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Wendy Lea talks about the risks of saying no

Give First podcast.

May 20

Entrepreneur, investor, and Techstars board member Wendy Lea remembers the beginnings of Techstars, her first encounters with #GiveFirst—and how mentors have changed her life.

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Hi, everyone. This is David Cohen, and I'm here with my amazing co host, Brad Feld. Hey, Brad! And this is the gift first podcast in the start up world. Give first means simply trying to help anyone, especially entrepreneurs without any expectation of getting anything back. So we'll be talking to mentors and founders about what give first looks like in action and how it makes great entrepreneurship possible. Here's what the lawyers make me say. Brad and I are having personal discussions, and these are our personal opinions that are represented here. They don't represent the opinion of Techstars or the Founder Group or any other group. Our conversations are just for information on learning purposes, including any mentions of securities or funds.

Certain of our own funds may own these securities, but please, no, we're not giving any legal business investment where tax advice and anything on the podcast is not intended to be used by any investor to make investment decisions. We're really excited. Thio have Wendy Lee. Here is a guest today on the podcast. Wendy is a board member here Techstars and has recently moved back here to Boulder after spending four years in Cincinnati as the CEO of centrifuges. Welcome, Wendy.


Thanks a bunch. That was a fun gig, by the way, Sent. Refuse. I'll end on


that. If you could spend a few minutes on your origin story and how you got to this point in your career,

Who is Wendy Lea?

Wendy Lea started OnTarget, a company that raised $0 venture dollars and sold for $150M in 1999. After that she'd worked with venture-backed startups, made a bunch of venture investments, worked with a remarkable startup, and is now working with Techstars.

um, a little bit about my background that would help those of you listening Grok my experiences and where they come from the big success After lots of professional training and large companies, the big success was a company called on Target. Ah, there were three of us four of us that worked like dogs to make that work around the world. 50 million sold it for 150. We owned it 100% to Siebel Systems in 1999. After that experience, I worked for Sable, which was fantastic. I loved that cause. I learned a lot and then I took that experience and started doing new things with it, like really working with venture backed startups. And I had never experienced that. So it was very different. The risk, the reward,

the kind of mentoring required to give and get that brought me to Boulder. A couple of companies here I worked with lead works, was one formally duo also numeric ce. And then I went to California and did a big tour of duty at get satisfaction after making a bunch of of angel investments. Get satisfaction was a big love. My biggest love. I think of all my work life. It didn't turn out as planned, but it was quite remarkable back here now, being proud to serve on techstars.


Wendy, I met you when you moved to Boulder around. I like to say it this way around the turn of the century makes us feel like we've been here for a while or something. Talk a little bit about how you got introduced to techstars and what you're involved with.


Techstars has been well from the very beginning. It was an ask of you, if you remember, just to plug in. And really from there you introduced me to David and David said we were out in Louisville or someplace. I'll never forget it in a white world, you said I have this big idea about bringing entrepreneurs together and mentors, and that's the first time I heard about techstars. And that was the first and I hung around with a lot of mentors. How were Diamond? Is an example, Raja at the time. I mean, so Neil Robertson, Ed Roberto. I became plugged in through the community that Techstars created here in


Boulder. I like to think like back then was really the first really super visible example of Give First in Boulder. I think there were so many mentors that were sort of just trying to help. And that first class of 10 companies which turned out to be a great class and kind of get this whole mentorship driven accelerator thing going. So, you know, a very visible example to me and my career. Really watching that happen? Tell us so windy about maybe your biggest lesson as a mentor.


It was around working with event view. So this was Rob Johnson and Josh fresher. And they were from South Carolina, or one of them was. So we had this Southern thing going on right, And they had an idea that was completely easy to understand. It wasn't complex and crazy. I mean, I really got it, and I liked what they were doing. Um, they were very, very early and their life cycle as an entrepreneur, and I will. They were impressionable. So if a mentor said one thing to them like, Oh,

this VC is going to invest in you They really believed it. And so that was a struggle because I didn't want to be sad for them or or dispute that. But I would say What makes you think that will really happen? What have you done in the business or what you see in the business to make you think that this v. C. And I can't even remember who it was at the time? I think it was actually somewhat from California was gonna invest. They were completely convinced that that would be true. They had no. And so that was tough because they were still working for Demo Day. They had heard or had one or two meetings, and I thought that was gonna be true, and I didn't want them to be down about it. But I knew it wasn't gonna be true. So that's tricky because you want to be upbeat. You believe in what they're building.

