NOVEMBER 21, 2017

Episode 3 – How Nonprofits Innovate

Austin Buchan from College Forward and Gina LaMotte from EcoRise

In this episode, we talk with Austin Buchan, CEO of College Forward and Gina LaMotte, Executive Director of EcoRise. Remaining operational as a nonprofit while focusing on innovation takes the commitment of many stakeholder groups. You need a good business model, scaleability, creative funding, and willing board members. Both EcoRise and College Forward have worked through the same problems that many nonprofits face early on, and today they share their stories.

Dan Graham (00:00):
Welcome to our first and hopefully not last episode of the Notley podcast. I think we may need some help with our, our name, maybe “The Knot”? I don’t know-

Lisa Graham (00:11):
It’s already taken- taken by the wedding industry. Sorry.

Dan Graham (00:14):
We’re here at Chez Boom Audio with the lovely Shaina Brown and here with my lovely wife, Lisa, and Matt McDonnell on the Notley team as well as special guests Austin Buchan CEO of College Forward and Gina LaMott CEO, Executive Director of EcoRise. Thanks guys for joining us today. I thought we’d kind of kick it off with just a quick introduction of Notley for anyone out there who may not have heard of us before. Lisa, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what Notley is? Why did you start it?

Lisa Graham (00:48):
Why did I start Notley? Why did we start Notley? I think Dan and I started Notley several years ago in an effort to find a way to work with nonprofits and social enterprises and figure out a way for them to work together and to learn from one another and really trying to find a way to work with innovative EDs and CEOs. Like the two we have here today-

Dan Graham (01:09):
Matt, you know, you were kind of first on the team. What drew you to Notley and what,-what are you doing here?

Matt McDonnell (01:15):
Yeah, so I think I have one of those eclectic backgrounds where I started off in the nonprofit world and then moved into a technology role as an entrepreneur. And that’s really where I met Dan and Lisa… They, they invested in that company, which was an early childhood education distribution product. So we were basically building a multimedia Netflix for kids that didn’t otherwise have access to preschool. And so for me, the sort of mission piece was always there and I was never really able to find an organization that… combined that mission interest with the for-profit interest. And so Notley was really just sort of a perfect fit for combining these two things that I had struggled for years to, to be able to roll into one roll.

Dan Graham (01:57):
Awesome. Yeah. And you know, I’m curious, Matt, like what are, what are a couple of the exciting things that you’re working on right now?

Matt McDonnell (02:03):
Yeah, so I think that the most exciting thing that we’re working on is the Center for Social Innovation. Really after sort of a year of figuring out how do we provide a high quality investment grade impact investment that was going to impact the most people possible, we really took aim at the commercial real estate space for nonprofits. So providing them with a long-term home that would continue to be affordable. And we’ve got Austin and Gina here who are two of our tenants in that space. I think the other thing that’s really exciting for me right now is the scaling of Philanthropitch as well as another program that we do, Startup Games [now known as Catalyst Games]. So Philanthropitch is, is a sort of a Shark Tank-like competition for nonprofits who are launching earned revenue models and need a little bit of risk capital to try something new. And so that’s been going on in Austin for awhile and being able to take that to other cities and replicated in places that don’t necessarily have that sort of an offering. It is really exciting and Startup Games, which is basically what I consider to be a really innovative employee engagement tool. So take the old donation campaigns at a workplace and sort of turn it on its head and give people better opportunity to get engaged in and play a bunch of silly sports against their peer companies. In order to win a prize for nonprofits; it’s just a little bit different of an engagement model.

Lisa Graham (03:21):
[Did you] just refer to flip cup as a sport?

Matt McDonnell (03:25):
I wasn’t talking about-

Lisa Graham (03:27):
[inaudible] … [like] Mario Kart?

Dan Graham (03:29):
I more took issue with the fact to refer to them as silly sports. [laughter] I think many of the companies would take issue.

Matt McDonnell (03:36):
It doesn’t mean that they’re not serious.

Dan Graham (03:40):
I think with Philanthropitch, I always describe it as a, you know, kind of a nicer version [of the Startup Games]. Cause you know, we get the judges, but we don’t have a Mr. Wonderful.

Voices (03:48):
They cut the dolphin tank, the dolphin dolphin tank. Yeah.

