Ep. #1204 - Tackling Wealth Inequities
Today’s Startup Hustle episode features Lauren Conaway and Nassir Criss, Principal at Sixty8 Capital, sharing an insightful conversation about tackling wealth inequities. Listen to Lauren and Nassir discuss why venture capital and the investor landscape need to shift their focus. They discuss bridging the gaps and barriers for historically excluded founders and why profit and social impact are not mutually exclusive.
Covered In This Episode
Tackling wealth inequities involves a variety of scenarios, one of which is venture capital gaps. Some founders don’t have as much access to investment funds as others. Sixty8 Capital seeks to address the issue of undercapitalized founders.
Listen to Lauren and Nassir converse about Nassir’s entrepreneurial journey. They discuss the role of empathy in entrepreneurship and financial allocation, venture capital gaps, and barriers for undercapitalized founders. The conversation turns to the importance of shifting the venture capitalist’s mindset and the investment landscape for bridging these gaps. Nassir describes what Sixty8 Capital seeks in founders, the genius zone, and more.
Lauren and Nassir enjoy a lively discussion about tackling wealth inequities to benefit undercapitalized founders. Join them to find out more about the topic in this Startup Hustle episode.
- Nassir’s entrepreneurial journey (1:32)
- Entrepreneurship, financial allocation, and empathy (3:35)
- Venture capital gaps and barriers for undercapitalized founders (6:17)
- Education and entrepreneurship, and socio-economic diversity (10:18)
- Shifting the VCs’ thinking processes (13:34)
- The changing investment landscape (18:02)
- Bridging the gaps for historically excluded founders (22:01)
- What Sixty8 Capital is looking for from founders (25:49)
- The genius zone (29:51)
- The value of having an advisory board and mentors (33:03)
- Building relationships and seeking advice (35:45)
- Nassir’s’ favorite toy as a kid (40:12)
It’s very difficult to pierce the veil of a dogshit stock market. It is. That’s why it’s going to be the lowest year for IPOs. Traditionally, venture capital has gone into certain buckets and has been kind of driven into those buckets by specific people from specific networks. And you have a thing that’s working, it’s like, well, you know, why fix it if it’s not broken, but in fact, it is broken.– Nassir Criss
One of my frustrations in the venture capital landscape is that we are not funding the most entrepreneurial, innovative founders. We are funding the best-positioned founders. When you are a VC fund, one of your criteria is to have raised money via friends and family round. What happens when your community and your friends and family don’t have money to invest? That could be a black mark on your criteria sheet. That doesn’t mean that the idea isn’t innovative and good. It just means that the way that we are evaluating that startup is problematic.– Lauren Conaway
What you’re starting to see is a changing of the guard regarding the people who are actually allocating the capital. When you bring in new people to do anything, there are going to inevitably be new ideas as those people start to step into positions of responsibility. We’re seeing what I think in the next kind of two to five years is going to be this shift of younger and diverse investors coming into the scene and more people transitioning from entrepreneurship themselves.– Nassir Criss
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Following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode. Apologies for any errors!
Lauren Conaway 0:01
And we are back. Thank you for joining us for yet another episode of the Startup Hustle podcast. I’m your host Lauren Conaway, founder and CEO of InnovateHer KC. And today’s episode of Startup Hustle is powered by FullScale.io. Hiring software developers is difficult, but Full Scale can help you build a software team quickly and affordably. And they have the platform to help you manage that team. Visit FullScale.io or visit the show notes to find the link to learn more. All right, friends. So I think you all know by now that I love talking to really, really cool people. And I like talking about inequity. And I like talking about well, I don’t like talking about it, I think it’s necessary to talk about it. But I really like talking about the capital landscape. And so I’m really excited to have a guest that I’ve known for a while. I totally respect him admire him. He is an incredible human being. I’m just so honored to have Nassir Criss with us today. He is a Principal at Sixty8 Capital. Nas, welcome to the show.
Nassir Criss 1:02
Hey, Lauren, thank you so much for having me.
Lauren Conaway 1:05
Absolutely. Well, this is gonna be really fun. And I’m just gonna go ahead and hop right into it. But why don’t you tell us a little bit about your journey?
Nassir Criss 1:13
Yeah, absolutely. I also have to just say your energy is incredible. It always makes you feel. It makes me feel like a lot more at ease and way more conversational. So thank you.
Lauren Conaway 1:26
Well, that is the intense, but I want to hear about you. This is your time friend.