Generally speaking, they're working like dogs. So that was hard. And they now, when I see them individually or collectively. They always say, I'm so embarrassed when I look back and think that I was so confident and kind of cocky. I'm like, you know, it happens. You heard what you heard.


Are you trying to manage that dynamic? But


expectation and the only thing I could think to ask. I mean, this is before all the cool modules that we have now and mentoring. I mean, it was just us bushwhacking through telling Piccoli and Howard. I mean, we're just bushwhacking through doing what we could to give back, and it was tricky. So the only thing I remember is what I was taught as a young woman. Just ask a lot of questions and to see if they would tune in to that reality or not.


So when do you've been involved in lots and lots of companies? Both as a founder entrepreneur? You've been brought into some startups to help. You've been on a bunch of board's chairperson on some on, and you've also been an investor in a bunch when you reflect on all of those experiences, Uh, what's the most fun you've had with the company?


It was awesome. Building out the team that gets satisfaction, really trying to figure out the match between the skill and knowledge that was being represented and the needs we had on the team because you've got different technology needs. Yeah, I'm really talking on the product side because that was really hard, you know, to get that right, but exciting, too, because I needed a partner. And, um So I learned a lot about taking that which was represented and that which was needed and I don't mean falsely represented, but just really getting under the hood of that, like second level questions to see if that would work chemistry wise on the team with two very young founders, but also just in terms of the skill and knowledge.


When you reflect on that, any examples of you know, while we hired this person and we thought it was this


person, he was completely wrong. What was wrong is he didn't know how to get his hands really dirty and sit with the engineers, and and and to talk with them directly about what they saw in the code. The code needed to be re factored. It was gonna be an expensive proposition. We all kind of knew that the investors knew it and the guy was saying all the right things and I could have shoot a woulda, had observed him or with his peeps. Not just with the product managers, of course, but he liked them or he affiliate with them, but with the engineers, because that was the brake. And then that is that a VP of engineering? Is that a V p. A problem in that was a significant turning point for me because I don't have that background, right?

So I had to listen and learn and asked the founders. So it was exciting and scary and costly when you did it wrong. Or when you didn't stay with that second and third level question and listen to your instincts and then go back and juxtapose what you do. All the second level calibration made a big mistake there, and it really cost the company a lot of time and money.


It sounds like you learned some stuff there. I'm curious if if you have an example, maybe from your career, when do you where somebody said something to you or give you some advice? Maybe earlier in your career. That really sort of changed a lot for you. And what

What was the moment that changed everything?

Early in her career, Wendy had an opportunity to get a promotion and move to another state. It was a great opportunity, but it seemed to have a lot of professional risk. Her coach at work explained that it was quite the opposite, and the risk of saying "yes" was rather low, but the potential upside was high. At the end, the move cost Wendy her marriage, but business-wise things worked out great!

that waas. Yeah, I've got early and later, one that was relevant around when I lived in California. But the early Waas I had an opportunity as a very young woman in my mid twenties to move, get a promotion, moved to New Orleans from Jackson, Mississippi, and that looked very risky to May. And personally, I had gone through a lot of change, So personal risk I can I can deal. But so professional needed to be stable for me because I had gone through a lot of personal risk. And so I felt, Oh, that means I'd have to move and I don't know anyone in New Orleans and I'd had all this responsibility and my husband can't go with me and the coaching I got the mentor, My mentor,

um, who was one of my bosses at the company, said The risk of saying yes is really very low right? The risk of saying no is very high, and I'm like, What are you talking about? My brain was like going crazy. No, no, no. I don't get that. He goes. First of all, if you don't If you say no, you're playing small. You have a lot of potential.

