he gets to meet with people who get stuff done and learn from them.

Matthew stood out from the crowd. Guess what? We hired him.

Creating a Startup Community Requires Density

People seem surprised when I tell them Dallas-Ft Worth and Houston each have a ton more tech startup activity than San Antonio. These are huge economies, so it makes sense.

But, if you go to those cities, there is no sense of tech startups being real. They’re all spread out. There’s no answer to the question: “Where are the startups in Dallas (or Houston)?”

Houston does have a shot now with the creation of Station Houston.

So far, the press there is getting it wrong by thinking “We need more startup capital!” like this article:

Capital is important but density is what really matters.

If 3% of your city is only startup people, the only way to foster community is to put them all in one place. Magic can happen when they work together and perhaps your city can grow to have 10% or 15% being startup people. Or, they’ll leave and go to a Boulder, SF or Austin where it feels like 75% or more of the people are in startups.

It’ll be fun to watch Houston and Dallas in the coming years. The big question is whether they’ll do the hard work for the 20+ years it takes to create a startup community.