Nassir Criss 1:31
No, absolutely. So a little bit about myself, I think I always kind of start the story with this just so that people understand my origins and more of my why. But I grew up in a family that was financially constrained. Those are big words that I’ve learned to say over the years. But for lack of, you know, kind of better phrasing, we grew up relatively poor. And so my biggest motivation was always providing for my family. I think as I started to kind of go down that rabbit hole and explore opportunities to create cash flow, it just really wealth internally. For us, I started to realize it wasn’t a problem that was unique to us, it was my unique experience. But it wasn’t a unique problem, and that people at, you know, greater scale in my community. And then within my neighborhoods, were also experiencing those same things, right. And so I’ve allowed that to kind of push me into what I would call different learning cycles along the way. I’m a serial entrepreneur, that cannot take credit at all, for any of the things that I’ve been able to be a part of building, I’ve had an incredible village around me and mentors that have taught me a ton. And you know, within the last kind of three to five years, have since pivoted to the capital side, as I saw that, not only was there a huge opportunity to make sure that capital is getting allocated to people that, you know, historically were being marginalized out of that group. But, you know, more importantly, thinking like an entrepreneur is a space that was ripe for disruption. I don’t think anyone ever thinks about building companies within the financial services space within financial allocation. But that is exactly what the founders of Sixty8 Capital were doing. And I was fortunate enough to meet them at a kind of very early stage. And so, you know, that’s kind of the SparkNotes of my journey. I definitely want to shout out Venture for America, which is a two-year fellowship for young entrepreneurs that are looking to build their own companies gave me a huge leg up and a strong foundation and Five Homes Capital as well, led by a gentleman named Fred Colson, who is a mentor of mine, private equity firm, kind of taught me everything about investing. And so again, I’m a product of my village and been able to kind of stand on some of the shoulders of giants that come before me.
Lauren Conaway 3:35
Yeah, well, I love that. And one of the things that I just adore about you is that you’re extraordinarily humble man, like every single time I talk to you, you always make it a point to kind of deflect and like point the attention elsewhere. But I’m not going to let you do that here. Because what I really, really, I really want to talk about you. And so you had an experience that a lot of people share, but you had your own unique kind of kind of journey through this experience. Talk to us about how that has changed your perspective of the work that you do today. I know that it brought you there, but how does it change how you interact with the entrepreneurs and the ecosystem builders, and developers that you work with?
Nassir Criss 4:18
Yeah. You know, I think a lot of the times people do these types of things are always talking about the successes that they had in their business and how much money they generated, or how much money they raised and how many customers they had. But, you know, my kind of truth is that the first real business that I built was not successful at all. I think I actually learned more about how to be a founder from what not to do versus the fact that we did everything right. And I say that with it had been a six figure in revenue company that my co-founder and I built and we had significant impact. But it wasn’t a massive success. We didn’t have some big exit. We didn’t end up selling it. We kind of just dissolved it over time because it just wasn’t sustainable for us. And, I think, in that process, that grind of staying up super late, waking up super early, trying to convince people why your idea is worthy trying to build something of value that could be a service to people. I learned a ton about empathy along the founder journey. And I learned a lot about what it really takes to create something successful. And so when I got to be a part of after that building another company alongside a mentor of mine, that was successful, you know, multimillion dollar company, very early stage raised a significant round of funding. I was the first employee at that company was just myself and the CEO, I really started to appreciate that founder journey on both sides of, hey, this is what it takes in terms of kind of the effort and magnitude of putting into a business. But it might not always be successful. And so I think what differentiates me from a lot of other investors is that I’m not by trade, a finance guru or a finance guy, like I’ve kind of, I guess, grown up into that now. But I’m an entrepreneur at heart. And that first business that I’ve started taught me so much. I’ve since run multiple, and I’ve built multiple but but that’s my differentiators that when I come to entrepreneurs, I talk to them as an entrepreneur. It just so happens that I actually understand how capital allocation works now as well. And so we have that kind of camaraderie that I’m able to build with founders from all sorts of backgrounds.
Lauren Conaway 6:17
Well, and I love that so much. And especially that empathy piece, maybe, I just think that that is so crucial. And it’s not something that we talk about enough when we talk about the venture capital space. Empathy is not the first word that comes to mind for so many. And so I love that you’re bringing that that humility and that empathic approach. Now, you say that you’re an entrepreneur at heart, and I love that I believe that firmly about you, but at heart entrepreneurs themselves are problem solvers. And so I imagine I’m gonna, you know, kind of put some thought processes in your in your head here. But I imagine that when you look at the world, and you look at the VC landscape, you’re looking for gaps, and you’re looking for problems that you can address. And you can solve directly because you do have that experience on both sides of the aisle. So talk to us a little bit about that. What are some of the problems that you see within venture capital, you know, raising capital for entrepreneurs? Where are those gaps that you’re kind of pointing your attention to right now?
