Morgan Stanley
  • Access & Opportunity Podcast
  • Sep 3, 2020

Building a Fund that Feeds the Soul

Hosted by Carla Harris

Carla speaks with VC Mallun Yen, founder of Operator Collective, and Kieran Snyder, co-founder of Textio, an augmented writing platform and one of Operator's portfolio companies. The conversation touches on the value of the outlier, on structuring venture more like the enterprise and on how diverse portfolio companies grow from a network of diverse investors.

On this episode of Access and Opportunity, we welcome investor Mallun Yen, founder, and partner of Operator Collective. Operator Collective is a disruptive new approach to venture capital which brings senior operating leaders from diverse backgrounds together with founders of startup companies. We also hear from one of the leaders of those startup companies, Kieran Snyder, the co-founder and CEO of Textio, an augmenting writing platform that analyzes text to find the patterns that cause some to succeed, where others fail. In this episode, Mallun and Kieran take us on a journey where we explore what it takes to build a diverse and well-rounded portfolio company, what leadership looks like during a time of crisis and why having the right tone when sharing messaging means everything. Come on and join us for the ride.

Episode Transcript

MALLUN YEN:  Because of the fact that many of us have all been in very homogenous male, dominated industries, because I knew a lot of women, a lot of those operators happened to be women as well. And so, that's how it came about, which is there was a gap in the venture world, lack of operators. They don't really have networks that intersect with VCs and founders. And if I could bring them in, that would be incredible. And especially because if I could bring them in, and they happen to be women, people of color, that would also feed my soul.

CARLA HARRIS:  On this episode of Access and Opportunity, we welcome investor Mallun Yen, founder, and partner of Operator Collective. Operator Collective is a disruptive new approach to venture capital. With Operator Collective, Mallun brings senior operating leaders from diverse backgrounds together with founders of startup companies. We're also going to hear from one of the leaders of those startup companies, Kieran Snyder, the co founder and CEO of Textio, an augmenting writing platform that analyzes job posts to find the patterns that cause some posts to succeed, where others fail. In this episode, Mallun and Kieran take us on a journey where we explore what it takes to build a diverse and well-rounded portfolio company, what leadership looks like during a time of crisis and why having the right tone when sharing messaging means everything. Come on and join me for the ride. This season on Access and Opportunity, we're speaking with women breaking barriers in the investment landscape while featuring one of their portfolio companies. So Mallun, Kieran, thank you so much for being here with us. Let's start with how the two of you met.

YEN:  Great. Carla, thank you so much for having us. We're so excited to be here, have been watching what you've been doing for years now. So thank you for all your contributions. So I'll start actually, because I knew about Kieran before she knew about me because she wrote this article and op-ed actually, that was fascinating about performance reviews. It was a fortune piece in, was that 2014, Kieran?

KIERAN SNYDER:  It was 2014 August.

YEN:  And I said, who is this person? This is fascinating. This is exactly what I've been seeing. And so I had been stalking her online and then a mutual friend of ours after Kieran had started a company, which we'll talk about in a second, a mutual friend of ours, Aileen Lee, actually introduced us because she thought that we might be able to mutually help each other.

HARRIS:  Wow. So tell me what you thought Kieran, when you guys met?

SNYDER:  This is like a meet cute story. Aileen introduced me to Mallun, even though Mallun's incredible background in IP law and building tech communities and entrepreneurship. And as we were going with Textio, we were coming across that our mutual friend thought that Mallun could help with. And I remember the first phone call we had, which I thought would be about 10 minutes, and I was actually on my way to pick my kids up from somewhere, Mallun doesn't know this, and it ended up going like 75 minutes. And I remember I was just sitting in the car, outside my kid's friend's house being like, "How mad are they going to be that on this late?" Cause we have so much to talk about.

YEN:  The funny thing is Kieran, I remember that vividly too, because I was in the car at the same time because it was the end of the day so I was waiting for a kid to pick up too.

HARRIS:  Oh my goodness, look at there. So tell me, what was it that Aileen thought Mallun, that made her say, this is somebody that you need to meet? Was it the company opportunity or do you think it was Kieran as a person, what do you think it was that made her say you, you guys ought to connect?

YEN:  So Aileen was the lead seed investor in Textio. And I think by realizing some of the early issues that they were facing and the fact that I had some expertise in the area, she thought that maybe we would get along, and Aileen tends to be pretty good at putting people together too.