Dan Graham (03:54):
I feel like the dolphin tank- I always think- that always reminds me of that Cove movie, which is not exactly the message, but we don’t have any judges telling the non-profits that they’re killing money or are going to get crushed like cockroaches or anything like that. It’s a friendly competition and everyone has a good time and everyone walks away with a bit of money. And Austin, you, pitched- was it the first year? The second year?

Austin Buchan (04:17):
First year ever. Yeah. First presenter of the first year. So that was nerve wracking.

Dan Graham (04:23):
And you weren’t the CEO at that point-

Austin Buchan (04:24):
I wasn’t- our CEO refused to do it and said, “I’m not doing it, so someone better step up.” So I did. And it was great. I’ve talked to you about it- it was one of those incredible professional development opportunities and here we are five years later doing the thing that we pitched. So yeah, that was great.

Dan Graham (04:41):
Well, it probably helped a lot too that you crushed it and got a big check. So thank you for both of us. Oh, that’s right- Lisa, what are some of the exciting things that you’re working on right now?

Lisa Graham (04:52):
Yeah, I would agree with Matt. I think getting Philanthropitch out there. What’s exciting about Philanthropitch is I think it really encapsulates what the mission of Notley is and we’re able to work directly with nonprofits and they’re nonprofits doing the type of work that we’re really passionate about. I mean, getting to work with those ED’s. And I think the other piece too that we’re trying to kind of close in on is a board piece. So we’ve worked closely with EDS and board chairs, but how do you get boards and board members that are interested in serving these organizations?

Matt McDonnell (05:20):
Yeah, I think one of the- I mean the hardest things is there’s so many stakeholders that sort of all have to be aligned to do something different or non-traditional, or innovative in the nonprofit space. I mean, not only do you have to have a great leader, who’s really interested in pushing the envelope, but you’ve got to- they have to have a strong board behind them who are supportive of that. There actually has to be a good business model there that is capable of scaling and capable of really having strong impact, the funders, you know, of the organization, a lot of time are dictating a lot of the direction of where the organization is going to go and how they’re going to get there. And so there’s just a lot of alignment, not to mention… ongoing professional development, learning, collaboration. And so one of the challenges is trying to figure out, “Okay, which stakeholder group to go try to tackle… and [should it be] all at once or…- so the board obviously is big part of that. And I feel like that’s a super common challenge that nonprofit executive directors have. So, I mean, I think what we’d love to do is just have a conversation with you guys about your organizations and missions and how you got to more of an innovative place. Maybe you’ve always been there or maybe it was a struggle. And yes. I mean, Gina, I’d love if you could just [give] a few sentences about what your organization is and what your mission is. And talk a little bit about the innovative nature of it and how you got there. Cause that’s- I know that’s hard.

Gina LaMott (06:45):
So much innovation! Too much! The organization I run and founded is called EcoRise and we work in the K-12 space. I’m introducing young people to sustainability, design, and social innovation. We do that through first and foremost, working with teachers with curriculum and teacher training and live design challenges where young people are actively inventing solutions to real-world sustainability issues. So in like any sort of business it’s evolved over time. I think we’re in- we’re close to the 10 year mark now… We have lots of, you know, existential questions about life and the business. But it’s super exciting. It’s growing very, very quickly. And from a kind of innovation standpoint, I mean, at the core of our work, you know, one of the actual tenants of why I started this was because I thought what would happen if I took the latest business strategy book or the latest inspiring Ted talk about biomimicry or lean startup philosophy or all these things, and you taught it to a 13 year old, what would happen to these young people, if they have these tools and this knowledge at a much earlier age than myself and many of the adults around me.

Dan Graham (07:53):
They would drop out of school and become entrepreneurs.

