HOW — 2020 was the Year that Changed Us

by Molly Hoffmeyer

Unprecedented, a hard year, a black swan. When we tell the tale of 2020, let’s not forget to note the ways in which the world around us changed for the better too. At year-end, we spent time as a team reflecting on where we grew or had to stretch the most as a result of the global pandemic — born of challenges and pain, but we believe will bear fruit for the future.

Organically, what each team member reflected on were changes to the HOW.

Our WHY stood its ground. We invest in the most promising startups and drive collaboration between founders and incumbents to accelerate growth and strengthen competitiveness. Our WHAT got amplified, particularly our collaboration model and investment thesis to invest at the intersection of wealth, health & privacy.

But HOW we did our work changed: How we nurture relationships. How we conduct due diligence. How we drive collaboration. How we execute internally as a team. Execution matters, so when how we work changes, that matters too.

In 2020, HOW we all worked had to change, quickly. And many of those changes are here to stay. Below are our reflections:

How We Made Connectivity More Intentional (Chisom Uche, Evan Thorpe & Samarth Shekhar)

Our Regional Leaders in North America, APAC & EMEA have to cover a lot of ground in their roles spanning fragmented regions and standing astride the worlds of startup founders and industry leaders alike. Historically, this has meant (at the bare minimum) attending the venues where people come together to confer, form points of view, and collaborate such as conferences, coffee shops, coworking spaces, social venues, formal events, etc.

We gain a huge advantage being close to the action, on the ground, in our respective regions.

This year, the serendipitous meetings that usually occur by being physically in the same place at the time have been off the table. Conversations among thought-leaders, industry insiders, and visionary founding teams, however, have not halted, and we recognized that we are not going to stumble upon them based on location.

As a result, in staying true to our mission and objectives, we have had to make sure we were being deliberate and intentional about our tactics for sourcing opportunities, validating theses, and bringing collaborators together. We have also re-learned the importance of nurturing our current relationships.

We’ve had to reach out and extend ourselves in order to proactively stoke the embers of a conversation that grow into a sustained dialogue. This has required more everyday energy from each of us, at a time when this can be in notoriously short supply. I am grateful for our team members and our founders who have been working tirelessly, it is a constant source of motivation.

How We Adjusted to Working from Home Full Time: Extra Time with Family While Maintaining an Intense Workday (Tyler Short)

I’ll never forget the night of March 12 when we made the decision to move our global operations away from the customary and traditional office space to the comfort of our own homes. I recall having several conversations with my wife about how to balance and manage me being at home full time with my toddler son wanting to play. Through trials and tribulations, we were able to craft parameters and a schedule that enables me to maintain the intense work schedule that I have as a venture capitalist, while also increasing the time that I spend with my wife and toddler.

To give further context, in 2020, from my home in St. Louis, I closed investments in the US, UK, Singapore, South Africa, Germany, and Switzerland, while also witnessing the incredible growth of my son in such things as advancing his talking, walking (let’s be honest, more like running), and ever present personality.

What a nice surprise in an incredibly difficult year that we were able to accomplish work goals at SixThirty, and I was able to add time to the schedule to spend getting to know my son during this formidable time of his life.

As hard as 2020 has been, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

How We Brought the Human Touch to Virtual World (Becca Leonard)

Forging connections among people who have never met was a relatively simple task for networking event planners in 2019 — a time when handshakes were customary, and facial expressions didn’t come with the risk of being frozen on a screen. Traditionally hosted in-person, we quickly realized that the success of SixThirty’s Go-To-Market Program in 2020 and beyond would require more than Zoom breakout rooms and background music.

It would also depend on integrating some semblance of that energy and engagement which naturally occurs in a meeting room — or at a networking happy hour — into our virtual sessions. Through trial and error, trying new platforms, and developing collaborative events that embraced our remote environments,

We were able to create strong personal connections despite the reality of our new physically-distanced world.

For the kickoff event, we hosted a scavenger hunt where each participant was tasked with finding different items inside their home, i.e. a souvenir, a pet, or even a child. Through this experience, we learned a great deal about the group and caught a humanizing glimpse into each other’s personal lives.

