Mike Maples: Living in the Future [The Knowledge Project Ep. #77]

Mike Maples, a partner at the VC firm Floodgate, shares how mental models shape his decision making process, where to find the next big idea, and how to rally people to your cause.

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Today, I welcome investor and entrepreneur Mike Maples, Jr. (@m2jr) to the Knowledge Project.

Mike is a co-founder and partner at Floodgate, a venture capital firm that focuses on giving emerging companies the boost they need to be successful. Companies like Twitter, Twitch and Lyft, just to name a few. Mike has been on the Forbes Midas List since 2010 and was named one of “8 Rising VC Stars” by FORTUNE Magazine.

In this discussion, Mike and I geek out about the role mental models play in making the best decisions possible. He shares his process of evaluating startups, what red flags result in an immediate “no,” and the qualities he looks for in a founder.

We also talk about pitching, how to tell stories that attract people to your cause, and the counterintuitive advice Mike gives hopeful founders who ask how to think up good startup ideas. (Spoiler: stop trying.)

Whether you are an investor, entrepreneur, or simply someone who wants to be more effective at what you do, there’s lots to learn from this interview.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

What we’ve come to realize is that a startup isn’t really a company at all. A startup is a set of founders with hopefully a set of proprietary insights that are a result of them living in the future.

What you’re trying to do in value hacking is figure out what you can build that is unique that people are desperate for. If your insight is truly powerful, it will connect with somebody desperate because you’ll be solving problems in a novel way that’s never been solved that way before and it’s an order of magnitude noticeably better for those people.

If the truth of your value proposition is not present, you have to grow by throwing money at the problem of growth. You have to spend money on marketing programs and you have to persuade people to buy rather than teach people to buy.

Sometimes people will ask me, “How do you get a good startup idea?” The counterintuitive answer to that question is don’t try to think of a startup. People are like, “What are you talking about? That’s a crazy answer.” Well, it turns out that most of the great startups come from a great insight and a great insight usually occurs when someone is living in the future and they notice something that’s missing.

We invested in Lyft when it was Zimride back in 2010 and it would be very easy for us to believe we knew more than we knew at the time. Same with Twitter, same with Twitch, same with Okta. The ones that we did say yes to and it was a big win, we try not to breathe our own fumes too much. We try to go back in time and say, “What went right and what did we get right, and did we get it right on purpose or by accident?”

Part of being an entrepreneurial artist is seeing the emergence signals that you weren’t necessarily looking for explicitly, but they reveal themselves and you see them with a sensitivity that an artist would see an emotional thing that they can put on a canvas for their art.

Lots of people tend to go through life taking one problem at a time, deciding one problem at a time. I think it’s helpful in living a better life to acknowledge that there are better ways to decide things. Sometimes you know there’s a better way through experience or reading books or whatnot and sometimes you don’t know what the better way is. I look at mental models as frameworks for making decisions that maximize the probability of the best outcome.

Listen and Learn

Transcript

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