E2E: 20/20 Founders Corner

 ‘A-typical’ Entrepreneurial Journey with Darren Nix

Our motto is “for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs,” so we have created a series on the journeys of our founders. We know that not one journey is like the other. Therefore, here is another in our  ‘A-typical’ Entrepreneurial Journey series.

Founder Spotlight: Darren Nix, founder and president at Steadily

Steadily, was created by industry experts to offer landlords great insurance service and a compelling experience from quote request to claim resolution

*The conversation has been lightly edited with Darren’s approval*

Entrepreneurial Background and Expertise

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A pilot! I went through the whole process with the Air Force Academy then realized I couldn’t pass the vision requirement to land jets on aircraft carriers so I “pivoted” to my long standing backup plan — be an entrepreneur.  :/  I don’t think I really understood what that meant, but I’d drunk the Kool Aid after learning HTML so that I could build sites about my favorite game (Descent).

What was your “Aha moment” when you realized that you wanted (or more so needed) to start Steadily?

My house burned down. Well, a house that I had bought to rent out. I ended up having a $110,000 landlord insurance claim. After going through the journey of buying insurance several times and then having a huge claim, there was almost no way I couldn’t start Steadily.

What is one nugget of advice that has impacted you as a founder that you would share with others looking to start their entrepreneurial career?

“Make vicodin not vitamins.” I think Twilio epitomizes this. I’d been programming Asterisk servers to do telephony and SMS going back to 2006, so the first time I heard about Twilio my reaction was “shut up and take my money.” I think we all aspire for our companies to get that reaction from prospective users.

Describe a day in the life of Darren–as typical as one can get for a founder of a startup. What two skills, in your opinion, are necessary to make it through each day successfully?

Two skills: A. Focus and B. Systems to make A possible

A day in my life:

  • Wake up around 7; read HackerNews in bed while my brain’s warming up
  • 7:20 grab the first of ~six Diet Cokes of the day, a cup of granola, and a Chocolate muscle milk (don’t judge me!)
  • Log on around 7:40
  • 7:40 to ~8: Process my inbox (a system I adopted after reading this blog post). TLDR: get to inbox zero in 10 minutes by archiving, starring for later reading, or 1-line responding to 100% of inbox messages.
  • 8am-11am: zone in on a big chunk of focus work e.g. code or writing a long doc
  • 11am: 15-minute team standup
  • 11am-3pm: a bunch of 30 minute meetings scheduled back-back thanks to Calendly with a mix of:
    • Interviews: 40%
    • Partners/vendors/sales: 30%
    • Team: 20%
    • Future investors: 10%
  • 3-4pm: respond to ~half the emails I’ve starred throughout the day for later response
  • 4pm-5:30pm: semi-focused work
  • 5:30-6pm: A half-hour run with or without dog depending on day of the week
  • 6-7pm Dinner with girlfriend
  • 7-9:30 big chunk of focus work round 2
  • 9:30-11: wind down / veg
  • 11: get in bed
  • Some time between 11-12: actually fall to sleep
Speed Round!

If you could share a beer, glass of wine, soda with any person (dead or alive) who would it be and briefly why?

Mid-level merchant in London circa 1650.  I’m fascinated by the dawn of the enterprise, insurance, modern commerce, and capitalism.  One of my favorite fiction trilogies is the Baroque Cycle, which is set in this era.

Are you a “Breakfast of Champions” type? Or do you live on coffee and fumes until lunch?

Eh… I don’t think anyone would consider my dietary choices to be that of a champion, but I definitely eat breakfast every day.

Favorite business book

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. It explains why people do the things they do in ways that are directly applicable to designing products.

Your life is pretty busy running a company. What do you like to do in your free time?

Play games… physical and virtual. We play a ton of Terraforming Mars. I can’t wait to play Cyberpunk 2077.  I also usually ride ~50 miles a week on my bike and run ~15-20.

Why do you think Austin city is a great place to start a company?

Austin is the Goldilocks of cities 🙂 A well-rounded mix of the ingredients that make a great startup home: talent, size, weather, nature, cost, tech density.


Thank you to Darren for taking the time to share his story with Next Coast Ventures.

E2E: 20/20

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E2E: 20/20

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E2E: 20/20 Founders Corner

 ‘A-typical’ Entrepreneurial Journey with Colin Anawaty

Our motto is “for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs,” so we have created a series on the journeys of our founders. We know that not one journey is like the other. Therefore, here is another in our  ‘A-typical’ Entrepreneurial Journey series.

Founder Spotlight: Colin Anawaty, co-founder and CPO at First Dollar

First Dollar is the first human-centric health care savings platform, helping people save for out-of-pocket expenses and find great health care for a fair price.

*The conversation has been lightly edited with Colin’s approval*

Entrepreneurial Background and Expertise

What did you want to be when you grew up?

It’s cliche but from childhood lemonade stands, to selling MP3 CDs, to building early corporate websites, I had always had this strain of entrepreneurship. My parents brought home an IBM-clone as a kid, and it didn’t take long before I was neck deep in programming books. What started as a hobby led to an opportunity to get into a web development company in the heyday of the late-90’s. From there, software and technology became the keystone in my career. Even though they are very hard, I’ve come to appreciate the unique way that startups satisfy an unquenchable thirst to research, explore, and build new things.

What was your “Aha moment” when you realized that you wanted (or more so needed) to start First Dollar?

When my co-founder Jason Bornhorst and I first got into healthcare, we were foolish but hungry. We didn’t know head fromtails except that the consumer experience sucked. Now having spent seven years in bowels of healthcare in what’s called Revenue Cycle Management, which is a fancy word for describing the complex process for how providers get paid for taking care of you, we knew there had to be a better way that gave consumers more choice and more convenience, while also rewarding them for prioritizing their care. If you take care of yourself, you shouldn’t be overspending in insurance; you should be putting it away for retirement when you’re going to naturally have health care issues later in life. The average American will spend more than $300,000 on healthcare expenditures.

So when we thought about that problem and we thought about the solution, it turns out that the ten-year-old HSA, or Healthcare Savings Account, is a great vehicle to help give the right consumer the proper incentives to do what’s best for them, as opposed to again overpaying on health insurance. 

What is one nugget of advice that has impacted you as a founder that you would share with others looking to start their entrepreneurial career?

The most obvious, the most misunderstood, and probably the hardest to master are the value of focus and the value of simplicity. It becomes very critical, especially in the early days when you initially start and at the inflection point when you start to scale up and begin hiring rapidly. Most stumbles, especially in Enterprise, are created by internal misalignment. As a leader, it’s critical to understand your customer and their problem and be able to assemble that in a very simple, clear, and defensible strategy. If the strategy is verbose and overly complex, it’s typically a reflection that you do not understand it well enough. Even if you do but you can’t communicate it, then it will be reflected in your team’s inability to execute with the speed and precision leaders want to see.

Describe a day in the life of Colin–as typical as one can get for a founder of a startup. What two skills, in your opinion, are necessary to make it through each day successfully?

It’s funny you bring that up because I’m a huge believer in the value of time management and developing a process of repetition. It’s my way of filtering all of the noise that you’re going to get as a startup. Repetition allows for optimization and therefore benefits time management. You have more time as you’re able to do things better and faster. With all of that said, as a first-time father, I’m relearning the art of work-life balance and reprioritizing what’s important in life.