Gina LaMott (07:56):
We’d be in a hot mess! [laughter] But it’s exciting because young people are so open-minded, and they’re looking for an opportunity to lead. They’re sitting in a classroom for 14,000 hours from kindergarten through 12th grade. And what are we doing with 14,000 hours of time with these young people? So I get excited about offering content curriculum, that’s aligned to the standards and plays with the school system, checks all the boxes, but it’s really pushing the envelope in terms of the type of content that we’re introducing young people to, the type of problem solving strategies and business solutions. And the information that I personally think is really critical and relevant in this day and age. From another kind of innovation standpoint, we have really been asking ourselves the question, how do we scale? I mean, we have something that was a proven model , we have solid content, we have happy customers, our teachers. But how do you scale this thing without scaling your staff? I don’t want to have an organization of hundreds of people, but I want to reach millions and millions of young people and teachers. So we’ve recently- the last couple of years started experimenting and growing this concept of a teacher ambassador program, which is to essentially identify the super-users, you know, those teachers that are really just exceptional in implementing our program with advocacy and cultivating them as essentially team members of EcoRise. So how do we get them into conferences and representing EcoRise? How do we incentivize them to recruit other teachers and to train other teachers? How do we have them tell us what the next level of curriculum should be? So for me, it was really exciting to break the dichotomy of the service provider and the consumer, the teacher, and instead say, “we’re all, co-creators here; we’re all in this together. How can we work together to incentivize you, make it viable for you to be part of this adventure with us?” And in doing that we’ve, we’ve grown about 500% in the last couple of years doubling and tripling in size every year from from a… external user standpoint. From an internal standpoint, we’ve gone from like eight employees to nine employees. So but I think there in lies some magic and how you can start to scale with clever business models.

Dan Graham (10:11):
And so it’s working then?

Gina LaMott (10:13):

Dan Graham (10:14):
That’s great.

Gina LaMott (10:14):
Yeah. I mean, not without some bumps in the road, of course, but it’s been exciting too. I mean, now we get more fun or equally fun creative challenges. Like when you’re serving, you know, 700 teachers instead of 200 teachers, and most of it is online, how do you do that? How do you build authentic relationships? How do you inspire them, where it doesn’t feel like a webinar or another email they have to respond to you, but what are those true motivators that are sustaining for that individual? And teachers are a very difficult, God bless them, population to be working with. And also from an organizational standpoint, we get to grapple with questions of brand and organizational culture and who is our tribe and how do we attract them to us. And I love that kind of stuff. That’s exciting.

Dan Graham (11:00):
Yeah. That’s awesome. And, you know, you mentioned that you did not want a team of a hundred. Well, Austin has a team of 100. [Laughter] Would you like some team members? He has extra. Austin what’s- how did you get to a hundred team members and what are they- what do they do?

Austin Buchan (11:20):
I guess the- it wasn’t always a hundred people. So College Forward has been around in Central Texas and now throughout the state and nationally, but we were founded in our- our home is here in Austin back in 2003. And so our mission is to coach motivated, underserved students to achieve the benefits of higher education in a college degree. So we really specialize in working with students who are first in their families to go off to college and typically come from lower income backgrounds. So we’ve been doing it for the last 15 years now. And, you know, we started locally working in one classroom back in the day when we were just trying to get our feet under ourselves. I think knocking on doors to see which high schools would let us into their campus back in the day. So our founder, Lisa Fielder was in a classroom with 30 students, not all that long ago down at Hayes High School, just south of town. Fast forward to today- there’s been a lot of changes with the organization and there’s been a few kind of key watershed moments in how innovation- how we think about that. That was a word that was introduced to us all six or seven years ago with the life cycle of non-profit growth- those early years are just about getting your foundation; proving out the concept. Proving out that what we’re doing with our students is working and actually moving the needle for them and their families. But at some point we had to stop and really reflect on… Maybe we can talk about this more together. I’d love to get y’all’s thoughts on this: about what scale actually means in the social sector, as it’s, in my opinion, a different definition than what it is in the for-profit world. But with that, I mean the way that we do our work, it’s a very- it’s an intensive coaching model where all of our students will receive one-on-one individual coaching from a near peer. So we have a team of one hundred- actually it’s 125 people now- who are working with closer to eight to 10,000 students, any given year at College Forward. So we’ve grown from that small, a little startup nonprofit in town to, to what we are today. But I think almost equally as important… [is how we’ve] evolve[d our] thinking. And the way we’re thinking about strategy and growth and scale is very, very different than what it was five or six years ago. To that end, I mean, our original game plan was just, how can we grow our empire, essentially. I think that’s a really traditional nonprofit growth mindset of how do we go to Houston to serve 200 more students; in Dallas to serve another 300? The reality is there’s 1.7 million students enrolled in college in Texas alone, every given year. And are we here to grow that empire? Are we here to put ourselves out of a job and solve this problem? And we chose the latter. And so that’s really informed the work and, and turnrf the organization in a different way four or five years ago.