Nassir Criss 7:18
Yeah, well, I think the first one that comes to mind, and it’s pretty obvious, but I think it’s not stated enough is that there’s an education barrier. So the first thing I tell people, all founders that I meet with, is venture capital is not for everyone. It is a very finite model that is designed to have a very specific outcome. And a lot of the times you find founders are building venture-backed companies because they’ve gotten that expertise, they have that knowledge, and they know how to build something for that. It’s less likely that someone who’s building just a company because they’re trying to address a serviceable issue or problem is going to fit venture. And so that first piece of education is a massive problem because we see these large numbers get thrown around in the news or media outlets. But that’s actually not happening that often. And a lot of those times, those companies still aren’t successful, right? We have to kind of figure out how we’re defining success. But a lot of the times the model doesn’t fit all businesses. And so that piece is essential, I think, you know, with our firm and our thesis, and it’s a part of my personal life thesis in addressing and investing in undercapitalized and underserved founders, like, that’s a big barrier. It’s just letting them know that there is this resource available, but there’s a specific type of business that it has to fit into. And there’s a specific type of return profile that we’re looking for. And so that’s kind of issue number one, I think, issue number two is maybe more political than it is business oriented, but the makeup of the people that are actually allocating the dollars. And that’s not just something that’s confined to a specific gender or ethnic background, but it’s geographic, and it is based on industry and a numerous kind of amount of things. But traditionally, venture capital has gone into certain buckets and has been kind of driven into those buckets by specific people from specific networks. And you have a thing that’s working, it’s like, well, you know, why fix it if it’s not broken, but in fact, it is broken.
Lauren Conaway 9:07
I think it’s broken at a very foundational level, I feel like. Like, it looks shiny and beautiful on the surface. But there are some deep cracks and fissures in there that we’re gonna have to figure out how to heal, right?
Nassir Criss 9:20
Absolutely. And it’s like, we have to solve for the problem itself, not the symptoms, right? And so I think where that comes in, and where we come in, is trying to rethink the way venture capital has been oriented over the last, you know, let’s call it 20 to 30 years and say, how can we use a similar model to invest in early-stage businesses that yes, have a large risk profile, but might be non-traditional in the sense that somebody else who is used to this work might not invest in them? Can we use things like cultural currency to then evaluate if a company is going to be valuable? Can we use things like a creators influence to really understand, like, how they can magnify or amplify, excuse me, kind of the effect of whatever product it is that they’re selling or marketing and so on. All of these things in terms of the model and trying to kind of disrupt it are kind of big problems that we see. So I’d say, you know, in summarization, education is a huge piece. And then foundationally, the model itself, I think, is archaic. And we’re starting to see now more people step into this space that are rethinking how venture is done.
Lauren Conaway 10:18
Yeah. Well, so so I’m gonna, I’m going to tell you a little story. If you don’t mind because it’s going to take this, it’s going to take me to the next portion of our conversation. But I remember so I was actually working, I was working at in ESL, you’re familiar start Lind. And I remember that we were working on an educational program for high school kids. And we were in a room with people who are very familiar with investment. People who are very familiar with the entrepreneurial landscape in the ecosystem. And I remember that there was someone in the room who said something along the way, we were talking about kids, and we were talking about these kids who are very interested in entrepreneurship. And what was interesting is we had interviewed kids who wanted to get into this program, and some of them were came from very affluent backgrounds, and most of them were white. And then some of some of the kids. That wasn’t the case, they came from more socio-economically depressed areas, they were, you know, they were not white, they were not part of the dominant demo group. And what was interesting is someone in the room made the comment that, well, you know, the kids from the more affluent schools, they’re going to need less help, they’re going to be more prepared for this program. But you know, they’re going to be more entrepreneurial. And I remember, like so many people in the room, we were just like, No, let us tell you why this is wrong. That is incorrect thinking, I promise you that the kid who has to problem solve, and figure out how to take care of their family, feed their family even contribute to the household, like the kids who have to be inventive those are actually the more entrepreneurial kids. What we’re talking about when we’re talking about affluent students, we’re talking about soft skills, yes, they might have more training around professional presentation. But that does not make them any more or less entrepreneurial, right? It just makes them better able to communicate this entrepreneurial thing. And so we were very, very quick to be like, no, no, no, that’s the incorrect way to look at this. What we’re looking for is that entrepreneurial spirit. And so I see this, and you and I have had this conversation. And it’s why I wanted to have you on the show so badly because, I was like, I know, we’re gonna have a kick ass talk about this. But one of my frustrations in the venture capital landscape is the fact that we are not funding the most entrepreneurial, innovative founders. We are funding the best positioned founders. And so by that, like, just as an example, when you are a VC fund and one of your criteria is to have raised money via friends and family round. What happens when your community and your friends and family don’t have money to invest? If you have to say no, we didn’t raise money via friends and family rounds to a VC, that could be a black mark on your criteria sheet, right? But that being said, that doesn’t mean that the idea isn’t innovative and good. It just means that the the way that we are evaluating that startup is problematic, right? So I bet you have a lot of thoughts about that. And I want to drill down into it. So talk to me, talk to me about that statement.
