July 23, 2021

#50 - Redefining venture capital: Ben Casnocha, Village Global

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Ben Casnocha was practically born an entrepreneur. In his teenage years, he started and scaled a couple of companies, before becoming Chief of Staff at LinkedIn and Greylock, both founded by Reid Hoffman. From this partnership, two books were born, co-authored by Ben and Reid, including New York Times bestseller The Start-Up of You.

Since 2017, Ben has been a co-founder and Partner at Village Global, an early stage venture capital firm that aims to work not simply as a traditional VC, but also as a network. With almost a quarter billion dollars under management, Village Global is backed by some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs.

In this episode, Ben shares:

  • Inspirational tips for your journey and career as an entrepreneur
  • What sets Village Global apart from the rest of the VC world
  • How to build a strong network
  • And how his interest in Buddhism is compatible (or not) with the entrepreneurial mindset

Starting something new?Visit apply.latitud.com to learn about the Latitud Fellowship program.

Brian Requarth: I hosted a podcast with Chris Schroeder a couple of days ago and he gave me a couple ideas on some questions too. And so he spoke highly of you and I know he's pretty involved in Village Global, but before we get into details of your journey in Village Global, I wanted to say that I haven't met many Buddhist VCs before.

So I'm curious to know what led you to Buddhism, and if you're comfortable sharing a little bit more about how that converses with the venture capitalist in you?

Ben Casnocha: Well, I've been interested in Buddhism for more than a decade. And I'm not sure I would identify as a Buddhist, but I'm certainly interested in Buddhist ways of thinking and some of the core tenets of Buddhism, I'm by no means an expert.

I've done several long meditation retreats with, with real experts. So I've learned little bits and pieces from that along the way, and I've read a bunch of books, but it's a practice and it's a long journey. I think the essence of it that's most compelling to me is a couple of things.

One is this idea that, we naturally live lives of delusion, that when we look out into the world and try to understand it, we have sort of blinders on, in which we see a distorted view of reality. And maybe a simple way of explaining that is that most of us know about these cognitive biases, like confirmation bias or sunk cost fallacy, or these other things that distort clear rational thinking, and the Buddha really observed that 2000+ years ago.

So much of the Buddhist framework for thinking has to do with seeing the world more clearly, overcoming that delusion and seeing the truth about your own life, about the nature of your mind and the nature of reality around here, and as an entrepreneur, as a business person, as a leader, I can't think of anything that's more important than seeing the world clearly and seeing your own mind clearly.

And there's a bunch of tactics and techniques that are taught in various Buddhist traditions to try to become someone who's a clearer figure about reality. I think, and those are the techniques I've been studying. I think the challenge for many entrepreneurs in VC when it comes to Buddhist ideas is this is sort of a different idea of Buddhism around not attachment, which can be in conflict with ambition and goal setting.

So there's this idea of Buddhism that you never want to be overly attached to any given outcome, be it a good one or a bad outcome. You sort of let those experiences pass on through and maintain a kind of equanimity. Of course entrepreneurs tend to have to set really ambitious goals. You have to be pretty attached to those goals. You have to walk those goals to be realized in order to have any level of success, as , Brian, and so there are some areas of Buddhism that I think are less compatible with the entrepreneurial life, which is why I consider myself a student and an explorer of the idea, but I don't necessarily subscribe to each and every one tenet, I don't live every tenet in my own life.

Brian Requarth: That's really helpful. That, and that makes a lot of sense. I mean, I guess you kind of address my question of that little tug of war that might happen of ambition and being able to let go. But I think that philosophically, it sounds like there's a lot of things that probably help your thought process in, in, in what you're doing.

What would you say is a helpful contributor to you being a successful investor in terms of how you approach things, maybe a certain awareness that allows you to maybe see certain opportunities or deal with entrepreneurs in a different way?

Ben Casnocha: One thing that Steve Jobs said many years ago, which always struck me is that the journey is the reward.

It's the climb up the mountain that can be as fulfilling or more fulfilling than getting to the top of the mountain and looking at the view. And when I reflect on my own successes and failures, I think about the experiences that have been most fulfilling to me, it really is the journey and the struggle and the pursuit.

And sometimes when I've even achieved the thing that I set out to achieve, it doesn't quite feel as good as I thought it would. And this is actually a core tenet of Buddhism, which my own sort of rough translation is that getting what you want won't make you happy. There's a sense in which there's a great deal of impermanence and emptiness to real external achievement that doesn't really fill us up in the way that we often think it will.

And I think for entrepreneurs, it's a really important lesson that if you don't love or learn to love the age of day, it doesn't mean you have to love every single day of the journey because there will certainly be really hard days as both you and I know. But the most days of most weeks, you really have to enjoy the grind. Enjoy the struggle, enjoy the pursuit, because if you hate your life and you're doing it all because you think that when you finally take your company public, when you finally sell the company for $500 million, when you finally get to a thousand employees, whatever milestone you think will finally represent satisfaction and success, it's very unlikely that will produce any sort of enduring happiness in your life. And I know so many entrepreneurs and VCs who live lives of great agitation, conflict, and unhappiness, and they just put up with it because they think that at the end of the road, happiness awaits, but Buddhism teaches you that that's really a myth.

