The Power Of Giving: What I Have Learned From Successful Entrepreneurs Turned VCs

The Busiest and Most Successful People Find Time To Give

Nina Luu is an investor and serial founder. I met her in San Francisco at a pitch event featuring tech startups. After the conference, I followed up with her and requested a meeting. We spoke about entrepreneurship and venture capital during our session and how I could be the leader I was hoping to become. A year later, everything shut down due to COVID- 19, and I had to go back to Europe. It was a culture shock, coming back to my hometown with no startup culture and few opportunities in terms of job growth.

When you feel stuck, ask for help.  

I reached out to Nina and asked for some advice. I was ecstatic when she agreed to mentor me every week throughout 2020. I was lucky she had time during the pandemic because I was totally at a loss for finding a job and didn’t know how to make money. I was fortunate I had some savings and could move back home to my parents. Nina saw I had potential but needed a plan of execution. 

During the first few sessions, Nina listened and learned about my strengths and weaknesses. Based on that, we developed a plan with achievable goals. With much resistance on my side, Nina pushed me to set very high goals—dream goals—such as a financial target of six figures that was way beyond what I could conceive. We also talked about my dream job: becoming a CEO of a multinational company. At first, I was uncomfortable with these big goals, but Nina said, “If you don’t feel it, you won’t be able to achieve it.” 

It took a while, but with her encouragement and consistently pointing out my strengths and abilities, I felt confident the goals we set out were achievable. Once my confidence kicked in, I got my dream job within three months of her mentorship. The only thing Nina asked of me was to pay it forward when another person needed my help. The biggest lesson I have taken away from many conversations with Nina is the power of giving.

What does giving mean? 

I asked Nina what giving means for her. For her, giving applies to all aspects of life. “It’s how I live my life, whether it is giving to my daughter or a business transaction. It’s everything.” 

Nina mentioned even her father had this giving mindset; he lived his life asking every morning, “How may I serve?” 

This is now how Nina approaches all interactions: to be of service to others. Her father always told her the best giving is anonymous and had no expectations of receiving anything back.  Trust that when you need something, it will show up and not necessarily from the person you helped. I often wonder why people do not give. 
I asked Nina, and she said, “Sometimes they haven’t been taught to give, or sometimes they are in a situation where they need to take. It is okay to take when you are in need. If you are not wired to give, try it and see the benefits.” It doesn’t matter whether you benefit from giving or not. It comes back to how you define success, and what motivates you to do your work. As Nina puts it, “No matter what you do, it has to make a difference in the lives of others.” You give to see a different world. Nina explained there are problems in society she cannot solve independently. She had struggled in venture capital as there were few women in VC. She hopes to invest in more women- and multicultural-led businesses (such as people of color), also called for women and minority owned businesses (WMBEs). She mentioned this is one of the reasons she helps young people—because they are the future.

You give to help solving a larger problem 

In fact, only 1.4 percent of more than eighty two trillion dollars of US-based assets are entrusted to diverse-owned firms  What does this mean? It means from the eighty-two trillion dollars being invested in mutual funds, hedge funds, private equity funds, and real estate funds, investors only entrust 1.4 percent of assets are owned by women and/or people of color. (Knight Foundation, 2021).
Like Nina, other investors worldwide have noticed the same about the art of giving and sharing in Silicon Valley. 
Carsten Jens Maschmeyer is a German billionaire businessman, investor, and panel member of the German investment television series Die Höhle der Löwen (“The Lions’ Den”). 
In November 2021, he posted on LinkedIn about his startup tour in San Francisco saying networking is everything. VC funds like to share their deal flow (i.e., they give first) and see where they can invest with other investors. Founders of various startups also help each other with recruiting, customer acquisition, and contacts
Many have realized that giving, sharing information, being of value is crucial in today’s startup economy. As the graph below shows it; tomorrow’s innovation will flourish from the collaboration between different stakeholders. This is why the best innovation ecosystem in the world have the “Give First” mentality deeply rooted in their values. Brad Feld made it a core code of conduct among the Techstars community. 
On this topic, an acquaintance mentioned, “You have to be in a privileged position to give in the first place.” In other words, you have to have something you can give away freely—time, money, knowledge. It is easy to find an excuse to not try to be of value to other people. What does “privilege” mean anyway? If you do not have money, you may have time to support people. If you have no money or time to give, maybe you have two minutes to write to someone you know that could potentially be helpful to that person? If you can’t do that, what are you waking up for? It’s not about helping everyone, but helping those we believe have great potential to solve a problem we try to solve too and are trustworthy. That’s the least we can do.
When I was leaving San Francisco, I posted on my own LinkedIn channel how grateful I was to have had this experience,
and I said thank you to all the people I had met, hoping I would stay in touch with them. The post received fifty-three comments from different people who wished me luck with the next steps. One of them was Nsikak Edet, a Nigerian web developer, who commented:

“Well, it’s been months since we last had a chat. Just wanted you to know that before I messaged you last year on career advice as a young chemistry graduate, I had earlier messaged tons of people. You were the only one who replied. That gave me hope. And made me feel part of a global community. A feeling you don’t usually get from being a Nigerian. Wishing you better days ahead.” 

When I helped him and said yes to having a chat, I was a student with no money and no significant business relationships to offer him. However, I took the time to reply. This shows that giving is a value, it is a state of being we do for a lifetime and receiving messages like the one above is the reward.

If you were courageous enough to read the full blog, ask yourself this question: “How may I serve?” in absolutely every conversation you are ; and “Am I helping the ones trying to solve the same problem than me?”. 

This is what a purposeful life is all about; thinking beyond yourself. Start it today; to make the world a better place to live in. 

The graph is coming from the book:
Maschmeyer, Carsten (@Carsten Marschmeyer). “Gerade bin ich auf Startup-Tour in den USA. Für mich ist die Bay Area (Silicon Valley und San Francisco) nicht nur eine Region, sondern ein Ort voll kreativer.” LinkedIn, November 2021.