HARRIS:  Ah, okay. And what did she tell you, Kieran?

SNYDER:  Same story. Mallun had a background that made her skills a unique fit for challenges that we were having at the time. We were thinking about our patent strategy. So you may know that Madeline has an IP law background and deep in technology, deep in startups. And we were starting to think about how to approach some of our patent considerations. So that's really what kicked it off. Although, I think that was the last conversation we ever had on that particular topic, and what we quickly brought in is well beyond that.

HARRIS:  The reason why I'm so interested in this is because you hear so much in, especially in the Valley, that the relationships matter so much in terms of access to investors as well as the decision for investors actually to invest in your company. And so, I'm always fascinated about how the relationships began, because clearly it sounded like you guys had a relationship before there was an investment decision to happen. And at the time that Madeline invested in Textio, had you done your series A, you were between your series A or series B, or was it in the series B?

SNYDER:  It was in the series B extension, so we had worked together for a couple of years on various topics. Mallun brought up the performance review piece. We really early connected on the importance and issues around bias in the industry. That was a clear thread that connected a lot of our conversations about Textio and beyond Textio. So we had built that foundation, and then I think the business opportunity was something we continued to discuss as well. So we had absolutely built a relationship that was a couple of years long before we... Yeah.

YEN:  Carla, it's a great question too, because had I had a fund, so I have a very unusual background for someone who has started a $50 million venture fund. I started out in patent law, right, as an intellectual property.

HARRIS:  Oh, we're definitely going to go back to the background, yes ma'am.

YEN:  I was actually talking to someone. They're like how many other people were patent attorneys. I'm like, "I actually don't know." And so, had I actually known back then, I was a big fan of Kieran's from the beginning. So I would have invested because I believed in her, and I believed in her vision for the company, and what she was going to do. And so I was thrilled that when we actually had the fund, and there was an opportunity to join really what was an insider's round, I got to sneak in as one of the insiders. And the other interesting thing is, Kieran, I don't don't know if you know this, but we our fund has a lot of women operators who are LPs or investors in the fund, which is highly unusual. We have over 130 of them.

YEN:  That was one of the fund's thesis's is to bring more talented, experienced women operators into the venture ecosystem in a way that was natural and also could help and work with phenomenal companies like Kieran's. And so, when I did, when I brought. We have a lot of mutual friends who were in the fund, and there are so many big fans of Textio, that we all knew, when there was an opportunity to put some fund money into Textio, we were all going to do it because we are such believers in what she's built, what she's building, and Kieran as a leader. It was really fun.

YEN:  Oh, thank you.

HARRIS:  After I ask her this question, I'm coming right back to you, Mallun, to talk about how you started the Operative Collective, talk a little bit about your background, why this was so important to you. What led you to this? But Kieran, before we go there, I want to ask you the question, because it was the series B extension, you already had some experience in raising capital. So you, therefore, know that all capital is not created equal, and that you, as an entrepreneur, can't afford, frankly, to be a little bit discerning and discriminating sometimes about the dollars that you take. Because as I said, all money is not created equal.

SNYDER:  Yeah. When I build out an investor team, because I think something a lot of entrepreneurs don't think about is that their investors are another team they manage, right? You have your team of people who work at the company, but when you run a board, it's another team, and if you think about it that way, you're going to get more out of the group of people. And so when I build an investor group, I look for complimentary skills. I look for people with different areas of expertise that they can bring to help me. Another one of my investors has said that VC investment is health that you buy for your company, and I like that framework. I really like that framework. And so, for Mallun specifically, her differentiator has always been hustle. Mallun works harder for Textio than any other investor we have.

SNYDER:  She brings her relationships to bear fully. Mallun has never introduced me to somebody who didn't turn out to be really useful, helpful, valuable. And that was clear early on. I think she has always worked very hard to create opportunities for me and for Textio. And so when you see that, that's obviously something you want as part of your team, right? And it's this really unique skill. A lot of investors we have, we're fortunate they have brought lots of different skills to the table, but just the pure hustle is something where Mallun has always really stood out.

HARRIS:  Oh wow. That's great to know. Well, Mallun, I knew that we would get along. We had things in common, but, honey, that hustle gene. That hustle gene, I see you. I know about that.

YEN:  Thank you, Kieran. That's really nice.

