A Different Way to Keep the Spirit of Christmas Alive
Yesterday was a unique Christmas, to say the least. Many people couldn’t get together with friends and family the way they usually do. There was a silver lining, though. I assume because they couldn’t do “Christmas as usual,” lots more people reached out to me than normally do at Christmas. I had some great phone conversations and FaceTime calls that I really enjoyed.
Christmas may be over, but we’re still in the holiday season. If you think about someone, reach out. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the gesture. Who doesn’t like being reminded that someone cares about them and is thinking of them? You never know: you might just make their day!
Investors May Value Your Industry Knowledge
I recently shared my thoughts on the value that investors offer aside from investing capital and the importance of founders building relationships with investors early. You want those relationships to be healthy, which I believe includes their being bidirectional. I discussed this in more depth with a founder and was asked how someone new to entrepreneurship can add value to a relationship with an experienced investor. It was a great question.
Founders often have deep knowledge in their space. They’re on the front lines, so they can spot trends and challenges before others are aware of them. They may notice that an early company is gaining traction before that becomes apparent to anyone outside the space. While it might not seem like it, all this industry knowledge can be valuable. Sharing it is a great way to add value to your relationships with investors.
Founders are constantly learning. (To build their company, they must.) Investors are too. They’re learning about new problems that they can help great founders solve. Helping investors (or anyone for that matter) learn about your space quickly can be a great way to build a bidirectional relationship.
Discord Is Filling My Community Gap
I few months ago I rejoined Discord. (I tested the platform years ago, but it didn’t resonate with me then.) Discord allows users with different interests to create communities on the platform. It offers a variety of features and ways for users to interact, but I mainly use the chatting. I was looking to get better at one of my hobbies by connecting with people I could learn from. I read about a private Discord server (i.e., community) and decided to check it out.
I got invited to the server and found what I was looking for and more. I was a novice among experts in this community. I was surprised by the amount of knowledge and information that was flowing freely. People were transparent and highly engaged in the conversations. Some even collaborated and pooled resources to solve really big problems, sharing their findings with the community. I now check it every day.
My experience got me wondering how many others were finding community through Discord. I dug a little and learned that Discord raised $100 million this summer at a $3.5 billion valuation. At the time, it was said to have 100 million active users (monthly, I’m assuming). The company was recently rumored to have 120 million monthly active users and to be finalizing another round of funding at a $7 billion valuation. I think it’s safe to assume that people are finding community there and investors are taking notice.
I shared my musings on rethinking and creating community the other day. I believe community is a big opportunity for 2021. Discord’s traction demonstrates that people are looking for community. The growth of this sector may change, but I think people will continue to seek new solutions to this problem.
Adding Value by Rethinking—or Creating—Community
Over the last decade, there’s been a tremendous amount of progress toward creating a sense of community in the tech scene. Physical spaces, accelerators, and programs provide it in many cities. I watched this evolution in Atlanta and personally benefited from it. Being part of this community changed the course of my founder journey and opened my eyes to lots of things.
Today, I connected with a founder who’s trying to build community in a nontech industry. He moved to Atlanta a few years ago. When he looked for people in his industry, he found that he couldn’t easily connect with people or find a space where they could work and learn from one another. I immediately understood his problem and his vision for solving it. He’s trying to create a community for people like him.
This entrepreneur is on to something, and I’m rooting for him. After our conversation, I realized there’s a larger opportunity to solve this problem in various sectors. The pandemic has changed and will probably continue to change how we work. And in so doing, it’s allowing us—in fact, compelling us—to rethink how we create community. After quarantining for months, people are actively looking for ways to be apart of a community in new and different ways.
In industries in which community existed, now’s the time to rethink it and shape the future of the sector. In industries lacking community even before the pandemic, now is a great time to fill that gap. I see a massive entrepreneurial opportunity to create value for others by creating community. That will mean different things in different sectors. I’ll be excited to see the various ways founders solve this problem and bring people together!
Google Supports Black Founders with $5M
Earlier this year, Google’s CEO expressed the company’s commitment to racial equity. One of the initiatives it created was the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund. The fund provides Black founders with a share of $5 million in non-dilutive cash awards (i.e., Google has no ownership interest in the recipient companies). The grants were for $50,000 to $100,000. Each founder will also receive hands-on support from Google to help grow their company. Here are a few Atlanta companies that received awards:
- Clubba – Virtual after-school clubs for kids ages 7 to 13 led by college-student counselors
- Countalytics – Computer vision and machine learning to help clients save money by managing inventory more efficiently
- Kommute – Video messaging platform that helps teams communicate, collaborate, and connect remotely using the power of instantly shareable video
- MantisEdu – Immersive high-tech learning activities for students
- Musicbuk – Virtual education marketplace that gives students access to trusted, vetted, professional musicians for one-on-one music lessons
The full list of companies, with founder contact info, can be found here.
Congratulations to all the founders who received awards. And kudos to Google for this initiative and the impact it will have on the community. I’m excited for these founders. The sky is the limit!
The Southeast Is Home
I previously shared my journey into venture capital. On that journey, I had an unexpected insight. As I was networking with venture capitalists on the coasts, I noticed a strong interest in Atlanta. Not just startups in Atlanta, but the city. I was peppered with questions about housing prices, social events, sports, schools, and the diversity of neighborhoods. I asked about their cities, too. Most of the people I chatted with were in coastal cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.
When I described Atlanta and the quality of life here, many people said something like “man, I wish.” I was surprised. Many of them (not all) didn’t necessarily see their current coastal city as their long-term home. The reasons varied, but the pattern was clear. My impression was that they’re where they are because these coastal cities provide the best professional opportunities in venture capital. Not because they feel like home.
Outlander Labs focuses on investing in founders who operate in the Southeast. We view the Southeast as a region with amazing talent and great founders. And something else, too: home. It’s a place where founders can have amazing entrepreneurial success and also the quality of life they want. It’s a place they see themselves being in for the long haul.
The Southeast has some great venture capitalists, but not nearly enough of them (as compared to the coasts). I hope that Outlander and other firms can lead by example and change this. Through our performance and our diverse team, I hope we can show that the Southeast offers not only amazing professional opportunities for all in venture capital, but also a place to call home!
More Digital Communities?
Last week I listened to an entrepreneur describe her vision for her startup. It’s an online community tailored to a specific group of people with a common passion. She created it because broader communities like Reddit can make certain groups of people feel uncomfortable. I don’t know much about the interest these people share, so I was surprised to learn that she has tens of thousands of active monthly users after launching in early 2019. That’s impressive growth in a short time.
Thinking about this conversation, I remembered the role that niche online forums and communities played for me in high school and college. I used message boards and forums to feed my automotive curiosity. I learned about new products and the best sources for them, which positioned me well for my first company (more of a side hustle, really). I used an online blog to crowdsource my transition to corporate America. I was passionate about things and wasn’t able to find like-minded people or enough information in my local community. These online communities helped fill those voids.
Niche digital communities have exploded since I was in high school, and one could argue they’ve become too important in our society because they contribute to keeping us on computers and away from human beings we know—or could know—in “real life.” The pandemic, another force that minimizes face-to-face contact, is undoubtedly enhancing the popularity of niche digital communities.
Putting philosophical quibbles aside, this expanding market presents an amazing opportunity. Entrepreneurs who take the time to deeply understand specific groups who are looking for their peeps could build wildly successful companies.