Italics Awards 2013

I emceed the 2nd edition of the Italics Awards on 9/16/13. I was asked to speak about why I think Boston is great and why the award winners were so deserving. Bob Mason also encouraged me ahead of time to issue a call to action to everyone in attendance, so I did that as well. These are the notes from the talk I gave to kick-off the program that evening.

Really excited to be here. I’m a huge fan of Aaron O’Hearn and Startup Institute. As much as I appreciate them giving out awards tonight, they should be getting one themselves!

There are so many awards programs:

  • most celebrate what people have done in the past, 
  • but one of the driving forces of entrepreneurship is optimism, so an award that celebrates the future makes so much sense. 
  • The Italics Awards are all about pattern recognition. 
  • They focus on the people who are doing the things today that will make all of us successful in the future.
  • I love that.

The longer I’m around entrepreneurs, the more I realize that much of entrepreneurial success is about having MOJO, 

  • it’s about having the confidence to apply leverage, 
  • and to even understand when you have that leverage in the first place. 
  • Reid Hoffman often quotes Archimedes when he’s advising entrepreneurs: 
  • "Give me a lever big enough and a place to stand, and I can move the world."
  • Being an entrepreneur is about finding that lever and using it to 
    • move big objects, 
    • to manipulate the status quo, 
    • to change markets, 
    • and to create value out of seemingly nothing.
  • Now, that’s MOJO.

Tonight we are at a place where we can say that Boston has MOJO, so let’s celebrate that!

Let me give you a little bit of my own story to explain to you why I’m so excited about Boston and so excited about tonight. 

  • I have been with Silicon Valley Bank today for 11 years today, and during that time I’ve fallen in love with entrepreneurs and with their ability to build things. 
  • I’ve been in Boston for almost 7 years. 
  • I moved here in 2007 to start the Bank’s Accelerator practice for banking, advising and lending to technology startups. 

What did I find when I arrived in Boston almost 7 years ago?

  • I found a significant gap in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. 
  • Lots of legacy and success in telecomm and biotech. 
  • Lots of wealth creation in established venture capital firms, but mostly concentrated with partners who had done bulk of investing in late 90s. 
  • There were small but very strong proprietary networks. 
  • Essentially, it was very clubby.
  • Life inside these small networks had been so good for so long 
    • that there was not much motivation to change, 
    • not much motivation to seek out new levers to move new objects. 
  • This created a big gap between the legacy of successful entrepreneurs and investors and those who were emerging 
    • to engage in innovation, 
    • to solve new problems 
    • and to create new value, jobs and wealth.
  • First-time CEOs could not get funded, 
  • new business models or distribution models were not well understood, 
  • market risk was a risk not worth taking, 
  • and experimentation was frowned on. 

If you were an experienced entrepreneur with a track record and network into big customers and financial resources, then you were in good shape. 

If you were not, and most were not, then it was best to look outside of this ecosystem for your traction.

So, what changed? 

You showed up. 

  • A new generation of leadership emerged. 
  • No one claimed to be a new leader, 
  • no one initiated a formal regime change.
  • But I know you were new leaders because we all followed you. 

Look at the winners of last year’s Italics Awards. 

  • Matt Lauzon is a great example. 
    • He organized RubyRiot which had a central theme of Paying it Forward. 
    • We all showed up with the aim of meeting a lot of people and figuring out what we could do to help them. 
  • Sean Lindsay organized Founder Mentors to bridge the gap between experienced founders and those were doing it for the first time. 
  • Sravish Sridhar emphasized the elusive importance of being “mentor-backed” over the brass ring of being “venture backed”
  • Jennifer Lum leveraged her prior experience as a team player in several companies to become not only a founder & team leader in her own company but also a community leader for all of us.
  • And of course, my hat is off to Aaron O’Hearn and everything he and his team have done 
    • to invest in individuals as a means to building a better community 
    • and therefore a more vibrant and more successful startup ecosystem.

And look at this year’s winners. 

  • What a phenomenal group! 
  • I won’t talk about each one now as we’ll hear a lot about them later on. 
  • But let’s do stop and recognize that the greatest thing about these winners is that none of them are done with building value in the Boston community. 
  • Tonight is not a lifetime achievement award where we look back
  • This is a lifetime potential award where we all look forward to how we can lean in with these leaders 
    • and build even greater value for them, 
    • for ourselves, 
    • and for our entire Boston community.

What do these leaders do? I think each of these people has done three things really well. 

  • First, each one of them has identified an area where they have some differentiated advantage that gives them unique leverage. 
    • For some it’s industry expertise - Ben Einstein with hardware. 
    • For some it’s functional expertise - Sarah Hodges with marketing or Colin Raney with design. 
    • For some it’s access to resources or network or whatever. 
    • The key is that each of these people has thought through what they do better than most other people 
    • and they’ve put it to work.
  • But it doesn’t stop there. 
    • The second thing these people have done is figure out how to leverage their skills beyond their direct personal benefit. 
    • They have thought beyond their own companies and their own shareholders to invest in 
      • employees, 
      • students 
      • and others.
      • Essentially they have created the future for Boston.
  • The third thing these people have done is really important and often overlooked in feel-good talks like the one I’m giving you right now. 
    • The third thing these people have done is execute
    • There is always a lot of talk about what companies are "crushing it"
    • but these winners are people who just consistently execute. 
    • We care about all of their initiatives in the community primarily because they’ve earned their credibility first and foremost as operators. 
    • Look at tonight’s winners: 
      • people like Bob Mason and Greg Selkoe have earned our respect because of what they’ve respectively done at Brightcove and Karmloop, 
      • so when they speak in the community, we listen;
      • when they lead in the community, we follow.

So, what does this mean for all of us? I’d like to leave you with three specific calls to action:

  • First, figure out what you’re great at and go make it count. 
  • Maybe you’re like tonight’s winners and you can leverage these skills to have a significant impact on our community in the near term. 
  • But even if you’re not in that boat, 
    • there is something that YOU do better than most other people, 
    • and as a community, we need you to do that thing.
  • Second, lean into the Boston community. 
    • Your resources are probably a lot greater than you think they are. 
    • For some of you, it’s your network. 
    • For some, it’s your time. 
    • For some, it’s your creativity. 
    • For some, it’s your industry knowledge or your functional expertise. 
    • For some it’s your money. 
    • Whatever it is, put it to work and have a "give before you get" outlook on life
    • Investing yourself in the community is one of the few investments where you’re almost guaranteed a positive ROI
  • And third, tell the world about what we have going on in Boston
    • Mojo is nothing to be silent about! 
    • Use your networks - social, virtual, physical and otherwise - to tell the world about the value being built in Boston
    • about the problems being solved in Boston
    • about the leaders who are making a difference in Boston
    • If someone says something negative about our community, 
      • then either correct them if they’re wrong, 
      • and if their comment is factually correct, then tell them about all the things we’re doing to make the future different. 
    • We have so much to be proud of - past, present and future - let’s all commit to telling Boston’s story, 
    • not just to ourselves but the rest of the world.

Finally, one more call to action…this one is immediate. Raise your glass and let’s toast 

  • tonight’s winners 
  • and the greatest city in the world!