SNYDER:  It's true.

HARRIS:  Tell us a little bit about the Operator Collective. How did it come to be and give us a little bit of your background.

YEN:  Yeah. So Operator Collective, how it came to be is I had no desire to actually be an investor, a full time investor, a VC. I'm someone who's been a builder of companies. I like working with teams, which frankly, most VCs, you don't really function as a team. It's a partnership where you have people even working in silos, right, and even own partners, they're in competition with each other. And I have no desire to be part of any of that. I waited tables growing up, and I was always into pooling tips, right, as opposed to, "This is my table, and this is your table. And I'm going to get that one. They look like a big tipper." So my background is I start out as a patent attorney, as chief patent counsel at Cisco, so I live my life as an enterprise operator.

YEN:  That's where I was most comfortable, but while I was there, realize that there was a problem that the patent industry was facing. And so, that was costing us billions and billions of dollars. So I thought, "Hey, we need to solve this problem, but you can't do it inside a company. You need to bring an industry together." And so that company ended up being venture backed. And we ended up growing from zero to a hundred million in public in less than three years.


YEN:  Yeah. But I was such an outsider to venture. I had no clue that that was unusual. I was an IP attorney. I would look at all of the Midas list and people tweeting to each other and be like, "Wow, I could never do that." It's about VCs and founders, and here I am, a boring lawyer. And so, as I started to focus, and I started to spend more time in venture.

YEN:  And so as I did, and I met with them, I saw that they were all facing a common problem, which is that as they started to build and scale up their company, expectations only get higher, right, when you raise more money, and it's no longer about just the founding team muscling its way through, we're smart, and we've got enough natural abilities that we're going to just figure it out. At some point, you actually need to know how to build and scale up a company, hire people who have actually done particular functions before, and so I kept seeing these founders come to me to say, "Hey, can you help me?" Because I help scale up a company to 300 million. And they said, "What's surprising to me is that they're not as familiar with the enterprise as I am. Second, that they don't really know people like me."

YEN:  And I know a lot of people like me and because you tend to know people like you, I tend know a lot of people like me who happen to be women, happen to be people of color. And I knew that, like me, were feeling like venture was not attainable and not accessible to them. And I thought, if there's a way that we can naturally bring people into the venture ecosystem because I knew that the founders, and actually the VCs as well, wanted to access these operators, that would be an incredible leap, impactful business model. And then, because of the fact that many of us have all been in very homogenous, male dominated industries, because I knew a lot of women, a lot of those operators happened to be women as well. And so, that's how it came about, which is there was a gap in the venture world, lack of operators. They don't really have networks that intersect with VCs and founders, and if I could bring them in, that would be incredible, and especially because if I could bring them in, and they happen to be people that, like me, women, people of color, that would also feed my soul.

HARRIS:  Excellent. And what have you found as you've gone out to try to raise money because I want to talk about the fundraising journey for both of you because it is a unique idea. What you have brought, Mallun, is not that different than the way VCs think about investing partners and operating partners, but it is different in terms of who you've reached out to, how you've thought about it from a real operating perspective for scale, because they're thinking about, if they're going to be a VC that focuses on healthcare and insurance, then you're an operating partner that's in healthcare and insurance. You've thought about all the different functions from COO to CMO, to somebody who's head of operations across the board for every function that a company might need. So let's talk about, as you went out to fundraise and talk about this idea, how that went.

YEN:  Yeah. So one thing that I will point out, and it's a little bit of nuance, I studied a lot. So I built and launched a lot of companies, right? This is my fourth one and final one. I will do this for the rest of my life.

HARRIS:  So the serial entrepreneur says.

YEN:  What we actually did is I looked at all the models, and then I actually tore it apart. So its a venture fund in structure, but I tore it apart. So it's very DNA. It's not run like a venture fund. It is actually run like a company. It is the motivations, how you work in a collaborative way, how you function as a team, so in name only, it's a venture fund. When you see how we actually execute, it's actually run like a company. I have partners who are complimentary to me as opposed to in different silos, and so that's one aspect of it, but the reason I raise that is if I try to raise a venture fund, that was just like every other venture fund, I don't think I could have raise a $50 million fund beyond the fact that it wouldn't have been interesting to me because fundamentally this had to be a different approach so that I could leverage this incredibly talented group of people and experienced operators who just happened to be a lot of women and people of color.