Nassir Criss 13:34
Yeah, absolutely. Well, one, I appreciate you just being so keen and observant because I think that is a massive problem. And it’s again, something that we’re trying to solve for. And thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I’m always careful because while I want to be transparent and authentic. I also don’t want to alienate or isolate anyone or point the finger at anyone because I think that again, it’s a problem that is widespread across the industry. And there are few people that are even acknowledging it, there are even fewer people that are trying to solve it. So like to answer it, I do want to kind of talk about what the job of a venture capitalist is, and then kind of broaden it to maybe why there’s been some hesitation in reaching out to the most capable entrepreneurs, not necessarily the best positioned entrepreneurs, and then how we see that changing over time. So as a venture capitalist, our job is essentially to manage portfolios and minimize risk, right? So there’s other things that come with that deal flow, fundraising, due diligence, financial modeling, etc. But it’s to manage a portfolio of money, make that portfolio gain kind of returns and make more money and then minimize risk as much as possible. And so when you’re talking about funds that have specific theses, or that are raised with a specific target kind of return profile in mind, there’s so much stuff they have to cut out like they have to whittle down so many things. I mean, I was sitting with a VC the other day, and I don’t know that I would use this analogy. But he said you know, it’s kind of like when an interviewer is looking at a resume stack. And you know, kind of back in the day, if they saw a typo, they would immediately throw it out, right? Like, it could have been a Harvard graduate like neuroscientist, rocket spaceship building. But if they had one typo, they do throw it out because that was their pattern recognition is that, hey, if a person really wants this job, they’re going to be well-mannered, well-manicured, and are going to present this thing in the right way. And so similarly, I think VCs oftentimes, are looking for very specific things based on what they’ve seen be successful in the past. And so that cuts out a bunch of people just from the beginning. But again, remembering that their job is to minimize risk, they’re looking for things to kind of throw out not even necessarily looking for things that look promising or super optimistic, our job is in somewhat to kind of be cynical. And so that’s just traditionally how things have kind of been done. I think as we start to now move, though, into the future, it has to change because what we’re seeing and what a lot of VCs will also tell you when they do have these massive outcomes and investments is that a lot of the times they got lucky. And it was that that entrepreneur that which is very capable. My Managing Director and I were talking about this today, who are the people that are going to get the job done no matter what their circumstances are, like, how do we find those people? How do we invest in those people versus just a series of accolades or things on paper that might seem like you’re well-positioned? And so I do believe that you’re starting to see more of a trend towards that, as people are starting to say, Okay, we’re going to take more risk, we’re gonna go earlier stage, we’re going to go more downstream, and we want to actually invest in new founders. I think the other issue is that, you know, Series A, and growth stage funds are having a problem with deal flow. So now they’re starting to say, Okay, well, what’s going on at the pre-seed stage? Like, how do we start to matriculate more of these businesses? Let’s say you’re seeing this shift now to like, get what are the types of things that we want to see in founders at that stage? And I think the fact just kind of cap it off with this, one of the solutions that I’ve been thinking about is, we have to stop thinking about early stage businesses as if they’re growth stage businesses. But a business that is shortly removed from idea or concept stage cannot be evaluated the same way as a business that’s been around for three years and has financial history. And so instead, how can we say, okay, Lauren is an incredible entrepreneur, she’s built multiple businesses, what are the characteristics or traits that Lauren has that might be transferable to another entrepreneur? That yes, has a different background, different race, different ethnicity, different gender, whatever it may be. But those are things like like that, to me is good pattern recognition, right? Like, what are the incredible scrappy things that you’ve done? And how can we maybe pick up on those things that someone else might be doing differently, but they’re kind of in a similar vein, and I think we can transition our minds from think as investors from thinking about just the business and investing in the people and then building conviction around the people that have skill sets to those that we’ve seen have successful outcomes in the past, we can start to solve some of that problem.
Lauren Conaway 17:56
For sure. Well, I love that
Nassir Criss 17:59
if I went on a tangent, sorry.
Lauren Conaway 18:03
No, no, I did. It was a perfect tangent. But I’m about to go on a tangent myself because I’m about to tell you that finding software developers doesn’t have to be difficult, especially when you was, did you like that transition? By the way, I was pretty proud. Yeah, but when you visit FullScale.io, you can build a software team quickly and affordably. My friends, we love Full Scale, they are the producers of Startup Hustle. But I gotta tell you, I talk to their customers on a pretty regular basis, actually, and they are all they’re all pretty happy. You can use the Full Scale platform to define your technical needs, and then see what available developers testers and leaders are ready to join your team. Visit FullScale.io to learn more. All right, so let’s let’s crack into it. So we’re talking about changing the way that we invest with Nassir Crsis, the principle of six one of the principles of C 68. Capital. So all right, we’re changing the landscape. We’re starting to see these changes happen. How do you see talk to us about the two year landscape, the five year landscape, the tent? How are we going to see these changes start to roll out?
