I recently saw Tomasz Tunguz’s (a partner at Redpoint) piece on apprenticeship from his daily blog. Within it he addresses the value of apprenticeship: “Watching someone else exercise their judgement, explain and rationalize their decisions, and then [drawing] your own conclusion and inferences …is the invaluable part of being an apprentice.” I gleaned from it a priceless secret: taking this apprenticeship approach to life, staying open and rediscovering how to be an apprentice over and over, is the key to accelerating your own development. This has never been clearer to me more than when I met Luke Armour of Chaac Ventures.
First some background:
On March 29, 2017, I attended a start-up talk hosted by Luke, an alumnus of my school, Princeton University (Luke was class of 2013), and the founder and managing director of Chaac Ventures, a seed and early-stage venture capital firm that I would later learn is focused on investing in Princeton University’s expanding tech ecosystem.
I was invited by a close friend — more like a brother to me at this point — who on occasion would drop by Princeton to catch-up and offer some cryptic wisdom that would only reveal itself as true at a later date (I love this kind of stuff!).
This time around, he had called to invite me to this start-up talk at Princeton’s Entrepreneurship Hub by Luke, a friend and business associate of his who he had mentioned to me in passing during our earlier conversations. Recognizing the concealed wisdom behind his invitation, I rushed to the E-Hub to catch as much of Luke’s talk as possible before my writing seminar began later that night.
I came for the opportunity but stayed for the incredible insights — missing my writing seminar in the process (shhh…don’t let my professor know). I arrived just in time to watch Luke introduce himself and his colleague Kristen Sonday, the founder of one of Chaac Venture’s portfolio companies Paladin: a start-up that provides lawyers a simple way to find cases they are passionate about. (You can read more about Paladin here: www.joinpaladin.com).
Kristen walked the room through Paladin’s history and her journey as a start-up founder, revealing deep insights from her most difficult challenges therein. Luke mediated the conversation and provided an overview of his work at Chaac Ventures, its beginnings, and his dedication to the goals of not just his portfolio companies but also to the budding entrepreneurs on Princeton’s campus (that’s me!).
To provide some context, at this point in my life I was — and still am! — infatuated by entrepreneurship and capital allocation; my reasons for which amounted to a natural interest in the craft and the freedom and control of one’s destiny that it affords individuals. So, in short, this talk was to me like gold or “winning” is to Donald Trump.
After the talk ended, I worked up the courage to introduce myself to Luke. It might seem like a no-brainer but from my perspective as a freshman college student, it was like I was Bud Fox in Wall Street (1987) about to step into his one and only chance to impress Gordon Gecko, first looking into the mirror and saying to himself, “Well, life all comes down to a few moments, this is one of them.”
Luckily for me, Luke was a lot friendlier and understanding than Gecko. We chatted for a bit — reminiscing about our Princeton experience — exchanged contact info, and said our goodbyes.
Fast forward to the following week, and a grand idea came to me. It just so happened that earlier in the school year I had become a founding member of a new organization on Princeton’s campus named Princeton Empower, which devoted itself to the prudent proliferation of financial literacy to communities that need it the most.
After witnessing the early success of our framework in educating students about personal finance on campus, I realized that our content could have the potential to transform communities and economic outcomes elsewhere, but we needed help turning our current operation into an impactful start-up as seasoned as Paladin. I saw the potential for a collaboration between Chaac Ventures and Princeton Empower to accomplish just this and decided to email Luke about it — believing the worse that could happen was that he simply said “no.”
To my surprise, Luke responded that same day requesting that we set a time to talk in late April. What luck! I thought.
On April 26, 2017, Luke and I connected for our first phone call. I initially thought that I would have to do plenty of the talking to keep Luke interested, but all I needed was to be eager to learn and open to advice. Luke and I both expressed our enthusiasm to work together and he instructed me to build a “one-pager” summarizing Princeton Empower, our impact, and what we needed to accomplish our goals. Okay, I thought, simple enough. Only, this was the first time I had ever heard of a “one-pager.” Risking emphasizing my inexperience, I decided to just ask: “What is a one-pager and how do I make a good one?”
It turned out that Luke appreciated the question. He wasted no time walking me through a basic outline:
1) Start with a bold one or two-sentence summary statement about what your organization is and what you do.
2) Describe the problem and existing solutions: Why, what, and how did this problem come to be. What is out there already addressing this problem.
3) Explain your solution: Describe your solution(s). What are your competitors missing or not addressing that your organization considers and addresses?
4) Characterize the individuals on your team: Who are the creators of your solution (i.e. you and your team) and what makes you guys the best combination to solve this problem? Include bios if space allows.
5) Lay out the necessary pieces you need to bring in to realize your solution: Do you need advisors, engineers, certain resources, etc. or are you, your co-founders, and your team all that’s necessary?
6) What is your game plan/strategy: if all you have is a concept then describe it as best you can. If you can provide a technical explanation, then provide one. Ask yourself, what are you building and what is your strategy for next steps?
7) List your “asks:” this is your chance to ask them questions you need answered or make specific requests. Don’t be afraid to ask for additional resources or introductions with pivotal players if that’s what you need. Let them know the areas where you need help. If you have no “asks” then you can tell them that all you need is their patience and time for you and your team to execute your game plan.
Not only did Luke agree to take a look at my Empower “one-pager,” but he extended the courtesy to “one-pagers” for ideas I came up with going forward. Wow.
I’d like to pass on this maxim I discovered from this entire experience: place yourself in situations where great success is plausible — take advantage of opportunities that present themselves — and serendipity will handle the rest.
Building a one-pager was the first step in my long journey of learning how to be an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. I’m looking forward to where this journey will take me.
Thanks to Osagie Johnson for inviting me to Princeton’s E-Hub on that almost uneventful Wednesday night in March, and to Luke Armour for his advice, and also to Luke and Kristen Sonday from Paladin for coming to speak to us about your companies!
Learn more about Chaac Ventures and the amazing people behind it here: http://chaacventures.com.
You can read Tomasz Tunguz’s piece on apprenticeship at this link: http://tomtunguz.com/apprenticeship/.