YEN:  And so, the early investors, because also very unusual for a first time fund and a first time general partner is not only do we have operators as LPs in the fund, we also have universities and foundations, very, very unusual for a first time fund that's as small as [crosstalk].

HARRIS:  Absolutely.

YEN:  And so what they saw was, this was the beginning of a complete shift that was going to create a platform that was going to be able to go on and scale up and be incredibly successful because it was so different. And I actually don't think I could have raised the money if I just said, "Hey, I'm going to do a venture fund. I'm going to have an operating partner who does this." Whatever, what we wanted was we have, instead of one operating partner who used to be an operator 10 years ago or five years ago, who was now full time with a fund, our operator LPs are full time operators now who are active in the industry, which means, one, they're potential buyers, two, they know who might be looking for new opportunities. Maybe they might join some of our companies, so at a fundamental level, it's ingrained in our DNA, and we're very different than the way a typical fund works.

HARRIS:  Understood. Thank you for the clarification. Now, let me ask you this question, Mallun, what we often hear and certainly what we talked about in our last white paper at Morgan Stanley, where we talked about not only the trillion dollar opportunity that VCs are missing, one of the excuses that you hear all the time from VC firms around why they don't invest more in women and folks of color is, "I can't find any." Even in 2020, I can't believe it, but I still hear, "I can't find any. How big is that market? Where would you find them?" And one of the pieces of advice that we gave him in our white paper was that you might be able to find more if you thought about actually diversifying your investing team. You should have more women and more folks of color because that will expose you to greater opportunities. What advice might you give to some of the VCs that say, "Well, we don't have more women as partners. We don't have more folks of color as partners. I wouldn't know where to find these people who are supposedly operating experts." What would you give them as advice?

YEN:  Oh, so much, but I think, part of it is that there are networks of, with my Asian women network is probably bigger than yours, right? Your African American women network is probably bigger than bigger than ours. Well, actually your network is probably just bigger than ours because you're unique, Carla. And so...

HARRIS:  And I've been hustling a long time.

YEN:  I love it. And so part of the thing is, they don't know people like us, right? And so when they think about, "Well, yeah, I need to hire some women and people of color." When they randomly reach out to us, and this is also why I created this, to make it more natural so that people would know each other so that when funding opportunities came, like Kieran and I already knew each other, people would already know each other. And so, if they've reached out to a random person on LinkedIn, are they really going to say, "Oh yeah, I want to take that call." Our fund actually invests in founders from all backgrounds, all genders and all in the enterprise. That's our only enterprise in B2B. It actually turns out that our portfolio is almost 50% women, fewer than like 5% of women founders or founders of enterprise software companies are actually women. It just happens to be, we are 50% women.

HARRIS:  I'm going to end my part of the conversation for now, with you before I turn to Kieran with this question, you've written a lot about how people shouldn't make perfect the enemy of diversity. Talk a little bit about that because that's right in the lane that we're in right now.

YEN:  If you always look for someone who checks all the perfect boxes, and I certainly don't check any of the perfect boxes, then you're going to end up with the same person that everyone else is trying to hire. And you're going to hire the person who... And then that person's going to hire the next person who looks exactly like that. And then, you end up with a bunch of similarly thinking people. And that's something that just perpetuates the status quo. And there's been so many studies that we know about the fact that diverse teams outperform, out innovate, out create homogenous teams, but the homogenous teams think that they get to the right answer. They're more confident that they've gotten to the right answer than the diverse teams. Right.

HARRIS:  Right, and they're more competent because everybody's thinking the same way, and everybody's yessing in the same direction.

YEN:  Totally. It's like, we all agree. We're brilliant, right? We must be right.

HARRIS:  Yeah, and maybe the playbook point for our listeners is that none of us have the real definition of perfect because our definition of perfect is frankly based on our own experience and our own perspective. So you may clearly be missing something that is even "more perfect" than your current definition, simply because you don't know about it. So being open to new things and other things, and the fact that it can improve what you have today is if you're striving for perfection, you should absolutely embrace the unknown and the different because it could be better than what you've already experienced. Fair point.

YEN:  Absolutely. Well put.

HARRIS:  Okay. All right. Kieran. Now, Mallun just said, if you're looking at something that you've always done and be repetitive about it, that probably doesn't work. And actually, your business is built on understanding the repetitive, what is the artificial intelligence telling you about it? So tell us, how was Textio born, and how did you come up with this idea?