During my day-to-day, I’ve always been a morning person, usually starting at 5am, sometimes as early as 4am, and this aligns well with what I need out of life. Those early mornings, when the rest of the world is sleeping, allow me to put in extra undisrupted time typically demanded of our role while preserving the time in the evenings for my family and decompression. 

Speed Round!

If you could share a beer, glass of wine, soda with any person (dead or alive) who would it be and briefly why

Steve Jobs–The question I’d like to know is for as much as he accomplished changing consumer’s lives through technology, why did he not do the same through philanthropy? 

Are you a “Breakfast of Champions” type? Or do you live on coffee and fumes until lunch? 

Weekday? Coffee, yogurt, maybe a light bagel–but definitely lots of coffee. Weekend? Classic American breakfast–biscuits and gravy, eggs, bacon, potato pancakes. 

Favorite business book? 

As a sign of the times, I would recommend the CEO’s Guide to Restoring the American Dream. It talks about how to deliver world class healthcare at half the cost.

Your life is pretty busy running a company. What do you like to do in your free time? 

Family time and learning what it means to be a dad. It’s super fun and rewarding. Also the outdoors–water in the summer, woods in the winter. I also play the piano and the guitar. While concerts have been cancelled, it certainly helps balance all the thoughts I have to just sit down and play some music. And then I’m still a nerd so I tinker around the house with my Raspberry Pi and home automation.

Why do you think Austin city is a great place to start a company?

It’s simple– Talent, quality of life, and a business-friendly state. Texas has a great ecosystem and has three if not four of the biggest cities, so why not put at least a core office here?


Thank you to Colin for taking the time to share his story with Next Coast Ventures.

E2E: 20/20

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E2E: 20/20

How to Accidentally F*ck Up Your Career Every Day!

E2E: 20/20 Founder Spotlight

‘A-typical’ Entrepreneurial Journey with Sam Lucas

Our motto is “for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs,” so we have created a series on the journeys of our founders. We know that not one journey is like the other. Therefore, here is another in our  ‘A-typical’ Entrepreneurial Journey series.

Founder Spotlight:  Sam Lucas, co-founder and CEO at Special Project

Special Project is a platform for independent creators and studios to launch their own direct-to-fan, subscription streaming service

*The conversation has been lightly edited with Sam’s approval*

Entrepreneurial Background and Expertise

What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was young, I wanted to be a music producer. Very soon after, though, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. The people who I looked up to and aspired to be as a child were all entrepreneurs. I didn’t know what, when, how, where, but I knew I wanted to work for myself and have the autonomy and the creativity that comes with entrepreneurship. You could argue that all music producers are in fact entrepreneurs, but I found that my talent and passion is more so in business operations — supporting and leading teams of people far more creative than I.

What was your “Aha moment” when you realized that you wanted (or more so needed) to start Special Project?

I had started businesses since I was a teenager, whether it was a dog walking business or an e-commerce clothing brand. Then during my senior year of college, I co-founded Triple Tree Software, which was a custom software engineering firm. After four years of building custom software platforms for venture-backed companies, my business partner and I had two clients ask us to build custom video on-demand platforms. 

After building two of those over two years and then having a handful of other businesses ask us to do the exact same thing, we experienced our “a-ha moment”. It was pretty straight forward. We had two companies pay us a very meaningful sum of money to build the same thing. Our customers gave us the idea.

What is one nugget of advice that has impacted you as a founder that you would share with others looking to start their entrepreneurial career?

Part of the greatest joy of being an entrepreneur is moving through all of the unknowns. With that, though, comes friction, approaching a challenge and then working through it. That’s the joy–you break [being a founder] down and it’s solving problems.

In the startup world specifically, nobody has any idea what they’re doing. No one has the answers. You are starting something brand new, experiencing challenges you have yet to experience. You’ll experience those moments of feeling stuck, feeling like you’re not good enough, feeling like you don’t know what to do next, but as long as you focus on constant improvement, curiosity, and trying your best to learn faster than everyone else, you’ll always come out ahead. It’s a very important mindset for any entrepreneur at any stage of foundership. If you’re not breaking new ground and finding solutions to new problems, then you’re not pushing yourself, your business, or your team hard enough.

Describe a day in the life of Sam–as typical as one can get for a founder of a startup. What two skills, in your opinion, are necessary to make it through each day successfully?

Everyday is different. My days have also changed after moving from being a founder of a service-based business to a product-based business. At a high-level, in the mornings, it’s coffee, emails, and internal meetings. After that, I take a walk to break up the day and have lunch. I’ll often take the long way around the block and listen to music to clear my head. In the afternoon, I attend customer meetings and meet with people outside of my internal team. Post work consists of an outdoor activity like mountain biking or hiking, dinner, and then working for a couple more hours in the evening from home, whether that’s reading, thinking, or planning. I consider plain “thinking” while somewhere in the mountains to be some of my most meaningful work. 

What two skills, in your opinion, are necessary to make it through each day successfully? Service to product based business.

You hear CEOs of really big companies saying “I only need to make one or two decisions a day to be successful,” but in the startup world, you don’t have the resources or operational infrastructure to routinely think at that level. I’d say the most important thing for startup founders is to very clearly be able to spend your brain power making a handful of micro decisions and then coming all the way up to the top as a visionary and leader of your business to make those longer term, macro decisions as well. You can easily get trapped in one or the other and that’s dangerous. You need to be able to go up and down the vertical of your business routinely and quickly.

Speed Round!

If you could share a beer, glass of wine, soda with any person (dead or alive) who would it be and briefly why

Kanye West from the early 2000s, back when he was actually a creative genius–everything from music production to live performances to apparel and business. Kanye was really pushing the genre of music as he went from his Graduation album into 808s and Heartbreaks and then discovering and growing a record label of diverse acts such as Kid Cudi. Kanye West was very inspirational to me growing up as a risk-taker and a futuristic thinker, breaking norms and always reinventing himself every few years. 

Are you a “Breakfast of Champions” type? Or do you live on coffee and fumes until lunch? 

I’m definitely a three cups of coffee guy. I usually make drip coffee at my house, then I stop at Wild Joe*s which is on Main St. across from our office and say hello to a few familiar faces there. I don’t usually eat breakfast, though. I’m more just lunch and dinner.

Favorite business book? 

The 4-Hour Workweek was the first book that really had me thinking differently about business and the idea that working hard doesn’t always produce results but working smarter does. Granted, if that’s the first business book you ever read, you’ll be inspired but you won’t know how to actually take tactics out of there. Thereafter, the book Zero to One was very pivotal in thinking that true innovation isn’t going from one to two but actually going from nothing to something. That idea of nothing to something also changed the way I approach product development. It’s not easy to truly be innovative. 

Your life is pretty busy running a company. What do you like to do in your free time? 

I live in Bozeman, Montana and have been here for my adult life. It’s fall right now so I’m an avid hunter, then come winter I’m a very avid skier both backcountry and at the resorts. In the summer and spring, I’m mountain biking, fishing, or boating on a lake.

Why do you think Austin city is a great place to start a company?

