Monthly Archives: November 2016

Impostor syndrome

I was recently speaking with one of our entrepreneurs who shared that he feels like he’s in way over his head in managing his company. Basically, he communicated that he felt overwhelmed by all that the company needs to and not sufficiently qualified to get the company to do it.

There’s a common way to describe how he’s feeling. It’s called impostor syndrome. Wikipedia describes impostor syndrome as when “high-achieving individuals [are] marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and [live with] a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

The underlying feeling responsible for impostor syndrome is that of doubt regarding one’s abilities. And, like many feelings, it’s a double edged sword. If you experience too much of it, it can cripple you by preventing you from taking on challenges because you don’t believe in your ability to overcome these challenges. But not feeling any doubt about your abilities isn’t the solution. If you don’t doubt yourself every now and then, you’re unlikely to put in the hard work necessary to accomplish what you want to do. A healthy dose of insecurity is a great motivating factor.

So the problem isn’t whether you feel like an impostor every now and then. That’s outside of your control. The problem, if any, arises based on your interpretation of the feeling and the actions you take as a result. And those are within your control.

Specifically, do you use the inevitable moments of self doubt that you experience as excuses to back down from challenges or as fuel to work harder?

Hiring for the next year

Hiring can be very difficult for a startup. You’re competing for talent with established companies that have a stronger brand name and the resources to offer better financial terms than you. You can compensate for offering a lower base salary with an attractive equity package but whether that equity package will eventually amount to something is a question mark. The truth is that most startups fail.

You may be the rare exception to this. You may have achieved product market fit and may be experiencing breakout growth with a group of all star investors that make hiring easy for you. You may be the next Facebook (back in 2006) or Uber (back in 2011). If this is the case, you’ll have a good shot at hiring the exact candidates you want.

For most startups, this isn’t the case. You need to compromise on hiring the best person for the role because you don’t have the brand name and financial resources to do so. In these cases, I recommend hiring for the next year.

This means that you should hire people who will be able to properly fill their roles based on where you believe the company will be next year. Ideally you’d like to hire for 3-5 years out, but as discussed earlier, you’re unlikely to have this luxury. And hiring for right now is too shortsighted. If you don’t think that the hire is good enough to meet the demands which the role will require of them next year, this will be a costly hire. The up-front costs of hiring, integration, training, and eventual replacement are unlikely to justify the less than year long contribution that they make to the business.

Finding someone who already believes

If someone says they don’t believe in what you’re doing, what do you do? Do you spend your time trying to convince that person to believe, or do you try to find other people with a similar value proposition who already believe?

If you think that the person who said “no” has a stronger value proposition than the alternatives, you should probably try a few more times. That’s persistence and it’s a valuable trait.

However, if their value proposition isn’t that different, or if it is but you’re unable to change their mind after a few more tries, you’ll get a much higher return on your time by spending it trying to find people who already believe.

In other words, finding someone who already believes is easier than trying to change the mind of someone who doesn’t believe.

This is true not only for entrepreneurship but for many other walks of life.

Math, pattern recognition, and investing

Pattern recognition is essential to successful investing. Identifying which data points carry signal, which are noise, and assigning weights based on the predictive powers of those that carry signal while building a diversified portfolio that allows for the overall portfolio to succeed even if individual investments fail due to the incompleteness and incorrect assessments in your data set sit at the heart of investing.

And math is arguably the best subject to study if you want to develop your pattern recognition skills. Math is all about identifying patterns that link inputs to outputs. A mathematical equation is simply a pattern expressed in written form.

I think that a big part of why I enjoy investing is because of the underlying math and pattern recognition skills it involves.

Giving thanks

It’s Thanksgiving weekend in the US. I still remember my first Thanksgiving in Boston as an 18 year old undergraduate. Most of the local students left campus for their homes, most of the internationals stayed put, and we ended up having Thanksgiving dinner at the local gas station because we hadn’t prepared to have any food at home and all the restaurants were closed. It was quite the experience, and I was fortunate to be invited to the Thanksgiving dinners of my local friends on future Thanksgiving’s.

But setting that experience aside, I think that Thanksgiving is a very important day. I wish more countries set a day aside for people to think about all that they have to be grateful for.

When I was a kid, my father used to say that I should be grateful for more things in life. He was right. Although I still struggle to experience these moments of gratitude on a daily basis, I’m now aware of all that I have to be thankful for. Here are some of them:

  1. Being alive, with the ability to think and move. We take each of these for granted, but when you remember that you’re probably going to have the first for less than 80 years, and that not everyone who lives has the ability to think and move, you realize just how fortunate you are.
  2. A lively, fun, beautiful, and caring wife, who happens to also have been born on November 24th, this year’s Thanksgiving Day. She’s a reason for celebration and gratitude, all in one.
  3. Loving parents whose contributions to shaping my character I value more and more each day. As a kid, I didn’t think much of it. As I’ve grown older, I realize that the role of parents is to not only create opportunities for their child, but more importantly to help their child discover the values that they want to live by so as to pursue the opportunities that they find meaningful. My parents did a great job on the former, but it’s the latter where they really made a difference.
  4. A job that, even if I had nothing to do that day, I would end up doing anyways. And having found this job at such an early age.