SNYDER:  It's really interesting. As I was listening to the two of you talk about perfect and the perfection, when you try to seek for the 10 check boxes, does it get you a result? I think in most industries, it's outliers that actually produce outsized results, right, it's the safe choice to look for a person or a pattern of language or a product that checks the 10 boxes everybody knows about. Did you hit this metric, that metric, the other metric, but it's often a better strategy to look for, where's the outlying thing? And can you double down on where you're great. And when you ask about Textio's beginning, my whole life has been, in one way or another, at the intersection of language and math and software. And I grew up to be an engineer and a writer, and I studied linguistics and math in college.

SNYDER:  And then, my PhDs in NLP, and my first tech job after graduate school was really building Microsoft's first framework for non English spelling and grammar checking, right, and so really my whole life, one way or another, has been at this intersection. And when we started Textio, which I started with Jensen Harris, who is also my husband, if you don't know. So it was a whole set of conversations about co-founding with your spouse. His background is really, really different. Three times, he designed and led the implementation for billion person, user experience products for outlook, for the new version of office when they rebooted their UI and for Microsoft surface. And so, Textio is very much the union of those things, right? If you could take everything I had ever done with language and finding patterns in language, and you could help people be more understood when they're taking pen to paper, how did they discover the words within themselves that best communicate their intention in a way that their audience is likely to hear?

SNYDER:  Could you expose all of that in a user experience that a billion people could use? And the interesting thing about it is, although the software is predicated on finding patterns in language, it's the outlying behaviors that perform the best, right? If you just conform to the patterns that everybody else has used, you don't stand out. It's really interesting making the software that finds the patterns because the best writers always find a way to push the envelope. The best... Software finds the patterns, but it's humans who discover what's next and make what's next. All software can do is find out who those best writers are and hold on and try to help everybody else level up. The best writers are always the ones who push it forward.

HARRIS:  But you went into the space of job descriptions, right,….again, and so what did you say to companies when you were trying to get a piece of business as to why they would want Textio to help them put together the right job description to attract the right person and why that thing matters and what was your pitch to a company? You need to let us help you do this if you want to get the right candidate.

SNYDER:  Yeah. I mean, I'd say the first aspect of it is there is a specific pitch around job descriptions, but if you broaden out to communication in general, I love to ask people when the last time was that you wrote an email that was a little dicey. You knew before you press send that somebody was likely to be hurt, offended. They might misunderstand you, and what you do in that situation is you take your best guess. Maybe you ask a good communicator friend of yours to read over your shoulder, give you a little bit of feedback, right, but they're guessing too. And the whole notion of Textio, whether you're writing a job description or an email or anything else, is that you can do better than guessing. If you have lots of data about how people of many different backgrounds have responded to language like yours, you could get beyond that one second opinion and have hundreds of millions of them.

SNYDER:  Right, you could pick the words before you press send, and the damage is done. And so, when you talk to companies about hiring specifically, often what we would do is show them how they sound today, and it might not be who you think you are. It might not be who you want to be. And that really begins a conversation about where do you want to be? What are you hoping for? And how do you use language to change culture? Not just to get more women in the door and more veterans through the door and more people of color through the door, but every time someone is writing, how do you hold that mirror up and say, "Is this who you want to be?" Right, and you give people who are writing the chance to make different choices. That's where culture changes. It's about changing the culture in the organization.

HARRIS:  Wow. This is outstanding. I'm going to talk a little bit about the fact that even just based on what you just described, you should be a huge beneficiary of this environment that we're in now, because communication matters even more. So I'm going to talk about the COVID-19 environment in just a second, but before I turn there, I want to ask you a little bit about the fundraising process. Because in our last white paper, we talked about the differential that women and folks of color experienced when they were trying to raise money from VCs and the questions they were asked, what the whole experience was like. So can you tell us a little bit about probably your series a experience was the most telling or your seed round was the most telling, because by the time you got to b, people knew that you were a superstar as a person to invest in, and that you had an amazing opportunity as a company. So tell us a little bit about your fundraising journey.

