Dear Ann Coulter of the Day: After Ann Coulter referred to President Obama as a retard in a tweet during Monday night’s presidential debate, Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens penned her this open letter:

Dear Ann Coulter, 

Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult? 

I’m a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public’s perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow. I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you. In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night. 

I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have. 

Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next. 

Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift. 

Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are – and much, much more. 

After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me. You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV. 

I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash. 

Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor. 

No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much. 

Come join us someday at Special Olympics. See if you can walk away with your heart unchanged. 

A friend you haven’t made yet, John Franklin Stephens Global Messenger Special Olympics Virginia


Real. Honest. Fear

“I don’t know what I’m doing”

How many times has a founder told that to a board or to his management team?

Rarely, if ever.

How often does a founder feel that way?


(Related: How often does a VC tell his partners that statement? Rarely, if ever, unfortunately.)

The reason why a founder won’t open up and share that fear is because of another fear: the fear of looking weak or clueless. “If I share my fears, I could lose my job or lose control”. 

One way I know I’ve really connected with a founder in our portfolio is when they let me in on their true fears. Not fears about the competition, or fear of not being able to hire the star developer they have been targeting, or fear of missing the revenue target for the quarter. But the real, deep, honest fear: “I don’t know what I’m doing”

It doesn’t always happen even though I can feel it. And that’s fine. Not everyone feels comfortable sharing things with me. But the ones that do share that true honest fear are the ones that I can help the best and the ones I can connect with at a deep level. It’s one of the best parts about this job of mine. 

One useful exercise when a founder evaluates his/her investor should be: “what if I tell that VC my real fears? Will he/she help? Or attack? ”

When I started out as a VC, seven years ago, I really didn’t know what I was doing even though I was beyond ambitious. 

I had confidence on the outside. Yet there were plenty of days when I felt like I was unsure & uncertain. Am I going to be any good at this. What if I’m not?

My partners were extremely supportive and in fact, I led our very first investment after we raised our first fund. I needed & received help from the experienced members of the partnership to do the proper due diligence on the company and think through if the investment was the best for our firm.

We ended up making 3x our money in 6 months. Not bad for a first time VC. But guess what. My next investment failed. It wasn’t a huge investment but it failed completely. 

One moment I felt pretty good about myself and the next: Oy. Ouch. It feels awful because fear can creep back in. It happens so easily.  

Fear is a powerful thing.

Sometimes it brings out the best. I suppose it’s when we deal with it honestly. And in plain sight. With people we trust. People that can help us get our perspective back.  

Sometimes it brings out the worst. I find with me and others I know, it brings out the worst when we haven’t fully faced our fears. Instead we cover them up by blaming others or hiding them away in some deep dark safe place.

The thing I’ll end this post with to all the founders that might be reading this is: you are not alone. We are all working through it. It’s ain’t easy and it’s isn’t a one time affair with a quick fix. Surround yourself you truly trust and let them help. Even if it’s just to air it out and let it fly. 

Good judgement vs being judgemental

One of the most positive people I’ve ever known is my wife, lauren.

She thinks about the positive in everything, always mindful about the silver lining and brings a smile to those around her. 

It’s a positive energy and force that is fun to be around. 

Now, she certainly has her opinions about things and quite passionately so. But it’s a healthy strong opinion. Without being judgmental. 

When we see people like lauren in startups, it’s a special thing. They can inspire others to do their best. They hire the best people. It creates positive morale even when things are tough.

One of the things people in startups and VC firms struggle with is ignoring the differences between good judgement vs being judgmental as we make countless decisions every day. And we see it sneak up on us all the time.  We move from attacking the idea to the individual on a personal level. Sadly it’s easy to do and I’m guilty at times.

Disagreements are normal and natural. But the moment we move to thinking we’re better than others or we are morally superior, or when we attack others in thought or in action, well, things become toxic.  To the people around you, the team, the company, relationships — and most importantly, to ourselves.  We stop listening and we lose perspective. 

People Tagging (continued)

Earlier this summer, I wrote about how various services do “people tagging”. 

It’s a really great and important feature in social apps. 

One of the things that has been painful is how Instagram uses @mentions as their people tagging system — just like Twitter. Because when you share the Instagram photo to Twitter, it can get messed up. For example, my friend @ryan has a different handle on Instagram. 

When I wrote that post, a number of folks publicly & privately said to me there ain’t no way Instagram (owned by Facebook) was going to fix this problem. It simply wasn’t in their interest to help Twitter. 

Well today Instagram announced (on Tumblr!) they fixed their @mentions translation with tweets. They put the user customer ahead of any corporate strategy option. 

Great job @mikeyk and team!