TheBridge profile: Josh Mendelsohn
Name: Josh Mendelsohn
Current city: New York, NY
Current job: Managing Partner, Hangar
Past job: Founder, Hattery
Q. Favorite spot for a coffee meeting? Grace Street Cafe in NYC’s Koreatown
Q. Describe how a skill you learned in a previous job helped you in your current job? I’ve been fortunate in getting to work with exceptionally strong teams across my career, within Defense, Google, the venture world, our startups, and the nonprofits with which I’m affiliated. And it deeply rooted in me that life is a team sport and you’re only as effective as your team. I think that’s the case when building a startup as much as it is when running a government agency – even building a marriage. Curate a team, nurture a team, and trust your team. Together, you can do incredible things.
Q. Job advice in three words? Integrity. Imagination. Curiosity.
Q. How are you (or your company, org, nonprofit) currently bridging the gap between politics and tech / innovation and regulation? At Hangar, we fund and build technology companies from the ground up, all in or adjacent to the public sector market. To us, that means working to solve challenges by building tools and services where public policy has set the market conditions and entry criteria. In practice, that means we are big believers in the tremendous impact our efforts can achieve by working through the vast scale of government. Whether at the federal, state, or local level, our teams have to interact with everyone from elected officials to community members, and from contractors to regulators. It’s deeply rewarding work. The Hangar team comes from the technology, venture capital, and private equity industries, as well as government and academia – and most of us have done at least brief stints in two or more of those fields.
Q. What can innovators learn from policymakers? In government, both because the stakes are so high but also as a matter of culture and form, you’re constantly being pushed to understand what unintended consequences of a decision might be and the edge cases of who or what would be impacted by a given action. I think innovators, too often, are so focused on delivering for the mean they ignore the challenges and risks of their products.
Q. What can policymakers learn from innovators? Too often I’ve found, sometimes because they are busy, sometimes because the alternative is more work than the status quo, the default in government is to presume that things are simply the way they are and it’s safe to bet they won’t change. I think that’s a terrible mistake. We live in a pretty dynamic world. That’s always been the case, but I think it’s fair to say the pace of change is speeding up. Technology innovators, in particular, make quite the opposite assumption – it’s a question of how can we apply this new, powerful technique to solve a bigger or more powerful problem.
Q. Favorite book/podcast/long-form article you recommend? I’m a big fan of the subscription newsletter Stratechery, by Ben Thompson – always a thoughtful commentary on the technology and media news of the day. Mariana Mazzucato’s The Entrepreneurial State is practically required reading for new members of Hangar’s team, and while I don’t agree with all she offers, it’s a well-researched and thought-provoking treatise on innovation and government.
Q. Most underrated virtue in an employee? Curiosity. I truly believe curiosity is a critical part of the human condition and find it so puzzling how much effort seems to go on to beat it out of organizations and leave it to the unique domain of senior leadership. When you empower a curious team, you are guaranteeing you’ll find new approaches, innovations, tools, techniques, and efficiencies at all layers of the organization. Which all lead to more impact. It’s innate in all of us, embrace it!
Q. Best advice you’ve received? Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good enough. I think this phrase is wildly misunderstood. It’s not a commentary on why perfection isn’t virtuous, but rather a reflection on setting clear goals and objectives and being satisfied by meeting those objectives in a timely fashion – even without a perfect path. Too often smart, talented individuals hold themselves back because they think they need to achieve perfection as they stretch to reach their goal. That just isn’t possible.
Q. Embarrassing work moment? I went through a period where I deeply undervalued sleep and consequently took to napping on a wonderful, plush couch next to my desk. One summer, our interns, no doubt encouraged by a senior teammate or two, started a blog hosted at mybossisasleepatwork.com and it was far more active than I would have liked. Fortunately, I learned the value of good sleep. The blog no longer exists.
Q. How do you unwind after work? I’m blessed to have really exciting, challenging, engaging, all consuming work. I wouldn’t turn it off by choice. But it turns out our 4 year old and a 21 month old boys only know how to demand full and complete attention. And the second I make that switch, I’m all in and they become my work in the best way possible. Our younger son loves doing everything his older brother does and the hijinx are nonstop. The geek in me takes great pleasure in watching how they learn and observe, especially when we do “projects” around the house (just when we thought we’d graduated from Ikea furniture). Our older son will proudly tell you the two “baddest” words in the English language are ‘f**k’ and ‘stupid’. He has a point.
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