Rethinking My Startup Investment Strategy

Crains just published a piece on my new venture Southbox and how we’re experimenting with the early-stage investing and incubation model. An excerpt:

When you are an investor in tech startups, to a degree, you operate in a particular way, which is what I had been doing over the past three years. I was putting money into companies that were all at the early stages, where they were trying to get their first customers, build their product and make it sure it worked, and all that other fun stuff that happens when you are trying to start something from nothing.

The observation that I made towards the end of last year happened when I was working with a much larger fund that had probably 300 companies in its portfolio. As I was looking at all the companies that didn’t make it, I noticed that they all seemed to fail for the same reasons. They didn’t have the ability to share resources beyond capital, and were sort of left on their own to find their first customers, hire their first software developers — all of those early stage problems.

If you’re a VC, and are effectively funding all of these companies to solve for all the same problems, it’s way cheaper for you to allow the companies to share resources and collaborate. 

Read the full story at Crains

Coffee and Capital (Feb 10)

I’ll be speaking at the University City Science Center at Philadelphia February 10th, 2015 to meet with a small group of entrepreneurs over coffee and a light breakfast for an informal Q&A session about funding and pitching. Sponsored by Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation.

Why do so many venture capitalists ignore the single best predictor of the future: demographics?

David Teten, Forbes

What I Learned about Tech and Business from Tyler Perry

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When I tell people I used to work for Tyler Perry there are overwhelmingly two reactions. The first is the number of people around the world who haven’t ever heard of him or his work. The second reaction is laughter or condescension:

“The guy who dresses like a woman?”

“The guy who makes those black films?”

“The guy who puts his name in the title of all his films?”

Yes. That guy.

Regardless of whether or not you think he’s a creative genius, he is a genius of a different type and a lot smarter than people seem to give him credit for, especially when it comes to business.

First, some background. I only worked for Tyler Perry Studios briefly  from 2006 to 2007. It was just after he had closed a deal for $200 million dollars to build his studio in Atlanta and produce his first set of TV Shows, HOUSE OF PAYNE and MEET THE BROWNS, for TBS. I was a Sound Designer and Audio Engineer at the time and not involved in any business dealings so nothing I’m saying here is confidential. In fact, much of what I write here can be discovered through a few searches on Google, Wikipedia or Variety.com.

In any case, through following Perry over the years and reflecting on my own observations at his studio, I learned a lot that I later used to find success in the tech industry.  What are some of these lessons?

1- He Knows the Business He’s In

The secret to Tyler Perry’s success is really in that second group of people I mentioned. The smug people who underestimate him.

The first lesson I learned is, rarely are successful people in the business of the things their critics think they are.

People think Tyler Perry is in the business of pleasing the public or critics. He’s not. He’s not even in the business of speaking to his ‘niche’ audience. No, Tyler Perry is in the business of making movies that earn returns for his financiers. Yes, he speaks to an audience he understands but he’s always been smart enough to focus on what matters most which is the bottom-line.

But what makes him stand out, is that people at every level are always underestimating his ability to do one thing because of their opinion about how poorly they feel he does another. In this case, because they don’t get or simply don’t like his films, they often assume they will flop. When they don’t, not only has he succeeded, but he’s surpassed expectations that were probably unfairly low to begin with.  He knows this and uses it to his advantage. 

2 – He’s Bankable

At Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses they use the term ‘bankable’ to describe people and companies who are attractive to investors. In other words, people who prove they will use money wisely and therefore attract more money.

There is a saying that goes, “A good engineer is someone who can do for $1 what any idiot can do for $2”. In this regard, Tyler Perry is a good engineer.

His first film DIARY OF MAD BLACK WOMAN woman only cost $5.5 million dollars to make. It went on to gross over $50 million.

Many of the methodologies Steve Blank described in ‘The Lean Startup”, I watched Perry apply to his work in TV and Film. Prior to having the money to actually produce feature films, he just set up a camera and FILMED THE PLAYS ON STAGE!! Frugal innovation that would make even Navi Radjou proud. It was the sale of those homegrown DVDs and related merchandise and tickets that originally gave him his first big financial successes. This also proved he had an audience that was hungry and unspoken to.

It was these numbers that convinced Lionsgate to back him for his first few films. It was the success of those films that lead TBS to back him for TV syndication deal for his first two TV Shows, which lead his deal with Oprah’s OWN network and so on.