For a few of our happy hour sessions, we integrated Kumospace — an immersive video chat experience where participants are invited to a room with a bar, “live” music, and ample “seating.” Once “inside” the room, we (a small video icon of our heads) were free to navigate the space as we pleased with our arrow keys. This allowed us to engage in conversation with anyone in the same spacial audio circle, offering a natural flow of discussion and laughs among the group as drinks were repeatedly “refilled” at the click of a button.

At the close of the Program, we worked with MeetMax Games to host “An Afternoon at the Races,” a horse race simulation mirroring a day at a modest Churchill Downs. This was an incredible way to build camaraderie across the screen and generate the aura of live, spirited interaction that we’re all yearning to have integrated back into our lives.

How We Nurtured Relationships with our Team, Founders & Investors (Becca Leonard & Chandresh Iyer)

At SixThirty, a commonly used phrase is “a team that eats together, stays together”. When in person, we took this to heart, regularly hosting meals for our team, founders, investors and wider network. From the onset of the pandemic, we knew this was a part of our culture that we didn’t want to lose, and

We knew that our culture was something we were unwilling to sacrifice in the pandemic.

Though a logistical challenge, we orchestrated the delivery of meals to our global team with the goal of honoring this tradition. With no centralized service to facilitate these timed deliveries, google maps and scheduled food delivery technology became our best friend. Through research and collaboration with each colleague, we were able to deliver the lunch (or dinner or dessert, based on the time zone) of their choosing to enjoy with the group.

The end result was well worth it — each person felt valued and uniquely connected to each other as we shared our virtual meals across the screen. Furthermore, we were able to grow closer as a team as we visually entered each other’s homes. Talking about things around the house, e.g., paintings, pets, helped develop a better understanding of individuals which would not have been possible in a work-oriented façade.

How We Assessed Founders in a Virtual Setting (Joel Brightfield)

Venture investing is as much about finding large market opportunities as it is about finding the right teams to invest in. Historically, we have rarely — if ever — invested in a company without first meeting the founder(s) behind the business. As the reality of Covid set in, we were forced to get to know founders in an entirely virtual setting.

In some instances, we set Zoom meetings with no agenda whatsoever — just an hour (or longer) to get to know each other. We learned about each other’s home offices, families, pets, and hobbies. We shared pictures with each other and played games. In other instances, we sought out more personal references than before. It’s likely many of these practices are here to stay.

How We Created New Opportunities for Collaboration (Molly Hoffmeyer)

Working at the intersection where corporates and startups collide, SixThirty has a unique perch to observe trends in incumbents and among startups, and to help facilitate the interactions and collaborations between both.

The global pandemic proved that it is possible for large corporations to move with speed and intentionality, without losing critical checks and balances. The sheer rate of the spread of the virus laid bare our networked world. It highlighted the speed of change and the importance of collaboration between and among incumbents and startups to solve big problems and achieve speed to market. We expect to see much more collaboration and co-creation between startups and incumbents in the future.

After the initial shock of Covid, executive accessibility actually increased and opportunities for our portfolio companies that were in the middle and bottom of the sales funnel progressed, sometimes faster.

It was the top of the funnel that suffered, establishing new relationships was much harder. As Aristotle noted, we are social animals; the digital connection won’t be replacing the power of the human connection anytime soon.

How we are — In a Hyperconnected Digital World, still Human at the Core (Atul Kamra)

Most salient for me was the shift from what I need ‘to do’ to how I need ‘to be’. How I showed up changed. We expect leaders to be buttoned down and fully prepared. Perfect. But it was in being human and vulnerable where I believe the team got the most lift. It is not simply about opening up. It was being human and transparent in our decision making. It was about being open about what we knew, what we did not and how we were closing the gap. To act our values.

The pandemic, while often spent in isolation, had a sense of shared sacrifice, that we were in it together. It underscored the critical importance of personal connection and the value that we place on each other. It moved us from a focus on “me” to a focus on “we.” We may find ourselves “zoomed out” at times. And while nothing can replace true face-to-face relationships, the massive accessibility of video made the pandemic more bearable for us all. With founders, our partners, our network, our teams, or our families, we shifted to a higher relationship consciousness.

In a world of AI and machine learning, it is the human connection and uniquely human attributes of trust, courage, loyalty, generosity, and teamwork that are so critical to our everyday work.

That has not and will not change. How we get there experienced a major shift (as I wrote, Distance is Dead. Distance is Back), but strong relationships and human understanding remain at the core.

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