First and foremost Bozeman’s quality of life is incredible. You can’t beat it, which brings in a lot of physically and emotionally healthy individuals. More than anything, they’re happy people. Successful individuals from the coasts are actually moving to Bozeman because of this great quality of life. Early on in my career, I was able to network in Bozeman and build networks in Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco, LA, and New York all from Bozeman, simply because of that influx of tourism and people from the coasts looking to get away.

Second, I would say Bozeman is great in terms of the entrepreneurial community. It’s very tight-nit. Everyone supports each other. Also, Montana State University is here in Bozeman. It’s an exceptional university producing very highly talented business students and software engineers, so the talent pool is constantly being filled by MSU.

Those pieces together make it pretty exceptional. But we try not to tell just anyone 😉 


Sam and his experience in Bozeman is a perfect example of the value of the ‘Next Coast’ markets. We are glad you could get to know Sam not only on a professional level but also a personal one. We’re looking forward to hearing about your entrepreneurial journey someday! 

Thank you to Sam for taking the time to share his story with Next Coast Ventures.

E2E: 20/20

Just DON’T Do It: Five Reasons NOT to become an entrepreneur

E2E: ATXnology

Quarterly Dose of ATXnology

E2E: 20/20 Founders Corner

‘A-Typical’ Entrepreneurial Journey Series with Vivian Chu

Our motto is built for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs, so we wanted to create a series on the entrepreneurial journey–and we thought what better way to do that than interviewing our  portfolio companies’ founders and asking them to share their own paths to entrepreneurship.

We know that not one journey is like the other. Therefore, here is the first in our series on the  ‘A-typical’ Entrepreneurial Journey. As you get to know our founders on both a professional and personal level, we hope you can learn something along the way.


Founder Spotlight: Vivian Chu, co-founder and CTO at Diligent Robotics

Diligent Robotics is an Austin-based A.I. company that creates robot assistants that help people with their chores so they can focus on the work they care most about.

*The conversation has been lightly edited with Vivian’s approval*

Entrepreneurial Background and Expertise

What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you know you were going to be a founder? 

I had no idea. It’s funny, I think growing up I remember having dreams, like I’m going to be a basketball star, right? Then closer to college and being more realistic about life, I realized since both of my parents are software engineers, I’m probably going to be a software engineer.

I grew up in the Bay Area, so there was always this notion of Silicon Valley and startups, that was in the back of my mind. When I was in grad school, I started taking engineering entrepreneurship classes for the first time and started to understand what that looks like. I didn’t think about it growing up, but as I got through college and grad school [being a founder] started to come up as a possibility.

What was your “aha moment” where you realized that you wanted (or more so needed) to start Diligent Robotics?

It was good that I took those classes to be able to understand “What is a startup? What does it mean to raise money?” Granted, theory and reality are so different, but when it came to my ‘aha moment,’ I was actually debating on whether to go into academia and becoming a professor or going down the [entrepreneurship] route. Both are actually similarly difficult.You start a lab like you start a company–you need to find money, build the team, etc.. But in academia you write a paper about how there’s impact coming… you go and try to get everyone to read your paper. That’s the way you can have impact and eventually that might make it out into the world, but I wanted to see that change happen sooner. That’s what really solidified my career path decision for me.

A lot of my decision also had to do with the technology because it was ready to be useful. Over the last 5-10 years, the hardware costs have gone down, and we started to use the tools that we’ve built to do other research. 

It was the combination of wanting to see impact sooner, thetechnology and realizing that there just wasn’t a company out there doing the healthcare robotics impact that I was looking for and writing about. So my co-founder  Andrea Thomaz and I were both like “Let’s go do this. Let’s go do the impact that we keep writing about in our papers. Let’s go find an actual need.” We started with hundreds and hundreds of hours of shadowing and interviews to really get into the healthcare space and realized that it’s a place where robotics and technology today can make a huge difference.

What is one nugget of advice that has impacted you as a founder that you would share with others looking to start their entrepreneurial career? 

Being a founder is hard because your job is essentially to do a job well enough such that you’re going to hire the expert that will do what you did better. It’s a very humbling experience because you have to sit back and be like “Well this is great, we’ve gotten to the point where we can hire someone to do this…and now they’re coming in and doing it ten times better.” It’s awesome to see but it’s also a little demoralizing–but that’s okay. It’s also the mark of success as a founder–to hire and build around you. As a result, future founders pay attention to what is the thing that is your superpower and your expertise and hold onto that part because a lot of the other parts aren’t going to be it.

Describe a day in the life of Vivian–as typical as one can get for a founder of a startup. 

It’s a lot of meetings. It’s changed a lot as the company’s grown, though. In the beginning it was a lot of working really, really closely with a team, elbow to elbow, programming things, getting things to work. Now it’s been meetings–tons of back to back meetings because it’s all about communication and vision. The hard part is that you have to say things again and again for people to really continue to march toward that vision. 

The biggest impact I can have is that every single person who’s building the product is building the same thing. As a startup, you have one shot. You can’t build it and be like “oops”–you have to go for it. My day to day is really about getting everyone on the same page, conveying vision, and thinking how to synthesize that information really quickly.

What two skills, in your opinion, are necessary to make it through each day successfully?

One I think is context switching–the ability to just jump from thing to thing. If you can’t do that well, it’s going to be a struggle because it’s hard to find dedicated time. Most of my team starts at 9 or 10am so then I get up at 7 or 8am to get an hour or two of dedicated time, but that’s about it.

The second one in all honesty is resilience. You’re going to fail, you’re going to mess up–literally the definition of a startup. No one’s done it before. There is no playbook, so you have to be willing to have those rough days  and then get back up.


Personal Speed Round!

If you could share a beer, glass of wine, soda with any person (dead or alive) who would it be and briefly why?

Maybe Bill Gates–His career has been super interesting and he’s also done so much for humanity aside from the technology he has built.

Are you a “Breakfast of Champions” type? Or do you live on coffee and fumes until lunch? 

Pre pandemic, I was definitely more ‘make a quick protein shake in the morning and go’. I definitely need breakfast though. I’m like, “I’m starving and I can’t think!” Nowadays I just have a bowl of cereal or oatmeal, and then protein powder to keep me full until noon.

Favorite business book: 

The most recent book I’ve read is Making of a Manager. It talks about all the things they don’t teach you when becoming a manager–going through the ups and downs, the fears. 

Your life is pretty busy running a company. What do you like to do in your free time? 

Pre pandemic I would go kayaking or go to Austin’s archery club, but more it’s just playing video games now. 

Why do you think Austin city is a great place to start a company? 

We’re a super deep tech-focused company. Austin is great for a few reasons. One, we have access to great talent with UT Austin right there. They have a robotics program and strong engineering disciplines. The other thing is probably cost in all honesty. Your money value goes further here [compared to Silicon Valley]. In all honesty, it’s still small enough to do fun activities and it’s convenient. Also commutes aren’t as crazy as compared to some other cities.


We are glad you could get to know Vivian not only on a professional level but also a personal one. We’re looking forward to hearing about your entrepreneurial journey someday! 

Thank you to Vivian for taking the time to share her story with Next Coast Ventures.

E2E: News

Join Us in Welcoming Anthony Walker to NCV as a Principal

Today we are proud to announce that we are adding Anthony Walker to the team as a Principal!

