I’m grateful for having the opportunity to do my MBA summer internship at Matter, a media accelerator and investment firm that supports media entrepreneurs who are building a more empathetic, inclusive and informed society.
I’ve enjoyed having the chance to work with the team and Matter’s entrepreneurs on refreshing and focusing Matter’s strategy, simplifying Matter’s business model and digging into Matter’s portfolio to help them articulate their financial and impact performance in compelling ways.
These are my key take-aways from this summer:
It takes a village
Matter’s core strength is its powerful community. I’ve been struck by the generosity of Matter’s staff. The company has built an enviable ethos and culture that is both mission-oriented and entrepreneur-first. They feel their pain and celebrate their successes as if they were their own. It’s easy to say you’re a ‘founder-first’ firm, but hard to live it. I’m grateful to have had the chance to see this community live their values, every day.
I’ve also been impressed by the generosity of the teams themselves. At the same time as building a business in an incredibly difficult space, and going through an intensive design program, they are always ready to give their time to support their peers at all times.
This is at the heart of what makes Matter’s community is so powerful: these people are willing to put other’s needs before their own.
Capital is not the constraint: your mindset is
Watching Matter’s amazingly inspiring media entrepreneurs try, fail and continue to fight and build their ventures has been an eye-opening experience.
Standing out and challenging the status quo is powerful, but staying practical, action-oriented and open to feedback is even more powerful. There is no right path or answer when it comes to building a company: all you can do is put yourself in the middle of the action, start somewhere, ask for feedback on a product that’s not entirely ready, and then continuously refine it and make it better.
This is why Matter emphasises creating a safe space to allow entrepreneurs to fail fast. Matter’s genius is that it encourages entrepreneurs to build great processes but stay flexible on the outcome, balance a sense of urgency and openness, prioritise customers and mission over product. Matter also builds a powerful community able to support entrepreneurs through their most difficult times.
People over product: put your customers and team first
As an entrepreneur, you’re constantly told that your team will make or break your venture. But what you don’t hear as often is that managing people is much harder than building a product. Your product will evolve and change; your people need to be able to grow with the company. I think you can tell early on from watching a team interact, learn, grow and struggle together whether they will succeed.
On the other hand, you can have a amazing idea, team and build a great product: but unless you really understand your customers’ needs, desires and pain points, and design for them first, you cannot build a successful company.
The culture of building, collecting and listening to user feedback and constantly prototyping is powerful. I’ve been impressed that Matter prioritizes ‘customer development’ coaching over ‘product development’ in its program, and only focuses on business model building + fundraising once the companies have thought through their core purpose, values and key customers.
Storytelling and branding are more than half the battle: let your mission guide you
Given that it is getting increasingly hard to differentiate your product, and ‘be discovered’, being proactive about reaching your customers, and delighting them is more important than ever. I’ve learned that telling a very simple and relatable story, while appealing to people’s emotions is key.
Moreover, having a clear mission that guides your team, venture and customers is powerful. If you know what you stand for, and what you really believe in, and you are unwilling to compromise on your core values even if your product iterates, your stakeholders — your team, customers and investors—will always know who you are.
There are no right answers
My biggest take-away from this summer is that no one knows what they’re doing in this new world: nimble high-tech ventures, powerful incumbents, highly respected mentors and investors are thrown by the new normal. And yet, you can learn to do and build anything, as long as you stay adaptive.
However, it’s almost too easy to continue to build out your product, without articulating your priorities. Having a strong mission and culture is not enough: unless the team aligned on a common vision and execution plan, your firm will get pulled in many directions. You will waste time and energy, lose your way and be forced to make big decisions in a hurried manner, unless you constantly re-align and prioritise.
There is no right answer: strategy is about making choices. You have to decide what you will not do.
I’ve learned the importance of asking hard questions, of surfacing the key choices facing an organisation at a given moment in time, and giving people the vocabulary and agency to choose a direction and roadmap. I will always be grateful to Matter for giving me the chance to put this lesson into practice.
Natasha Malpani is currently an MBA student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She was previously an Investment Director at Big Society Capital, a $1 billion impact investing firm in London. As one of the firm’s first employees, she helped build the company’s investment strategy and team. Natasha has also co-founded two social ventures. She is currently exploring the future of the media industry and is spending the summer at Matter, an early-stage media investment firm in San Francisco, and Out There Media, an adtech firm in Athens.