Founder Health

A journalist emailed me a question about our view that founder health is as if not more important than anything else.

From Our View:

Healthy people build healthy companies.

A healthy body creates a healthy mind. Healthy minds build better companies. If you’re eating a microwave burrito at your desk at 2am on a Saturday you’re doing something wrong. We prioritize our physical, mental and emotional health over everything else and push our companies to do the same.

Unfortunately, sometimes a healthy body isn’t enough for a healthy mind. Being a founder is hard and lonely and can bring you to a dark place. We’ve experienced some of these demons personally and with our friends and companies. It’s not a taboo topic to talk about with us. We’ve been there.

The journalist’s question:

Did any founders/funds inspire you in your new outlook/rebrand?

Is there any data out there that shows healthy entrepreneurs <> healthy returns? Or how investor/entrepreneur relationships built on open and honest communication leads to higher returns? I imagine that sort of data is hard to quantify, as so many factors, internal and external, affect whether a company succeeds or not.

It took me a while to formulate a response. In all things I am quantitative but in this area I have a binary, unshakeable view. It’s a sacred cow. Sacred cows are difficult to justify. They are visceral in nature. That’s what makes them sacred and often dangerous.

Here was my response (which I also emailed to our portfolio founders):

Thanks for the question. We didn’t consult any data sets to arrive at our strong position that the health and balance of founders & teams is of the utmost importance. It is simply clear that it is the right way to do business as a human.
It is often difficult for founders to remember that the world is not a better place if you build a billion dollar company that kills you.
As for triggers or inspirations for this view, it was most directly triggered by my personal founding journey during which I did not give any attention to health. And I experienced two hospital stays, was on prescriptions for high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression, developed a coping mechanism dependency and finally received wake up call from my doctors that I had a high probability of dying within a few years if I did not take corrective physical and mental action. As an investor I want to do everything in my power to minimize the probability another founder will have my experience.
By elevating our belief in focusing on health and wellness and being transparent about our personal experience, we’ve found that our founders are more comfortable discussing their challenges. And we are aggressive in holding our leaders accountable to this standard.
I do not yet have a body of data to establish a positive correlation between health and authentic relationships with founders and company performance. And honestly I’m not seeking it. It’s just the right way to do business.

Investing in Asana

Here’s another email I sent to our portfolio company leaders last week.

When I checked in last week I failed to include an additional company we’ve had the pleasure of working with over the past few months.

We had an opportunity to join a highly non-traditional Series C of investors, customers and leaders that Justin (cofounder/CEO) and Dustin (cofounder) assembled earlier this year. The round was led by Sam Altman personally and provided an opportunity for us to more directly support a company that we respect tremendously. See Sam’s note here.

A couple of years ago I accidentally stumbled into a talk at Web Summit. Justin was the speaker. His talk led me to skip the final day of Web Summit spending the day in my Airbnb planning how I was going to implement what I learned. This was the talk. It was the genesis for many things, including the events that would lead to our joining as an investor.

To understand my view on Asana you need only spend a few minutes talking about how I architect my work and my life around clarity of purpose, plan and accountability. And there’s a high probability I’ve shared my architecture for communication systems with you. Asana is a critical factor in making the world more contextual and less noisy.

My appreciation for Asana extends well beyond the tool. Its greatest influence on me and how I do things stems from how Justin and team manage their company, their planning processes and their culture.

We continue to be amazed at Asana’s progress and their team.

**Note: **For those interested in Asana the product, please feel free to reach out to Shannon who has offered to answer any questions you have. I also highly suggest checking out The Guide, which I think is the best customer help resource I’ve seen in the productivity space.

A Few New Investments

I sent this email to our portfolio company leaders today.

Hi everyone,

I hope you’re having a great summer.

I wanted to take a minute to welcome a few new friends to the VTF Capital family. We do a miserable job sharing new investments with you. That’s partially because we prefer to focus our time inward, helping entrepreneurs build great companies. Most things that aren’t that get cast aside, mainly PR.

But there are tons of potential collaboration opportunities between our portfolio companies. The first step to unlocking that value is making sure you know each other. This email is 90% longer than future ones with new investments will be.