As you can see from Anthony’s background described below, he is a great addition to Next Coast Ventures’ expanding team. In short, Anthony has amazing experience, brings a deep investment perspective and is a “hard working, get stuff done” professional. Just like the entrepreneurs we back, Anthony has the “glass eater” mindset and truly understands what it takes for a business to become successful. 

The Next Coast Ventures tagline is:

“Built for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs.”

This means that everyone on our investment team has seen what it takes – the ups and the downs that come with being an entrepreneur. Anthony has witnessed this from both sides of the table, from researching and investing in public companies to starting his own business. It is rare to find someone with Anthony’s professional experience, who understands company building from such a broad perspective. We are thrilled to have him on our team!

“I have spent my career analyzing and investing in companies, and through my own entrepreneurial endeavors, have seen first-hand what it takes to build and scale a business. I know how important it is to have the right team supporting you, and I believe that Next Coast Ventures has assembled a talented group of professionals capable of adding value to the enterprises in which we invest. The firm’s company building approach and investment thesis focused on ‘Next Coast’ markets is differentiated and really attracted me to it. However, what solidified my decision to join Next Coast was hearing first hand from entrepreneurs in the portfolio about the focus, discipline and hard work the entire team brings to help them grow and scale their businesses. 

-Anthony Walker

Anthony is going to be an integral member of our deal team, joining Zaz Floreani as a fellow Principal at Next Coast Ventures. He will help execute our strategy with a focus on sourcing entrepreneurs and identifying investment prospects in markets outside the coasts. Anthony will also support our portfolio companies by providing advice and introductions to potential hires, investors, customers and strategic partnerships. As a fellow entrepreneur and longtime investor, he is uniquely qualified to support our founders and help them scale great companies.

On a personal note, Anthony grew up in the Midwest and officially moved to Texas in 2017. Anthony, his wife and their (almost) 2-year-old daughter will be relocating to Austin from the Houston area. An avid sports fan, Anthony enjoys basketball, golf and snowboarding – when he is not chasing his young daughter around! Finally, and equally important, Anthony has a wicked dry sense of humor, superb intellect and is an all around great person!  We are excited to have him on our team and hope you will join us in welcoming him and his family to the Austin ecosystem.  

Please join us in welcoming Anthony to Next Coast Ventures!

About Anthony

Walker comes to Next Coast Ventures as former Vice President of Global Investment Research at Goldman Sachs. While at Goldman, Anthony was responsible for conducting in-depth company analysis and valuation work to drive investment recommendations for stocks. In 2018, Walker also co-founded Ellisen Inc., a web-based platform designed to help startups better recruit and retain diverse talent.

Prior to his roles at Goldman Sachs and Ellisen, Walker worked as a senior investment professional at Gideon Asset Management and Citadel where he managed hedge fund portfolios of between $300 million and $600 million focused on the Industrials sector. He also served as Vice President, Research and Investment Committee Member at Ariel Investments (managing the firm’s investments in the energy sector), and Assistant Vice President of Equity Research at Barclays Capital (formerly Lehman Brothers). Walker graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in Economics and Political Science and went on to receive his MBA at The University of Chicago – Booth School of Business.

Follow Anthony on Twitter and LinkedIn!


E2E: 20/20 Founders Corner

The Future of DeathTech: Interview with Adelle Archer, CEO and Founder of Eterneva


Introducing Two New Investment Themes 

As a follow-up to our July blog post introducing our Themes 2.0, we want to more formally share our thoughts on our two “newest” themes: Communities, Not Social Networks, and Self-Care Hacking. In many ways, these themes are not new to us but rather are evolutionary in nature given past themes and various investments. But this is the first time we have put pen to paper to explicitly and publicly share our investment theses around them. 

So bear with us as they might sound somewhat abstract at first, but we will inject some color into the picture. 

Introducing Communities > Social Networks

It’s been well documented that due to rising concerns about personal privacy and mental health, coupled with “friend” and “like” fatigue, users are questioning, cutting back, and even deactivating from broad-based social networks. At a high level, they are experiencing diminishing returns both personally and professionally from time spent on the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn. 

We are already beginning to see consumers flock to and even pay for access to new digital communities emerging around specific conversations or purposes e.g. Peloton, Patreon, Peanut, (the alliteration is accidental). When it comes to personal and professional passions, consumers want more than a network or a product — they want to be part of the communities of people that share that common interest or life stage. 

We have been investing in startups over the years in which the community plays an underlying role in their solution — from TrustRadius’ avid community of professionals who review software solutions to Special Project’s community of independent creators and fans who are looking to take back control of their medium and engagement. As users search not only for connection but also a deeper network and belonging, we are looking to meet entrepreneurs who are building both the discrete opportunities for these communities to unite and the infrastructure to power these communities.

How we think about Self-care vs Healthcare

No one needs another blog post on the ever-increasing expenditure on healthcare in the US or on the fact that most of that spending is coming directly from consumers’ pockets. We can all agree that not only are the costs of healthcare going up but also the convenience and speed are decreasing, resulting in lower patient satisfaction and, ultimately, health. Hence we are seeing a new type of patient emerge — one that wants to be more informed, is more cost-conscious and more open to alternative modes of care than ever.  

According to a 2018 report (IE, PRE COVID!!) from IRI on self-care, 47% of millennials and 41% of Gen Xers make every effort to avoid visiting the doctor. Furthermore, digitally native and skeptical of the traditional health system, younger generations are more open to different modes of care delivery. This is a trend that ties into another well-reported theme of the “consumerization” and “Uber-ization” of healthcare. Essentially, patients expect to be able to research, read reviews on, receive, and pay for care digitally just like they can for other large purchases such as cars, insurance, and homes. 

And COVID only accelerated consumers’ desires to hack their care. Whether it be at-home diagnostics tests or virtual pharmacy consultations, if it saves consumers time and money, is tailored to them, and informs them, they are open to adopting.

Everlywell, Galileo, and First Dollar are excellent examples of current portfolio companies that fit this investment theme, developing new routes of care delivery and innovative financial solutions that help consumers hack their self-care. 

We are interested in innovative solutions that enable consumers to take control of their self-care. Solutions that save patients time and money, deliver personalized insights, and are customer-centric are winners of the ultimate self-care hack.


E2E: 20/20

How to persist through unprecedented leadership challenges (without losing your mind in the process)

Note: This blog was originally published in CEOWORLD Magazine.

The zoom meeting with a few of my junior team members started out just fine. As fine as it can be when you are on Zoom meeting number 11th (or was it 12th?) of the day. Then it happened. Three of my four kids burst into my home office, excited to show me an art project. I struggled and failed to hit mute. My wife had interrupted my previous meeting not 20 minutes earlier, so I was admittedly already on edge. As I yelled at them to get out and quiet down, all in front of my understandably horrified employee, I couldn’t help thinking to myself: Am I being a terrible dad or a terrible business leader? In that moment, it felt like I was failing at both.

Business leadership is hard in the best of times. But right now might be the toughest time to run, and especially to launch, a successful company.

