Kevin Colleran, Founder of Slow Ventures and one of Facebook’s first 10 employees, recently explained to Babson’s graduating Class of 2015 that it’s more beneficial to prepare than it is to plan.
Despite the tingling desire to anticipate our experiences, planning your life on an 8” by 11” blank sheet of paper is as productive as eating chocolate cake without the frosting. Translation: It doesn’t work. I’ve tried.
“Don’t try to plan for your own big opportunity, but instead make sure you are prepared and ready for when it comes. There is no way to make your dream job, or your dream business opportunity, materialize precisely when you’d like it to. But it IS possible to spend your time ensuring you’ll be able to make the very most of that opportunity when it does come your way,” Kevin shared.
The depth of Kevin’s insight didn’t fully hit me until a few days after I listened to his speech.
Preparation connects the dots of where you are now, how you got there and where you’re heading.
Scott Birnbaum, the Founder and Partner at Red Sea Ventures, is an acute crystallization of Kevin’s advice.
After graduating from Georgetown in 2001, Scott founded Epok, a cloud-based platform that streamlines sharing for law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Eight years later he earned his law degree, worked at a law firm, and then in digital media at CBS.
In addition to his active professional advancement, Scott’s extremely committed to Seeds of Peace; An international organization empowering children from conflicted areas to reframe global problems.
From the outside looking in, Scott’s current work making early stage investments at Red Sea Ventures appears far from a linear journey.
However, when you ask him, the answer is simple. It was all about the preparation.
As a founder, Scott quickly learned that he “enjoyed the deal more than the operating.”
A few years laters, he moonlighted as an angel investor. 10 deals in he couldn’t turn back. Red Sea Ventures was born.
Based in New York, Red Sea Ventures backs between 10 to 15 startups, such as Sweetgreen, Campus Job, and Nest, every year.
Here’s a glimpse of Scott’s typical day.
- 8:30 a.m.: Breakfast meeting with an operator who is a good fit for a portfolio company or is an expert in this quarter’s learning quest (Scott identifies a new subject area to study every quarter. This quarter it’s growth hacking.)
- 9:30 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.: Five to seven pitch meetings, time with the team to discuss upcoming deals, and administrative work for the fund including diligence activity before they sign the papers.
- 7:00 p.m.: Time with his 7-month old daughter, dinner with his wife and then back to work until 1 a.m., responding to as many emails as possible.
From helping with business development to forging partnerships, Scott’s an extremely active participant in his portfolio companies. He’s especially adamant about spending time on product and being the team’s “most rabid beta tester.”
“One of my biggest roles early on is being a really engaged passionate user who’s willing to kick the tires, give it a try and spend some time on it. It’s really hard to get even friends and family to do that type of thing,” he shared.
I want it to mean that they have gotten a level of support from a fairly small firm that’s punching way above it’s weight.
Having been a founder himself, Scott’s cognizant of the innumerable challenges founders face in the early days.
His advice? Don’t give up and don’t get pissed.
“It’s a numbers game. It’s about going and meeting with as many people as possible and continuing to hustle until you get somebody to care…Founders get upset in that process. Rather than getting upset, you should recognize that the product needs to resonate with the right partner,” he explained.
When you bring on money you’re bringing on a real partner. They have to care about what you’re building.
“Don’t turn someone into an enemy because they aren’t interested. Turn them into an ally. Try to engage them as someone who can give you constructive feedback and introduce you to other people to find the right partner,” he continued.
To learn more about Scott’s journey leading the team at Red Sea Ventures, including his most prized memory from his junior prom, tune into his episode of 33founders and follow him on Twitter here.
Here’s a glimpse of what we discuss:
- How Scott’s evolved as an investor
- Why he’s the ultimate beta tester for his portfolio companies
- How Red Sea Ventures punches above its weight
- The impact Seeds of Peace is making to solve global conflict