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Broadening the On-ramp for Women-run Companies

Shedding My Commitment to the Conventional Schedule

In the work that we do in Conscious Leadership and at Leadership Camp, we talk a lot about staying curious and questioning strongly held beliefs. One of my strongly held beliefs was that I would be more successful if I complied with what I perceived to be the conventional venture capitalist schedule - multiple back-to-back meetings each day with prospective and current investments, coupled with networking events and meetings over breakfast, lunch and dinner. For a lot of different reasons, this has never felt natural to me.

After many years of seeing this as a weakness to overcome, I have slowly been allowing myself to consider the opposite of my story. As just one example, my circadian rhythm causes me to hit an extreme wall around 5pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. My husband affectionately calls these “ETC. nights” (Elizabeth Tired and Crabby). Because some of the most interesting networking and social events tend to occur on etc. nights, I tried everything to change this. I repeatedly failed miserably.

I finally decided to allow myself to be curious. What would happen if I shifted my energy from willing myself to be energetic on etc. nights to finding opportunities during meeting times that naturally allow me to bring my full, energetic self. This worked beautifully. While it continues to be hard to pass on seemingly advantageous and fun Thursday night happy hours, I’ve closed many deals over a Friday morning breakfast, hike or powder day. I am healthier and happier, and my husband has found plenty of opportunities to leverage etc. nights for guys’ nights out.  

This year, I decided to go all in and do an experiment. Could I be more effective if I simply surrendered to a schedule that felt natural to me? After some serious self-reflection and experimentation, I can unequivocally say YES.

I believe this is working for me for three main reasons.

I am following my circadian rhythm which has dramatically increased my energy levels.

I am operating in my zone of genius more frequently.

I am focusing on my improving my strengths rather than mitigating my weaknesses.

In an effort to continue to operate this way, I’m going to say “YES” to opportunities that are aligned with these three things and “No, Thank You” to those that are not. To save myself and everyone in my universe time, I thought it might be helpful to share a bit about the full-body YES opportunities I am looking for.


What is inside my zone of genius?

I feel most in my zone of genius when I am doing two things:

Asking insightful, thought provoking questions. This is why I love being a venture capitalist. I also ask these types of questions when I am creating authentic connections with mentors and investors. This leads me to my second zone of genius:

Creating authentic connections with hard-to-access people in a way that is enjoyable and productive for all parties involved. I leverage extraordinary people’s under-utilized capital and time to make the world a better place in a way that facilitates an enhanced sense of purpose and fulfillment, and offers the opportunity to give without giving too much of oneself. I further initiatives in line with my passions and interests by creating fun and healthy ways to initiate and maintain these authentic connections.

I am especially in my genius, when I am active and outdoors. Skiing, hiking and walking meetings offer the opportunity to shed in-office distractions, and provide an added personal wellness incentive for a meeting. I almost always connect on a deeper level than I typically achieve in a 30- to 60-minute coffee meeting.

I leverage the work I do in my zone of genius to primarily to enhance our MergeLane portfolio, and mentor and investor network, but also have a knack for facilitating synergistic connections that make mentoring and investing in MergeLane mutually beneficial and impact my broader community. I host hikes, ski days and non-active events to introduce the extraordinary people in my network to each other. I also focus time on three synergistic initiatives, Fund81, Vail Women Elect and the Vail Investment Group. You can read more about those things here.

Given this and a few other personal circumstances, I am the happiest, healthiest and most effective when I spend the majority of my time in Vail and Boulder, Colorado focused on these priorities.


What kinds of meetings keep me in my zone of genius?

Ski meetings at Vail or Beaver Creek with potential and current MergeLane mentors, investors and portfolio companies and funds. I dedicate December - April almost exclusively to these ski meetings. Here’s why.

