Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots

441: Creative Startups with Alice Loy

September 22nd, 2022

Alice Loy is a Founding Partner at DaVinci Ventures and the Co-Founder and CEO of Creative Startups, the leading global startup accelerator and company builder for design, food, immersive, and creative companies.

Victoria and Chad talk with Alice about what she means by creative companies, how much judgment she must pass as an investor with a love for the "weird and wonderful," and some of the challenges faced in bringing diversity to the rest of the accelerator world.

Become a Sponsor of Giant Robots!


CHAD: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Chad Pytel.

VICTORIA: And I'm your other host, Victoria Guido. And with us today is Alice Loy, Founding Partner at DaVinci Ventures and the Co-Founder and CEO of Creative Startups, the leading global startup accelerator and company builder for design, food, immersive, and creative companies.

CHAD: Alice, thank you so much for joining us.

ALICE: Thanks for having me.

CHAD: Can you tell us a little bit more about Creative Startups in general but also what you mean by creative companies specifically? Like, isn't every company creative? [laughs]

ALICE: Yeah, it's so funny. That's often the first question. And sometimes people I can feel their sense of indignation in thinking maybe I think they're not creative.

CHAD: [laughs]

ALICE: First of all, the creative industries are pretty well defined globally by the World Bank and entities like that. I'll come back to that. Yes, all human beings are creative. I like to joke that that's what got us out of caves in the first place. But more importantly, all entrepreneurs are very creative regardless of what sector you're operating in.

So when we're talking about creative, we're just referencing the set of industries that are measured as the quote, "creative industries." They include film, our museums, design certainly is a core element of that. Increasingly, we're seeing more and more people move toward the creative industries as mechanized labor takes over things like building cars or even running data analysis.

CHAD: Has getting support and funding and that kind of thing traditionally been easy in the creative space or hard?

ALICE: No. I know you know the answer to that question because you're a designer. [laughs]

CHAD: I usually don't ask questions that I don't know the answers to, so... [laughs]

ALICE: But it's a great question because actually what it uncovers, you guys, is that it has changed dramatically for people who I call creatives or creators in the last two or three years. It's a little tough to measure with the pandemic, but we know at least $2 billion have gone into platforms that support creators, businesses led by creators. The creative industry has really turned a corner.

So when we started this work 15-16 years ago, I co-founded the organization with a gentleman named Tom, who is now in his 80s. But he had come out of what's called the cultural economy, which was the precursor to the creative economy. And, of course, now we're all living in the creator economy. So like every other industry, it evolves. And one turn in this evolution is that creatives are now understood as economic drivers, not just people who add nice flourishes to things at the end.

When you're building new products, people think about engineers, but it's really a creative process. And people increasingly bring in creatives from the outset to think about how the design process can be more humanized, can be more effective to solve people's problems so that your products really delight customers instead of just get the job done.

CHAD: Is there something you can point to that triggered or pushed along that turning point?

ALICE: Well, not to be overly philosophical, but I would say the general sense in the U.S. and increasingly in other countries where we work is that human beings don't want to be cogs in a wheel. They don't want to just be bit parts in a system. When you talk to Gen Zers, they understand that they are complete human beings. And somehow, I think older generations bought into the idea that you have the same job for 40 years. You go to work at 8:00; you come home at 5:00. You repeat the next day.

I think the sense in the economy is that people want to be fulfilled. If they're going to give that much time to a job, they want it to be meaningful and valuable. And they want it to solve some of the big problems. Frankly, big tech is not approaching the world in that way these days. And so I think younger people are looking for values-aligned opportunities.

And the creative economy is a space where values tend to align with really reaching the full potential of each human being instead of just extracting their physical and occasionally mental labor toward building a capitalist system. And so I think that zeitgeist has helped open the door.

I also then think when you look at the kinds of technologies that are being utilized, they're still fundamentally about communicating ideas, and art, and inspiration. That's what Facebook is. That's what TikTok is. That's what even news channels are. And as more people come into the world of saying, "Oh, I can share my ideas, my art, my jokes, my music, my whatever," they see themselves as creatives, and they go, "I wonder how I could get paid for that?" I mean, there are a multitude of factors weaving together to shift.