Not only are CEOs contending with all of the usual C-suite responsibilities, but now there’s also a global pandemic, the pressures of managing a newly distributed workforce and a significant dose of social upheaval thrown in the mix. We are living out scenarios never covered in business school or considered in even the most thorough business plans. Virtually overnight, many leaders had to learn how to implement extreme health and safety measures, as well as how to support employee engagement and performance remotely for the very first time, all while struggling to acclimate themselves to a new work-from-home setup.

This situation has been overwhelming and stressful for everyone. There will always be something that comes from out of nowhere to knock you off course. But a leader’s job is to ensure her business continues to run on all cylinders no matter what — even in the middle of a global health crisis, a struggling economy or a period of societal unrest. Right now leaders are getting “all of the above” and are being asked to do more with little time to figure it all out. How can leaders meet the challenges of the present moment and continue leading confidently through adversity?

When everything feels uncertain and out of control, the one thing you can control is between your ears. Some call it grit. Some call it stubbornness. I prefer simply persistence. A persistent mindset is the only thing that will keep your head above water despite the deluge around you. It will allow you to remain focused and keep plugging away at your business goals no matter what. But it won’t happen overnight — it takes daily practice and dedication.

Here are five simple ways to develop a persistent leadership mindset:

Prioritize self care

Many professionals may have hoped the recent shift to remote work would offer a little more flexibility. Goodbye commute, hello work-life balance. I’ll finally crack that novel I’ve been meaning to read. I’ll even be able to play with my kids more often. Except, that didn’t really happen. In fact, a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that, in the aftermath of stay-at-home orders, workdays grew by 48.5 minutes and the number of meetings increased by 13 percent. We’re actually taking on more work and more stress, not less.

That’s why prioritizing self care is more important now than ever. Whether you enjoy meditation, running, reading, writing in a journal — whatever energizes and refreshes you, set aside time in your busy day just for you. You have my full permission to be selfish right now, not only for your own good, but for the benefit of your family and your team. Self care is imperative to your ability to persist and succeed as a leader.

Utilize Your Time Wisely

If you feel like time has no meaning lately, you’re not alone. The disruption to our regular routines has been warping our sense of time. Days blur into one another until, before you know it, an entire quarter has passed. But if it feels like each workday is really getting away from you lately, maybe it is. Are you being thoughtful about how you utilize your time? Here are a few things I recommend:

Use a simple “Eisenhower Matrix” to break down your priorities and separate what’s important, what can wait and what you need to completely remove from your plate.
Reevaluate your relationship with Zoom. (It’s not you, it’s me.) Not everything has to be a video conference. Sometimes a simple email or voice call will do just fine.
Put down your phone and step away from your laptop. Choose a time of day (4pm? 6pm? 8pm?) to disconnect from work and reconnect with yourself and your family.
Even though the lines between your career and personal life are blurring, you don’t have to be “on” all the time. Be purposeful and mindful with your time instead of allowing yourself to become overscheduled and maxed out.

Re-set Your Expectations, ASAP

I think we’d all love to flip a switch and poof: no more global pandemic. Then we’d have college football and movies again, and we’d all get to go back to work. That’s secretly what we’re hoping for, right? But here’s the thing: none of that stuff is happening any time soon. We’re not going back to normal. The sooner you can embrace this new reality, the better.

To persevere as a leader amidst chaos and adversity, it’s critical to reset your expectations as quickly as possible. The tide has already changed. You can either remain stagnant and let the water cover your head, or shift your mindset, start kicking and live to see another day. The most successful leaders will skip ahead, and do it fast. Fast forward your mind to get to the new reality, rather than hoping for a return to normalcy. That’s how you continue moving forward.

Equip Your Team to Persevere

Rarely has compassionate leadership been more essential than it is today. We’re all going through similar difficulties (or our own private hell, depending on who you ask). People everywhere are overworked, striving for balance and experiencing social withdrawal. Some employees might be dealing with health issues, while those with young children are massively stressed about the future of their children’s education, a burden that didn’t exist six months ago. If your team is crashing and burning, it’s tough to remain resilient as a leader.

Recognize what your people are going through and provide them with the extra support they require during this tumultuous time. In addition to approaching your interactions with greater empathy and compassion, create a framework within your organization that addresses these issues. Host open discussions about self-care strategies where team members can share ideas and discuss their own experiences. Go the extra mile to provide any sense of normalcy or connection, such as virtual team lunches, games or happy hours. Allow more flexible work schedules or perks for employees that continue meeting performance goals. In short, just give people a break.

Keep it All in Perspective

There’s a tendency in business leadership to speak in war analogies or in terms that imply “do or die” consequences. While business or financial outcomes might occasionally seem like the end of the world, the good news is, they are decidedly not. And thankfully, regardless of how serious a business issue may appear, it probably isn’t a matter of life or death.

A key leadership discipline is the ability to maintain a grounded perspective about what’s truly at stake while others are declaring the sky is falling. Yes, COVID-19 has real stakes. Yes, you should be focused and driven by performance goals. Yes, you should strive to ensure your company survives. But if you can keep a more realistic, pragmatic perspective, it will have a significant impact on your ability to remain calm and balanced in high-stress situations, and ensure your team stays that way too. At the end of the day, there are more important things than hitting your quarterly targets.

Business leadership is a marathon, not a sprint. There will always be unforeseen challenges ahead. You can’t control that — but you can control your mindset. Making self care a priority – and giving yourself and your team a break – is more important than ever. A persistent mindset will give you endurance when you need it most and allow you to power on past any obstacles.

E2E: News

NCV expands the ‘Next Coast’ reach as former Ultimate Software CEO Adam Rogers joins our Entrepreneurs Council

We are thrilled to be partnering with successful entrepreneur Adam Rogers as he joins our Entrepreneurs Council. Since day one, NCV has been ‘built by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs’ and the Entrepreneurs Council is a direct result of that mission. Our Entrepreneurs Council is made up of carefully chosen experts, with a wide array of entrepreneurial backgrounds and industry verticals, all sharing one thing in common: they are all thought leaders and pillars of the entrepreneurial community. As a member of the Council, Adam will provide invaluable experience to our portfolio companies and will help us expand our footprint in ‘Next Coast’ markets.

Adam is the former CTO and CEO of the leading global provider of cloud-based human capital management (HCM), Ultimate Software (Nasdaq: ULTI). Rogers joined Ultimate in 1997 as its first intern but quickly became an integral part of growing the company. As CTO, Adam and his team created the first enterprise SaaS solution, UltiPro, an award-winning HCM product with exciting new advancements like AI, Machine Learning, predictive and prescriptive analytics, Natural Language Processing, and mobile technologies. As CEO, he helped Ultimate Software scale to over $1.4B in revenue and guided an $11B take-private deal by Hellman & Friedman as well as a $22B merger one year later. In his last year as CEO, Ultimate Software was ranked #2 on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For.

From our Managing Director and co-Founder Mike Smerklo:

“Having the opportunity to leverage Adam’s deep technical, product development, engineering management and go-to-market experience at scale will be extremely useful to our entrepreneurs. Adam is another example of an incredible caliber of resource that we are able to offer to our portfolio company leadership.”

From our Managing Director and co-Founder Tom Ball:

“Adam has successfully scaled a massive business in Florida. His career experience and having graduated from the University of Florida, give Adam deep connections in the technology community in the state and other Next Coast markets. Adam strengthens our ability to source great entrepreneurs outside the traditional technology markets, and we are very excited to work with him to identify and invest in great entrepreneurs in Next Coast markets.”