Dan Graham (13:58):
You know, something else that’s traditional in the nonprofit spaces, you hear a nonprofit and you think gala, or someone’s going to ask me for money and donation cycles, and you guys have both taken PRIs, right? Program related investments? What is that? And is that a good- are you glad you did it? Is it a good thing or what do you think about some of these newer funding- I don’t know if I call them fads- but kind of “popular structures.”

Austin Buchan (14:27):
I mean, Gina jump in too on this, but I think for me the most important thing in thinking about… To address the fad piece of this first, is it’s all about, from an organizational leadership perspective, it’s about your vision. It’s about what you’re trying to accomplish and how you’re going to get there through your strategy. And then you pick the right financial model to get you there. As opposed to, I sometimes hear it kind of flipped the other way around, “Ooh, that sounds like an interesting, not grant or not gala that I don’t have to go run. I’m going to go get that funding,” but it may be the total wrong fit for what you’re actually trying to accomplish. So for us, we were fortunate to have good advice early on about making that point of, you know, “Make sure you understand what this is before you go commit to doing it.” But the reality for College Forward is that we were developing. So our story financially is we, you know, [had] grown from little tiny nonprofit here in Austin to we have about a $4.5 to $5 million budget every year. We were almost exclusively philanthropically supported until about five years ago. So fast forward to today. And we have, at any given year, between 40 and 50% of our income is earned through either fee for service contracts that we developed with institutions of higher ed or high schools. And then we have another database platform that we’ve actually licensed and we’re sharing with other nonprofits throughout the country now. And is-

Dan Graham (15:45):
Is there an announcement that you want to make today?

Austin Buchan (15:47):
Actually I do have an announcement about- I haven’t told you this yet-

Dan Graham (15:49):
I know why, you know, every time I see that you haven’t announced yet.

Austin Buchan (15:53):
So our platform- this was not prescripted by the way our- our platform was built on the Salesforce platform. So we were actually getting ready to go and present at Dreamforce, which is their giant kind-of nerd fest of all Salesforce administrators going to hang out in San Francisco. I think there’s 200,000 people or something in attendance. It’s huge.

Lisa Graham (16:14):
Is that for Salesforce?

New Speaker (16:14):
It’s definitely-

Gina LaMott (16:16):
Yes- my people are going there too.

Austin Buchan (16:17):

Austin Buchan (16:19):
And they’re releasing a new product called Einstein, which is Salesforce’s answer to artificial intelligence and they were looking for a nonprofit to kind of showcase how this could have an effect in the social sector. And we got the talk in, and one thing led to another and I’m actually going to be co-leading their keynote address at the Dreamforce conference in four or five weeks, which is just- still kind of processing; it’s relatively new news. But- this is another issue, right? From the non-profit perspective, we don’t have marketing and communications and branding budgets like the for-profit sector has the luxury of having, so something like this could be a game changer for us in getting our name out there.

Dan Graham (16:54):
Well, that makes sense that you said you’re trying to work yourselves out of jobs by going the AI route.

Austin Buchan (17:00):
There you go! There you go! Yeah, that’d be great. And we’ll move on to go fix healthcare or something. That’s fine.

Dan Graham (17:08):
That’s great. So, Gina, what is a PRI?

Gina LaMott (17:11):
Well, that’s a really good question, Dan. That’s part of the donor education process that I think needs to start happening a little bit more. I, you know, for us, the PRI has been, you know, a low interest loan, essentially. [It] has been another tool that we could use to reach our goals. And I’m excited that there’s been a lot of conversation and exploration around that and the Austin community has had a longer history and traction [than] the East coast and West coast, generally speaking. So there is sort of a buzz right now. I hope it’s not a fad, although I think folks like Austin and I can offer some words of advice or guidance to those who are seeking PRIs. Because at the end of the day, you need to have a solid business model that can really validate the opportunity and pay people’s loans back.

Dan Graham (18:02):
Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s debt, right?