I also think, quite frankly, the SaaS investment area has become so saturated. I mean, if you walk down the street in San Francisco, if you don't bump into three venture capitalists who are SaaS investors, it's like, what are you doing? And so I think other types of investors with a different background maybe are saying, hmm, what about this area over here? How could we make money? So that would be another thread I would say is helping drive.

CHAD: It strikes me that what you've shared sort of creates a self-fulfilling cycle too.


CHAD: Because once creatives have examples of other creatives that have done this, it becomes an aspirational thing that they understand that they, too, could do themselves.

ALICE: Yeah, 100%. So our goal when we started the startup accelerator...we launched the first accelerator for creative founders in 2013 in the world. And we said to ourselves, if we get one company that becomes the poster child for this creative movement and demonstrating that you can be, as we like to say, weird and wonderful and build a company, then we will unleash a flood of people who now see themselves in that light.

We were very fortunate in that we got that one poster child, and that has really helped us paint a picture that's clear for a lot of people where they see themselves as entrepreneurs, even though they're a tattoo artist or they're a hard rock Navajo metal band from the reservation or whatever their background is. Now they look and go, "Oh yeah, I could do that," and they certainly could. Being an entrepreneur is really hard but not intellectually challenging; it's more heart-challenging.

CHAD: Oh, that's really interesting, more heart challenging.

ALICE: Yeah. I mean, you're an entrepreneur. You guys have built a business, so you know that being an entrepreneur is more about being able to just sort of stay calm in the waves than it is about building the world's best boat and being able to steer toward that destination no matter how the winds blow.

CHAD: Yeah, I've often referred to it almost as grit, like the ability to, no matter what happened yesterday, get up and do it again.

ALICE: Get up, yeah. And unfortunately, I think there's a myth, maybe at least in the U.S., that what drives most people to get up and go, again, is money. And I don't think that's true at all. I think what drives people to get up and go again is their love of customers or end users. And their feeling they're just irrefutable despite there being no evidence feeling that this is going to work. This is going to make a difference in people's lives. And that's why the sort of slog.

And there are days of the things we always start a Creative Startup's program with is find your tribe. Cling to the people who believe in you. Ignore the naysayers. The naysayers are ten to one. Blow them off and cling to the people who say, "Wow, dude, that sounds cool. I bet you could do that." Yes, do another coffee meeting with that person. [laughs]

Because sometimes you just need people who can say, "You got this. You got this. Just do another day, man." What do you guys do? Let me ask, what do you guys do when things get really rocky for you? How do you guys collect that internal okay, I'm going to get back in the saddle.

CHAD: I've talked about this with people before, and I actually think that this is going to be a non-answer, but I'll do my best. I actually don't know exactly what does this for me. But I do know a side effect is I also don't celebrate the wins as much as other people wish that I did. And I think it's because I just move on very quickly from things. I don't dwell on the downs as much. I also don't dwell on the highs as much. And so I don't know if it's just something about me that does it or I just trained myself to do that. But it does have some downsides to it.

ALICE: That was a real answer. That wasn't a non-answer at all.

CHAD: [laughs]

ALICE: Victoria, what about you?

VICTORIA: I think to add on to what Chad said is kind of that thoughtbot mentality of viewing things as an experiment. And so if you come in with that mentality, like, this is the experiment. We'll see if it works or it doesn't. And if it doesn't work, there are some lessons to be learned, and we can grow from that and do better next time. And if it does work, great; [chuckles] this is cool.

And I actually like to celebrate the wins a lot. I like to really dwell in those moments and feel like we did something right. We should remember this and learn from that as well and then try to repeat it, right?

ALICE: Yeah. Oh, I love that.

CHAD: You mentioned that when you were first starting Creative Startups, you hoped to get one win, and you did. Which one was it?

ALICE: To be clear, as a mom, we don't have favorite children, okay? [laughter] And there are different companies that have had enormous impact in different ways, so let me tick some off. Let me name first Etkie. It's a design company built by a woman named Sydney, who grew up in rural New Mexico with a passion for working with indigenous communities.

Her design company makes spectacular handmade bracelets, average price point around 250 bucks. And she sells in about 100 different high-end galleries around the world. She creates 40 jobs for Navajo women on the reservation at twice the annual pay that they would receive if they worked any other job there. Pretty astounding, pretty astounding.

