TechStars, a Chinatown Feast, and Community Building

I had “open office hours” at the CIC’s Venture Cafe last week. It’s a great program whereby any entrepreneur can sign up for a chat with a VC. It’s an open and inclusive program. All are welcome. Andrew Singleton, the coordinator, was awesome.

I ran into an entrepreneur afterwards. He asked me: “Is it worth it?”

What he meant was: do open office hours lead to investments? I told him I doubt it. For me, the odds of finding an invest-able business plan during a quick 15 minute chat are very low. But, it’s a great (and albeit small) way to give back to the community.

From a pure business ROI perspective, these types of events do not make sense. There isn’t a tangible payback, frankly. But, I think that zero-sum mindset would be a mistake. We all have to build up our communities.

For example, members of our team have been TechStars mentors since its founding. Yet, we’ve never invested in a TechStars company. We’re always open to it, but it has yet to happen. Yet, we keep spending time as mentors. From a pure business standpoint, we should have stopped mentoring.

But, we continue. Why? We think it’s important to be helpful. Yes, it helps our firm’s image, of course. But, personally, I mentor because I find it fun.

I’ve definitely had a crisis of conscience as I’ve been a net taker in the community. I’d really like to change that and balance it out by giving more.

After the Silicon Valley Bank party last week, I took out some TechStars entrepreneurs for a spur-of-the-moment round of raw oysters and cocktails. A few months ago, I invited some Chinese-American entrepreneurs to a seafood dinner in Chinatown. Lots of dishes, lots of beers, and even more laughs. I didn’t expense it to the firm, as I paid for it myself.

Hopefully, I’m on my way to being a net giver to our community. I’m writing about this so that you will hold me accountable.

Leave a Reply