The Entrepreneurs Council is augmented by our Entrepreneurs Fund, which consists of approximately 150 entrepreneurs and executives who are invested in building companies in Next Coast markets. Together, the NCV Entrepreneurs Council and Entrepreneurs Fund provide a tremendous network of advisors and resources for our entrepreneurs.

Welcome to the team, Adam!

E2E: Scale


Note: This blog was originally published by Julian Castelli on Growth Scaling.  


Why hitting the most important customer “nerve” is the key to sales velocity.

The other day I was speaking with the growth team at an exciting SaaS company. The Company had the best product of its kind in the market. In fact they had just been declared the best product by a leading industry source – woohoo! Yet, sales velocity was good but not great…

After discussing all sorts of potential reasons, I suggested that maybe they hadn’t yet “nailed the value prop”. This drew all sorts of eye-rolling and sighs by the team. “How could that be possible? We have over a hundred happy customers! Just look at our pipeline and how it is growing! Look at these names!”

While I wasn’t trying to create a controversy, nor downplay any of the Company’s achievements, I knew that there was a difference between the success this Company was having and what it feels like when you are “In the Zone” with a great Value Proposition that is crushing it. Being in the Zone is also referred to as having great Product Market Fit. When you are in theZone, you are like Michael Jordan who just knows he can sink any shot or make any play – just give me the ball!. For a SaaS company you just know that you can close almost any deal or train any good sales rep to beat quota consistently. Confidence in these capabilities is exactly what allows SaaS companies to scale growth predictably and efficiently. This attracts VC money like bees to flowers– just give me the money! – which of course provides those companies with more resources to grow even faster and improve their products to the point where it just doesn’t seem fair. That is why you have to get into the Zone and do everything you can to stay there!

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to experience what it feels like to be In the Zone. Our team got there by selling money. In fact, we called it selling the missing $1million. I recently caught up with Michael de la Torre, our CRO, who led the effort to get there and coined the term Selling the Missing Million to recap what we did differently.

“Our historical approach was to either lead with our demo or talk about what we could do for them. This approach did not get us anywhere because no one wanted to hear about what we did. But once we discovered their biggest pain point and then reframed our entire pitch around having a discussion about that pain point, our sales took off. For our customers, it was about revenue growth. An extra million in revenues would mean much more margin in their pocket and it would mean the difference between barely scraping by and a massive windfall. In other words, another million dollars at the margin meant everything. So we recrafted our pitch to reliably get to that point. We crafted our whole selling motion around engaging them in a conversation about current revenues and current approaches to revenue growth – occupancy, daily rate, and other key revenue components – and then we would use those numbers, their numbers, to frame a strategy where we could help them find their ‘missing million’. We would often transition our conversation by saying ‘based on what you’ve told me, it seems like you are missing a million dollars’. The response almost always cycled quickly from confusion, to interest, to excitement, to action. The ‘missing million’ completely changed the tone and energy of the customer conversation, and we sold many deals without even demoing our software. Once we understood the true nerve, and we crafted a pitch that could reliably hit that nerve, we almost always won the deal.”

Steps to Finding Your Pitch

Are you selling your product features or are you selling to their biggest, and often unarticulated, need? Here are some tips to help you discover your “Missing Million” value prop.

  • Deep Customer Knowledge: It is not enough to define an ideal customer profile and personas. You really need to know what keeps your customer up at night. What are their most important problems that they encounter every day? What challenges do they encounter trying to solve them today? Is it revenue? Is it cost? Is it risk? Is it peace of mind? Is it quality? Is it scaling for growth? Or it could be some combination of all of the above. If you can solve one of these problems you have a chance at reliably hitting that nerve. At LeisureLink, we hired industry SMEs versus traditional sales reps, because they could easily have the simple conversation with the customer that reliably and inevitably uncovered the ‘missing million’!
  • Iterate and Test Like Crazy: You are not likely to get it right the first or second or even the third time! It will take time, and lots of “at bats.” Make sure your team is trying multiple approaches and you are listening for what works. Weekly sales debriefs and learning sessions are critical to uncovering what may work. Remember, many to many conversations are exponentially more efficient than one to one coaching sessions, where great ideas may be missed or not connected to other discoveries to form the critical hypotheses! In other words, design your sales and marketing process to optimize discovery!
  • First Things First: Don’t lock in your website messaging right away and then waste a year or two pitching a message that doesn’t resonate. You need to nail the value prop first, then support it across all of your messaging channels. Keep things relatively light and malleable until you have nailed it for sure. And keep iterating!
  • Avoid the Rocks: Just because the customer wants to talk about something doesn’t mean that is the right path to closing. Recognize and ID the rocks, indulge them shortly if customers bring them up, and then have the courage to “reframe” the conversation to whatever value proposition is closest to selling money in your world.
  • Nail the Re-Frame: Reframing takes courage and skill. It can’t be done clumsily or it will feel awkward. You need to know enough about the customer and her pains/needs that you can lead the conversation towards solving them. Even better if you can get them to realize how to solve their problem using the socratic method! Then they’ll “ask you for the money!

I am a Venture Partner with Next Coast Ventures and COO/CFO at Voxpopme. I spend my time helping technology companies scale the Growth Mountain.

E2E: News

NCV and DivInc Team up to Enhance Access to the Venture Capital Ecosystem for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs

Today, we are excited to announce our partnership with DivInc, an organization that is transforming the entrepreneurial ecosystem into a more authentically inclusive environment. Since 2016, DivInc has been dedicated to helping underrepresented founders build successful businesses. It has provided more than 70 founders and 64 tech and tech-enabled companies with strategies and  resources to help grow their businesses.

What do we hope to achieve from this relationship? Our shared goal is centered around remaining focused on the needs of underrepresented founders as we work to expand access to venture capital funding. During our discussions with the DivInc team, it became clear that Next Coast could best be of service to these founders by providing mentorship, support and onramps for these early-stage founders with the longer term goal that they become part of our potential investment pipeline.

Next Coast Ventures’ partnership with DivInc has three core programs: (1) financial support to DivInc, (2) sustained three month, 1:1 mentorships designed to help founders achieve specific, identified strategic objectives and milestones, and (3) access to the firm’s network to assist with fundraising, recruitment and strategic introductions.

As a firm, Next Coast Ventures is committed to expanding both access to venture capital funding and opportunities for diverse entrepreneurs to participate fully in the venture capital ecosystem. Both Next Coast Ventures’ general partners, Michael Smerklo and Thomas Ball, will be founding mentors. They will be joined by our COO Jonathan Kaplan, Zaz Floreani, a Principal at the firm, and Entrepreneurs Council member Julian Castelli.

Next Coast Ventures was founded on taking our own entrepreneurial and operational experience and leveraging it to support founders and teams. That’s why our tagline is “built for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs.” To that end, we look to make a positive impact from our work with founders in DivInc’s program, and importantly, to learn from their expertise and their lived experiences. That work will be complemented by feedback from the DivInc team themselves –Preston, Monica, Brooke and the DivInc Board of Directors– ensuring a feedback loop about how to make this collaboration more impactful for the participating entrepreneurs.