Those women have gone on to reinvest their money in things like rebuilding the school, putting in wells for family. The Navajo Nation lacks drinking water all over the place. So really fundamentally shifting the economic and social trajectory of that community.

She designs every single bracelet with a woman, and you'll see they're named after the women. And they just do a recollection process where the woman recalls something from her childhood, and they weave a story around that. And then, they create the bracelet design. They're beautiful, Etkie, E-T-K-I-E.

The next one I would say that has really inspired me is founded by another woman who she's doing more XR AR, But they started as a virtual reality company doing films for medical providers who needed to better understand the disease experience of their patients in order to come up with not just solutions to their lived experience but actual medical procedures, and technologies, and pharmaceuticals that could shape the outcomes of that patient.

So that company is called Embodied Labs, founded by a woman named Carrie and her team out of LA. And they're now selling to hospital systems across California and increasingly in the Midwest, et cetera, changing thousands of lives.

And then the one that most people do point to us and say, "Hey, good job," is a company called Meow Wolf. We were their first investor back in 2014. They've gone on to raise upwards of $250 million. They're kind of a competitor now to Disney. So they're in the immersive art and experience realm. They had a million visitors in their Denver spot. So far this year, they've had about a million visitors in their Las Vegas spot.

They were founded here in Santa Fe, our hometown. And we didn't even know they existed. They didn't know we existed. [chuckles] The night before our application was to close, somebody wandered into a meeting they were having where they were talking about dissolving the art collective. And somebody said, "Oh before you guys make a decision, you should check out this thing." [laughs]

So in some ways, it was angels on our shoulders in that it's a homegrown company, and Santa Fe is a small city. We needed a shift here around our creative economy. And they needed somebody to believe in them. They had gone to every business support organization they could find and had been told, "Well, you're probably trying to start an arts nonprofit." And they thought, "That's not really our vision. That's not...we want to build a company. We think art is something people will pay for if it's put forward in a way that blows your mind," and Meow certainly blows your mind.

CHAD: That's really interesting. I mean, I totally get why people would say that just because...but that's like saying...when Disney was getting started [chuckles] people saying "It sounds like you're trying to create an arts nonprofit."

ALICE: Yes. And I'm guessing a lot of people did. The future happens when we're all looking backwards, and very few people are looking forwards. And so I think it's important for entrepreneurs to keep in mind you're probably just statistically talking to somebody who's looking backwards because human beings tend to do that more than they look forward.

And so better to find people early on who say, "You know, I'm not exactly sure what you're talking about because you're the expert in your startup, and I'm not. But let me ask you this, how could I be helpful?" That's the right question. If they give you an answer and they don't even know what you're talking about, you probably don't need their help.

And that's hard for entrepreneurs because there are so many doubters out there that you have to kind of keep plucking through to find the one or two people who say, "That's really interesting. That seems like it might work. How could I help?" Did you guys have somebody at thoughtbot early on who you can remember sort of said, "Huh, that's interesting. How could I help?"

CHAD: I think it was our early clients who most did that.

ALICE: Oooh, yeah.

CHAD: Because we're a consulting company, because we're an agency, finding clients who believed in us and wanted to work with us in part because they liked us was an important aspect to that. If it wasn't for those early clients, no amount of passion would have kept us going because we needed to support ourselves.

ALICE: What a great insight, honestly. I think the sort of rhetoric around passion is really abused. Because there's now this sense that, well, if you have passion, you can build a business, and that's just not true. That's not true. I hate to say it, and people are always stunned when I say it because they think that I lead Creative Startups; I must be the core passion champion.

But here's what I would say is if you have a passion for solving your client or your customers' problems, then you might have a business. [laughs] There's a huge difference there. There's a difference between well; this is what I want to make. This is what I love doing. That is not necessarily going to answer the question is anybody paying you to do that?

And I like to encourage people to think about if you have passion for doing something, you probably have a hobby. If you do stuff that people want to pay you to do, you might have a business. And crossing that bridge is an analytical and a heart-wrenching process. Because usually, what you end up with is I mostly get to do what I love to do. But I do a lot of stuff I don't want to do because that's what building a business is, just like being a parent or any other really amazing, wonderful thing in life.