He essentially sold his first TV Show, HOUSE OF PAYNE, into syndication before he produced a single episode. This was smart for many reasons. First, it gave him the money up front to produce the show, which would go on to build his brand over the next five years. Second, because his deal with Lionsgate also underwrote his studio, this asset dramatically cut costs on producing the TV show (and all his subsequent TV shows and movies). Third, because TBS put the money up for a syndicated show, we ended up shooting and editing the entire series (which ended up being 7 seasons long) in just over a year. One year!

Why? Because the longer you shot a show, the more costs you have.  Staff, insurance, on screen talent, if it took 7 years to produce the show, you’d have to pay for all of those for 7 years. By doing it all in barely over one year, that’s essentially 1/7th the cost for the same amount of money.  That money he reinvested into producing other content which at that point could be sold for all profit.

The fourth amazing thing about that deal was the fact that he completely de-risked the entire process of launching a successful TV show in the first place.

Syndication means that a TV show will go on to air and ideally generate profit for the TV Network that purchased it for years. Usually syndication deals only work with popular, proven shows that have amassed huge followings when they originally aired. Shows like BIG BANG THEORY, SEINFELD, and CHEERS. Rather than run the risk of HOUSE OF PAYNE airing and not being that successful, by selling it directly into syndication he ensured that, regardless, his product was sold. It’s a bit like starting a business with a guaranteed exit.

There are a lot of people who try to argue away Tyler Perry’s success because of they don’t like his creative choices.  But they fail to realize that there are plenty of people who have talent who don’t survive in business. Talent isn’t always bankable, generating profit is.

3 – He’s Consistent

More than the fact that he knows how to operate leanly and still generate profit, the reason why investors continue to back his projects is the fact that he’s so amazingly consistent. He has NEVER lost money on a film.  Not a single one.  In fact, almost all of his films made all their money back on the first weekend, Which is crazy given that in Hollywood’s eyes he’s still relatively ‘new’ (he’s only been directing for around 12 years).  This is in comparison to an industry full of big name directors who have lost tons of money on various projects.

Here is a list of the movies Tyler Perry has made throughout his career and their box respective office earnings (and cost where I could find it):

Title / Budget / Opening Weekend / Total Earnings (in millions)

  • MADEA GOES TO JAIL Unknown/$41M/$90.4M
  • MADEA’S WITNESS PROTECTION $20M/$25.3M/$65.6M
  • MADEA’S FAMILY REUNION $6M/$30M/$63.3M
  • WHY DID I GET MARRIED TOO?  $20M/$29.2M/$60M
  • WHY DID I GET MARRIED?  $15M/$21.3M/$55.1M
  • MADEA’S BIG HAPPY FAMILY $25M/$25M/$53.3M
  • A MADEA CHRISTMAS Unknown/$16M/$52M
  • TEMPTATION Unknown/$21.6M/$51.9M
  • I CAN DO BAD ALL BY MYSELF $13M/$23.4M/$51.6M
  • DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN  $5.5M/$21.9M/$50.3M
  • MEET THE BROWNS Unknown/$20M/$41.9M
  • FOR COLORED GIRLS Unknown/$19.4M/$37.7M
  • THE FAMILY THAT PREYS Unknown/$17.3M/$37M
  • GOOD DEEDS Unknown/$15.5M/$35M
  • DADDY’S LITTLE GIRLS $10M/$13M/$31.3M
  • THE SINGLE MOM’S CLUB Unknown/$8M/$15.9M

This data is gathered from the IMDB page on Perry.

My initial reaction is holy cow, MADEA GOES TO JAIL made $90 million dollars! Combined his movies have made $792.3 million dollars. That’s just theatrical releases and doesn’t include merchandise, DVDs and Blueray, his TV and licensing deals etc. No wonder he keeps making Madea movies!

Beyond that, if he were an entrepreneur or a venture capitalist Perry’s track record would be the equivalent of a like 9.3 of 10. (This assumes THE SINGLE MOM’S CLUB may have lost money since it was a theatrical release with big talent but relatively low earnings. The rest almost certainly did not lose money based on what they ultimately earned.)

It’s actually stupid to bet against a guy who performs this consistently.

4 – He Bets on Himself

I’ve talked a lot about how much money Tyler’s work generates in this post. While the arts aren’t always about profit, being able to finance your own work means you don’t need anyone’s approval to get stuff done.

