It’s hard to believe, but we are in Week 8 of the 12-week inaugural MergeLane program. We could not be more delighted with how things are going, and we could not be more appreciative of all of your support.
Here are the highlights numerically:
There is a strong commitment to acceleration along with a gratifying spirit of collaboration among our participants. Although it wasn’t required as part of our program, the teams decided to voluntarily return to Boulder for an additional mid-term week. Mapistry (pictured below) wanted to bring their two other team members, so they stuffed into a Hyundai Elantra and made the 18-hour drive each way.
We largely stopped noticing that our class comprised eight female CEOs during week two, but we have learned a range of valuable lessons about companies run by at least one woman.
First, we need not instill lessons on authenticity or humility. The frothy financing marketing and the new series of HBO’s show “Silicon Valley” seem to wash right over our participants. We are more convinced than ever that women tend to go in the other direction – toward understatement – and part of our work is helping them accurately represent versus underrepresent their success. My personal favorite example of this occurred in pitch practice last week. One team showed in a graph that they have progressed from having zero beta testing companies to ten during the program. What did they forget to mention? That all 10 beta companies are Fortune 500 or the equivalent. We gently suggested a slide with those 10 logos versus a bland line graph.
Second, our instincts on residential structure were correct. Our decision to require that companies spend only three weeks of the 12-week program in residency made a huge difference, both for our four in-state and four out-of-state companies. Our remote sessions are working. Engagement is happening. Some people like to ask us about whether the reduced residency requirement should matter. That is a moot point to us right now given our desire to attract the best female-led startups in the world. We will continue with this structure.
Third, we are happy with our move to structure our investments in two stages — $20,000 at the start of the program to all teams and up to $100,000 during or after the program at the mutual discretion of MergeLane and the team. We appreciate the chance to be with the founders before making an additional investment. This structure allows the founders to determine whether and how to raise a round post-program. We think it helps that in some cases we can serve as the lead investor for a round that kicks off during or after MergeLane. We have made two discretionary investments to date in Havenly and Tomboyx, and we look forward to fleshing out our further involvement with the other teams.
Last, so far we have not seen the limit to the support of our community for this effort.. Although this has been and continues to be a tremendous amount of work (next year will be easier, right?), the experience of launching and running MergeLane has felt in some ways effortless due to the willingness of a very broad fabric of leaders to jump in with us. Ninety-nine percent of our requests get answered with exuberant “yesses;” everyone over-delivers on their commitments; and we get daily offers from talented people who want to get involved.
As many of you know, we have decided to commit to running MergeLane for another two years and two classes of 10 companies. Our 2016 class begins on February 1st, and our application will open this year on September 1st. We will be scheduling informational events leading up to that date, and it is never too early to let us know about startups in your network with at least one female in leadership.
Our Demo Day is the morning of April 24th at the St. Julien in Boulder. To give young women and girls the experience we’ve been privileged to, we’re offering attendees a chance to “Take Your Daughter to Demo Day.” We will be opening tickets to the community shortly. If you want to join us and haven’t received an invite, please let us know by reply.
We have talked about declaring investment themes since our launch six years ago. Today we settled on one "anti-theme": Founders who dislike authentic feedback.
Rapid-fire explanations without curiosity or engagement often feel like dressed-up defensiveness. I’m not terribly game to build a relationship with someone who feels defensive from the start.
I’ve made a decision to take a break from speaking engagements that focus topically on women, women in startups, investing in women, women as leaders, and the rest. This includes events that may not be topically focused on women but are part of something called a “women’s track.” Here's why.
It has been a great few weeks for the MergeLane fund. When people ask us what our criteria are for investments, we always talk about team as the distant number one priority. I wanted to share this recent, wonderful interchange with TomboyX after a great week for them:
How the media (and more) judges emotion in leadership differently between men and women, and the costs of those judgments.
Dennis Adsit of Adsum Insights guest blogs about turning your one-on-ones from pedestrian checklist run-throughs to opportunities for connection and growth.