Tuesday, March 31, 2009

NY Roots: Beer and Blue Sweaters

As my regular bleeps know, I practice "intersectional reading," which basically means that I start reading stuff, get interrupted, then start reading something else, coming back to the other stuff later. Sometimes, it creates interesting insights. And, by hanging a Medici mystique over it, it sounds like an intentional act of serendipity. Like I really should be a professor.

Friends have passed me two interesting books about innovative businesses based in New York. I am a recovering New Yorker (left Upstate in 1976), and one reason I headed West was a sense that the East Coast was a "closed system," too dependent on your family name and where you went to school. But really, the main reason was that the mountains were bigger.

Anyway, Beer School (2005) tells the story of Brooklyn Brewery through the eyes of its founders Steve Hindy and Tom Potter. If you like beer and entrepreneurship, this book is for you (NOTE: I actually drank New Belgium beer while reading this book. But, that is OK karma-wise because someone at New Belgium lent the book to me.) A cool aspect of this book is that the co-founders wrote different chapters , and the other founder chimes in at the end of each chapter with his (sometimes different) perspective. They also grade themselves on how well they built different aspects of the business. It is clear that they had a strong partnership and friendship, but that that this was at times an arduous journey. Dealing with the mob, robberies and almost going broke. My favorite quote from the book:

"There Are No Entrance Exams for Entrepreneurs. No one but you can tell you not to start a business. There are no gatekeepers, no personnel directors and no entrance exams that will keep you out of the entrepreneur's circle. You don't need an MBA; you don't need to have been class president; you don't have to have money. But you do have to decide if you're up to the challenge."

The other book is The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz. This book traces the author's work in Africa and how that led to her starting the Acumen Fund, the first non-profit venture capital fund (well, intentionally non-profit, as many VCs are struggling to stay "positive"). I highly recommend this book, for several reasons. First, humility. Novogratz is honest about her experiences and how her initial motivations (to help others; change the world) sometimes reduced her effectiveness. Second, patience and persistence. She discusses patient* capital, referring to financial capital (money). But hers is also a story of patient human capital. That it takes time to learn, build networks, build trust, figure out how to nudge the system. Jacqueline more than put in her 10,000 hours. Third, role model. There is a dearth of well known women entrepreneurs. And few have told the story of their journey. Fourth, inspiration. Her story, and the stories of other entrepreneurs she has known, will inspire you. She kept going, both unlearning and learning as she went. The first step of starting something is to choose to get going. Press the "Go Button" as Francisco Noguera says.

So, the intersectional theme of Beer and Blue Sweaters? Of Brooklyn Brewery and Acumen Fund? Well, it's not just the Big Apple. It is that starting a new venture is a journey. A quest. It is hard work, and at times, tremendously rewarding. When they started, craft brewers and venture philanthropists were little known concepts. Oxymoronic. Crazy intersectional ideas. Now they are both important parts of my world.

Mary Oliver asks a haunting question "So, tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" These stories provide Tom, Steve and Jacqueline's answers. What's yours? Whether it is beer or BOP, you won't know until you push the button. There is no entrance exam. Are you up to the challenge?
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*Mitesh Gala believes successful social entrepreneurs need a high "ph factor"- patience and humility. I like "p" for persistence.

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