From what I understand, Tyler Perry is still 100% in control of all his own work. This is similar to how Mark Zuckerberg has built Facebook into a public company valued at over $50 billion dollars without ever giving up more than 51% ownership. It means that nothing happens at Facebook without Mark’s say. He controls the show.

Likewise, with Tyler Perry, he’s the world’s most successful independent film-maker. He never gave up control. Lionsgate is an independent film distribution company and it largely backs independent film projects.  By working with them instead of anyone else, Tyler insured that he never really gives up creative control of his work.  

This means he doesn’t have to go to the Weinstein Company or Sony or anyone else to ask for money to produce anything. He has enough personal wealth, and enough credibility and success to convince people to back his projects himself.

In fact, the way Tyler’s films are backed tend to resemble venture capital deals more than typical film deals. He proposes a project, investors put up money, he does the project and returns their capital at some multiple of what they originally gave him. That’s the whole bankability thing at play. But because he reinvested his early money to build his own studio, there are far fewer middle men to pay. This means the costs of making a film or show are far lower for him than they would be for anyone else not in his position which allows him to take greater risks on projects.

If he was working within the studio system, he’d have a much harder time convincing “The Studio” that his projects were the right movies to make in the first place. Studios tend to want to make a lot of changes to scripts and they inflate costs because to them, putting more money into fewer projects is more efficient.  But what that does is greatly diminish their tolerance for risk. This is why they spend even more money developing and retaining A-List stars who they then cast.  The assumption is that A-List talent leading well financed film projects is far more likely to succeed than a bunch of unknowns in smaller budget films. This, as a rule, is usually true. Unfortunately for writers and directors, this ultimately means they have less control over projects that are backed by big Studios.  When you hear some directors talking about how hard it is to get controversial films made, it’s because they are asking permission from people at major film studios who are inherently risk-adverse. The Studios want to finance money makers, and they will do everything in their power to ensure everything they produce is such. For them ‘controversial’ means alienating, and alienating audiences isn’t helpful if you’re trying to get the most people possible to go see a film.

The equivalent in the startup world would be the entrepreneur who successfully bootstraps a series of companies, versus entrepreneurs who only rely on venture capital.  Neither way is wrong and both can lead to great success but the boot-strapper can take greater risks because he or she has less people to answer to.

5- He’s Obsessive and Detail Oriented

Now you might ask yourself how on earth I could learn anything from a film director if I was working in the audio department. At most film studios, you’d be right. The sound designers usually don’t work too closely with the director.

I’m not sure what it’s like at his studio now but back then, initially I probably saw Tyler Perry once a week (which is a lot). He wanted to change the music, he hated the laugh tracks I added, he wanted some dialogue to be louder, he made suggestions on sound effects. It wasn’t just the audio department, he’d go into the writers room and rewrite portions of the script himself. He’d be on stage with the actors helping them with their performance. He’d supervise video edits. He was in accounting. He was in props. He was the lunchroom with the interns.

The point is, he wanted to know what was going on at every level of his business. While it sometimes it felt like micromanagement, it was ultimately because he cared.

On top of that, he was used to doing a lot with a little. When you build something from nothing, you aren’t used to the people around you chipping in to make things happen. This is because people tend to assume you’re going to fail, and therefore you aren’t worth going out on a limb for. As the founder you know differently, you bet on yourself and you double-down on yourself. This means you’re going to make sure everything gets done.

At Tyler Perry’s studio I saw both sides. Initially he was always there making sure everyone was doing everything. This is completely unsustainable for any business. You have to delegate to scale. As he got more comfortable with the people around him, and saw that we were all actually doing good work (and better work if he left us alone 😉 he backed off. He was able to delegate and ultimately start doing multiple things at the same time.

While that ‘founder anxiety’ probably still rears its head every now and then, to be successful at his level you have to learn to let go. Regardless of the business you’re in, this is a good management skill to develop.

6 – When the Rules Aren’t in Your Favor, Make New Rules

While Hollywood has about 100 years on Silicon Valley, the film and tech industries have a lot in common. Both have very insular communities at “the top” which make it hard for newcomers to break in, both require access to capital or financing that not everyone has access to, both require more than just creative talent to be successful, and whether it’s intentional or not, a lot of people feel like many forces conspire to keep them out of the industry at all.

When faced with a tough environment like this, there are two options: fight the system or work outside of it.  As far as I’m concerned, Tyler Perry provides one of this generations best examples of a businessman who worked completely outside of the system until the system couldn’t ignore his potential for profit. At that point he had the leverage to basically do whatever he wanted.