We will do better. And we’ll do it by email since our attempt at building a healthy Slack channel was about 50% effective. This DL includes the leaders of every company you see here. We’ve also built a few narrow subject DLs…we’ll get to those.

As we shared earlier this year our investment thesis is highly focused. We make fewer but deeper investments because we have a much clearer sense of where we believe we add the most value as seed investors and a clearer definition of what we believe the future of global commerce will be. I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of our organization’s ability to help entrepreneurs build great companies.

Like software our thesis is versioned. We make predictions about what will work, test it, collect data and refine.

As a result of this increased concentration our quantity of new investments is slower than you might have observed in our earlier, less disciplined years.

In 2016 we planned (and so far are on track) to invest in 6-10 new companies while also allocating for follow-on opportunities when the company’s growth and the round economics make sense. We expect to do the same in our current funds for the next few years.

To that end I’d like to catch up on some of our activity in 2016 and introduce you to a few new entreprenuers we now work with on a regular basis. We’ll do this one at a time in the future as we recognize there are tons of opportunities for collaboration within our portfolio.

For those keeping score at home, in 2016 we have closed investments in five new companies, participated in nine past investment growth follow-on rounds and evaluated investments in approximately 25 companies per week.

Without further ado, please meet your new portfolio cohorts.

Thrive Market – We met Nick (co-founder, co-CEO) through a mutual friend. As we got to know Nick and Thrive we became believers in their vision and amazed at their execution. Many of you know I spent more time working in grocery than I have in technology alone. I believe that they have cracked the market to bring healthy, clean and affordable food to millions of families. We’ve grown quite close and I look forward to continuing the journey. Thrive Market is based in LA. Nick is cc’d. (Primary Partner: Zach)

Ink – Will asked me to meet with Jonathan and casually described Ink as a kiosk company that wants to displace Kinkos (Fedex Office for those under 30). I had zero interest in having a conversation. My scheduled 30 minute meeting with Jonathan Manzi (Founder/CEO) lasted almost two hours. What he’s done in a year makes me feel worthless about my own work. The team he’s assembled is perhaps the best team possible for the problem he’s tackling. Ink is based in Oakland. Jonathan is cc’d. (Primary Partner: Will)

The Renewal Workshop – A number of you may have met Nicole and Jeff via their time at The Mill. We decided to make a significant and direct investment before the end of their first tenure in The Mill. Their experience in the apparel industry us unparalleled. I am convinced they will reshape the supply and refuse chains of the apparel industry. Their operations center in Oregon is live, the supply partnerships they have in place with key suppliers would blow you away. They are starting in the outdoor apparel space (gear junkies celebrate). They launched an Indiegogo campaign recently to build an army of advocates and will start shipping this fall. TRW is based in the Portland area. Jeff is cc’d. (Partner: Zach) – Those of you with whom I work closely know I HATE ecommerce marketplaces. It’s a great way to invest and lose a lot of capital should the random events that lead to a well-timed massive exit not align just right. is the reincarnation of a massive first dot com bubble bust. Justin (an experienced, exited entrprenuer) acquired the idle remnants about two years ago and has quickly turned it into something incredible. Ice fills the gaps between the jewelry consumers and manufacturers. It manages the entire customer relationship including acquisition, marketing, merchandising, customer service, shipping and returns, leaving the manufacturer to simply put the unit in the box and put it on the loading dock. I’m not doing it justice. Justin is cc’d. (Partner: Zach)

Exact Media – ExactMedia helps brands in the US and Asia connect with consumers using in-box marketing inserts. They help brands (like some of you) avoid the wasteful spray and pray marketing approach instead targeting interesting offers and product samples to people whose purchasing behavior matches that of the brands trying to reach them. The consumer experience is positive and the ROI for brands is staggering. Ray co-hosted an event with us earlier this year during Shop Talk, some of you may have met him there. He’s a textbook giver who always has a great idea for how he can help you, not just how his company can help you. Ray is cc’d. (Partner: Will)

I hope you all have a great Labor Day weekend.