And, you have to be enjoying every single day in order to actually enjoy your life.

Brian Requarth: Yeah, I guess, embracing those moments right, where you're in the struggle because, and it really resonates with me because I think a lot of people set out on their journey and they're like, when I achieve this there's some kind of happiness kick kicker that happens.

And as anyone that's overcome obstacles and then, , reach your goals. You're constantly looking at what's the next mountain, right? Pretty soon afterwards.

I'm going to share one quick anecdote from, I was in a boat with a Colombian, the Dalai Lama came and spoke.

Someone asked this really philosophical question of finding the answer and it was like this intense question. And I always remember the Dalai Lama, he paused for a second. This is a room of 4,000 people.

He paused for a second, and he said: "I don't know." And the whole crowd just started kind of erupting and clapping. And it was just this shared moment for everybody in the room. And, as an investor, , there must be moments where you don't have all the answers and founders maybe look to you for answers and you've got to have that kind of humility.

Speaking more specifically about how you philosophically, how do you work with the founders and what's your personal philosophy in how you support founders at Village Global? And then I want to talk a little bit more about the model, cause I'm super curious.

Ben Casnocha: Yeah.

Well, I think you, you touched on a good point around humility in terms of the Dalai Lama anecdote. And I think that anybody who's embarked on any sort of spiritual quest quickly gets humbled by how little we actually know about how the world works and how our own minds work and so on. So I think it's really telling something, thank you for sharing that.

And I think many VCs would do well to remember these ideas because the world of entrepreneurship and business is extraordinarily complex. I think what makes this humility issue difficult for VCs is that on the one hand, our super power is pattern matching. Our super power relative to someone who's full-time on a single business is that we are talking to and looking at decks of and seeing metrics about thousands of companies at once.

We're getting pitched to all the time, we have portfolios. And so we peer cross this broad data set, and we begin to notice patterns, right? We begin to notice the sorts of habits of mind and behavior that define great entrepreneurs and then the habits of mind and behavior that are common to those that are struggling.

We see certain strategies work, certain techniques work or not work, and that's our super power. Because when we talk with the CEO in our portfolio, we can say: "Hey, look, we've seen this playbook before, or here are the four ways that our startups have a successful time hiring engineers, or here are the three things that we see in common among companies that are expanding globally." Or whatever the scenario might be.

That's our super power, it's that pattern matching. And I think every VC, you can say that we at Village, because of the scale at which we operate, we have an especially large dataset in which we see these times and points of commonality. I think the flip side though, is that sometimes we do this pattern matching, and then we just assume that we have a perfect model of the target company, the founder who's seeking advice, who we're trying to help.

We assume that we can just fit them right into this pattern that we have in our head or that we observe. And the truth is not every company fits into that pattern. In fact, some of the great entrepreneurs today are actually trying something genuinely new and different where you can't actually apply the lessons from other companies. The pattern doesn't fit.

And that's where there's an arrogance that VCs can have when they give advice. I've seen: "Oh, you're a seed stage company building a SaaS product for HR professionals. Okay. Here are the eight things you need to know. Here's what's not going to work in your business." But every amazing business has in some way defied the rules, and defined history.

And so you sometimes have to be more humble than you might be intuitively as a VC doing that pattern matching and celebrate the idea that this might be the founder to actually break the rules, right? This might be the founder, even though the eight other founders in your portfolio tried it and didn't work. This person might make it work. That's what makes them a great entrepreneur.

Brian Requarth: Yeah, those sometimes are the breakout companies. I think we've all been humbled at one point in that exact scenario where we think we have a clarity of something and then all of a sudden, somebody proves us wrong.

Let's talk about the Village Global model a little bit. How is it a different model for venture and why now? Mostly for those listeners that don't know, 'cause I'm a big fan of what you guys have built in a pretty short amount of time.

Ben Casnocha: We founded the firm four years ago on the premise that venture capital really needed to change. The great irony from our perspective, my partners Anne Dwane, Eric Torenberg and I, and the full team at Village is that VCs are all about backing disruptors and change, yet the venture capital business model and structure has not changed for the most part in the last 50 or 60 years. And that just struck me as highly ironic and highly unfortunate because the nature of entrepreneurship is changing. The way that people start businesses changing the number of entrepreneurs has just exploded in size.

And so, back in the day, there were these VC sitting here in Silicon valley who just sort of did all of the deals, right. They monopolized deal flow. That's out on Sand Hill Road and made a ton of money because there are only a handful of VCs and all of the entrepreneurial talent was in the Bay Area or traveled to the Bay Area to pitch them.