From what I can see of his career, Tyler Perry rewrote all the rules that lead to his success because the old rules would have completely prevented it. While that isn’t always easy, it’s necessary for anyone who wants to succeed when the odds are stacked against them.

Sometimes fighting the system in place is a futile effort because you as a lone individual usually can’t change an establishment fast enough to also benefit from the change. If your goal is to make it easier for the next generation that’s one thing, but if your goal is to change it and play in it at the same time, that’s almost sisyphean.

So the lesson here is that when you feel the rules of a system are working against you, one option is to stop working in the system altogether.  There is more than one way to do anything.

If you can’t raise venture capital as an entrepreneur perhaps because you feel decimated against or any other reason, then double-down on what you do have.  Changing the entire venture capital industry is hard, it’s not impossible but it’s likely not going to be a battle worth fighting if you need capital tomorrow.

If you have an idea for a product or company, bootstrap as far as you can. Do what you can to prove that customers are ready for that product.  If you still can’t convince investors to back you, then use that demand to partner with other businesses who can help you get your own to the next level. You never know, you might build a massive business without backing, in which case you’re in the best place to be.

But most importantly, don’t let the fact that the system wasn’t designed in your favor prevent you from trying at all. Not trying is not challenging and not being challenged is exactly what any establishment requires to preserve its status quo.

The (Bad) Advice You’ll get as a Minority Startup Founder

I’ve been in the tech startup ecosystem for around 8-years now and in that time I’ve sat through countless startup bootcamps and fireside sessions where successful entrepreneurs offer their sage advice to young,  novice entrepreneurs about how to get started, how to raise money, and how to succeed in tech. I always felt a little out of place that none of that advice applied to me or my experience.

There are many reasons for this I suppose. As a Black-American I represent less than 2% of the types of tech founders who get backed by VCs. I represent even less, of the norm of the founders who go on to exit.  Also, I didn’t go to an Ivy League school. In fact I didn’t even go a to a ‘real’ college. I went to an art school. I never finished. I never formally studied tech. I taught myself how to code on an IBM PS2 in rural Georgia in a single-parent household. I never considered a career in tech until I took the leap and just did it. I also, never took venture capital. Instead I bootstrapped myself through several business (Appfrica, MetaLayer, D8A) until I became an angel investor myself.

All the while, I was getting advice from startup accelerators and experienced entrepreneurs and couldn’t help but get the impression that my path was some how wrong or less than. It’s not that the advice they gave was completely wrong, it just needed contextualizing. My experiences were different, and often my goals were different than what I was told they were supposed to be. As a result, my story never quite matched that of the other people who were building companies beside me. Hopefully other founders out there, minority or not, will read this and know that it’s okay to follow a slightly different path. As I say on my Twitter page:

Here are some examples of some of the common advice you’ll get as a founder:

1

What they’ll tell you:  “If you need startup capital, do a friends and family round. Those closest to you will take a risk on you before anyone else will.”

What  you’ll say to yourself: “I’ve already tried that a dozen times. None of my friends and none of my family understand what I’m trying to do, much less have the money to invest, or the liquidity to invest and wait several years for a return.”

What I tell people now is that, yes, if you haven’t asked already you’ve got nothing to lose by going deep into your network to see if anyone has the capital to invest in your product or idea. So do it.

But don’t be discouraged if you come up empty handed. Your friends and family might not be able to give you capital but they can give you something: introductions to colleagues, a couch to sleep on if you can’t make rent, co-sign on a loan or rent application etc. If you know they don’t have the money, tweak the ask to be something they are able to comfortably give to support you.  Your friends and/or family do want to support you, but their own extenuating circumstances may prevent it from being cash.  Be flexible, let them help you.

2

What they’ll tell you:  “The best way to raise capital is to have rich friends.”

What  you’ll say to yourself: “Thanks for that advice. Unfortunately, everyone I know still ride the bus to work….and no, not the damn Google bus.”

This is also true. If you’ve got some rich friends who believe in you, problem solved.

However, in my experience even the wealthy friends, advisors, and mentors who I do know rarely invest in me. They’ve invested in other peers from different backgrounds and other ventures of different types but never mine. The only thing I can assume is that the things I work on aren’t as interesting, my pitch isn’t right, or my timing is bad. Whatever the case, there’s always a reason why I’m not not the best investment option for them.  You may feel the same, or you may have no rich friends (not surprisingly a common problem).