Our partnership with DivInc is one important part of the actions we are taking as a firm to address diversity, equity and inclusion. We were proud to sign the Diversity Pledge in 2019 and the Austin tech community open letter earlier this year. We could not think of a better team than DivInc to partner with to expand our DEI efforts. We encourage you to visit DivInc’s website to learn more about their tremendous work.

E2E: News

Welcoming Cotter Cunningham as an NCV Entrepreneur in Residence

We are excited to announce Cotter Cunningham is joining NCV as our newest Entrepreneur in Residence today. Cotter is an entrepreneur and CEO with a great track record of developing and leading technology and consumer businesses. His most recent success was as Founder, CEO & Chairman at RetailMeNot. Cotter’s background is very much in sync with the NCV themes and early stage investment strategy.

NCV’s co-founder Thomas Ball has worked with Cotter for the last 10+ years, where he was the first investor and board member at RetailMeNot and remained on the board through the IPO until the subsequent take private transaction. In addition, when we were starting NCV, Cotter was nice enough to let us camp out in his office and use his conference room (and look the other way when we sneaked some of the great snacks and other perqs they had at RMN).  Since the founding of NCV, Cotter has been an advisor and mentor to a number of entrepreneurs we have backed, a co-investor in a number of companies we have invested in, and an investor in NCV I and NCV II. In addition he has been a very active member of our Entrepreneurs Council which he will remain on.

Cotter was previously the founder and CEO of RetailMeNot, Inc., a leading savings destination. Cunningham raised nearly $300 million from investors including JP Morgan, Austin Ventures, GV (Google Ventures), Norwest Venture Partners and IVP. He grew RetailMeNot organically and through numerous acquisitions from a startup to a publicly-traded company (NASDAQ: SALE) with approximately $300 million in revenue and 600 employees in the U.S. and EU. In 2017, RetailMeNot sold to a subsidiary of MacAndrew & Forbes. After the sale, Cunningham remained Chairman of RetailMeNot and served as Managing Partner of MacAndrews & Forbes’ Ventures, actively evaluating technology initiatives and potential investments.

We are thrilled to have Cotter as part of the team and start exploring new consumer internet opportunities as the next step in his storied career. Given his background and broad skill set, we are hopeful this results in a successful investment in a startup company where he comes up with the next RetailMeNot idea or it could be a page from the playbook of RetailMeNot where he ends up acquiring a business and rapidly scaling it.

“I’ve watched from the start when Mike and Tom showed up in my office and showed me the first investor pitch for NCV,” states Cotter. “I’ve had a front row seat the whole time watching them build the best VC firm in Austin and the Next Coast and been able to be a part of their ‘Built by Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs’ culture and philosophy. I’m excited to be able to continue our relationship and work together to build a great company together.”

Welcome to NCV Cotter!

E2E: 20/20

Why We Invest in Themes, Not Sectors

For decades, the question, “What type of work are you in?” had a straightforward answer. Most people did a specific job for a business in a defined industry. If you started a business on your own, it was in a particular sector, like travel, or food, or retail. Business investors followed the same path. The old venture capital model focused on sectors. The Wall Street Journal still tracks investment by sector, dating back almost 30 years.

But we’re in a very different world today. The best ideas aren’t confined to a single sector, but instead are disruptive across multiple industries. That’s why our approach to investing doesn’t focus on sectors. We focus on themes.

Thematic investing has been around for a while, and we can’t claim any credit for its creation. The Foundry Group published a great post on what thematic investing is and why they do it back in 2008. At Next Coast Ventures, we have followed that model and began our firm with seven themes that we focused on for our first fund (NCV I).

As innovation is not static, we are continually reevaluating our themes and on the lookout for new ones. This requires us to do deep research, to regularly consult experts across industries on specific emerging technologies and to monitor how a theme grows in strength and depth or dissipates. Markets change, new technology appears and society goes through big transformations—sometimes in just a few months.

Some Themes Persist

When we published our first set of investing themes four years ago, we felt confident that we had identified themes that we knew a lot about and in which smart entrepreneurs would be looking to shake things up.

And many of those themes have persisted. Take, for instance, our original theme of the Future of Work 2.0. This theme embodies both emerging trends and technologies. At the time we settled on it, we recognized that remote workforces were going to become more prevalent and the advent of technologies like 5G and VR/AR would support a gradual move to more remote teams. Little did we know then that a global health crisis like CV-19 would accelerate the trend to remote work and solutions like video conferencing would be adopted en mass overnight. It is fair to say now that remote work is here to stay in this new operating environment and there will likely be a second generation of tools to support distributed workforces.

Retail Retold is another theme that stands as a good example of how this approach works in the face of rapid change. When we first put it forth, we primarily saw two forces changing the retail industry: Amazon’s aggressive market share taking machine and the rise of a digitally native generation with major buying power.

One of the first innovative solutions to those forces that many VCs  (including Next Coast Ventures) invested in was the “Direct to Consumer Brand.” EverlyWell and Phlur are two examples of companies rethinking the brick and mortar model and go-to-market strategy in two very different industries: medical testing and natural beauty.

We will continue to see startups creating new solutions related to these two forces (Amazon’s market dominance and digital natives), but also new trends emerge, very likely around the retail supply chain due to increased pressure from CV-19, unique customer acquisition models given rising CAC on traditional social channels, and improved personalization of the consumer experience. The shopping experience is evolving quickly, and all aspects of a consumer journey—from discovery to purchase— continue to be ripe for disruption.

Finding New Themes

Our ongoing evaluation of themes means that our list will inevitably change. These last three months have given us the opportunity to finally take a deeper dive into a few new themes that we have been noodling on, but have never put pen to paper on.

So stay tuned for Part II of our “Thematic Investing” blog series to find out what new themes we see emerging due to macro moves in technology and society.

E2E: News

Returning to Work in a COVID-19 World

COVID-19 has brought about changes in the workplace that no one was expecting, from a nearly 100% shift to remote work to a barrage of Zoom employee social events. With the initial shock of work from home coming to an end, the next phase of navigating COVID-19 for many founders is the decision of whether and how to return their teams to the workplace. Founders are asking themselves a host of questions: When is it appropriate to have employees return to the office? What procedures, tools, etc do they need to put in place to monitor employee health and safety? What sorts of changes to facilities are needed?

Earlier this week we held a Portfolio2Portfolio working session for our founders on the topic of Returning to Work. Panelists from five of our portfolio companies that have solutions relevant to returning to work spoke to senior executives of other Next Coast Ventures portfolio companies. The panelists not only discussed their products’ value propositions to assist other firms returning to work, but also their own company’s adjustments to COVID-19, and future plans for returning to the office. We wanted to share some key takeaways from the founders and executives’ discussion on returning to work.

Key Takeaways

  • Most companies on the panel are not planning on returning to their offices until August at the earliest.
  • Employee sentiment is a key driver of most companies’ return to work plans. All founders felt it is critical to communicate with employees and understand their preferences and needs when designing a return-to-work plan.
  • COVID-19 has created challenges for management teams, such as maintaining company culture and hiring new team members. At the same time some teams had found that committing to being fully remote opened up new opportunities such as complete geographic flexibility in hiring, and therefore potentially a pathway to recruiting a more diverse workforce.
  • Software platforms can facilitate return-to-work planning and office utilization, including scheduling of utilization of particular work spaces and which employees can be present in an office on a particular day. Companies may benefit from this new generation of tools, including the ones offered by our portfolio company Swivel.

