Welcome to Startups Weekly, a fresh human-first take on this week’s startup news and trends. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here.
As we entered 2021, I wrote about the big question on every startup’s mind for 2021: How will a cataclysmic event such as a pandemic show up in post-pandemic innovation? Well, spoiler alert: We’re nearing the end of yet another pandemic year, and it seems like this state will be our world for longer than I’d like to predict. In other words, my question didn’t age well, and today, I’d like to pose a new one.
My question heading into 2022 is: How can the tech community sneak activation energy into startups, especially those built by historically overlooked founders, beyond capital? I’m not talking about hype machines or weekly luncheons on specific topics, I’m talking about more elusive services.
In this cash-rich environment, I think entrepreneurs need more human resources than ever before when it comes to building their company. Don’t get me wrong, the gender gap in fundraising continues to be a blaring, embarrassing issue that venture needs to fix. But as we spotlight the need to get more checks to more founders, we also need to figure out how to keep those same founders in an increasingly competitive environment. After all, venture doesn’t fix all things — and in fact, can even complicate the growth of a startup.
Activation energy can look different every day. This week, for example, I wrote about Z Fellows, an accelerator that pays people $10,000 to take a week-long break from their day job and flirt with finally building their startup idea.
The average age for a Z Fellow is 20 to 25 years old, meaning that the program has successfully convinced first-time founders to take a jump. Founder Cory Levy attributes interest to the program’s pre-requisite: You only have to take one week off from work.
“The best programs out there, whether that’s Y Combinator or the Thiel Fellowship, require this high commitment, big life decisions,” whether it’s dropping out of school or going full-time on an idea, Levy said. “Don’t do that; just kind of simulate what life would be like for a couple of days or a week: If you like it, great, if you don’t, no harm no foul.”
While Levy shows the importance of time, I think we’ll also see a growing importance for founders to lean on community and mental health support. For my full take on this topic, check out my TechCrunch+ column: More than another check, founders need activation energy.
Thank you so much for your continued readership during this wild year. We unpacked a lot together, from unicorns in need of haircuts to tech mafias in need of a modern refresh. We thought too much into dollars, thinking about hot due diligence summer and gaslighting in fundraising. We went sector specific, giving notes on why crypto doesn’t need NFTs, but NFTs need crypto and multiplayer fintech. And finally, we got transparent, speaking on why democratization can sometimes hurt more than help and how you can build vulnerability into your workflow.
It was an exhausting year, but it was one punctuated by a lot of learning (and unlearning) that will continue to shape how ideas turn into companies and realizations turn into thoughtful stories. That said, I’m excited to take a break so you won’t hear from Startups Weekly until the first full week of January.
Now, for one last time in 2021, let’s jump into the rest of this newsletter. We’ll talk about diversity in money, climate versus crypto and the trucking creator economy. As always, you can follow my thoughts on Twitter @nmasc_ or my emotions on Revue.
Company culture and trying to not be the “fool in the room”
Mobility reporter Rebecca Bellan recently published a nuanced interview with Ample co-founder John de Souza, who was born and raised in Ethiopia. The serial founder is building an electric vehicle battery swapping company, and as Bellan notes, the odds are against him thanks to a well-capitalized competitor. The entire interview is worth a read, but I resonated most with his notes on culture, which is apparently a big focus for him even in the heart of a red hot sector.
Here’s what to know: “The issue with growing companies, especially in the Valley, is that you have high turnover, and so trying to grow the company while you’re losing is really hard. If you can stem the people leaving you can grow the company very efficiently, and so we realize the way to keep people is not just to pay them to stay, but to create company culture,” said de Souza. This line stood out because it underscores what I think will be a massive conversation in 2022: internal communications at a company, and how the great resignation changed what employees want from their companies.
Culture can’t be ignored:
And the startup of the week is…
Notus! The early-stage startup wants to help other companies identify the best journalists and influencers to work with, based on a deep scan of the social web. They even used their own algorithm to target me for their funding round announcement.
Here’s what to know: The startup confirmed that Alexis Ohanian’s 776 recently led a $1.25 million round, with participation of angels from Glossier and Tesla. Ohanian pointed out that “as the internet unbundled media, influence fragmented,” which, I’d argue, makes it harder than ever for a brand to reach and truly understand their audience. In our latest Equity podcast, Alex, Mary Ann I spoke about Notus’ limitations despite the opportunity going forward.
TechCrunch Gift Guide 2021
Across the week
Seen on TechCrunch
Seen on TechCrunch+
Have a safe end to the holiday season, and I can’t wait to talk (perhaps in person) next year,