Running a business is not just about doing what you love doing all day; it's mostly about doing what people want to pay you to do. And if you're doing what people want to pay you to do and you love it, that is beautiful. That is a blessed position to be in. It's rare. And you have to ask yourself very real questions and be brutally honest with yourself, or you could waste your retirement savings. You could spend a year or two away from your family before you figure that out, not to be depressing. [laughs]

But we always say from our programs we look...not from our more advanced accelerator programs, but we also provide programs that are more; how do you figure out this idea? You have this idea, or you have what we call lucky revenue. A lot of creatives get lucky revenue where their friend sees them doing something, and they go, "Man, would you do one for me?" And then somebody else wants one, and now they have lucky revenue. And they're ready to say, "I think this might be a business."

And those people we say you have three outcomes from our programs. One, you realize this is not a business. It's just not going to make any money. The business model does not pan out. Two, this might be a business if I do it differently, and now I need to figure out if I want to do it differently. And three is, yeah, I'm on track. Now I got to go grow it. And all three are valid outcomes.

Because we've worked with people who came to us late, took out a loan. And we said, "Well, what's your plan for paying it back?" "Well, we don't know." That's bad. That's really dangerous. That can ruin families' economic futures. And so we're much happier to catch people before that happens so they can ask those critical questions about is this really a market opportunity? Is this a business I want to build? Is this, therefore, a business opportunity for me? And those questions are deceptively simple.

In our more advanced programs, we focus on, okay, you've got revenue, you've got traction. You're ready to start maybe thinking about what's the next three years? Where are your cash flow gaps? Where's your, as people like to call it, the valley of death that you have to cross as you grow? What kind of financing can you go raise to help cross that valley? How do you get to 10 million in revenue, 50 million in revenue? People are at different stages of growing a business.


Are you an entrepreneur or start-up founder looking to gain confidence in the way forward for your idea? At thoughtbot, we know you’re tight on time and investment, which is why we’ve created targeted 1-hour remote workshops to help you develop a concrete plan for your product’s next steps.

Over four interactive sessions, we work with you on research, product design sprint, critical path, and presentation prep so that you and your team are better equipped with the skills and knowledge for success.

Find out how we can help you move the needle at:

CHAD: How much judgment do you pass as an investor as people who are reading applications about who gets into the accelerator program? How much judgment do you pass, and how do you strike that balance?

ALICE: That's kind of a peek behind the curtain; how do people really pick companies? Different people do it differently. For us, we really hue toward weird and wonderful. We actually prefer...and this goes against what people say you should do, [laughs] but we kind of go against the grain in general. And it's worked out.

We prefer to look at things that we don't totally understand partly because often creatives don't speak business speak. So I'm pretty turned off by (I'm going to make something up.) the Harvard Business School grad who has a music-sharing platform and doesn't play music. I'm like, how would you know about a music-sharing platform?

Whereas a musician who comes with their garage band and they happen to have a computer science degree from the college down the road and they've invented this thing and all of a sudden, it's taking off, and they're not even sure why. I'm listening, and I'm like, oh, that's really interesting.

A lot of creatives tend to pick up on opportunities in the market, and they don't frame it so much as a business opportunity because that's just not the language that they've learned to speak yet. But they have an insight into a particular sector or a need that people who are not really in that space...

It feels like a lot of the startup world has been overtaken by people who want to be startup founders but don't necessarily have their hands dirty in a particular sector where they know how to really solve a problem that either a lot of people have, or that very few people have but that a lot of people have in the future if you build the market. And that's where you make a lot of money is if you build a market. So we look for things like that.

So what does that mean when we're reading applications? We don't ask for financial statements. We ask, how much money did you make last year, and where do you think most of that money came from? We're more interested in are they interested in analyzing their business so they understand where growth could come from next? Instead of, what is your financial statements?

Most of the entrepreneurs who come through our programs don't have financial statements. They might not even have a cash flow projection, which is really exciting. We have entrepreneurs who come to us who...I'll tell you a story. We had an entrepreneur come to us who ran underground music clubs in old houses in Denver. And he was like, "I think this is a business, but I don't know anything about business. I just started hosting these a few years ago."