Gina LaMott (18:05):
Yea, it’s debt. Yeah, absolutely. But for us, it’s been a huge- it’s been instrumental in a few different ways. Of course the capital is useful and needed, but on the other hand, there’s also a certain level of, I think, like legitimacy that- it sort of tips the hat like, “Oh, you’ve been vetted.” Okay. If you could actually take out a loan, that means some smart people have looked at your numbers and have analyzed your growth plan and you’ve done your due diligence. And so there’s a level of trust. I think that is somehow like a ripple effect I’ve noticed anyways with other foundations and even with individual investors. So for us, it’s been great. It’s still in the early days; we’ve only been doing this for a few months now. So, so far so good. We’ve had a lot of exciting opportunities that I’m not ready to take on yet, but some of the things like when you’re ready to take it to the next level, you know, come this way, which is exciting. But for us, you know, it’s liberating to know that there’s a growing movement that’s allowing nonprofits to be able to access the types of capital that for-profits have always had access to. And it’s sort of silly that it’s really only our minds that have like banned this money from our set of opportunities and tools to work with.

Dan Graham (19:14):
That’s great. And you said you’re also going to be at Dreamforce.

Gina LaMott (19:17):
I’m not going to Dreamforce cause I’m going to be in Boston for another conference, but two of my team members are going there. We have- we also have a Salesforce customization that we built out and that’s why we have mutual friends that are like, “Hey, your organization needs to talk to your organization…”

Dan Graham (19:31):
Well, if you hear heckling, it’s coming from Gina’s team, Austin, [inaudible laughter]. In that, I’d love for you to chime in on this, but I’m just curious…quickly and maybe Austin, the Dreamforce keynote is, is your kind of big, big win for the week. But you know, what’s something that’s really exciting going on- that’s kind of a big win for, for your organization.

Austin Buchan (19:59):
Gosh. Yeah. So that’s a big one for sure. I mean, everything in that, in that co-pilot with- Copilot is the name of the product that we’ve developed our product- our software product- [on]. I think what’s really exciting for me, that’s coming is… I don’t know about you, but we developed a lot of these earned income initiatives in a silo, intentionally, so they could have a chance to thrive internally just from a management resource perspective at College Forward. But, you know, we have two or three of these different initiatives that are now starting to overlap and actually kind of self perpetuate each other in a really exciting way and [are] opening up new opportunities. So I think that’s what I’m most excited about for… College Forward in general is seeing how some of this work that was formerly, I think disparate and, and designed in isolation, are starting to really overlap and merge in pretty incredible ways. So just one quick example of that is we have one of our database partners who was just really using the system to track their student data and track their management of outcomes. But now they’re saying, “Hey, do you guys have curriculum that we might be able to tap into?” Given the fact that we work with so many students ourselves still directly. And so it’s almost like a mini franchise model of how we can start really overlapping some of our direct service work with what was thought to be just a tech solution that was living out here as an earned income initiative. And now it’s just- it’s who we are as core to the mission and really being more proactive about how we can keep opening those doors where they are overlapping.

Matt McDonnell (21:22):
Yeah, I think for, for us, and Gina and Austin sort of touched on this. What’s really exciting to us and what we’ve been talking about for years is how do you get nonprofits to behave more like for-profit businesses from an operational perspective and how do you get the not-for-profits or excuse me, the for-profits to behave more like the not-for-profits from a mission-driven perspective. And I think we’re really starting to see that. So one of the things that gets me excited is actually sort of a- what I’ve perceived to or come to perceive as a blind spot of mine. So, you know, we talk about in, especially in the business literature about porpoising right, so doing a deep dive, but then remembering to come back up and sort of take a look at the panoramic view…

Austin Buchan (22:01):
And sorry, what book does that- I’m not familiar with… [laughter]

Matt McDonnell (22:05):
It is- you’ll, you’ll have to talk to the Act in MBA program. It is a- it’s something that they talk about a lot, but you know, basically the idea for me is that we’re so close to some of these conversations, right? So we get to work with people like Gina and Austin all the time. And what I’ve noticed is that when we’re out in the community or when we’re talking to new people, you know, in our capacity as Notley- we just had an Innovation Week presentation last week at People Fund, which is one of the funders here in town. We noticed that I would say things and people would sort of look at me and I realized that some of these ideas were new, right? Some of the things that- I think back to Lisa’s earlier point, we really wanted to set out and learn from these nonprofit organizations and social ventures. And I think that that’s really happening. And so I think what, you know, when I think about the exciting things for Notley, I think it’s about telling our story. I mean, we’ve been around for a few years now, and we’ve been doing a lot of work. And I think that we now have an opportunity to say, “Hey, these people over here, or this organization, are doing really unique and innovative things. And how do we take those positive deviants, tell a bunch of other people about it and then support them to do the same work. So I think for us, it’s- I’ve always thought of Notley as a catalyst for social good in whatever market we’re operating in. And I think you’re starting to see some of those things happen as, as we build a critical mass.