Nassir Criss 19:07
Yeah, so I mean, again, I don’t have a crystal ball. But if I did have one looking inside of it, I think what you’re starting to see is a changing of the guard in terms of the people that are actually allocating the capital, right? And so when you bring in new people to do anything, there are going to inevitably be new ideas as those people start to step into powers of positions of power positions of kind of responsibility. And so we’re seeing what I think in the next kind of two to five years is going to be this shift of younger investors coming into the scene, more diverse investors coming into the scene, less people that are transitioning from Wall Street and private equity and more people that are transitioning from entrepreneurship themselves. And so just that kind of landscape of, hey, we’re gonna have different people that have different ideals and concepts that are going to be looking at businesses in a way that hasn’t been done before. Certainly to to kind of mature in the landscape is is huge. Secondarily, industry wise, we’re gonna see things that have literally never been done. I mean, like, what’s happening with AI right now is is literally groundbreaking. And so I think the technologies and the types of companies are going to be birthed from that are gonna be things we’ve never seen before. The creator economy, you know, they’re projecting that by 2050, 60% of the population that are 25 and under are going to be producing some sort of content and short-form, long-form, video-form. So as we look into those types of things, right, like, I don’t know that anyone would have ever guessed that we might be investing into creators as businesses, right? Like someone that has a YouTube following, and has this kind of massive subscription audience might actually be a viable business opportunity as they start to produce products from that. And so the first is the people, I think the second is going to be the types of industries that we see dollars go into, they’re going to be non traditional. I think, we’re going to start to get away a little bit from b2b SaaS, which is kind of what everyone talks about all the time.
Lauren Conaway 20:56
Yeah. That’s the sexy investment opportunity for sure.
Nassir Criss 20:59
It’s just the most measurable, right, like, it’s the least amount of risk, but I think we’re gonna sort of see that. And then lastly, you know, I think venture capital is kind of been born here in the US and has taken on a life of its own. But we’re going to start to see different evolved models and versions of that pop up around the globe. There’s some work that’s being done in Europe right now, where their federal government is actually thinking about allocating capital. There are things that are happening on the African continent, or things that are happening in Latin America. And so in my mind, the next two, five, and then 10 years rests on those six, who is allocating the dollars? What types of industries are we investing in, that we haven’t seen capital go into before? And then lastly, like how does that actually affect the global landscape? And then how do we kind of use all that to catch up the rest of the rest of the world? So I see a vision where like, something some sort of vehicle that’s investing in alternative assets, that’s venture ask, and it’s kind of right at the edge and some of this cutting edge technology, and then is bringing the globe together from that is going to be, what’s going to push our world into innovation, I believe.
Lauren Conaway 22:01
Yeah. Well, I mean, just for my part, you know, I operate within the social impact space exclusively. And it’s been really interesting to see like, even in the five years, well, more than five years, but six, seven years that I’ve been doing this work, it’s been really, really interesting to see the the landscape shift, like we now have people who are interested in investing in social impact spaces. And previously, that that was not a common thing at all. I mean, again, like, when we think of startups, quote, unquote, the thing that comes to mind is like this highly scalable tech-led, tech-enabled, you know, these these really fast growth enterprises. And I think that we’re just kind of now we’re starting to see this sea change where, as you said, like, that’s, that’s a jet, we’re adjusting. You know, we’re in a time of deep social, political upheaval, we’re at a time and and so we’re just kind of adjusting on the fly constantly. So it’s been a really interesting, interesting process to watch. Now, what I’m curious about, because I know that this is on your heart. And I know that this is something that Sixty8 Capital prioritizes. But again, bridging those gaps for the historically excluded founders talking to folks who maybe aren’t as shiny and sexy as some of the founders that we tend to see like out in the media, talk to us a little bit about that work and that heart that you have, and that Sixty8 Capital has for bridging those gaps.
Nassir Criss 23:29
I gotta give a lot of credit to our Managing Director and co-founder, Kelly Jones. She is an incredible woman, somebody that I look up to, I’ve learned a lot from just over the last couple of years of working alongside her, but I think we represent those communities. And so it’s kind of a second, you know, it’s the natural thought to us to be able to say, hey, like, we want to invest in people that look like us. That reflect building solutions with problems that we’ve experienced firsthand. And so I think that’s where a lot of the passion comes from, but not to be misconstrued. I mean, we are not a Social Impact Fund. Like we tell people all the time, we want to do good. But we also, first and foremost want to do well, we are capital allocators
Lauren Conaway 24:10
That is goal for sure. But the ancillary goals,
Nassir Criss 24:14
They are ancillary goals, absolutely. But I think with that, you know, it’s, we still want to generate outsized returns for our limited partners and for our investors. And so what that means is, we have to work like you said, in tandem with the social impacts because there are people that up great idea is that are those capable founders that we talked about, that maybe are first-time founders or are just kind of getting on the train and don’t really want to do and so they need that support, and that’s where we’re different is that we understand that we can unlock billion dollar ideas. They just may need a little bit more help in the how, in the way that we do that is gonna be different than the models that we’ve seen before. And it’s not necessarily something that can be easily solved by an accelerator or by an incubator. I mean, like there there has to literally be something that’s different. That speaks to the founders that come from these places, and can allow them to accelerate quickly within their growth as well. And so the passion comes from the fact that we represent those communities and inherently more, and it’s like, you know, if you look somewhere where no one else is, look, you’re bound to found some, you’re bound to find something no one else is found, right? And so I think, for us, it’s convincing, and building conviction with our limited partners, that there are true opportunities to build wealth at scale, not just for yourself, but for people, other people, other communities if we start to look at these groups of people that have never had a shot, right, but that still, every day, are building scrappily, building out that profitable companies, right, with little to no resources. So imagine what the impact could be. If we were to accelerate some of that growth with capital with, you know, entrepreneurial support, with programming, with curriculum.