You need to go explore that potential. So you don't know anyone. You'll go meet people. And I'd never thought of that. The risk of yes, versus the risk of no and the implication of that. And so I went back and told my husband was moving to New Orleans. Of course he didn't come. Yes, there was a divorce. And so life continues. But that comment of playing small and that was before all, you know, you see these words everywhere in social media. That's before we had social media. So when someone says you're playing small,

like, what does that mean? Does that mean I'm not tall or I'm not full or exciting or what? You guys know you're not gonna hit your potential, and he would have been right if I had not taken that advice later. The only other advice was from Rob Hayes, who was a very dear friend at first round Capital who wasn't investor and get satisfaction. And one of our first term sheets were pulled the money. The company had no money, we had zero. We were funding it ourselves not well. And the term she got pulled and I didn't know to be upset about that. I mean, I had not had enough experience to freak out Rob Waas. And so we met at a coffee shop and he says, Well,

what are we gonna do? Resentment possible? What do you mean? I said, we'll keep looking for money and I'll invest and we'll keep going. I love this company. And he was just like, really Wow. But I mean, he just said Then I support you. But that was the question of like, What are you going to do? What are we going to do? And then when I said, Well, we're going to keep going I mean, that was that was significant.


And he was just behind


you on whatever you like. If I I thought there were conditions that we could build around, then let's do it. Yeah, good. Good advice for him. Then let's do it right. If you want to go, I will

What does Give First mean to you?

Give without expectation of return.

in 60 seconds or less. What does give first mean to you if


you had to define it give without expectation of return?


That's far less than 60 seconds. I'm going to start using that. That's very short. I think theater thing I love to hear about is is there an example in your life where you could say I've seen that in action? I've seen the power of that that you could share of


give. First of all, there are lots of pick your favorite working on universities in Cincinnati. So there were five and six. How often would one be called on to help? And then after doing that in modeling, that as we should, as we know, is important. I saw ah, student actually good. And this was in the engineering school. Go over to a young woman. That was Anna coding class, and I was there. We were kind of part of, Ah,

big coaching workshop and just go over and sit down with her. And he said to her very directly, You know, I can tell you're struggling with this. I mean this, you know, this was intense because we had projects, he said. I could tell you're struggling with it. What can I do to help? Let's payer, Let's work on this back and forth and back and forth and no one told him to do it, and I didn't say now run around the room and help each other Right There was good observation and good modeling. I'm real proud of that. I think the more we model that, the more it's done very naturally.

And then people don't feel awkward or sometimes even keep score and want that reciprocity thing, even though they say they don't you know they do. Andi, I think that's will change the scope and slope of the work we do as an organization, techstars and as we do is professionals. If you model it suddenly and set expectations suddenly than people lean in. In a way, they know how.


The last section here is something that were lifted from our friend Harry stabbings, and he has a thing that he calls quickfire or quickfire around. We're gonna ask you a handful of short questions, and we love very, very fast answers to each one of them. Let's do it. Wendy, what's your favorite book you've read in last year? Um, small fry. Do you remember who wrote a play a chance? Steve Jobs. Daughter Lisa, you have a favorite charity is supporting


why I support the S P C A. Because I'm a big dog lover.


Tell us about a startup you met recently that you think people might should maybe should check out.


I'm very excited about pipeline equity, which happens to be a techstars company led by Katica Roy. Um, for all the reasons you would understand


what a city that you think people have to visit


before they die, I would say Oxford, Mississippi.


You did it. You're through it. Thanks for joining us, Wendy. It's been a blast having you my pleasure. Thanks for having me. We invite everybody listening to come. Experience give. First firsthand, there are many start of weekends happening around the world right now. Many internship driven accelerator programs that textures runs have open applications. Right now, today. And if you're following all the latest news, we just launched Techstars studio. It's a full service venture studio allowing you to rapidly envision, validate and launch disruptive new startups. We hope you'll check all that out at textures dot com.

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