Role Models

imgresIf you are 15 and live in a suburban area with two parents who are fairly conservative lawyers the chance that you follow in their footsteps are probably high.  After all, these are the role models you grew up with.  It is hard to see other opportunities unless you are exposed to them.

If you are forging new paths or have become a leader in your industry then I believe it is important to talk about how you got to where you are to the people coming up the path behind you.  Whether you want to be a role model or not, you are.

Years ago I did something that proved my point about the importance of exposing the youth to opportunities that they did not even realize existed.  Certainly with social media many can see the business stars of today but it can seem unobtainable without seeing it first hand.

At our kids high school they would have an assembly every week.  It was a place where teachers and students would bring in someone or an activity to rally the community.  To see something unique and different.  I took on four of those assemblies 3 years ago.

I brought in young founders to be interviewed by me and to answer questions from the crowd.  David Karp of Tumblr, Phin Barnes now a VC with First Round but one of the early players in And1 sneakers, Gabriel Stulman who has built a restaurant empire in NYC and a panel of women, Amanda Hesser of Food52, Corie Hardee of Union Station, Amanda Steinberg of Worth and Caren Maio of Nestio.

The questions from the high schoolers were impressive.  After Gabe came in people would come up to my son and say “hey we should open a restaurant”.  Exposure is obviously key.

About a year after I did that I happened to be interviewed for the Brian Williams TV show with Ayah Bdeir.  The producer of the show shared something with me when I got there.  His son was a senior in high school at the time.  He told me that particular morning his son asked him what he was working on that day, a random occurrence.  He said he was taping a show on women entrepreneurs.  He son asked him if he was interviewing Joanne Wilson.  I looked at the producer and said “your kid goes to LREI doesn’t he”?  The answer was yes.

A year had passed but the impact was made.  This is one of the many reasons I back women and ethnic founders.  When those people become leaders they become role models.  The hope is that in the future there will be a more balanced world in our companies, in politics and in everything where we will see a myriad of faces from every walk of life so the next generation only knows opportunities for all no matter where you come from.