New year, new brand

I am out of shape. It’s not just bloating from the travel, but I’m definitely not myself. I guess three weeks of being sick, not really working out, and actually drinking too much beer will do that to you. As I said above, time for some proper discipline but the good thing is that living a clean lifestyle is what I actually want to do. And yes you can go out to a bar and not drink but really that’s not so much fun; the lifestyle where I can go home and relax in the evening because I’m not frantically trying to see people, or go to a braai and just eat or maybe have one glass of wine but not five, will suit me much better.

Also I don’t have much of a choice: the Summer Trail Series starts in one week and so I’m going to have my work cut out for me! But yeah this morning’s workout was not exactly a show off session, I was weak on the handstand pushups *and* on the pullups and my callouses are nearly gone and so my hands hurt and I got made fun of for whining. With good reason, and now I have a blister.

On to my first day of work! My heart pump was my passport, which I passed around the room: “So this is what a work permit looks like!” was the most common refrain. This is all also very exciting because now I can do things like get business cards, get listed on the web site, etc., none of which we could do when I was officially volunteering.

For free expression we had to list our two biggest personal goals for the year. Now I have a lot of smaller goals, and I do believe goals should be measureable but I went with two un-measurable goals:
1. I said to strengthen my relationship with my parents, and actually I should include my brother in this as well
2. To strive towards my optimal level of focus and discipline. Now, when you’re close to your optimum level it is hard to tell where you are, exactly (and it will vary from day to day) but when you’re not even close, you know. So I know – I could be doing a lot to improve my focus and discipline. In terms of how to measure this I suppose I could just gauge at the end of each day how I did, and aim at least for improvement over time.

So. Now you all know. But this blog post isn’t about how I’m out of shape or what my goals for the year are, it’s about where I work. Which is, after all, maybe not the reason that I want to be here but may well be the purpose for my being here. Purpose in life is a big topic and part of the fun, of course, is that this is all unknowable. Of course, some things you do know and despite feeling a bit of lethargy and jetlag, and while it may be true that I’m too cocky for a girl, when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts something good is going on. Actually a lot of things have become clearer for me in the last few weeks, and now I need to wrestle with fully accepting things as they are now and not judging them, so that I can then be effective in changing them as I wish; well, so long as my motives are pure, that is.

Enough rambling. So last year I talked about what we do here at heart. What I didn’t say at the time was that shortly after that blog post we shut down our charitable operations and incubator in order to focus on our core portfolio. In some ways this is a setback. But as far as I’m concerned this is the best decision we made all year: I will get more strategic bandwidth from the rest of the management team, will focus on getting one or two big “wins” and will get to spend about 70% of my time managing and 30% doing business strategy and planning. Best of all, once we have a track record in terms of some bigger success stories (we have had a lot of success but very broad and distributed – this is time now for deep and narrow), I have two of the best networkers and salesmen I’ve ever met out there raising development capital to expand existing businesses and start new ones.

Also, this focus will push up the importance of interesting work into governance and how we rapidly smoke test new ideas for social businesses … this is the sexy stuff, actually (well, for me). Listing out my 2011 business goals is actually in some ways more fun than my personal goals. Not sure why this is, exactly. I suppose that is something I should ponder. Maybe about being something bigger than myself? Maybe the challenge of accomplishing things I can only influence and not directly control?

Also, part of this effort is also a re-branding. We are now Heart Capital, a social venture capital firm. How do you like that, I’ve always wanted to work for a venture capital firm and now I do. Well, sort of. A typical VC firm will find small companies to invest in, in exchange for an equity stake. Part of the problem with the incubator, though, is that many of the social entrepreneurs out there actually do not have a good understanding of what it takes to run a business. In an environment like that, where you must be betting on the jockey and not the horse, you just can’t invest capital. This is the problem we were hearing over and over from the international markets as a rationale for the incubator: while blended value capital is looking for places to invest, and goodness knows there is enough capital out there, qualified deal flow just doesn’t exist.

So, our solution is to found these social enterprises ourselves, then, once they get big enough, spin them off into separate and independent entities. We are still thinking about how the equity stakes will work, however. This is in some ways back to the root, or core concept but to me actually this makes more sense than the incubator ever did. If you can develop the ability to rapidly found social enterprises that have the best combination of business model and social impact, and create an ecosystem in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts (think chaebol but without the conflicts of interest … this is where governance comes in!), and actually the Hub is a key part of this aspect of the strategy, well, then you have a real winner.

Why call ourselves a VC firm when this model is so different from a typical VC firm? Part of it I suppose is using terms the industry understands. When we say “self-sustaining” to mean a social enterprise that at least breaks even, no one knows what we mean. “Profitable” makes much more sense. Trying to invent or reinvent a term is hard (Exit41 folks may recall “order center”), so easier to take a term people understand and talk about the differences. Also our core focus is that of a venture capitalist: make money. BUT make it by also doing good, so as always we are after blended value investors, with a blended value offering.

First day back in the office consisted of fighting jet lag (I started to get tired around 10am which, of course, is around 3am EST), and starting to put together two formal proposals, one of which needs to be done tomorrow and the other done on Friday. Well, no better way to get back into things than to jump in the deep end. Once I gather my thoughts a little more, time to start structuring things and tracking progress. Yes, I am excited. This is the best 2011 ever! But why do I keep thinking of Jason and the golden fleece? It must mean something … anyone?

– “Our idea of vegetables is fried chicken.” – Jacques
– “You’re going to be very busy.” – Max
– “It’s pretty boring, actually.” – Jaco (in reference to the work permit, and I will indeed say it’s definitely worth a lot more than its weight in gold, the most expensive piece of paper I’ll probably ever own!)
– “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford (quote pulled from the fishbowl)
– “That’s so cool. You’re official!” – Peter
– “Americans are hectic.” – Adin
– “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. But not with Jack Parow.” – Ellie
– “Wisdom is not what anyone else tells us it is.” – Brad

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