.: on the frontiers of venturing and venture investing :.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Bets n' chips" - Implications for investors on the frontiers.

There seem to be two types of bets that investors make when doing a deal. A bet on the team. A bet on the plan. The closer to the frontiers (early stages and deep change) the greater the emphasis is on the team. And rightly so. We all know that plans don't last on the frontiers.

So how can we get better at investing on the frontiers? Surely betting on the team alone isn't a sound investment strategy.

From my conversations the current practices seem to be either focused on 'rolling up the sleeves' and getting involved directly (few, high-cost investments) or being a hands-off patron (many small investments). Either that or back off from the frontiers and use conditional investment to achieve specific results (e.g. disadvantaged employment or other enviro-social activities). The limitations in each of those should be fairly self-evident.

So what else could we make bets on? Well if venturing is a process, we could bet on the process they are following. If we know plans are not static, what is the venture doing to continue the process of framing, planning, and connecting?

And what other practices could we employ? Well if one of the biggest chips an investor brings to the game is their social capital, well then how can that capital be better employed in the task of connecting? Going back to the image above, we can see that at minimum it requires a venture to have articulated simple and accessible spaces. I wonder - how many entrepreneurs and their investors would truly describe the primary spaces of their venture in the same way? How about in your venture or your portfolio? My bet is that's strongly correlated to the difference between friction and luck.

Summing up, that leaves us with making bets on:
  • a team;
  • their venturing process; and
  • their spaces (accessible and simply articulated).
And it means bringing our social chips into the game to make the connections the venture truly needs (more in a future post).

Now that's an investment space I'd bet on.

"Gettin' lucky" - implications for ventures on the frontiers.

I wrote about the gist of this image here. Now I'm turning to the implications for venturers.

Quite simply the essence of venturing is a process. A process of creating spaces for things to happen (some call it 'luck'). The simpler and more accessible the space, the easier it is to get people engaged and get things done (some would say 'the luckier you get').

Sound simple? It should be, but can you simply articulate the 3 primary spaces for your venture? Do you have a time and place to think about and evolve those spaces? Why are people connecting to you? Do they know what they need to meaningfully contribute in ways you may not have asked or may not be expecting? How often have you been 'lucky'?

So how can ventures get better at "gettin' lucky" on the frontiers?

Step 1: Define your spaces (framing)
Get out you favourite notebook or stash of napkins and start framing each of your primary spaces separately: founding agreement, magic box; and realms of relevance. Keep them separate. Keep them simple. (more on this in a later post)

Step 2: Get your team together and get to it (planning)
Revisit planning as a team - those who control the resources and those who do the work. In the context of your spaces, figure out what your going to do for the next meaningful chunk of time, making the most of what you have, and getting what you need to move you most towards fullfilling your purpose.

Step 3: Connect with purpose (connecting)
Make connections throughout your spaces to better understand and define your spaces, and to get done what you need to get done. Do it with purpose and give it space to let something happen.

Step 4: Repeat (venturing)
Take a look at what you did for steps 1-3 and do it again - but better. This becomes the process of venturing. Find what works for you and your venture. There is no right way. There is no right answer. In fact, there really are no answers... just keep asking questions, keep moving forward, and keep at the process.

You can't know where exactly you'll end up but you've got a much better chance of "gettin' lucky"!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Venturing on the Frontiers - A simple guide.

Venturing on the frontiers is about the early stages of taking on big challenges. It's a space where conventional models to planning and management prove ineffective. It's the place where entrepeneurs trust their 'gut' and face the challenges with an unrelenting push forward. And it's the place from which the greatest change can come about.

I've been tapping my own experience, researching into systems science and talking with some of North America's leading venture investors who are themselves pushing the frontiers. Through all of that I've emerged with an understanding that I've tried to capture to the right. Essentially it describes a venture as a set of spaces ('founding agreement' which gives rise to a 'magic box' which operates within certain 'realms of relevance'). Venturing then is the process of 'framing' those spaces, 'planning' immediate action, and 'connecting' to get things done and evolve the spaces. Collectively that led me to the following set of principles for venturing on the frontiers:
  • Create spaces for things to happen
  • Make it simple and accessible
  • Tend to connections and connecting
  • Keep venturing
I've published the image under a creative commons license so please feel free to use and build from it accordingly. And as always, this is but a snapshot of understanding and bound to evolve... so please do get in touch with your reflections, experiences, and suggestions.

I'll publish future posts on the implications for ventures and venture investors who are pushing the frontiers. Don't expect magic bullets, but rather a prompting of some productive questions. If anything this has reminded me is that there are no answers, only questions... and asking the right ones can make all the difference.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Venturing and venture investing on the frontiers - in simple terms.

I've been asked a few times about what I'm working on in simple terms. Not always easy for me - but here goes top-of-mind while riding the train...

My focus is on venturing and venture investing 'on the frontiers'.

  • venturing is about organizing and directing resources toward a purpose
  • venture investing is about improving the capacity of ventures to achieve their purpose (or certain milestones along the way)
  • 'on the frontiers' means the places where conventional ways of doing things are least effective

My work is focused on being able to systematically improve ventures and venture investors operating on the frontiers. My belief is that by focusing here, practices can be developed and demonstrated that will themselves become conventional in time and thereby move 'the frontiers' greatly increasing our society's ability and capacity to take on our civilization's greatest challenges.

So how will ventures be different after employing these practices?

  • more efficient and effective at getting things done
  • better responsiveness to the environments it's operating within
  • better anticipation and avoidance of 'crises'
  • more flexibility in responding to immediate opportunities and challenges
  • more focus on and faster progress toward fulfilling the purpose

And how will venture investors be different?

  • better investee governance with less effort
  • increased capacity of all portfolio companies (whether they've applied the approaches or not)
  • better results from existing portfolio (fewer failures, greater success according to purpose)
  • better able to go earlier with less risk
  • better able to go deeper into realizing non-financial aims (particularly relevant for 'social' venture funds.
  • lower transaction costs

And what's at the root of what's different?

  • concerned with systems vs. plans

(Said in different ways - couldn't resist...)

  • creating spaces for uncertainty to resolve itself vs. trying to solve uncertainty
  • organizing under a purpose vs. organizing around an idea/product/service
  • unfolding vs. turning inward
  • enabling vs. constraining
  • fluid vs. rigid
  • framed vs. forced
  • ...


Many things have been picking up the 'social' modifier lately. Here are some of the ones I'm encountering and what I think they mean.

First, the modifier 'social'

  • modifies the following word to the focus of serving a social (and/or environmental) benefit
  • technology employed for social benefit (most commonly digital
  • concerned generally with societal change and how it happens
  • innovations and the process of innovating solutions that deliver or enable social change
  • a venture with purpose primarily concerned with delivering social benefit
  • concerned with developing and supporting entrepreneurs focused on social change (and primarily social ventures)
Clearly, each of these words describe fields with much activity and research into how they work. Adding the modifier, at best prompts the question of how, when modified, is it different. In my perspective it's the realization that things aren't linear - and in fact are 'chaotic' - which then calls on the research of systems science and it's theories on complexity and systems. And it also seems to be best done in an 'open' way - or maybe better put - those that are in the depths of doing this stuff tend to do 'open'... which of course... is another story.