And it was pretty expensive to start companies. And there wasn't a lot of capital around. So VCs had a lot of power relative to the founder. Fast forward to today, as we record this at 2021, Brian, obviously the world of a lot different. Founders have a lot more power than the VCs for the most part, because there's so many capital sources.

There is talent everywhere around the world, of course, in Latin America, as you know, and throughout Southeast Asia and Europe and Africa, I mean, literally across the entire globe, there are entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs waiting to be born who, if they're given the right capital and advice can actually create businesses.

It's also much cheaper to start businesses today, you can. You do not have to raise $10 million to start an internet company today. You can get going and actually test them in the right manner. Those, among other things, constitute sort of the change in the world of how businesses are formed.

And we wanted to create a firm that would be responsive to these changes. We wanted to create a firm that would be as adaptive as these entrepreneurs and meet these entrepreneurs where they have real needs. And so we wanted to invent an entirely new way of running a venture capital firm.

The first way that we did that was really different was we said that when we talk to founders today, they're really inspired by people who've come before them. They look up to people like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg and say: "Wow, if I can build a business as significant as theirs, that would be amazing." And they were ferociously reading accounts, stories and advice from those sorts of leaders.

And we said, we want to build a community in which those very leaders are actually the anchor LPs and advisors in the Village network. And so, most of the money that we invest into startups is the personal capital of those people. We call them luminaries and about 25 people like Bezos, Gates, Reid Hoffman, Abby Johnson at Fidelity and Bob Iger at Disney.

It's those people's personal money in the fund that we invest into companies. The second thing that we do that's really different is we use a network to source, select, and support companies. And so we partner with people like Chris Schroeder, as you mentioned who represent different expertise areas in the world, right?

The world is so complex, so vast, there's so much opportunity. We think it's really foolish for GPs to sort of sit in their office and think that they can be experts on everything in all geographies. It's far better in our opinion, to sort of decentralize decision making a little bit and push judgment out to the edges of the network, where we can empower people who really know what they're doing and to get a niche to go and make investments in that niche that we have sort of a network strategy for doing a lot of our deals.

And the final piece of our strategy is around the value of a peer community. So most venture firms run really small portfolios and it's all about the GP giving advice to the founder, but we've observed in today's founders that they love giving and getting advice from each other. There's a lot you can learn from someone who's in the trenches alongside you building their business at the same time you're building it.

It used to be that VCs would tell you: "Brian, 20 years ago when I started my company, here's what I learned." That's not as helpful as someone telling you: "Hey Brian, I'm also trying to solve SEO. Here's what I learned yesterday about how to do that, right?" The timeliness of the advice you give other founders is really profound.

And so at Village, we try to build this broad founder community, where we have a broader portfolio than many venture firms so as to enable a pure community at scale, where we can have a lot of founders helping each other. So those are the three things that make the village different: Luminaries as our LPs, network strategies for finding companies, and a broad peer community.

And what that's amounted to over the last few years is our portfolio with a couple hundred plus businesses all around the world, all using technology in some way to disrupt an industry. We're usually investing at pre-seed and seed or early A, and a lot of these businesses have performed very well.

In three or four years you have companies raising a meaningful series B, series C round, and we hope that in the next few years, we'll see some of those companies stack, go public, be acquired. And then of course reenter the community as new LPs and luminaries in their own right.

Brian Requarth: I really, really identify with this.

And it's funny because a lot of my natural tendencies led towards Village Global. And then I actually met Eric Torenberg because I went through OnDeck and then I actually learned about Village Global when I was investigating OnDeck.

I saw what you guys are doing there and it really resonates with me because I think geographically also in, in a broad region of Latin America as my area of focus, it's impossible to know everything about each market. In this network driven model, it makes so much sense.

We now get the "Village" part, let's talk about the "Global." Where do your tentacles reach? Give us an idea, you mentioned Southeast Asia, Latin America, Africa. What does it look like today in terms of the portfolio and, and your network?

Ben Casnocha: Today, about 60 to 70% of our investments are in the United States, of which a majority are in Silicon Valley or in other ecosystems like New York or LA or what have you.

So a majority of our investments are in the US, but that still leaves about 30 plus percent of our portfolio to be outside of the US. And in Latin America we invest with great enthusiasm because we think there's just huge markets, tons of talent, pretty friendly business culture.

And to some extent, a shortage of smart capital that can be really helpful to founders. Obviously folks like you, Brian, are helping address that gap in the market. But we believe that throughout countries like Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, especially among other countries in the region, there's just a tremendous opportunity to back some of the most talented founders and connect them into our global network.

Especially if they're trying to raise money in the states, which many companies need to do at the later stages. Because while there might be a lot of series A capital, there are as many firms for example in Latin America that can lead quality series A, B, C, D rounds for these global venture scale-ups.