I hope that each of you also have and are able to see the things that you’re grateful for in life.

Volt’s new round

Following the announcement of Modanisa’s and Mobilotoservis’ new rounds earlier this week, I apologize for sharing yet another funding announcement. However, several of our startups have been active fundraising and the announcement of their rounds came back to back.

Volt, an inner city ridesharing startup for Istanbul where we’re investors, recently announced a new funding round led by existing investor Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) with Saned Partners also participating.

Volt plans to use the round’s proceeds to attract passengers and attract and retain drivers on its marketplace. It will begin rolling out its promotional campaigns with these end goals in mind at the beginning of December.

We welcome MEVP’s follow-up and Saned Partners’ new investment in the company, and look forward to seeing more Volt rides on the streets of Istanbul from December onwards.

Don’t bring your existing investors or advisors to fundraising meetings

I recently met with an entrepreneur raising money for their startup. What was interesting about the meeting was that one of the startup’s investors also attended. This isn’t the first time that I’ve seen this happen, but it’s pretty rare.

When this happens, you naturally question why the investor is attending the meeting. And I can think of two possible reasons.

The first is that the entrepreneur and the investor agree that the investor will be able to better pitch, or at least add significant value to the pitch of the entrepreneur’s business. This isn’t a good sign. The startup’s success after the meeting will be determined by the entrepreneur who spends all their time working on the company, not the investor who sits in meetings and offers advice once every few weeks. So the entrepreneur needs to know their business and be able to communicate and motivate others to want to be part of it as employees, partners, or investors.

The second is that the existing investor has concerns about the intent of the potential new investor (for example, are they simply fishing for market knowledge?) and wants to be there to evaluate that intent and protect the entrepreneur as necessary. This is like having your dad walk you to school each day because you fear that other kids might bully you along the way. It doesn’t work because there will come a day when your dad isn’t able to walk you to school and even on the days that he does he’s going to have to leave you once you get to school. In other words, your investor won’t be there to participate in every fundraising meeting you have and fundraising meetings are just one example of the tens of contexts where you’re going to need to protect yourself. The only solution is to learn to protect yourself on your own.

Using a similar logic, fundraising advisors also shouldn’t participate in your fundraising meetings.

If your initial fundraising meetings are successful, you receive a term sheet, and begin to negotiate it, then investors or fundraising advisors should get involved. Although they don’t know your business as well as you do, they’ve seen and negotiated many more term sheets than you have. So getting their input makes sense once you reach this stage.

Mobilotoservis’ new round

Mobilotoservis, a car repair and maintenance service where we’re investors, recently completed a new funding round. The round was led by Nevzat Aydin, an existing investor and co-founder and CEO of food ordering marketplace Yemeksepeti.

The funding will be used to support Mobilotoservis’ recent Ankara expansion, as well as potential expansions into new cities in the future. It will also go towards MOSX, Mobilotoservis’ connected car hardware and software service whose devices will start being delivered in January 2017. I hope to write about this in more detail in a future post.

We congratulate the Mobilotoservis team on their strong execution and value Nevzat’s continued support of the company.

How to read

The internet has reduced the cost of distributing written content (as well as many other forms of content, but this post is about written content) to zero. The resulting explosion in written content means you can’t consume it all. You have to prioritize what you read and read what you do choose to read effectively. This post is about the latter.

There are two parts to reading effectively. The first is the speed at which you read and the second is what information you focus on when reading.

Conventional wisdom is that the faster you read the more effective you are. I partially disagree with this. Although you don’t want to read slowly, there’s a point after which reading faster simply results in not internalizing what you’re reading. For example, whenever I hear about someone who reads one or more non-fiction books a week, I think that they either have too much time on their hands or are reading so fast as to not understand what they’re reading.

So the speed at which you read should be fast enough to make progress while also being slow enough to understand what you’re reading. And this brings us to the second point. How do you define what’s slow enough to understand what you’re reading?

There are many levels of understanding. If you attempted to really understand all of the implications of everything you read, you would need to spend a lot of time thinking about what you read and, when necessary, researching external sources to better inform this understanding. This is not practical for everything that you read.

What is practical is to trust your intuition about the varying levels of importance of the information that you’re reading. Most of what you’ll read is information that you already know or information which helps build up to a key insight. What you really want to focus on is the key insight. Whenever your intuition tells you that you’ve hit on something very important, you need to spend as much time as necessary to really understand its implications. These are the moments that matter. They are the reason for reading in the first place and the rest of what you’re reading can wait.

So, to recap, I recommend reading fast enough to make progress and as slow as necessary to extract the full implications of the key information which your intuition identifies.

Modanisa’s new round

Modanisa, an online fashion retailer for conservative Muslim women where we’re investors, recently completed an approximately $2M bridge funding round led by Wamda Capital with participation from existing investor STC Ventures.

As Modanisa continues its fast global growth, Middle Eastern investors like Wamda and STC are valuable partners to better serve the company’s large and growing customer base throughout the Middle East.

Following Volt, Kapgel, and Insider, this also marks the fourth company where we’re fortunate to partner with Wamda.

We welcome Wamda’s new and STC’s follow-up investment in the company, and look forward to the next step’s in Modanisa’s global expansion.