And I said, "Well, how many, if you took an average year..." and I said, "You don't charge anything?" And he said, "No, people just hear about it." And I'm thinking, okay, so you get a couple thousand. "How many people in an average year come to your basement music club thing?" "50,000." [laughs] Yeah, I think you might have a business.

I mean, those are the kinds of things that you think, wow, why did that take off? What is going on there? That's really interesting. Let's talk. And he had a mohawk. He played in a metal band. Business was not his deal. And so that wasn't the lens he was applying.

I think a lot of designers and a lot of people who invent products and solutions start with; I'm doing this for myself, wouldn't this be rad? Without even knowing that, they touched a nerve in the market that now is kind of catching on fire. Those are really exciting entrepreneurs for us to work with.

They do have to turn a corner on I'm building a business now. I'm not just doing something that's cool with my friends. And that can be a difficult place because it means you have to cross a bridge into the world of finance, and you're probably going to have to hire product managers. And now you go hire that Harvard Business School grad and they work for you.

And a lot of people frankly don't want to turn that corner. And I get it because when you come back to that topic of, is this values-aligned? A lot of that world is not yet totally values-aligned. That's shifting, more impact investors, more investors who want to see more different types of people starting companies, but we're not there yet.

And so there's this cultural clash. When creatives walk toward that space, they go, ew, I've been fighting against the man my whole life. And now you want me to get in the car and go on a long road trip with them? No thanks. [laughs] And I'm sitting there with the Doritos going, yeah, man, but I got all the good munchies, let's go. It often does work out. But I also understand why people say, "You know, that's just not my deal now."

VICTORIA: Yeah. And you have a tremendous amount of diversity in your alumni.

ALICE: We do, yeah.

VICTORIA: And so do you find that there are some challenges in bringing in that group to the rest of the accelerator world?

ALICE: Yeah, you know, funny, I was thinking about that yesterday. So about 70% of our alumni, and this has been true across the board from day one, are people of color or women. At one point, it was around 30% were women of color. I haven't looked at that number in a while. We've worked with about 550 companies worldwide.

In the Middle East, half of our alumni are women-led companies. In the U.S., we are fortunate to be able to work with a lot of indigenous communities. New Mexico is home to a large indigenous population. And it's a lot of the reason our culture is so dynamic and beautiful.

So for us, that was always a no-brainer that that was where a lot of the interesting creativity would come from and that that was where the rising markets were. We, for example, accelerated and were the first investor in a company called Native Realities, which is a comic book. And they founded the first indigenous Comic Con, which is now called Indigenous Pop X worldwide.

And they saw obviously before even Black Panther, and it became kind of like people said, "Oh yeah, superheroes come from all communities." They saw that that market was rising. There are 300 million indigenous people worldwide. There are two comic book companies. Let that sink in. [laughs] It's like, oh my God, what is the possibility then not just around comic books, but gaming, animation, all kinds of creative tools, film, music? That's a huge market that has not been served at all.

And we understood early on that that was an area where people want to tell their own stories. People want to understand the stories of other people. And then people want to build new stories together across those cultural or geographic boundaries. And the technology had shifted such that that was possible.

In 1980, that wasn't really possible. The distribution channels of film were such that you had to raise money in Hollywood and have Tom Hanks and whatever. That's just not true anymore. So we saw that early on, and that has helped attract a lot of entrepreneurs who share our passion for really telling those stories.

However, I would say for people who want to support rising entrepreneurs out of what I'm going to call distressed communities or communities that have been literally discouraged from becoming their own economic leaders is that the burden that most of the people bear who are building businesses, for example, from Black communities, or native communities, or women in the Middle East, those people tend to bear a larger burden than someone from a more privileged background like myself.

They're often the person in their family and for their community who is helping to ensure that people get the health care they need, that that kid was able to visit the college that they wanted to apply to. They become that sort of anchor of support for more people than in situations where we have more support and more what I call margin. They have really little margin.

And so to ask them to, for example, join an accelerator full-time for 12 weeks that just doesn't work. Because the decision that they're making, you know, from a very privileged position, we can say, "Well, either you're dedicated to your business, or you're not." But really, what we're saying to them is, well, either you do your business, or you love your family and your culture. That's the question we're asking them, and that's a totally unfair question. That's a ridiculous question. Every single one of us would say, "I love my family. Thanks, see ya."