From late April to early December, I split my time between Boulder and Vail. During those months I most enjoy:

Coffee meetings in Boulder and Vail on Tuesdays between 11:00 am - 2:00 pm

Hiking or walking meetings in Boulder and Vail on Wednesdays between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm and on Thursdays between 10:00 am - 2:00 pm

Hiking, walking and coffee meetings in the Bay Area in November and May


Other ways I like to connect:

  • Startups: We love our first glance at an opportunity to be at a QuickPitch. It is our favorite format to get the first view of how founders and companies present themselves. It's also a great way for startups to get a feel for us.
  • Potential MergeLane Investors and Mentors: In addition to investing capital, MergeLane also connects our portfolio funds and startups to mentors and investors. I am also interested in connecting with potential MergeLane mentors and people interested in investing in startups. I most enjoy doing that in person in Boulder or Vail, or during one of my trips to the Bay area.
  • Fellow Venture Capitalists: I enjoy connecting with VCs by inviting them to join my virtual monthly Fund81 Forum and meeting them in person in Boulder or Vail, or during one of my trips to the Bay area.
  • Vail-based Interesting People: As I mentioned in my [previous post], I am also involved with Vail Women Elect and the Vail Investment Group. I enjoy inviting interesting people to join those events.


What do I wish I had more of?

I am always, always, always interested in learning more about startups and venture capital funds with at least one woman in leadership that meet our investment criteria. I, or someone on our team, can always make time to connect to learn more.

Specific requests from MergeLane mentors, investors and portfolio companies to leverage my network to support them. I am very good at identifying synergies within my network, but with 300 mentors and 41 portfolio companies, I miss some of those opportunities. I especially welcome emails that include a request to connect to a specific person and explain why the connection would be mutually beneficial to allow for easy double-opt in introductions.

Interesting recorded content from startups and funds seeking investment from MergeLane, and on the topic of Conscious Leadership. I love, love, love listening to podcasts and recorded content while I am driving, folding laundry, etc.

Opportunities to call on a whim. I keep a running list of calls I would like to make when I have unexpected time between meetings. I love it when people pursuing things in line with my priorities send me their phone number and ask me to call when I can.

 

What most keeps me out of my zone of genius?

Short-duration, first-connection meetings. While my partner at MergeLane, Sue Heilbronner, can create an authentic connection and deliver more value than anyone I have ever met in a five-minute meeting, short meetings with people I am meeting for the first time are not my strength. Sue is a better fit for short-format meetings. She hosts monthly QuickPitch sessions for startups and Booth events for a broader audience.

Lunch or coffee after my active meetings. Weather and chairlift-related delays make after-active meeting lunches and coffees hard to schedule. I also have a certain amount of computer work I like to do to stay on top of things. If I go to lunch or coffee after a hike or ski, I tend to lose the few late afternoon hours I can remain productive on my computer.

Evening meetings and events. I am healthiest and most productive if I wake up really early and work a few hours before I hit the trail or the slopes. That means that I tend to wake up between 3:00 am and 4:00 am. It works well for me, but it means that I tend to hit a serious wall mid afternoon and go to bed very early.

Mentoring. I receive a lot of requests to be a mentor, pitch coach, etc. I am more in my zone of genius as a connector and thought leader, so I typically don’t accept these requests. Fortunately, this work is solidly in my partner Sue Heilbronner’s zone of genius.

I realize as I am writing that sharing this is making me feel very vulnerable. Will people question my commitment to the lofty goals we’ve set at MergeLane? Am I going to miss out on some of the best opportunities? Are people going to think I am inflexible and uptight? These thoughts are a reminder that my Conscious Leadership personal journey will never stop, but I am actually excited by that.

A year ago, those voices in my head would have prevented me from writing this. Today, these words of wisdom are winning:

To thine own self be true.  

Do what makes you feel alive.

The most successful people don’t mitigate their weaknesses, they go all in on their strengths.  

And this quote from Steve Jobs:

“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”


I can’t wait to hear what voices will be winning next year.


Onward.


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