And so we really try to help the global businesses connect to the very best US capital when it's time to raise fall on rounds, one of the things we can uniquely do for them. So we're really bullish on Latin America and have several investments in the region. We also do a lot of investing, as I mentioned in Southeast Asia. I think we have 10 investments in India and a couple in Indonesia, Singapore, etc.

That's another part of the world that's very, very exciting. I think Western Europe, we've also invested in Europe. That's a much more competitive and mature venture ecosystem, tons and tons and tons of funds. And so we do invest in that region, have some amazing companies there, but it's probably a different stage in its maturation than LatAm and Southeast Asia.

Brian Requarth: And I guess I'm going to maybe answer my own question here. There's a risk when you're looking around the entire world that you try to boil the ocean, but I guess talk about the network model you have, speak to Latin America specifically. I know that you have some relationships with a few other entrepreneurs, talk about what that process looks like.

Ben Casnocha: Yeah. Boiling the ocean is always the risk. And I think for any company or venture firm, right? The focus, a lot of value and focus that one of the other values or focuses that allows you to develop focus expertise, right? You can actually learn the ins and outs of an ecosystem of an industry or a problem area.

So again, at Village, the way we work is we partner with people who we have high trust relationships with, who build expertise in different areas. So, for example, one of our founders, a guy named Santiago Suarez is the founder and CEO of a company called ADDI in Bogota and ADDI is like a firm for LatAm, that's the vision.

In addition to being one of our founders, we also partnered with Santiago on early stage investments. And so, he has a finance and investment background of his own as an entrepreneur. So we will partner with Santiago when you look at companies, certainly in Colombia, but even FinTech companies in Mexico and around the region, because as a FinTech entrepreneur himself with a good investment lens, he has the perspective that's really essential for us to get confidence on those sorts of deals.

Similarly, we mentioned Chris Schroeder who also has done a lot of investing in the region and on other global markets. He can connect the dots very effectively and do that sort of pattern matching that you were talking about earlier with respect to: "Oh, this is a real estate tech company in the Philippines. Here's a real estate tech company in Argentina. There are probably some similarities. Of course there are lots of differences, but what can we learn from these global examples?" And so we will partner with people like Santiago or Chris when we do deals in the region, and sometimes you think about expertise from a geographic perspective, sometimes expertise is really more of a sector area, right?

You can be based in San Francisco and just know a ton about a particular type of business. And whether that business is formed in Brazil or London or New York, that expertise is what's valuable. Sometimes geography is the right lens, but sometimes it's just background and expertise.

Brian Requarth: I one hundred percent support the idea of the sector focus.

I was fortunate enough to bring on an early investor who was the former CEO of a similar company to VivaReal out in Australia called REA Group. And he'd scaled that company and literally had the playbook from industry marketing, sales, product and just had built it and scaled it.

And so it literally shaved two or three years off of my life in terms of internal debates and validating ideas, so that's a huge, huge win for entrepreneurs. And Santi, you mentioned, he's a friend of Latitud and a mentor. He leads our FinTech session a lot of times when we have a new cohort and he's an incredibly crisp thinker and communicator, and he does a great job of boiling down the FinTech space in LatAm.

So, I wanted to talk about this relationship with the founders. And everyone says that they're founder friendly. It's par for the course when you're an investor, in terms of how you do that or saying you do that. What does that mean at Village being founder friendly?

Ben Casnocha: Well, I think you're right. It is a cliche and no VC or whatever suggests that they're not founder friendly. So I think the interesting question is like, yeah, how does it manifest at our firm versus any other firm? And in what ways should we try to be helpful to founders? I think one way that we think about being founder friendly is we try to think about what are the founder's real needs and challenges.

And then how can we be helpful to them? That general topic has changed a lot in recent years because when I started my first company 20 years ago, I had to go to the public library and get a book out on how to write a press release because there were no blogs or anything online on how to start a business and be an entrepreneur.

So the amount of access to information was very limited. Today, if you're starting a company, there are literally 10,000 blog posts about how to write a press release. There's 10,000 articles on how to do SEO. There's 10,000 articles on how to hire. I mean, there are a million podcasts that have amazing interviews with people much smarter than you and I talking about how to build incredible businesses.

There's a million places out there where people can actually get educated on how to be a successful founder. So sometimes I tell founders, like if you can't figure out the basics on how to build a business, if you haven't read an article on product market fit, if you haven't read The Lean Startup, etc. I mean, what are you doing? You don't need to ask me to explain these things for you. Go read it on your own, write it all out there. It's basically free, so go educate yourself. Now once you've educated yourself, of course, there are still things you can learn from a content perspective but the main thing that you needed, an early-stage entrepreneur, we believe, is a network.

You need to get introductions at the right time to the right person when it comes to trying to hire, sell on the customers, raise money from VCs, et cetera. So you can read a million articles about fundraising, but nothing helps the fundraising process like a warm introduction to a quality VC who trusts the person who's doing that referral.