CHAD: So how do you balance that?

ALICE: Well, it's tough. I mean, first of all, we have adopted in the programs where it's more for early-stage entrepreneurs, and we're opening doors to entrepreneurship. And we are being first and foremost patient, patient with they're crossing that threshold.

We understand that our core outcome is that people come always saying, "I'm an entrepreneur. I'm ready for the journey." That means we do things like, first of all, we do all online. If possible, we do a meeting upfront, so everybody meets each other in person because that kind of sets a tone of just it's a lot of fun. We have food and drink, and we have a good time. And then we do 6 to 12 weeks online, and then we do a gathering at the end. And we build a community first and foremost of people who are understanding how they can help one another.

So Creative Startups is a little different in how we do accelerators. We do not ever have people stand at the front of the room and tell people what they should do with their business partly because we're educators first and foremost, and we understand...I have a Ph.D. in entrepreneurship. I understand that entrepreneurs tend to be experiential learners, not all but many.

And we're not going to be there in a year building their business. They're going to be building their business. We have to build their self-confidence. We have to build their ability to say, "I know how to row the boat. You're along for the ride." I'm just along for the ride. [laughs]

That requires us to do things like, okay, so let's work on your business model and really carefully chunk out here's one piece of that. Let's go deeply into understanding that. Let's tackle the vocabulary. Let's look at how people talk about it online. Let's open that door culturally so that you can take that into your experiences and say, "Oh, I already kind of do that. I just use a different language," which is what a lot of designers do.

A lot of designers, whatever your background, already do entrepreneurial processes. They use different language, and it's just a translation. It's literally just vocabulary. So we help people understand that the best way to figure out your client's needs are by listening; all people know that. If you want to understand someone else, listen, and unpacking that into then business speak a little bit, and then giving them opportunities to go do that in the real world.

And being patient with how they might do that or why they couldn't get it done this week. Or maybe they want to come back with a different way of describing it than maybe a White person like me might describe what they experienced. And just giving a lot of latitude to people to have that own experience themselves.

That honestly...I know that sounds very philosophical. But it breaks down into tactical things that we do in an accelerator that opens the door to a lot more entrepreneurs. And our Net Promoter Score is 9. Over 90% of people would recommend our program. People love our programs. And 70% of our alumni are still in business. So I think it's working. We have a lot of learning to do. We're doing an indigenous accelerator right now, and it's a lot of learning for me. It's very eye-opening.

CHAD: As an accelerator specific to indigenous peoples, what made you decide to do that? Some people I know, thoughtbot included, sometimes hesitate to do things like that because we don't want...there's some hesitation around doing something like that.

ALICE: So we share all of those hesitations, and we think they're spot on. We are doing this in partnership with a group called Creative Nations out of Colorado. They are all indigenous people. They're a new group. And we envision Creative Startups moving more toward a place of being kind of like the intel, you know, the old intel inside. We are inside, and we're an engine within another organization.

So here in Santa Fe, we partnered with Vital Spaces, which serves Black and Brown creative entrepreneurs and artists. And our goal is to help build their capacity to be able to keep doing programs as they see fit for entrepreneurs. And we're standing by as they would like us to help. So we took that same approach with working with Creative Nations. It's been a fantastic partnership.

The lead working with us is a woman named Kelly Holmes. She is Lakota Sioux. She's from the Cheyenne River Reservation. And she founded Native Max Media, which publishes Native Max Magazine, the world's first fashion magazine for indigenous entrepreneurs. She is a brilliant, creative entrepreneur. She is self-taught. She eked it out. She has been around ten years now. It's astounding.

And you see the magazine, and it's spectacular. It is high glamour, beautiful. And it is reshaping the way not only indigenous people see themselves but how White people see indigenous people. And those reframed stories are so important to building a more equitable society. So I was over the moon to partner with her. Then I learned her mom is one of the few Lakota language teachers.

So Lakota is her first language. Her mother teaches Lakota and teaches teachers how to teach Lakota. So she grew up with an educator. So she has taken to building this, again, patient, very exploratory online environment for indigenous entrepreneurs. And then I bring sometimes the more technical like, oh, you're asking a specific question about how to do structured interviews with customers. Sure, let me talk a little bit about that.