Dan Graham (23:23):
But what about you, Gina- a big win recently?

Gina LaMott (23:26):
Yeah. there’s been a few. We’ve just had a phone call on the way over here. Expanding our contracts in Washington, DC with the public school system there, which is exciting. We have a lot of traction in some larger cities. That’s, you know, just helping us build more momentum and get the word out to larger- larger districts across the U.S. So we’ve, we’ve been breaking ground in New York city, in Sacramento, and we have some traction in Houston and Boston continues to grow, in DC. And so those are all very exciting. I also… when you’re talking, Austin, about… the overlap between different types of offerings that you have and how these kinds of new interesting combinations of services and products are bubbling up and blossoming one piece for us that we’ve been getting some nibbles on that has me peaked is this idea of taking our existing content that we offer in K-12 spaces, teaching sustainability, teaching design thinking, and creating customized versions for the corporate sector and for municipal sectors. So we’ve had the city of San Antonio; we’ve had various large companies who will remain unnamed right now ask us, you know, I love what you’re doing and is it possible for you to create something that would help us with employee engagement and our own professional development internally? So that as a company, we are walking the talk around sustainability and encouraging-

Dan Graham (24:47):
Oracle? Google?

Gina LaMott (24:52):
So that’s exciting for me, it’s very validating to see that the work that we’ve strived so hard to perfect in the K-12 space has application to other verticals and other stakeholders at the end of the day. That’s still, you know, fanning the flames of our mission because it’s teaching sustainability to everybody, you know? So I, I get really excited about that. I’m also very randomly flying to Turkey the week before Thanksgiving, funny enough, to speak at a conference, invited by the Ministry of Education and they want to bring biomimicry curriculum into textbooks across- science textbooks- across the country. And for- and then we have a team from South Africa coming up here to get trained on our content as well. So we are excited to- I’m excited to see evidence that communities around the world believe that this type of education is necessary and critical in fact, right now. And there’s, you know, whether it’s educational institutions or governments, or what have you, they’re excited to actually put resources behind it to make it happen. And, you know, we get to give our goodies to more people and let them make adaptations and make it relevant for their own cultural context.

Matt McDonnell (26:00):
Sounds great. Yeah. That’s great. I want to put you guys on the spot just briefly. I mean, as, as leaders, you know, you kind of get used to having your sh*t together, you know, and, and putting forward a good face, but there’s lots of stuff that goes wrong too. So I’d love it if maybe over the last week or two what’s the dumbest thing you’ve done. We always start with you, Austin.

Austin Buchan (26:25):
Who’s going to be listening to this. I feel like I need-

Gina LaMott (26:29):
Your board will not-

Austin Buchan (26:32):
My board would be the best people [inadusible]. I don’t know. I think- so I have a bit of the kind of red shiny car /objects syndrome, you know, things zoom in-

Undistinquished voice (26:43):

Austin Buchan (26:44):
Squirrel. And yeah, I was- I was really excited about a partnership that I thought was a completely done deal and started getting my team really excited about this. And then contract got stuck in a procurement purchasing office. That’s going to delay us for six or seven months which was totally unanticipated. And even the people internally we were working with didn’t see that coming, but man, you know, just tapering expectations on my excitement levels, I think, around some of the cool stuff that we’re doing and just, you know, making sure it, as we all talk about… I wish I had nine people… you know, we have 120. And so the ripple effects of getting some of those communication things wrong are critical and bigger than I- than we were used to dealing with, I think than in years past. So, I don’t know. There’s one, there’s one premature celebration. There you go. [group laughter]

Matt McDonnell (27:39):
What about you, Gina?