So we at Village with respect to being founder friendly and helping founders, we definitely try to, we definitely will teach them things. And there's some content that we compile, especially for our companies that are in our accelerator. We spend a lot of time rolling up our sleeves and helping them on some of the advanced tactics, building a great SaaS business, community business, or whatever space.

But generally speaking, we focused on network. We focused on connections, not content because we recognize that there's so much content out there. It's almost like a litmus test for how much, how resourceful the founder is. Have they gone and consumed the content on their own? So by the time they meet us, they really just would value our network.

Brian Requarth: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I mean, the information is available and it's there for consumption. One quick question I have is this whole network piece. A lot of people have tried to solve this kind of fundraising marketplace idea where it's like matching capital with investors.

Why has no one really figured that out in a way that has proven super productive? I mean, there's a handful of initiatives out there that exist, but what are your thoughts on that? Can network scale there and become productized through software?

Ben Casnocha: It's an interesting question. You're right that most fundraising processes today, while software and data are used to sort of assemble a target list and so on, most deals still happen through hand-to-hand introductions.

It's very rare for quality entrepreneurs to be funded on cold outreach and most of the sort of market place approaches have not worked. I don't think I would rule it out altogether. I can imagine a world in which data and marketplaces and so on play a much more important role than they do today. And I know there are people who would argue that that would make tech sort of more inclusive and fair for folks that don't have existing networks that, , earn the warm introductions to Sequoia or whatever.

Like imagine if every Sequoia investment decision was just made based like everyone in the world, no matter if you're Jeff Bezos or someone just come out of high school just fills out the same Google form and submits it in and it's a totally fair algorithm. That would really change the way most deals get done, because the way deals currently get done is you have a warm introduction to the right person at Sequoia who does these sorts of deals.

And you have other people paying that person to provide back channel reference context. And so it's a very personal human process. That as you said, Brian, doesn't scale. And so I wouldn't rule it out altogether, but I think the reason why the data's a bit difficult is because these investment decisions are very personal for both the VC and the founder.

So the founder, you can, once you take a VC's capital, you can't return it, right? So you have somebody on your cap. You can do a secondary transaction, but generally speaking, you're stuck with somebody for 10 years if things go well. And so you really want to get to know the person you're working with.

And I think this is a little bit of a challenge in our current market. I'm not sure what you're seeing Brian, but we have founders that sometimes want to run a 10 day process and I'm going to go do like 60, 30 minutes zoom calls with people and then pick a term sheet and felt like you're about to work with someone for years.

Don't you want to get to know them a little bit better, like actually spend some real time. And so sure software can help on some of the initial matchmaking, but in the end, humans need to get together and ask themselves, do we jive? Right? Are we working well together? Do we want to have a long-term partnership?

And I'm not sure how much you can automate or accelerate that process.

Brian Requarth: Yeah, maybe. I mean, you can take the dating example, maybe there's some software that exists, you've got different websites and different mobile apps and those things have maybe increased the efficiency of being able to meet more people.

But ultimately if you're going to get married or you're going to spend some time, it's not, it's not based on a profile. But yeah, it intrigues me because I feel like it still isn't very efficient and it's the reason why in Latin America, most founders that get funded come from Ivy league schools, Stanford or Harvard.

And there, there's some kind of really specific signal which is just the way it is right now.

Ben Casnocha: I think, yeah, it's good. It's a good general topic to think about, because I think the dating example is accurate, which is that if you can make the top of the funnel matching more efficient, then you could still have an extended get to know you period.

Like, if you match with someone in the dating app or something, you would still go on dates and get to know that person over a period of time on whatever cadence that sort of goes both parties. I can imagine something similar in the venture ecosystem because it's more just the top of the funnel is made more efficient.

And I also agree with you that it's a pity that so many VCs still rely on some sort of old school credentials to sift through the pipeline. Because ultimately what VCs are trying to do is they're inundated with pitches. There are many more founders starting businesses and they could ever have the time to fund.

And so the reason they use a network and introductions as the vetting source is it allows them to take a pool of 10,000 companies and shrink it into a pool of a thousand companies to actually look at and evaluate. They're looking for sorting mechanisms, and this is why I'm bullish on and I helped write a piece a couple of years ago on micro-credentials and nano degrees and these other sorts of communities and affiliations and courses and things like that, that signal to employers, but also perhaps to investors that "hey I'm legit", right?

I didn't go to Harvard, but here are the five things I've done that would imply that I have entrepreneurial potential. And so you should prioritize me on your calendar. And I think the more we have those sorts of artifacts built, the better it'll be for all.

Brian Requarth: Yeah. I mean, I think ironically, like a lot of this kind of brand building that happens in social media and writing about different topics. Those all of a sudden become a little bit of your CV, right. In terms of what you've done and how you're thinking about things. I recently got excited about just building in public more.