SNYDER:  So as you said earlier in the conversation, relationships helped us. Jensen and I both were connected to a friend, Steven Sinofsky, who had been an executive leader at Microsoft, where we had both worked, and as so often, the relationships create more relationships, right? So we were fortunate early on if he gave us feedback, coached us on how to put a pitch together, right, and that's a massive advantage that shows something about access that when I mentor women founding companies right now, hopefully I can be their access point, but they don't automatically have that. And even with that, when we were raising our seed round, I can't tell you how many pitches we did where people assumed my husband, who is our CTO, was our CEO. One of my favorite stories is we were in a pitch meeting early on for our seed round, and I was presenting, okay.

SNYDER:  And Jensen was sitting next to me. And the couple of people we were pitching were across the table, very typical setup. And the guy, both men, both white men, every time he asked a question, directed it to Jensen, not to me, and Jensen performed one of the greatest acts of allyship I've ever experienced, which is he got up, and he brought his laptop around to the other side of the table. And he just sat right next to that guy. And he showed something on his laptop to make it not weird, and then he never moved back, and so forever for the rest of the presentation, that guy, when he asked questions, had to ask me, because it would have been super weird to turn. Jensen's sitting on top of him, right? Needless to say, we did not end up working with that investor, but that was a really frequent experience that we had that even though I was the CEO, I was leading the fundraising process, people, and I'm a pretty vocal person. I'm hard to ignore in a room. I'm pretty loud. People often assumed that secretly he must be the one making the decisions or running the show.

HARRIS:  How did you get past all of that? Because I find so often as I speak to women, founders and entrepreneurs, that journey is so tiring that I believe it is one of the reasons that I see female founders and multicultural founders selling probably two or three rounds before they should because the decision is I have an offer on the table for the whole enterprise now, or I'm faced with going out for the series B, series C, and oh my gosh, that journey, again, no thank you. I'll take the offer. And in fact, they leave, in some cases, seven or eight figures on the table because of the fatigue factor.

SNYDER:  That's real.

HARRIS:  So how'd you push past it? What would you tell them? I know it's real. I just haven't been able to slow down to get the data, to do the research, but I know that's what the research will say.

SNYDER:  It totally meshes with my observations of my peers. Absolutely. I don't know that I've pushed past it. I think every day I'm still pushing past it if I'm being totally vulnerable and honest with you. The fatigue is real, and the only thing that sustains is, for all the support you can get externally is some deep and abiding belief that you're creating something that even if it flopped tomorrow, it would have been worth the journey. So you do have to surround yourself with support structure, but in the end, it's like, are you lucky to get to do this? Do you still want to show up every day and get the opportunity to try? It's still hard, but yeah.

HARRIS:  I'm going to remind…because one of my favorite quotes is by the great Billy Jean King, and that is, "Pressure is a privilege." So fair point, Kieran, fair point. Yeah. So Mallun, let's talk about this context that we're in, this COVID-19, I'd like to talk to you as an investor, how you feel about this. What were you thinking when you realized that this thing was really a thing? And then, I want to understand the advice that you are giving to your portfolio companies about what they need to do. What are you telling them about making sure that they have enough cash, cash until when? How should they think about the fundraising environment? How should they be thinking about managing their own team? How should they show up differently as leaders? So talk to us about how you felt as an investor, how you're looking at things now and what you're telling them as an investor in their companies.

YEN:  Just as Kieran said, right, I actually do feel very privileged every day, right? And in fact, in the time of COVID right now, I feel overly privileged in some ways, right? In terms of the fact that we can very easily work from home. We were a distributed team before. We were fortunate that we had just raised a fund. So even with respect to our fund, most of our companies had just raised money, so they had sufficient runway. It doesn't mean we were resting on our laurels, but I feel very overly privileged today. And so what we're trying to, and being a startup founder, right, I've been there. It is so hard, right? It is so hard in so many ways. And today, the burnout is real, right? Everyone's a bit fried because everyone's working 24 hours a day. It's hard to have separation.

YEN:  We're all trying to homeschool, right, at the same time. So the approach that we've always taken as an investor is that we're viewed as a strategic as opposed to a financial investor. And for the relationship, even from the beginning with our founders is actually different. So for many of our founders, what we do is we give them the option, and most of them take us up on it is beyond the typical things that VCs and investors do. We actually do an hour session once a month, where it's just free form. It can range from, what are some of the executive challenges you have? What are the gaps you have? What introductions do you need? We always spend time on mental health. How are you feeling? Are you exercising? You have to take care of yourself, right?

