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Office Hours: I’m the former CEO of All Raise and Founder Gym. I was also a Sequoia Capital Scout and First Round Angel Track Member. Now, I’m an Executive Coach to startup founders & execs. I’m Mandela SH Dixon. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Mandela SH Dixon. I’m a 2x startup founder, angel investor, former Sequoia Capital Scout, and inaugural member of First Round Capital's Angel Track program. I’m currently the Executive Coach to several successful startup founders and execs. Previously, I served as CEO of All Raise, and was the Founder & CEO of Founder Gym, two organizations focused on making tech more equitable for women and underrepresented groups.

At the age of 25, I dropped out of my PhD program to launch my first startup, becoming one of the first Black women to raise venture capital from Silicon Valley investors. I was later appointed Global Director of Startup Weekend Education. Funded by the Gates Foundation and Google for Startups, I scaled SWEDU from two to six continents in less than two years, transforming it into the largest community of edtech entrepreneurs in the world.

Next, I served as the Portfolio Services Director at Kapor Capital, managing a portfolio of over 120 tech startups, including Uber, Twilio, and Asana. There, I co-launched the Founders Commitment, the first diversity and inclusion pledge upheld by a VC firm, and co-designed 10 workshops teaching startups how to bake DEI into the DNA of their companies.

In 2017, I launched my second company, Founder Gym, which became the #1 training program teaching underrepresented founders how to raise venture capital. In its first four years, over 600 founders spanning 26 countries and 6 continents graduated from Founder Gym. As of 2022, one out of every 10 Black women to raise $1 million or more is a graduate of Founder Gym.

I live in the East Bay and enjoy spending time with my wonderful husband, our two energetic toddlers, and our amazing community of family and friends. I love a good haul from TJ Maxx, Home Goods, and local thrift stores, as well as attending fun parties and events. (If they have dancing, that’s a plus!)

Ask me anything about entrepreneurship, leadership, DEIB, movement-building, scaling community, angel investing, motherhood, work-life harmony, mental toughness, confidence, public speaking, networking, and branding.