Ryan Hoover over at Product Hunt and Eric, they started that movement a while ago. I think that it puts on display and your credentials end up becoming your thoughts. And that's something that I think is powerful for founders.

Ben Casnocha: It's a great point. I mean, I think it's a good example of one way to develop sort of your own credential is to just yet put your thoughts out there, think out loud and think in public and then let your work speak for itself.

I know lots of startup founders that have raised money by basically DMing on Twitter a VC saying: "Hey, look at my feed or hey, here's a blog post that I wrote on some new dev tool that went viral. And let me tell you more about it." I think social media and sort of the creator economy, etc. is one solution to this dynamic we're talking about.

Brian Requarth: I'm sure you built a ton of credibility when you wrote multiple books. Your work is out on display, right? I mean, you wrote The Start-Up of You and I'm going to transition to that 'cause I think it leans on a powerful quote that says that all humans are born entrepreneurs.

Ironically startup founders can often feel like they're not in control and attach their self worth to their business many times. Maybe you could share what you suggest they do to take more of an entrepreneurial approach in their own lives in general.

Ben Casnocha: Yeah. In 2012, Reid Hoffman and I authored a book called The Start-Up of You, which is a career strategy guide to help people in any industry, any career path, lead a more entrepreneurial life, to look at the lessons and insights and what some of the world's most successful entrepreneurs and apply those very insights to your own career.

The Muhammad Yunus quote, who's a microfinance pioneer in Bangladesh, is: "All humans are born entrepreneurs". In the caves, back in the day, we were all self-employed finding food and feeding ourselves. But as modern civilization came, Yunus went on to say, we became labor because they stamped us: "you are labor." And we forgot that we are entrepreneurs.

And it's basically this idea that our evolutionary history as humans is that of being a forger and a creator and a builder. We all had to do that just to survive and get to this point in our evolutionary history. And so anybody in the world who thinks of themselves as an employee or as labor, or as anybody other than an entrepreneur, I think is missing or has forgotten their historical legacy in a sense.

And so what we argue in the book is that for those of us who have perhaps lost some of our entrepreneurial mojo. We need to reclaim that entrepreneurial energy and that entrepreneurial mindset. Even if you're a product manager at someone else's company, even if you're a consultant, I'm sure there's people listening to this conversation who are not necessarily starting their own business right now or not running their own startup.

Maybe they're interested in entrepreneurship, thinking about it, but even if you have a day job somewhere else, you can think and act like an entrepreneur in your own life. You can take control of your career and become adaptive. Take risks, build a network. Do all the things that founders do to build a great business and you can do those things in your own life.

Only then will you have a career that can flourish, that can be resilient to change. I mean, this pandemic, COVID-19 pandemic, is such a good example of a Black Swan event that disrupted so many industries and so many people.

I remember this from March 2020 but there's a three-week window where we had in just a few weeks, literally hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions of people in the US long, instantly out of work. Entire industries, the restaurant industry, the movie theater industry. All in-person retail. I mean, just huge swaths of the economy just shut down. I mean, if you work in one of those industries, that's a shock of epic proportion.

So I think it's holding out for all of us to ask ourselves: "How resilient are we to those sorts of unexpected changes? How do you invest in yourself to become more adaptive?" And again, founders have to do this all day long when they're building these businesses against all odds. Our argument is no matter what you're doing in your life, make a similar sort of investment in yourself, your skillset and your network and the personal brand to be similarly adaptive long-term.

Brian Requarth: A hundred percent, one thing you mentioned, and it made me think of something, in Brazil a lot of times when I worked there, people we hired as we scaled the company would often say: "What's the career plan for me? Do you have a career path for me?"

And I remember just wanting to tell everyone that you should build your own career path. The company isn't designed to build your path for you. And if you think like an entrepreneur and you're like: "Hey, I'm taking this on. I'm going to make it happen. You become just so valuable to the company."

The best people that I work with were entrepreneurs. They took their teams and they had the pride of making things happen. So I couldn't agree more. And I, and I love the book.

I remember when the book came out and, in fact, have it here. It's absolutely relevant today.

Ben Casnocha: I appreciate that, Brian. We'll send you the 10th anniversary edition. A new edition is coming out next year. We'll have to get you a copy of it. I think I want to amplify your comment on career.

It's something we actually addressed in our subsequent book called The Alliance, which is for managers and leaders for recruiting entrepreneurial employees in the organization. What we say in The Alliance and advice we give to managers is you have to tell your employees: "Look, it's not our job to be in charge of your career."

Every individual has to own their own career. No one can run your career for you. Now, your manager and the company you work for can be a really strong ally in that process. And as much as you want to be growing in your current job, you should be having live conversations with your managers and colleagues about the kind of growth that you want to experience.

So there's definitely a collaborative element to it, but this idea that the company you work for is responsible for your career, that is a very antiquated concept. That was true maybe 50 years ago, back in the company man, company woman era where people work for one company their whole life, but in today's economy, you have to be in charge of your own career.

Brian Requarth: Totally. I mean, I'm excited to read that book. I love the original book and I'm excited for the extension.

Ben Casnocha: Yeah, we wrote The Start-Up of You for individual professionals. Then we got emails from all these CEOs and managers saying: "How do I recruit and manage employees who are thinking in The Start-Up of You way? Because these people tend to be more ambitious. They tend to be more driven by growth and professional development, and so what does a company need to do to attract, manage and retain those sorts of employees?" And that was the framework that we developed.

It originally came out of how LinkedIn managed, and we wrote it into an HBR article that turned into the book The Alliance, and the premise is like, you want to stop treating your employees like they're lifetime workers who are going to work for you for the rest of their career.

But also don't treat them like day-to-day contractors where you might fire them at any moment, or they might leave at any moment. Like it's neither lifelong, nor is it like a day-to-day contract, you want to instead forge this sort of medium term relationship, which we call an Alliance in which you invest in your employees and commit to transforming their career.

Because again, if they're starting to use the employees, they want to be growing in an exchange they commit to transforming the company's trajectory. So this is mutual benefit. And mutual benefit over a real period of time, which we call tours of duty and that's sort of the framework for how to connect with these entrepreneurial employees in the workplace.

Brian Requarth: I love that. And I think we both agree that as people that have led teams, we love to see people succeed. It's a shot in the arm when you've got someone that you work with for a couple of years and goes and starts a company or gets this really prestigious role.

I remember the first teams that I hired in Colombia, and I remember we'd focused on Colombia. And then we realized Brazil was this massive opportunity, we had to pivot and move to Brazil and make that our focus. And I felt bad because I couldn't take everyone with me and I had to let a bunch of people go.

What was ironic about it was that I really had an internal struggle on this. And then, shortly after, one was working at Mercado Libre, one was at Facebook running a big team, like running SMBs at Facebook and eventually, scaled their career. And so like, ironically, I felt bad about it, but the opportunity we had at an early kind of startup in an emerging ecosystem gave them incredible opportunities for their personal development and career.

So I think that when there's this mutual benefit for everybody, it's great.

Ben Casnocha: Yeah. It's, it's powerful. And we talked about in The Alliance, for example, we have chapters on alumni networks of competence, which is something that McKinsey and Bain and these groups have done very successfully, but we think every company should have an alumni network.

For one, having an alumni network implies that not everyone's going to be at a company for their entire life, which is fine. It's not ultra disloyal. It's just the reality. So many people complete honorable tours of duty. It's fine. If they're not there for 50 years.

But also what you get with an alumni network, is that very powerful aspect we've talked about, Brian, in which you have all of these allies and friends and former colleagues at all these different companies that can actually be useful to a company. So like, for example, when I was at LinkedIn, I helped start the LinkedIn alumni network now in the spirit of his book. And when you pull together the LinkedIn alumni base, it's a pretty powerful cross section of the tech industry.

And so the way that translates on the recruiting side is when we recruit a new employee into the company, you can tell them: "Hey, look, maybe you'll be here for two years. Maybe it'll be over for six years. Maybe it'll be over 10 years. Maybe we'll be here for 20 years. But at some point, if it's ever time for you to leave the company, we will welcome you into the alumni network."

And then you're an alumnus for life. And that network of fellow alumni is actually really, really powerful. It's like a university alumni association. One of the benefits of going to a great university is you have the alumni network. It actually helps you recruit employees on the front end, by being able to point to these examples of successful alumni. We did a piece years ago on, I think it was J. Crew, the fashion clothing company, how six of the top CEOs in the fashion industry, all used to work at J Crew.

Like the J. Crew alumni network is this powerful mafia in fashion. And I'm just thinking, like, if I were a recruiter working for J. Crew, I would take that article and hand it out to every single prospective candidate. "Come work at J. Crew and you'll be part of this alumni network long term." That's incredibly powerful.

Brian Requarth: Yeah. We've seen at Rappi, like all of a sudden, I've invested in probably, I don't know, four or five Rappi early employees. And it's just like, it built this entrepreneurial culture. I remember talking to Sebastian about this, one of the co-founders and he had such a positive spin on it and it was just a long-term vision of it. We know people aren't going to be here forever and we love to see people succeed. That's just the opposite of the crabs in the bucket, right. Where it's like, you work for me and you leave.

The alumni thing makes so much sense. I don't know why I haven't thought of it.

You go to these top schools, oftentimes mainly, you do an MBA at Harvard. There's an incredible network that is associated with that in every company that's successful. And then also you, you have the best interests of the company moving forward, even after you're gone, because you want to expand your network.