But as we started out this conversation, you guys, entrepreneurship is not an intellectual challenge usually; it's a heart challenge. I don't mean that in a way to disparage how important it is to be really strategic and smart about your business. But I think at the outset especially, you just have to be able to hang in there and keep doing it. And then, as you grow into that opportunity, you start to see that the intellectual challenges unfold because your opportunities become more complex.

But at this outset with Kelly, it's been a conversation with people who are frankly reframing themselves as business leaders, people who own businesses and have employees based on their creative output. And that's a really exciting space to work in. We wouldn't work in this space if we didn't have a partner who shared our vision and who wanted to be that native leader of a program like this. It just wouldn't really feel exciting.

CHAD: I think that that's great advice and a framing that helps me think about the things that we've tried to do in the past and the things that we hope to do in the future and realizing that really genuinely partnering with someone in the actual community that we're trying to serve or to have an impact with is sometimes an important missing component that we need to incorporate. That'll help solve a lot of the hesitations that we might have around doing something.

ALICE: Yeah, yeah.

VICTORIA: Right. And we've all heard before that culture eats strategy for breakfast, which I think -- [laughs]

ALICE: That's my favorite line, Victoria. You nailed it.

VICTORIA: It makes sense that the more connected you are to your culture and to your community, that's where you'll be the most successful when your heart is in it.

ALICE: Yeah. And I want to give sort of a plug for stepping outside of the zone of the way...I went to business school. I have an MBA. I'm really well-versed in that whole world. I'm married to a venture capitalist. He teaches how to do venture capital at Stanford. That whole world is very familiar to me. And it seems to not be helping us solve the problems that we have now as a society.

And so one of the reasons I encourage people to go to those partners, go to those places where you're like, I don't fit in here; I don't understand what's going on here; these people speak a different cultural language, form, way of doing things, I encourage that because I think that for people who want to build a different world, we have to stop looking to the world that we already have. And we have to say, "Well, who does things differently? What could we learn?"

One of the most beautiful things about working with the entrepreneurs in the cohort right now, the indigenous cohort, is they first talk about taking care of their people, that's first. And it's like, wow, if that's your entire frame, you start to make really different decisions in business. If you're talking about well, I want to take care of the people in my community; I want people to be healthy and happy and be able to pursue their own dreams; that's a really different frame of mind for a baseline for decision making.

The other thing that Kelly talks about that I love (I'm stealing it from her.) is she talks about fighting for her business, fighting for her business. And that, to me, is such a great way to feel like, okay, if I'm fighting for my business, I know how much Creative Startups has achieved. I'm not fighting for myself. It's not my ego. It's none of that. It's fighting for my business so my business can keep having the impact.

Everything that I think about now in terms of working with indigenous entrepreneurs is this has nothing to do with me. Their frame is very much my community, my people, my business, which is over there. And it's a humble way of understanding one's place. And that is a really exciting reframe for me to think about how we can solve problems like the climate crisis, like the disparity between rich and poor, like the disintegration of our democracy. What if we had a different frame? How could we solve problems differently, maybe better?

So for us, these partnerships unlock a whole vast area of new thinking, new ways of doing business, new ways of taking care of other people. And at the end of the day, that's what gets me back in the rowboat [laughs] is this idea of, wow, we are having an impact on other people. And doing it with people who have a different starting point has really shaped a lot of the work that we do.

CHAD: Well, I'm sorry that we have to wrap up. Otherwise, we could keep on going and solve the climate crisis and unraveling of our democracy, but -- [laughs]

ALICE: Yeah, I have an appointment at 2:00 where I'm doing climate crisis. So I'll let you know how it goes.

CHAD: Okay, wonderful.

ALICE: [laughs]

CHAD: Alice, thank you so much for joining the show and sharing everything with us. We really appreciate it.

ALICE: Yeah, I was delighted to be with you guys and hope to continue the conversation.

CHAD: You can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at

VICTORIA: And if you have questions or comments, email us at

CHAD: You can find me on Twitter at @cpytel.

VICTORIA: And you can find me on Twitter @victori_ousg

This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore.

CHAD: Thanks for listening, and see you next time.

ANNOUNCER: This podcast was brought to you by thoughtbot. thoughtbot is your expert design and development partner. Let's make your product and team a success.

Support Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots