Open opportunity pipelines. I hear investors and employers talk about “the pipeline problem,” that they would like to hire or invest in diverse entrepreneurs, but that they just don’t see enough of them.Well, there are specific steps that we can (and have) taken to reach deeper into these important founder demographics. There are active communities of black founders, female founders, LGBTQ founders, angels, and team members — building really authentic partnerships and communication with these important hubs really breaks people out of the homogenous “pattern recognition” mode of supporting and investing.
Ihad the pleasure of interviewing Oliver Libby. He is the managing partner and co-founder of venture firm Hatzimemos / Libby. He focuses on high-growth businesses that add value to society.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Growing up as the son of doctors and scientists, our dinner table was a place of learning and debate, not only “how was your day?” Interestingly, I never got pressure to be a doctor; instead, the idea was that — whatever you were going to do — you had to make a positive difference in the world and help people.
Both of my grandfathers were US Army veterans from World War II, and my great grandfather fought in both world wars, so I was fascinated by military history from early on. It dawned on me that conflict might be the “disease” I could learn about and try to prevent. I studied national security and military history in college, spent some time working in the government, and somewhere along the way, I realized that I needed to understand the private sector too, in order to make a change.
I never intended to spend much time in business, but I began to work with start-ups and fell in love with the building aspect. I was also fascinated by the prospect of adding diversity and impact into a company-building thesis, which led me to co-found both my firm (H/L Ventures) and my non-profit (The Resolution Project) during the 2008 financial crisis.
Over the last decade or so, I’ve helped to grow both the firm and the non-profit into larger organizations that support hundreds of socially-responsible, diverse entrepreneurs. I remain as focused today as when I was a young kid on carrying on my family’s calling to help people around the world.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I love books — I was an avid reader growing up and remain so now, whenever I have the chance. One that stands out is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. To me, it represented three things. The title character, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is a young boy who saves the world, demonstrating how young people can make a difference early in life (a theme that resonates in my work today). Second, Ender’s team and friends come from all around the world, showing that diversity is a powerful part of a great team. Finally, the book has an underlying optimism that, despite hardships, success and a world-changing outcome can happen.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
My grandfather’s favorite quote was an old Latin saying: ad astra per aspera. It can be variously translated, but it basically means “through hardships to the stars.” He lived that mantra and recited it often, and I think about it anytime the going gets tough.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
There’s a number of traits that, for me, define leadership. Leaders in my mind are defined by a combination of gratitude and confidence (equal measures thereof). They bend, but don’t break; in other words, they have a high degree of tensile strength. Leaders just get things done, they’re persuasive, and they’re not afraid to ask for things — I call this resource magnetism. Last but not least, truly good leaders are tough on the problem yet respectful of their team, and genuinely like to create a win-win for everyone.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
It’s a simple formula. I remember to breathe, speak slowly, and tell the truth. In truth, I thrive on presenting and persuading, whether it’s a one-on-one meeting or a massive room. My friends joke that if there’s a speech to be given, no matter the topic, they can come find me. And it all comes back to that formula — if you truly believe what you are saying, it will flow naturally and you just have to remember to get your own hang-ups out of the way!
Ok, thank you for that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
I think one of the reasons that we’re at a boiling point now is that despite our advances, the problems are still far from being solved. Inequity has a long, tragic history, not only in American history but throughout world history. We’re in a period where, yes, we’ve made lots of progress, but we have lost ground recently as well. There’s a risk that we, as a society, lack the vigilance to finish the work.
During the protests last month, I remember seeing a sign that read: “We haven’t come this far just to come this far.” That resonated with me because it’s important that we don’t forget the progress we have made, or allow ourselves to think that the struggle for equality is solved.
Perhaps worst of all, we are in a massive leadership crisis. It is both a global leadership crisis and a national leadership crisis. The quest for progress comes from grassroots movements — but it generally doesn’t get anywhere without partnership from leaders in positions of power. And right now, too few of our leaders are stepping up to partner with the progress.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
From an early age, I was taught that diversity should be the norm. In my grandfather’s award-winning laboratory (and my parents’ labs and offices too), there were doctors and scientists from around the world — an African doctor here, a Japanese doctor over there, a scientist from the Midwest over here, etc…As a child, I didn’t understand that that was unusual. It was simply how the best ideas were generated and the best work is done.
I spend most of my life right now working with my venture firm and venture studio, and we’ve been investing in diverse entrepreneurs for a long time. 70% of our entrepreneurs are women, of color, military veterans, LGBTQ, and other underrepresented minorities in tech.
The Resolution Project, a nonprofit that I co-founded, is similarly blessed with diversity. We encourage college students to pursue socially-responsible entrepreneurship projects of their own. The 550 or so Resolution Fellows come from virtually every possible background and are active in more than 20 States here at home, and nearly 80 countries around the world. These founders represent the diversity we see as part of our mission.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
This may seem simple, but — it is morally right. If that alone is insufficient, a diverse team brings diverse views and experiences to problems, so that solutions will be relevant to more than one community, rather than the same ideas all the time for a narrow demographic sliver. Finally, there are many studies that report conclusively that diverse teams outperform in effectiveness, financial returns, and sustainability. Over time, homogenous teams will simply not be competitive, mired in the past and irrelevant in an ever more diverse, connected future.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
No one has all the answers to this incredibly important question, but in my view, we at least need the following…
- An open conversation that is grounded in truth so that we can learn together.
- Better education. The effect of poor education resonates in exponential ways as people grow up. We can’t wait to address it in college or 10th grade, but must begin in early childhood education or the disadvantages multiply and become incredibly hard to overcome.
- Affordable access to health care. Underrepresented minorities living in disadvantaged communities are highly correlated with terrible health outcomes. We need a system that works for everyone, because it’s awfully hard to make progress if you and your family are chronically ill and cannot afford care (including important preventative measures and check-ups!).
- Open opportunity pipelines. I hear investors and employers talk about “the pipeline problem,” that they would like to hire or invest in diverse entrepreneurs, but that they just don’t see enough of them.Well, there are specific steps that we can (and have) taken to reach deeper into these important founder demographics. There are active communities of black founders, female founders, LGBTQ founders, angels, and team members — building really authentic partnerships and communication with these important hubs really breaks people out of the homogenous “pattern recognition” mode of supporting and investing.
- Partnership with leaders. Open conversation, better education, better healthcare, and better opportunity pipelines won’t work unless we have partnerships from our leaders and our legislators.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
Yes, absolutely. Do I think it is easy? No. Do I think that Barack Obama was right to say that the arc of history will “zig-zag” towards justice? Yes. We have to keep on it. It is up to each person individually to do their part to get us there.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’d be delighted to meet Oprah, who is a leader, entertainer, businesswoman, entrepreneur, and a beacon for a generation of young women (of all backgrounds) seeking to follow in her footsteps.
How can our readers follow you online?
www.oliverlibby.com is my website, my Twitter is @oliverblibby, and LinkedIn is another good place.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!