Thanks so much for joining us @MandelaSHDixon!Elphas – please ask @MandelaSHDixon your questions before Friday, February 9th. @MandelaSHDixon may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Queen Mandela! You won't recall this but we met in SF for the All Raise Summit inMay 2022 (I'll send you our pic haha as I know there were like thousands of other people!) I just loved your energy and how you really brought so much positivity to AllRaise, an already wonderful community! My question is very simple: What's next for you and what are some of your objectives for this year? And to that extent how can the venture capital community/women VCs and us at Elpha help you achieve your goals for 2024?
Iynna! Of course I remember you :) Great to see you here! One of my big objectives for the year is to be of greater service to others. How that's manifesting so far is two-fold: serving top tier CEOs and execs as their coach, and serving on non-profit boards whose missions really resonate with my values. How can Elpha help me achieve my goals? Elevate people who you think I should know -- people who understand their power and privilege, and want to intentionally use it to empower others and create a more equitable world.
Hi Mandela,How are you balancing well-being while being on this entrepreneurial journey? Do you have any tips for someone who is going to launch soon to keep things real? Thank you!
One of my favorite questions - thanks for asking :) I think your well-being is paramount to the success of your business. You are the #1 asset and driving force, so if you're not operating at full capacity and with a clear head and mind, it will negatively impact your business *and culture* (including whether or not people like working with you... thus impacting your retention of talent). I also think you have to set realistic expectations. It's going to require an incredible amount of energy to take the big, audacious idea currently residing between your two ears and transform it into a million or billion dollar company. You will struggle with balance. You will struggle with anxiety. You will struggle with fear, imposter syndrome... all of it. It's the nature of the beast. But knowing these truths, accepting these truths, and still making the decision to sign up for this entrepreneurial journey... that's what I call making an informed decision. You will be less surprised by how hard it is, because you mentally prepared yourself for it. Aside from that: I think two practical things to take action on is build 2 communities of support for yourself - 1 full of entrepreneurs (people who are at your stage, more advanced than you, and behind you) - and a 2nd group full of people who are not entrepreneurs and just love being with you + help you enjoy the bigger picture parts of life. For group 1: the reason I think you should include some folks who are more junior than you, is because they will serve as an important reminder of just how far you've come, and make you feel good to be able to use your knowledge to help someone else along their journey.
Thanks so much for hosting office hours. You were able to scale up several communities rapidly and with impact, what do you think are the top 1-2 things that helped drive community scaling?
Architecting community is one of my favorite things to do. Here are 2 things to drive scale:- clear "bat signal" - when people see your community's name or logo, are they crystal clear on who it's meant to serve? As Arlan Hamilton said: be who you (really) are, so the people who are looking for you can find you. Specificity is a great magnet for attracting the people you want and repelling the ones you don't- member pledge - individual commitments people make to serve the community; rather than coming to the community to just get what they want out of it, you use a member pledge to build in a spirit of giving back and looking out for the greater good- community guidelines / code of conduct - clear set of rules on what this community is, what it isn't, the types of behaviors that will be tolerated and that won't - communities can easily become unruly without clear rules for members to follow
Love hearing your powerful story and I'm celebrating your wins! I'm an early professional who started off my career within the start-up space. As you know working in a startup requires agility, wearing multiple hats, and grit. Currently I'm in the phase where I'm wearing multiple hats and am covering various roles. How have you navigated the balance of wearing multiple hats to get things done, versus prioritizing the tasks where you can provide the most value?
oooo this is a good question - thanks Romeesa! First congrats to you for being so dynamic - there's great value in that! I call people like you "impact players" - doesn't matter where I put you on the field, you're going to make a meaningful impact. Re: where to focus your energy (urgent vs. important) I recommend two books: Essentialism and 10 Habits of Highly Effective People. Beyond the great tools you'll glean from those reads, I think you also need to be selfish (or as I like to say "self-full") and ask questions like these:- What am I trying to accomplish (long term) in my career? Where should I be focusing my energy in my current role, in order for me to get closer to my end goal? / Basically don't make short-sighted decisions. Think about the bigger picture, and do things today that your future self will thank you for.- Cut through all the noise. Out of the 1,001 things I have on my plate, what are the top 3 things - that if I accomplish them - will actually move the needle on consequential matters (e.g. revenue, talent, fundraising)?
Hi Mandela! Thanks for shairng your time with us. How has motherhood influenced your perspective on entrepreneurship and leadership?
Great question! First, I LOVE being a mom. I was someone who didn't know if I was going to have kids one day, so when I share my love for this part of my life, I say it with the fullest heart. Motherhood has definitely changed my perspective on entrepreneurship and leadership. Here's a few ways how:- Working parents are absolute rockstars - they juggle sooooooo much - and many have mastered the skills of efficiency and compassion - two critical skills in business. I think working parents should be valued more in the marketplace than they presently are. If you're in a position to hire, consider opening your perspective about all the upsides working parents can bring to your org.- As a leader, I'm now able to better see the child in everyone. The innocence, joy, pureness... as well as the traumas collected over time... I show more humanity and compassion to adults, understanding that they are just kids who grew up and had to endure immeasurably hard challenges... and that at the end of the day, we all want the same things - to feel loved and know that our existence matters.