Lauren Conaway 25:49
Yeah, well, I love that. And I, there’s kind of a super secret underlying belief in there. And that belief is that profit and impact are not mutually exclusive. You can actually, you can absolutely do both. And so I think that that is kind of like a foundational operating belief is, like, it’s a really powerful thing, because it’s not something that we have seen before. So I am really, really curious, I’m going to ask you to give away some of your wisdom for our listeners, if you don’t mind. But one of the things that we keep on talking about is that the the investment in the founder, you know, the the entrepreneurial spirit of the founder, the expertise, whatever it is they bring to the table. So talk to us about how Sixty8 Capital in particular, and you work with founders, what are you looking for in the founder? And how are you going to help bring that out in them?
Nassir Criss 26:46
Yeah, without giving away too much secret sauce?
Lauren Conaway 26:50
Yeah, we can keep the conversation very general. I’m not asking you anything that’s gonna make you uncomfortable that surely there are some kind of general guidelines?
Nassir Criss 26:59
Yeah, absolutely. I mean to there’s three real things that we’re looking at when evaluating any type of founder or business that we want to invest in versus market size, are they building a solution that is actually solving a real problem that we define as mission critical within a market, right? So is that tool or service, something that their ideal customer is going to use on a daily basis, and then how many customers can actually go after where they can solve that problem for the most amount of people? So market sizing is huge. The second is going to be that founders background themselves, right? So we talk about actually testing them, essentially, to kind of see if they’re capable of building this thing and weathering the storm of the many ups and downs, right? Have they built a startup company before? Are they industry veterans or titans? Have they been in this space for a really long time? It’s just a personal problem that they’ve been afflicted with for many years. I mean, we go really deep in our deal and diligence process to truly understand what the motivation is, how inspired they are to solve this problem. And when the going gets tough because it will, you know, how are they going to stay anchored to solving that problem and kind of pushing this company forward, so that second. And then third, is a repeatable and scalable customer acquisition strategy. And so a lot of the times we’ll come across founders that are solving a great problem that are in a market that seems massive, but have absolutely no idea how to scale within that or build a sustainable business model around that. And so, a lot of the times, we’re looking for all three of those things, when we’re trying to identify founders, that might be a good fit. If we can get two or three, and then there’s one that we can kind of help them with, then that’s great, too. But but that’s just the initial and then once we do decide, okay, hey, we think a founder has, you know, some proponents of each of these categories, they could be a very great investment for us. We understand the business model. We understand their ability to go at scale. We understand where they fit in our portfolio, and how they might be able to either lean on our other portfolio companies or kind of gain support from them, we then go, Okay, well, where are there gaps. And so we’ve built a mentor network for our portfolio founders, that when they come into the fund, they can call on anyone where they do have a gap, or they do have a shortage. We also have a job board for talent. And so a lot of what we tell our founders is that if you can’t do the job, because chances are, you’re already wearing 20 heads, let’s actually find talent for you that can and so we’re almost in some capacity, stepping in as co-operators, a lot of the time and solving are kind of some of those, I would say shortcomings that they do have because no one’s gonna be able to do everything. But that allows us to allow them to operate in their genius zone and to be able to move forward more efficiently. And so those are just a few of the ways I think that we’re evaluating companies and then how we get in and actually support our portfolio companies after the checks been written. And we started to see our founders do some really great things that go on to raise additional rounds and surpass, you know, their revenue goals and add on team members. And so even though it’s still kind of the early innings for us, we think that it’s working, but we’re constantly kind of iterating that and looking for feedback from our founders as well on what we could do better to support them.
Lauren Conaway 29:51
Yeah. Well, and I feel like I know you well enough at this point to know that you are, you’re a very innovative guy, but you’re also about that inner creative collaboration, which I totally dig. You said something really interesting. I have never heard this phrase before. So I’m gonna ask you to drill down on it for me but genius zone?
Nassir Criss 30:12
Yeah, not that what is that? I think I read about it somewhere. I can’t say that it’s something I coined, but your genius zone is when you’re operating in a space where you’re just in tunnel vision of focus, right? So what are your positive skill sets? What are your strengths? And where do you most feel comfortable kind of toiling away at a certain thing. When you get into that space, and then you’re able to kind of cut out the distractions of all the other things, either because you supplement them with help from someone or because you literally just kind of offload some of that, that’s when you’re functioning in your genius zone. When you’re able to focus wholeheartedly with, you know, 110% of kind of your brainpower on the things that you do best, like, that, I think, is the place where people have their most positive outcomes is when they’re operating kind of solely in their genius zone. And so our thing is, how do we free up our founders as much as possible to continue to operate within their genius zones as they’re pushing their companies forward.