So double down on yourself and your ability to sell. Don’t rely on other people’s money if you don’t have to. I would argue, that there’s virtually no business idea under the sun you can’t get some traction on even if you lack capital.

What it will force you to do is get really good at ‘the lean startup’ model so popular these days. No product? Make the best web page that you can possibly make explaining what your product is going to do, with videos, a newsletter, a blog etc. Ramp up your company’s social media presence to try to build some credibility in the space. Form partnerships with potential customers or other companies who can help you get traction. There is an endless list of things that can be done to help you get more market validation, which you’ll need to have conversations with investors. I found, and what you may find, is that in doing all this you’ll find a quicker path to revenue than investment.

3

What they’ll tell you:  “There’s three types of companies. Lifestyle businesses, services business and product business. The only one investors are interested in at an early stage is the product business.”

What you’ll say to yourself: “What’s the difference? I just want to be able to pay myself every month.”

The implication in the above statement is that the only way to succeed is to raise capital from a VC who can guide you on the path to wealth and fame.

First, honestly if you want to be able to pay yourself every month — without any risk to the alternative — go get a job. By definition as an entrepreneur you’re taking a risk no one else has taken before, to validate a way of approaching the market no one has ever pursued before, to (hopefully) earn the types of returns others can only dream of.

Get used to failure and high-risk scenarios. Those are your two new best friends.

Second, success looks like different things to different people. Where I come from, being able to pay yourself doing your own thing is a huge accomplishment. In fact, it’s unprecedented. So a lifestyle business or a service business certainly meet the criteria of success for most people I grew up with. They key here is to know what your definition of success is and pursue that. Knowing what success is the key to knowing how to achieve it.

If you want to want to open a shop repairing computers, do graphic design and app development, or offer some other type of service. Do it. It will pay the bills. It will pay the rent. You’ll drive a nice car. But those aren’t typically the type of investment opportunities VCs are looking for, so don’t waste your time talking to them about such startups.

The reason VCs avoid these kinds of businesses is because they take much longer to grow, there’s usually no guaranteed recurring revenue, and to scale they need to hire more people at every level of growth. All of that accounts for thin margins usually due to high overhead. Subsequently when it comes time to exit, the multiples are much lower. It doesn’t mean those aren’t viable, lucrative businesses. It just means they aren’t what most VCs are after.

Those are services companies. Many of these are also lifestyle businesses, which simply means people do them to maintain a certain standard of living.

If you can build a business where you pay yourself $60,000 a year and have few employees would you be okay with that? $80,000? $120,000?  That’s all great – pay yourself and be happy. You didn’t ‘lose’ in the game of life because you built a company that can take care of yourself, your family, and your other responsibilities while paying yourself nicely and being your own boss. You won.

You may not be in the 1% of wealthy people, but you’re likely in the 10% of businesses that don’t fail within the first few years of launch. Shoot for that 1%. The 1% of businesses that survive more than three or four years, that have employees, and that are more or less your dream job. You won, you just won a different battle than the one the Angel Investors, VCs, and Startup Accelerators encourage you to fight.

4

What they’ll tell you:  “That’s bullshit! High-tech! Recurring revenue! GROWTH!!”

What you’ll say to yourself: “Okay, I’m in.”

If you are building a company that is meant to be high-growth, tech-first with low margins, recurring revenue and you want to fund it equity or debt then yes, now you’re on the same page as all the investors and accelerators.  Still, there is more than one way to ‘win’.

One is to do everything text book startup-style. Build a great product, get some traction, do an angel round, a seed round, Series A, Series B and so on until you Exit and retire on a yacht.

What no one tells you at the beginning is that there are so many variations to this ‘path’ its ridiculous. For instance:

You could become a ‘zombie’ company. Which means you get your first few rounds of institutional capital but then you are never able to find an exit. You’ve still got great revenue and great staff but all your investors money is still tied up in your business because maybe you’re still to small to sell or go public. Again, it depends on where you come from. Some people would kill for this as an opportunity. For others, it’s literally their worst nightmare.

– You could do an angel round and never get to Series A. What they call the ’Series A crunch’.

– You could ‘acqui-hire’ away yourself and your team. Essentially, selling the company on the cheap for guaranteed jobs at a bigger company.