Hi @MandelaSH - any tips on finding a co-founder and building a team? I am currently an entrepreneur in Space Tech and want to build out my team. However the workload and traction we've received is beginning to become overwhelming, and I am looking for a cofounder who would be a good fit. Any advice on how to expand my search?
Hi Mandela!Can you share a personal practice, mantra or mindset that has helped you stay resilient when faced with challenges? Thank you!
Great question! I actually just posted a new IG reel about this very topic last night. (and be kind... I'm just learning how to do this "reel" thing lol). https://www.instagram.com/reel/C3HOd5Yuo4o/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_linkHere's the TLDR: Someone’s “no” is just an opinion. They’re 1 person out of 8 BILLION people on this planet. Don’t give it more weight than it deserves. Rejection is an invitation to gain clarity: do you really want this goal enough to persist, or are you ready to let it go? Rejection holds up a mirror, forcing you to decide which way you’ll direct your life. It's nothing to stay mad about; it's a tool to guide your growth.
Hi @MandelaSHDixon! As an angel investor and advisor, how do you assess a startup's commitment to DEIB beyond surface-level initiatives? And what are some examples in which startups can "bake DEI" into their DNA?
Thanks for the question! One quick way to assess a startup's commitment to DEIB is to ask them about:- team composition- customer composition- vendor composition- funder composition - in summary: are they intentionally serving a diverse customer base, building a diverse team, leveraging a diverse set of vendors, and raising from a diverse set of funders, in order to build and scale a successful business?Culture starts at the top, and if a company wants to create a culture that values diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, then those values must be reflected (in both word and action) by the CEO. A company's culture mirrors the CEOs values.
Hi Mandela,I am currently bootstrapping my first startup. I have outsourced my dev work but have handled everything else myself. I'm really struggling with knowing where to look for advice on marketing strategy. Everything I read seems to be too vague. At what point should solopreneur look for a CMO or just keep learning and do it themselves?
Congrats on making the plunge into entrepreneurship! Make sure your seatbelt is fastened, b/c as you know (or will soon find out), it's one hellofa bumpy ride! I think great leadership is about self-awareness. What are you really good at and want to own? And what are you not? Whatever's on the "not" list, bundle them into roles that others can fill for you. Can't afford to hire seasoned execs yet? Haven't been able to appeal to them using your equity? Then hire contractors, interns, or fellows to service the very real needs your business has, but you don't want to, or don't have time to service yourself. When to hire a CMO depends on the ROI that hire will yield you? Ex: If you pay $200k for a CMO and assign them X shares in your company, what amount of money (or increase in your company's valuation) are you expecting that this hire will return? Business is a lot of inputs and outputs. If you put this CMO in, will it yield the output you want? How much does this input cost, and is it worth it, at this stage in your business? When just getting my biz off the ground, I'm a fan of hiring lower level folks first who can help me get started and figure out what I really need and want, before investing in a Chief role. Hope that helps!
Hello @MandelaSHDixonHow do you do? You've got an amazing profile.I have this idea I would like to pursue, however I have a funding limitation, how do I join the founders gym, I really need to raise funds for it, I can feel the zeal leaving me.I'm not so sure I expressed myself correctly.In summary, here's my question: how can I raise funds for my startup, what are the chances, how does the payment work? Thank you.
Thanks for your question Evelyne - fundraising is not easy, and I hope those who've attempted it, and even accomplished it, will tell you the truth too. Here's some thoughts to consider:- don't raise money for an idea; raise money for a *business* that you can prove (starting with a pitch deck) will yield investors a healthy return within 5-10 years- don't raise money unless you're willing to sell your company or take it public within 5-15 years of launching; investors get paid when their shares (ownership in your company) become liquid- consider joining a investor-backed startup, before building your own, so you can see how the sausage is made, while being on someone else's payroll; then take your learnings and network and apply that to building your own venture- there are many perks to raising capital that aren't often talked about. You can read them in this article I wrote 5 years ago, that I think is still applicable today: https://medium.com/foundergym/four-secret-benefits-of-raising-venture-capital-that-no-one-tells-you-about-a2baf73ece13re: Founder Gym, we're not accepting new members at this time. Review Lightship and see if their offerings can service your needs: https://www.lightship.foundation/
Hi Mandela, thank you so much for the Office Hours! What were your duties as Portfolio Services Director? What does it mean to manage a portfolio of 120 startups in the day-to-day?Thank You!
Portfolio Services is synonymous with Platform roles at VC firms. For the most part, all the non-investing work falls under Platform, Portfolio Services, or Operations. My #1 job as Portfolio Services Director (PSD) was to ensure our portfolio of 120 companies were serviced with their needs. Companies ranged from brand new startups (less than 5 people) to large pre-IPO companies (e.g. Twilio). Common needs included founder coaching, sourcing talent, building strategic partnerships, and fundraising. Services were provided in multiple formats: 1:1, small group, large group, in person, virtual, and hybrid. Kapor Capital (the firm I worked at) specialized in DEI, so that was a unique offering we provided to our portfolio companies. A project I led in that arena back in 2016 (The Founders Commitment) still lives on there. You can check it out here: https://www.kaporcapital.com/how-we-invest/