Lauren Conaway 31:08
Well, and that’s so interesting to me, because when you think about founders, like most founders are, again, you know, problem solvers. And often they’re, they’re solving problems that they have experienced in their own lives. And that’s why they have the ability and the expertise to be able to kind of drill down on the problem and figure out, alright, this is how we’re going to approach it. But I find that fascinating because I think that most maybe not most, but I think that a lot of the struggle that new entrepreneurs have is the fact that like, they are so good at being in flow around this problem that they become obsessed with. Like, as founders, we become obsessed with solving this problem doing it better, faster, cheaper, whatever our particular innovation or disruption is like we’re gonna, we’re gonna do it. And that’s what we’re great at focusing on those things. But then, as we all know, with ownership of a company and the foundation of it, there are so many other things that you’re expected to do. The accounting, the hiring, the marketing, that like all of the stuff that comes along with owning a business that nobody prepared us for. You know, nobody pulled me aside, I was an English major, and I like, I deliberately chose that major because I did not want to take a math class, like I wanted to avoid it at all costs. And I had to take a logic class. And that was like, that was the thing that was the deal. And so at no point did anybody pull me aside and be, like, hey, accounting, these are some things that you’re gonna want to keep an eye out for. To say nothing of like financial projections, like, I’m just talking about accounting and bookkeeping, I’m not even talking about the CFO-level stuff. I don’t know how to do that stuff. And so I love, I love that you’re so conscious of that, and that you’re like, let’s let them do what they do best. And then relieve the load so that they can do that even better. You know, that is so key and so important. How do your founders respond to that?
Nassir Criss 33:03
Um, you know, I, I hoped they would all say they love it. And that they feel really supported by the Sixty8 team and myself. You know, some advice that I got super early on is that you need to have two boards in your life, you need to have a personal advisory board. And then you have you have a company advisory board and your personal advisory board. It varies from person to person, but it’s people that you see that you aspire to be like, that can kind of give you advice along the journey. And so for me, I have husbands and business executives and fathers, you know, people that I aspire to kind of grow into within, like my own life. But then within our company, we have an advisory board, obviously, as well, where people can kind of course correct us. And so I think one of the things that I learned really early on that’s been super helpful for me is that whenever you start building something that’s going inevitably to be bigger than you because it’s you’re solving a big problem, you have to take yourself out of it. And I think, as founders, we oftentimes like fall so in love with our idea that it’s hard for us to detach. But the most valuable help and assistance and accountability and feedback that I’ve ever gotten, was by having people around me that genuinely supported the mission of what I was building, and wanted to see it be successful. And, had done things in their life to where they could give me valuable experience. And so, you know, that’s one of the things you kind of what you’re just talking about, that we encourage our founders, you know, once you gotten product market fit, and you built this company, and it’s got some legs, and it’s starting to walk, not running, but starting to walk, one of the first things that we say is, Hey, start to put together your advisory board. Because you’re going to need people that can say, hey, maybe you should think about stepping left instead of stepping right, or hey, maybe right here, you should jump instead of crawling under, right? And so I think that that type of advice is invaluable. And a lot of the times because I’m guilty of I’ve done in the past, our founder egos get in the way of us being able to invite people in that can teach us those things. But the people that I’ve seen accelerate the fastest are the people that are not just brilliant themselves but have the humility to be unreal. To be able to understand I need to have more brilliant people around the horn as well, that can help them when they when they messed up. And so I love, love, love what you said just about kind of, it’s hard to do that and you feel like you have to wear all these hats. But the sooner we have people that can say, actually you don’t, right? Like if you go galvanize the right people that can support you, you can focus on actually doing the things that are kind of most valuable.
Lauren Conaway 35:21
Yeah. Well, so the you said a lot of very, very interesting and very true things in there. But one of the things that sticks out to me, and it’s so interesting because when I think of you, I mean, you know, you and I have known each other for a while, kind of kind of tangentially for the longest like we would see each other at events and we’d not across the room and we might chat for a couple of minutes to
Nassir Criss 35:43
I have to harass you for a famous Lauren selfie.
Lauren Conaway 35:45
Finally, got your damn selfie squarely never again, you can never bother me about that again. Actually, you can I want to take a selfie with you every time we hang out. But all of that to say like you, you just said it you have surrounded yourself with, I always see you surrounded by people. And I always see him having fun with people big smiles like you. I can just tell that you have a heart for people. And what you just said in there, like surround yourself with the personal advisory board and then surround yourself with the professional advisory board. I’m really interested. How do you find your advisory people, whether personal or professional because clearly you are very good at it. Well done. And I want to know your secret sauce, man.