YEN:  Are you drinking water? Right, things like that. And they say that I do this because I know I'm going to have to answer that question by next month [inaudible 00:32:24] because as investors, our job is not to sit there and pick at things or to do the job for them. It is because we believe in the founders and to be there for them, and we need them healthy. We need you able to do this. And so, we're there to support, and it's like, yes, there's going to be challenges. So our relationship tends to be, I would say, more as strategics, where they will tell us about things that are not going well.

HARRIS:  Outstanding. Okay. So talk to us, Kieran, as a CEO, how have you thought about this period? What messages have you given to the folks that work with you? What tough decisions have you had to make?

SNYDER:  Yeah, so it's interesting. Our historical business has generally supported hiring and recruiting as you noted before. And this is a really up and down market for hiring. Many businesses have had high profile downsizes or hiring freezes in certain industries. Many other industries can't hire fast enough, right? So if you look at fulfillment or healthcare or grocery, you see news story after news story that they're having trouble maintaining staff capacity for what they need. And so, we've definitely adjusted our business in terms of the industries that we think we have the most to contribute to right now. But there is also a much broader opportunity, as you noted before, with all of us at home, we are doing more of our work in writing than ever before, and the truth is people are drowning in the words. It is hard to figure out what you should pay attention to. Managers, especially, feel the stakes of their communication are quite high.

SNYDER:  How do you communicate with empathy, transparency, vulnerability, and confidence, all at the same time? It's really, really hard. And so there is opportunity in that for Textio to help people with both their tricky internal communication, and then all those problems, multiply them when it comes to talking to customers or your sales partners, right? I mean, how many brands have put messaging into the world that have been poorly received in the last month? It requires a different talent. People do not have patience for things that are over positioned. They want the truth. They want it direct, right, so there's a lot of opportunity in that for writing technology. And most of our internal work right now is figuring out how to help people with this broader set of communication problems, which has always been the vision of Textio, and I'd say that the current moment is very clarifying in terms of the needs people really have, and the ways that we have a chance to help.

HARRIS:  All right, ladies, we're almost at the end, we're at the fun part of Access and Opportunity, where we give our listeners an opportunity to get a chance to know you personally. I'm going to rattle off a couple of questions, and you tell me the first thing that comes to your mind. So Mallun, I'm going to with you. Reading a book or binge watching television?

YEN:  Book.

HARRIS:  Office or working from home?

YEN:  Work from home now.

HARRIS:  I'm with you. I see.

YEN:  Never going back.

HARRIS:  Coffee or tea?

YEN:  Tea, definitely.

HARRIS:  Email or phone call?

YEN:  I think it's got to be Zoom.

HARRIS:  Okay, I like it. If you had a talk show who would be your first guest?

YEN:  Oh, easy Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

HARRIS:  Okay.

SNYDER:  Oh, that's a good one.

HARRIS:  That is a good one. That is a good one. One word to describe your legacy.

YEN:  I don't know. I might have to say hustle, but in a good way.

HARRIS:  I like it. I like it. Okay. All right, Kieran, here we go. Reading a book or binge watching?

SNYDER:  Book all the way.

HARRIS:  Okay. Office or work from home?

SNYDER:  I miss the office.

HARRIS:  Coffee or tea?

SNYDER:  Neither.

HARRIS:  Wow. Red or white wine?

SNYDER:  I'm right there with you now. We'll go Rose.

HARRIS:  Okay. That's fair. Okay. If you had a talk show who would be your first guest?

SNYDER:  I think it would be my dad.

HARRIS:  Okay. And one word to describe your legacy.

SNYDER:  Words. Words would be my word.

HARRIS:  Alrighty. Amen. Amen, and amen. Thank you ladies very much. This has been a great conversation, and I know that our listeners will get quite a lot out of everything that you have offered for the playbook around how to invest with women and multicultural entrepreneurs and the fact that you can make extraordinary outsize market returns. Thank you, ladies.

SNYDER:  Thank you.

HARRIS:  Thank you all for joining us for this episode of Access and Opportunity. In our next episode, we'll be joined by investor, cofounder, and managing director of Ulu Ventures, Miriam Rivera, and entrepreneur, Ritu Narayan, founder and CEO of Xoom. You won’t want to miss it. Please remember to share your thoughts and feedback with us at I can’t wait to hear from you.

Inclusive Innovation & Opportunity