EverlyWell: Julia Cheek, Founder & CEO

After becoming the first digital health startup authorized by the FDA to offer an at-home COVID-19 test collection kit last month, EverlyWell has rolled out an enterprise COVID-19 testing solution to help businesses offer employees and family members safe and private at-home testing.

AlertMedia: Brian Cruver, Founder and CEO

AlertMedia enables companies to communicate across channels during crises and urgent situations, such as a pandemic, with employees. Their solution is a great tool for immediate communication related to COVID-19 such as threat monitoring, wellness checks, operational coordination, safety tips, and more.

Ceresa: Anna Robinson, Founder and CEO

Ceresa is meeting the virtual training needs of enterprise talent by providing a nine-month virtual leadership development program that includes executive coaching and external mentorships. Ceresa helps companies keep and grow the best talent by democratizing access to development training, 100% virtual and at scale.

Swivel: Scott Harmon, Co-Founder and CEO

Swivel is reimagining the office leasing experience. With the ability to represent properties virtually, Swivel can allow companies to tour office spaces online, toggle layout and furniture options and ask the leasing team questions. It continues to develop innovative technology powering agile property leasing, as well as flexible office layouts that are appropriate for the new normal of COVID 19.

Enboarder: Jacquelyn De Bonville, Customer Success Director

As an experience-driven onboarding platform, Enboarder helps companies onboard and offboard employees virtually, keep employees safe and informed, and prepares them for blended work, all while maintaining an important human connection.

During these unprecedented times, everyone is learning as they go. Having discussions and learning from others about navigating this pandemic is an important piece in developing a return to work plan for your company.

Thanks to all of our panelists for participating in this strategy session and sharing their insights.


Back to School: 15 Classes Every Entrepreneur Should Take

Now that summer is almost over and everybody’s going back to school, we decided to take a look back at the undergraduate and MBA courses that helped shape our worldview as entrepreneurs. Once we started reflecting on these courses, we realized that they’re not the typical core classes you’d expect – so we reached out to our portfolio CEOs to ask what helped shape them as entrepreneurs and CEOs. Here’s what they had to say:

The Unexpected

“I would say that the Music Theory taught me that there are lots of ways to get from C to G, and some of them can be dissonant, but they still get your there. Most of them have already been done. If you want to be successful in music, you need to rearrange the notes in such a way as to be sound good to most people, but if you really want to be successful you might need to arrange them in a way that no one has done before.” – Dave Hendricks, Co-Founder and CEO of SeriesX

“History. History is littered with cautionary tales of blowhards and megalomaniacs and how they stumble and fall. Learn early how to check your ego at the door early.” – Whitney Casey, Co-founder and CEO of Finery

“I took a class on Design Thinking at the Engineering School even though I was an English major. The class was focused on customer research, finding bright spots, five ‘why’ exercises and the ‘textbook’ included chapters from Dan & Chip Heath’s Why Things Stick, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and case studies from companies Pixar and Oxo. One weekend we did a workshop with two IDEO employees on student issues on campus like cafeteria waste, Greek rushing and dorm living. It’s the only class where I still read the textbook.” – Lisa Flynn, Co-founder Rosso & Flynn

Importance of Sales

“By far the most underrepresented topic in business academia is sales, and sales is so important to scaling a business. I was fortunate enough to have taken a class that focused on sales in business school. I believe it was called: Building and Managing Professional Sales Organizations. I would highly recommend seeking either academic or practical/real world experience in this discipline as part of the education process.” – Lucas Braun, CEO of OnRamp

“Every university and MBA program has entrepreneurship classes now and those are all great. Each functional area class (finance, accounting, marketing, etc.) all serve good roles for laying a foundation of knowledge. There are all kinds of other classes like negotiations, etc. that are also great. I’d say one of the best trainings to be an entrepreneur is a sales job and not many universities even offer a class on this topic, so if they offer one, definitely take it.” – Tom Ball, Co-founder and Managing Director of Next Coast Ventures

Understanding People and What Motivates Them

“I’m very glad I focused a lot of my MBA work on organizational design and other HR-related courses. I never really understood how important is to fully understand what is motivating employees and how best to thing about organizational design, compensation and how power and politics come into play.” – Michael Smerklo, Co-founder and Managing Director of Next Coast Ventures

“I really enjoyed the leaderships classes. The hard skills that you learn in the core classes (accounting, finance, marketing, operations) were table stakes in my opinion. Leading People and Organizations was the best leadership class I took. It talked about personal motivators and motivating people around you. Another great class was Creativity and Leadership. The professor just called it ‘Happiness Class’ but the administration didn’t approve that as the official title for a business school course. The class covered the drivers of personal happiness in both life and a career. Super important for an entrepreneurial career that can be isolating at times.” – Ricky Garcia, Senior Associate at Next Coast Ventures

Outside the Classroom

“Funny, as an undergrad I wanted to be either an architect or a filmmaker, and studied both at USC…but didn’t take any classes related to entrepreneurship. Then, as an MBA at UT, I was on the corporate finance/energy finance track …and again didn’t take any classes related to entrepreneurship (and ended up at Enron!). I’ve learned by doing. By starting, operating, investing, advising and closely observing a few dozen startups over two decades – and most of it hasn’t been pretty. I wonder if the money spent on my MBA had instead been invested in a portfolio of early stage deals in Austin at the time — what would that be worth?” – Brian Cruver, Founder and CEO of AlertMedia

“Supplementing my courses with learning outside of the classroom proved to be the best thing I did, including a fellowship at a local VC firm.” – Ricky Garcia, Senior Associate at Next Coast Ventures

Core Curriculum

“Undergrad: Business Communications – taught me how to talk about business in various contexts (e.g. internal meetings, client meetings, PR, interviews, public speaking etc). During my graduate studies: Strategic Marketing – learned a ton well beyond marketing and more about overall business strategy via case studies; learned good frameworks for evaluating businesses and forming future strategies to grow.” – Richard Jalichandra, Founder and CEO of 101 Commerce

“The one class that sticks out was Jim Nolen’s Small Business Finance class, which offered real-world glimpses into real Austin businesses, and covered valuation extensively. Also, my financial modeling class (heavy Excel with uncertainty/probability of outcomes added in) has remained useful/critical.” – Brian Cruver, Founder and CEO of AlertMedia

“My best MBA class was Technology Strategy.” – Manuel Rosso, Co-founder and CEO of Rosso & Flynn

Hit the Books

“A book I read in business school really sticks out to me – The Goal – a great book about how processes can help or hurt and how important is to get everyone on the same page. A book I am glad I read before becoming a CEO – High Output Management by Andy Grove. Ben Horowitz made all early employees at Loudcloud read it and it was best book on management I have ever read. I think every business school should teach it.” – Michael Smerklo, Co-founder and Managing Director of Next Coast Ventures

“At HBS I took Founders’ Dilemmas taught by Noah Wasserman, it is a great class and a wonderful book.” – Julia Cheek, Founder and CEO of EverlyWell