Gina LaMott (27:40):
Oh. I’m not fallible. Let’s see. I, I think that most recently we were- there’s a couple of answers I have, cause there’s so many, you know, dumb things that happen on a regular basis. But last week we were in DC and we were presenting to a customer, basically, not a school, but another entity, a government entity who had hired us as consultants. And I had a question come up- like, you know, beautiful presentation, nailed it, get to the last five minutes, a screwball question at the end and it just threw everything off. And it came from somebody who’d never been part of the conversations, but she was the boss. And so I had known in retrospect, I had known that this question might come up and I was just crossing my fingers that they wouldn’t- that she wouldn’t have this misinterpretation of the contract that we had at hand. And so, you know, in response, we tried to smile, nod our heads and, “We’ll get you that information,” but it was terribly uncomfortable. And afterwards we were just kind of in panic mode around whether we had burned a bridge or whatever, and- none of that, we hadn’t at all, but it was just that like, “Oh, you threw me off guard and I was hoping you wouldn’t ask about that.” I think it’s really- it’s a testament- repeatedly in my experience running this organization, especially in the last few years that transparency and clear communication cannot be emphasized enough. And the more that you can drill down into, like, here’s where I’m at, this is how I understand the situation. And you, where are you at. It just- really clears the way for any sort of miscommunication that could be taking place or misunderstandings that could be taking place. So that piece for me was like, “Ugh, this reminder again, damn it!” So yeah-

Dan Graham (29:30):
Well I’ll, I’ll go too. Two days ago I was in a coffee meeting. So… to preface, I was called out for mansplaining in a meeting and I was, I was having coffee with-

Lisa Graham (29:44):
And if anyone doesn’t know, so mansplaining is [laughter].

Dan Graham (29:47):
It doesn’t work. If you’re-

Indistinguishable voices (29:48):
let me interrupt you [inaudible] [people laughing].

Dan Graham (29:53):
Well, the funny thing is that when she thanked me for explaining that to her, I I thought about saying, “Oh no, you think I’m mansplaining. Mansplaining is…” but I didn’t actually say that. I actually just felt really bad. I was in a meeting and we were talking about doing a pro bono project to bring civic questionnaires- politician questionnaires- online rather than kind of the way that they’re done right now. And she was diving into the weeds of the program and I was wanting to take a step back, but also at the same time, let her know that I was a programmer. So I’ve been programming since I was 12. And so I started to go into a lot of description of programming and the process more to like, in my mind, to talk about my kind of credentials, but then she just looked at me and she’s like, thank you for explaining that to me. And then just kept going with-

Lisa Graham (30:45):
What was your response? I will-

Dan Graham (30:48):
I kind of just looked at her. I was like, “Right. Are you making fun of me?” And she didn’t answer that question, but it was- It was pretty- it was very [inaudible] yes, that was clearly the case. And I deserved it, but it was, it was very awkward, but it was a good reminder.

Matt McDonnell (31:04):
I think, on the diversity front too. So I had this situation last week where we’re doing a panel; I was asked to do it by a friend and, you know, sort of quickly said yes. And I think that what I realized later when we got called out for it on Twitter collectively was that there were no women on the panel. And, you know, on the one hand, I probably should have done a lot more research or just asked some of those questions and sort of, you know, owned the idea that that was a potential perspective that could paint what we were really trying to do, which is educate a bunch of entrepreneurs through this organization called Team Austin, about how to more effectively raise funds. But, you know, not really thinking that, you know, perhaps the panel wasn’t put together in a way that we were gonna, you know, really represent all of the folks that might actually be coming in and asking for money. So I think the lesson that I learned there and have learned repeatedly is saying yes, very quickly to things is maybe not the best approach and probably should have done just a little bit more research and you know, while I don’t feel bad about the part of it- that I’m choosing to be on the panel, I do think that there’s this sort of sad reality that women are less represented in VC here in Austin and in many cities. And so I think just kind of keeping it in mind that, you know, that’s a lot of what we’re trying to do from a social impact perspective is improve diversity and inclusion in the space and just needing to constantly be sensitive to it, even though it’s something that we try and live and breathe every day.

Dan Graham (32:26):
Yeah. Yeah. And then Austin, not Austin, you, but Austin, the city, you know, that’s named after you has that problem in general, you know, it’s one of the least diverse, most economically segregated cities in the, country… Yeah, that’s great. So that kind of wraps up our time for episode one of the Knot (?) Notley podcast, find us on Facebook, Twitter, and on notleyventures.com. Thanks for listening. And thanks for joining us, guys.

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November 15, 2017