For some people, each of these is a type of success, for others it’s not. Don’t mistake other’s people’s definition of success for your own. Know what works for you and fuck what a millionaire investor tells you because he’s playing a different game. To him success looks different. He’s spread his money around lots of high risk companies on the off chance one of them does IPO or exits with a huge multiple to make him even richer. He’s waiting for that and if you aren’t doing that, then yes, you are in fact wasting his time. But unless you take his money you’re not defined by his definition of success.

Ultimately, you don’t have to take anyone’s money. You can bootstrap. Some people will view that as a slow painful way to build a company. Again, for some people slow and painful is all we know. So that’s not actually a setback…it’s the default. Again, know your definition of success.

Bootstrapping will definitely cost you things, like the rate at which your company grows and being able to hang in certain circles. Other VC-backed startups will scoff at you as if your company doesn’t matter. You might not be on the conference circuit. You might struggle to get intros to high profile customers etc.

However, bootstrapping will afford you very different opportunities. You have the benefit of building the company you want to build your way. You can pay yourself whatever you can afford. You can grow however you want and you can always (if you still want to) take on VC money later.

This is basically what GitHub did. They built the company they wanted, their way, by bootstrapping and took on VC when they chose to it. They knew what their definition of success looked like and they crushed it.

5

What they’ll tell you:  “There’s a unique culture in Silicon Valley. Get into it. You should spend more time socializing with other founders and learning from them.”

What you’ll say to yourself: “You mean…assimilate?”

There’s a great post entitled “The next thing Silicon Valley needs to disrupt is its own culture” that I encourage you to read. It goes into this much more eloquently than I have time for here. 

Assimilating into a culture isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Sometimes it’s necessary.  However, don’t forget that your diversity and perspective is an asset. It’s an opportunity to see and do things in the tech space in ways few others may have considered. That might lead to new insights about customer segments, or just bringing something new to the table. People don’t know what they don’t know. By definition being the minority of a group means you’ve brought a number of things to the table that weren’t there before.

I fucking hate ping-pong. There, I said it.

That’s the kiss of death for the 40% of startups whose offices have fuse ball tables, arcade games, and ping-pong tables in each corner of their space. I’ll likely never be hired by any of those companies, or acquired by them. I’m just out because for them, ping-pong is a cultural value.

However, I’m still a founder. I still love tech and entrepreneurship as much as these guys. I’m still trying to create value out of nothing like them. I’m still going to do it. Culture doesn’t have to define us. It’s a tool to use to bond with different people, but it’s not the only way to bond.

So without compromising your own uniqueness, by all means associate with everyone in the tech ecosystem. But know that people rejecting you because of ‘cultural fit’ has very little to do with you and everything to do with them and their insecurity about something that has nothing to do with you.

It’s no different than being the last guy or girl to get picked for sports on the field or the person who never got invited to all the cool parties in high school. It may make you an outlier. For a while…but eventually there’s quite a few people who share the same reason for rejection and all of a sudden there’s a new culture that you’re a part of and someone else isn’t.  Funny how that works.

Beyond all this, what everyone will respect (if they don’t respect your culture) is success. Succeed your way. Let people respect that. Forget culture. You are a culture of one.

6

What they’ll tell you:  “Tech is a meritocracy. Stop worrying about being discriminated against.”

What you’ll say to yourself: “Are you serious.”

Yes. They are serious. This is because no matter what occurs in the world of tech it can be rationalized. Smart people are really good at convincing themselves they aren’t doing the same things less smart people do.

‘It’s not inequality. We just work harder and create more value than everyone else so we’re rewarded for it.’

‘It’s not sexism. Women just don’t like tech as much as guys do. They get discouraged too easily. They aren’t as focused.’

And so on.

The reality is, in Silicon Valley and the broader tech ecosystem that emulates it there are mostly good people, a few with a loose moral compass, and a few down right bad people (what compass?). It’s no different than any other random grouping of people in life. Some people are going to be dicks. Those people will discriminate.

You can’t worry about this. I’ll repeat it, stop worrying about being discriminated against in tech. No one can do anything about someone not liking, not trusting, or fearing you. Even if you forced them to hire everyone they have bias against. The fact of the matter is you’d still be discriminated against….only secretly. 

What you can do is focus. You need to do that any way as an entrepreneur. You can build a company that’s undeniably cool, undeniably valuable, and undeniably important. No one can take that from you even if they never invest in you, put you on a stage, or on the cover a magazine.  You will have still have done it and before long others will want to do what you did instead of what the other guys did.  

You’ll still win. You’ll just do it your way.