Nassir Criss 36:33
I walk around begging people for selfies, and they tell them tell them I’ve been waiting for it. No kidding. No, I think one of the things I read a long time ago was if you ask people for money, they’re going to give you advice. But if you ask people for advice, they’ll eventually give you money. And I’m not saying that I ask people for advice or that they’ll give me money. But I think being a person that loves learning and loves to just bring in different ideas around me like conflicting ideas you’re like and push me like, hold me accountable. I think that’s allowed me to be able to build relationships with a lot of people. You know, a lot of the times my first thing before I ask anyone for any piece of advice or knowledge or whatever it may be is to give something. And so I don’t think that that’s like secret sauce. But anytime I’m trying to book a meeting, or I’m trying to reach out to someone, whether it be a cold outreach, or I just even walk up to someone at a bar, my first thing is to establish a point of comfort. And so I’m constantly kind of just being observing, right, like, from what they’re wearing to maybe what they post about to Lady, you know, what kind of Nalia they might have on or do they have any specific jewelry and I’m trying to find those points of comfort those points of commonality, to then be able to give something right to be able to give a personal experience of mine. I think when you do that, you relate very quickly to people and then you’re able to actually ask them, okay, look, what do you think about this? And how do you think about this problem. And so I’ve just been fortunate enough, I think to to have that gift, and then I have been able to kind of exercise it over the years to where now, I do have a lot of way smarter people around me that again, I bug and harass all the time, just because I have ideas. And I want to test those ideas with those people and see what they think. But with all that being said, there are still moments of kind of isolation too, right, because I think it’s important to maintain your own independent and individual creativity. But I’m just blessed, I think to like I said, have been able to make connections with people and always just asking them like, Hey, I just want to know what you know, and can you teach me about, you know, what keeps you up at night? Or what you’re passionate about solving?
Lauren Conaway 38:41
Yeah. Well, it’s interesting, because like, like that, quote, you know, it’s really, it’s not meant to be taken literally, I don’t think. I mean, sure, like, we all want people that we ask advice to give us money, but the fact it’s about relationship building, like you like first provide value. And that was actually so the way that I heard it very early in my career, somebody was like provide value. You will never be out of a job people that you will be indispensable. If you find ways to provide value. So I don’t even know if you know this, but like my entrepreneurial journey within the Kansas City ecosystem began, I volunteered for a tech week event and that was how I got in. And it kicked off this entire career that I never would have dreamed of. But it all started because I volunteered first. And then I, you know, then I had the I met the people I needed to meet and I had the opportunity to ask the questions and I got my in and then it became this, this beautiful thing that I’m very privileged to have, you know. So, I totally get that. Like, I just think it’s really so. So if you are looking to build your network, dear listeners either being as your Criss or work on that relationship building piece or do both ideally, you know, that would be the best, but no, that was that was really cool, man. I love it. Now it’s time We have come to the human question. Are you ready? He’s so excited. I can just tell. So my question is, what was your favorite toy when you were a kid?
Nassir Criss 40:12
Oh my gosh. The first thing I thought about I had this little like Hot Wheels guy on a dirt bike. And I used to like ride the folds of my blanket on my bed as if it was like a motocross track. And so I would like jump in and like make him do like all these like twists and turns. Honestly, like that later matured into me like riding dirt bikes in real life, and then evolved into sport bikes. And so I just like always since a little kid then into like, adrenaline sports and like, action sports and racecar driving and stuff like that. But yeah, it was, it was a little like a motorcycle guy. Well, dirt bike guy. Yeah, there’s a little hot wheels to it.
Lauren Conaway 40:54
Very cool. So mine, I had a little red telephone that I took everywhere with me. And I love the fact that like both of our childhood toys, speak to who we are today. Because like, you’re, you’re pushing the envelope kind of guy and like you and me, I’m like, I just talk a lot. Like, I started getting practice, then just walking around, pretending I was talking on the phone. That was that was my setup for who I am today. It’s so interesting. It’s very telling. Well, hey, man, I gotta tell you, I knew that this was gonna be a good one. But I’m just very, very grateful that you took the time. Thanks for chatting with us.
Nassir Criss 41:29
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much. Keep up the great work. Keep being a light and a beacon in our community for people to look at and be inspired by I am. So thank you for just inviting me. I really appreciate it.
Lauren Conaway 41:40
All right, I don’t even know how to respond to that. So I’m gonna tell you folks that, hey, if you need to hire software engineers, testers or leaders, you can let Full Scale help we are here. They are the people in the platform to help you build and manage a team of experts. When you visit FullScale.io. All you need to do is answer a few questions and then let the platform match you up with fully vetted, highly experienced software engineers, testers and leaders. It Full Scale, they specialize in building long term teams that work only for you. Learn more when you visit FullScale.io. And friends, you know, I feel like I kind of beat a dead horse when I do this. But I am going to invite you to talk to us here at Startup Hustle. We do this for you. We do this to share stories of founders to help other founders like yourselves, as you listen and hear their story. So let us know what you want us to talk about. You know, feel free to suggest a guest at StartupHustle.xyz. You can find us on Startup Hustle chat, on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, we’re all over the place. But reach out to us. Let us know what founders you want to hear from. Let us know what topics you want to hear. Because we do this for you and we want to do it better for you. You can help us do that. We’re very, very grateful that you listen to us week after week. Keep on coming back and we’ll catch you next time.