Ben Casnocha: Yeah. A hundred percent. And so I think it's a great tactic that even small companies can benefit from. So even if you have more than 10 employees say, I think it's probably time to start thinking about an alumni network because you will have people who leave or people who you have to let go of for different reasons.

And as that alumni population starts to grow, consider pulling that group together once a year, like a little reunion connecting the alumni to current employees, let's just make the alumni network an asset of the business.

Brian Requarth: Speaking of kind of investing in yourself. Which is a topic here, what are you doing to invest in yourself, and what's the latest with you?

Ben Casnocha: I'm always trying to get smart and develop on lots of different fronts. I mean, I think intellectually in terms of topic areas, I'm trying to get smarter on both crypto and in bio as two major trends in our industry. By bio I mean biotech and biology and life sciences and also cryptocurrencies.

I think that on separate topic areas, I'm actually interested in trying to build upon strengths, right? I hired a coach to help me on writing earlier this year. I think I'm a pretty good writer as it is. I have a lot of experience writing, but I felt like I still have room for improvement.

And, working with a coach helped me identify some of those areas of improvement. So the skill of writing has been one thing I've been thinking a lot about. And then the other thing I've been trying to invest myself around is just this is the perennial topic that I'm sure you are obsessed with, and now all of us are, which is just time management and organizing my tasks, thinking about my day-to-day and figuring out how I can continue to hone my professional effectiveness.

And that's everything from nitty gritty things like how I manage my calendar to how I partner with my colleagues and EAs and other support folks. And maybe to how I think big picture about the cadence of my life. Is my life a series of sprints, is it a long marathon? There's just so much I want to do. I've got so many things going on all at once that sort of continually honing my time and energy management is a never-ending point of reflection for me.

Brian Requarth: That's great. It's a constant process, right? It doesn't end.

Ben Casnocha: Yeah. We've hosted so many dinners with Village founders and so on.

It's almost always a topic of conversation of just, what productivity frameworks are you using? What latest tips do you have? What systems, what software, how are you using an EA or VA or whatever? Like it's just 'cause all the CEO's and you and I, and our mutual friends by like, we're all just obsessed with trying to get more done, right? We have so many ambitions and goals. And so the tactics of that, is always a rich conversation.

Brian Requarth: So Ben, a couple of these questions were suggestions from Chris. I'm going to close it out here with one, that he suggested also:What's the most non-obvious controversial thought you're pulling on now?

Ben Casnocha: Of course the super controversial thought, I'm not sure I could share in a public form. So it's always kind of reminds me of the question you'd have, sometimes CEOs are asked: "What's the biggest failure in your life?" And people usually have their prepared failure story. You're rarely going to get the ultimate failure story right in a public form.

I'm not sure this is ultra controversial, but I'm actually still bullish on San Francisco and the Bay Area. There's sort of this Twitter meme now about out of control crime, homelessness tax and so on. I think it's perhaps controversial or contrarian at this moment, which is that nine out of 10 VCs and entrepreneurs and pundits will talk to you or sort of bearish on the Bay Area as an ecosystem.

But I just think the geographic network effect is so strong that I actually think it will still probably be the epicenter of tech entrepreneurship for a very long time. It's not to say that these other ecosystems, especially globally, won't rise in importance, but I guess I'm so bullish on Bogota, and Rio and São Paulo, Jakarta, Singapore and all these other places we've talked about in this conversation. But within the US I'm not nearly as bullish on Miami, say as others seem to be. I just think that the density of the network that's already established is going to keep Silicon Valley what it is. So that's one observation.

We'll see how it is in two years. Maybe the pendulum has swung back the other way, but for the time that we're in this Miami moment, it feels like perhaps a contrary thing to say

Brian Requarth: Yeah. I mean, network effects are real, right? These are rooted things.

Ben Casnocha: Especially if it's geographic, do you have kids that are going to school?

If you have kids in the third grade and some public school, that's like, that's a much harder thing to unroot from, versus like, oh, I use a software program. I guess I'll switch to Google Drive to Notion.

It's like, if your kids are enrolled in a community to change their routine, soccer teams, friends, church groups. I mean, there's so much that's still physical in this world that it's very hard to change.

Brian Requarth: It is. I'm with you. I'm actually just north of here, so we're gonna have to get together in person one of these days here. I would love to learn a little bit more about your personal journey.

I think it fascinates me and it's really amazing to have you on someone with your experience and background, and I'm excited to see this increased enthusiasm for Latin America that is a relatively new phenomenon for me having been there for 15 years.

I shared a Clubhouse room with Anne and Santi a couple months ago, and it's exciting to see that Village is looking more at the region and hopefully I can support you. And I know we're working on a few deals together right now, so that's exciting.

Ben Casnocha: Congrats Brian on everything you've done at Latitud. I look forward to more collaborations to come.

Brian Requarth: Wonderful. Thank you so much.

Ben Casnocha: Thank you for having me!

Gabriela Levy

Head of Marketing at Latitud

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